The prevalence of diabetes over the last few decades has risen dramatically. According to the American Diabetes Association (2011), 25.8 million Americans (8.3 percent of the population) have diabetes and millions more are in pre-diabetic stages, making it an epidemic health crisis affecting both adults and children. Fortunately, you have many options for modifying your diet and plenty of diabetic cooking recipes for healthy, tasty and diabetic-friendly meals and snacks.
Receiving a diagnosis of a medical condition is never easy, but a condition like diabetes is manageable, especially with a diabetic diet plan. Learn how to make cooking for a diabetic lifestyle part of your daily routine.
Use Sugar and Sugar Substitutes Sparingly
Your doctor has likely already advised you to decrease your sugar intake as part of a healthy diabetes diet. This can be a difficult step for many people, but with time, your cravings for sugar and your tolerance for sweet foods and beverages will actually decrease.
In most cases, you won’t have to avoid all sugars; you’ll just need to decrease, moderate and keep track of your daily carbohydrate intake. Rather than cutting out sugar and sweets altogether, you can swap a small amount of sugar in your meals for other carbohydrates, also known as “carbs”. A typical diabetic diet plan calls for 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates at a meal, and 15 to 30 grams per snack. So as long as you make sure your total carbs per meal or snack remain consistent, you can mix and match, within reason. If you want a high-carbohydrate cookie with your lunch, switch to low-carbohydrate bread on your sandwich.
Many artificial sweetening options are suitable for a diabetic diet, as they contribute nearly zero calories and will not affect blood sugar levels. However, artificial sweeteners are generally ineffective in the baking realm, and some research has linked them to health risks such as migraine headaches, tinnitus, nervous system issues and even cancer.
Stevia, an all-natural plant extract, is 300 times sweeter than sugar and is widely available in the United States. It has the same sweetening effect as artificial sweeteners–without the harsh side effects or health risks–and is effective in many dessert recipes. Date sugar, dried cane juice, brown rice syrup, agave nectar and bananas are just a few more all-natural sweeteners to try.Â If you want to stick with regular sugar in your baking, you can often reduce a recipe’s sugar by 1/3 without ruining the recipe.
Instead of sweetened treats, opt for whole fruits, which are naturally sweet and have less of an effect on your blood sugar levels because the sugars are absorbed more slowly over time.
Watch Your Salt Intake
Sodium is a vital nutrient for humans, but it can also compromise your health if you eat too much of it. People with diabetes are often prone to high blood pressure, which is complicated by too much salt. Like sugar, once you cut back on salt in your cooking, you’ll find that your pallet has shifted and most foods actually need very little extra salt at all. The American Heart Association (2011) recommends consuming less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, which is just over one-half teaspoon per day.
If you are planning a diet for a diabetic or cooking for yourself, read labels! Excess salts, sugars and other unhealthy ingredients can hide in store-bought foods. Cook from scratch as much as possible. Don’t add salt to your meal until after it’s cooked. Taste it first; it might need less salt than you think, or less than a recipe calls for.
Think Fiber in Your Diabetic Diet Plan
Fiber is found in whole grains (such as oats), fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds, and is an incredibly important part of the daily diet for a diabetic person.
Our bodies need time to break down fiber. Therefore, fiber-rich foods, such as oatmeal (which has a particular kind of fiber called soluble fiber) will help your body regulate sugar distribution. Fiber carbohydrates are absorbed over time instead of all at once, preventing dramatic changes in your blood sugar levels.
Aim for 25 to 30 grams of fiber every day, and be creative! You can add whole grains to muffins, breads, cakes and granola bars. Try incorporating oatmeal into meatloaf and meatballs instead of breadcrumbs, and snack on nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables throughout the day to keep you feeling full.
Choose Healthy Fats for Your Diabetic Cooking Recipes
Because diabetics have a high risk of heart disease, a diabetic diet plan needs to take into account the amount and types of fat in diabetic cooking recipes.
When cooking for a diabetic diet, stay away from unhealthy saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats include high-fat dairy products, fatty meats and trans fats. Stay away from anything with “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredients, and aim for less than 15 grams of saturated fat per day.
Healthy fats, on the other hand, are actually good for your heart. Incorporate the following healthy oils into your diabetes diet in place of unhealthy saturated and trans fats:
- Monounsaturated fats: Cook with olive or canola oil, instead of butter and shortening. Avocados and nuts are also rich in monounsaturated fats.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Cook with non-fried fatty fish (salmon, albacore tuna, rainbow trout) two to three times a week. Flaxseeds and walnuts also contain omega-3s.
- Polyunsaturated fats: Sunflower oil and seeds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds are good sources.
Healthy, “good” fats are still high in calories, so watch your portions and don’t overdo it. Emphasize quality over quantity in your cooking.
Incorporate Nutrient-Dense Foods Into Your Diabetes Diet
As you create your diabetic diet plan, work the following 10 foods into your menu for a tasty way to keep your blood sugar levels stable and your body nourished:
- Beans: High in fiber, magnesium and potassium, and a great source of protein
- Berries: Full of antioxidants, vitamins and fiber
- Citrus fruit: Packed with vitamin C and soluble fiber
- Dark green leafy vegetables: Low in carbs and chock full of nutrients
- Fat-free milk and yogurt: Good source of calcium and vitamin D
- Fish: Look for omega-3 rich fish, such as salmon
- Nuts: Full of healthy fats, magnesium and fiber
- Sweet potatoes: High in vitamin A and fiber; use instead of regular potatoes for better blood sugar control
- Tomatoes: Good source of vitamin C, iron and vitamin E
- Whole grains: Good sources of magnesium, chromium, folate and omega-3 fatty acid.
Put Your Diabetes Diet Together
Weekly meal planning, especially when cooking for a diabetic, is a helpful way to make sure you’re choosing the healthiest options and getting a wide variety of foods. Look for cookbooks that emphasize healthy diabetic cooking recipes or search online for diabetes diet menu ideas. Search for support groups in your community, local health clubs or online to help you transition to your new lifestyle. Speak with a Registered Dietitian for additional support in nutrition education and meal planning ideas.
Also, eat seasonally as much as possible. This way you’re always getting the freshest, tastiest and most nutritious produce available. In winter, try Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, wild rice, kale and cauliflower. In the summer, cook with zucchini, tomatoes, quinoa, arugula and millet. Enjoy the abundance of healthy foods available, and eat a wide variety of different vegetables and whole grains daily.
Cooking for a diabetic diet can be a wonderful opportunity to experiment with new, healthier foods that truly nourish and invigorate your body. Bon appÃ©tit!