Who says that having diabetes means you can’t still whip up delicious, homemade food? When you know the basics of meal planning, you can make almost any recipe work.
So don’t throw out your cookbooks or toss your favorite recipes. Instead, take some tips about how to cook wisely.
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1. Cook with liquid fats in place of solid fats.
Solid fats often include saturated fats, which you should limit, or trans fats, which you should avoid totally.
If a recipe calls for solid fat like butter, lard, or hydrogenated shortening, try trans-fat free margarine, spreads, or shortening instead. Check the label to see whether the product will work for cooking or baking.
Many liquid fats — oils such as canola, corn, olive, and grape seed — can be healthy when used in moderate amounts. Some oils have stronger flavors that may affect the taste. So experiment to find which oils work best with which recipes.
2. Switch to low-fat dairy.
Many dairy products used in cooking and baking are high in fat. You can lower the fat content without compromising taste.
Instead of whole milk or half-and-half, pour 1% or skim milk, evaporated skim milk, or nonfat half-and-half. Instead of sour cream, try low-fat or nonfat plain yogurt, buttermilk, or even low-fat cottage cheese (you may need to blend it first to make it smooth.)
To make a sauce that calls for cream or whole milk, use cornstarch and skim milk.
3. Use less fat altogether.
For many dishes, you can use 25% to 33% less fat than what the recipe says. Another tip: Substitute applesauce or mashed bananas for some or all of the fat in baked goods.
Or, if you’re whipping up a treat that calls for chocolate or chocolate chips, try cocoa powder, or use mini-chocolate chips and use fewer of them.
When cooking up a soup or stew, skim off the fat that floats to the surface while it’s on the stove. Or, place the pot in the refrigerator. When the fat has hardened at the top, it’s easy to skim off.
4. Be smart about carbs.
Choose those that give you energy that lasts and fiber.
When a recipe calls for “white” flour, “white” rice, or other refined grains, try substituting whole wheat flour, brown rice, or other whole-grain flours or grain products. You can also use ground nuts such as almond or hazelnut (filbert) meal. Or you can mix several of these whole-grain ingredients together in the same recipe.
5. Skimp on the sugar.
Sugar can quickly raise your blood sugar, unlike the carbs from vegetables or starches, which are absorbed more slowly.
Many times you can cut the amount of sugar without seriously affecting taste or texture, though you may need to add more flour. An exception: You can’t cut corners if something you’re baking needs yeast, because the yeast needs the sugar in order to do its job.
If you’re using a sugar substitute, check the product label to be sure it’s designed for baking.
6. Experiment with flavor.
Reach for ingredients other than sugar, salt, and fat to satisfy your taste buds. Try out different herbs, spices (cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg), mustards, and vinegars (balsamic, sherry).
Some spices may even have health benefits of their own. Cinnamon, for example, may help lower blood sugar levels.
You can also cut the amount of salt in a recipe, unless the recipe includes yeast, which needs the salt for rising. Or skip the salt entirely when you’re cooking, and then sprinkle a little on at the table when it’s time to eat.
Another way to reduce how much sodium you get is to choose fresh over canned and frozen foods, which tend to be higher in salt. If you’re cooking with nuts, check that they aren’t salted.
7. Ask a pro.
If you have favorite recipes that you’d like to make diabetes-friendly, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian. They’re experts at helping plan meals that are appropriate for people with diabetes or other health issues.