10 Healthy Baking Tips for People With Diabetes
Having diabetes doesn’t mean you have to completely swear off desserts. All it takes is a few smart strategies to make sweet treats part of a healthy diabetes diet.
After all, who wants to cut baked goods out of their life entirely? That “all-or-nothing” mentality is not only a miserable way to go about your day — it’s also likely to backfire.
“When people go for the ‘nothing’ mentality, they end up feeling deprived, or like it’s not fair, like ‘Why me? Everyone else gets to eat what they want,’” says Jill Weisenberger, RDN, a certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES) and author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week By Week, based in Newport News, Virginia.
Eventually, many people respond to deprivation by swinging in the opposite direction. “All of a sudden they can’t stand it anymore and say, ‘Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus tomorrow, so I should just go ahead and eat everything now,’” Weisenberger says.
It’s much healthier to practice moderation, especially if you are trying to keep your blood sugar steady, as with diabetes.
With these tips, you can keep your baking diabetes-friendly, so you can still enjoy the occasional treat.
1. Trade Unhealthy Sources of Fat for Healthy Ones
Butter is a baking staple. Unfortunately, it’s high in saturated fat (1 tablespoon of Land O Lakes butter contains about 7 grams), which people with diabetes need to be especially careful to limit. High amounts of saturated fat have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). And people with diabetes are already more than twice as likely to develop heart disease than people without diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Instead of turning to butter, try healthier fat sources like olive oil, canola oil, or avocado oil. These all offer low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are beneficial for lowering heart disease risk, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
Use these oils in place of butter using a 1:1 substitution ratio. Just be forewarned: Liquid fats don’t always perform the same as solid fats in some baked goods, like pie crusts, “so you might not get the light and fluffy texture you would expect with butter,” says Brittany Poulson, RDN, CDCES, the Grantsville, Utah-based author of The Healthy Family Cookbook.
If you prefer not to use oil, try mashed avocado, pumpkin puree, Greek yogurt, or even nut butter. “The avocado is particularly well suited to chocolate baked goods because the chocolate helps hide the green of the avocado and pairs well with the chocolate flavor,” Poulson says.
2. Get Creative With Natural Sweeteners
It can be difficult to bake without sweeteners. Thankfully, there are better options than table sugar for people with diabetes.
Unsweetened applesauce or mashed bananas, for example, can be used in place of baking sugar at a 1:1 ratio. In addition to containing no added sugars, they bring vitamins, minerals, and nutrients like fiber to baked goods. Fiber can help blunt a rise in blood sugar levels, Poulson says.
Honey and maple syrup are other potential swaps for table sugar, although not at a 1:1 ratio — and they’re not as beneficial for people with diabetes as unsweetened applesauce or bananas. For every 1 cup of table sugar, use one-half to two-thirds of a cup of honey. “Additionally, since honey is made up of more liquid, you’ll need to subtract a quarter of a cup of liquid for every 1 cup of honey used and add half a teaspoon of baking soda,” Poulson says.
Maple syrup tends to work best in recipes that call for brown sugar. Use two-thirds to three-quarters of a cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of sugar, and subtract 3 to 4 tablespoons of liquid.
Honey and maple syrup still count as sugar and, therefore, can raise blood glucose levels. However, they don’t raise blood glucose as quickly, and, unlike white or brown sugar, which provide empty calories, they have the benefit of offering antioxidants like flavonoids and phenolic acids, says Poulson.
3. Experiment With Sugar Substitutes
In addition to natural sweeteners, there are various kinds of artificial sweeteners that can fit into a diabetes baking plan. Common options include stevia, monk fruit, and sugar alcohols like xylitol or erythritol. You can find these in liquid, granule, or powder forms.
“Unlike substitutions of applesauce, bananas, or honey, artificial sweeteners will not add any sugar or carbohydrates to the baked goods,” Poulson says.
However, there are drawbacks to using artificial sweeteners. Mainly, they may change the taste slightly, and baked goods may not brown as much because there’s no sugar to caramelize. That can throw a wrench in treats like sugar cookies. For that reason, Weisenberger recommends combining sugar with a sugar alternative. Instead of using a full cup of sugar, try half a cup of sugar and half a cup of a sugar alternative. Or, do a third of a cup of sugar and two-thirds of a cup of the sugar alternative.
Keep in mind that some sugar alternatives may cause gastrointestinal (GI) upset if eaten in large quantities, “so you still want to watch portion sizes when consuming baked goods made with them,” Poulson says.
4. Try Alternative Baking Flours
If you’re used to baking with all-purpose flour, try white whole-wheat flour instead. “White whole wheat is nutritionally similar to traditional whole wheat, but it’s softer and lighter weight, so it has a texture that people are more accustomed to for baking,” Weisenberger says.
Swapping all-purpose flour for a whole-wheat variety will add fiber — 6 grams (g) per half a cup — to your baked goods. Fiber helps slow the absorption of sugar, which can improve blood sugar levels in people managing diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
There are other types of flour you can try too, such as almond flour and coconut flour.
