Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Healthy Diabetes Recipe (Stew!)

Nutrition Facts can be found here on's amazing nutrition calculator.
At the request of a vegetarian friend with developing diabetes, I have designed the following recipe.


1 lb Soybeans (mature seeds)
1/3 lb Wheat berries (hard red winter)
1/3 lb Navy beans
1/3 lb Amaranth
1/2 lb shredded coconut
1/2 lb flaxseed
1/8 lb nutritional yeast
1 lb almonds (slivered and/or sliced)

5 onions (mix red, yellow, white)
2 bell peppers
4 Jalapenos
2 lg cans of diced tomatoes
1 lb Swiss chard
1 lb Collard greens
2 bunches of cilantro
2 heads of garlic (yeah, the whole thing x 2)

1 cup olive oil
1 cu apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup of each of the following spices: black pepper, cayenne*, cumin, coriander, paprika, tumeric, yellow mustard seed

*1/4 cup of cayenne will yield a solidly spicy stew. Scale back to preference.


1. Rinse soybeans, navy beans and wheat berries. Divide in 2 and put each half into a large pot. Add water and boil for ~1 hour (until they're still tough, but chewable). Stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom.

2. Chop onions, peppers and garlic. Put into a pot with the cayenne pepper, black pepper and coriander. Add some of the olive oil and fry on high heat, stirring constantly, until onions begin to look translucent (~10-15 minutes). Divide in half and set aside.

3. Chop the collard greens, the Swiss chard and the cilantro. Do chop this carefully (I prefer ~1/2 inch squares) because long, tough greens do make the soup messy. Set aside. Open the cans of tomatoes. Divide all the other ingredients in two portions. 

4. When the beans are finished, put everything that's not in the pot, into the pot. That's right. Everything (including what you set aside in steps 2 and 3). Cook for 15 minutes, or until it's as soft as you'd prefer. Remember, the tougher you can handle it, the better (slower digestion, better for blood sugars; also the more work it is to eat, the less you'll eat). Stir frequently, making sure to scrape the bottom (the stew is quite thick, and it's really easy to burn the bottom layer).

 5. (optional) I like to divvy it up into day-use Tupperware so I can just grab-and-go. Also, I do sometimes freeze a portion of it for later use.


First off, to be perfectly clear, this is not a recipe for diabetes. You won't actually get diabetes by eating this stew. But it is for diabetics, or anyone who wants to get better control of their blood sugar (I'm talking to you, average American). The above is a modification of my previous recipe, but this time optimizing factors important for blood sugar. The most important thing goal for the diabetic is minimizing glycemic index (GI), how fast the food turns into sugar. The faster this happens, the harder it is on you pancreas and cells; a nice, slow gradual release of the sugar is ideal. Coca Cola and white bread are bad. The other thing I found in my reading was that fiber is good. I'm not sure it's entirely clear the mechanism (I've heard some argue that fibrous foods make it physically slower to digest food). Also, to throw a kink in, the particular person I designed this for was a vegetarian. So no meat.

So with some reading and comparing of foods, I decided to go with soybeans as the primary base (the kind that look like nuts in the bulk food section; not the ones that look green that you get at Sushi restaurants). They've got a ton of fiber, really low GI, and high protein. For diversity (and also inspired by Ezekiel 4:9), I decided to add in wheat berries, Navy beans (best-in-(bean)class on fiber and GI), and, partly because Milton thinks it was next to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, partly because it means "unfading beauty" in Greek, and partly because it has pretty darned good nutritional properties, I added a bit of Amaranth.

In looking at the nutrition facts above, you may think I failed. "626 Calories!?" "34 grams of fat?!" It was deliberate. The first thing you may or may not know is that humans need to eat food in order to keep on living. For most humans about 2000 Calories need to come in one way or another. The goal should not be to try to eat 1500 Calories and splurge up to 2500, but to try to eat a good 2000 Calories.

As for nutritional goals, I think it came out fairly well. One hearty bowl of the stuff and you get all the fiber you need in a day without Metamucil (and I suppose this is as good a place as any for the disclaimer: that much fiber will probably change your bowel habits: get ready for it). The glycemic load is low at 19 for the bowl (~61 if you ate nothing but the stew all day, well below the target 100). Those were my goals, and they were met. And now for the gravy (don't eat gravy; it's bad for you).

Veggies (not bacon) are good for you, especially slow-digesting, nutrient rich ones (i.e. the green-leafies). It's  winter, so the tomatoes locally are about a bazillion dollars a pound; so I went with canned this time (of course, fresh is always better if you can get your hands on 'em). And because I love garlic, I was not sparse with it. For most people, and for people with blood sugar problems especially, veggies are very important.

Let's move on to the fats. Because of (as far as I can tell) very clever "fat free" marketing in the 90's, we have adopted the idea that "fat is bad!" It's equivalent to arbitrarily selecting a class of words and declaring them evil: "Nouns are naughty!" "Verbs are viscous!" In reality, there are good and bad fats. The only "traditional" diet studied with rigor has been shown to be really good for you; it's called the Mediterranean Diet and includes a LOT of olive oil. Coconut oil (which is expensive... dried coconut is much cheaper, and believe it or not, has coconut oil inside of it) has been shown to increase good cholesterol (HDL) and improve blood sugar. Monounsaturated oils (lots in olive oil) also improve cholesterol profile (increase the good, decrease the bad), as well as improving blood sugars. So I included lots of both. I also read that almonds, in addition to the great benefits of their good-for-you fats, were really good for sugar control. And (also because flaxseed extract is expensive) I added flaxseeds; the stew has as much heart-healthy Omega-3 in one bowl as a supplement pill.

As with the previous version, the massive amounts of spice provide anti-oxidants anti-inflammatory which are good at curing everything ("Cancer!" and "Infection!"). Some people even think that diabetes is a problem with "inflammation" (e.g. bariatric surgery can sometimes reverse diabetes; some think this is because people lose their "inflammatory" fat tissue). But we have meandered to the fringes of scientific hypothesis and in the imagination land of nutritional benefits; I have not even heard of people who tried using coriander for cure. The whole inflammation story seems to simple to be true IMHO, but I'd bet that some of the hype is real. Even if it wasn't, spice is the spice of life.

So that's the "Diabetes Stew." The more of it you eat, the better! If you just have a little bit with your meals, it'd have some effect. If you can, as I did, completely replace your diet with this one item (you'd have to sacrifice the Western proclivity for variety and learn to enjoy repetition as the rest of the world does), it'd have big effects.

[For the record, all the health claims are scientific second-hand: I have not read the original papers nor am I an expert in nutrition. I have written the above mostly with what I have learned from (probably) reliable sources (mostly professors at Stanford). If you find sources and/or info that contradicts this, please post in the comments]