Just because you or some you know has diabetes doesn’t mean you have to miss out on popular culinary trends like the Mediterranean diet.
Did you know that 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year?
Award-winning author and chef, Amy Riolo, gives you all the tools you need to cook Mediterranean cuisine with her newest cookbook, “The Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook, 2nd Edition.” Named “Best Overall Diet” in 2019 by US News and World Report, the Mediterranean diet features recipes that foster a life of longevity by using fresh ingredients.
Amy Riolo shared her wealth of knowledge on wellness, the Mediterranean diet, and what it’s like cooking for people living with diabetes in Melissa’s kitchen. Afterward, we caught up with Chef to learn more about the health benefits of this lifestyle. In our interview, we discovered detoxifying health benefits of cilantro, what to bring to our next tailgating party, and what produce items should be in our basket. If you or someone you know is living with diabetes, pick up a copy of Riolo’s cookbook for some inspiring recipes.
Q: What are some produce buying tips you have for anyone newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes? Should all produce be treated equally, or are there certain things to consider while shopping?
Amy Riolo: Yes! Dark leafy greens of all kinds are a great choice because of magnesium and fiber. Melissa’s Produce offers a great variety so people can enjoy daily; spinach, kale, chard, lettuces, arugula, watercress, herbs, purslane, etc. are all great choices.
Q: How can one better manage blood sugar levels through produce?
AR: By including dark leafy greens at all meals and making produce the most abundant food group in their diet. All of our meals should be based on produce. Those with diabetes need to make sure that protein, healthful fats, and quality carbs like produce are balanced in each of their meals.
Q: What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?
AR: According to the American Diabetes Association, “Type 1 diabetes occurs at every age, in people of every race, and of every shape and size. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. The body breaks down the carbohydrates you eat into blood sugar that it uses for energy—and insulin is a hormone that the body needs to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes—and it means that your body doesn’t use insulin properly. And while some people can control their blood sugar levels with healthy eating and exercise, others may need medication or insulin to help manage it.” For more information, visit diabetes.org.
Q: How can the Mediterranean diet be beneficial for those living with diabetes?
AR: Studies have found that there is a much lower level of diabetes in areas that follow a Med Diet and lifestyle. Nutrients in produce, whole grains, beans and legumes, and seafood are very beneficial to those with diabetes in regulating blood sugar, losing weight and reducing inflammation, as well as preventing other illnesses.
Q: During your kitchen event at Melissa’s Produce, you spoke about the detoxifying benefits of cilantro. Can you expand?
AR: Yes … cilantro leaves contain potent anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antifungal, antimicrobial, and significant chelating (help body to detox) properties. These agents bind to heavy metals, which are then removed from the body through our excretory system. I had a great deal of success taking a handful of clean cilantro blended with 1/2 cup of water on an empty stomach in the AM when I needed to detox.
Q: Do you have any other fun facts about produce like that, that you can share with our readers?
AR: Sure! A good quality (low-acidic, high phenolic) extra-virgin olive oil drizzled on top of produce will coax even more nutrients out of it, so you get more flavor and health benefits by using it. Also, remember the rainbow and aim to get as many different colored nutrients at a time as possible.
Q: Your newest cookbook, “The Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook, 2nd Edition,” is loaded with nutritional and tasty recipes that anyone living with diabetes or not would enjoy. Which one is the first one you recommend people try making from the book?
AR: It would have to be the Corsican prawns with chickpea cream. Prior to becoming a French island, the beautiful Corsica was ruled by Italy for centuries. By combining both Italian and French country-style cooking with local specialties, Corsica developed a cuisine as awe-inspiring as its scenery. Grab the recipe below!
Q: Produce. Protein. Grain. Can’t live without grocery items?
AR: For produce; baby lettuce, broccoli, arugula, kale, bananas, berries, oranges, lemons, onions, garlic, celery, and carrots. For protein; almonds, walnuts, flaxseed, pine nuts, pistachios, lentils, quinoa, chickpeas, cheeses, and yogurts. For grains; einkorn flour for pasta-making, barley, quinoa, and all kinds of rice.
Q: Halloween is right around the corner, what are some great alternatives you’d recommend so that people can avoid candy better?
AR: Dried figs and dates … and a few pieces of dark, fair-trade chocolate.
Q: What’s a good diabetic-friendly tailgating recipe people should try?
AR: My white bean, lemon and herbed feta dip from my cookbook is a great tailgating option. Did you know that the average Greek consumes approximately 22 pounds of feta cheese a year? On the island of Santorini, feta is known as the “princess of cheeses” and is made in the same time-honored manner that it has been for centuries. Made with predominately sheep’s milk and up to 30% goat’s milk, the creamy concoction is a local favorite. Even though it can be made in a flash, this zesty dip combines all the bright flavors of Santorini in one easy-to-make dish. If you are a Mediterranean food fan, this dip will make a great addition to hummus in your repertoire.
Corsican Prawns With Chickpea Cream
- 2 1/2 cups Melissa's steamed chickpeas
- 1/4 cup fresh Lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil divided
- 1 1/2 pound jumbo or colossal shrimp peeled and deveined
- dash crushed red pepper
- 2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Place chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, and 2 Tbsp olive oil in a food processor. Purée, adding 1/4 cup water, or enough to make the purée smooth.
- Heat remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add prawns or shrimp, crushed red pepper, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Cook, uncovered, for 2 minutes per side or until prawns or shrimp turn pink.
- Evenly spoon chickpea purée onto small plates. Flatten with the back of a spoon. Place prawns or shrimp on top, and serve immediately.