Smart Swaps for Healthier Food Choices

From breakfast to dinner, you have a lot of decisions to make about what you eat. Our guide is here to help make that job easier for you.

Health Monitor Staff
Reviewed by
Philip Levy, MD

Stumped at the supermarket? Looking to make diabetes-friendly food choices, but not sure how? A good start is making a few easy swaps—complex carbs instead of simple, "good" fats in place of saturated fats. Click through our easy swap guide to find out which ones can make you and your family healthier than ever without sacrificing the flavors you love.

Start the day off right

Instead of: Donuts, sugary cereals, breakfast pastries...

Try: Whole-grain English muffins topped with peanut butter and cut-up bananas, whole-grain cereals or whole-wheat pancakes with sliced peaches. Having diabetes doesn't mean you have to give up the breakfast treats you love, you just need to re-think them. Replace simple carbs with complex, and add in protein (like peanut butter) or fresh fruit in place of sugary jellies.

Go complex

Instead of: White bread, pasta, rice or crackers, made with refined carbs that can spike your blood sugar...

Try: Whole-grain or whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers. These so-called "complex" carbs contain far more fiber and nutrients than their refined counter parts, which helps to slow digestion and prevent blood-sugar spikes. They also make you feel fuller longer, which can help you lose weight!

Go nuts

Instead of: Honey-roasted peanuts, which can have a whopping 12 grams of carbs per ounce...

Try: Dry-roasted peanuts, which have the same peanutty goodness for less than half the carbs.

Snack smarter

Instead of: Potato chips, buttery popcorn, cheese doodles or other fat- and salt-filled crunchy snacks...

Try: Cut-up vegetables and guacamole or hummus, which provide the same satisfying crunch for way more vitamins and nutrients at a fraction of the calories. Air-popped popcorn; baked tortilla chips and fresh salsa; or low-sodium, whole-grain pretzels are also a good option.

Buy better butter

Instead of: Lard, butter or hard margarine, which contain lots of saturated and/or trans fats that have been linked to heart disease...

Try: Olive oil or olive-oil-based margarines. Olive oil contains lots of monounsaturated fats, primarily oleic acid, which has been linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease—a common complication of diabetes—and lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. Look for extra-virgin olive oil, which is highest in these good fats.

Choose the right chicken or fish

Instead of: Ordering fat-laden chicken tenders or fishsticks (and their sugary dipping sauces) at the drive-thru...

Try: Getting the grilled chicken sandwich with mustard. Not only do you skip all the fat and calories in the fried chicken, but the turmeric in mustard has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. And many fast food locations are now offering grilled fish in place of fried fillets, helping you get the omega-3 fatty acids without the negatives of deep frying.

Get on the leaner side

Instead of: Having a side of French fries with dinner, which are loaded with saturated fat, simple carbs and sodium...

Try: Baking up some fiber-packed sweet potato "fries." Simply wash and dry a raw sweet potato, then slice into strips. Spray with cooking spray or drizzle with olive oil and a tiny bit of low-sodium sea salt, then bake in a 375-degree oven, for about 20 minutes or until crispy and cooked through.

Dish up dessert—the right way

Instead of: Ice cream sundaes, which can cause serious blood sugar spikes...

Try: Making a parfait using low- or non-fat vanilla yogurt, fresh berries and granola. Just make sure to stick the parfait in the freezer for a few minutes so it's got the same cold, creamy effect of the sundae!

December 2012