Of these options, almond flour has the lowest amount of carbohydrates, followed by coconut flour, says Lori Zanini, RD, CDCES, author of the Diabetes Cookbook and Meal Plan for the Newly Diagnosed, based in Manhattan Beach, California. But beware: While these flours are low in carbs, they’re high in fat.
A diet high in fat is associated with insulin sensitivity, Weisenberger says. Insulin resistance, or a lack of insulin sensitivity, is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes in particular, according to the ADA.
Half a cup of almond flour, for example, contains 16 g of fat, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Similarly, King Arthur coconut flour, one brand that offers the baking good, has 12 g fat per half a cup. What’s more, all of the fat comes from saturated fat.
Both types of flour are quite a leap from the 1 g of fat found in an equal serving of whole-wheat flour.
5. Use Dark Chocolate or Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
When a recipe calls for chocolate, opt for dark and unsweetened varieties instead of white or milk chocolate.
Dark chocolate, for one, offers helpful antioxidants, Zanini says. In particular, it has antioxidants known as flavonols, which are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, according to the AHA.
Findings from a previous small study suggest that dark chocolate may also offer specific benefits for people with type 2 diabetes. Researchers discovered that study participants with type 2 diabetes who ate about 1 ounce of dark chocolate every day (about one square of a standard bar) for eight weeks saw improvements in fasting blood sugar and A1C levels — important health markers for people with type 2 diabetes. Meanwhile, people with type 2 diabetes who ate an equal amount of white chocolate during that time saw no improvements.
For maximum health benefits, choose chocolate that contains 70 percent cacao or more, advises the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Another tip: Use mini chocolate chips in place of standard-sized ones. “What I do is use a little less of the minis, so maybe three-quarters of a cup instead of 1 cup,” Weisenberger says. This is a stealthy way to cut back on the chocolate (read: added sugar and calories) in a recipe, without feeling deprived. “It doesn’t seem like less because there are so many dots of chocolate in my dessert,” Weisenberger says.
6. Add Veggies for Extra Moisture and Nutrients
To instantly increase the nutrient profile of baked goods, mix in half a cup to 1 cup of shredded or chopped vegetables. “Shredded zucchini and riced cauliflower are my personal go-tos in muffins and quick breads, as they provide moisture and fiber, while retaining the taste quality,” Zanini says. One cup of chopped zucchini, for example, adds some fiber (1.2 g) and only 21 calories, according to the USDA. Shredded carrots and spinach are other great options to add to baked goods.
Depending on how much moisture there is in the veggies, you may want to cut back on oils and fats a bit. Check the consistency of the batter as you go.
But Weisenberger doesn’t typically adjust her recipes too drastically when incorporating produce. “I add veggies as a booster and don’t subtract much else,” she says.
7. Try an Open-Faced Fruit Pie
You can cut down on the amount of carbs, sugar, and butter in a pie simply by leaving the top crust off. “You could even forgo crust altogether and make a simple crumb topping with olive oil, whole-wheat flour, oats, chopped nuts, ground cinnamon, and a small amount of your sweetener of choice,” Poulson says.
For an even healthier pie, make it a fruit one. “Making a fruit pie, like apple or mixed berry, and using less sugar can incorporate more vitamins, minerals, and fiber into your dessert, while still giving you the sweetness you might be craving,” Poulson says.
Generally, riper fruits are sweeter, which means less sugar is needed, she adds.
8. Downsize Your Portions
Portion size matters — it’s not “just one cookie” if that cookie is the size of a salad plate.
Avoid the temptation to overeat by creating smaller portions from the get-go. Use mini cookie cutters, mini muffin and cupcake tins, or tiny ramekins (these work great for custard or flan). “You could even take little shot glasses and make mini trifles in them,” Weisenberger says. “Take a little piece of cake, a bit of whipped cream, some syrup and nuts, and make something tiny.” As you eat, focus on the feeling of your food and really relish it.
9. Think About Your Meal Plan That Day
If you know you’re going to indulge in something sweet for dessert, plan ahead by cutting back on the carbohydrates you consume at other meals and snacks, Poulson suggests.
Keeping track of daily carbs (known as carb counting) is a helpful habit in general for people with diabetes, the CDC notes. “I encourage my clients to know how many total carbohydrates are in their servings, so they can include them into their personal eating plan,” Zanini says. Since the ideal number of carbs varies from one person to the next, the ADA recommends working with a registered dietitian who specializes in diabetes (opt for someone with the CDCES credential) to figure out the right number for you.
10. Pick Treats You Really Enjoy
If you’re baking tons of goods for a get-together, or you know you’ll be in a space where various desserts will be offered, think ahead about which treat really matters to you. Then, plan on having only that one.
“Let’s just say that apple pie is what you dream about having all the time — that’s what you should have,” Weisenberger says. “But maybe you skip the brownies and cookies because they don’t mean as much to you,” she adds.
Enjoy your slice, and remember that you can always have a brownie or cookie another day.
Additional reporting by Vanessa Caceres.
This content was originally published here.