Cookbooks for diabetics - which are being turned out like hotcakes now that the disease is a national health problem heading to the status of an epidemic - are not really for diabetics. They're for everyone.
Healthy cooking, which diabetics translate as cutting down on the carbohydrates that their bodies quickly convert into sugar, is good cooking, period.
I've been cooking all my adult life, and for almost two decades, battling with myself to control adult-onset diabetes - called Type 2 diabetes by more and more people who are unfortunately getting to know about it firsthand. I've discovered during all this another curiosity: Some cookbooks that call themselves diabetic aren't all that useful to those of us afflicted with the condition.
They offer a lot of carbs. The authors of their recipes assume that readers will make good choices, cooking high-carb selections but balancing the rest of the meal with slow-burning carbs (a big salad, for instance) or virtually no carbs at all.
I wish life worked for me that way. If I see a recipe in a cookbook for diabetics that calls for more carbs than I usually go for, I take it as a permission - more like a green light than a red flag.
So I approached a raft of cookbooks for diabetics with a skeptical eye. If I were cooking only for health reasons, all the books include recipes I would avoid - but diabetes insidiously affects people at different levels and in different ways, so some of the stuff I wouldn't make, others would.
Still, all the books have recipes we can agree on as worthwhile - whether we know diabetes up close or not. And most accompany each recipe with "exchange list values," the meal-planning method created by the American Diabetes Association and the American Dietetic Association.
Here's a feel, or maybe I should say a taste, for the new cookbooks.
Eating for Diabetes
(Marlowe & Company, $15.95) is by Jane Frank, a British nutritional therapist who writes clear recipes in a simple manner, and who packs the front of her book with solid information about the different sorts of foods and risk factors that diabetics should focus on, and why. All her recipes have ratings that tell you what sort of spike in blood sugars you can expect from them (for those who deal with this regularly, glycemic indices and load ratings), and most have a little afterthought: why chickpeas are especially good for diabetics, for instance, or how a recipe makes tomatoes work better nutritionally. I'm about to make Frank's yummy-sounding garlic and onion soup, so stay away from me.
Tropical shrimp, a roll-up stuffed turkey breast, and even a rolled lasagna noodle (32 grams of carbs and lots of fiber and protein to offset them) are part of
Mr. Food's Diabetic Dinners in a Dash
(American Diabetes Association, $16.95). Mr. Food is the bearded, impish-looking Art Ginsburg, who peppers his recipes with serving and preparation tips and cool did-you-knows: Previously-frozen tuna may have some brown, but fresh is red or pink; a typical turkey has only 30 percent dark meat. The book is fun, the recipes, uncomplicated - try the make-it-in-a-jiffy peach-melba parfait. The only bone I have to pick (not from my roll-up turkey breast) is that if you're going to write about dinners in a dash, you ought to define your dashes for each recipe. Mr. Food doesn't.
America's Complete Diabetes Cookbook
(Robert Rose, $19.95) and The
EatingWell Diabetes Cookbook
(The Countryman Press, $16.95) are each thick recipe collections. The first, edited by Katherine E. Younker, surprised me with many pasta dishes I wouldn't make (too high in carbs for me), but many well-balanced and low-carb numbers, some with potatoes, couscous and other ingredients that diabetics are often cautious about. I will be making the "best-ever meat loaf" with rolled oats, for sure. The second cookbook, by Joyce Hendley and the editors of
magazine, has a spiced corn and rice pilaf (22 grams of carbs and 10 minutes to prepare), some easy tofu recipes (I'm always trying to find them) and a mixed green salad with berries and honey-glazed hazelnuts that will be on my dinner plate when I finish writing this.
Barbara Scott-Goodman and Kalia Doner fill the handsome
Diabetes Menu Cookbook
(Wiley, $29.95) with some no-carb recipes and some quite high-carb ones, but the notion is that you're not going to cook like this every day. The book is specifically for special-occasion recipes - a New Year's Day open house, a winter holiday dinner, a wedding shower - and I would call it more of a healthy cookbook with some ingenious recipes than an iron-clad diabetes cookbook. For diabetics specifically, though, good ideas abound if you look for them: braised chicken and baby leeks, for instance, or an old-fashioned dish of grilled eggplant and bell peppers. The pictures are great, and so are the green-boxed tips and pages devoted to the qualities of different veggies and accompaniments.
