Guest Chef Jess Cooks Up Some Holiday Help for us!

As part of Diabetes Awareness Month and the impending Holiday Season (which we all know involves a LOT of food), I wanted to provide some inspiration in the kitchen for you all (and myself, let’s be honest). When I heard about Chef Jess’ cooking (delicious!) and her goal of helping people with diabetes live better through good nutrition (awesome!), I wanted to know more.

Chef Jess ImageJessica Swift – better known as Chef Jess – has always had a passion for cooking. She perused this passion, graduating from Johnson and Wales University with a degree in Culinary Arts. But while in cooking school, she watched her father struggle with Type 2 diabetes. After talking with a local dietician, she realized she could use food to help her father – and others – live better with diabetes. She was so inspired by this idea, that she went on to earn a Bachelors’ in Dietetics from Michigan State University and eventually on to Howard University, where she completed her Master’s in Nutritional Sciences and focused on perceptions of the diet as it related to disease.

Chef Jess now provides nutrition and culinary services to groups and individuals including Health Shopping Tours and something she calls the “Cabinet Clean Up,” which involves a house call to whip your food stock into shape! How cool is that to have a Chef RD come to your house and evaluate your cabinets? She also loves to write and blogs frequently on her website, Chef Jess’ mission of helping people with chronic illnesses live better through good  nutrition was inspiring to me, and I’m lucky enough to have interviewed her for today’s post.

Clearly you have always had a passion for cooking and food, but what made you want to also become a Registered Dietitian?

My passion for Dietetics came about from watching family struggles. My father, in particular has struggled with Diabetes and my mother with hypertension. While in culinary school I was able to see how I could successfully incorporate my love for food and nutrition. I was the star student in my culinary nutrition class. At the time my professor, Dr. M, began mentoring me, opening my eyes to a great career of being a Chef RD.

You have dealt with diabetes in your family for several years. What are some of the stereotypes about diabetes that really bug you now that you’ve experienced it directly with your family and understand it better?

One stereotype in particular that bothers me is when others think that all people with Diabetes developed the disease from simply over eating and not taking care of themselves. I use this opportunity to educate on the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

The holidays are coming up! Any quick and easy substitutions that people can do to their recipes to make holiday favorites more healthy?

When baking, using wheat flour instead of white, I often substitute oil with jarred baby food (i.e. carrots or applesauce). Using baby food is best because there are no added sugars; Lastly, substituting sugar with Splenda and occasionally agave.

You mention in your tips for cooking that sugar is better when it comes from natural sources, but you also mention to always check the total carb count on foods, and things like honey and dried fruit can really pack on the carb count, which drives up the need to cover these foods with more insulin. How many is too many carbs, natural or not?

Yes, sugars that come from natural sources are much better. For example, if eating piece of dried fruit, although high in sugar, you are still getting other nutrients that are great for your body (i.e. phytochemicals, fiber, vitamins). The maximum amount of carbs is very specific. After, reviewing your diet, your dietitian and doctor would have to determine the amount of units appropriate for you. It is very important that you check your blood sugars often and give a very thorough account of usual intake to help aid in blood sugar stabilization.

What is the go-to meal for a busy chef like you do when she has to make a super quick and healthy meal?

I always keep cooked chicken or fish in the fridge. I grab lots of fresh veggies, spinach, tomato, onion, bell, pepper; then sprinkle on 1/8 C. of beans, 1/8 cup of nuts and 1/4 cup of quinoa. Dress it with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper. And you have an amazing quinoa, vegetable and (chicken or fish) salad. This is packed with protein, complex carbohydrates and vital nutrients.  The great thing about this salad is that you can throw anything in and it will still be delicious.

What is the one message you hope that people with diabetes get from your cooking tips?

I would like people to not be afraid to try new dishes or make substitutions. I am an advocate for creating new recipes and often find myself recipe testing. Whenever you eat, make sure you are “eating the rainbow” different colors represent different nutrients and our body’s benefit from all of them.


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