Simple Food Swaps For Diabetic Health

Simple Food Swaps For Diabetic Health

Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator Jennifer Smith gives us her expert tips on the best food swaps for Diabetic health! As a dietitian, diabetes educator, athlete, mother and person with diabetes (type 1 x 28 years), Jennifer is in a unique position to assist intensively managed clients through her work with Integrated Diabetes Services. In addition to working with clients, Jennifer is a contributing author for Insulin Nation, Diabetes Daily and Diabetes Sisters websites. 

Food is a basic necessity for life. In today's society it is present everywhere, not just at the main meals we should be eating every day. We eat for celebration, for a business meeting at work or to take clients out as well as for socializing with friends and family. Food is always around. When living with diabetes this can add another level to our healthy management plan. There is a lot of information coming from many sources about what is good or bad‚ and unfortunately there is not clear information that makes it easy to plan healthy all the time.

When you are in control of some of the food there are definite things you can do to ensure choices are optimal for overall health as well as for optimizing management of blood sugar levels. Simple food swaps can make a major difference without much or any noticeable change in taste.  These adjustments to typical recipe ingredients, foods and beverages can save calories from sugar and fat which can help you feel good about enjoying food. 



Sugary Soda

Artificially sweetened diet soda



Coconut water

Water with lemon or lime juice



Cream cheese

Salad dressing

Sour Cream

Olive oil or Coconut Oil

Cottage cheese

Vinegar and Oil

Greek yogurt


White rice


White bread

White pasta

Wild rice or Cauliflower rice

Old fashioned oats

Sproted Grain/Whole grain bread

Lentil or black bean pasta OR Spaghetti squash





Whole milk

Whole milk Yogurt

Low fat milk

Almond milk, soy milk, or Flax milk

2% Greek Yogurt


Red Meat

Fish, Chicken

Plat sources: Beans, Lentils, nuts, seeds


Beverages can contain a lot of calories, most of them coming from sugar.  It is common to grab a beverage when you need to get through the afternoon or get a quick energy surge before studying for exams.  Since many things get counted when living with diabetes, a sugary beverage isn't typically something that is consumed. Drinks are typically sugar free. Most of the beverages that are sugar free on the market contain so many artificial sweeteners and additives it's hard to know what is good. Thank goodness for Zevia! It is absolutely the smart alternative to soda! Made without color (yes, it is absolutely clear!!) and containing Stevia, Monk Fruit and Erythritol for sweeteners you can feel good choosing something that tastes great, isn't artificial and has NO effect on blood sugar! It also comes in 14 flavors as well as a Tonic Water.  (See recipe below for a great Summer Beverage).

Fat unfortunately has a reputation for being something BAD. It's important to know fat is a healthy and necessary part of our diet. Where we get fat and how much is eaten can make the difference. Aim for more plant based fat sources that contain more poly and monounsaturated fats.

Grains have been put on the chopping block if you read many of the headlines today.  This is unfortunate because grain has been part of our food chain for a long time. The grains we eat today are often very refined and typically combined with unhealthy sources of fat. Fitting in whole, unrefined grains can provide a healthy source of fiber, B-vitamins, magnesium, zinc and protein. Look for sprouted grain breads and if you cook grain, choose to buy it dry and prepare it at home.These have a lower effect on blood glucose and can help with post meal BG control.

Sodium is an important mineral, however intake often exceeds what our body really needs. If we are eating a lot of package or processed food it is easy to get too much. The USDA guideline for intake is 2,300mg/day‚ which is about 1 teaspoon of salt per day. Try to add flavor by swapping out a portion of salt in a recipe with more flavorful herbs, choose lower sodium or no-sodium broth and try to avoid foods that are canned with salt. Cutting salt can help to minimize cardiovascular risk and improve blood pressure control in those who are salt sensitive.

Dairy products such as milk and yogurt are typically eaten because they are a good source of calcium.  Full fat versions can be easily swapped for low fat which cuts the saturated fat in your diet and can still provide the calcium. Other swaps for dairy can include some of the newer milk alternatives such as Almond, Soy and Flax milk. Each swap can cut out the saturated fat entirely while providing other healthy nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids.

Meat intake has increased tremendously since the World Wars so many years ago. While protein is an essential nutrient, it is important to understand that protein is found in many foods beyond our animal based meats. Choosing to eat less red meat, including more lean or fatty fish and some poultry can be a healthy start. This helps to cut intake of saturated fat.  Healthy swaps for meat also include beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Choosing to fill half of your plate with vegetables at a meal time also means you are getting 5-10g of protein from these plant based foods too.

Jennifer Smith holds a Bachelors Degree in Human Nutrition and Biology from the University of Wisconsin. She is a Registered (and Licensed) Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, and Certified Trainer on most makes/models of insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring systems. She is an active member of the American Diabetes Association and American Association of Diabetes Educators. She is a contributing author for Insulin Nation, Diabetes Daily and Diabetes Sisters websites. As a talented dietitian, diabetes educator, athlete, mother and person with diabetes (type 1 x 28 years), Jennifer is in a unique position to assist intensively managed clients through her work with Integrated Diabetes Services.

Jennifer and her husband Nathan, share their home with their son Oskar, their dog Franklin and 2 cats, Buster and Lucille. In her free time, Jennifer enjoys running, cycling, swimming, yoga, and kayaking. She also loves hiking with her family. A culinary, she is fond of cooking and baking, with an eye on adjustments to ingredients for those who have food allergies. She believes food should fuel and nourish the body to optimize overall health.

More Articles