Eating the Good Life with Diabetic-Compatible Substitutions that Work


This article was written by Ward Alper, a type 2 diabetic and chef who lives and eats decadently in Portland, Maine. Since his diagnosis more than five years ago, Ward has refocused his recipes and eating to support his diabetic health.

It does not matter if it is good for you or better for you or what you SHOULD do; if you don’t like it, you probably won’t eat it.

Bottom line is that there are some foods that have to be eaten in moderation, or you have to find a substitute that gives you the same sense of the food that satisfies you on all levels: taste, texture, body, look and most important emotional. Finding a “pasta” form that I could use in my grandmother’s chicken soup was as much an emotional experience as it was an eating sense.

Diabetic-Compatible Substitutions that Work

Spaghetti Squash

I have talked and sung the praises of spaghetti squash as a substitute for pasta in casseroles, “mac” and cheese, and even as a dessert in my recipe for “new/old-fashioned rice pudding.” I look forward to making these dishes for my family and friends. Spaghetti squash works really well for these dishes. Where it doesn’t work well (for me) is with spaghetti sauce and meatballs.

I saw a recipe today that used polenta, a corn meal substitute for pasta, but polenta has far too many carbs for my diet. This is the perfect place to substitute spaghetti squash for a high-carbohydrate food. I often serve the spaghetti squash with butter and Parmesan cheese, and we really enjoy eating it. Polenta is basically corn meal cooked with water or milk, butter and Parmesan cheese. It is a perfect swap. It has the same sense and texture in the original dish, and the carbohydrate grams are less than half that of the polenta.


Substituting some of the flour in my baking with toasted ground nuts not only works but actually makes my desserts even better. Sure, I have to add a little sour cream and baking soda to my cake batters to help them rise, but that too adds moistness and flavor to my cakes. The ground nuts and flour combination also works as a “breading” for chicken. Parmesan cheese also works very well in combination with a “little” flour for a breading. Both the nuts and the cheese add a little “extra” flavor and texture to a poor boneless chicken breast.


Spinach has always been a favorite vegetable of mine. It makes a great base for Chicken Parmesan or any recipe using a chicken breast. It is a great stuffing for chicken mixed with some toasted nuts and Parmesan cheese. Or, if meat is not your thing, spinach makes a great filling for mushrooms either as an appetizer or whole meal.


I love cauliflower as a substitution for potato so much that I don’t even think about not using mashed cauliflower to catch the gravy and make lakes, rivers and damns on my plate of Gallic Pot Roast. Cauliflower au Gratin is as good as Potato au Gratin and just as easy to make. It actually cooks in less time.

For those of you, like me, who really miss rice, cauliflower makes a great substitution for that as well (recipe below). It is not the same taste, but for texture and low-carb bulk on your plate, it works very well.

It is possible to eat the good life even if you have diabetes. I have found all of these substitutions easier and more delicious than when I was told (100 years ago) to cut back on salt and tried using salt substitutes or just cutting way back or leaving the salt out of a recipe.

Enjoy, be happy, be healthy, be creative, and BE DECADENT!

Click here for Ward's "Riced" Cauliflower recipe!

Get more nutrition tips and recipe ideas from Ward Alper, the Decadent Diabetic, on his website.

Image credit: SheKnows