Most studies on vegetarian diets and diabetes focus mostly on how these diets reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.  Although this is important research, many diabetics are mostly concerned with controlling their blood sugar on a day to day basis.  So can a vegetarian diet help a diabetic improve blood glucose readings?

A famous study by Dr. Nathan Pritikin, published in 1983, started the interest in vegetarian diets and diabetes. Dr. Pritikin found that a vegetarian, high fiber diet was effective in reducing blood glucose in diabetic participants. Another study that compared vegetarians to non-vegetarians in terms of diabetes risk, found vegetarians had a 50% lower risk of developing diabetes over a 21 year period.

Many critics of these studies believe that the benefits seen are not from the vegetarian diet, but from the weight loss that results from following a low-fat vegetarian diet.  All of the experimental studies to date on vegetarian diets have had weight loss as a confounding factor. Therefore, it is difficult to determine if the positive results are from the weight loss or from the vegetarian diet itself.

A benefit of a vegetarian diet is the amount of fiber it contains. High fiber foods increase satiety and may help you eat less overall. A vegetarian diet, when planned correctly can also include a several low glycemic foods, such as whole grains or green leafy vegetables, which can help improve blood sugar.

Vegetarian diets are also low in saturated fat and cholesterol therefore can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.  But, the biggest benefit of a vegetarian diet for diabetics may be weight loss. Losing just 5% of your body weight can decrease blood sugar and reduce your risk for long-term complications related to diabetes. Overall, a vegetarian diet may be beneficial for diabetics who have elevated cholesterol or who need to lose weight.