Make Your Recipes Diabetes-Friendly
By Sharon Howard, RD, CDE

What does diabetes-friendly mean?

Everyone, not just people with diabetes, could use a little less fat, cholesterol, sugar and salt in their diet, and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. People with diabetes are at greater risk of heart disease, hypertension and metabolic syndrome (all three diseases), so a preventive approach to cooking is wise.

You can successfully convert your favorite high fat, high sugar recipes by a little experimentation. You can whittle away calories, carbohydrates and sodium by making the following substitutions. If you know the function of the ingredients in a recipe, you can get a good idea that the changes you make will work!

Ways to Modify Your Recipes

Sugar provides flavor, increases moisture, tenderness, browning in baked goods. It helps yeast products rise, and is a preservative in jams, jellies and pickles.
Although a diabetic can have controlled amounts of sugar in a food, reducing the sugar lowers the carbohydrate grams per serving. If the recipe can have more fiber added, the food item will have a lesser impact on the blood sugar.

-Reduce sugar by 1/3 in a recipe such as cookies, pie fillings, etc. This includes brown sugar, corn syrup honey and molasses.
-Limit sugar to 1 tbsp. for each cup of flour in quick breads and muffins.
-Cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla will enhance sweetening flavor
-Use a nonnutritive sweetener like Splenda. Splenda can be substituted cup for cup in recipes. However, cakes and cookies may be a little dry, so try the product Splenda Bake, which is part sugar, part Splenda. Leaving some sugar in the recipe will keep the item moist.
-Serve quick breads rather than high sugar cakes or cookie. Try low fat banana bread, or carrot, cranberry, zucchini or pumpkin bread. You are adding nutrition and fiber with the fruits and vegetables.
-Spray cookie spray on the top of the muffins or cookies to increase browning.
-Don’t change the sugar content in yeast breads.
-Reducing the sugar in jams and jellies may reduce the preservative effect. Just keep the product refrigerated or frozen.

Fat provides flavor and rich taste to food. Fat improves texture and tenderness in baked goods; also provides flakiness and lightness. Fat makes foods creamy ,smooth, and aromatic. However, fat is also generously added to recipes, and using less, not eliminating it, can greatly reduce the calories. Fat is 9 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates and protein are 4 calories per gram. Make recipes heart healthy by using unsaturated fats such as vegetable oils, including canola and olive, and reduce the saturated fat by using less butter and cream and whole dairy products like milk, yogurt, cheese and sour cream. The egg yolk contains all the fat and cholesterol in the egg, so substituting 2 egg whites for one whole egg works well in recipes. There are many ways to reduce the fat in our diet, by selecting lean cuts of meat, substituting ground turkey for beef, remove skin from poultry, trim visible fat from meats, use cooking sprays to start a pan to cook rather than a dollup of butter or oil.

-Limit fat to 2 tbsp. for each cup of flour in cakes, muffins and quick breads
-Reduce fat by 1/3, if the recipe calls for ¾ c, use ½ cup
-Substitute fruit puree for some of the fat—applesauce works well.
-Use 2 egg whites or ¼ cup egg substitute in place of one whole egg
-Use 2/3 cup vegetable oil in place of 1 cup butter (fat content is the same but is unsaturated rather than saturated)
-Use 1 cup skim milk for I cup whole milk
-Use 1 cup evaporated skim milk instead of cream.
-Make salad dressing with 1/3 less oil.
-Chill soups, gravies and stews, and then remove the hardened fat from the surface before reheating.
-Select low fat ingredients, like crackers, Bisquick, chips, lower fat cheese, skim milk, low fat cottage cheese, nonfat yogurt, nonfat sour cream, low fat mayonnaise.
*Use low fat condensed soups in casserole recipes. You can use skim milk and flour to thicken the liquids.
-Light margarines can save calories and saturated fat, but be sure no trans fats are on the label. Since they contain more water, soft tub light margarines are good in baking, but can be a tasty substitute for butter on vegetables and bread.

Salt provides flavor and acts as a preservative in canned goods and dried foods. In yeast breast, it is important in the leavening process. Americans eat too much sodium, because it is freely added to many foods for taste. The recommendation is 2300 mg a day, and we easily triple that. When you first cut back on salt, you may notice its absence, but after a while, those saltier foods will be unpalatable.

