Thinking about eating healthy during the holidays is never fun... but when you're talking about healthy holiday eating with celeb chef hottie Sam Talbot, a type 1 PWD, things start to get a little more fun! 33-year-old Sam joined the ranks of celeb chefs after his appearance as "Fan Favorite" on Bravo's Top Chef's Season Two and has become a darling of the diabetes community for his work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Sam came in second place, but he hasn't let his diabetes or his runner-up status on the show slow him down. A North Carolina native diagnosed with type 1 at age 12, Sam has worked for almost 10 years as a chef in some of the best restaurants in New York City. Currently he is Executive Chef at the Surf Lodge in Montauk, NY, and he's the former Executive Chef at NYC's Imperial No. 9.
Now he's added writer to his repertoire with the release of his new book, The Sweet Life, a mix of personal anecdotes on life with diabetes, and tips about travel, fitness and more, plus 75 recipes that fall in line with Sam's commitment to natural, sustainable eating. Unlike a lot of diabetic cookbooks that make erroneous claims to prevent or "reverse" your diabetes, Sam's book does nothing of the sort. He explains that nothing is entirely "off limits" with diabetes. But he does emphasize eating natural, whole foods, and always eating in moderation. As we gear up for the holiday season, we chatted with Sam about his new book and how to integrate some healthier options into your holiday meal planning:
ST) I've done everything the wrong way four or five times, so I can share ways to be healthy that I've taught myself over the years. I've talked to fans with diabetes, or their family and friends or diabetes educators, and they are so excited to learn about food and the lifestyle of food.
If there's one thing everyone has in common, it's food. No matter what soil it comes from or the demographics of the eaters, one common denominator is food. And so really the message is great food and how to achieve it — how to make really healthy, accessible food and provide an outlook on how to have a great state of mind, body and soul.
Your book isn't just recipes. It's a diabetes management book as well, right?
I wanted to tap into both lifestyle and cooking, providing tips on cooking procedure and lifestyle choices. Diabetes doesn't have to be a looming black cloud. It can be looked at as an awakening to loo at foods closer and what they can do for you. The book is meant for anybody who's really looking to start eating well and understand the process. If you're living with diabetes, this book can be a really good guide.
You've had diabetes for about as long as you've been cooking. Do you think your diabetes influences your cooking more, or does your cooking and knowledge of food influence your diabetes?
I think it's a little bit of both. As I've matured and learned more, I think my diabetes has opened my eyes to some things I might have overlooked if I wasn't diabetic. But I think now I really try to cook from the heart and for the soul. I think that doing so that ended up paving the way for my style of cooking. It's healthy and eco-responsible.
It's almost like I can trick people into thinking they're not necessarily 'eating healthy' because it tastes so good. But as long as you've been eating my food, you've been eating healthy. Diabetes opened me up to the idea of using other alternatives, and I learned that they're better for you and usually they end up tasting better too.
What are some of your favorite "alternatives"? What are some things you try to include or avoid in your own cooking?
Well, for instance, I don't think anyone should use refined sugar. It puts too much strain on the kidney and liver, and on your body overall. If you do use it, use it in moderation. It's not that I think people should stop overnight, but you should be mindful of sugar and white flour. There are tons of ways to substitute refined sugar, including using Truvia, a substitute made from the Stevia plant. You can also use maple syrup, fruit juice or fruit purees — in moderation.
Personally, I drink almond milk and hemp milk. Hemp seeds are a complete proteins, and include omega-6s and omega-3s (essential fatty acids). The hemp plant is one of the most heart healthy anti-oxidant producing seeds around. I also use almond milk for almost everything. Instead of using heavy cream, use almond milk. Soy milk is a good alternative, too.
Thanksgiving is just days away... What's your favorite go-to recipe to make for this holiday?
I like to change things up so I don't necessarily make the same thing every year. But I definitely don't want to be in a food coma all day, not being able to move from the couch.
For example, mashed potatoes and gravy is a Thanksgiving staple. If someone is trying to watch their overall health, with or without diabetes, it's not a great option. Instead, I would get something like Korean yams that I found in the West Village in New York City. They're really low in carbs and sugar, and they are an amazing source of vitamins A, C and E. I peel them and roast them, and then mix with olive oil, sea salt, lemon zest and some almond milk that I make myself. They are the most amazing fake mashed potatoes. Ideas like that are actually what my book is filled with.
Another example is clam chowder. You don't want to give up eating it, but it's one of the most unhealthy things you can eat in the soup world. It's made with heavy cream, butter, and white flour. My recipe has brown rice flour and almond milk, and people just love it. It's fun!
To be honest, I whip up something easy and simple to eat before I go. If I'm going to a Thanksgiving party in Brooklyn and I know people are going to be eating and drinking a ton, sometimes I scramble some eggs about half an hour before leaving. Or I might just eat some egg whites and/or something with more protein, so my appetite is already tamed. I also stay away from things like cookies, cakes and puddings that will give me a food hangover.
If I'm drinking alcohol, then I'll drink a full glass of water in between alcoholic drinks.
Another thing I always do is test my blood sugar often, so I can be in control and know what steps I need to take. That gives me the power to get through the holiday season. I check my blood sugar regularly, try to stay hydrated, eat a protein-filled meal or snack before I go. That's how I do it.
What's one chef secret or tip that you would like to see more people adopt in their own cooking?
When I travel around, which is mostly in the United States, I see people using a lot of margarine and weird "man-crafted" spreads and oils. My main message is that if you're going to use something, use something natural, like butter, and just use it in moderation. Those spreads are nickel-based products, and when they pass a certain heat threshold, all kind of chemicals are released.
It's always better to go natural. This isn't a just a trend. You have to start eating this way. You don't want to eat canned, processed, and over-preserved foods. If you're going to jump on a bandwagon, this is the one.
The holidays are a big travel time, but as a celeb chef, you do a fair amount of travel throughout the year. What's your strategy for overcoming the trappings of airport food?
I just try to pre-plan, and have 'a method to the madness' of travel. There are a lot of great ideas for bring-along snacks in my book, like goji berries, which is a vegan superfruit, and granola. I pre-pack a lot of stuff, like roasted seeds, trail mix, and granola, and I bring them in plastic bags. It kind of makes me feel like a kid again with juice boxes and snack packs!
Looking for a way to add some great-tasting healthy eats to your holiday spread? You can pick up a copy of The Sweet Life on Amazon for $19.56. It's also available on Kindle for $14.29.
The DMBooks Giveaway
We're committed to sharing our book finds with our readers, so here's your chance to win a copy of Sam Talbot's new book, The Sweet Life.
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2. You have until Friday, Nov. 25, at noon PST to enter. A valid email address is required to win.
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The contest is open to anyone, anywhere. Good luck, D-Friends and Foodies!