Rich, creamy, cheesy, indulgent, ooey-gooey, starchy. These are the words to describe comfort foods. Not only do they delight the taste buds, comfort foods warm the soul and bring us back to a time when life was simple and problems were small. But these traditional, satisfying foods are often packed with sodium, saturated fat, sugar, carbs, and calories. Fortunately, having diabetes doesn’t mean you have to give them up completely. With a few simple switches, you can still enjoy your hearty favorites. Here are five tricks to prepare comfort foods that nourish both body and soul.
1. Up the veggies. Boost nutrition and eat larger portions while eating fewer calories and carbohydrates by adding vegetables to your favorite comfort foods. Bulk up your pasta salad, for example, by replacing some of the pasta with colorful veggies like grape tomatoes, sugar snap peas, chopped red onion and carrots. Layer thinly sliced zucchini in place of some of the noodles in your lasagna, and slip sliced tomatoes and bell peppers into your grilled cheese sandwich. Add a mix of vegetables to potato salad, spaghetti sauce, rice pilaf, macaroni and cheese and other casseroles. Your options are endless.
Hiding vegetables works just as well. You’ll be shocked by the delicious taste of tacos, burgers and spaghetti sauce when you cut as much as half of the meat with finely chopped mushrooms. Mix pureed broccoli into tomato-based casseroles and pureed carrots into meatloaf. No one will be the wiser. Guaranteed.
2. Substitute, go halfsies, or reduce. If using whole-wheat flour in your Grandma’s blueberry muffin recipe left you with hard, dry rocks and disappointment instead of the moist, airy muffins you were nostalgic for, try mixing half whole-wheat flour and half regular flour. Sometimes a full substitution just plain ruins a recipe. On the other hand, if you’re satisfied with a lower-fat or more nutrient-packed ingredient, go for it all the way. You can also usually decrease sugar, mayonnaise, oil, salt, and cheese by one-quarter to one-half without sacrificing taste or texture. Here’s a quick guide to some partial or full substitutions:
|INSTEAD OF THIS||TRY THIS|
|Ground beef||94% lean ground beef or ground turkey|
|Half and half||Fat-free half and half, milk, evaporated fat-free milk|
|Cream in soup||Pureed potato or other vegetable|
|Sour Cream||Reduced-fat or fat-free sour cream or Greek yogurt|
|Pastry crust||Phyllo dough|
|Cornflake crumbs||Crushed Wheaties®|
|Enriched white flour||Whole-wheat flour, whole-wheat pastry flour, white whole-wheat flour (these last two are softer and lighter)|
|Butter and sugar in baked goods||Replace ½ of each with fruit or vegetable puree. Try prunes in chocolate desserts, apples or applesauce in light cakes, pumpkin in quick breads and muffins.|
3. Use whole grains. Diets rich in whole grains are linked to lowered risks of heart disease, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Choose whole-wheat pasta and couscous, brown and wild rice, oats, barley, and quinoa. Oats and barley both contain the fiber beta-glucan, which helps lower cholesterol and improves the action of insulin.
4. Intensify flavors. You won’t miss extra fat, sugar, or salt when you layer flavors and season smartly.
- Sprinkle dry herbs early in cooking and fresh herbs before serving.
- Use small amounts of a strong flavored cheese such as feta or sharp cheddar.
- Roast or caramelize vegetables. You’ll love roasted potato soup or onion soup with caramelized onions.
- When cutting back on sugar, season with cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla to bring out the sweetness of the dish.
5. Go mini. If nothing but the real deal will satisfy, enjoy it in small servings. Bake individual portions of chicken potpie in little ramekins. Serve mini brownie sundaes in stylish shot glasses, and enjoy your small steak on a small plate. Be certain to keep your saturated fat, calories, and carbohydrates in check by cutting back elsewhere in the meal.
Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE*, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience