Learning how to be my own diabetic-friendly chef

minute read
April 17, 2023
A selection of diabetic-friendly Indian dishes.
Note: Image for illustration only. It does not show the author of this story. Photo credit - ArtificialOG

When I was diagnosed as a diabetic, I thought I’d never again be able to enjoy my favourite Indian foods.

I got quite stressed believing I’d never be able to eat tasty food, and struggled to find recipes that were both diabetic-friendly and tasted good.

As someone who isn’t a great chef, the idea of making my own meals was daunting. And with a full-time job, it felt hard to find the time to learn how to cook.

However, with a bit of experimentation and a lot of determination, I’ve managed to create some delicious dishes that suit my ‘desi’ palette and keep my blood sugar levels in check.

Food and culture

Like many Punjabis, food is an important part of my culture and social life. My family loves to gather together around a big meal, and we’re always trying out new recipes.

When I realised I had to change my diet to manage my condition, I felt like I was losing a part of my identity.

The struggle

At first, I tried to stick to the standard diabetic diet recommendations – Lots of vegetables, lean protein and complex carbohydrates.

But I quickly realised this approach didn’t work for me.

I missed the spices and flavours of my favourite sub-continental dishes, and I found myself craving the sweets and carbs I’d always enjoyed.

So I decided to take matters into my own hands and experiment with diabetic-friendly versions of my favourite foods.

It wasn’t easy, but I was desperate to find a way to enjoy the foods I loved without sacrificing my health.

The approach

One of the first things I did was swap out traditional ingredients for healthier alternatives. For example, instead of using white rice in my biryani, I switched to brown rice (which has a lower glycemic index and is less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar). I also started using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour in my chapatis and naans, and missing desserts I started using stevia to sweeten my dishes instead of sugar.

Another trick I learned was to use lots of spices and herbs to add flavour without adding calories or carbs. I experimented with different combinations of cumin, coriander, turmeric and other spices to create my own unique blends. And I found that using fresh herbs like cilantro and mint also added a lot of flavour to my dishes.

Of course, not everything I tried was a success. I had some pretty major kitchen fails, including a batch of sugar-free gulab jamuns that were so dry and rubbery that even my dog refused to eat them.

But I didn’t let my setbacks discourage me. I kept experimenting and refining my recipes until I found the right balance of flavour and health.

Some of my favourite recipes

One of my favourite diabetic-friendly Punjabi dishes is cauliflower-rice biryani. Instead of using traditional rice, I grate cauliflower and sauté it with onions, garlic, and my special blend of spices. I add in some green peas and diced carrots for colour and texture and then top it all off with some roasted cashews and raisins – The result is a flavourful, filling dish that satisfies my craving for biryani without sending my blood sugar levels soaring.

Another dish I’ve had a lot of success with is chickpea and spinach curry. I start by sautéing some onions and garlic olive oil, then add some canned chickpeas and diced tomatoes. I let it simmer for a few minutes, then add a big handful of chopped spinach. I finish it off with some garam masala and a pinch of cumin and serve it with a side of whole wheat naan.

I also make barbeque chicken frequently – It’s lean protein, but full of tikka masala and aromatics it’s delicious.

I use my air fryer almost daily and prepare most of my dishes with it, including grilled fish, grilled chicken, or light snacks like nuggets or crispy okra chips.

Where I am now

It’s been a long journey to get to this point, but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. Not only have I learned how to cook delicious, diabetic-friendly desi food, but I’ve also become more confident in the kitchen.

Profile photo of Hira Tayyab, a type 1 diabetic.
Hira Tayyab

Hira Tayyab is a 28 year old diabetic who manages her diabetes, work, personal life and social life without letting her dietary restrictions become a pain point. She enjoys her life and keeps her health in check, following basic diabetes-friendly techniques and practices.

Editor's note: The opinions and experiences reflected in stories from the diabetic community belong to the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of InDiabetes.

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