No matter what you’re celebrating, food is a big part of our holidays and special events. You may look forward to certain special dishes every year.
When you live with type 2 diabetes, food choices can directly impact your blood sugar levels and how you feel. With some simple swaps and tweaks, you can prepare foods that mark the season and help keep your blood sugar more stable.
If you’re looking to make a few small changes to your traditional recipes, keep reading.
A food swap is a way of editing a recipe or dish to better meet your health needs.
Ideally, food swaps don’t change the food or meal dramatically. Instead, the goal is to add more nutrients to your foods while still enjoying the same dish.
The goal of type 2 diabetes management is to keep blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. This is done with a combination of food choices, exercise, lifestyle changes, and medications.
Food swaps for type 2 diabetes generally focus on the following changes to manage blood sugar and support heart health:
- adding whole grains
- eating a source of protein with meals and snacks
- trying more plant-based sources of protein
- switching to healthier fats
- eating more vegetables and fruits
- using less salt
As you look for ways to make these tweaks, here’s an important reminder: Try to let go of guilt about food choices. Food is meant to be enjoyed.
Some recipes you just don’t mess with. If you have an absolute favorite dish that only comes out once a year — save room, sit down, and enjoy every bite!
For other foods that don’t have the same meaning to you, food swaps can make the meal more blood-sugar-friendly.
Let’s take a closer look at specific swaps you can consider. Click through our slideshow for inspiration and then read on for more details.
Whole grain products are great sources of nutrients and fiber. The extra fiber slows down how fast your meal is digested. When you have type 2 diabetes, this helps to keep blood sugar levels more stable after a meal.
Another bonus is that because whole grains take longer to digest, you may feel fuller for longer.
Here are some food swaps to add more whole grains to your dishes:
- Replace some of the white flour in recipes with whole wheat or whole grain flour.
- Use brown or wild rice for side dishes.
- Serve whole grain rolls instead of white.
- Use oats in a topping for fruit crisp or sweet potato casserole.
You can find whole grain products by looking for the word “whole grain” in the ingredient list. Common whole grains include:
- brown or wild rice
- whole wheat
Like fiber, protein slows down digestion to keep blood sugar from spiking after eating. Protein also keeps you feeling full. This can help prevent cravings.
Many holiday meals already feature a source of protein. You may want to consider adding protein to the appetizers or snacks before the meal. Sources of protein include meat, chicken, fish, dairy products, eggs, beans, lentils, soy products, nuts, and seeds.
Many snacks are high in carbohydrates, such as potato chips or pretzels. This can raise blood sugar before a meal even starts. Consider swapping in:
- nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, or peanuts
- hummus and veggies
- salmon pate
- chicken satay
- a meat tray
We get protein from a variety of foods that come from both animals and plants. Some examples of plant proteins are soy, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Whole grains can contain protein too.
Plant sources of protein have the bonus of also being sources of fiber. The combination of protein and fiber in the same food, especially in
To add more plant-based protein to your meal, try these swaps:
- Top salads with nuts, seeds, or toasted lentils instead of croutons.
- Top casseroles with crushed nuts, like walnuts, instead of marshmallows.
- Replace part of the ground beef in recipes with lentils.
- Add lentils and beans to soups and stews, instead of meat.
- Make plant-based protein a central part of your meal: Consider roasted or stir-fried tofu, or a hearty bean or lentil casserole. You can also make a bean salad to round out protein options in a meal.
Fat adds flavor and texture to our foods and helps us to absorb several vitamins. We need some fat in our meals.
The key is to choose healthy sources of fats. These include olives, olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, nuts, seeds, fish, and avocado.
Olive oil can be used for roasting, sauteing, and making salad dressings. You can add olives and nuts to an appetizer tray. Your holiday meal may already have fish or seafood. If not, consider adding a seafood or fish dish to the meal.
There are several reasons to load your plate with a variety of vegetables. They are rich in vitamins and minerals. The fiber in vegetables also helps keep blood sugar more stable after a meal.
