One in ten people with type 1 diabetes also has celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disease that requires eliminating all gluten from the diet. In the new cookbook, Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, Amy Green, M.Ed, the woman behind the SimplySugarandGlutenFree.com blog, hits the sweet spot for those with dual diagnoses.
Although Amy isn’t diabetic and doesn’t have celiac disease (she’s gluten sensitive), giving up gluten and sugar led her to good health. For years she’d been depressed, irritable and locked in a battle with her weight. After consulting an osteopathic doctor who suggested cutting sugar and gluten from her diet, she lost sixty pounds and the mental fog that had clouded her days disappeared.
“I had to get to a place where I was willing to do whatever I could to live a better life,” she says. “The journey wasn’t pretty, but it taught me how precious life is. I never want to look at myself again and not like what I see in the mirror.”
Simply Sugar and Gluten Free offers quick, simple recipes – from black bean veggie burgers to Socca Pizza made with garbanzo bean crust — that provide healthy, hearty meals in next to no time. Please note: not all of the dessert recipes are diabetes friendly, since dates can make your blood sugar soar and sweeteners like agave can affect blood sugar, too. But the cookbook makes you very conscious of how you’re sweetening your food, and when you’re aware, you’re less likely to over consume.
I had the opportunity to talk to Amy about her new book, her diet, and how her recipes might be useful to diabetics.
What is gluten?
Gluten is the protein part of wheat, rye, barley and other grains. There are many people who cannot handle gluten – people who have gluten intolerance, are sensitive to gluten, have wheat allergies,or celiac disease. For some, like me, they simply feel better when they cut out gluten, and in my case, most sugars. Before, when I ate gluten and sugar, I was moody, depressed, had low energy and what I called a foggy brain – but when I stopped eating wheat and sugar that lifted.
How long have you been on a gluten and sugar free diet?
I’ve followed the diet for about seven years now. Before, I suffered from depression and was always tired and hungry. An osteopathic doctor suggested that I cut out sugar and wheat. At 21, in college, I didn’t follow his words – it seemed too hard. But when I turned 28, I decided to give it a try. I lost a lot of weight, was less depressed and regained my mental clarity. When your health isn’t good you can’t count on anything.
How did you get started?
I didn’t start cooking up recipes – I simply began by reading labels. I was amazed by what I found – how much wheat and sugar there was in everything. For example, how much added sugar there was in something like tomato paste.
My initial problem was: What was safe to eat? In the beginning I mainly depended on fresh vegetables, meat and dairy products. I shopped around the rim of the supermarket for only fresh foods.
It was huge mental shift. When people start to go on a low gluten diet, they often feel the ground pulled out from under them. What to eat? What to do? I wrote my book so that people could have a simple and easy way of preparing good healthy meals. They can eat lasagna and soups. And many times they don’t know the difference between foods with or without gluten. Plus, my recipes take no more than twenty minutes to make.
I always tell people to start simply. Don’t make it too complicated. Start with eating eggs, fruit, maybe bacon, and fried polenta — normal food that is gluten free. Slowly, your perspective will shift and you might want to try out more possibilities.
What’s the biggest difference when cooking without gluten?
When you begin to move onto recipes, you have to realize that baking without gluten is different from baking with wheat. You won’t know what to expect. In my book I offer a number of tips on how some things are the same and some things are different, and how to be successful.
One of my suggestions is making your own flour blend. There are some flour blends out there that cost about $5.00 a pound, but I’m pretty frugal and you can make your own blend for about $2.50 a pound. On my website you can find a video that details how to mix your own blend.
What’s your favorite recipe?
Chocolate sour cream cupcakes that have lots of layers of flavor. I also love the carrot cupcakes, which use only ¾ to 1 cup of flour. Lots of nutrition and natural sweetness. Most people don’t notice the difference in flavors. I Just fed them to a group who didn’t notice a thing and ate everything.
How can your diet be used for people with diabetes?
It’s not meant to be a diabetic cookbook, but it gives people options. My recipes use no white sugar. I do use herb sweeteners, but I avoid using Splenda. For some recipes I combine alternative sweeteners with a little stevia or try to find alternative ways to sweeten food. I also look for low-glycemic index sugars, like coconut palm sugar which has a 35 score on the glycemic index.
How did you personally get involved in cooking?
I always wanted to go to culinary school and was accepted into the Culinary Institute of America, but my health wasn’t at a place where I could attend. But later, as I grew healthier I came back to my interest in cooking, and am now in school for a pastry arts degree. I study at school and come home and try to figure out how to redo the recipes using gluten free and sugar free ingredients.
What’s the most important part of staying on gluten free, sugar free regimen?
For me, the most important part is planning meals. I plan ahead of time and try to always have a well-stocked pantry so I can make good choices. I always have beans and grains available so that I can pull together a healthy meal without going to the market.
The other important element is learning to take my eating a day at a time. I need to follow what works for me. When it comes to diet, there is no magic bullet or one solution that fits all. I eat five to six small meals a day. I try to be prepared and stay well nourished at all times. For example, I carry food with me to class – an apple and a handful of nuts – so I don’t ever get too hungry.
I know my exact way of eating is not the answer for everyone, but I know that this is a book people can use daily to improve their quality of life. It shows people that healthier food can be simple and delicious.
Amy Green writes the blog SimplySugarandGlutenFree. Her first cookbook, Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free: 180 Easy and Delicious Recipes You Can Make in 20 Minutes or Less, was released in February 2011 and is available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and your local Barnes & Noble bookstore.