Diabetes and a Vegan Diet

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My husband has recently decided to become vegan (meaning he will no longer include any animal products in his diet). When he told me this I got mad.

“I already have to deal with two picky eaters who only eat tacos or spaghetti and meatballs” I told him, “and now I have to cook special meals for you!” Ugh. I was also irritated because I love to eat meat. A blue cheese burger cooked on the grill in the summer is my favorite indulgence. Did this mean my husband wasn’t going to grill burgers anymore? I worried. And if he’s not going to eat meat, what about me?

“If you stop eating meat that means you’re going to eat more carbs, and I don’t eat carbs,” I told my husband. OK, maybe there are more than two picky eaters in the house. I knew logically that just because he was changing his diet didn’t mean that I had to change my diet, but I’m the cook in the family and didn’t want to spend all night in the kitchen making different meals for every person in our house.

I tend to blame a lot of my “issues” on diabetes, but I think the negative reaction to my husband’s desire to be vegan really does come from having Type 1 diabetes. It also comes from growing up with hippie, vegetarian parents in the woods of Vermont and from my high school field trip, “Mountain Classroom,” to a meat-packing factory in Texas where I emerged from the factory covered in cow’s blood and was unable to eat meat for the next ten years (long and colorful stories we don’t have time for today). Being a vegetarian and a person with diabetes was hard. I was in college and ate what my friends ate, which was bagels, pizza, and cereal. This was not a healthy diet, and my blood sugar probably ran high throughout my time in college, though I’m not sure because I rarely tested. (This is shocking to me now.)

All that aside, a few years ago, I realized that I didn’t have to inject as much insulin if I didn’t eat as many carbs. You would think I would have learned this basic math a long time ago (I was diagnosed in 1985), but my doctors always told me that the best diet for a diabetic was one of moderation: some carbs, some veggies, some protein, and some fat. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes eat about 45–60 grams of carbohydrate at a meal. Yikes! That’s a lot of carbs!

In my effort to figure out the best way to eat, I researched and wrote a book called, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Eating Right with Diabetes: What Will Work. I interviewed doctors, nutritionists, dietitians, and other women with diabetes. Megrette Fletcher (Hammond) MEd, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, author, and cofounder of The Center for Mindful Eating, told me:

“All foods can be included as part of a healthy diet. There are no ‘perfect’ foods or ‘evil’ foods. You should avoid foods you dislike. You should eat foods that you enjoy eating. The enjoyment of food is a complex equation and it is greater than the immediate taste of the food. Ideally food selection considers both your personal preferences and situations surrounding socialization of the meal (who you are eating with) and your immediate and long-term health goals.”

Re-reading her advice is helping me get over my fixation on the right and wrong ways to eat. If my husband wants to be vegan, I support that. His conversation has come at a great time because our CSA started up again, and every week we get a new delivery of fresh vegetables (cherry tomatoes that taste like candy!). I think I’ve learned through my husband’s exploration that I don’t have to be so restricted in the way I think about food. That changing things up every now and then can be a good thing. I also learned that tofu is nothing like chicken and there are a lot of meals you can make out of chickpeas.

What is a normal blood glucose level for people with and without diabetes? Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in to find out from nurse David Spero.

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