Creating a Diabetes-Friendly Menu

According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes and 79 million are pre-diabetic.  Diabetes can lead to complications such as heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease and amputations. As with heart disease, studies show that these complications can be minimized and even avoided with lifestyle changes, such as following a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity. 

Diabetic Diet Basics

A diabetic-friendly diet should be high in fiber, low in fried foods and include a variety of foods like fruits, non-starchy vegetables (like broccoli and green beans), healthy fats, dried beans, lean meats, fish, nonfat dairy and whole grains.

It is important for a diabetic to monitor the grams of carbohydrates they eat at each meal and snack. Carbohydrates can come from fruits, dairy foods, and starches (like bread and rice). The exact amount of carbohydrates needed will vary depending on age, gender, medication regimen, and activity level. If you are unsure about how many carbohydrates you should be eating, speak with a registered dietitian. There are many registered dietitians that specialize in diabetes education and are certified diabetes educators (or CDE).

Easy Swaps

Here are some simple swaps that you can do in the kitchen to make some of your favorite dishes diabetes friendly.

Instead of: Refined grains 

Choose: Whole grains

Refined grains like white bread and white rice are stripped of their fiber and numerous vitamins and minerals. Without the fiber present, refined grains have an immediate and significant effect on blood sugar. By choosing whole grains, it helps keep blood sugar levels stable and prevents peaks and valleys from occurring. Choose whole grains like whole wheat pasta, brown rice, whole wheat flour, barley, and oats whenever possible. 

Try this  Pomegranate, Kale & Pancetta Pasta  made with brown rice spaghetti.  Image reprinted with permission from  &

Try this Pomegranate, Kale & Pancetta Pasta made with brown rice spaghetti.

Image reprinted with permission from &

Instead of: Regular potatoes

Choose: Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are higher in fiber and have a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes. They are also packed with vitamins A, C and potassium. 

Try this  Sweet Potatoes w/ Pecan Maple Butter  recipe.   Image reprinted with permission from www. &

Try this Sweet Potatoes w/ Pecan Maple Butter recipe.

Image reprinted with permission from &

Instead of: Using all the sugar in a recipe

Choose: Half the amount 

When baking desserts, the amount of sugar usually called for in a recipe can be cut in half without any noticeable effect. You can also try using pureed fruit, such as apples and bananas, to add some sweetness. The fiber in the fruit will help prevent blood sugar levels from skyrocketing. 

Sugar substitutes can also be used in place of traditional sugar in some recipes. Used in large amounts however, some will contribute to the overall grams of carbohydrates in the dish.

Instead of: Using fat and salt to flavor food

Choose: Fresh herbs and spices

Folks with diabetes have a 2-4 times greater risk of developing heart disease. That is why it is important for diabetics to follow heart healthy guidelines including limiting fat and salt. Fresh herbs and spices add flavor with few calories and also provide a variety of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Studies show that many herbs and spices can also have health benefits. For example, studies have found that cinnamon can help lower blood sugar levels by decreasing insulin resistance. 

Additional Tips

  • Bulk up on beans. Beans are rich in fiber and protein, which are two key nutrients that help to keep blood sugar stable. Beans can easily be added to pasta and grain dishes, burgers, chili, salads and soups. 
  • Go nutty. Nuts are a great addition to any dish. They provide a heart healthy dose of unsaturated fats, fiber, and protein to help keep hunger at bay. When paired together, nuts can help slow down the absorption of carbohydrate-rich foods, such as grains and fruit. 
  • Include dark leafy green vegetables. Not only are they rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but they are also low in carbohydrates. This makes dark leafy greens like collards, spinach, and Swiss chard superstars.
  • Incorporate soluble fiber. There are several types of fiber that can be found in food. One type is called soluble fiber, which helps keeps blood sugar levels stable for longer periods of time. Whole grains, vegetables, beans, nuts and fruits (such as pears, prunes and citrus fruits) contain high levels of soluble fiber. 

LET’S CHAT: What techniques do you use to create diabetes friendly menus?

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