Diabetize Your Recipe!

In some families it’s an heirloom – the recipe box filled with dog-eared cards that have been passed down through generations with notes, substitutions and updates written in the margins. In other families, it might be the worn cookbook that has been splattered with various ingredients, or even a bookmarked website full of fail-proof recipes. So what happens when you are told that you have to change your diet as a part of creating a healthier lifestyle? Allow me to introduce a new word to you: Diabetize!

I first heard about diabetizing recipes from Robyn Webb, MS, LN, Food Editor for Diabetes Forecast. Robyn is a cookbook author, award-winning nutritionist and culinary teacher – to say the least, her experience makes her a well-seasoned expert (pardon the pun). Robyn’s experience with cooking for people with diabetes has given her many tricks to help make those family recipes fit into your meal plan. I asked her for her top five tips on how to diabetize a recipe, and here’s what she said:

1. Reduce the amount of saturated fat
We know from scientific research that saturated fat or solid fat can be a problem for people with diabetes. As people with diabetes are more prone to heart disease, saturated fat is one of the major dietary factors that can lead to heart-related problems. We also know that large amounts of saturated fat add many unwanted calories, which lead to equally unwanted extra pounds.

  • Look at your original recipe and switch from solid butter to olive oil where possible.
  • Sauté foods in low fat chicken or vegetable broths or just some white wine.
  • Use reduced fat and fat-free products in place of their full-fat counterparts or at least use in combination to reduce the overall saturated fat content.
  • Want to learn more about which oils are good and which are bad? Check out this article in the March 2011 issue of Diabetes Forecast!

2. Reduce the sodium
The American Diabetes Association nutrition recommends no more than 2300 mg of sodium per day. There are 2300mg of sodium in just one teaspoon of salt!

  • Try moving the salt shaker to the back burner and drag out the no-salt seasonings, fresh herbs and spices, citrus juices and flavored vinegars.
  • Add only a dash of salt if really necessary.
  • Taste your food before salting it, you might be pleasantly surprised how little you may need, if any.
  • Most of the sodium we consume is from processed foods.  Anything in a can, box or package.  By cooking from fresh ingredients and using the above tips, you have more control over how much sodium you consume.

3. Increase the amount of vegetables
According to the New Dietary Guidelines, the recommendation is to increase vegetables to fill half your plate! When reviewing your recipes, look to see where you can add more non starchy vegetables.

  • Instead of adding cheese to an omelette, fill it with steamed broccoli and slices of tomato.
  • Skip the mayo on a sandwich and pile the high with shredded carrots and dark leafy greens, such as spinach.
  • By adding more non starchy vegetables to soups and stews you will only increase the volume of the dish and you might need additional liquid, but that should be easy to do.

4. Increase the fiber
By eating a diet high in fiber, you will discover you can manage your blood sugar levels that much better. High fiber diets have a bevy of health benefits including regularity and lowering blood cholesterol. But fiber can be tasty, too, and keeps you full, a wonderful way to prevent overeating, but increase meal satisfaction!

  • Think about replacing the white grains and white pastas from your recipe and substitute whole grains such as brown rice and whole wheat pasta in their place.
  • Add legumes to any soup or stew and add them as an addition to a salad.
  • Mash them well and use them as substitute for mayonnaise as a sandwich spread.

5. Cut the portion size
Making any dish more diabetes-friendly starts with smaller (but equally delicious!) portions. You might be surprised that by just increasing the number of servings your favorite dish yields, you can indeed still enjoy the recipe in its original form. And just think: if you eat a smaller portion, you can enjoy your dish for an extra day! You’ll save calories, fat, sodium and so much more. That’s really diabetizing a recipe!

All these creative ideas always seem to make me hungry! But what’s the good of adding new healthy twist in family recipes if you can’t share them? Since March is National Nutrition Month, why not try testing your diabetized recipes on your family and see if anyone notices a difference.

As the March issue of Diabetes Forecast indicates, there are a lot of food debates going on in the diabetes community. It is important to note that simply diabetizing a dish may not help you meet your health care provider’s recommendations – but if you feel the need to indulge, this might help you indulge more mindfully.

