The Vegetarian Diet and Type 2 Diabetes


What is a Vegetarian Diet?

A vegetarian diet is a nutritional approach that eliminates meat including but not limited to chicken, steak and fish. The diet is particularly high in vegetables, grains and fruit.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there are different types of vegetarian diets

Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Eats eggs and dairy products.

Lacto-vegetarian: Includes dairy products, but not egg products.

Ovo-vegetarian: Includes egg products, but not dairy products.

Vegan: Excludes eggs and dairy products and in some cases, honey.

Raw Vegan: Eats primarily uncooked foods such as vegetables, nuts, fruits, seeds, legumes and sprouted grains 75 to 100% of the time.

Nutrition Tips for Vegetarians

The primary question asked about vegetarian diets is usually related to how one can get enough variety, especially protein. While carbohydrates are a point of discussion among people with diabetes, healthy carbs that are eaten in vegetarian and vegan diets are usually high in fiber, which slows digestion and prevents blood sugar spikes; fiber also lowers cholesterol. If you’re aiming to cut meat out of your diet, you’ll find there are other ways to get an adequate intake of protein, too. Here’s a breakdown on the non-meat food groups:


Aim for grains high in fiber and protein such as quinoa, oats, brown rice, farro, barley, rye and millet instead of refined, processed ones. Check the food label as you consider different products to ensure you’re getting the best nutritional value. If you enjoy pasta, you can find it made from brown rice and quinoa. Finally, most bread and cereals have been fortified with iron.

Vegetables and fruits

Three words—Eat. The. Rainbow. Why do we say this? Because this ensures you’re eating a variety of vitamins, minerals and fiber. You have a lot of choices when it comes to this food group. Get in a variety of leafy greens, peppers, fruits and other plant-based foods. Need some ideas on where to start? Check out our clean eating grocery list.

Legumes and Nuts

You have a lot of options here. Choose among beans, peas, lentils and nuts to give you a punch of protein, a bunch of fiber and a good dose of healthy fats. Plus, these are great ways to add some different textures to your meals. Eating a salad? Throw some walnuts or sunflower seeds in there. Love soup? Try lentil soup or vegetarian Italian minestrone soup.

Dairy and Eggs

Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt are high in calcium and fortified with Vitamin D. Go for dairy products that are low in fat or fat-free. There are alternatives like cashew milk, soymilk or almond milk. Products like almond milk can come sweetened or unsweetened and differ in the number of carbs per serving. Nutritional yeast is a popular cheese substitute, along with vegan cheese.

Meat Substitutes

Going vegan or vegetarian doesn’t mean you have to forgo the “meaty” flavor of some dishes. Alternatives like seitan, tempeh and tofu can give you the meaty texture you desire. Popular meat substitute brands such as Impossible Burgers, Beyond Meat, Morning Star and Quorn are a few examples of store-bought products you can try.

Health Benefits of the Vegetarian Diet

It has been documented that this type of nutritional approach reduces risk of health conditions like obesity, heart disease and hypertension. Furthermore, since this diet is high in vegetable consumption, it is not surprising that those who follow these eating plans consume more fiber and less total calories as well as less saturated fat. Some recent research mentions that this diet’s other benefits include preventing and managing diabetes and weight loss. 

Studies referenced in the Consensus of Nutritional Therapy for Adults with Diabetes and Prediabetes showed different results in blood glucose levels and cardiovascular risks and even quality of life in general.

It’s been concluded, after extensive review of documentation and evidence that a vegetarian nutritional approach can result in weight loss, including the reduction of ab circumference measurements, cholesterol levels, triglycerides and that better glycemic management results and often reflects in an overall reduction of A1c average levels between 0.3-0.4% in people with type 2 diabetes.

We live in times where there are so many different diet options for different types of people. There are no lists or prefabricated guides that serve the same way for all individuals. Whatever food plan you prefer, go to a nutrition expert so that together you can draw up a plan that not only eliminates food groups but also includes the most crucial ones to take care of your health.

WRITTEN BY Mariana Gómez, POSTED 06/26/19, UPDATED 07/31/23

Mariana has a degree in psychology and a diabetes educator. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the 80's. In 2008, Mariana started a blog where she shares her life experience with others and topics related to life with diabetes and emotional health. Mariana worked for the Mexican Diabetes Federation until 2012 and today she is project manager at Beyond Type 1. She is the mother of a teenager.