Hoody (his nickname) is a fun, extremely bright guy that everyone wants to be around. He’s interested in just about everything, and food is at the top of the list. He has an amazing instinct for what tastes best, and an ability to infuse food with flavor. His favorite dishes, many of them a mix of French and Middle Eastern, range from rice with lentils to bean cassoulet.
How did you discover you have Type 2 diabetes?
I walked into my doctor’s office one day in 2009 to review the results of a routine blood test and found out that I have a blood sugar problem. A few more tests confirmed that I have Type 2 diabetes. I was devastated.
I am a confessed foodie. I love to eat and shop for new and interesting ingredients. I adore discovering new restaurants, I love to cook, and I think of myself as an innovative home chef. I love high-starch foods, including French baguettes, Italian pasta, Danish pastries, and potatoes as a side dish to any entree. Most importantly, I have always had a sweet tooth. When I opened a menu at a restaurant I would always check out the dessert page before deciding what to order for my appetizer and entree. I always used 2 teaspoons of sugar in my coffee or tea and breakfast usually consisted of pancakes soaked in maple syrup or sugar frosted cereal.
How did you deal with the diagnosis?
Suddenly I was faced with some difficult choices. I could ignore the results of the blood test, continue to eat and drink as before and use prescription drugs to regulate my blood sugar levels. This option was very tempting. It would allow me to enjoy my favorite foods and avoid changing my lifestyle. I knew, though, that it could aggravate and worsen my diabetes with all its inherent risks, such as eyesight, heart and blood circulation problems. The other option was to change my eating habits and use my culinary skills to create a healthier, low sugar diet.
My doctor set up a meeting with a nurse and a nutritionist at the diabetic information center. The nurse provided a blood sugar tester, showed me how to use it and how to record and interpret the results.The nutritionist explained how the glycemic index works, what foods I should be eating, and what ingredients I should incorporate into my cooking. I found her advise very useful. They both tried to instill in me the concept of “Eat early and eat often”, emphasizing the benefits of having several small meals throughout the day rather than a few large ones to prevent blood sugar spikes.
How did you deal with their information?
I decided to try cooking and eating low sugar and high fibre (low gycemic) for a few months and see how it goes. For me the key to the success of the experiment was the flavor and quality of the food. I knew that I could not stick to a bland, boring and unimaginative diet.
I started scouring book stores and Internet sites in search of recipes for low glycemic dishes, suitable for diabetics. I purchased several books and went through them with a fine tooth comb. When I found a recipe that seemed interesting I would evaluate the dish quality and flavor as well as its effect on my blood sugar (using the tester I was provided with). Unfortunately, I found very few recipes that I liked and wanted to use again. Most were without flavor and uninspiring, with an undesirable texture. I was discouraged, but since I did not want to take medications for the rest of my life, I devised Plan B. I decided to keep the few recipes I liked, but concentrated on buying low glycemic ingredients and creating my own recipes.
I immediately stopped using sugar, honey and maple syrup. All desserts were off the menu. I was OK with most of it and found it easier to do than I expected. An unexpected benefit from the reduction of sugar intake was a loss of 25 pounds of body weight. The one issue I had was drinking unsweetened coffee and tea. I could not get used to doing so and looked for a suitable alternative. I purchased several sugar substitutes and experimented with those. I decided to go with Splenda and used it to sweeten my hot drinks, and as an ingredient in recipes requiring sweetener. I switched from eating white bread, to whole wheat and multigrain baked goods. I replaced white rice with brown rice. Next I purchased a great variety of beans, seeds and pulses, almonds and other nuts. These ingredients were incorporated into the dishes I hoped to create. I started with old recipes from my pre-diabetic life and tried to modify them to fit into my new low glycemic diet.
How did that work out?
I created several awful dishes and encountered some great failures. However, I also created some very flavorful dishes where the new version was even better than the old.
Over the past five to six years I have managed to create a good variety of low glycemic dishes that I cook at home. These are meals that are full of flavor, satisfying to the palette, and yet healthy and suitable for a diabetic diet. My blood sugar level has not been over 5 for years, without the use of any medications. In fact, I stopped checking my blood sugar levels several years ago. I do use the blood sugar tester after I eat something new, just to evaluate its effect on my blood sugar levels and ensure it agrees with me.
Did exercise play a factor in your success?
In addition to the new and improved diet I started a workout regime. It is by no means a strenuous one, but I am able to maintain it on a regular basis. It was important to me to create a workout regime that I can keep even when travelling away from home. I am now walking at a fast pace (4 miles per hour) three times per week for 45 minutes (3 miles in total) and I do a set of cardio routines twice per week. I believe this regime helps me keep my blood sugar levels consistent and low.
What is a typical breakfast these days?
The biggest change in my breakfast routine was the type of bread I use. In the past a good breakfast always included a French baguette or a crusty white loaf, croissants or other breakfast pastry. Now, in order to increase my intake of fiber, I exclusively use multigrain bread or bagels. When they are not available, I resort to a whole wheat bread or bagel. Most mornings I have a couple of slices along with cheese or sugar-free jam. A few times a week I have a couple of eggs, either scrambled, soft boiled or in an omelette.
What is your favorite recipe?
My favorite recipe is constantly changing. It depends on the time of years, the availability of ingredients and personal taste. Some of regulars are:
-whole wheat pasta with homemade Bolognaise sauce. I’ll often create variations to the basic sauce by adding mushrooms or green garden peas
-bean cassoulet with turkey drumsticks is a winter favorite. It is heart-warming, satisfying, low in fat and full of beneficial fiber. The dish actually improves on reheating, so I usually make a large batch. It bakes in the oven on low for over two hourse, creating deep, rich flavors. It is best served with a nice glass of red wine.