A sugarless feast
May 14, 2014 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Give me your favourite diabetic-friendly recipes that would be suitable for my mum - someone who doesn't tend to like/can't get hold of exotic ingredients.

I'm going to visit my mum next month - she's borderline diabetic and has been told to watch her diet to see if it changes things. She's struggling a bit, as while she understands that sweets and desserts are off the table, she can't get her head around avoiding carbs/starches. Her dad had diabetes, and the advice then was simply 'stop eating biscuits' - she was surprised to learn that she's not allowed bananas, crispbread, cereal or other things which she doesn't think of as 'sugary'. I was wondering if there was something I could cook for her when I go to visit.

Useful info:
- She lives in a small, economically deprived town, so to be on the safe side I'd say we are limited to regular supermarket ingredients - no nutritional yeast, tofu etc. There is a fair-sized Tesco down the road, and she does her main shop at Asda.
- She really likes Chinese food, chicken with stuffing sliced on a baguette, roast dinners, bacon sandwiches (is there such a thing as diabetic-friendly bread?) poached eggs, garlic bread. She is less a fan of pizza/pasta dishes, and things that are overly spicy. Basically, the kind of diet you'd expect a near-70yr old north-west lady to like. Curry is OK as long as it's mild, but the mild ones tend to be very coconutty. Recently she told me she likes salmon en croute, but I'm not sure if the 'en croute' bit is OK. She really doesn't like lentils, and isn't a fan of garlicky/spicy things like houmous or falafel.
- She is a pensioner so it would be good if the recipe was cost-effective so that if she likes it, she could make it herself.
- She has a microwave, oven and hob, but no steamer, George Foreman grill or other gadgety things. After years of being the sole cook in the family, she prefers not to cook these days - she's the only one living at home and finds it too much effort. (I wondered about getting her a steamer, but I'm not sure she'd use it.) Up to now she was eating a lot of ready meals as they were convenient and cheap, but I imagine most won't work for diabetics.
- My cooking skills are mostly limited to putting sime things in a pan, stirring them, then combining with some form of noodle, so if they're easy recipes, even better.

Bonus question - is there a book that's particularly good for people trying to regulate their insulin? We're in the UK but it's easy enough to get overseas things from Amazon.
posted by mippy to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
In general, what I notice is that you don't actually reference a single vegetable she actually likes, and that's where the big change needs to happen--I think the basic idea is that your meal can no longer be "starchy thing plus meat plus some kind of sauce plus maybe some vegetables." One has to break the habit of eggs always going on toast, for example, and do the eggs as an omelet with spinach and mushrooms instead. Do you guys have the steam-in-bag vegetables? Those are convenient. Salads. Soups can be made up in big batches and frozen.

Just, overall, figure out which non-starchy vegetables are highest on her list of things she enjoys (or at least tolerates) and build on that. I think trying to do this without some fundamental habit changes is folly, because if you start off switching to low-carb bread and then you get sick of how it tastes inferior to regular bread, well, you'll just end up back buying regular bread. (And unless it's gotten better in the last two years, it really does pretty much just taste like actual cardboard.)
posted by Sequence at 6:52 AM on May 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Going off of what Sequence says above, perhaps get more vegetables in her diet via the Chinese food route. And by that I don't mean heavy brown sauces like take-out has. See if she can get into stir-frys, but minus the noodles (maybe a little rice?).
posted by kuanes at 6:57 AM on May 14, 2014

She's trying to eat more vegetables, but as I've only seen her sporadically over the past couple of years, I'm not definite as to what. When she cooked family dinners she'd cook carrot. swede, sprouts, cauliflowers, and I think she does like broccoli. The biggest issue is that she lives on her own so vegetables often aren't cost-effective - when I was cooking only for myself, I'd find things like salad or carrot batons would go off before I could finish them.

I think she does get the steam in bag veg! I don't know if 'low-carb bread' really exists here, at least in mainstream supermarkets. If she lived near a Whole Foods and had won the lottery that would enable her to shop there, it would be a bit easier to adapt her existing diet. She doesn't get takeaways often as they are more expensive (food in general is getting that way here) so I think she's been buying a lot of ready meals, or putting lemon sauce on chicken with rice. (What annoys me about eating at her house: she serves fusilli with Chinese dishes because 'it's the same thing'.)

