Diabetes and Cultural Foods

Key points

  • Traditional foods can be a part of healthy eating to manage diabetes.
  • Find out how you can connect to your culture through food and also manage your blood sugar.
Asian family cooking

Diabetes and healthy eating

If you have diabetes, you probably know how important healthy eating is for managing your blood sugar. And you may have thought, "Does this mean I have to give up all the foods that I love and grew up with?"

Many people connect to their culture through the foods they eat. Food is an important piece of culture passed down from generation to generation. It's hard to feel like you might have to give up your history to manage your health. But the good news is, you can still enjoy favorite cultural foods and manage your diabetes too.

Embracing cultural foods

Many traditional ingredients have always been healthy and versatile. For example:

Leafy greens are traditional to African American dishes, also called "soul food." Collard greens, mustard greens, kale, and spinach can help manage your blood sugar.

Quinoa is a popular "health food." But did you know that quinoa is a major food staple in Latin America? Traditional Latin American dishes often use ancient grains like quinoa. It's a great source of fiber and has many health benefits, especially for people with diabetes.

Beans, peas, and lentils are an important part of healthy eating and commonly found in world cuisines. Lima and navy beans are often found in African American dishes. Pinto and black beans are often in Hispanic and Latin dishes. Lentils and chickpeas can be found in traditional Indian meals. These legumes provide protein and fiber, which can help you lower your cholesterol and manage your blood sugar.

Enjoying your favorite foods

Healthy eating is about making the foods you love fit your health goals. For example, say your favorite dish is arroz con pollo (chicken and rice). You can use skinless chicken breast with brown rice or cauliflower rice. These swaps are healthier, while maintaining the spices and flavors of the dish. Here are a few more ideas to make your favorite dish diabetes-friendly:

Smothered greens

You can swap out high-sodium, high-fat meats with smoked, skinless turkey breast. This way you keep the flavor but reduce the fat and sodium. You can also skip the meat altogether for a meatless alternative.

Potato curry

Instead of using potatoes in this classic Indian dish, you can swap out the potatoes with lentils and cauliflower. Lentils are a healthier starchy vegetable and cauliflower gives the dish a nice texture.

Fajita tacos

Replace beef fajitas with shrimp or chicken instead. You can also use corn tortillas instead of flour. Corn tortillas tend to be lower in calories and carbs, and have more fiber.

Talk with your health care team

Your diabetes meal plan will be specific to your needs. Talk to your health care team about your diabetes goals, culture, and traditional foods. They can help you design a meal plan that's nutritious and culturally rich. Here are a few things you may want to discuss:

  • Your health-related values and beliefs.
  • How culture plays a role in your eating habits.
  • Ways to involve your family with preparing diabetes-friendly meals.
  • How to adjust your favorite meals to fit your needs.
  • Portion sizes that are right for you.

Changing the way you eat can be tough at first. But having diabetes doesn't mean giving up who you are. With some small changes, you can still enjoy your favorite things.