When I’m working with clients who are trying to better manage their diabetes, one of the main points I try to drive home is that all foods can fit. It is possible to satisfy your cravings for your favorite comfort foods while keeping blood glucose levels stable and getting the nutrients you need. One way is by incorporating “food hacks,” or healthier alternatives to some of your favorite indulgences.
Here are some ways to pump up the nutrition in some of your favorite comfort foods, while still keeping your blood sugars in-check:
1. Greek yogurt in creamy foods. This trick is an oldie but goodie. Greek yogurt is a great replacement for things like mayonnaise, sour cream and even ice cream! Try a dollop of plain, Greek yogurt on your next batch of tacos or use it in place of sour cream for dips and salad dressings. You can also whip a couple of tablespoons of plain, Greek yogurt into your favorite recipe for chicken or tuna salad to lower the saturated fat level and boost protein.
Need to satisfy a sweet tooth without sending blood glucose soaring? Try blending plain, Greek yogurt with a handful of fresh berries and pour into Popsicle molds for a creamy, frozen treat that is low in carbohydrates and packed with protein to help prevent a sugar rush. Greek yogurt is not just an easy way to save on calories and watch your carbs; the healthy bacteria found in yogurt has also been shown to positively influence blood glucose levels, which is good news for those living with diabetes.
2. Nuts and legumes in baked goods. Aside from the obvious high sugar content of baked goods like cakes and cookies, the white flour they are traditionally baked with can also make blood sugars skyrocket. Surprisingly, the starch found in beans can be a great alternative to flour in some baked goods. Chickpea flour, for instance, can be used instead of white flour when making chocolate chip cookies. A fan of fudgy brownies? Adding a can of pureed black beans to a traditional brownie recipe to replace oil and/or flour and will result in gooey chocolate brownies without compromising taste. What’s more, adding a full can of pureed black beans adds a whopping 30 grams of fiber for the whole batch.
You can also use flours made from nuts—such as almonds and even coconuts (although technically not a true nut) to create fluffy treats like muffins and pancakes. Typically lower in starch and higher in fiber and protein than traditional white baking flour, these flour alternatives are becoming more and more popular, making them easier to find in your local grocery store.
3. Avocado in place of butter. Although it may sound unconventional, the smooth and creamy texture of avocado paired with its high healthy fat content makes it a great swap for butter in many baked goods. From breads, to donuts and even chocolate cake, using mashed avocado in place of butter can significantly cut down the calories and saturated fat in a recipe.
Another trendy use for avocado has been making its way to the breakfast table. Avocado toast, which replaces old-fashioned toast and butter for breakfast, makes for a filling and nutritious way to start the day. The beauty of pairing whole grains, like whole wheat toast with the heart-healthy fat of avocado is you not only get a dose of fiber to help mitigate the effects of carbohydrates elevating blood glucose levels, but fat helps to slow down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream as well, making this an overall great breakfast choice for those looking to manage blood sugars.
4. Cauliflower stand-in for starchy favorites. Cauliflower is a vegetable that is good at wearing many hats. Long gone are the days of simply steaming the veggie and adding a pat of butter. Now, cauliflower is gaining popularity in the foodie world for its ability to act as a brilliant low-carb replacement for starchy foods—like rice, and even pizza crust!
Wishing you could indulge in a plate of fried rice but know it will send your blood sugars surging? Try “ricing” cauliflower in a food processor and using it in place of white rice in your fried rice recipe.
If you’re a pizza fan (who isn’t?), try your hand at making a cauliflower pizza crust, which uses cauliflower that’s been finely pulsed in a food processor and mixed with cheese, eggs and spices. Top the crust with your favorite pizza ingredients and look forward to indulging in a high-fiber, low-carb version of your favorite pizza pie.
5. Veggie versions of “french fries”. It can be difficult to find a true replacement for the king of all comfort foods—the ubiquitous french fry. But with a little creativity, you can indulge in some crunchy, savory fries while still managing to get in a serving of veggies into your meal.
Turnips and rutabaga, for instance, are root vegetables similar to a classic white potato. Cut up and baked to crispy perfection, these root veggies offer a great substitute for the classic french fry by adding a hefty 9 grams of fiber per medium-sized veggie (about 30% of the recommended minimum daily amount!). While their starch content is on the higher side (about 30 grams per medium vegetable), the fiber content can help lessen the spike to blood glucose levels.
Need some more green veggies in your life? Try lightly breading zucchini sticks or green beans in whole wheat flour and baking on a sheet pan with a spray of olive oil for a crunchy, french fry-like take on vitamin-packed veggies.
Keep in mind that these food swaps are not meant to restrict or prohibit you from having the “real deal” every once in a while. Even in the healthiest of diets, there should always be a little room for an occasional “unhealthy” food. Managing diabetes is truly a balancing act. So focus on the foods that fuel you and leave a little wiggle room for the foods that nourish your cravings.