8 Tricks to Turn Decadent Dishes Into Diabetes-Friendly Meals
One of the most-repeated diabetes myths is this: People with diabetes must eat special foods. Truth is, whether you have diabetes or not, you should be eating more whole grains, vegetables, and fruits and fewer packaged items, fried foods, and refined carbohydrates. But that doesn't mean you have to stick to a diet of salad and yogurt. By employing some clever kitchen tricks, you can cut out excess calories, fat, carbohydrates, and sodium without sacrificing taste.
1 | Adjust Portion Sizes.
Before you alter your recipe, consider whether you can simply eat a little less of it. "The first thing I always look at is the serving size," says Diabetes Forecast Food Editor Robyn Webb, MS, LN, who created the recipes in this special section. "Traditional serving sizes are so huge." To take just one example: If your apple pie recipe yields six servings, cut it into eight portions instead. Doing so would save 92 calories per slice for a 2,200-calorie pie. (Just make sure you don't eat two slices!
2 | Make Simple Swaps.
Baking is a little trickier since any changes you make will affect the final product's texture, density, and volume. An easy-to-adopt swap: Replace cooking oil with an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce or baby-food pureed prunes. "If you're making cornbread, you're going to use applesauce," says Tina Ruggiero, MS, RD, a dietitian based in New York and Florida. "If you're making brownies, you'll use prunes. You're looking for something that has the same density."
Finally, you can dump at least some of the salt. Experts agree that this one change won't cost you flavor since many recipes are already too high in sodium. A simple fix is to use herbs and spices instead. Or, says Webb, get your sodium from a more flavorful source. "With salt, I have to use so much to get flavor out of it," she says. "So if I'm making something Asian, I use hoisin sauce."
3 | Get More of the Good Stuff.
Give yourself a double dose of vegetables or beans, and you'll eat less of the high-carb, high-fat, or high-calorie portion of the meal. "Throw some broccoli and cauliflower into mac and cheese, and you're bulking up on vegetables," says Marissa Lippert, MS, RD, a New York City dietitian. Cheryl Forberg, RD, a nutritionist with TV's The Biggest Loser and author of the book Simple Swaps, likes to accent vegetables with pasta—not the other way around. "It's kind of like a big bowl of vegetables with pasta," she says.
4 | Become Meat Savvy.
Certain meats (think ground beef, bacon, and sausage) are high in saturated fat, a major dietary cause of high cholesterol. But eating healthfully shouldn't force you to scrap your favorite recipes. Instead, pick lower-fat proteins: Ground turkey can sub for ground beef, turkey bacon for pork bacon, and turkey sausage or meat-free sausage for the fattier variety. Many people find that extra-firm tofu, seasoned or marinated and sautéed, tastes surprisingly like chicken.
5 | Be Smart About Fat.
"A lot of people have become fat phobic. We do need some fat in our diet," says Forberg, who recommends skipping saturated fats found in butter, certain meats, cream, and cheeses in favor of healthier fats from avocados, walnuts, and olive oil. But remember, fat is what gives food its depth of flavor. "You want to be wary of going too fat free or low fat," says Lippert. "You lose some of the essence of the recipe, or the 'mouthfeel.' " Give sandwiches a feeling of richness without using mayo or cheese by including avocado slices, says Forberg. Though they're higher in calories than other veggies, avocados are packed with vitamins and made of healthful monounsaturated fats. She also recommends using hard cheeses like Parmesan (they're lower in fat) instead of softer ones, or picking reduced-fat or low-fat versions instead.
6 | Save the Best for Last.
The reason most recipes call for butter, butter, and more butter is that fat adds fullness of flavor. But if you're trying to cut back, try Webb's trick: Do most of your sautéing or roasting with cooking spray or a little olive oil. Then, as a finishing touch, add a teensy bit of butter for flavor. "If I'm going to take out the fat at the start of the cooking, then I'll add a little at the end," she says. Except when baking, you can greatly reduce the amount of oil a recipe calls for, then add a drizzle of flavored oil at the end—Webb likes sesame.
According to Forberg, you can slim down a meal and make flavors pop by topping your dish with an indulgent ingredient. So, sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese over your pasta, but don't dump in a cupful. "Just grating a little bit over your dish allows you to have a little bit in every bite," she says.
7 | Think Outside the Box.
Sometimes the best way to make a recipe healthier is to reinvent it. Case in point: Lasagna is just as ooey-gooey when transformed into lasagna rolls, but since each roll requires less cheese and fewer noodles, it's much more diabetes friendly. Similarly, baked chicken that's seasoned and rolled in Japanese panko bread crumbs (airier and crunchier than the typical crumb) is every bit as tasty as fried chicken.
8 | Go Easy on Yourself.
Even professional chefs can't get a recipe right on the first try, so don't beat yourself up if it takes a few dinners to find success. "You wouldn't believe how many trials we go through," says Webb, who tests a recipe up to four times before she's satisfied. "Don't be afraid of experimenting," adds Lippert. Instead, dust off a few cookbooks or log on to a Web site like diabetes.org/myfoodadvisor to find healthy recipes. With a little practice (and, yes, patience) you can cook up lighter versions of your favorite family meals. And the best part? Once you've modified a recipe to your liking, you can enjoy it over and over again.