Looking at Diabetes-Compatible Eating in a New Way


This guest post was written by type 2 diabetic and chef Ward Alper. It originally appeared on his website, The Decadent Diabetic, and was republished on Information About Diabetes with permission.

I never much liked pita bread. Don’t get me wrong; I like the taste of it and I think it makes great chips (in any flavor I want) but for a sandwich it can be more of a challenge than I thought it was worth. It almost always sticks together when I need it to open. It tears and lets the filling fall out. The bottom leaks so much I usually have a mess on my plate or, worse, my shirt. No wonder so many restaurants wrap the pita sandwich in a paper envelope or a sheet of paper.

So when my nutritionist, Ann, introduced me to Joseph’s flax, oat bran and whole-wheat pita, I sorta yawned. I was not hot for pita in the high-carb variety, so why should I be interested in a low-carb (5 grams per pita) version? I tried them and liked the taste but still was not as big a fan. I was, however, determined to use them.

Think Outside the Box

It took no time before I discovered that they worked great as the “crust” for pizza. Slathered with olive oil, oregano, cheese and tomato, I had pizza back in my diabetic life. And, yes, I can make great low-carb chips from them. But as a sandwich, not so much. Then one day, I looked at it and thought: “Why struggle to cut it open and try to stuff it? Why not use it like a bun?” I could not believe how dumb I was before. This was sooo easy. It made a great bun for hot dogs or sausage. I then started using it as the bread for tuna salad, turkey and a killer Reuben (I don’t do the Reuben as much as I like because of the salt content).

One of my all-time favorite summer meals is called Caprese Salad. It is a simple salad of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil and olive oil. After I was diagnosed, I stopped making this salad because a big part of the salad for me was to using a hunk of bread to sop up the now wonderfully flavored olive oil. My brain had disassociated; I was so stuck in “YOU can’t have THIS” that I could not even think about a different way of enjoying my salad. How many times had I eaten, even served, pita bread dipped in olive oil at a restaurant? My salad is now back on my table, using the low-carb pita bread.

But this article is NOT about how to use pita bread. This is about moving away the ideas we are stuck in and opening the door to new ways to use foods that enhance our eating experience. It helps me to see foods in a different way.

Don't Knock It Till You've Tried It

Giada De Laurentis does an amazing dessert using ricotta cheese. Wait a minute, isn’t that the stuff they put in lasagna? How can that be a dessert? I forgot that in Italy (I spent a lot of time eating there) people make the most wonderful desserts with that cheese. People in Italy and people of Italian heritage use it for cheesecake (it is even part of my recipe) and how about those wonderful crispy, crunchy treats called cannoli?

Once I got over the mind set of cheese as a sweet dessert (which is ridiculous since I have loved the cannoli for years) the idea of the sweet cheese no longer seemed strange but really wonderful. Make my Double Chocolate Ricotta Crème just once and you will become a believer. But this article is NOT about how to use cheese for dessert.

Embrace Change

Being diagnosed with diabetes certainly has its downside. However, as a chef, I have learned to teach this old dog in me new tricks.

I saw a comment the other day on a diabetes forum. This man complained about an article that suggests how good eating green foods are for a person with diabetes. He commented that he was a fussy eater and was at a loss for what to do. I answered him, asking if there was one, maybe two green foods that he liked. I suggested that he take those foods and make them different ways so he didn’t get bored with eating them. His response was “I only like processed peas.”

Well, we have a problem there since canned peas are very high in carbohydrates. The bigger problem for this man is that he is stuck in “I am a fussy eater.” It has to be pretty clear that if you choose to manage your diabetes, you are going to have to make some changes. For me, those changes have been great – not only for my health but also for my mind, my self-esteem (I can do it!) and my creativity.

One of my favorite vegetables is celery. It is really low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. We don’t use it much in our cooking. This article is NOT about using celery, but the recipe below is!

Enjoy, be happy, be healthy, be creative, and BE DECADENT!

Click here for Ward's Celery, Cheese and Nut Salad recipe!

Get more nutrition tips and recipe ideas from Ward Alper, the Decadent Diabetic, on his website.