Tips for Food Preparation and Recipe Modification

If you’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, one of the many things on your mind is likely to be, “What will I eat now? While you might think that having diabetes means giving up all your favorite foods and having to resort to bland, unappetizing dishes, fortunately, it doesn’t. These tips can allow you to enjoy eating while also taking care of your health.

Replace solid fats like butter or lard with a healthier liquid fat

People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing heart disease. In fact, three out of four diabetics die of some type of heart disease, and it’s been estimated that the risk for stroke is two to four times greater for diabetics than those that don’t have the disease. That means it’s important to limit less healthy fats, replacing them with “good” fats.

Saturated fats and trans fats are generally considered “bad,” because they increase the production of LDL cholesterol. They also cause plaque to form in the coronary arteries, narrowing them and forcing the heart to work harder than it should to pump blood, which raises the risk of stroke and heart attack. Some of the foods to avoid that contain them include things like lard, butter, and palm kernel oil.

Omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the “good” fats, which help to rid the bloodstream of LDL cholesterol, lowering your risk of developing a blockage.

Some liquid fats, such as coconut oil and olive oil, are actually considered healthy. While coconut oil is high in saturated fat, it’s considered a beneficial saturated fat due to its lauric acid content which actually supports heart health.

Keep in mind that as some oils may impart a strong flavor, you may need to experiment a bit to find the right oil for a particular recipe.

Modify your cooking technique

Trying out some new cooking techniques can make it a lot easier to adhere to a diabetic-friendly diet. Think non-frying methods – instead of frying, try baking, broiling, grilling or roasting. Steam your vegetables in a minimal amount of water or an organic, low-sodium broth, or saute them in a little bit of olive oil for extra health benefits and flavor.

Use spices and herbs liberally

Instead of reaching for the salt, sugar or fat, try experimenting with various spices and herbs – many offer a wealth of health benefits in addition to adding flavor. Cinnamon, for example, has been found to help lower blood sugar levels. By using spices and herbs, you can often cut out salt, or at least reduce the amount used. If you really want a more salty taste, just sprinkle on a little after it’s already been cooked.

Limit the use of sugar and avoid artificial sweeteners

As you probably already know, sugar is a good way to raise your blood sugar. Oftentimes you can reduce the amount of sugar used in a recipe without significantly affecting its taste or texture. One exception is recipes that call for yeast as the yeast requires sugar in order for the end result to come out properly. In bread, for example, the sugar helps to feed the yeast that provides leavening.

Avoid using artificial sweeteners like aspartame as they may actually be even worse than actual sugar for diabetics, according to a number of studies. A study published in PLos One in 2012 showed that chronic lifetime exposure to aspartame produced changes in blood glucose parameters that adversely impacted spatial learning and memory in mice. It also decreased insulin sensitivity, as compared to controls.

Coconut sugar is a better alternative with a slight caramel taste. Considered a natural sweetener, it has a glycemic index of 35, and while making foods with it would not render them sugar-free, coconut sugar, which is made up of sucrose along with small amounts of fructose and sucrose, is considered acceptable due to the way it breaks down in the body. It can typically be used on a 1:1 basis in recipes. As it’s more coarse than white or brown sugar and a recipe calls for creaming butter with sugar, the result will have a more speckled look.

You don’t need to avoid all sugar, all of the time. You can enjoy some of your favorite treats, provided you plan properly and limit hidden sugars that are often found in processed and fast foods, including staples like cereals and bread, pasta sauce, frozen dinners, etc. Sugar may be listed in many different forms, but it’s all sugar: molasses, honey, agave nectar, corn sweetener, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, lactose, high fructose corn syrup, and many others. Play detective and learn to spot sugar on ingredient labels in all of its forms.

Desserts don’t need to be completely off limits as long as they’re a part of an overall healthy meal plan.

Invest in a few good kitchen tools

Cooking healthy meals is much easier when you have the right tools, such as sharp knives. Invest in a good chef’s knife as well as a small paring knife to make it easier to cut those fresh vegetables. A julienne peeler is cheap and great for slicing up vegetables like squash into pasta-like noodles. Having a large cutting board and quality cookware like a cast iron pan, can also making cooking at home lots easier.

Plan out your meals for the week

Having a plan is a great way to stay on track with your diet and also helps you to avoid shopping when you’re hungry. If you don’t have a plan and hunger kicks in without anything to turn to, you’ll be a lot more tempted to reach for anything that’s there, and often, that choice won’t be the best one.

Get in the habit of sitting down once a week, planning out your meals, making a list for the grocery store and then sticking to it. Before you go to the market, have a least something small to eat to make resisting temptations easier.

Keep your kitchen well-stocked

As we all know, life can get in the way of best-laid plans. If you can’t get to the grocery store for some reason, having some “emergency” foods in your freezer and pantry can be a lifesaver. Stock up on low-sodium canned foods (BPA-free cans preferably) as they have a long shelf-life and are typically very budget-friendly. Canned vegetables and beans are already cooked, so all you’ll have to do is open up the can and use them. If you buy canned fruit, avoid the type with added sugar.

While most fresh vegetables won’t keep for long, it’s important to eat as many as often as you can – you can never have enough when you’re following a healthy diet. One trick is to buy sturdy veggies that can last for at least a few days in the refrigerator before going bad. Some examples are broccoli, kale, bell peppers, mushrooms and celery. They all tend to hold up well, add lots of flavor and nutrition to meals, and are low in carbs too. Of course you’ll want to diversify by including plenty of others too, like sweet potatoes, beets and spinach. The more naturally colorful your diet (and we’re not talking Skittles), the better.

Better shopping at the grocery store

When you’re at the store, there are a number of things you can do in addition to eating before you go that can help you stick to your list. Use the smallest shopping cart or a basket, as you won’t have space for many extra items. Aim to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where there are more fresh, whole foods like produce, eggs, and poultry. Avoid packaged items as they tend to be unhealthy and highly processed – most are located in the aisles at the center of the store, with the exception of things like frozen fruits and vegetables.

Prep foods ahead of time

After you get home from the grocery store, start thinking about any of the prep you might be able to do ahead of time to make it easier and less time consuming to make healthy meals and snacks during the week. For example, you might slice up some celery or carrots into bite-size pieces so that you’ll have something to munch on instead of chips.

On the weekend or another day when you don’t have to go to work, consider cooking up meals in large batches, such as stews, casseroles, and soups that make multiple servings. You could double a recipe so that you have leftovers too, as most will keep for a few days in the refrigerator, or you can freeze them to be eaten later. Try some of these fabulous, make ahead recipes and stock your freezer with goodness.

-Be Well

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