American Diabetes Month 2015: Chef Sam Talbot Explains 'Diabetes Diet' Includes Food That Swaps In Delicious, Healthy Alternatives

Sam Talbot
Chef Sam Talbot discusses American Diabetes Month and how "diabetic food" can still include your favorite comfort foods, like pasta. Medical Daily

Mention diabetes and most people conjure a specific image: Older men and women who are likely overweight and can have absolutely no sugar. Individually, these ideas may apply, but diabetes has become so prevalent in the United States that anyone, at any age, on all ends of the health spectrum can develop the disease. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 86 million Americans aged 20 and older had prediabetes, up from 79 million in 2010 — age 20.

Prediabetes is the stage where a person's blood glucose (sugar) levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes — type 1 diabetes is an incurable autoimmune disease, and type 2 diabetes means the body can no longer produce insulin. While type 1 diabetics are insulin-dependent their whole life, many pre- and type 2-diabetics can cure their disease with healthy diet and exercise, registered dietician Sean W. Meadows, lead dietitian for The N.E.W. Program in Newport Beach, Calif., told Medical Daily in an email. (Treatment is still best discussed with your doctor.) This is especially important considering prediabetes, since it can often present without any symptoms.


"When I first started practicing, my clients were mostly 35+ years old, but now I am seeing more and more clients from my own 'millennial' generation," Meadows explained. "It's puzzling that the millennials, having grown-up with the most access to information in history, including health information, seem to be struggling as much as any other generation in implementing healthy living practices. Incredibly, there are now more overweight and obese 18- to 35-year-olds than there have ever been and, consequently, there are more cases of prediabetes showing up."

This changed reality is what fuels the American Diabetes Association's (ADA) American Diabetes Month, held annually during the month of November. Not only does the ADA hope to encourage younger Americans to learn their risk, but it hopes to remind those who have been diagnosed that living with diabetes doesn't mean you can't also live — and eat — well.

Since lowering blood sugar is a critical part of diabetes management, diabetics are recommended they limit dessert, sweetener, and carbohydrate intake. But being aware of "the mathematics of being a diabetic," as Chef Sam Talbot put it, doesn't mean you have to skip the foods you love. And Talbot would know: He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 12, just when his love for cooking southern food (plentiful where he grew up) was starting to develop. We all know the best Southern food is not always the healthiest, from higher levels of saturated fats, sodium, and lard.

That's what determined Talbot's goal as a chef: to take the food that he knows, that he loves and "comforts my soul" and seek out the alternative ingredients. "People ask, 'What's diabetic food?' or 'You're Sam Talbot, you must be doing a diabetic menu," he told Medical Daily. "But to me, I don't know what diabetic food is."

Meadows would agree. He explained the recommendations he extends diabetic clients aren't much different than what he recommends to non-diabetic clients; you can't go wrong eating a 'whole food-based' diet that is protein-rich, high fiber, and contains the proper number of calories. With these basic ideas, he said there are infinite meal plan and recipe combinations one can enjoy.

Those alternative ingredients are key for Talbot. He points to the many nut milks available today, from cashew milk, to almond and hemp milk. And then there's everybody's favorite comfort food: pasta. Everybody knows pasta, has had pasta with tomato sauce, Talbot says, but swapping noodles for zucchini or shirataki noodles — noodles made from an Okinawan yam — results in "a tenth of the carbs of regular pasta." Plus, making your own sauce or dressing using an avocado achieves the creamy texture of, say, Alfredo sauce.

"Does that make it diabetic food because we're not using pasta? No," Talbot said. "It makes it really clean, healthy, fun, progressive food in my mind."

It just so happened Talbot was preparing plates of his zucchini pasta for an event he was catering on behalf of his non-profit organization, Beyond Type 1. He and his three co-founders, including singer and fellow type 1 diabetic Nick Jonas, "banded together…to educate those that want to know about diabetes," in addition to celebrating other T1D or T2D "warriors;" BT1 gives them a chance to be heard and to tell their story. It makes sense then Talbot has focused on raising "the levels of awareness above and beyond what anybody ever expected" this ADM.

Somewhere along the way we managed to get ourselves invited to Talbot's Brooklyn apartment as he was prepping part of the event's menu. You can see how that went and how to make his pasta in the comfort of your own home, in the video above. Trust us when we say you need this recipe in your life. 

"If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, in some ways you’re lucky, because you have a chance to make some lifestyle changes that can really improve your life and help avoid developing type 2 diabetes," Meadows concluded. "Moving forward, it is so important to remember that achieving a healthy body weight will help you avoid many health problems and the best plan to achieve this is to stay focused on eating healthy foods and staying physically active."

Zucchini Pasta with Green Goddess Vinaigrette

Servings: 16

  • 8 zucchini
  • 4 avocados
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, warmed to a liquid
  • Sea salt 
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chili vinegar 
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 cups basil
  • 2 cups mint 
  • 4 cups pear tomatoes, sliced 
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, chopped 
  • Parmesan to taste for a garnish

1.Using a spiralizer or mandolin, turn the zucchini into pasta. If you do not have a spiralizer, you can do this with a mandolin. Salt with a little sea salt and let the "pasta" sit, so it softens.

2. Mix the all the ingredients for the Green Goddess vinaigrette — the avocados, coconut oil, chili vinegar, lime juice, and honey — with a hand blender. Season to taste.

3. Now heat the pasta with three tablespoons of the coconut oil on medium high heat. Add the garlic and cook for two minutes. 

4. Mix the pasta with the Green Goddess vinaigrette and most of the basil and mint, but set some of these herbs aside. Add the mixture into a serving bowl and garnish with the remaining herbs, the pine nuts, tomatoes, and Parmesan cheese. 

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