Final questions before I stop thread-sitting - are sweet potatoes OK? And rice?
posted by mippy at 7:09 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do a bit of reading about the glycemic index: "Foods with carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion and release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream tend to have a high GI; foods with carbohydrates that break down more slowly, releasing glucose more gradually into the bloodstream, tend to have a low GI."

The American Diabetes Association has good info as well.

White rice, for instance, is not ideal.
posted by rtha at 7:31 AM on May 14, 2014

The simplest way to start is to follow the plate method:

UK version.

US version, with short video.

Both websites give lists of starchy vs. non-starchy vegetables.

So, for instance, if she picks up a package of chicken breasts, she can bake or poach them all at once, and she will have enough protein for several meals.

Then all she has to do is microwave a small potato, and pour some bagged frozen veg into a dish and microwave that. The microwave in a pouch meals may have too much for her to eat at one sitting, so a regular bag that she can pour out a reasonable amount into a dish from might be easier and more economical. We get large bags of chopped spinach and I use 1/2 for two people, so she can just pour out 1/4 of a large bag and put the rest back into the freezer.

Also, being pre-diabetic does not mean zero sweets, but it means very small amounts of sweets once in a while. Bread is a carb, yes, but she can eat say, 1 slice of whole grain or high fiber bread, as opposed to plain white bread. It does not mean zero starches: just less starches. You will see those methods call for a fruit portion as well, so she could have 1/2 a banana (cut it in half while still peeled, and baggie the other half for the next day, my Mom used to do this all the time). Whole wheat and high fiber bread are more expensive yes, but if you are eating one slice at a sitting instead of two (think open face sandwich with chicken, lettuce and tomato instead of a bacon sandwich with two slices of white bread), then it will balance out.

If she can't do this type of cooking for herself, that is, if you know she won't follow it, then help her find low fat frozen meals without a lot of starches like rice and noodles (again, not zero, just less portion of starch). These are pretty high in salt tho', so make sure she's not overdoing the salt. I've seen stir fry with meat in a bag here, if you have those, she could just pour out a portion and eat that.

If she can go walking every day, or even every other day, it will help a lot. Any physical activity lowers your blood sugar (so she should ideally do it after eating to avoid dropping it too low).

Sweet potatoes are better than white potatoes, as they are less starchy and have lots of fiber. But again, think in terms of portions, and like the UK site above says, just by changing your plate size to a slightly smaller one, you will eat less.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:41 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

It might be helpful to discuss with her that anything with carbohydrates in it becomes sugar in our bodies, regardless of how sweet (or not) it tastes to begin with.

As for simple solutions - my nutrition when I was diagnosed taught how many grams of carbs are ok per meal. It varies by person so if she's a small lady I would cut this down by 1/3-1/2, but a good basic rule of thumb is that each meal should have no more than 1 cup of carbs, be it rice, mashed potatoes, or pasta, etc. It's amazing how much bigger I realized my previous portions were once I started measuring.

Are there any veggies she likes canned? Canned green beans have been my saving grace. I love them and can eat them any time, and they keep on the shelf for times when I'm too tired to go to the grocery store. Low sodium options are better.

If you google South Beach recipes or Paleo recipes, there are lots of low to no carb options that are very tasty. They can be heavy on fat (Paleo in particular) but that's easily adjustable and usually doesn't affect the taste too much.

As someone said above, it's really important to decouple the protein+carb idea for meals. I had trouble having breakfast or soup without toast or crackers, but you can get used to it. I also decide where it's more important to me to have carbs. I'm not a big breakfast person so having a hard boiled egg or some cottage cheese (or random leftovers!) is just as good to me as having toast and whatever or a bagel. You do have to be careful here because it isn't quite like calories in general where it can be ok to be light on one meal but heavier on the other. With carbs the ideal is really to have it low and constant throughout the day, with no spikes or drops.