For a type 2 diabetes diet, aim to choose less starchy vegetables.
For example, plan recipes that include leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and green beans, among others. Trim back on options like potatoes and corn. (If those are favorites, then keep them in your meal and take the time to savor them).
Fruit can also be a healthy choice. Fruit does contain carbohydrates, so it will still raise blood sugar levels.
The fiber content of fruit means it tends to have less impact on blood sugar compared to other carbohydrate foods. Some fruits are better choices than others. Berries contain less sugar and lots of fiber, making them a great option.
There are many ways to swap more vegetables and fruits into your meal:
- Serve a veggie and fruit tray as an appetizer.
- Add steamed cauliflower to your mashed potatoes.
- Add 25 to 50 percent more vegetables than your recipes suggest. For example, in a casserole that calls for half a cup of green beans, consider adding a full cup.
- Try spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles instead of pasta.
- Add extra leafy greens to stews and soups. For example, add a handful or two of spinach toward the end of the cooking time.
- Make latkes with other types of vegetables such as carrots or zucchini to add fiber and color.
Consider having fruit either with the meal or served as a dessert option. Berries — such as strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries — can make beautiful decorations, which may help you cut or reduce icing.
Salt is used in cooking all over the world. Salt can enhance the flavors of our food, which is part of the reason why we like it so much.
Salt doesn’t directly affect blood sugar, but eating less salt is an important part of taking care of your overall heart health.
You can add flavor to food without salt. Cut back on salt and swap in:
- citrus juice or zest from lemons or limes
- minced garlic
- finely chopped onion
- dry herbs and spices
- salt-free packaged herb and spice blends
Try using fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned to reduce sodium. If you use canned beans or vegetables, rinse them a few times to get rid of some of the extra salt.
Take a step beyond simple swaps, and consider your holiday meal as a whole. There are several ways you can make your meal more friendly to a type 2 diabetes diet.
Reduce total carbohydrates at the meal
You’re likely already very familiar with the main sources of carbs:
- bread, pasta, rice, potatoes
- milk, yogurt
- anything starchy or sweet
Reducing the total amount of carbs in your meal can help ensure your blood sugar remains steadier after eating.
Scope out the carbohydrate options before filling your plate. There will be some that are favorites and others that won’t bring you the same joy. Pick the ones that you love and leave the rest.
You can visualize a divided plate to help balance your carbs with other types of foods. Aim to fill half your plate with vegetables. Then, reserve a quarter of your plate for proteins and a quarter for carbohydrates.
The vegetables and protein at the meal reduce the impact of the carbs on your blood sugar.
Listen to your body’s fullness cues
When you’re surrounded by delicious food, it’s very normal to eat lots. We’ve all been there, especially at holiday gatherings. If you listen, your body the wisdom to help you eat the right amount for you.
If there are babies or kids at the events, you’ll notice they eat differently from the adults around the table. (It’s not just that they’re messier!)
Babies and young kids may be naturally more tuned into their hunger and fullness cues. Even if there is something delicious left on their plate, they may leave it if they’ve already had enough to eat. As we get older, we don’t pay as much attention to our fullness signals.
Eating more slowly and taking small breaks may help you tune into these natural cues. It can take 20 minutes for your brain to know when you’re full.
You may also notice that those first bites of your meal are the most satisfying. As the meal goes on, you’ll notice that you don’t get quite the same level of pleasure from the rest of the bites. This is a sign of your body becoming more satisfied and needing less food.
Prioritize your food
Consider what foods are most special to you. Make sure there is room on your plate for those.
Favorite foods should be treated well. Savor the flavors, textures, and experience of eating these special foods. This is especially important if you only eat these treats a few times a year.
Food is a big part of our holiday traditions. You can make small food swaps to modify recipes with type 2 diabetes in mind, while still keeping your favorite dishes special. Happy holidays!