Vegan Diabetes Diet: Foods To Eat, Benefits, And Precautions

Reviewed by Ella Davar, RD, CDN
Written by Charushila Biswas, MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist

A vegan diabetes diet is beneficial for people with chronically elevated and high blood sugar. This diet includes plant-based foods rich in protein, dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats that help lower high blood sugar (1). But, not all plant-based vegan foods are healthy. For example, potato chips and bagels are vegan, but they not going to help you reach your health-related goals! That’s why it is best to consult a dietitian or a diabetes expert if you want to go on a vegan diet.

We reached out to some diabetes experts to help us understand how to manage and control blood sugar on a vegan diet. This post discusses everything we learnt from them. Ready to start your dietitian-approved vegan diet for high blood sugar? Scroll down!

Definition: What Is The Vegan Diabetes Diet?

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, appropriately planned vegetarian and vegan diets are healthy, can provide adequate nutrition, and can be beneficial for reducing the risk of certain diseases (2).

A vegan diabetes diet is a dietary strategy to manage diabetes through the consumption of only plant-based foods and avoiding all animal-sourced products (honey, yogurt, cheese, milk, fish, chicken, etc.), processed foods, and saturated fats.

Kaytee Hadley RDN, MSNHL, CPT, says, “Vegan diets can prevent, manage, and even reverse type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.” She emphasizes that “the more plants on your plate, the better.”

But does eating a plant-based diet actually help reverse or manage diabetes? Is there any research study to back this claim?

Benefits: Why The Vegan Diet Is Good For Diabetes

A vegan or plant-based diet has been studied by researchers extensively. Such a diet was found to have positive results on many health conditions, including diabetes (3).

A vegan diet can be used as a diabetes prevention tool and for improving blood sugar management, according to the American Diabetes Association (4).

Dr. Mubashar Rehman, Ph.D., says, “Managing diabetes is about controlling the body’s glucose levels. A vegan diet makes it easier to control not only the sugar levels but also the cholesterol intake and saturated fats. This is why going on a vegan diet is beneficial for diabetic patients.”

Here are the 7 reasons a vegan diet is good for people with diabetes.

1. May Help Manage Weight

Reducing and managing weight is the primary strategy to control diabetes. The American Diabetes Association confirms that people who eat a plant-based diet have a lower BMI (5).

Brittany Lubeck, MS, RD, says, “Vegan diets are high in nutrients like fiber and antioxidants. A vegan diet, especially one that primarily consists of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, tends to be lower in carbohydrates than the modern Western diet.” Many studies have also shown that vegan diets help reduce body weight and BMI in people with diabetes (1), (6).

2. May Help Manage Insulin Resistance

Insulin is a hormone that encourages glucose uptake by cells, where it is converted to usable energy. Kaytee Hadley RDN, MSNHL, CPT, says, “The saturated fat found in animal products contributes to inflammation and belly fat, causing insulin resistance.” Insulin resistance hampers glucose uptake by cells and leads to high blood sugar. Studies have proven that a plant-based or vegan diet helps improve blood sugar control by making the body more insulin sensitive (1), (7).

3. May Help Manage HbA1c Levels

HbA1c or hemoglobin A 1c levels are tested to diagnose diabetes and prediabetes. An HbA1c value of 5.7% to 6.4% is diagnosed as prediabetes, while that of 6.5% or higher is diagnosed as diabetes. Hemoglobin’s main function is to carry oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. Excess glucose in the blood causes the hemoglobin to get coated with glucose (8). A study found that people who consumed a plant-based diet reduced HbA1c values compared to those on conventional diets (9).

4. May Help Manage LDL Cholesterol Levels

Consumption of excess red meat and animal products and processed foods can elevate LDL cholesterol levels. This may eventually block arteries and lead to cardiovascular issues (10). But eating a vegan diet and exercising regularly can help lower LDL cholesterol. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms that people on a vegan diet tend to have low LDL cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease (11).

5. May Reduce Diabetes-Related Complications

Major diabetes-related complications include kidney disease, diabetic retinopathy, neuropathy, and nephropathy. Studies have proven that a plant-based or a vegan diet helps reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy, chronic kidney disease, neuropathy, and nephropathy (12).

6. May Reduce Metabolic Syndrome Risk

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions including obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. It increases the risk of heart disease and insulin resistance. As per a study, consuming a plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome by 56%. A plant-based diet also helps reduce inflammation that helps prevent excess fat accumulation (13).

7. Promotes Psychological Wellbeing

A vegan diet can also help improve psychological wellbeing. Researchers studied the effect of a plant-based diet on people with diabetes. They found that a plant-based diet helped reduce HbA1c levels (reduced blood sugar) and cholesterol as well as improved emotional wellbeing. It reduced depressive symptoms and improved the quality of life in people with diabetes (14).

