When chef Michael Moore was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, his endocrinologist was as surprised as he was. Fit, active and only 35, Moore, now the chef and owner of Sydney’s Summit restaurant, wasn’t a typical candidate for a disease linked to being overweight and over 45. But if his high blood sugar level of 29 was a shock (normal is 4 to 6) there was a bigger one to come. Ten years later - and still committed to regular running and cycling - he was at a family lunch when he had a stroke, a problem for which diabetes is a risk factor.
"Up until then my blood sugar control was good but it wasn’t perfect. What the stroke did was to sharpen my focus on all the elements of my life and now I look more carefully at what I eat,” says Moore whose diet is less sweet than it used to be.
Flavoured yoghurt is out (people think it’s healthy but it can have a lot of sugar, he points out), so is fruit juice because it delivers so much sugar without the fibre of whole fruit. Now if he drinks juice it’s mixed in a glass of water. He’s also learned to sweeten foods with agave syrup or agave nectar which are both low GI – compared to sugar with a GI of 68, agave nectar has a GI of 11 and agave syrup a GI of around 28. You can find agave (pronounced agarvay) in health food stores.
Using his experience of diabetes with his knowledge as a chef, he’s also set out to create dishes that prove that keeping diabetes under control isn’t about denial and doing without. Dishes like slow baked Turkish dates and peaches with porridge, or fresh figs on toast with ricotta that feature in his new cook book - called Blood Sugar - don’t taste of deprivation.
His isn’t the first cookbook to produce great recipes for people with diabetes, but it’s probably the most glamorous – and with Moore’s name on it also more likely to find a place in the regular cookbook sections of book shops rather than on the shelves dedicated to health. That’s part of his rationale for producing it – to promote the idea that good food and healthy food aren’t two separate things, and let the families and friends of people with diabetes know that everyone can cook and enjoy this food too.
Although Moore’s own diet is more savoury these days, he does eat sweet treats – and appreciates them more now that he eats fewer of them.
“When I have piece of chocolate cake it’s a small slice and I sit down and really enjoy it because it’s a real treat,” he says. "For anyone on a healthy diet a treat can be seen as negative or something naughty, but I think treats are important and if you build them into your diet there’s a better chance of your staying on track.”
As for dishes on the menu at the Summit, he now cooks using far less sugar, butter and cream and thinks it’s time for more chefs to showcase healthier dishes.
“I do feel that there are too many fat chefs cooking with and eating cream, chocolate, butter and caramel - and joking that it is a naughty treat. It’s a bad message,” he says.
But while Moore works at keeping his own diet blood sugar-friendly, fitting exercise into his schedule is a priority.
“I exercise five or six times a week for an hour – I run, cycle and I do weights. When my trainer asked me ‘what do you want to achieve?’ I said, ‘to live as long as possible’.”
Here's one of Moore's sweet treats - so easy.
“I do feel that there are too many fat chefs cooking with and eating cream, chocolate, butter and caramel - and joking that it is a naughty treat. It’s a bad message.”
My Simple Figs On Toast With Ricotta
4 slices of seeded bread
100g (3½oz) low-fat ricotta
2 ripe black figs (or fresh raspberries or strawberries)
1 teaspoon agave syrup
1 Toast the bread then mash the ricotta onto it using the back of a fork. Slice the figs and also mash them onto the ricotta.
2 Drizzle with a little agave syrup and enjoy with coffee or tea.
Blood Sugar is published by New Holland, $45.00
PS As a stroke survivor, Moore is also supporting the Cook for Cure fundraising project to raise money for the George Institute’s research into the polypill - a single pill that works to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Anyone can join in Cook for a Cure – the idea is to host a lunch, dinner or afternoon tea for friends to raise funds to support a range of research projects including breast cancer, asthma, food allergy, ovarian cancer, dementia, MS, leukaemia and melanoma as well as stroke. To take part go to the Cook for a Cure website.
Do you think that more chefs should showcase healthier recipes?