Diabetes Diet #10: Spring Into Vegetarianism

Diabetes Recipes:

Vegetarian Chicken Soup
Artichokes with Dipping Sauce
Spaghetti Squash
Polenta Stuffed Mushrooms

“To become vegetarian is to step
into the stream which leads to nirvana


The vegetarian diet consists of plant-based foods and avoids animal flesh foods. Close to 16 million Americans call themselves vegetarians. There are, however, varying degrees of vegetarianism.

Vegans eat nothing originating from animal sources, not even honey from the bee. Lacto-Ovo vegetarians allow milk and dairy in their diets, products obtained from animals, without slaughter. Lacto vegetarians restrict themselves to milk and milk products, avoiding eggs.

The macrobiotic (“the art of longevity”) diet is based on a holistic approach to balance and life. Its Asian influences are partial to brown rice and sea vegetables. The pendulum swings widely to encompass various degrees of additions to the vegetarian diet, to where, at its widest angle, people call themselves vegetarian because they don’t eat red meat. Why vegetarianism, you may be wondering. Health, ecological, humanitarian, religious reasons, even a dollop of hip trendiness are good arguments to switch over.

Whole and organic food sources are widely available all over the country. The choice really is ours when it comes to diet. The one most important factor to remember with diabetes is a balance. A complete diet including protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, radiates a rhythm of good health. Taking the vegetarian route can be exciting, empowering and a giant step towards excellent health.

You will soon feel subtle changes after embarking on the non-meat mode. Advocates of the vegetarian diet claim a certain internal lightness and cleanliness, higher energy levels, fewer sleep requirements, normalized weight, less constipation, fewer digestive problems, and reduced stress. Diet is not a magic wand but eating the right kinds of foods guide us to reach our healthiest potential.

When do you try a vegetarian diet when you feel ready for a change? To test the plant-based diet of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and possibly dairy, do so gradually and alert your doctor and nutritionist or dietitian.

Tips to make the switch

Analyze your present diet and become aware of the changes you want to make. Do so gradually. No violent shocks to your digestive system, bg’s, or mind, please. Learn to access your body’s vast information systems, the inner sonar that will help guide you to a beautiful fresh peach instead of Snickers bar. Knowledge, technology, science, and medicine are crucial factors to use and respect in pursuing a healthy life, but subconscious signals from our internal sonar relay valuable information, too. Keep in touch. Learn how to prepare one or two vegetarian dishes very well. Gradually you’ll add to your repertoire with confidence and flair.

Start by making one day a week, “vegetarian for a day”. Find a good health food shop in your neighborhood and hang out there, browse the aisles to familiarize yourself with new items to try, like mung beans, quinoa, and tempeh. Begin stocking your pantry with grains, legumes, spices, and seasonings for easy access to a quick vegetarian meal. Give up red meat, then chicken and fish, if that feels right.

Build up gradually to a comfort level vegetarian diet that is right for you and your diabetes management. Don’t purge too radically, Use up those cans, jars, and foods stored in your cupboards and freezer as you ease your way towards nirvana.

My own personal path to vegetarianism came by way of accidental baptism at a butcher shop in southern Italy. I arrived in the small village of Positano, on the Amalfi Coast in 1968. As it happened, the butcher shop was only open one day a week. Moving slowly down the mountain with my toddler by my side, it was 2 in the afternoon when I arrived at the “maccelleria” with visions of thick steak and succulent veal chops in mind.

I was stunned to discover kidneys, livers, brains, sweetbreads, and hearts instead. I quickly learned that the local fishermen came into shore early each morning, bearing a cache of sardines, tiny clams, and other sweet, fresh fish whose names I didn’t know. They pulled their boats up on the beach to empty the ample nets for those who stood to wait to buy the sea treasures. I was happy to join the crowd. Once the fish were sold, the swarthy fishermen sat on the beach, legs and arms outstretched, to weave repairs in their nets with their fingers and toes. Their incredible dexterity and rhythm looked like some ancient mystical dance moving to the music of the wind and rolling sea.

From these fishermen, I learned how to cook the fish with local ingredients garlic, tomatoes, olives, and fresh herbs. My family’s diet became fish, soft cheeses made from goats’ and sheep’s’ milk and sweet pillows of creamy Buffalo milk mozzarella, an abundance of fresh sun-kissed vegetables and herbs, figs, olives, and almonds plucked from trees in the courtyard. The daily walking up and down the mountain provided exercise that I was unaware of was exercise. If the HbA1c was around in those days I would have tested 4.8 every time!

