FOOD WISE: Improve your understanding of dietary limitations when preparing meals for others



Lately, I’ve been cooking quite a bit for folks with a variety of dietary limitations. I’m telling ya, it’s a new day for chefs everywhere. There is so much diet specific information to learn. I talk to people all the time who have questions about what some of these limitations, categories and specifics are. Whether it’s sufferers of Celiac disease and general gluten intolerances, various food allergies and diabetics, or vegans, vegetarians, ovo-vegetarians, lacto-vegetarians, it’s all very confusing.

And don’t even get me started on dieters….try learning all the specifics of Weight Watchers™, Paleo, Clean Diet, no-fat, no carbs, no sugar, Adkins, South Beach, Ghrelin Diet, Mediterranean Diet, blah, blah, blah. They’re asking a lot of this ol‘ girl!

Seriously, these are important topics for anyone interested in cooking to explore. So many people are affected adversely by what they are or are not eating.

When I was learning to cook to the specifics of many of the conditions or preferences listed, I found it important to do a good amount of homework. It’s more than just memorizing a laundry list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” If I don’t have a good understanding of what the health condition is, I could mistakenly feed a client a dish with an ingredient that would be harmful to them. If I don’t understand the mechanics and science of the diet plan a person is following, I might inadvertently include something in their meal that would thwart their weight loss progress. Being someone who struggles with weight issues myself, I would never want to make that kind of mistake. The last thing I would want to do is cause someone harm because of something I fed them. My job is to nurture and help care for their health and bodies. So, before I started developing a menu for special dietary situations, I did a lot of research. Once I understood the situation, it was a lot easier to develop recipes that met that person’s needs.

Another thing happened along the way. I discovered some really good recipes. I find a lot of times, people seem to have a preconceived idea about certain types of food. For example, let’s take vegetarian food. I was talking to my cousin the other day, who happens to be a vegetarian. She has faced such prejudice regarding her choice that she says she doesn’t like to use the term vegetarian because it makes people think she is some kind of “weird, tree-hugger hippie.” This girl grew up in a meat loving, hunting, fishing, southern, cajun family. She hasn’t become vegetarian because she has ethical issues about consuming animal product. She simply has found that it helps her control her weight, she has more energy, she is healthier and takes less medicines as a vegetarian. Good for her! She’s a stronger woman than I, ‘cause Mama likes her pork chop. Know what I mean?

Since I have gotten so many questions lately on what these different dietary conditions mean, I thought you might appreciate a quick down-and-dirty on some of the major ones. Here goes…

Celiac disease – Many times clients tell me they have celiac’s or are gluten intolerant. These are two different things. Celiac disease is a serious condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy, like vitamins and minerals. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats.

Symptoms include: abdominal pain, bloating, gas, indigestion, appetite and weight changes, diarrhea, lactose intolerance, bruising easily, depression, hair loss, fatigue, growth delays in children, itchy skin, muscle cramps and joint pain, nosebleeds, mouth ulcers, numbness in hands or feet and unexplained short height.

Diabetes – diabetes is a chronic disease in which there are high levels of sugar in the blood. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to control blood sugar. Diabetes can be caused by too little insulin, resistance to insulin, or both.

People with diabetes have high blood sugar because their body cannot move sugar into fat, liver, and muscle cells to be stored for energy. There are three major types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational diabetes. Diabetes affects more than 20 million Americans. Over 40 million Americans have pre-diabetes (early type 2 diabetes). High blood sugar levels can cause several symptoms, including: blurred vision, excess thirst, Fatigue, frequent urination, hunger, and weight loss.

Vegetarian/Vegan – vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, and soaps derived from animal products.

People choose to be vegetarian or vegan for health, economic, environmental, and/or ethical reasons. The key to a nutritionally sound vegetarian or vegan diet is variety. A healthy and varied diet includes fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

There are varieties of the diet as well: an ovo-vegetarian diet includes eggs but not dairy products, a lacto-vegetarian diet includes dairy products but not eggs, and an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet includes both eggs and dairy products.

I was reading a study the other day on that suggested that our planet is facing such a water shortage, that we may all be forced to eat vegetarian within the next 40 years. The article indicated that it will be too expensive to raise protein sources in the future. I do love a good hamburger, so I certainly hope that doesn’t happen. Even if I’m not here, it’s not much of a world to leave to our children.

I like the idea of making small changes, mainly because I find it more palatable (no pun intended). As expensive as groceries are these days, instituting Meatless Monday’s probably wouldn’t be a bad idea. I’m sure our budgets and our waistlines will thank us. Here’s a quick and easy meatless recipe to get you started.

Chef Reneé is a classically trained, award winning chef and columnist. She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill with her husband, John, their dogs, cats and chickens.

 Black Bean and Goat Cheese Quesadilla

Black Bean and Goat Cheese Quesadilla with quacamole and salsa. (Courtesy Photo)

serves 4

1 (16-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 (4-ounce) log goat cheese, crumbled

1 1/2 cups shredded Monterrey Jack cheese

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

4 (12-inch) flour tortillas

1. Combine beans, goat cheese, Monterrey Jack, jalapeno, cilantro, cumin, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Divide cheese mixture evenly over one half  of each tortilla, leaving 1/2 inch border around edge. Fold tortilla in half over mixture and press down firmly.

2. Add 2 quesadillas to large non-stick skillet and cook over medium-high heat until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Using a spatula, flip quesadillas and cook until golden and cheese is melted, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to cutting board and repeat with remaining quesadillas. Cut into wedges. Serve with salsa, sour cream or guacamole.