I confess to being an unrepentant foodie. It’s all my dad’s fault.
I grew up just outside New York City, which by itself made it pretty easy to cultivate and indulge a love of good food. For my dad (who worked tirelessly with my mom in their own retail store), eating well whenever the opportunity presented itself was his great joy. That could mean anything from a piled-high corned beef sandwich on rye at the local deli, to a meal at a terrific French restaurant, or to an over-abundance of wonderful Italian dishes cooked by family friends from our largely Italian community. The pre-requisite to enjoying this cornucopia of great meals was hot, freshly baked bread. As slim as he was, I don’t think Dad ever counted carbs, and I followed in his footsteps.
And then, at the ripe old age of 24, Type 1 diabetes entered my life.
No one had ever mentioned the word “diet” to me prior to my diagnosis. At the dinner table, they would more likely say, “Have seconds, you’re so thin, you can afford it.” However, now I was counting calories with every meal, rethinking what I would make when I cooked, and what I would order when I dined out. This prompted two big changes in my diet. First, sweet desserts pretty much fell off my radar screen. Au revoir, chocolate éclairs, you are missed. The second change was portion control. That big bowl of pasta with a loaf of crusty Italian bread that I loved so much? It was whittled down to a smaller quantity of carbs that matched my insulin dosage. I learned how to judge portions–not always the easiest thing when having a plate of homemade lasagna–and when to say “That was delicious, but can I please take the rest home with me?”
Something interesting happened as a result of these changes. I discovered that I just didn’t need the large quantities of food to which I’d become accustomed. It really hit home on trips to Europe. The cuisines of France, Greece, Spain and especially Italy, which we consume with gusto here in the States, typically don’t emphasize copious amounts of food. Instead, it’s more manageable portions, so that at the end of the meal you feel satisfied but not stuffed. Couple that with a decrease in fried foods, and an increase in the use of olive oil, and you end up eating healthier without sacrificing flavor or creativity in the dishes. (When was the last time you heard anyone refer to the cuisine of any of these countries as “bland”?)
At home, more often than not we reach for an Italian cookbook when making something for dinner. When dining out, we seek out a wide variety of restaurants, some considered fine dining, others far more casual, but always with an eye toward the creative use of fresh ingredients. Yes, even when dealing with a “diabetic diet,” it’s possible to eat well. Just don’t forget the fresh bread!