How I Learned to Balance Carbs After I Was Diagnosed With Diabetes
When I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes over seven years ago, I made the same mistake many people do when faced with a need to change my diet to protect my health: I went too far in the opposite direction.
I went from a super high-carb diet to a nearly no-carb diet, and worried that I'd never really enjoy eating the same way again. Luckily, I soon found out that for people like me, managing carbs is about finding balance and moderation.
From No Carbs to Better Carbs
Even people with diabetes need to eat some carbs. But we should do so in smaller portions and more spread out during waking hours to prevent spiking your blood sugar.
I made a lot of changes that were about seeking optimal eating pleasure, while managing my new dietary needs. I switched from store-bought breads to homemade sourdough, which I ferment for 72 hours in the fridge to make it low-glycemic.
I stopped thinking of carbs as needing to come in pairs, shifting to one slice of toast for breakfast, or half a bagel or English muffin, open-faced sandwiches, or tartines at lunchtime. When dining out, I started ordering half orders or appetizer portions of pasta, or ordering breakfast off the kids menu — one egg, one pancake, one slice of bacon are actually plenty for me, and still feel like a treat. I'll usually order an upgrade to a second egg if I'm really hungry.
But the most important shift I made when cooking at home was to start doing smart swap-ins to make the dishes I love lower carb.
I am never going to embrace a whole bowl of zucchini or heart of palm noodles, but a dish that is half real linguine bulked up with those no-carb twirly vegetables fills me up and still gives me that pasta hit while keeping my numbers good. For smaller pasta shapes, I'll double the vegetables or add beans to provide that full-plate feeling.
Cauliflower "rice" by itself is always just going to be cauliflower. But go half and half with real rice or another whole grain, and you can make anything from pilaf to fried rice, and it is delicious and satisfying.
Mashed potatoes can be cut with half celery root for a delicious puree that I sometimes prefer to plain spuds. When I want French fries, I'll do half potato and half celery root, parsnip, rutabaga, or jicama. They all fry up together and taste great.
Baking with all sugar replacements can result in treats that feel like tricks, with a weird aftertaste and terrible texture. But using between one-quarter to one-half of a replacement sugar substitute for the volume of sugar in your recipe gives you the baking benefits you need from the real thing, with a reduced sugar load on your system.
I love the Purecane brand, which makes replacements for granulated, brown, and confectioners' sugar so that I can swap some in for nearly any recipe. I always start with subbing one-quarter of the volume, and then keep increasing the percentage until I find a ratio that is enjoyable to eat. Then, I adjust my portion size based on the actual sugar content.
The last thing I did was to make myself a promise: If I was going to be limited in my carbs, I was going to make them count. I'd rather have half a cup of real ice cream than a whole pint of those super-light desserts filling the freezer cases. I'd rather have one slice of real-deal pizza than anything with a cauliflower crust.
By recalibrating my thinking about how much of anything I needed to feel satisfied, I have been able to effectively maintain my blood sugar within normal range for nearly seven years, and only with diet, exercise, and the support of an oral medication.
If you are a person with diabetes or prediabetes, now is the time to find ways to moderate your diet so that you can continue to really enjoy the foods you love.