Feel free to memail me, I can keep blathering on about this if it's helpful!
posted by brilliantine at 7:57 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

The whole thing with vegetables going off is the tricky bit of this, but it's the problem that needs solving, not avoiding. The substitutions, the diet frozen dinners, tend to emphasize deprivation and the couple older folks I know have not had a good time sticking with such things. Changing the whole structure of a meal is a much bigger change, but it also pulls you away from missing flour and sugar. I mean, I agree that nothing should be a "never" food, but I focus on foundations. Either it's carbs (like she's doing now), or it's vegetables (with those attendant problems) or it's protein, which can work, but Atkins is not known for being cheap. Sodium is something that I blatantly disregard, now, in my thirties, but I'm not sure someone nearing seventy should do so... processed foods are, in the long term, a problem. Needing to have a starch at every meal is a problem. Not that they need to go away forever, but there's a fundamental habit that needs to shift.

I live alone myself, and I've been putting a lot of effort lately into trying to render cooking enjoyable instead of a chore that seems like too much trouble for just me, is there anything you could do along those lines? A nice little omelet pan, a good knife? I found a set of non-stick baking sheets that are intended for toaster ovens that are just the right size for one person's food and easier to wash up. Maybe if you got into more cooking, too, it could be a thing that could turn into a weekly catch-up call.
posted by Sequence at 8:08 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

An alternative to rice = cauliflower. Also, mixed with egg and a few other ingredients, cauliflower makes a nice pizza crust -- it can't really be folded like bread can, but it can serve as a reasonable replacement for breads in some dishes.

I'd echo South Beach recommendations, book-wise. As I recall, the explanation of carbohydrates at the beginning of the original book is easy to follow. The recipes are generally very simple, and don't require much that's unusual. I tend to use them as general reference rather than follow the 'phases,' but mileage varies there of course.

(One other thing: If Whole Foods in the UK is like Whole Foods in the US, it's not much more diabetic-friendly than any other supermarket -- and it's less so in some categories, because there are no artificially sweetened products.)
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:08 AM on May 14, 2014

What adds considerable confusion to the entire matter is the fact that everyone's body is different. What sends one diabetic's blood sugar soaring can be well-tolerated by another. Mr. DrGail, for instance, can handle a sweet dessert while just a few grains of white rice does a number on his blood sugar.

With that said, one of my very favorite diabetic-friendly main dishes is very easy to make and is infinitely adaptable. In fact, we had it just last night for dinner.

Crustless Crab Quiche

1 can (7.5 oz) crabmeat, drained (I use the fake "krab"; much cheaper and I like it better)
1/4 pound Swiss cheese, coarsely shredded
1/3 cup minced onion
1 cup Eggbeaters (or 4 whole eggs)
1 cup evaporated skim milk
1/4 t salt
1/8 t cayenne pepper

Spread the first three ingredients in a greased pie pan. Mix remaining ingredients together and pour over the top. Sprinkle with some dried, or chopped fresh, parsley if desired.

Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees F. Turn oven down to 300 degrees F and bake 30-35 minutes more. Let it rest 5-10 minutes before cutting.

The ingredients can be changed at will. I often clean out odds-and-ends of cheeses and meats to make this quiche. Low fat (but not fat-free) cheese works fine. As long as the custard is equal parts egg and evaporated skim milk, you end up with a very credible quiche. Since a can of evaporated skim milk contains more than a cup, I usually increase the Eggbeaters to match. Then I bake it about 3 minutes longer at each temperature.

The leftovers keep, and reheat, well.
posted by DrGail at 9:31 AM on May 14, 2014

Thanks for answers so far. I thought this would end up being a recipe thread rather than a general advice thread, so I really appreciate the extra insight and tips.

If it's relevant, my mum is small (5ft or so) and eats small portions, although she does have a sweet tooth. She walks her dogs once a day, and before the diabetes, was diagnosed with heart problems (probably hereditary) and asthma (my dad smoked 40 unfiltered a day in the house so either it's that or an age thing). The health visitor told her that she can have half a banana once a week - this might be specific to her own test results, but she told me fruit is completely out.

