TV chef Anne Burrell has been an advocate for healthy eating for those living with diabetes ever since it affected her family.
Anne Burrell became acutely aware of how important a healthy diet is for people living with diabetes when a member of her family was diagnosed. “My nephew Luke was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was one year old, so it’s something that he and my brother’s family have been living with for pretty much his whole life,” Burrell says. “It is something that has become a cause that is very near and dear to my heart.”
Burrell, who was executive chef of Centro Vinoteca in Manhattan and hosts the Food Network shows Secrets of a Restaurant Chef and Worst Chefs in America, noticed that a lot of the existing information about diabetes and diet were misleading or incomplete. “I don’t think people understand that there’s a difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes,” she explains. People with type 2 diabetes don’t respond to insulin, while people with type 1 diabetes don’t produce any insulin, making their susceptibility to low blood sugar much more acute.
“I also think there are big misconceptions that people with diabetes have to eat different foods or have to really cut their carbs, and that’s not true,” Burrell says. “They definitely have to pay more attention to their diet, and having a diet with many less processed foods is a big help, but cooking from scratch at home really is hugely helpful in maintaining a diabetes-friendly diet.”
The benefits of home cooking
During the pandemic, one of the plus sides Burrell saw was that a lot more people were cooking at home and preparing meals using fresh ingredients. This is one of the best ways to eat healthy without having to place a lot of dietary restrictions, particularly for people living with diabetes.
“Eating a diet of food that is cooked from scratch at home and really trying to cut down or avoid processed food helps a lot,” Burrell says. “Cooking with foods that come from their natural form such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, and using oils like olive oil are all great choices, and this starts with having fresh ingredients on hand and putting them together with simple cooking techniques that allow natural flavors to shine through.”
Cooking with fresh ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains at home is the surest way to avoid processed foods for any diet, regardless of whether you’re living with diabetes. “These are foods that are also rich in nutrients,” Burrell says, “like fiber which helps keep calories low and keeps blood sugar in good control.”
Any major changes to diet or eating habits can be daunting when first starting out. The great thing about making the change to cooking more at home, Burrell says, is that you can make things easy. “Starting with fresh ingredients and planning ahead can make cooking and eating enjoyable, nutritious, and balanced,” Burrell explains. Taking her own advice, Burrell cooks for her family at home all the time using fresh ingredients, favoring vegetarian dishes. “I have my butternut squash with broccoli rabe and whole wheat pappardelle,” she says, “and a recipe for a cauliflower ragu over roasted spaghetti squash which is also super delicious.”