Comfort Food Recipe Swaps for Diabetes

Fat, Sugar, and Refined Carbohydrate Swaps

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Eating a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet is an important part of preventing and managing diabetes. Certain nutrients such as carbohydrates, saturated fat, fiber, and sodium must be carefully accounted for when creating an individualized meal plan for people with diabetes. Additionally, lifestyle, cultural preferences, medical history, medications, and food preferences should be acknowledged.

Oftentimes people with diabetes want to know how they can prepare certain indulgent foods in healthier ways for the infrequent times they veer from their eating plan. There are certain ingredient "swaps" that improve the nutrition profile of your traditional recipe. This doesn't mean you should eat large amounts of sweets and other less healthy food choices, but you can cut a portion of fat, calories, and carbohydrates by making some substitutions.

Food Swaps for Diabetes
Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Fat Swaps

With the rise in popularity of the ketogenic diet, and the acknowledgment of the benefits of low carbohydrate meal plans for those people with diabetes, fat has become a highly talked about nutrient. Fat provides flavor and can keep us satiated. Fat is also important for hair, skin, and nails, and for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Fat contains no carbohydrate, which is good for blood sugar control, but it does contain double the calories than carbohydrate or protein. One gram of fat contains nine calories, whereas one gram of carbohydrate or protein contains four calories; this makes fat a calorically-dense nutrient.

Many low carbohydrate recipes are rich in fat; if you are overeating fat calories, you can gain weight which can negatively affect your blood sugar.

Additionally, not all fat is created equal with regards to health effects. Saturated fats and trans fats can have a negative effect on cholesterol and lead to an increased risk of atherosclerosis. On the other hand, unsaturated fats, such as mono and polyunsaturated fats (found in nuts, seeds, avocado, and fatty fish like salmon) can have favorable effects on cholesterol.

Although there is not an exact ideal percentage when it comes to fat in the diet, the latest American Diabetes Association Standards of Care guidelines suggest, "The type of fats consumed is more important than total amount of fat when looking at metabolic goals and cardiovascular disease risk, and it is recommended that the percentage of total calories from saturated fat should be limited."

To reduce the amount of saturated fat in your favorite recipes you can use some of the following ingredients instead:


Avocados are rich in nutrients, contain heart-healthy fats, no preservatives, and are naturally low in sodium and cholesterol.

When baking, you can use avocado to replace half of the butter in your recipe. Doing so will decrease the saturated fat content significantly.

If you decide to replace all the butter with avocado, you may not yield the same result. To do this, you will need to reduce your oven temperature by 25% and increase your baking time to prevent your cake from rising up in the middle or, alternatively, caving in. Lowering the heat will also prevent the cake from browning.

Avocado can also be used as a spread or topping to replace butter, sour cream, cheese, and mayonnaise. According to the food and nutrition database Nutritionix, 2 tablespoons of avocado contain 35 calories and 0.5 grams of saturated fat, while 2 tablespoons of butter contain 204 calories and 14.6 grams of saturated fat. Swapping avocado for butter saves you 169 calories and 14.1 grams of saturated fat.

Heavy Cream

If a recipe calls for heavy cream, you can usually cut calories and saturated fat by substituting with half-and-half or whole milk.

By comparison, 1/2 cup of heavy cream contains 404 calories, and 27.5 grams fat, while 1/2 cup of half-and-half contains 144 calories and 8.8 grams saturated fat. One half cup whole milk contains 75 calories and 2.3 grams fat.

This may not work perfectly for every recipe, but you can always start by reducing the quantity of the heavy cream and adjusting the taste as you go.

Full-Fat Cheese

Replace full-fat cheese with low-fat cheese to reduce calories and saturated fat. The end result likely won't be as creamy and rich, but it will still have good flavor and texture. Using non-fat cheese is not going to yield the same result and isn't recommended because non-fat cheese varieties usually have added preservatives.


If you are looking to replace eggs while baking to reduce the saturated fat content, you can substitute eggs with homemade flax or chia egg. This eggless "egg" is typically used in vegan cooking and offers a ton of healthy fats, fiber, and nutrients. It is not usually recommended for replacing more than one or two eggs in a recipe.

To make one flax or chia egg, simply combine one tablespoon of flax or chia meal (you can purchase these seeds ground as meal or grind them yourself in a coffee grinder) with three tablespoons of water. Let the concoction sit for five minutes and use it to replace one egg.

Chocolate Substitute

Chocolate is a common ingredient in baked goods and is rich in calories, saturated fat, and sugar. Carob often replaces chocolate in recipes, yielding a lower-calorie, lower-fat product. Carob is also caffeine and gluten-free.

Carob pods contain bioactive compounds such as dietary fiber, polyphenols, cyclitols, and tannins. These compounds have been associated with a variety of health benefits including glycemic (blood sugar) control, cholesterol reduction, anticancer effects, and many more.