But as an American, I harbored thoughts about one day tearing into a big juicy steak. Steak day arrived after 2 years of fish and vegetables. I got to eat a big juicy succulent “bistecca fiorentina”. It tasted great. For days afterward, however, as my digestive system screamed and threatened mercilessly, I realized I was I much happier with the simple fresh, seasonal whole foods diet. And that’s how I became, and remain, a vegetarian.

Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet
Albert Einstein

Let’s talk about your vegetarian journey to nirvana. One question or warning you might hear concerning vegetarianism is about Vitamin B 12 studies which show that a restricted diet of vegetable foods may only cause anemia. However, a diet based on whole grains and beans will supply vitamin B 12 in adequate amounts.

Or the protein caution. So, where’s the protein in a vegetarian diet, the Doubting Thomas crowd asks. A combination of grains, rice, bread, corn and legumes (beans) contains complete protein, carbohydrate, fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Always stay away from rigid: a singular, stern, restricted diet ideology can be faltering, even dangerous to good diabetes care. Stay healthy. Be complete. Be flexible. Keep the balance.

Diabetes Recipes
Vegetarian Chicken Soup
Nice to have anytime

6 cups of water
1 of each: carrot, zucchini, yellow squash, leek, celery rib
1 cup green beans
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 cup flat-leaf parsley
1. Wash and chop vegetables. Place all ingredients in a large soup pot and bring to boil. Cover and simmer 30 minutes Use strained as broth or whole as soup.

Optional Seasonings: soy sauce or kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, hot sauce, fresh herbs.

Nutrition Information: Serving Size: 1 cup, Calories: 20, Carbs: 4 grams, Fat: 0 grams, Protein: 0 grams

Spaghetti Squash, Garlic, and Lemon
1 2-pound spaghetti squash
1 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 T. flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 T. grated lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  1. Cut squash in half lengthwise and steam for 20 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Warm oil in a large skillet. Add garlic and saute for 2 minutes.
  3. Scoop out “spaghetti” from squash and drain. Add to skillet and toss well. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Toss in remaining ingredients and serve.

Nutrition Information: Serving Size: 2 cups, Calories: 200, Carbs: 30 grams, Fat: 8 grams, Protein: 4 grams, Fiber: 6 grams

Artichoke Appetizer
Per Serving:
1 large artichoke
1t. fresh lemon juice and 1 / 2 t. grated zest
1 1 / 2 t. great quality olive oil
Optional: salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. With scissors, snip off tough and brown tips from leaves. Trim bottom stem.
  2. Steam artichokes upside down, cover and simmer 20 – 30 minutes, until tender when poked with a sharp knife. Drain.
  3. Drizzle with oil. Lemon juice, zest, and seasonings. 

Note: Artichokes, the flower buds of a large thistle, are a fun food to eat, plucking off one leaf at a time. Look for smooth leaves and heavyweight. Store by moistening tops with water and placing in plastic bags in the fridge. When working with artichokes, add a few drops of vinegar or lemon juice to water, to prevent leaves from browning. Be sure to cut out the hairy fiber, the “choke” part, when you get near
the stem. Underneath the choke is a delicious, meaty edible pod or disc.

You may want to dip leaves in a sauce: here is a simple one that goes well with artichokes:

1 clove garlic, minced, 1 T balsamic vinegar, 1 t. Fresh lemon juice, grated zest, pinch sugar, salt and pepper to taste, 2 //T. Olive oil. Shake vigorously in a tightly closed jar. ( 1T = 70 cal., 7 grams fat, 2 carbs, 0 protein).

Nutrition Information: Serving Size: 1 artichoke, Calories: 45, Carbs:  3 grams, Protein: 1 gram, Fat:  1 gram, Fiber: 2.6 grams

Polenta Stuffed Mushrooms
2 large portabello mushroom caps
1 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t. fresh lemon juice
1 t. Reduced sodium soy sauce
1 T. pignoli nuts or walnuts, toasted
1 / 2 yellow cup cornmeal
1 cup vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 / 4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 t. each chive, parsley, thyme

  1. Saute garlic in oil to soften. Turn off heat and add lemon juice, and soy, Brush mushrooms with mixture.
  2. Bring broth to the boil, and slowly sprinkle in cornmeal. Lower heat and stir to thicken, about 5 minutes. Add cheese. Keep warm.
  3. Set mushrooms in a preheated broiler, gill sides down and broil 4 minutes on each side.
  4. Place mushrooms on plates and fill each mushroom with polenta.
  5. Garnish with nuts and chopped herbs.

Nutrition Information: Serving Size: 1 mushroom, Calories: 250, Carbs: 23  grams, Fat: 8 grams, Fiber: 4 grams, Protein: 11 grams