8 Comfort Foods That Actually Help to Lower Blood Sugar
There's nothing wrong with indulging in some good old-fashioned comfort food every once in a while, but when you have diabetes you need to be more mindful of how these foods impact your blood sugar.
It's also important to keep in mind that being overly restrictive about your food choices can sometimes do more harm than good, even if you are managing blood sugar levels. Avoiding entire food groups increases the risk of nutrient deficiencies. Too much restriction can also trigger disordered eating, including overeating, binge eating and, in more extreme cases, eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
All things considered, the best way to manage your blood sugar, without being too restrictive, is to honor your cravings in a healthy and balanced way. One of the easiest ways to do that is by incorporating healthier versions of your favorite comfort foods into your regular mealtime rotation. Here are eight of the best healthy comfort foods to eat, according to this dietitian.
Get the Recipe: Three-Bean Chili
Chili is one of my favorite cold-weather comfort foods, and it's also a great option for people who have diabetes because it's loaded with key nutrients that help lower blood sugar.
Let's start with fiber. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate found in a variety of whole foods. It helps lower blood sugar by slowing down digestion and preventing blood sugar spikes. Countless research studies have shown that people who eat high-fiber diets have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and lower fasting and long-term blood sugar levels.
Beans are one of the best sources of fiber, with the average 1-cup serving containing about 15 grams of fiber. Since beans are the main ingredient in chili, it's a great option for a high-fiber comfort food. You can get an even greater blood sugar lowering effect from eating chili if you add some protein from ground meat or plain Greek yogurt and healthy fats like guacamole.
As an added bonus, the tomatoes in chili are a great source of antioxidants like carotenoids, which are associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes (source).
Get the Recipe: Zucchini Lasagna
Lasagna may be a delicious Italian comfort food staple, but it's not a great choice if you're trying to manage your blood sugar. Since noodles are the primary ingredient in lasagna, this dish tends to be high in refined carbohydrates and low in fiber.
Using zucchini instead of traditional lasagna noodles transforms the nutritional profile of lasagna completely. Just one serving of traditional lasagna noodles packs about 42 grams of carbohydrates and only 2 grams of fiber. Zucchini, on the other hand, has about 4 grams of carbs and 2 grams of fiber per 1-cup serving. As you can see, using zucchini in place of pasta takes the carb count way down without sacrificing flavor! Adding some ground meat to the recipe increases protein, and tomatoes and fresh basil help boost antioxidant content. Try this Zucchini Lasagna recipe the next time that pasta craving hits!
See More: Healthy Lasagna Recipes
3. Spaghetti and Meatballs
Get the Recipe: Ultimate Spaghetti & Meatballs
One 2-ounce serving of regular spaghetti has about 42 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. The big problem here is this—who truly has one 2-ounce serving of spaghetti? More common serving sizes are unfortunately about two to three times the appropriate amount—which can have a dramatic impact on your blood sugar. Go for whole-wheat pasta to up the fiber content and try bulking up a serving with veggies, lean meatballs or beans to help up the fiber and protein content even more to create an ultra-satisfying meal.
Also, I love using spaghetti squash as a substitute for regular pasta—it doesn't feel or taste like a healthy swap. When cooked properly, spaghetti squash truly has the taste and texture of real spaghetti, but it's way more nutrient-dense and lower in carbohydrates than regular pasta.
By replacing the pasta with spaghetti squash, we're getting less than a quarter of the carbohydrates than we would be getting from regular spaghetti. As an added bonus, you're getting a much better nutritional value. Two cups of spaghetti squash contains about 15% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C and about 25% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin B6.
Try out this Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs recipe to satisfy your comfort food cravings.
4. Mac and Cheese
Get the Recipe: Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
Cauliflower is all the rage right now for a reason—it's delicious, super versatile, and a fabulous substitution for pasta if you're keeping an eye out for your blood sugar. Mac and cheese is a comfort food staple, but unfortunately it's also very high in calories. The pasta adds a hefty amount of carbs, and the butter, cheese and cream add a great deal of fat.
Oftentimes, weight and blood sugar go hand in hand. Research shows that losing weight—even as little as 5% of your body weight—can help improve blood sugar levels. Swapping out pasta for cauliflower is a super-smart thing to do if you're trying to watch your calories. One cup of cooked elbow-shaped pasta has about 200 calories and 42 grams of carbs, whereas 1 cup of cauliflower has about 25 calories and 4 grams of carbs.
Of course you could make it a little healthier by using whole-wheat pasta, adding veggies and using just the right amount of cheese, like we do in this Spinach-Tomato Macaroni & Cheese, but again, are we really sticking to 1 cup?
