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Baking substitutions for diabetes

baking substitutes
apple sauce

As mentioned in our article Desserts and diabetes, most people with diabetes are able to eat cake. Following a few important guidelines can make this occasional treat less likely to spike blood sugar levels. You will find more information on this topic in the article.

When it comes to baking from scratch, if your family member or friend with diabetes only eats cakes occasionally and only has a small serving – as a birthday or holiday celebration, for example – you may be able to use regular cake recipes. However, try to use some judgment to avoid going over-the-top with the sugar content. So for example, if a regular recipe includes a sugar or icing topping, you may want to skip that. Replace it with a dusting of cinnamon or a light drizzle of icing instead of a heavy coating. Or add some fresh berries or a splash of low-fat whipped topping.

Since the sugar in cakes is a source of carbohydrate, a person with diabetes may choose to substitute a small serving for another source of carbohydrate in the meal. For example, a small serving of cake could be substituted for a bread or potato serving, if the small serving of cake is eaten soon after the meal. Ask a member of the diabetes health care team for specific advice about occasional sweet treats.

But what if you enjoy baking and the person you support enjoys eating cakes on a more regular basis? If this is the case, start experimenting with baking substitutions that make cake recipes more appropriate for people with diabetes. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Substitutions for sugar

Eliminating refined sugar from recipes is a great first step. There are many alternatives that can provide sweetness in a healthier way. For example, in addition to sugar and sugar substitutes, fruit juices and fruit sauces can be used. These can also partially substitute for fats in cake recipes.

Some artificial sweeteners can be successfully used in cake recipes. Because they taste so much sweeter than sugar, very little is needed. Be sure to check the label to see if a brand is recommended for baking - some are better than others. Check artificial sweetener brands’ websites for specific baking recommendations.

You can also experiment with some natural sugar substitutes in baking. For example, agave nectar is much sweeter than sugar, so you will need to use far less. It also has a lower glycemic index, which may result in a reduced effect on blood glucose levels. Some types of honey like clover honey and orange blossom honey also have a lower glycemic index than refined sugar.

Read more about the different types of sugar in our expert blogger’s article What type of sugar is best for blood sugar? You will find it in the Healthy Eating section of this site.

Substitutions for fats

Cutting back on sugar isn’t the only challenge in baking. The fat content of most regular cake recipes should also be considered. As mentioned, unsweetened fruit juices or fruit sauces can be partially or wholly used in place of oil in some recipes. If using oil, remember that canola oil is a healthier choice than most.

You can also cut the fat content by using low fat milk or low fat cream cheese, by substituting cocoa powder for unsweetened chocolate, or using egg whites instead of whole eggs.

Light crème fraiche is a delicious and lower fat alternative to double cream on cakes or puddings.

Substitutions for white flour

Whole grains have a lower glycemic index than white flour. Try substituting whole wheat flour or oats instead. If you find the taste too ‘nutty’, try using half white flour and half whole wheat. Another healthy substitute is soy flour, which is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates.

To sum up, here are some handy baking substitutions for people with diabetes:

Instead of….Try…
Refined sugar
Artificial sweeteners
Clover honey or orange blossom honey
Agave nectar
Unsweetened fruit sauce (like apple sauce)
CreamLight crème fraiche
Low fat whipped topping
Whole milkSkim or partly skim milk
30 grams(1 oz) unsweetened chocolate3 tablespoons cocoa powder
Cream cheeseLow fat cream cheese
OilPartially substitute unsweetened apple sauce
Refined white flourWhole wheat flour
Soy flour
1 whole egg2 egg whites


Do you have ideas for healthy baking substitutions for people with diabetes? We’d love you to share them with us in the community forums.

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Diabetes Care Community is the author of articles on a wide range of diabetes topics. All of these articles are written to a high standard of quality. They are reviewed for accuracy with health care professionals and, wherever possible, will adhere to Diabetes Canada's 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines. It is our wish that you find our articles helpful. We welcome your feedback and comments.
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