By: Lisa Robertson
As I was sitting in the hospital after a heart attack, my cardiologist walked in and said, “You have to stop eating meat.” “Red meat?” I asked hopefully. “All meat,” he replied firmly. It was disconcerting, to say the least, because meat has been in my life since I could feed myself. But my cardiologist explained, “If you don’t want to end up back here again, you will start on an plant-based diet immediately.” That day, I stopped eating meat. In fact, I asked the hospital food service to switch me to a vegetarian diet.
At the time, I didn’t understand the overwhelming emotional and physical impact this change would have on my life and family. Until something is gone, you don’t know how much you will miss it. The experience has been like a bad break-up: You miss it, you want it back, and everything reminds you that it’s gone. But one thing I can say is that my health has improved. It has been only three months, but I can already see a difference in myself, my husband, and my children.
My decision to change my lifestyle has impacted not only my everyday life, but also my life with diabetes. I have had diabetes for over 10 years, and the hardest part is still the fluctuation in my sugar levels on a day-to-day basis. Changing from a complete carnivore to a vegan has had a major impact on my sugar levels, which go down quickly on some days but not on other days. Planning meals has become a big part of my life, and it still takes up a lot of my time. Over the last three months, I have struggled with designing meals that will help both my diabetes and my heart disease.
If you are planning on making the change to veganism, prepare yourself for the ups and downs that will follow. Easing into it will make the change less emotionally and physically overwhelming. The following tips may prove helpful if you are planning to become a vegan:
1. Check your blood sugar regularly.
2. Check the amount of sugar and carbs in the fruits and vegetables that you eat.
3. Eat six small meals instead of three larger ones.
4. If you are exercising more, check your sugar levels before, during, and after each workout.
5. Drink plenty of water.
6. Carry a snack with you at all times.
7. Reduce your juice intake if you increase your fruit intake.
8. Most important of all, don’t worry if you slip up. Becoming vegan is a total life change, and we all know that change doesn’t happen overnight!
When you reduce your meat and carbohydrate intake, you tend to overdo the fruits and vegetables to feel full. But when you have diabetes, you must watch the natural sugars in foods as well. Checking your blood sugar more frequently will ensure that your sugar levels are not going too low or high.
As my cardiologist explained, “Meat creates additional plaque in the arteries, causing a narrowing of the arteries and blood vessels that can lead to heart attack and stroke.” A vegan diet reduces the chances of future plaque build-up. While being a vegan can’t undo the damage that is already done, I believe that it can prevent further damage from occurring. I don’t know if the plaque is clearing from my arteries yet. But I do know that I feel far better now than I have in a long time. Making the switch to veganism has been a hard road, but the payoff is well worth it.