5 Diabetes-Friendly Comfort Foods for the Winter Season

Making a few simple substitutions can make a big difference


Making a few simple substitutions can make a big difference

Hearty meals that leave us warm and satisfied are in high demand this time of year when cold weather becomes the norm even in sunny San Diego.

Just remember that many traditional comfort foods are high in carbohydrates, and can limit your options – especially if you’re living with diabetes.

Fortunately, managing diabetes doesn’t mean you have to pass up these cold weather favorites.

“Making a few simple substitutions can transform conventional dishes into diabetes-friendly meals for the entire family to enjoy,” said Scripps endocrinologist Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, who also is corporate vice president of the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute.

Even if you’re just trying to control your weight, these revised recipes can be healthier than the originals. An added bonus is that many take advantage of fresh, vitamin-rich seasonal fruits and vegetables.

1.   Hot Cereal

Warm yourself on a chilly morning with a bowl of hot, whole-grain cereal. While steel-cut oatmeal is always a good choice, you might be surprised to learn that whole grains traditionally served at lunch or dinner make tasty breakfast options as well – and the fiber helps keep you satisfied until lunch. Brown rice can be delicious topped with a sprinkle of brown sugar and a splash of low-fat milk. Quinoa, which is high in protein as well as fiber, is another good alternative. Lesser-known grains such as farro, bulgur, barley and polenta are excellent breakfast options too. For more flavor and crunch, add protein with Greek yogurt, low-fat milk, almonds or walnuts, and toss in apple slices, berries, dried fruit or cinnamon.

2.   Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are popular comfort foods for people of all ages. Since potatoes are rich in carbohydrates, they will cause a person’s blood sugar to rise quickly. Kelly Barger, a registered dietitian at the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute, says: “When choosing the type of potato to mash, the sweet potato provides the most powerful nutritional punch, and they have a slightly lower glycemic index.” This means blood sugar may rise a little more gradually with sweet potatoes than with white potatoes. Plus, they’re more flavorful than white potatoes, so you can skip the butter and sour cream. Try mashing them with a little olive oil to add flavor. Sweet potatoes can also step in for white in other comfort foods like baked potatoes and potato pancakes.

3.   Spaghetti Squash

A steaming pot of pasta warms up the whole kitchen, but the simple carbohydrates in white pasta can add up fast. Instead of regular wheat spaghetti, substitute spaghetti squash, which when cooked separates into long orange strands that mimic pasta, but without the high carbohydrate count. A cup of spaghetti squash has just 10 grams or so of carbs. Bake or steam the squash until cooked, then scoop out the insides and top with your favorite sauce for a filling lunch or dinner. Remember that tomato-based sauces like marinara tend to be lower in fat and calories than creamy or cheese-based choices.

4.   Roasted Vegetables

This is the peak season for a colorful variety of low-glycemic vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and garlic. Roasting them brings out their flavors. Toss or spray lightly with olive oil, spread them out on a baking sheet, roast until crispy on the outside and tender inside and season as needed. You can add a few pieces of squash or sweet potato, but do take into account the higher carbs.

5.   Baked Apples

Apples, from traditional varieties such as Red Delicious and Granny Smith to newer favorites such as Honeycrisp and Pink Lady, are an easy and satisfying dessert or snack that provide sweetness without added sugar. Try baking apples whole or sliced.

“Apples are a fruit, so they do have sugar,” Dr. Tsimikas said. “But the high fiber helps keep blood sugar levels steady.”