You can use unsweetened carob chips or carob powder to replace chocolate in recipes by using a 1:1 ratio. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of chocolate chips you can use 1 cup of carob chips instead.

Reduce Sugar

Consuming large amounts of added sugar is discouraged, but if you are looking to reduce the sugar in a recipe, most of the time you can simply reduce the amount of sugar and still yield the same result.

The American Diabetes Association Standards of Care suggests, "As for all individuals in developed countries, both children and adults with diabetes are encouraged to minimize intake of refined carbohydrates and added sugars and instead focus on carbohydrates from vegetables, legumes, fruits, dairy (milk and yogurt), and whole grains."

Healthy Ways to Increase Sweetness

Baking is a science and sometimes you need to experiment a few times to get the perfect result. When cutting sugar in recipes, try adding some of these ingredients to help increase the sweetness of a recipe (to taste):

  • Cinnamon
  • Vanilla extract
  • Stevia
  • Nutmeg
  • Fresh or pureed fruit

Refined Carbohydrate Swaps

Many baking recipes call for unbleached flour or all-purpose flour; these types of flours are rich in refined carbohydrates and low in filling fiber.

High amounts of refined grains and added sugars are discouraged as they tend to raise blood sugars quickly and cause them to fall quickly afterward. The good news is that today there are many different types of flours that can be used for baking.

Whole-Grain Flour

Whole-grain flour contains more fiber, protein, and micronutrients than all-purpose flour. Depending on what you are making, you may be able to substitute 100% of all-purpose flour for whole-grain flour. The result will likely be denser, but this will vary based on what you are making and what type of whole-grain flour you are using. Recipe alterations, including adding more liquid, may be necessary.

Using a whole-wheat white flour (a whole-grain wheat variety) is often the easiest swap. This type of flour, made from white wheat as opposed to red wheat, has a milder flavor. Using this type of flour is usually an easier transition for those people who are accustomed to eating white bread.

In yeast bread that needs to rise, substitute whole-wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour, without making other changes. Certain whole-grain flours, such as teff flour, sorghum flour, and cornmeal flour can add sweetness. If you are using a whole-wheat white flour, you'll probably need to add less sweetener to acquire the same level of sweetness.

Coconut Flour

Coconut flour is a gluten-free flour that is extremely rich in fiber, which means it absorbs a ton of liquid in baking. It can be very tricky to bake with especially when making recipe substitutions, but for those who've mastered it, they seem to love it.

Almond Flour

Almond flour is a common gluten-free ingredient that is used in low-carbohydrate baking. Almond flour contains 5 grams of carbohydrate per 1/4 cup (versus 23 grams of carbohydrate per 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour). Almond flour is also rich in fiber and contains a good amount of calcium, iron, vitamin E, and magnesium.

In addition to baking, almond flour can be used in place of breadcrumbs for meatballs, and breading for chicken or fish.

Chickpea Flour

Chickpea flour, also known as gram, besan, or garbanzo bean flour, is made from dried chickpeas. It can be made at home (by grinding dry chickpeas in a food processor or coffee grinder) or purchased at the grocery store in the specialty food or international section.

It has been a staple of Indian cooking and for good reason. Chickpeas are chock full of nutrition, rich in filling fiber, protein, iron and many other micronutrients. They also contain polyphenols which act as antioxidants and protect against free radicals.

Chickpea flour is gluten-free and has a lower glycemic index than white flour; low-glycemic index foods will not cause your blood sugar to spike. Researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 54 randomized control trials in adults or children with impaired glucose tolerance, type 1 diabetes, or type 2 diabetes and concluded that low-glycemic index diets stabalize blood sugar and may reduce weight for those with prediabetes or diabetes.

You can use chickpea flour when making pancakes, as well as other savory and sweet dishes.

A Word From Verywell

Not all food is created equal when it comes to health, but certain indulgent foods can be made healthier when using recipe substitutions. If you have diabetes and are looking for recipe substitutions, using healthier foods like avocado, flax meal, almond flour, chickpea flour, and lower-fat dairy products can allow you to enjoy your favorite comfort foods when the occasion calls for them.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Ketogenic diet: Is the ultimate low-carb diet good for you?

  2. American Diabetes Association. 5. Facilitating Behavior Change and Well-being to Improve Health Outcomes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes—2022. Diabetes Care. 2022;45(Supplement 1):S60–S82. doi:10.2337/dc22-S005

  3. Goulas V, Stylos E, Chatziathanasiadou MV, Mavromoustakos T, Tzakos AG. Functional components of carob fruit: Linking the chemical and biological spaceInt J Mol Sci. 2016;17(11):1875. doi:10.3390/ijms17111875

  4. Zafar MI, Mills KE, Zheng J, et al. Low-glycemic index diets as an intervention for diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019;110(4):891-902. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqz149

By Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN
Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.