It's very culturally ingrained in the UK, especially if you are working-class, that a meal is a meat plus potatoes plus cursory vegetables (often boiled beyond flavour). This is the way she's been used to cooking, and as she's got older she uses more convenience foods - she came to visit a few years ago, we cooked a roast dinner, and she couldn't understand why we used fresh potatoes rather than frozen roasties. I know from experience that it's really easy to become reliant on starches - if I don't remind myself that vegetables are necessary I can happily eat garlic roule/houmous on a baguette for my tea even if I'll feel all stodgy afterwards. I've had to make a mental leap to be able to remember that I can feel full without carbs, and I think that's the issue she's having - looking at her usual diet and feeling she can't have anything.
posted by mippy at 10:08 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

The whole thing with vegetables going off is the tricky bit of this, but it's the problem that needs solving, not avoiding.

Yeah, I live on my own and many vegetables keep foreeeeever. I buy 1.2kg bags of carrots (not carrot batons of course, proper, normal, whole carrots) and they keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge. Broccoli keeps a week or more. Romaine salad - buy the whole heads (available in bags of 2 at Asda), sprinkle them with water, and they keep well over a week (as you gradually peel off the leaves from the outside, keep moistening it).

Can you maybe find a local diabetic support group or something for her? There is no way around having to change her diet quite radically, and it may help her to feel less alone in this (and perhaps also to see what awaits her further down the line if she insists on sticking with what she's eating now).

(Sorry I can't offer any actual recipes, I don't think any of the stuff I eat would please her much.)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 11:23 AM on May 14, 2014

For a quick dessert the sugar free instant puddings are quite good, and so easy to fix by just adding low or no fat milk. My mom's favorite is the lemon pudding.

A sweet/savory quick breakfast is to add a teaspoon of any flavor sugar free jello powder to a cup of low fat cottage cheese and stir. Chopped walnuts can be added for texture and additional protein.

Here in the US there are several brands of "No Sugar Added" ice cream that are available in most grocery stores, yours may carry them as well or perhaps will order them in for you. Generally the choice is just vanilla or chocolate but occasionally other flavors can be found.

spread a small amount of peanut butter (or other nut butters) on apple slices for a sweet treat
posted by IpsoFacto at 3:20 PM on May 14, 2014

If your mother has a decent sized freezer she could bulk cook a stew that was loaded with veggies then freeze portions. It then becomes convenience food as all you have to do is microwave it till it's hot then enjoy. When I do a chicken stew I add carrots, swede, mushrooms and onions. The prep doesn't take very long either. I use a 500g or so pack of chicken, two 500g bags of cubed carrot and swede from Asda, 500g of mushrooms, two large red onions, and some stock pots, with whatever else is needed to make it tasty. The ingredients cost about £8 in total but if you cut the chicken up small and add plenty of stock it can make 6 decent sized meals or 8 smaller portions to serve with something else. I've also done the same thing but made it tomato based by using sieved tomatos and adding the stock pot neat to the pot.

Preperation is easy. The chicken and the mushrooms take the longest prep. Buy a cheap mandolin (I got a good one from Robert Dyas for less than £10) to chop up the onions and suddenly that job is easier. The carrot and swede is already cubed and can be microwaved and added ready cooked to the stew so it's lovely and soft. When it's reaheated from frozen the chicken will break up making it lovely and thick, and it's tasty, full of veg and really filling.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 4:23 PM on May 14, 2014

I don't really have any recipes that would suit your mother, since my tastes run to spicy/assertive flavors, but just wanted to add a couple of general ideas. If she's not a fan of raw vegetables, perhaps a simple vegetable soup (chop up low-starch vegetables that she likes, cook in a broth that she likes) can be pretty filling and low-carb. I make a big pot of the soup and portion it out as a side dish for multiple meals.

I've never had the patience to make the cauliflower "rice" that was listed above. I do take the general idea and substitute low-starch veggies for rice or pasta--curry over cooked greens, or chicken in tomato sauce over steamed broccoli.
posted by creepygirl at 9:24 PM on May 14, 2014

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