Diabetes Forecast

New Diabetes Cookbook Navigates Mediterranean Cuisine

By Suzi Van Sickle , ,

Amy Riolo was a teenager when her mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. She remembers her coming home from the doctor's office with a very short list of recommended foods jotted down on a prescription pad. But Amy was determined to help her mom continue to enjoy eating, and soon the teenager was creating weekly meal plans featuring many of her mother's favorite foods.

Today, Riolo is a Washington, D.C., cooking instructor, lecturer, and author of a new cookbook that does for people with diabetes everywhere what she once did for her mom. The Mediterranean Diabetes Cookbook, published by the American Diabetes Association, offers more than 200 recipes, plus tips on healthy living.

Riolo serves up recipes for nutritious meals that can be prepared much as they are in their home countries without the need to buy "fat-free" or "low-calorie." Many of the dishes are naturally low in carbohydrates, and some may surprise Americans. "For Italian food, people automatically think lasagna, but, in fact, lasagna is a dish meant for celebrations," Riolo says. "Italians typically use salads and soups for their basic meals. My work explores the everyday food and traditions of a culture, allowing people to experience the healthier lifestyles of the Mediterranean."

Riolo knows her subject firsthand. She grew up in upstate New York in an Italian-American family with Greek influences from a step-grandmother. The family loved rich meals but had to limit them to accommodate family members' type 2 diabetes. After graduating from Cornell University in 1995, Riolo lived for a time with relatives in Italy, where she fell in love with the culture—and with her future husband.

A native of Egypt, he introduced her to other Mediterranean cuisines. Riolo's Italian family showed her that healthy eating, Mediterranean style, really makes a difference. "In the United States, my mother, grandmother, and grandfather are among many people I know who have suffered from type 2 diabetes," she says. "My Italian relatives have [similar] genes but practice a way of life so unlike my American family's. I saw how these changes made a total difference by reducing [their] health risks and [preventing] diabetes entirely."

Riolo believes that people with diabetes too often think about the foods they shouldn't eat instead of about the ones they should. Simply adding one new ingredient, like eggplant, to your diet, she says, can provide an exciting basis for various new meals. Experimenting with foods, she adds, not only expands your palate but changes your expectations: A veggie burger will no longer seem a poor substitute for a fatty hamburger, but a healthy treat to be appreciated on its own merits.

The cookbook draws on all areas of the Mediterranean for recipes such as Israeli Orange and Honey-Glazed Chicken With Almonds and Sicilian-Style Tuna Steaks. Each recipe is complemented by an example of Mediterranean-style living, like picking strawberries on the weekend or visiting a garlic festival. Riolo's goal for this cookbook was to offer what she calls "healthy-by-accident food. Every meal," she says, "should be both pleasurable and healthful."



Take the Type 2
Diabetes Risk Test