Smart and Tasty Food Swaps for Diabetics
Controlling your weight and sugar doesn’t mean the end of good eating.
Diabetes occurs when the body does not make enough insulin or does not produce it at all. As a result, your blood glucose (blood sugar) becomes too high, which can lead to other complications such as heart disease, high blood pressure and nerve damage. One in four Black women over the age of 55 is affected by diabetes and our risk is 77 percent higher than our white counterparts. While there are many ways to help prevent and manage diabetes, our food choices are often a good place to start.
That doesn’t mean you have to turn to extreme dieting, however. “It's important to remember that the eating plan for diabetes must include foods that you like. It’s not a diet that you follow and decide to do for six weeks. It’s for a lifetime,” said Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Cordialis Msora-Kasago, who is also founder of The African Pot Nutrition. Start by incorporating some of these simple swaps:
Choose brown rice or other whole grains over white rice.
Rice is a versatile food that can be used in many meals, so you don’t have to give it up completely. Brown rice is rich in whole grains and has a lower glycemic index than white rice, which can help to manage weight, lower cholesterol and keep your blood sugar levels in check. Also consider other whole grains like quinoa, barley, bulgur or farro.
Incorporate some meatless meals.
Cutting back on meat in particular is another small change that can help manage diabetes or reduce your risk for it. Nutritionist Constance Brown-Riggs, author of the Diabetes Guide to Enjoying Foods of the World, encourages her patients to replicate the eating habits of their ancestors. “Think about what your grandparents and great-grandparents ate,” she said. “My mother used to tell me my father was always satisfied if she gave him a plate of beans and a piece of cornbread. So think in terms of that.” To start, try establishing a routine like Meatless Mondays.
Exchange fruit-filled yogurt for plain yogurt with fresh fruit.
Yogurt is celebrated for having probiotics, calcium, vitamins and other health benefits. While that is true, it’s not the whole story. “People think, Yogurt—oh that’s healthy, but most yogurts have a ton of sugar because there’s fruit mixed in,” said Kristen Gradney, registered dietician and founder of Pure Nutrition, a Louisiana-based consulting firm. Instead, opt for plain Greek yogurt and add your own fresh fruit. That way you get the flavor you’re looking for while controlling the amount of added sugar.
Try a sugar-free salad dressing (or better yet, make your own).
You’ve taken a good step and started eating more salads but drenching them in dressing is probably reversing all of your hard work. “People are getting salads, but they’re piling up on dressing. I’ve seen salads look white because there’s so much light ranch all over them,” Gradney said. “Dressing has a lot of sugar in it, so swapping that kind of condiment for oil and vinegar with herbs is better.” Lemon juice, fresh fruits and garlic are other great ingredients for dressing. Most condiments also have added sugar, so the same rules apply. Experiment with low- and no-sugar versions, which are better alternatives.
Whittle down multi-carb meals.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had cornbread, baked mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes during the course of one meal. In moderation, carbs are necessary for a healthy diet. Instead of loading up your plate, pick one carb for each meal. Remember, the number of portions matter.
Love fried foods? Cook them another way.
You don’t have to give up fried foods cold turkey but when you do eat them, reconsider how they’re being prepared. “Try using almond flour and other alternatives to regular all-purpose flour to cut down on carbohydrates,” Gradney suggested. Another popular option is air frying, which makes food crispy without batters and breading.
The key to maintaining any healthy diet is choosing foods you love. “Having diabetes doesn’t mean the end of good eating. Don’t let it take the sweetness out of life,” said Brown-Riggs.
Photographs by Christopher Griffith/Trunk Archive and Getty Images.