Cooking a meal for diabetics
We Indians are known for our myriad food thus cooking here is considered as an art. Unfortunately diabetics have to restrict their choices. But Dr HB Chandalia and Ms Sonal V Modi share with you few simple, culturally appropriate and smart tips to cater your taste buds minus the compromises with your health
Cooking for diabetics can be easier if you understand this disease. The best way to cook for them is to follow the food exchange system, because a diabetic is not likely to adhere to a stereotypic diet throughout his/her life. With Diabetes it’s not what you eat, it’s how much and how often you eat is what really matters. Diabetics face special dietary challenges in order to control their blood sugar levels and remain in good health. Thus a proper diet plan is the weapon to fight it. The foods and their forms you put into your body affect your blood sugar, so it’s important that you make healthy, Diabetes friendly choices. Diabetics need to understand the diet prescription, its caloric, protein and fat content and the exchangeability of various foods. Apart from this, a general idea about how to cook these can help the patient evolve a variety of menus suiting the taste buds.
Food is acceptable only if it tastes, smells and looks good. Cooking a diabetic meal is in no way different from that of an ordinary meal. However, it would require minimum use of oil and total omission of direct sugar, thus requiring some culinary ingenuity on the part of the meal maker.
Look for alternatives
Fibre is generally found in whole, unrefined foodstuffs. Instead of using refined flours opt for unrefined flours from wheat, bajra and jowar. Similarly, it is preferable to use the whole grains and lentils instead in their split forms (dals).
Fruits should be eaten whole, preferably with their skin, whenever possible, instead of fruit juices. Raw salads and green leafy vegetables are good sources of fibre too. If the patient has difficulty in chewing raw fruits and vegetables, they can be stewed, as the nutrients are retained in the juice.
Reducing the fat in the diet does not mean just limiting it while cooking, but it also includes careful selection of low fat foods. Thus opt for fat free buttermilk and skimmed milk instead of whole, evaporated and condensed milk. Use cottage cheese prepared from skim milk instead of cream cheeses.
Remove the skin from chicken flesh and all visible fat and trimmings from meat. Pick white fish like white pomfret over fatty fish like black pomfret or mackerel, though fatty fish do contain omega-3 fatty acids , which are known to be beneficial.
Avoid cream soups and meat or chicken soups from which fat has not been removed. Keep at bay oily salad dressings, egg yolk, mayonnaise, peanut butter and nuts. Also avoid pastries, pies, chocolates, ice creams and desserts prepared with butter, shortenings, margarine and whole milk. Go for skim milk desserts or those made with egg white. In the low calorie diabetic diets, chapatis or phulkas, are preferable to puris and parathas. Also restrict yourself from bhakris since they have lot of oil. Go for oil free khakras. Plain boiled rice is always better than the greasy pulao, fried rice and biryani.
While preparing sandwiches, pies and things alike opt for white sauce, because it has lesser calories than butter. Another healthy substitute is the green chutney (without coconut or nuts) and it can be consumed in any amount.
Eating salad daily might get boring, so bring in variety of dressings to break the monotony. Avoid oily dressings, egg yolk and mayonnaise. Use lemon juice, vinegar, dhokla dressings, and spices, curds prepared from skim milk or gelatin (molded salad).
Soups are a light appetizer with good food value. The stock obtained after boiling vegetables or meat or fish bones may be used for soups and gravies. Avoid soups, which are thickened with starch, fat, cream or egg yolk instead use clear ones flavoured with lemon juice, celery, pepper, mustard, vinegar aji-no-moto (unless restricted in cases of hypertension), garlic and spices.
Vegetables should be short cooked to conserve their food value. Green vegetables are rich in vitamin-c, which is lost in cooking. Hence they should be cooked with a tight fitting lid, until just tender and not more. Sometimes parboiling is useful to avoid overcooking the vegetables.
Indian cooking involves preparation of curries and gravies. Instead of using oil to make gravies use fat free curd, tomato puree, ginger, garlic, grated onion, skim milk and corn flour. Stock from boiled vegetables are best as they conserve the water soluble nutrients and improve the food quality.
Cook it this way
The following methods require less oil and should be used by diabetics for low calorie diets:
Boiling- Foods may be boiled in minimum water. However this is a time-consuming process, leading to the destruction of heat liable vitamins, but it’s useful for low-calorie diets and in instances when the patient is unable to chew raw vegetables.
Steaming- This method is slower than boiling, but the flavour is better preserved. The steamed food prevents loss of nutrients and may be seasoned as required for example dhokla and idli.
Stewing- This process requires gently simmering the food in its stock or in milk and water. The liquid may be flavoured or seasoned.
Baking- This method requires no water and very little fat. If using a piecrust, it may be prepared from flour and milk instead of adding fat to the filling, white sauce may be added as a binder. Samosas, pizzas and patties may be prepared in this way.
Grilling- Here food is cut into medium size cubes, dried, brushed over with oil or melted fat, seasoned with salt and pepper, then is grilled over the grill rack. Meat can be marinated in curd with non-fat masala, for a few hours and then grilled without or with a few drops of oil over it.
Roasting- Certain food are as tasty when roasted as when fried like papads, chapatis, phulkas and khakras. Brinjal can be roasted and then mixed with onion, ginger, garlic, salt and other flavouring to make a bhurtha.
Frying- The non-stick frying pan is a boon for those who wish to eat non-greasy pancakes, dosas, tomato omelets and other fries. This method requires just few drops of oil to avoid sticking of the food to the frying pan.
Diabetic diet stresses on the use of little or no sugar hence there is avid interest in the field of artificial sweeteners. They are of two types- non-calorigenic artificial sweetners, for example saccharin, aspartame and cyclamates (no longer marketed in India) and calorigenic sweeteners like fructose powder, honey, sorbitol and glycerin.
Till recently, saccharin was one of the most frequently used non-sugar sweeteners. However this compound leaves bitterness later and its sweetness is lost at high temperatures. Thus it should be added at the end of the cooking cycle. While preparing kheer, the milk is boiled with vermicili or rice till the required consistency is attained. After removal from the flame, sacchrain or aspartame is added. Similar procedures are followed in the case of gajar halwa and custard. These sweeteners have been successfully used in cold drinks and ice-creams.
Sorbitol is best suited for those recipes involving the use of high temperatures. Its sweetness being nearly the same as sugar. However a person should remember to restrict his daily intake of sorbitol to 10-15 gms, as larger amounts are likely to cause diarrhea.
Dr HB Chandalia and Ms Sonal V Modi