Veggies — They're What's for Dinner

When diabetes is involved, the one thing you learn right away as you begin to seriously consider eating healthier is that Mom was right — eat your vegetables. You will hear that declaration more often and more emphatically. Eating healthy with diabetes has two clear objectives — controlling blood glucose and reducing the risk for heart disease. When you're on track, improving in one area almost automatically leads to improvements in the other. When you're off track, the consequences are multiplied.

So, what's with vegetables? Well, it's much more than just the vitamins and nutrients when diabetes is concerned — it's about volume, too. If you move a few starchy vegetables aside — potatoes, corn, and peas — vegetables are one group of foods you can eat in considerable quantity with no real concern. Meat, fish, eggs, cheese, and nuts — watch the high-calorie fat and the saturated fat that increases your risk for heart disease. With grains, fruits, beans, starchy vegetables, and milk, be careful with the carbohydrates, because if you overdo those your blood glucose control becomes trickier. With nonstarchy vegetables, you can go back for seconds. It's really a double bonus — extraordinarily healthy vegetables are the foods you can eat most freely.

At first glance, maybe being a strict vegetarian — a vegan — would be a simple way to put yourself in a place where you'd never have to worry about what you're eating again. Hardly anyone who takes diabetes seriously hasn't fantasized about never having to think about food. So, is being vegan the answer?

Being vegan is not the Shangri-La of diets. It's not that anything is wrong with choosing to be a vegan — it's that vegans have their own unique worries, and at least a couple of serious ones. You only need a microscopic amount of vitamin B12 every day, but it is virtually impossible to get enough from plants. And, a deficiency can do permanent nerve damage. Food producers catering to vegetarians responsibly fortify many foods with vitamin B12, but as a vegan you still have to make sure you're getting enough.

Getting adequate, quality protein can be challenging for vegans and so can calcium. Protein is necessary for cell growth and tissue repair and calcium not only goes for building strong bones, but is also intimately involved in key metabolic processes.

The richest sources of vitamin B12, quality protein, and calcium come from animals, but the point isn't to prove that vegans should eat meat. The point is to prove that anyone who wants to eat healthy, and especially when diabetes is involved, has to know what they need, know how to find it, and do it as well as they can.

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