The Budget(s) of Diabetes-Compatible Eating

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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 want you to know that for me a “yuk” is as good as a “like.” Both get me thinking.

The other day I posted a recipe for a wonderful side dish of mine using Spaghetti squash. I mentioned that you could add cooked beef, chicken or even canned tuna to the recipe to turn it into a hearty meal.

I got a surprise YUK. The “yuk” was about the canned tuna: “ewee gross and most of it is from other countries."

Interesting. I was struck by this comment not because of the “yuk” but because I think that tuna is a great monetary budget stretcher, and that some foods from other countries are great tor my carbohydrate budget.

My response to the reader was that while the tuna might not be my first flavor choice either but that it worked for those of us that need to watch our budgets. It is a very good and inexpensive form of protein.

I write all the time about our individual carbohydrate budgets, but there is the “other“ budget to contend with as well.

NOT ALL OF US CAN AFFORD THE FILLET MINGON. In truth, not all of us WANT to buy fillet mignon either. The reason it is wrapped in bacon is because it tends to be very dry. Filet mignon would actually be a great choice for long slow cooking IF your budget is big enough to spend that much money for a dish usually reserved for less expensive cuts of meats.

I was surprised by the strong reaction. Tuna noodle casseroles (or as I think of them, Grey Casseroles) have been a staple of budget conscious eating for decades. How many have been brought to pot luck dinners? How many college students lived on tuna from a can and mac & cheese from a blue box?

Since I have moved to the Southwest, I am shocked at the prices of meat. I am financially able to afford the meat here but even I have cut down on the frequency of serving meat dishes. Like many, I watch the sale flyers for the three major “stupidmarkets” in my area. I find myself buying more on sale than ever before.

As for my carbohydrate budget, it hasn’t suffered at all. I buy the meat (and fish and chicken) when it is on sale and either prepare it and freeze it or just season and freeze it for another day. The joy of doing that is the defrosting process helps the protein absorb more of the flavor. I can buy less expensive cuts and get just as much flavor. It is like two budget bargains in one.

The other part of the reader’s comment dealt with the fact that most tuna came from other countries. Also interesting.

So do we ONLY grow our own and freeze or dry it to avoid products from other places? Isn’t the basis for modern economics the trade (spice) route? Marco Polo did not go to China JUST for a spaghetti dinner.

Modern transportation allows us to easily and economically get foods from other countries. Why is that so bad? You try going out in your garden in New Jersey, New Mexico or Paris, France during the winter and harvest ripe juicy raspberries or a cucumber. Since we can, we have started to demand and expect fresh fruit in the winter and root vegetables in the summer, and what we want, when we want it.

I think this availability is great for both budgets. Being able to get fresh berries from other places in the winter helps keep costs down but also berries (by and large) are lower in carbohydrates that most of the fall and winter crops. You can of course get frozen berries. My personal objection to this is how berries (unlike meats) break down when defrosted. I mention berries because I use them so much to top yogurt or garnish my desserts.

This week I needed to make an Hors d’oeuvres for a party. I wanted sprigs of fresh dill to garnish them. Well this time of year I could not go into my garden a pluck some. I found dill in little plastic containers in the “stupidmarket” for a buck ninety-nine. The produce clerk went into the back and found huge bunches of fresh dill (from “away”) that was the same price as the little package. The dill not ONLY looked better but I got so much more I was able to chop it up and freeze it in ice cubes for another time.

Drying fruits also helps us to keep a variety of fruit in our diets. However, drying fruits concentrate the sugars in the fruit.

California is a major source of apricots; however, this year there seems to be a great shortage. I have gone from store to store to try and buy them for my family (not for My carbohydrate budget) and have had little luck. I did purchase them on-line but at a great premium. It turns out that there actually is an apricot shortage.
“Apricots grew on just 10,800 acres in California in 2012, compared with 16,900 in 1990 and 32,600 in 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Does this reader think we should ignore Turkish apricots? How about cinnamon, or coffee, or vanilla, or any of the items we take for granted to manage our kitchens because they do not come from our land? What about black pepper? As a chef, I would be lost without it.

My final answer to the reader is that we have enough (and it can be delicious) on our plate managing our Diabetes, our finances, our families. Isn’t that enough for us to deal with? Let those who want to eat tuna, eat tuna. Well, everybody needs a soapbox….including me.
ENJOY!!! Be happy, be healthy, and BE DECADENT! –w

Ward Alper, The Decadent Diabetic