Vegetarian and Type 1

A friend of mine asked a nutritionist that she works with about how I recently went vegetarian. The nutritionist shook her head and said that it probably isn’t a good idea. She said that being vegetarian, you don’t get as much protein, which is something that is very important for diabetes. I was just wondering if anyone is a vegetarian and how they deal with it, and if anyone has any tips for me.

I eat a vegan diet and am type 1 (age 57 at diagnosis) My endo and dietitian are very aware of my food choices and applaud me. Their palates are similar to mine, so that makes it easier for me. My protein comes from legumes, plant proteins (kale and edamame are two examples) and nuts. There are many meat substitutes out there. Read your labels because some brands have hidden things you don’t want in your body. If the ingredients list things you can’t pronounce, then it is probably something you don’t want in your body. I make sure each of my meals or snacks have carbohydrates, protein, and fat. For meals I aim for at least 5 grams of protein.

There are arguments on both sides. Each person has to decide what is best for their own life and health. I would love to exchange recipes back and forth.

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The main difficulty in being a Type 1 vegetarian isn’t so much the protein (although everyone needs to make sure to get sufficient protein), but the carbs. If you want to limit/reduce carbs as an omnivore there are lots of options, including some that are easy to prepare with limited time or cooking skills/interests. You just make your meat, and accompany it with salads and vegies. For us vegetarians it is a little more complicated. When I was diagnosed I told the dietician I ate healthy and didn’t need to change. I did eat healthy, just not for a Type 1 diabetic! Things like rice, pasta and cereal were staples in my diet. No more. I decided that I would give up being a vegetarian if I needed to do that for my health. But I didn’t want to and I have been able to remain a vegetarian and eat a tasty, varied and medium/low carb diet. But it takes a lot of time and attention. For me, that’s ok, because I’m partly retired and I love to cook. If anything, it’s made me be a more creative cook. But if you don’t have time or interest in cooking it is harder to be a vegetarian and a Type 1.

If you eat eggs and dairy products it’s very simple to get enough protein. If you’re vegan it’s not quite so simple but it is certainly doable especially if you eat soy. From a blood sugar control perspective, getting sufficient fat in your diet is probably more important than getting enough protein. The fats can substitute for carbohydrates as a source of calories and if you eat moderately high carb as I do, the fat slows down the spike.


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You’ll have to find what works for you, but I find that a vegetarian/vegan diet is very doable. And even though I eat closer to vegan than to vegetarian most of the time, I’m getting plenty of protein. (Back when I used to see a nutritionist, she commented that I was getting more protein than most of the bodybuilders she was working with!)
Beans, nuts, seeds, soy products like tofu or tempeh, seitan, green veggies - all have lots of protein. The trick for me is finding that happy medium of some carbs without having too much. So tonight when I serve my family polenta with some fennel & bean stew, I’ll have the stew with less of the polenta. (Many just wouldn’t have the polenta at all.)
I don’t think you need to worry about what somebody else’s nutritionist thinks of you. Just find your own healthy path.

I agree with this. Adding avacadoes or extra virgin olive oil are great at adding healthy fat to the diet.

My doctors have all said diabetes is actually a bit easier for vegetarians/vegans. There are books out there to help. Check out Dr. Neal Barnard.

The flack you’ll get is from people who have decided to go the paleo route. it’s hard to do without meat since it’s so protein focused, but that’s just one possible diet. It’s not hard to get the protein you need from vegetarian sources. Heck, you can even manage it as a vegan. You just have to avoid the one pitfall a lot of new vegetarians fall into – relying too much on carbs.

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I don’t know why people think that we need so much protein. We really don’t need too much. The US recommended daily allowance of protein is .8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight (.36 grams per pound) for the general population. -SOURCE-

So when people tell me that vegetarians don’t get enough protein I try to explain that we don’t need much and it’s super easy to get enough from really common foods like tofu and beans.

CONFESSION: I’ve only been vegetarian since February of this year. So I’m not speaking with tons of experience. :smile:

The citation you provide is from Kent State in 1995. The current IOM guidelines is that adult males get at least 56 grams of protein a day which is consistent with the figure that @mrmikelawson gave. Given that protein is an essential nutrient (you cannot synthesize it from fat or carbs) it is probably a good idea to get at least 50g/day. If you ate a block of tofu a day you could get your protein requirement. But there are other sources, @roodgirl gives a bunch of ideas. As a vegetarian my daughter has struggled with protein as she doesn’t really like tofu and many of the other options are highly processed.

I think a harder challenge for vegan/vegetarians is getting healthy sources of fat as @still_young_at_heart mentioned. Humans actually need fat and important vitamins (A, D, E and K) as well as other nutrients can only be absorbed when you eat dietary fat. My daughter also supplements with B12 which is only found in animal food sources.

I actually think that someone with T1 can do better than a T2 on a vegan/vegetarian diet since they are likely insulin sensitive and can cover the increased carbs. Someone with T2 is insulin resistant and intolerant of carbs and generally has a harder time.

Doesn’t the calculation @mrmikelawson gave come out to roughly the same amount? If an average adult male weighs around 170 pounds, then Mike’s calculation (170 x .36) would be 61.2g.

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Good point, I didn’t do my maths. I was just trying to point to a more definitive source. I’ve edited my post to correct it. I just know I always had to work carefully with my daughter getting protein.

