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Baking substitutions for diabetes

Baking substitutions
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Can you eat cake if you have diabetes?

As mentioned in our article on desserts and diabetes, most people with diabetes are able to eat cake. Making a few important changes and paying attention to portion size can help make this occasional treat less likely to spike blood sugar levels. But what if you enjoy baking and 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, fruits 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? 

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, fruit (e.g. banana or avocado) or fruit sauces (e.g. apple) can be partially or wholly used in place of butter in some recipes. If you are using oil, remember that canola oil is a healthy choice, but check out some other healthy cooking oil options here.

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 for 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. Other healthy substitutes are soy or nut flours, which are 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 or nut flour
1 whole egg2 egg whites

Balance your meal

Since the sugar in baked goods is a source of carbohydrate, you may want to 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 dietitian or another member of your diabetes health care team for specific advice about occasional sweet treats.

Check out some of our baked goods in the dessert area of our recipe section! They are all reiewed by a dietitian and can be incorporated into a diabetes-friendly diet!

blissful baking
Who says you can’t have your cake and bake it too! Just because you have diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a delicious baked treat from time to time—especially when you bake it yourself. Here’s a guide to blissful baking when you have diabetes.

About Diabetes Care

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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