The Sweet Life: Diabetes without Boundaries

The Sweet Life: Diabetes without Boundaries

by Sam Talbot


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Sam Talbot is a professional chef, Top Chef contestant, restaurateur, surfer, painter, philanthropist, and, since the age of 12, type 1 diabetic. Yet he has not let the disease stop him from living a rich life packed with energy, adventure, and achievement—culinary and otherwise. In his first, much-anticipated book, he recounts how diabetes has affected but not compromised his life or career, and he shares his own tips—alongside those from other famous diabetics like Halle Berry, Larry King, and Tommy Lee—on how to handle everything from work and hobbies to relationships and travel with discipline and enthusiasm.

To round out this advice, he offers bits of foodie wisdom and 75 innovative recipes for fresh, all-natural dishes anybody, diabetic or not, can prepare and enjoy.

Heartfelt, entertaining, and backed by real-life experience and solid medical expertise, The Sweet Life will give readers hope, inspiration, and the proof they need to realize that life with diabetes isn't about diabetes: It's about living.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781605290959
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 10/25/2011
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 483,462
Product dimensions: 7.70(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

SAM TALBOT was runner-up on Season 2 of Bravo's Top Chef. His latest restaurant, Imperial #9 in Soho's Mondrian Hotel, opens in early 2011. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


*Notice I didn't say Diabetic Kitchen?

RECIPES healthy snacks


I've been eating and cooking with one eye on the stove and the other on my blood sugar levels for just about as long as I can remember. Maybe you're a little newer to all this, or maybe you're ready for a change from the tried and true recipes (or worse, prefab "diabetic" products off the shelf) you've come to rely on to keep things on an even keel. Are you cooking for someone you care about who has been told that unless they change their eating habits, their prediabetic condition can develop into full-blown diabetes? Whatever your reason for picking up this book, you're going to be making food that I have been passionate about for many years and many more to come, so please cook nice.

Let me get one thing out of the way right off the bat: As far as I'm concerned there is nothing that is completely off limits for people with diabetes, period, end of story. When I first got my diagnosis the nurse handed my mother a list of forbidden foods—soda, cookies and crackers, fried foods, ice cream, French fries, breakfast cereal—pretty much everything on an 11-year-old's top 10 list. But if you really think about it, none of these is a food that anyone, regardless of health status, should be chowing down on regularly. If I get together with some friends back home for a fish fry, or have a bit of birthday cake at a friend's party, I do so knowing it's likely to have an effect on my blood sugar, and I deal with it. And eat better for the rest of the day.

While nothing is completely off the menu, you do have to put a little thought into putting that menu together every day. For diabetics, eating well is less a matter of avoiding foods that rate high on the glycemic index than it is of keeping track of the total grams of carbs you take in at any given meal and throughout the course of the day. Take beets, for example. They are one of my very favorite vegetables and are packed with the kinds of vitamins and minerals a potato would kill for. Sure they are relatively high in carbs, but they're also delicious and earthy and nutritious. I just don't eat them at every meal and I wouldn't pair them with another high-carb food like rice. Keep in mind too that food affects everyone differently, and you may just need to experiment to see which foods affect your blood glucose in a big way.

In general I try not to exceed 25 to 30 grams of carbs per meal, 80 to 90 per day; you and your doctor should decide what's appropriate for you. That said, after 20 years, I can make calculations like these in my head, and between frequent testing of my blood glucose throughout the day, and balancing the carbs I take in with a greater proportion of low-carb veggies, protein, and fats, I don't get too many unhappy surprises.


Even with insulin supplying what our bodies lack, we diabetics are always walking a fine line between getting some nutrients in us and making sure they're the kind of nutrients that will keep our blood sugar at the right level. Taste has usually come in a poor third after those two goals are met.

Often, the key is not only what we eat but when we eat, and that's a challenge I face just about every day. After all, night is the busiest part of a chef's workday. Just as the guests sit down to a pleasant and relaxing dinner, my workplace—the restaurant kitchen—is at its absolute peak of activity. We are all rushed off our feet and up to our necks with work.

That sort of nonstop activity—with no chance to break for a bite of something healthy, much less to sit down for a real meal—is a no-no for diabetics. Actually, it's a no-no for everybody, but worse for us. We're supposed to eat at regular intervals, and I can assure you that there is no such thing as a regular interval in a New York City restaurant kitchen. I'm lucky in that I can almost always find some good, healthy food to answer the call. I try to have a light lunch at around 11:00 in the morning and rustle up some sort of supper for myself around 5:00 p.m., before the restaurant kitchen tips over into chaos. Then as things calm down a bit around 10:30 or so, I have a light, low-carb, low-fat, very clean snack just to maintain my blood sugar level—something sauteed like broccoli rabe. You'll need to work out a schedule that fits with your daily routine. Just remember that a crazy busy day is no excuse for letting your blood sugar level go.


