The Do’s and Don’ts of Cooking for Diabetics Apply to Everyone
If you’re cooking a meal at home, you’re already on the right path by taking control of that meal, and you’re saving money, too. When it comes to eating healthy, there are many things to think about. For a diabetic, this becomes even more important because your blood sugar (and health) depends on your food consumption.
If you take control over your diet, exercise and lifestyle, you can communicate more freely with your doctor, letting him know you’re taking steps to become healthier. In turn, your doctor can prescribe medications more appropriately or make other suggestions to help you.
Here are some do’s and dont’s when cooking for diabetics — and for anyone that wants to be healthier.
- DO keep healthy food options at home and around you. If you make a grocery list and plan your meals, you will always be on top of things. There will be less chance of stopping for fast food or making a bad choice on the run. Aim for fewer processed foods in favor of what I sometimes call “naked” food choices. This does not mean your food has to be raw, but processed foods have a lot of extras, like salt, additives and preservatives that your body does not need.
- DO think about what kind of eater you are. Think about the foods you treat yourself with 0r may have a weakness for. I always say there are two types of people: 1) The “out of sight, out of mind” person, meaning that you cannot have certain treat foods in the house because you cannot control yourself (my personal downfall would be salty snacks, like chips); and 2) The “I must have a taste” person, meaning you need a little bit of that treat food or else you will feel deprived and may binge later (for me, I need just a taste of something sweet after meals to make me happy). Taking the time to consider whether you are one of these people can be powerful tool.
- DO keep herbs and spices on hand. These natural flavor enhancers are important to keep your at-home meals flavor-filled. Many times restaurants flavor your food with excess salt or by adding fat and sugar. As a diabetic, or for better health, spices and herbs will do the trick in a healthy way. Remember to beware of spices that say “seasoning,” because many times that means they contain lots of added salt. For example, lemon pepper seasoning actually has salt in it.
- DO read your food labels. Reading food labels and ingredients is your insight into exactly what you are eating. Maybe you’ve been told if there are more than five ingredients in a packaged food, then pass on it. In a perfect world, that would be nice to do, but it’s not always realistic. Be wary of outrageous claims on the front of the package. For example, “multigrain” implies a healthier option, but really means that there is more than one kind of grain, including possibly refined grains. You should look for whole grains as the healthier option. Reading the actual nutrition label and understanding it is key.
- DO be selective with your meat choices. When choosing meat, think lean. Any meat products will have some fat naturally, but if you can avoid any visible fat, marbling or skin, it will reduce the fat. Think sirloin, flank steak and boneless, skinless poultry as better options. Avoid rib roasts and high-fat ground meats. Also avoid processed deli meats and sausages that are higher in sodium.
- DO make cooking fun. Look up new recipes to try. Get adventurous and try different dishes from around the world for a new flavor profile. Get your family or friends involved and cook together. Leading by example for your family will keep everyone healthier.
- DON’T supersize your portions, ever. Even when you are at home, avoid overeating. Portion control is one of the biggest issues that Americans face. It is not that we are always picking “bad” foods, but rather that we are eating too much. Think about how plates have gotten bigger, too. My mother’s fine china has a diameter of 8 inches for a dinner plate, where mine is 12 inches. Try using a salad plate as your dinner plate. There has been research that shows the more food you are served, the more you actually eat.
- DON’T mindlessly eat. Take your time and savor your home-cooked meal. Listen to your body and learn the difference between hunger and satiety, which means being full and satisfied. Remember it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to send a message to your brain that you are full.
- DON’T cook multiple meals. A diabetic meal plan is a healthy meal plan for anyone. It is about balancing food groups and watching fat, salt and portions. Long story short, you do not have to become a catering service for your family. By introducing a variety of food and educating your family about health benefits, you can all sit down to enjoy the same meal together.
- DON’T let the sodium sneak in. Salt (sodium chloride) in processed foods can add up very quickly. Sodium is added not only for flavor, but also as a preservative. If you are purchasing canned vegetables, try to get the “no salt added” variety. If that is not available, be sure to drain and rinse your canned vegetables, beans or lentils before using them. This will help get rid of about 40 percent of the sodium.
- DON’T forget about the leftovers. I love leftovers. When cooking, remember that you can make a little bit more so that you have some for lunch the next day. Instead of cooking every day, multipurpose your meals. Many times when I make a chicken dish, I will make enough chicken to have on a salad or as a sandwich wrap the next day, too. Also, if you double a recipe — think soups, stews or sauces — freeze it for a rainy day. This way you are ready with a home-cooked dish at any time.
I love cooking at home and wish I had more time to do so, but we do try to meal-plan accordingly. My husband and I will split duties or cook together, which is fun.
What are some of your favorite home cooking tricks of the trade? I would love to hear from you.
Photo Credit: dockingman