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Taming Sugar Cravings and Balancing Blood Sugar: What I Learned at Monica Pope's New Food-as-Medicine Dinner

A salad of steamed rainbow chard and pickled red cabbage is beautiful, nutrient rich, and won't cause your blood sugar to spike.
A salad of steamed rainbow chard and pickled red cabbage is beautiful, nutrient rich, and won't cause your blood sugar to spike.
Photo by Mai Pham

"If there's one thing you remember from tonight, remember 15 grams," said Ali Miller, a registered dietitian who practices functional medicine. It was the inaugural dinner for the new Food-as-medicine dinner series she'd designed with chef Monica Pope at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop, and we were about half-way through her lecture on how to tame sugar cravings and balance blood sugar.

My ears perked as I committed her message to memory: "I want you to think of 15 grams of carbs as a virtual slice of bread. So if you look at the label on that yogurt you're planning to buy, and it says 45 grams, it means you're eating three slices of bread; and if you have a milkshake that contains 90 grams of carbs, it's like eating seven slices of bread."

Nutritionist Ali Miller (standing left) gives a lecture on how to balance blood sugar and tame sugar cravings.
Nutritionist Ali Miller (standing left) gives a lecture on how to balance blood sugar and tame sugar cravings.
Photo by Mai Pham

I found myself repeating this information to one of my friends the very next day. Over the last year, she'd started gaining significant weight, and though I'd tried to discourage her from indulging in large cups of her favorite sugared drinks (she loves to drink those Taiwanese bubble teas), when I pulled out Miller's virtual slice of bread analogy, it was like a light popped off in her head. "Ohhhh...." she groaned in dawning comprehension, as she realized how her pounds had easily added up. "That's crazy."

Did you know that in 2010, the average person consumed 175 pounds of sugar per person, per year? This equates to 42 teaspoons of sugar per day, up from the 17th century average of four pounds per person per year. It's the reason why our nation has seen an increase in what's being coined as "diabesity," in which obesity and diabetes are linked together, because when we eat excess carbs, our sugar levels spike, and this stimulates our body to store fat.

My family has a history of diabetes, so I already knew a lot of this information. Still, it was good to hear it reinforced as she discussed the root cause of sugar cravings, the evolution of processed foods to stimulate sugar cravings, and the concept of "dysglycemia," which signifies an imbalance of sugar in the body.

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Packed with healthy nut fats and flavor, this pumpkinseed and pistachio hummus kicked off our evening.
Packed with healthy nut fats and flavor, this pumpkinseed and pistachio hummus kicked off our evening.
Photo by Mai Pham

It was also good to see her lecture -- the crux of which is that we need reconnect with whole foods and their nutritional value -- put into practice via Pope's menu, which was low in carbs and rich in fresh produce, healthy fats, and packed with nutrients.

I loved the pumpkinseed and pistachio "hummus" she served for our first course. Instead of pita or chips, it was served with with some fresh vegetables for dipping-- daikon, green beans, carrots and radishes -- and had this nutty, velvety texture, like an almond butter.

To balance blood sugar, Miller advised, we need to limit our carbohydrate intake to about one to three choices (15 to 45 grams of carbs) in each meal. The nut hummus fit the bill, as did our second course, a bright pink salad of steamed rainbow chard with pickled red cabbage and turnips, topped with caraway cheddar and served with about a spoonful of creamy avocado-buttermilk "ranch"-type dressing.

Simple and perfect: Heritage smoked chicken broth with a perfect egg.
Simple and perfect: Heritage smoked chicken broth with a perfect egg.
Photo by Mai Pham

The third course was my favorite of the night, a small cup of goodness in the form of heritage smoked chicken broth. Made with chicken feet and necks, the broth, which had strips of chicken in it, was thick, rich, and gelatinous. Miller talked about how such a broth would be filled with collagen and the amino acids from the bones -- nutrients that are good for our skin, hair and nails -- a win-win, because the broth, which had been topped with a perfectly cooked egg, was absolutely delicious.

For our fourth course, we had a choice of wild caught salmon or grass-fed Kobe cutlet -- both served with fava beans, herbs, grassfed butter and a blueberry sauce. I chose the wild caught salmon, and while I imagined that the blueberry sauce would go better with the beef, I felt good about my choice.

Go with wild-caught salmon to maximize the nutritional value of your fish.
Go with wild-caught salmon to maximize the nutritional value of your fish.
Photo by Mai Pham

The evening ended with a question and answer session, during which people asked for advice on how to get their kids off high-carb cereals, or how they could afford farm fresh foods. Pope chimed in to talk about the crop "shares" she offers as a way to help people connect with local farmers (You purchase them ahead of time, then pick them up on Tuesdays and Thursdays for just $28).

In the end, the big takeaways of the night were: 1) Limit your per-meal sugar intake to 45 grams; 2) consume adequate protein from sources such as grass-fed, wild, pasture-raised, organic meat, fish, poultry eggs, cheeses, yogurts, nuts and tofu; 3) Eat healthy fats from sources like avocado and olive oil; 4) Satisfy your sweet tooth naturally with two to three fruits per day, and pair these with fat and protein to balanced your blood sugar. Sounds doable, doesn't it?

There are five more Food-As-Medicine dinners, which take place on Monday nights. Do something positive for yourself, and join the meal and the discussion by purchasing tickets here: http://sparrowhouston.ticketleap.com

Monday, June 16 - Improving your Digestion Monday, July 21 - Heart Health with Food as Medicine Monday, September 15 - Cancer Fighting Foods Monday, October 20 - Boosting your Immune System with Food as Medicine Monday, December 8 - Mindful Eating

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Sparrow Bar + Cookshop

3701 Travis St.
Houston, TX 77002

713-524-6922

www.sparrowhouston.com


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