IN JANUARY I SAW A REQUEST FROM THE BOOK DEPARTMENT OF THE AMERICAN DIABETES ASSOCIATION FOR BLOGGERS WHO MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN READING AND REVIEWING BOOKS. AS SOMEONE WHO ENJOYS READING AND IS ALWAYS LOOKING FOR BLOG TOPICS, I JUMPED AT THE OPPORTUNITY. RATHER THAN BEING ASSIGNED A BOOK, I WAS ABLE TO SELECT THE BOOK(S) I WANTED TO REVIEW. I DECIDED THAT I WOULD OPT FOR BOOKS THAT WERE A BIT OUTSIDE MY COMFORT ZONE: BOOKS THAT RIGHTLY OR WRONGLY I MIGHT NOT NORMALLY READ. THE BOOKS THAT I CHOSE WERE PROVIDED TO ME FREE-OF-CHARGE, BUT MY REVIEWS, AS ALWAYS, ARE MY OWN OPINIONS.
Two weeks ago I was having a glass of wine with some girlfriends and one of them asked: “When was the last time that you did something for the first time?” I did not have to think for very long to come up with an answer.
The one thing that I have done in recent weeks that was a first time experience for me was to use a diabetes cookbook. Actually not just one cookbook, but two. I have had diabetes for 37 years and until recently, I have never owned nor used a cookbook that was intended for people with diabetes. I may have cut out a few recipes from magazines like Diabetes Forecast or Diabetes Health, but I don’t think I ever fixed any of them.
You might wonder whether I have anything against diabetes cookbooks. I don’t think so. In general I’m not very interested in cookbooks and most of the cookbooks I own were gifts or purchased to support a fund-raising project. I don’t like to cook and I keep waiting for my husband to have a mid-life crisis and decide that he would like to be a chef. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be on his agenda. My guess is that newly-diagnosed diabetics are a big market for cookbooks, but when I was diagnosed in the 1970’s, I wasn’t carb counting and didn’t need the nutritional analysis that is now contained in diabetes cookbooks.
When I decided to go outside my comfort zone and review two ADA cookbooks, I actually got excited about doing it the “right way”. For me that meant choosing 4 or 5 recipes from each cookbook and following them exactly. (I have a bad habit of altering recipes and then wondering why they are not as good as advertised.) It also meant using the carb counts as provided and evaluating whether the nutrition info was a helpful tool in my diabetes life.
The first cookbook I delved into was the ADA standard bearer titled The Family Classics Diabetes Cookbook. This is a collection of 140 “favorite” recipes from Diabetes Forecast Magazine. My overall impression was that this is a well-organized cookbook with beautiful photographs and clear detailed instructions. There is a good mixture of standard favorites such as Old-Fashioned Beef Stew, Classic Potatoes Au Gratin, and Classic Baked Artichoke Dip along with newer-style recipes such as Chickpea Tabbouleh, Tilapia Tacos, and Zesty Broccolini and Garlic.
I tried five recipes from this cookbook. My two favorites and recipes that I will make again were Fresh Greens Soup with White Beans, Basil, and Tomatoes and Provencal Zucchini and Yellow Squash Medley. Two other recipes were just fine and maybe worth repeating. I only disliked one recipe and it was because of ingredient substitutions designed to make the recipe lower in fat than the original dish.
That leads me to a discussion of the “dietary philosophy” of this book. The recipes are consistent with traditional ADA clinical guidelines prescribing a “heart healthy” diet with an emphasis on eating low-fat with a significant number of calories coming from healthy carbohydrates. This cookbook was published in 2012 and precedes the ADA’s 2013 acknowledgement that low-carb diets might be a successful tool for weight loss and diabetes management. Although the ADA has modified its stance on dietary recommendations, most physicians still advise their patients to follow a traditional low-fat diet. Therefore this cookbook is a good resource for good food with a low-fat emphasis. There are also some good recipes that are not high in carbohydrates if that is your preference.
The second cookbook that I tried out was The Smart Shopper Diabetes Cookbook. This cookbook by Robyn Webb, MS was filled with quick and easy recipes designed to be “stress-free” by using ingredients “from the Deli Counter, Freezer, Salad Bar, and Grocery Shelves”. This book was published in 2013 and Webb’s introduction addresses the idea that there is no “one-size-fits-all nutritional approach for people with diabetes.” She attempts to provide a variety of recipes that emphasize healthy fats, high fiber, varying amounts of carbohydrates, and lots of flavor. Detailed nutritional information for each recipe is provided so that you can make up your own mind about which recipes are appropriate for your meal plan.
Because I am generally a lazy cook, I liked some of the short-cuts she used to make a healthy meal without too much time in the kitchen. My favorite recipe was Chicken, Artichoke, and Spinach Soup with a close second-place finish for Mexican Chicken. The other 2 recipes that I tried were fine, but I would probably try another new recipe before repeating them. And there are definitely a few other recipes that are on my list to try: Rosemary Turkey Salad and Salmon with Blueberry Salsa.
One thing that I liked, but haven’t used yet was the daily menus provided at the end of the book. I find that when I want to experiment with a new style of eating, it is helpful to start with a structured program with daily menus. Just follow the rules and don’t think too much. These menus very much remind me of the balanced diet that was the basis of the Exchange System that I used in the first half of my diabetes life. Although I carb count now, I still think in blocks of 15 grams and really feel that the Exchange System was not a bad way to eat.
Summary: I enjoyed trying new recipes and expanding my normal dinner options beyond meat and vegetables cooked with little creativity. The carbohydrate counts provided were helpful and saved me a little time. At the same time, none of the measurements in either book were provided in grams, so I was stuck with guessing at what is the ubiquitous “medium banana” or “large onion.” Because I selected relatively low carb recipes to try, I was comfortable with guessing at some of the quantities.
I am very impressed with Robyn Webb, MS and would love to see the ADA publish a Low Carb cookbook with her input. Although I am not perfect in living a low carb lifestyle, I am convinced that it makes my diabetes life easier and I would love to infuse some creativity into my menus. I’ve definitely found some “keeper” recipes in the two ADA cookbooks that I explored. But a whole low-carb cookbook would be fabulous and I would buy it in a minute.
If you would like to purchase the cookbooks that I reviewed or any other books in the American Diabetes Association Store, please go to this link: http://www.shopdiabetes.org/ Also, Amy Tenderich at Diabetes Mine recently reviewed and raved about another ADA cookbook titled The Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook. To read her review, click here.