If you’d like to submit a recipe to Robyn to diabetize, or explore other recipes that she’s already modified, check out the Diabetize Your Recipe section on Diabetes Forecast’s website. To learn more about Robyn and her other work, please visit her website at http://www.robynwebb.com/ Denotes external link. Please see our Linking Policy and Disclaimer of Link Endorsement..

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This entry was posted in Ask the Expert, Authors, Cooking, Diabetes Forecast, Life with Diabetes, Recipes and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Diabetize Your Recipe!

  1. Debbie says:

    Thank you for the e-mail! What about a vegetarian diet + a diabetic diet together?

    • Dayle says:

      Good question! You can find more about diabetes meal planning for vegetarian meals here: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/meal-planning-for-vegetarians/

      (On a personal note, I was vegetarian for several years, too. I blame bacon for changing back to being an omnivore! 🙂 )

      • Andrea says:

        Good for you – I love bacon too! However, I enjoyed a nice decrease in digestive problems and an increase in energy when I reduced the amount of meat in my diet. It had a much larger portion of my plate than it needed to have. As an omnivore, I’m glad to say that I make a conscious effort not to go overboard with the meat even though I love it. It’s much better to learn more ways to cook grains and vegetables into my diet.

  2. joann mraz says:

    Great information- like the fact that it enhances what I do rather than tell me all the things I can’t do!

  3. susie says:

    Thank you for teaching me how to enjoy my families old recipes and making them healthier to eat with diabetize, thanks for the info!!
    I cannot wait to try them!!

  4. Morris says:

    I am rather amazed that none of the tips really address the issue of carbohydrate amounts directly. If you want to affect blood glucose levels that should be the first priority. Tips like eat less of the rice, bread or pasta, while loading up more on the vegetables, for example, are key. Or make the same meal for the family but skip the starchier parts of it for yourself. How about subbing mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes? How about small red or purple potatoes instead of large russets? How about fruits, like berries and melons, that have a lower carb content than fruits like bananas, apples and oranges (and especially dried fruits) that are higher in carbs? How about Dreamfields pasta, low carb tortillas, and lower carb reads instead of simply whole grain? How about avocadoes and nuts for good healthy fat? How about open-faced sandwiches to halve the bread consumption?

    It’s not that I see anything wrong with the ideas in the article, but perhaps the most important to emphasize seems to be missing!

    • Dayle says:


      This is a very good point. The reason we left the carb debate out of this post was because we’d addressed it a week before in highlighting the March issue of Diabetes Forecast in a blog post called To Care or Not to Carb: The March issue of Diabetes Forecast explores this great debate.

      The series of articles in Diabetes Forecast can be found here: http://forecast.diabetes.org/magazine/features/are-carbs-enemy

      That said, I think some of your suggestions are fantastic – thanks so much for sharing them!

      • Lisa says:

        I say all of this respectfully:
        As a 17-year Type 1, on a pump, carbs are precisely how I regulate my insulin dosage, and by extension my bg control. I therefore would urge care in recommending low-to-no carb approach to all diabetics across the board. SO MUCH of the meal planning advice out there is all about cutting/controlling carbs, which does insulin-takers little good.

        Having said that, I do acknowledge that part of the issue I just attempted to raise is that Type 2, with its very often low-to-no carb focused therapy, is much more prevalent than Type 1. Thus I think the carb control issue merely gets a ton more attention than does the fact that some diabetics NEED them in order to help control their condition.

      • Shoe Lift says:

        I really liked your post.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on…

  5. Thank you for your useful hints in substituting olive oil for butter. I also in baking muffins substitute applesauce in place of shortening and use Splenda for the sugar. I add raisins or nuts and a sprinkle of cinnamon on top before baking and we love them. Incidentally I use whole wheat flour.

  6. kathy says:

    Thanks for putting this together. I like the idea of enhancing existing recipes. Its much easier than starting over and probably won’t change the results other than the health factor.

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