What's more, cauliflower packs a stronger nutritional punch than pasta. In addition to the lower carb count, 2 cups of cauliflower contains nearly 60% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C. In addition, it contains about 4 grams of fiber, which will slow its digestion, causing the sugar to enter the bloodstream at a much slower rate.
Try this Cauliflower Mac & Cheese recipe the next time you want to cozy up with a big bowl of cheesy pasta goodness.
5. Cauliflower Pizza
Get the Recipe: Buffalo Chicken Cauliflower Pizza
Speaking of cauliflower, one of my favorite healthy comfort food swaps is pizza made with a cauliflower crust. Cauliflower pizza has the same core ingredients as regular pizza, tomato sauce and cheese, but instead of using white flour to make the crust, we use shredded cauliflower.
As I mentioned earlier, cauliflower is lower in carbohydrates compared to white flour and has more nutrients like vitamin C and fiber. Cauliflower is also super filling because of its high water content. Its neutral flavor adapts to pretty much any ingredient you pair it with, so you get all the delicious pizza flavor without having to worry about it spiking your blood sugar.
Just as you would with regular pizza—because, yes, regular pizza is still OK, especially when you pair it with a large side salad or some other veggies—I recommend adding a variety of toppings to help boost nutrient content and satisfy your comfort food cravings. I like opting for Mediterranean flavors with toppings like sun-dried tomatoes and olives like this recipe, but you can even add pepperoni if you like!
See More: Genius Cauliflower Swaps That Cut Carbs
Get the Recipe: California Turkey Burgers & Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Burgers can be included as part of a healthy diabetes diet, especially when you make a few simple tweaks. Burger patties themselves are an excellent source of protein and typically contain little to no carbohydrates, depending on the type of burger. Patties made with 100% meat like ground beef, lamb, turkey and chicken typically have around 25 grams of protein per 6-ounce serving and zero grams of carbohydrates.
Salmon, tuna and veggie burger patties are also great sources of protein, but depending on the preparation may contain some carbohydrates from flours typically used for binding. That being said, you can easily make your own low-carbohydrate version of these burgers by swapping white flour for almond flour or whole-wheat flour.
Salmon and tuna burgers also have additional blood sugar lowering benefits from omega-3 fats, which help decrease inflammation associated with chronic diseases like diabetes (source). Finally, veggie burgers made from beans are high in fiber, which we know helps lower blood sugar.
In order to get the best blood sugar lowering effects from burgers, I recommend swapping the traditional bun for a high-fiber, whole-wheat bun made with 100% whole grains, or using lettuce or collard greens as your "bun" replacement. Serve with a side salad instead of fries, and some healthy toppings like sautéed onions, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, red onions and avocado.
This salmon burger is one of my go-to low-carbohydrate burger recipes.
7. Fettuccine Alfredo
Get the Recipe: One-Pot Chicken Alfredo
Are you seeing a theme here with pasta and comfort food? Clearly Americans love to indulge in this carb-heavy comfort food, and sometimes swapping your pasta for a veggie like cauliflower or spaghetti squash just isn't enough to satisfy your craving.
When you need a little more than a vegetable substitute, I recommend trying out some of the delicious healthy pasta alternatives on the market. These days you can find a healthy pasta substitute in most grocery stores. Some of my favorites are lentil, chickpea and 100% whole-wheat pasta because they are high in fiber and protein. The average chickpea pasta has around 11 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber per 2-ounce serving. That's more than double the amount of fiber than the average 2-ounce serving of regular pasta!
I love using a chickpea or whole-wheat pasta for some of my favorite comfort food recipes. This fettuccine Alfredo recipe is one of my favorites because it has additional nutrients from mushrooms and tomatoes and even more protein with the addition of chicken. This combination keeps you satisfied, but also keeps your blood sugar stable—a winning combination when it comes to healthy indulgences.
Using lettuce wraps instead of taco shells or tortillas is a great hack for making this meal more balanced for better blood sugar. Flour and corn tortillas are both relatively high in carbohydrates. If most people just had one taco using a tortilla, then I'd say go for it. But does anyone really have just one taco?
That's why I love this healthy comfort food hack. By replacing the corn or flour tortilla with a lettuce wrap, you're virtually nixing the refined carbohydrates, which cause your blood sugar to spike. Remove them, and replace with a crisp leaf of romaine lettuce and you can enjoy the flavors of a good taco without worrying about your blood sugar.
Wondering what to put in your taco to keep blood sugar in check? Go for the traditional fillings like ground meat, chopped chicken or pork, beans, and sautéed onions and peppers. Pile on the guacamole for some heart-healthy fats—which also help stabilize blood sugar—and sprinkle with some cheese for even more protein and calcium.
This Taco Lettuce Wraps recipe only takes 30 minutes to prepare, and I guarantee it will satisfy your taco craving!