Living with diabetes or pre-diabetes, suspecting you have the condition, aiming to prevent it, or simply deciding you want to make a diet change and eat more low-carb foods—none of these factors mean you can’t still deeply enjoy what you eat. Looking forward to meals and feeling satisfied after eating them, as well as choosing foods your doctor recommends or those that fit a low-carb lifestyle, all play important roles in our health. To help you maintain the joy that comes from consuming delicious food while also managing blood sugar levels, we turned to Meghann Moore, RD, MPH, CDCES, certified diabetes care and education specialist, based in Everett, WA to dish up advice for the masses.
“I’m really careful to talk to people about avoiding foods,” she says about discussing eating plans with her patients with diabetes. “I don’t like to say that, because I think it instantly makes people want more of those particular foods.” Instead, Moore suggests determining what carbs you love to eat. Then consider how you can make them more nutritious and filled with fiber, a nutrient that slows digestion and can keep you full, potentially helping you eat less. Keep in mind, anything with 2.5 or more grams of fiber is a good source, according to the American Diabetes Association.
For a few suggestions on gaining nutrition and cutting carbs, we teamed up with Moore to compile a list of good food swaps—or “enhancements” as she likes to call it—for those living with diabetes or anyone eating more low-carb foods. Try out one or all five and see what works best for you. Just remember: “Diet changes are personalized and individualized, it’s not one size fits all,” Moore says. “Any change you make should be made with the intent of it being life-long.”
START WITH: BREAKFAST
If you’re having trouble finding an a.m. meal that leaves you satisfied, and one that delights your sweet tooth, decide what seems like an easy swap to you. All it takes is one small, simple change at a time to create a hearty breakfast plan.
Instead of… a doughnut
Consider… cinnamon swirl bread
Think about it like this: many doughnuts have more carbs or about as many as you should likely consume in one day. So, if you want to have low-carb foods at breakfast—but still make it sweet—try something like cinnamon bread.
A smart addition to that bread, Moore says, is a slather of peanut or almond butter on top. It gives your meal a little more protein and fat to up the satiety. (Keep in mind, you don’t have to cut out a certain food completely, so if you just love a good glazed doughnut, see if you can keep it to once a week, Moore suggests.)
CHECK YOUR: LUNCH
Lunchtime often calls for sandwiches, which can easily become low-carb meals—all you have to do is assess what you’re using as the base, and fill up with extra veggies.
Instead of… a sandwich on white bread or a bagel
Consider… whole wheat bread or a lettuce wrap
Keep your favorite sandwich flavors, whether that’s egg and bacon, turkey and avocado, or chicken, cheese, and tomato. But see how you like it on some nutty, whole grain bread or wrapped in Romaine lettuce (a low-carb food that adds a nice, juicy crunch). Moore suggests adding more veggies to the mix, too, to keep you full and pack in vitamins and minerals. Try bell peppers or cucumbers for some snap and added hydration.
ADJUST YOUR: DINNER
One common dinner dish that can often lacks fiber: pasta. Thankfully, you’ll find lots of options for noodles, ranging in ingredients from whole grains to legumes. Find your favorite flavor and make it your p.m. go-to.
Instead of… white pasta
Consider… whole wheat or a bean base
The biggest problem with most pasta dishes comes down to portion size, so if you can cut back on how much you’re eating—and fill the rest of the bowl with veggies like peppers, peas, or broccoli—that’s a strong step in the right direction, Moore says. But to make it even more nutritious, go for whole wheat pasta, which will provide that fill-you-up fiber. Or try a lentil- or bean-based pasta, like those made with chickpeas or black beans, which will have fewer fast-acting carbs and more fiber and protein, too.
FOCUS ON: SMART SNACKS
It’s easy to graze on convenient, sugar-laden snacks, but it’s also super simple to switch ‘em out for a more filling mid-meal bite. Follow these guidelines for making a small, smart low-carb swap.
Instead of… crackers or pretzels
Consider… nuts or popcorn
If it’s a crunchy, salty snack you’re after, nuts win ten-fold on the satisfaction front. “Nuts are a big win because they have few carbs with a good amount of fiber and healthful fat,” Moore says. Try peanuts, almonds, or other favored variety whenever you’re looking for a between-meal bite or movie-watching snack. Popcorn also offers a salty kick, with more fiber than you’ll get from a typical no-whole-grain cracker. And you can have a relatively large volume of popcorn for little carbs and calories.
Don’t want to give up your favorite pretzels? Try to reduce the portion size instead by filling a small bowl.
Instead of… fruit juice
Consider… a whole piece of fruit
If sipping O.J. in the morning or a glass of apple juice after dinner makes you happy, see how it feels to have a whole orange or apple instead. “Yes, there are carbs in an apple, but you also get vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which can slow down the digestion of the carbs,” Moore explains.
For those who strongly prefer to sip on some fruit, try diluting it with water. You’ll still get the taste, but with less sugar. And the more you get used to the addition of water, the higher volume you can try to sneak in to cut back on even more sugar. That’s just one way to gradually switch to a low-carb option.