-Reduce salt by ½ or omit entirely
-Spices and herbs will substitute flavor. Try low sodium seasoning blends.
-Use low sodium broths and soups in casseroles and other recipes
-Use fresh or frozen vegetables—canned are higher in salt.
-Avoid the salted versions of dried seasonings i.e., garlic powder instead of garlic salt.
-Remember that ingredients such as soy sauce, bouillon cubes, and teriyaki sauces all are salty, and you can find lower sodium versions.
-Processed meats and cheese are high in sodium; use sparingly.
-Do not eliminate from yeast bread and rolls

Fiber is helpful in lowering cholesterol and normalizing digestion. With diabetes, fiber in the diet helps control blood sugar. Soluble fiber, such as apples, legumes, barley and oats remove cholesterol from the digestive tract. Whole grains reduce risk of colon cancer, and increase nutrients.

-Use ½ whole wheat flour in recipes
-Grind bran cereals in food processor and substitute for ¼ of all purpose flour in recipes
-Use brown or wild rice instead of white rice
-Add more beans and less meat to chili, tacos, and soups.
-Use oatmeal or whole grain bread crumbs in meatloaf and meatballs.
-Serve potatoes with the skins (try potato salad with the skin on red skin potatoes)
- Add raisins, chopped apples, and blueberries to cookies, cakes and breads.
-Serve raw vegetables as snacks.

Educational Exercise

Compare the nutritional difference when healthful changes are made in a recipe:

Hamburger Casserole*

1. Cook macaroni to al dente (just underdone). While macaroni is cooking, brown ground beef (or turkey) with chopped onion and garlic and mushrooms.
2. In a large bowl, mix the condensed tomato soup and cream (milk).
3. Add the cooked beef or turkey mixture, plus the macaroni, to the tomato soup mix, stir well. Optional salt and pepper.
4. Layer the casserole dish with 1/3 mixture, a layer of cheese, another 1/3 mixture, layer of cheese. And last third with the cheese on top.
5. Bake at 375 F for 35-40 min, casserole bubbling.

Original Recipe
1st Modification
2nd Modification
3rd Modification
1 lb. ground beef 70% lean
1 lb. ground beef 90% lean
1 lb. ground turkey
1 lb. ground turkey
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 can low sodium condensed tomato soup
1 can low sodium condensed tomato soup
1 can low sodium condensed tomato soup
½ lb fresh mushrooms
½ lb fresh mushrooms
½ lb fresh mushrooms
½ lb fresh mushrooms
¾ cup light cream
¾ cup 1 % milk
¾ cup 1 % milk
¾ cup 1 % milk
8 oz. cheddar cheese
8 oz. low fat cheddar
8 oz. low fat cheddar
8 oz. low fat cheddar
1 small onion chopped
1 small onion chopped
1 small onion chopped
1 small onion chopped
1 clove garlic, chop
1 clove garlic, chop
1 clove garlic, chop
1 clove garlic, chop
1 lb. spiral macaroni
1 lb. spiral macaroni, whole wheat
1 lb. spiral macaroni, whole wheat
.75 lb. spiral macaroni, whole wheat
1 cup frozen, cooked green beans
12 servings
12 servings
12 servings
12 servings
Nutrition Facts/svg
Nutrition Facts/svg
Nutrition Facts/svg
Nutrition Facts/svg
Calories  306
Calories 165
Calories 156
Calories 148
Protein    13g
Protein   15.5g
Protein   15.7g
Protein   15.4g
Carb       16g
Carb       13.7g
Carb       13.7g
Carb       11.9g
Fat          21g
Fat          5.6g
 Fat        4.6g
Fat          4.6g
Sat. Fat   10g
Sat. Fat   2.5g
Sat. Fat  1.8g
Sat. Fat   1.8g
Fiber        1.1g
Fiber       1.4g
Fiber       1.4g
Fiber        1.5
Sodium    377mg
Sodium   240mg
Sodium    242mg
Sodium    248mg

*Recipe Differences
-Original recipe is in column one: Ground beef is the 70% lean. Calories for one serving are 306, and fat content is 21 grams.
-In the second column, I changed the ground beef to 90% lean, used low sodium condensed tomato soup, low fat cheddar cheese, and the macaroni to whole wheat. That reduced the calories to 165, the fat to 5.6g, saturated fat lowered significantly to 2.5g and the sodium to 240mg. Fiber increased slightly.
-In the third column, I switched the beef to turkey, which lowered the calories to 156, and further lowered fats.
-In the last column, I lowered the macaroni amount and added a vegetable for bulk, and this lowered the carbohydrate.

In your favorite recipes, make one change at a time, and you will find that the recipe will be healthier and still taste great!

Sharon Howard is a registered dietitian with more than 25 years experience counseling individuals with nutrition issues including diabetes, weight loss, eating disorders, lipid disorders, celiac disease, renal disease, and bariatric nutrition. Sharon is a charter Fellow of the American Dietetic Association, a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the Healthcare Advisory Board.

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Originally posted July 13, 2010.