By following some simple strategies, you can still include the occasional sweet treat in your diabetes meal plan.
Having type 2 diabetes doesn’t mean you have to completely swear off desserts, even those made with some sugar. In fact, if you make some diabetes-friendly substitutes and follow certain strategies, you can still enjoy the occasional baked sweet treat.
“The important thing is to keep it healthy and carb-controlled,” says Cher Pastore, RD, CDE, owner of Cher Nutrition in New York City and author of The 28-Day Blood Sugar Miracle: A Revolutionary Diet Plan to Get Your Diabetes Under Control in Under a Month.
Simple Strategies for Baking With Diabetes
Here’s how to tweak the ingredients of nearly any recipe in order to make it diabetes-friendly:
1. Use an equal amount of avocado in place of butter. Avocado will not only give your baked goods a creamy texture, but it will also provide fiber and heart-healthy fats. Just expect that using avocado instead of butter will change the taste slightly, says Alison Massey, RD, CDE, a certified diabetes educator and director of diabetes education at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
2. Swap unsweetened applesauce for half the butter and sugar. It can act as a thickener as well as add sweetness without the fat and calories of butter and the refined carbs of sugar.
3. Experiment with less sugar and sugar substitutes. There are various kinds of artificial sweeteners that can work great in recipes without adding any calories. The ratio you’ll want to use compared with regular sugar varies, so go to the brand’s website to find recipes, measurements, and adjusted baking times, suggests the American Diabetes Association. The size of the finished product may be smaller because the concentrated amounts of typical artificial sweeteners don’t give baked goods the same bulk as regular sugar. You may also notice more of an aftertaste when you use some artificial sweeteners.
Both Massey and Pastore recommend trying stevia, a plant-based sugar alternative. You might also try simply cutting out one-third to half of the sugar in the recipe, according to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center.
4. Try nut flours in place of white flour. Almond flour and hazelnut flour contain a little bit more fat, but they have less impact on blood sugar than white flour, Pastore says. If you can’t find nut flour or you find the transition is too hard to make, Massey suggests making baked goods with half white flour and half whole-wheat flour, and see if you can gradually move toward using more whole-wheat flour over time. Massey’s favorite ingredient to use when baking is whole-wheat pastry flour. According to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center, all these alternatives also have the benefit of adding fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar.
5. Use cacao nibs in place of chocolate. When a recipe calls for chocolate, cacao nibs are better to use than milk chocolate, Pastore says. They don’t contain the sugar that milk chocolate does. Other alternatives to try include dark chocolate made with 70 percent or more cocoa, unsweetened cocoa powder, or simply using less chocolate than the recipe requires.
6. Add in veggies like carrots, zucchini, and spinach. You’d be surprised how often you can add ½ to 1 cup of shredded or chopped vegetables for a nutrient boost without changing the taste of baked goods like muffins, Pastore says. For example, Pastore adds two cups of chopped spinach and one-third of an avocado to her banana muffins along with bananas, strawberries, an egg, artificial sweetener, and almond flour. Most baking recipes suggest that spinach be frozen and chopped, although some call for rinsed, firmly packed fresh spinach.
7. Try an open-faced pie. You can cut down on the amount of carbs, sugar, and butter in a pie simply by leaving the top crust off. Make it even healthier by using ground nuts instead of flour for the crust.
8. Limit portion sizes. Use mini-muffin and cupcake tins to create smaller portions. Or, set aside one serving of your baked treat and freeze the rest. That way, you won’t be tempted to overeat.
9. Think about the overall meal. If you know you’re going to indulge in something sweet for dessert, plan ahead by cutting back on the carbohydrates you consume in your main course, the American Diabetes Association suggests.