I get protein from beans (like kidney and refried) or aka legumes, nuts, seeds, yogurt, cheese, and even my whole grain bread choice has a good measure of it. You don’t have to eat meat to get the nutrients necessary. You also don’t have to increase the fat or reduce your carbs. I have a healthy diet that is sans fat, includes all of the stuff I already mentioned, and is full of fruits and veggies. I am never hungry, I have nonstop energy, and I feel good. So my “tip” is don’t share or defend your preferred way of eating, just enjoy it :slight_smile:


Not all nutritionists have a good background or education with vegetarianism; same is true with diabetes! The protein worries that other people have is a long term concern that is unfounded. Try to get used to the question…ha. With that rant over :wink: As someone mentioned, the hardest things are pasta and pizza, because they are so loaded with carbs. And the only rice I eat anymore is brown rice. A quick stir fry and some brown rice, takes very little time, and often you can make enough for 2-4 meals. Lentil soups, likewise, are simple. My personal favorite is a huge salad with everything in it (avocado is wonderful, and provides some fat, mixed greens … my favorite base is spinach leaves). I also put some cheese in the salad. The main carbs come from some water crackers. Sometimes some sliced fruit on the side. Amazing how well it holds up in terms of sugars and feeling well-fed.
My 2 cents.

I have been a vegetarian since the summer before high school and I’m now 24 years old, so it’s been a while ~10 years? I’ve never had issues with being a vegetarian and diabetic. I do eat a lot of nuts, dairy, and peanut butter (namely Cheese) where I think it’s fine? I’ve never had any real problems as far as I know, plus my cholesterol is amazing. I eat whatever I want (that includes pasta ) and as long as I get my insulin dosages fine, I have no issues. My A1C has been in the 5% range for a while (5.7% last time, getting another test tomorrow though). The big thing is be precise on your carb counting as much as you can as a human and take your insulin accordingly. I also make my carbs whole grain (be it brown rice, 100% whole wheat bread, 100% whole wheat pasta…) which adds some nutrition.

If you enjoy to eat vegetarian, just do it, don’t let people tell you otherwise if you feel great and full when you eat and don’t feel sick because of it. I never have, I’ve always felt pretty healthy.

I don’t trust a lot of the vegetarian sites lists of foods with protein. For example, one (greenliving, perhaps?) said that one avocado had 10 gm protein. Calorieking says 1 fruit (avocado) of 9.6 oz has 4 gm protein. As Brian said, it is best to use recognized sources. You can think you are eating plenty of protein but maybe not. I am talking mostly about all the protein that veggies are claimed to have.

I’d also just point out that I’ve personally met zero people that have died or even gotten hospitalized because of a lack of protein. Heart disease, cancer and stroke on the other hand I’ve met a few.

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The point that I’ve met zero people who have fallen ill because of low protein and many people who are battling high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke and the complications of obesity still stands.

I hope you are just being silly. Of the three macronutrients, only protein represents a serious short term health issue if insufficient in the diet. Annually, 6M people die from protein deficiency. The death rate from protein deficiency is estimated at 10-100 per 100K in the US in 2002. In 2006, the death rate from stroke was 40-60 per 100K.

Protein is absolutely needed by the body every day, it is essential and is used to constantly rebuild our bodies. You can live for some time without protein, you body will catabolize and waste away. But this is a very unhealthful process. Certain populations are particularly vulnerable to protein deficiency. Infants, children and the elderly need to really worry about protein. And after middle age all of us would be prudent to get abundant protein in our diet to maintain lean muscle mass. Lean muscle mass is a strong predictor of healthy outcomes in the elderly.

And finally I would like to point out that of all the macronutrients, medicine has specifically focused on protein as needing to be present in diets. Even the most extreme diets given to obese patients to help them lose weight all use what is called a Protein Sparing approach which keeps protein at minimum levels in order to avoid permanent damage to the patient due to protein insufficiency.

So I’m sorry to jump all over your case. I know you are probably all stressed out and didn’t really mean to suggest that insufficient protein in the diet as “good.” But I actually think that abundant protein in the diet is a good thing, especially those of us beyond middle age who are trying to stay healthy. And I hope nobody would ever consider a protein insufficient diet for their baby or child. I would also advise anyone thinking about a sustained diet that is not meeting the basic levels of dietary intakes (such as those recommended by the Institute of Medicine) to consult with the doctor or nutritionist to get some sound advice and understanding before making long-term changes.

I feel like you’re reading words I’m not writing. I can’t see anyone in this thread saying to cut all protein or that insufficient protein is good. Perhaps you haven’t had your coffee yet?

Any links or stats won’t change my statement. I’ve met zero people who
Have fallen ill from a lack of protein and a handful that have fallen ill to heart disease and obesity complications.

Sorry if if I misunderstood you. Your observation sounded like “you have never seen anyone die of radiation poisoning but you do know people that have died from heart disease?” I wouldn’t conclude from that observation that radiation was safe. And perhaps I was wrong to come away from your post with the idea that you didn’t think lack of protein was a concern because of your observation. I do get concerned about lack of protein and it sounds like you don’t disagree. I’m sorry if I misunderstood you.

ps. And I am perhaps a little sensitive, my daughter became a vegetarian as a young teen and struggled with protein. As an adult she is several inches shorter than my wife and has had a number of health issues.