Can a vegetarian meal plan lower my chance of diabetes and heart disease? Will a vegetarian meal plan help me improve my health even if I have diabetes or heart disease?
WHAT IS A HEALTHY VEGETARIAN MEAL PLAN?
A vegetarian meal plan includes lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, dairy products, and whole grains like oatmeal, but no meat. This meal plan can be simple, and meals are tasty and easy to prepare. Some dishes do not need cooking and can be eaten raw, such as salads and nuts. Here’s how to eat this way:
- Eat little or no meat: When you eat vegetarian foods, you eat more plant foods such as nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. You will eat less or no meat. Experts think your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease goes up when you eat too much meat. This happens because meats are higher in calories, saturated fats, and cholesterol.
- Eat foods low in saturated fats and cholesterol: Vegetarian foods are often low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Saturated fats and cholesterol may cause heart disease. Plant foods have more fiber and other nutrients that protect you from heart disease.
- Always eat whole grains: Choose brown rice and whole wheat flour instead of white rice and white flour. Whole grains have more fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Eat many different foods: Eat foods from all seven colors of the rainbow. This will help you get the vitamins and minerals you need. If you can, try a new vegetable every week.
- Eat fewer sweets and fried foods: Even on a vegetarian meal plan it is easy to eat sweets and fried foods. Save these for special times and try to eat very small amounts.
- Choose low-fat dairy products: Choose fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products such as low-fat cheese and yogurt. Some vegetarian plans allow dairy products while others don’t (vegan plans).
- Avoid packaged foods: It is always best to avoid boxed foods or pre-cooked foods. They tend to have more salt, calories, and fat than you should eat in a single meal. Read the food label before you buy a packaged food so you know what you’re getting.
WHY EAT THIS WAY?
- It helps you get to a healthier body weight: If you follow a vegetarian meal plan you might find that you lose weight. This can happen because your food will have less fat, less calories, and more fiber. Fat and excess calories increase your body weight. Eat more fiber to decrease your hunger, keep you full longer, and reduce your body weight. A recent study showed that vegetarians weighed less and had a lower risk of getting type 2 diabetes than those who ate meat.
- It helps you lower you blood pressure: If you follow a vegetarian meal plan you may have lower blood pressure than those who eat meat because you eat less salt and may lose weight. If you eat too much salt and are overweight, you increase your chance of high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease.
- It lowers your chance of getting diabetes: A study from 20 years ago found that vegetarians have a lower risk of diabetes than those who eat meat. Experts ran this study again and found that the results were still the same! If you eat fewer calories, fat, and salt, and lose weight it will help you avoid diabetes.
CAN A VEGETARIAN MEAL PLAN HELP YOU IF YOU HAVE DIABETES OR HEART DISEASE?
Yes. You can still improve your health if you have either of these two issues. Here’s how:
- You can improve blood glucose control and how your body uses insulin. When you follow a vegetarian meal plan, you may need less diabetes medicines and can lower your risk of diabetes problems. But watch out — even a vegetarian meal plan can have a bad effect on blood glucose if it is rich in simple carbohydrates — such as potatoes, white rice and white bread. Instead, eat whole grain breads, brown rice, and limit starches.
- Reduce your risk of heart disease. A strict vegan meal plan is cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat and tends to be high in fiber. A low-fat vegetarian meal plan can reduce your chance of heart disease — a common problem from diabetes.