Which brings me to the healthy snacks you'll find in this chapter. When you're out there, on the move, doing what you do to win the world, food that isn't fast and easy won't cut it. Leisurely meals are for weekends, special occasions, first dates, special dates, very special dates. The rest of the time, it's snacks, lunches, and whatever you can grab. Of course, for diabetics—and for those of you trying to eat healthy the way we diabetics have to—a snack or even the smallest fistful of whatever you have time to munch on must still offer a nutritional benefit, one that won't wreak havoc with blood sugar. And if you're me, it also has to taste totally awesome, or what's the point?

You'll notice a number of these snack recipes contain nuts and seeds—well, nuts are seeds actually; that is, they contain the seed as well as the fruit of their plant. There's a good reason I use them in so many recipes here: They have a high oil content, which makes them an exceptional source of energy. In fact, that's pretty much why squirrels spend the entire fall season gathering acorns and—wait for it—squirreling them away. The nuts will keep them alive and well fed as they work through the autumn, the entire winter, and well into early spring—so long as their stashes aren't found and stolen by bears or other lazier but bigger species who would just as soon let the squirrels do the work while they reap the results.

You probably won't have that problem, which is good, because what works for squirrels works also for us humans. Nuts and seeds are energy powerhouses. Try this: Maybe sometime around the middle of the afternoon, when you feel your vigor is flagging a bit, grab a Coconut Acai Granola Crumble (page 23), or maybe some Toasted Hemp Seeds with Golden Berry and Cocoa (page 24), and the odds are better than good that you'll soon feel a new burst of strength and vitality. Honest.

And the good part—especially for diabetics or prediabetics—is that nuts and seeds are very low on the glycemic index, which makes them particularly good for people with insulin resistance problems. Any way you crack them, nuts and seeds are high-energy foods that help keep blood sugar levels under control. And these delicious snacks will keep you going all day—even if your day keeps you away from home till late at night.

Right on Target

Blood glucose levels fluctuate throughout the day, not just before you eat, but after as well. If you are unsure how your body reacts to a particular food you may need to monitor your blood glucose a few times to get a real fix on it, usually once before you eat, and then 1, 2, or 3 hours after you've eaten.

Generally you're looking for results in this range:

Before meals: 90-130 mg/dl

1 hour after eating: less than 180 mg/dl

2 hours after eating: less than 160 mg/dl

3 hours after eating: less than 140 mg/dl

If your postmeal levels are clocking in a good deal higher than this, you probably need to make some adjustments to the menu, either by controlling portion size or replacing some high-carb components with ingredients that are kinder to your body.

The Lowdown on High GI

There's been a lot of talk about glycemic index and glycemic load recently, and both are important to understand—and not just for diabetics. Fortunately, the terms are a lot less complicated than they sound.

"Glycemic" comes from the same ancient Greek root as "glucose," so you know it has to do with sugar. Indeed it does: The glycemic index ranks a food's effect on blood sugar level; the higher the ranking, the faster the food's glucose content is broken down by the digestive process and sent into the bloodstream. Glucose itself is the point of reference; it has a glycemic- index ranking, or GI, of 100. So other foods are ranked relative to that standard. Almonds, for example, have a GI of 15; hemp seed is ranked at 35.

Obviously, for diabetics, prediabetics, and all of you out there who are trying to eat healthy to avoid diabetes forever, foods with a lower glycemic-index rating are better. It means that the carbs in the food break down more slowly and that the glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream more gradually.

The only problem with measuring GI is that it doesn't take into account how much of the food you're actually eating, so to cover that failure, scientists developed the glycemic load (GL) measurement. GL multiplies the GI of a food by the amount of carbohydrate it contains, then divides by 100, so its ranking combines both quantity and quality.

This makes sense, because a very small amount of a high-GI food may have no worse effect on blood sugar level than a very large amount of a low-GI food. So certainly for diabetics, GL is more useful measurement for avoiding sudden spikes in blood sugar—which are what's really bad for us— and therefore for managing our levels.

Here is a list of some common foods and their GI value to give you a sense of it. (Note that nonstarchy vegetables are rarely included in these studies because they have such minimal glycemic impact; for information on some common fruits, see page 216.)

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