Simple Cooking Swaps for Easier Diabetes Management

You want a deep-dish pizza—your blood sugar says, “Hard pass.” Here’s how you can still have your fave foods while living with diabetes, without compromising your wellness goals.
Published July 28, 2022

Pop quiz: If you have diabetes, which foods are off-limits? (Bueller? Bueller?) Answer: None. Everything has its place in a balanced diet, even if you’re living with diabetes. That said, eating more of some foods and less of others can make managing your blood sugar (a.k.a. glucose) a lot easier—something that’s important for feeling good now and staying healthy for years to come.

“Significant fluctuations in blood sugar can lead to diabetes complications,” says Amy Stephens, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and a certified diabetes care and education specialist in New York City. For example, hypoglycemia (very low blood sugar) can bring on shakiness, anxiety, confusion, nausea, weakness, fatigue, headaches, and more. On the other hand, hyperglycemia (very high blood sugar) can up your thirst and make you need to urinate more often. In the long term, high blood sugar also raises your risk of serious health issues like cardiovascular disease and kidney problems. “That’s why it’s so important to minimize blood sugar swings as much as possible,” says Stephens. “When you do, you’ll feel better throughout the day.”

To keep your blood sugar steady, Stephens suggests eating every three to four hours and relying more on foods that incorporate fibre, protein, or fat (which slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream) and less on those made up of simple carbs (which cause glucose to spike), like white bread and pasta. The good news? The WeightWatchers® Diabetes-Tailored Points™ Program is designed to guide you toward foods that are higher in the former. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some simple swaps—loved by WW staffers and members alike—that will let you enjoy your favourite foods without rocking your blood sugar.

You like: The same sugary breakfast cereal your kids love
Try: Whole-grain toaster waffle topped with nut butter and cacao nibs

A hit of sugar first thing in the morning will send glucose soaring. This Stephens-recommended swap hits on all the flavours you love (it’s almost like eating a peanut butter cup!) and benefits from nut butter for a hit of blood sugar–stabilizing healthy fats and high-fibre cacao nibs (three grams of fibre in one tablespoon).

You like: Pizza
Try: Low-carb wrap topped with tomato sauce and shredded cheese

Classic pizza dough is pretty much a giant disk of carbs—something that can really impact your blood sugar levels. WW member (and staffer) Susan S. has a secret weapon: Spread your favourite toppings (green peppers and mushrooms, anyone?) on a low-carb wrap and heat it up in a sizzling frying pan to mimic that charred crust taste.

You like: Soda
Try: Flavoured sparkling water

“In terms of blood sugar, drinking a can of soda is like eating two slices of white bread,” says Stephens. Your blood sugar shoots way up, setting you up for a crash later. Instead, reach for a can of flavoured seltzer—there are endless varieties available these days. Or go the DIY route and drop strawberry slices, watermelon pieces, or pineapple chunks into plain sparkling H2O. Bonus: This is also a perfect way to use up fruit in your fridge that’s just past its prime while adding to your water intake to grow your Points® Budget. (What’s that, you ask? Check out the science behind WW’s Points algorithm.)

You like: Noodles
Try: Chickpea or lentil pasta

Regular noodles made with wheat are carb-heavy, spiking your glucose when you eat them. Dried pastas made with chickpea or lentil flour contain more fibre and protein compared to traditional varieties—which means they’re lower in Points and a great choice for people living with diabetes. “Fibre and protein are really important for slowing digestion and blunting that blood sugar spike,” says Angela Goscilo, M.S., R.D., senior manager of nutrition at WW. Plus, the latest varieties are so tasty, you won’t be able to tell you made a swap (and they have all the sauce-soaking-up power you’re looking for).

You like: Chips and queso
Try: Veggies and a vegan queso

Carb-centric corn tortilla chips won’t do your blood sugar any favours—and the saturated fat in that cheesy dip is shown to impact insulin sensitivity. But you can still meet that salty-meets-gooey cheesy desire. First, whip up some vegan queso made with tofu and nutritional yeast. And in place of the chips, use non-starchy veggies that you enjoy (such as bell peppers, peas, zucchini, radishes, or jicama) for dipping. “This is a great time to lean into ZeroPoint™ foods,” says Goscilo. These foods, personalized for people living with diabetes, form the foundation of a healthy eating pattern and are nutritional powerhouses. You’ll get that crunchy-creamy combo you’re craving with more fibre and protein and less saturated fat.

You like: Smoothies
Try: Overnight oats

Smoothies can quickly get sugar-laden and drive up glucose fast—especially ones made with flavoured yogurt or fruit juice. When you want a quick, grab-and-go breakfast, start your day with overnight oats instead. Just mix rolled oats with milk or some plain yogurt, along with fresh fruit, chia seeds or flaxseed, and nuts. That combo will provide your body with protein and fibre, along with carbs, says Goscilo.

You like: Ice cream
Try: “Nice” cream

Ice cream is packed with simple sugars and not much in the way of fibre, making it not such a smart choice for your blood sugar. Nice cream is made by whirling frozen bananas in a food processor. The end result: an impossibly creamy, Froyo-like treat. The best part is that nice cream is endlessly customizable, meaning you can tweak it to fit whatever flavour you’re looking for, says Sherry Rujikarn, WW food director. “Add in additional fruit, nuts, or even some crumbled sugar-free cookies,” she suggests.

You like: Pretzels
Try: Pistachios

If you’re a fan of salty snacks, switch from pretzels (which have quick-digesting carbs that raise blood sugar) to pistachios, nuts that provide the perfect trifecta of protein, fibre, and healthy fats. Buy pistachios in their shells if you can; “cracking open the shell takes time and slows down your eating,” says Leslie Fink, M.S., R.D., a registered dietitian and a nutritionist and food editor at WW.

Remember: You don’t have to deny yourself your favourite pepperoni pizza or a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream all the time, but trying swaps like the ones above can help keep your blood sugar in check—for better well-being now and over the long run.