What We Talk About When We Talk About Diabetic Recipes


Person with diabetes or diabetic?  For me, it’s not really an issue.  I don’t have a problem with the word diabetic.  I do, however, understand those who find it offensive.  I bring this up now not because I want to get into the issue, but because of Sara Nicastro’s funny post on her blog Some Kind of Wonderful.  Sara took a photo of a sign in her supermarket offering free diabetic recipes and then added the caption, “Don’t you hate it when your recipes get diabetes?”   

But the words diabetic recipes don’t just bring up a question of syntax.  They also raise a question of meaning.  What makes a recipe a diabetic recipe or a recipe for a person with diabetes?  There are probably as many answers as there are people with diabetes!  Here are some possibilities: no sugar, low carb, low fat, low calorie, no meat, no cholesterol, low GI,  no processed foods, no salt, something grandparents eat, something flavorless…  And there are plenty of people who believe there is no such thing as a diabetic diet, but that people with diabetes can eat anything as long as it’s in moderation.

The variation in definition could be a good thing if it meant that people with diabetes were paying close attention to their food intake and measuring blood glucose levels to see how their bodies responded to any particular food.  I suspect, however, that this is not what happens in most cases.  And I think what I’m about to suggest is that there should be some sort of regulation on the words diabetic recipes. How can the millions of people with diabetes out there possibly be expected to “control” their diabetes when there is no clarity on what they should eat?  

We diabetes advocates pick up on poorly researched diabetes articles in the media, where type 1 and type 2 diabetes are confused or not distinguished.  But what about those seemingly innocuous articles like the one Mike noticed in Prevention magazine recommending dates as a fantastically healthy food for people with diabetes? What about the Reader’s Digest article called Diabetes Superfoods, which lists cereal  (because it’s full of fiber), like Kellogg’sRaisin Bran, which contains: Whole grain wheat, raisins, wheat bran, sugar, brown sugar syrup…

Everybody is different, I know this.  We have different kinds of diabetes, different body sizes, and we don’t all respond to the same foods in the same way.  Some of us have food allergies.  Some of us exercise to the extreme.  Some of us don’t move at all.  So there can’t be one diet that is right for everyone.  But does that also mean that anything a person with diabetes eats is a diabetic meal? 

I looked at some of the recipes on the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) website, hoping for some clarity, but I left it feeling more confused than ever.  Why, for example, does the recipe for Indian Rice Curry call for “4 cups cooked white or brown rice.”

How is a person with diabetes going to understand that white rice is not a healthy choice if the recipe treats brown and white rice as equals.

Even weirder is that the ADA’s recipes are all followed by a disclaimer which begins, “Not all recipes presented here are necessarily appropriate for all people with diabetes…”  I realize there is a need for disclaimers, but the way this particular one starts seems to endorse a hands-off approach. 

If you agree that diabetes is a disease in which high blood sugar is a problem, then you should also agree that foods which cause high blood sugar like sugar in all its forms, white rice, and white flour should not be listed as “diabetic foods.”  A person with diabetes may choose to eat such foods. That is an individual’s choice.  But I would like that choice to be an informed one, not a miss-mash of meaningless terms being tossed around.  If a person with diabetes eats a bowl of white rice that person should not be led to believe she’s eating a diabetic recipe, if in fact there is such a thing.

We do not need to be politically correct toward white rice, sugar, and dates.  We can exclude them.  The all-purpose flour in the ADA’s Provencal Tart will not be offended if we swap it out for whole wheat flour.  Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of great information on the ADA’s website. There are many recipes that would be considered “diabetic” by just about anyone.  And as the ADA’s disclaimer continues, everyone should have a meal plan that’s right for the individual. But what about consistency for those who don’t have a meal plan?  How is anyone to know if a recipe is really diabetic?  Check its blood glucose?

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james howlett
james howlett
10 years ago

in my over twenty years as a diabetic, nothing burns me up more than hearing how some recipe, loaded with carbs, is considered a “diabetic friendly” recipe because it has a “low GI” or low fat attached to it. hearing it over and over again really starts to bother me, let alone giving off the wrong idea to poor folks who might not know any better! in my quest to help others navigate the sea of poor information, i have started a blog: diabeticsecrets.blogspot.com it’s still in its early phases, but please have a look and let me know what… Read more »

Nathan Shackelford
10 years ago

I feel best when I avoid carbs too, and I’ve found that my non-diabetic family members do as well. I might  have to see how I do with quinoa, I’m always up for a food/insulin experiment.

10 years ago

@Karmel I will check out your links.  Thanks.  Personally, I’d take the no sugar ice cream over the fat free :).

@Nathan From my own experience even whole grains make my blood sugar spike, so I see what you’re saying.  But I think that overall, the spike isn’t as dramatic.  I feel the best when I avoid carbs as much as possible.  Quinoa is my best grain-like friend.

Nathan Shackelford
10 years ago

The carb content and rapidness of absorption is roughly the same for all forms of grains and starches, FAST. I have a hard time with the claims that the inclusion of fiber or whole grains makes something high/fast in carbs better for a PWD. If you can consistently match up your insulin bolus to match a fast acting carb (congratulations), then you can probably apply it to many challenges that come your way. Those of us who haven’t been able to do that consistently might have to avoid fast-acting carbs (white or whole grain) and keep insulin doses low. Sometimes… Read more »

Dr. Margaret A. Morris
10 years ago

I note that, in contrast to the ADA, the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) tends to mince fewer words. They have diabetes-friendly recipes, but not diabetic recipes (ref), and in those they say things like “A great side dish to serve with salmon is brown rice. Cook the rice with garlic, ginger, or green onions to give it more flavor. For dessert, serve a selection of fresh fruits of the season or a small scoop of fat-free or low-fat frozen yogurt or sorbet instead of regular ice cream.” (ref) I obviously have not done an exhaustive search :) but, at… Read more »

10 years ago

I should update this post, because I forgot to mention that Sara does bring up the issue of PWD or diabetic in her post… I think she was joking suggesting the right thing would be to call them recipes with diabetes.  I was thinking more about what makes a recipe a recipe for diabetics or PWDs. @Jane – yes, complete nutritional information is very helpful.  And Diabetes Forecast does have some good recipes – though I do question the potato chip one I saw featured today! @Seth – I see both sides of the issue and can certainly understand the… Read more »

Seth Rothberg
Seth Rothberg
10 years ago

Isn’t it strange that recipes that are probably good for diabetics are probably good for everyone else? As for the whole PWD vs. diabetic, I’m not as nice a person as you are, Jessica. I think insistence on calling yourself a PWD is the height of idiocy. I don’t call myself a PWJ. I’m Jewish. Nonpracticing and non believing, but still Jewish. If we’re all PWDs, how come we don’t belong to PWDOC? How come people who don’t want to be defined as diabetics admit that diabetes causes and requires nearly minute by minute over site? If having to do… Read more »

Jane Kokernak
10 years ago

I’m not offended by the word diabetic as a descriptor of me, but I do think it can be strangely used as an adjective: diabetic creams, diabetic socks, diabetic recipes. I absolutely agree that there may not even be such a thing as a “diabetic recipe,” although clearly there are formulations that are so *not* for people with diabetes. One thing I do gravitate toward in recipes — and this is why I usually study the ones in the Diabetes Forecast (published by ADA) and also in Cooking Light — is the complete nutrition info. To me, those are ones… Read more »

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