Home cooks across the country submitted the easy, short-step recipes to the
Fix-It and Enjoy-It Diabetic Cookbook
(Good Books, $15.95), and Pennsylvanians, you are extremely well represented. (New Jersey cooks, you can do better.) This, from the
series of cookbooks, was put together by Phyllis Pellman Good with the American Diabetes Association, and it has a nice home-cooked diversity - corn-bread stuffing, zucchini lasagna, apple-stuffed acorn squash, Amish roast chicken cubes, and the like. Lots to choose from, much of it promising.
Diabetes does not stop for border control, so Canada's Johanna Burkhard is offering thyme-roasted chicken with garlic gravy, veal paprikash, oven-roasted asparagus and other
Diabetes Comfort Food
(Robert Rose, $22.95). I'm not so sure a recipe like spaghetti and meatballs - 60 grams of carbs per serving - adds anything new to cooking, or to the diabetes cooking discussion, although Barbara Selley, the nutrition editor of the book, didn't see it that way. But the book contains instructions for many stews, curries and gravies that read well and probably cook the same, and it has not only America's exchanges but the north-of-the-border equivalents, called Canadian choices. For a mixed marriage like mine - I'm a Yankee, my wife's from Quebec - what could be more internationally healthy?
Say what you want about cookbooks aimed at kids' eating habits, I am keeping
Diabetic Snacks, Treats & Easy Eats for Kids
(Surrey Books, $14.95) for myself, and diving into the no-bake strawberry cheesecake - 49 calories a serving with fewer than 5 carb grams. And no baking.
See what I mean? For that sort of diabetic recipe, you don't have to be cursed with any condition - except a sweet tooth.
Makes 6 servings
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 large egg
1/4 cup chili sauce or ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
11/2 pounds lean ground beef
3/4 cup rolled oats or 1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil medium-hot. Saute the onion with the garlic, basil, marjoram, salt and pepper, stirring, until the onion softens, about 3 minutes. (Or place in a microwave-safe bowl, cover and microwave on High for 3 minutes.) Let cool slightly.
In a large bowl, beat the egg. Stir in the onion mixture, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce and parsley.
Crumble the beef over the mixture; sprinkle with rolled oats. Mix gently with a wooden spoon or by hand to combine.
Pat the meat into a loaf pan. Bake until a meat thermometer inserted at center registers 170 degrees, about 1 hour.
Let stand 5 minutes for juices to settle. Drain fat from pan. Turn loaf onto a serving plate. Cut thick slices. Serve.
345 calories, 25 grams protien, 13 grams carbohydrate, 21 grams fat, 100 milligrams cholesterol, 498 milligrams sodium, 2 grams fiber.
Exchanges per serving:
1/2 starch, 1 vegetable, 3 lean meat, 21/2 fat.
Makes 4 servings
For the Dressing:
Cooking oil spray
21/3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
11/2 teaspoons honey, divided
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/3 cup raspberries, black-
berries and/or blueberries
1 tablespoon each: balsamic
vinegar and water
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
For the Salad:
10 cups mesclun greens
1 cup raspberries, black-
berries and/or blueberries
1/2 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese
1. Prepare the dressing:
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a small baking pan with oil. In a small bowl, mix 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and 1 teaspoon of the honey. Add the nuts, toss to coat and spread in the pan. Bake until golden, 10 to 14 minutes, stirring from time to time.
In a blender or processor, blend 1/3 cup berries, the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, vinegar, water, mustard, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon honey, salt and pepper until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the shallots.
3. Prepare the salad:
Just before serving, place greens in a large bowl. Drizzle dressing over top. Toss to coat.
Divide the salad on 4 plates, scatter whole berries, cheese and the glazed nuts over each. Serve at once.
232 calories, 7 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, 17 milligrams cholesterol, 349 milligrams sodium, 6 grams fiber.
Exchanges per serving:
2 vegetable, 1 medium-fat meat, 2 fat.
Makes 6 servings
1 (10-ounce) package frozen peach slices, thawed
2 tablespoons reduced-fat butter, sliced in thin pats
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 pint fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt
1/2 pint fresh raspberries
1 bunch fresh mint (optional)
In a small saucepan, over low heat, combine the peaches, butter and brown sugar. Cook gently until butter melts, sugar dissolves and peaches are heated.
Scoop the frozen yogurt evenly into parfait glasses or serving bowls. Spoon the warm peach mixture over top.
Garnish with raspberries and mint, as desired.
130 calories, 3 grams protein, 2 grams fat, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 64 milligrams sodium, 2 grams fiber.
Exchanges per serving:
11/2 carbohydrate, 1/2 fat.