New Loves Replace Old Ones as a Diabetic Adapts

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Ward Alper is a type 2 diabetic and chef who lives and eats decadently in Portland, Maine. Since his diagnosis more than five years ago, he has refocused his recipes and eating to support his diabetic health.

Every morning my grandmother ate a breakfast of Special K with a banana. She first had a banana on the long voyage from Europe to America. Her first reaction was to gag. It was so foreign to her that she did not think she could keep it down. But she did. She knew that every bit of nutrition (did that word exist in 1908?) she could eat would keep her and her baby daughter, my mom, healthy. Seventy-some-odd years later, it was as natural to her as anything she ate growing up.

We are all creatures of our heritage. We eat and enjoy eating what our parents ate. In my grandmother’s home, the only veggies we had were root vegetables cooked to a pulp, green beans from a can, tomatoes in a three pack, iceberg lettuce with lemon juice, boiled potatoes, and lima beans. She was from central Europe, and in her day – and that of her parents – fresh fruits and veggies were not a possibility. Transportation was by horse carts. Foods would spoil before they got to them.

I learned to love most of the foods she prepared and which she learned to cook from her mother. Those are our traditions. Those foods warm our souls. But I also remember my grandmother telling us about the first time she had a banana. Years later that lady had a banana every morning with her breakfast. She was open to trying at least one new food, no matter how strange it seemed.

Now can you imagine a person trying to keep to a low-carb, diabetic-compatible diet while traveling in Italy? All that pasta and tomato sauce.

Italian Cuisine: A Short History Lesson

Let me tell you that there was no such thing as pasta in Rome until the early 1300s, when Marco Polo came home from China with the magic of noodles. Even more surprising, tomatoes are not native to Italy. It was almost 200 years before native son Christopher Columbus came back from the New World with this strange red fruit. I mean, what do you do with it? Eat it? Really? And yet somehow, those early Romans conquered most of the ancient world with no spaghetti and red sauce.

Actually, the Roman diet of old was very close to what is recommended as a Mediterranean diet today. It was fruits and olives and oils and some cereals. Meats were a very small part of the diet, and what there was of it was mostly pork and chicken. Fish was the big protein. Cows, goats and sheep were mostly used for their milk to make cheese. How did they ever survive? Was the tomato the tool that took medieval Italy and its groups of feuding city states into the modern world and a great gastronomic capital of the Europe? We are talking food here, not politics.

Learning to Love New, More Healthful Foods

Like the Italians of old, and my grandmother, I was pleasantly shocked by being introduced to new veggies and other foods as I made my way in the world. And like the Italians and my grandmother, I made them part of my diet.

Can you just imagine how distressed I was to have to curb my cravings for pasta and rice? As a diabetic, some things had to go out of my diet, while other things just needed to be replaced by better choices. After five years and a lot of work, I have learned to love some of those things as well. Cauliflower and spaghetti squash, properly prepared, have become my new staples. Barely wilted and seasoned spinach has become a new delight. I made it before, but now I use it more often. A bit of grated Parmesan cheese adds new life to all of those veggies.

It is not difficult. It is not hard to find. It is delicious. It is all in what you get used to eating and what you can prepare in new and interesting ways that make your diet one that you can stick to. It is not about being miserable about what you can’t eat. It is about being joyful in what you can eat.

If my grandmother and a nation of foodies can adjust to their new world, can’t you and I do the same? When you find your diabetic self in Rome (figuratively speaking) do what the ancient Romans did and adjust and embrace your new foods! Dozens of chicken and pork dishes, Caprese salads, and so much more.

Enjoy, be happy, be Healthy, BE DECADENT!

Click here for Ward's Chicken Parmesan recipe!

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