Going on a vegan diet is the best way to manage diabetes or reverse prediabetes. But not all vegetables and fruits are ideal for people with diabetes. One has to choose low-GI foods and also be mindful not to consume vegan junk food (like potato chips). Read to know the foods to eat and avoid.

Eat: Foods List For The Vegan Diabetes Diet

  • Vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, spinach, chard, arugula, kale, edamame, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, purple cabbage, scallions, carrot, green beans, squash, onion, etc.
  • Fruits: Apple, grapefruit, muskmelon, avocado, strawberries, plum, pears, oranges, lime, lemon, and tangerines.
  • Whole Grains: Barley, sorghum, wheat, broken wheat, red rice, black rice, brown rice, quinoa, millet, and amaranth.
  • Protein: Lentils, beans, tofu, mushrooms, teff, mock meat, and nutritional yeast.
  • Healthy Fats: Olive oil, avocado oil, rice bran oil, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, melon seeds, pepita, chia seeds, pistachios, macadamia, Brazil nuts, and moderate amounts of peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, and sunflower seed butter.
  • Beverages: Water, fenugreek seed water, freshly pressed fruit or vegetable juices, and tea and coffee without cream and sugar.
  • Herbs And Spices: Rosemary, thyme, dill, cilantro, fenugreek, cinnamon, pepper, cardamom, star anise, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper, ginger, garlic, etc.

That’s a long list of foods you can eat! Take a screenshot and save it to refer to it when you go grocery shopping again. But there are also foods that you must avoid when on a vegan diet for diabetes. What are they?

Avoid: Foods Not To Eat

  • Sugary Foods: Sugar, cakes, pastries, candies, doughnuts, dried fruits, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, packaged sauces, etc.
  • Refined Carbs: White rice, bread, pasta, refined flour, and breakfast cereal.
  • Trans Fats: Chips, wafers, onion rings, onion blossom, biscuits, cookies, dairy whiteners, frozen foods, ready-to-eat foods, canned foods, etc.
  • Fruits And Vegetables: Potato, sweet potato (without skin), beetroot, green peas, pumpkin, watermelon, pineapple, papaya, and sapodilla.
  • Fats And Oils: Salted nuts, safflower oil, and corn oil.
  • Beverages: Packaged fruit and vegetable juices, alcohol, tea or coffee with sugar and cream, and sports drinks.
  • Others: Fish, meat, sausage, salami, milk, yogurt, cheese, honey, etc.

Knowing what to eat and avoid is the first step to managing diabetes. The next step is to design a meal plan that will work for you. You may refer to the following sample vegan diabetes diet plan.

Menu: Sample Vegan Diabetes Diet Plan

MealsWhat To Eat
Early Morning (7:00 a.m.)2 teaspoons fenugreek soaked in water overnight
Breakfast (8:00 a.m.)Avocado toast (whole-wheat bread) + Grapefruit juice
Snack (10:30 a.m.)½ cup muskmelon
Lunch (12:30 – 1:00 p.m.)½ cup quinoa with boiled chickpeas + ½ cup cooked or raw veggies and greens
Snack (4:00 p.m.)5-6 cucumber slices with ¼ cup homemade hummus
Dinner (6:30 – 7:00 p.m.)1 cup roasted cauliflower, green beans, bell peppers +  3 oz. pan-tossed tofu

Your vegan diabetes diet does not have to be boring. The diet plan mentioned above includes nutritious plant-based foods that have flavor and crunch. In addition to the diet, you also must take care of your lifestyle to manage diabetes. The following section takes you through certain lifestyle tweaks that you can make.

Lifestyle: Improvements To Manage/Reverse Diabetes

  • Exercise Regularly
    Exercising and staying active are crucial for diabetes management. Mix cardio and strength training to keep your workout routine fun (15). Get 4 to 5 hours of exercise per week to reduce BMI and body weight and reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications like cardiovascular disease, retinopathy, neuropathy, and nephropathy (16).
  • Follow A Routine
    A well-thought-out routine that accommodates your daily activities and integrates the new diet and lifestyle seamlessly is the best way forward. Without a routine, you will not be able to plan and achieve your goal – to manage and probably reverse diabetes. Create a weekly routine, make to-do lists, and journal your progress.
  • Stay Stress-Free
    Staying stress-free is easier said than done. But conscious practice gradually helps reduce stress. There are many ways to practice being stress-free. Start by spending at least 20 to 30 minutes by yourself. You also can learn a new skill to keep your mind engaged productively. Understand that not all your problems require immediate attention – and neither can all problems be solved always. Make smart choices while dealing with problems by deciding if a problem deserves your time at all. Finally, get 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Sleeping reboots your brain, which will help you think clearly and make wise decisions.
  • Join Support Groups
    A support group can help you discuss and talk about diabetes in a closed circle of people. You will also be able to exchange recipe ideas or meet workout friends to keep you motivated to exercise regularly.
  • Have A Positive Outlook
    Dealing with diabetes is not easy. Your food habits and lifestyle that you are so accustomed to must change completely. The mantra to success is to have a positive attitude. You will be able to manage and possibly reverse diabetes if you take all the limes that life’s throwing at you and make lemonade without sugar in it!

