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5 Tips for Healthier Indulgences

Satisfying cravings while keeping to a diabetes meal plan

We might know what we “should” be eating – lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean meats and fish, and low-fat dairy products. But sometimes, you just crave the crunch of potato chips or the creamy melting goodness of cheese. What to do? Unfortunately, “willpower” or “wishing the craving away” just doesn’t always work. In my experience, you should indulge yourself, but sensibly. These tips may help satisfy your cravings without blowing your meal plan.

Craving crunchy, salty chips?

Have you tried dry roasted edamame? These crunchy baked soybeans may satisfy your craving, and they have just 123 calories with 9 grams of carbs and a whopping 7.5 grams of fiber in a one-quarter-cup serving. They come in salted and unsalted varieties, so even if you’re watching your sodium intake, these crispy treats may not be off-limits.

And don’t forget about popcorn – it can be a healthier whole grain snack. Make your own, using either a hot air popcorn popper or pop it in a saucepan in a small amount of canola oil. Add a dash of chili powder, a sprinkle of salt-free seasoning blend, or a pinch of cinnamon to flavor it your favorite way. A three-cup serving of air-popped popcorn has 93 calories and 18.7 grams of carbs. If you need a really fast fix, try a bag of air-popped popcorn or choose a mini bag of microwaveable popcorn.

How about satisfying that crunch craving with a serving of non-starchy veggies? Munch on carrot sticks with salsa, celery sticks with a bit of peanut butter, or cherry tomatoes with hummus. These options are healthier than chips, they will satisfy your craving for crunch, and, in my opinion, they’re all full of flavor. Just be sure to count the carbs and calories of whatever you’re enjoying with the veggies.

Longing for bacon – or maybe sausage?

To many people, there’s nothing like the taste of real bacon. But if you’re trying to cut back, consider trying an alternative, such as turkey bacon. If you try this, choose a brand of turkey bacon that is smoked, since part of the appeal of bacon is its smoky flavor. Make sure you cook turkey bacon over medium-high heat (not low heat!). The higher heat will help to caramelize it, and make the flavor and the texture more appealing. When you select turkey bacon, read the labels carefully, as some brands can be high in saturated fat and sodium. If you do choose to indulge in “real” bacon, try my favorite method: I pick thin-sliced center-cut bacon, then cook it until it is very crisp, and blot it on paper towels to remove as much fat as possible. Three slices of center cut bacon has 70 calories, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, and 270 mg of sodium.

Do you love a side of sausage links with your morning eggs? Or does your favorite pasta dish include a generous portion of Italian sausage? Believe it or not, there are ways to enjoy the flavor of sausage with fewer calories and fat. First, more healthful versions of breakfast sausages are available in turkey and chicken varieties and there are even varieties of vegetarian breakfast sausage (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it – some of these are pretty good! As always, read the package to see the carb and other nutrient counts).

Second, the number of brands and flavors of sausage alternatives, especially the chicken varieties, have exploded in the last few years. Look for them in large supermarkets and specialty foods stores, and check out all the different varieties; you’ll likely find a flavor to fit with all your favorite recipes, from apple sausage for breakfast casseroles to basil and mozzarella sausage for Italian dishes to spicy Southwestern for your favorite Mexican dishes. Remember to always check the label, as different brands vary widely in the amount of fat and sodium they contain.

But there is an even better sneaky secret to getting the flavor of sausage without the fat or calories. Sometimes, just the flavor of sausage and not the actual meat, will work. Are you looking for that characteristic fire-kissed flavor in your recipe? Try adding smoky flavor with spicy canned chipotles in adobo or chipotle chili powder. For dishes with smoky flavor without adding much heat, try a pinch of smoked paprika or smoked black pepper. If it’s Italian sausage you’re trying to emulate, try adding some crushed fennel seeds – the main flavoring in Italian sausage. These sneaky substitutions may trick your taste buds into thinking they’re eating sausage and satisfy your craving!

Cheese, please

To me, nothing beats the taste and texture of real cheese. But because I watch my fat and calories, I’ve developed a few tricks to satisfy my craving. First, if I want cheese with a creamy, melty texture, such as in macaroni and cheese, I choose a low-fat, rather than fat-free, version of the cheese I typically use. (Ricotta cheese is the exception to the fat-free rule – fat-free ricotta works very well in dishes like lasagna and cannelloni). Second, for most recipes, you can use half the amount of cheese called for and still get great flavor.

But if you want to indulge in the real deal, consider keeping boldly flavored cheeses such as blue, feta, and goat on hand for fantastic taste with just a tiny serving. Just 2 tablespoons (about half an ounce) can flavor a serving of pasta or a salad. To make these cheeses go further, crumble them when they are cold so you’ll be able to break into smaller pieces. A light sprinkle of grated Parmesan, or better yet, Parmigiano-Reggiano (the aged hard cheese from Italy), can add flavor and depth to almost any dish.

Need a sweet fix?

Sometimes we all crave a sweet treat – and I believe in indulging occasionally – but there’s no need to go off your plan when you do. The key to indulging is to limit portion size to a serving that will fit into your meal plan.

When you crave a sweet treat, think small. Go for a mini-muffin, a donut hole, a chocolate truffle, a couple of vanilla wafers or gingersnaps, or a graham cracker to downsize your indulgence. Or refresh yourself with a delicious fruit smoothie using frozen unsweetened fruit blended with skim milk. For an elegant, effortless sweet, I top 2/3 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt with a few fresh berries, sprinkle with one tablespoon chopped walnuts, and drizzle with one teaspoon honey (.5 ounce) for around 223 calories and 17.5 grams of carbs.

For a really luscious snack that will satisfy your sweet tooth, and help you stick to your meal plan, treat yourself to a perfect piece of ripe fruit in season. I know fruit for dessert may seem boring, but to me, nothing beats the flavor of a sweet California orange in January or a succulent peach in July.

Another surprise I’ve found is that sometimes, I think I’m craving a sweet…when I’m actually longing for the warm beverage I might typically have with it. So try my trick: Sip a cup of unsweetened or artificially sweetened hot tea or coffee before you have a sweet. You may end up not craving the sugar after all.

Nothing but chocolate will do

Choose quality over quantity when you need a chocolate fix. A 1/2-ounce square of premium dark chocolate may satisfy the strongest craving for only about 6.5 grams of carbs and 84 calories. If your chocolate cravings lean toward your childhood favorites (and often those seem like the best treats of all!), individually wrapped chocolates or mini chocolate bars may help you with portion control.

If you need to take the chill off, treat yourself to a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Made with a cup of skim milk, a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, and artificial sweetener, it’s a real treat for just 95 calories and 15 carbs.

Jackie Mills is the author of The Big Book of Diabetic Desserts. She is also a food writer and registered dietitian who develops recipes for such national magazines as Cooking Lightand Family Circle, as well as for books such as the American Medical Association Type 2 Diabetes Cookbook. She was formerly the food editor at Redbook magazine. Mills 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.

© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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