Survive the Diabetic Diet While Still Smiling


Ward Alper is a type 2 diabetic and chef who lives and eats decadently in Portland, Maine. Since his diagnosis more than four years ago he has refocused his recipes and eating to support his diabetes health. In this article, Ward discusses some of his favorite diabetes-friendly substitutions.

Within the first few minutes after my diagnosis as a Diabetic, the one thing that became blazingly clear to me was that I had to change my diet. Easily said; not always so easily done. Most of the base of the nutritional pyramid that I had been using as my guide to healthy living, was now all but off limits to me. The famously delicious “Mediterranean” diet I so loved was no longer something that would keep me healthy now that I was a type 2 diabetic.

More Than Just a Change in Diet

The challenge was to keep my carbohydrate count down, keep the fiber in my diet, while liking what I ate enough to stick to my diet.

My first few weeks as a Diabetic were boring and very sad. I was almost always hungry and almost never satisfied. But by counting every gram of carbohydrate that passed my lips I managed to lose weight and lower my numbers. But how long could I keep this up? The blandness of just protein and salad became an obstacle I had to overcome. Good thing I am a chef.

When you have to watch what you eat for the rest of your life you have to more than adjust your diet, you have to adjust your attitude toward food and eating. It does little good to bemoan what you can’t or shouldn’t have. You need to focus on what you can have and celebrate that. The trick for me is to make the diet as varied as possible and taste as interesting as possible.

My Favorite Diabetic-Friendly Alternatives

One nutritionist introduced me to spaghetti squash as a “substitute” for pasta. Let me tell you that it is no substitute for spaghetti (1/2 cup Spaghetti squash =5g. carb, 1.1 g fiber. 2 oz. whole wheat pasta = 35g. carb. 3g. fiber). I think it tastes lousy with pasta sauce. It took a lot of trial and error to turn it into something I actually like and look forward to eating. As it turns out, Spaghetti squash loves olive oil and garlic. It loves pesto sauce, and while it does not love pasta sauce, it does love roasted or sun dried tomatoes. I now find myself using almost as much as I used to use pasta or rice. Try my Spaghetti Squash and Seafood Casserole.

Cauliflower is another “substitute” (this time for potato [1/2 cup cauliflower =2.6g carb, 1.7g. fiber. Potato ½ cup= 15.6 g. carb 1.4 g. fiber]) that turned out to be a great prize. The first recipe I tried was for mashed cauliflower. From there to cauliflower salads both American and German style. These recipes have turned out so good that I don’t hesitate to serve them to guests. My experience with cauliflower is that it loves dill and parsley. Not a lot just a hint to set off its flavor.

Bread is a big thing for me. My local nutritionist introduced me to Joseph’s Lavash bread (net carbohydrate count of 8 grams per slice), Arnold Sandwich thins(net carbohydrates 16 grams) and Sara Lee “Delightful Whole Wheat bread (net carbohydrates of 9 grams per slice). Knowing about these products helped bring some normalcy back into my life. The pile of lettuce and tuna on the plate was once again a sandwich. The hamburger now had a diabetic compatible bun, and my egg in the morning once again had a slice of bread to nest on. Joseph’s Lavash also gave me an alternative to chips or crackers. Brushed with oil and seasonings one sheet of Lavash makes 32 of them for a net carbohydrate count of 8 grams and gives me back that salty crunchy taste I missed so much. The bonuses here are I do keep my carbohydrate count down, kept the proportion of fiber in my diet, all while adding great new flavors and textures to my menu.

There is no question that to control what you eat will help you to live better and manage your Diabetes. Winning is being able to stick to a better diet by making food more interesting and less of a chore. Your mind is as important as your plate.

Try this Spaghetti Squash and Seafood Casserole recipe that Ward has shared with us.

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