Your diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes will work together to help you manage diabetes. However, being on a vegan diabetes diet may also cause nutritional deficiencies in some. While taking supplements can help, one must also know which ones to go for. Read the next section.

Precautions: How To Overcome Nutritional Deficiencies

Brittany Lubeck, MS, RD, says “Vegans may need to take a few supplements to prevent nutrient deficiencies. They need to know what nutrients they are not getting from their diet, as some nutrient deficiencies can cause serious issues.” She advises considering taking the following supplements after consulting your doctor:

  • Vitamin B12
    Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods. Hence, vegans must take this nutrient in supplement form or through fortified vegan foods.
  • Calcium
    Although you can get calcium from some plant-based foods, getting enough as a vegan can be difficult.
  • Vitamin D
    Your body can synthesize vitamin D from the sun, but it may be a good idea for vegans to take a vitamin D supplement as well. Vitamin D increases calcium absorption, and since calcium may be hard to come by for vegans, this could be an essential supplement to add to the list.
  • DHA
    DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid. Your body can use another type of omega-3 called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), found in some plant-based foods, to synthesize DHA – but that may not be enough DHA.
  • Protein
    It can be a challenge to eat enough protein without a daily intake of animal foods. Use plant-based protein powders (brown rice, pea, pumpkin, or hemp) to reach your protein goals.
  • Iron
    There are two types of iron – heme and non-heme. While non-heme iron is found in some plant foods, heme iron is only found in animal foods. However, heme iron is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron. Hence, vegans may need to take an iron supplement or multivitamin that contains iron to prevent a deficiency.

The vegan diabetes diet involves eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein and eliminating the intake of trans fats and saturated fats. Moreover, whole foods are low in simple carbohydrates and rich in fiber, which helps increase satiety and reduce energy intake. This leads to better management of blood sugar levels and other metabolic-related diseases. The diet also works to reduce insulin resistance, improve HbA1c levels, and reduce “bad” cholesterol. However, a vegan diet may result in vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, iron, and protein deficiencies, so take supplements accordingly.

Frequently Asked Questions

What changes will I see with my insulin on a vegan diet?

A vegan diet has been found to improve insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes. Your body will be able to use circulating glucose effectively and will make you feel less hungry. You will consume fewer calories as a result.

How to get enough protein in a vegan diabetes diet?

You can get protein from nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, edamame, tofu, soy, mushrooms, teff, and quinoa. You may also go for a vegan protein supplement (sugarless) after talking to your dietitian.

Key Takeaways

  • A vegan diabetes diet refers to a plant-based diet for people with chronic high blood sugar levels.
  • A no animal protein, vegan diet not only aims at avoiding junk to keep your sugar levels in check, but also helps maintain your weight, cholesterol, and fat levels.
  • It may also help wth diabetes and reduce risks of metabolic syndrome as well.


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  1. A Low-Fat Vegan Diet Improves Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Randomized Clinical Trial in Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes
  2. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets
  3. Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women: Results from Three Prospective Cohort Studies
  4. Vegetarian Diets in the Prevention and Management of Diabetes and Its Complications
  5. Preparing to Prescribe Plant-Based Diets for Diabetes Prevention and Treatment
  6. A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes
  7. Plant versus animal based diets and insulin resistance prediabetes and type 2 diabetes: the Rotterdam Study
  8. Hemoglobin A1C
  9. Plant-based Diet for HbA1c Reduction in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: an Evidence-based Case Report
  10. How cholesterol clogs the arteries
  11. Health effects of vegan diets
  12. Perspective: Plant-Based Eating Pattern for Type 2 Diabetes Prevention and Treatment: Efficacy Mechanisms and Practical Considerations
  13. The Prevention and Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus with a Plant-Based Diet
  14. Effectiveness of plant-based diets in promoting well-being in the management of type 2 diabetes: A systematic review
  15. The essential role of exercise in the management of type 2 diabetes
  16. Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes
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Ella Davar

Ella Davar is a registered dietitian, integrative nutritionist, certified health coach, and speaker who specializes in personalized anti-aging nutrition programs... more