Diabetes Diet #59: There’s Always More To Learn

Diabetes Recipes:

Zucchini with Mint
Fregula with Jumbo Shrimp

There’s Always More To Learn

Sardinia, the second-largest island off Italy’s coast is situated across from Corsica and north of Tunisia. It is a place that, after thousands of years of invasion and occupation, has remained fiercely independent and self-sustaining. Its people say “Sono Sardo, poi Italiano” (first I am Sardinian, then Italian). The natural beauty of the island woos one to linger and explore the miles of crystalline coast, rugged caves and coves, ancient stone towers, the silken sand and blue-green waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The rough-hewn mountainous center of the island shimmers with olive groves, grapes, herds of goats, small villages and countless sheep. The island is truly a paradise. Besides being interesting and beautiful, there are a couple medical mysteries about Sardinia that have scientists scratching their heads. Sardinia claims its place as one of the top “blue” spots for longevity, where people live to be well over 100, and next to Finland, it has the highest instances of type 1 diabetes in the world.

Recently I attended the First Italian Diabetes and Physical Activity Global Forum in Villasimius, Sardinia and learned some interesting things about diabetes and exercise, as well as a few theories on why certain areas of Sardinia have an extraordinarily high type 1 population.

The forum was a call to arms supported by the Italian Ministry for Health to incorporate exercise as a therapeutic prescription for the treatment of diabetes and for those at risk. A task of the meeting was to establish guidelines and initiatives to further promote this concept and create a consensus document to put into play on a national level in hospitals, diabetes clinics, and diabetes organizations. Wouldn’t that be great to have that same “exercise is medicine” reality here at home!

Opposites Attract?

They seem so opposite, Sardinia and Finland. What is it that makes these geographically and culturally diverse places so susceptible to type 1 diabetes? Theories abound (google Sardinia and diabetes, you’ll find countless studies and hunches) but facts remain rather inexplicable. One theory is that a common genetic root, the Y chromosome specifically, may have traveled from Northern Europe to Sardinia from as long ago as the Ice Age. Another theory is that unusual dietary patterns cause higher than normal prevalence of an inborn defect in the metabolism of vitamin D that interferes with absorption.

My purpose for attending the forum was to determine and report on the possibility of holding a 2010 international congress on diabetes and physical activity for DESA (www.diabetes-exercise.org). Sardinia seems the perfect place for such an event. (I’ll keep you posted). Medical professionals and researchers can delve into exploring the diabetes connection between Finland and Sardinia. Type 1’s and type 2’s, along with their families, can, besides attending lectures and diabetes workshops, enjoy the many sport and exercise opportunities that abound (hiking, running in the hills, horseback riding, rowing, kayaking, swimming, sailing and naturally, playing soccer).

Saving the Best for Last

The food …. Oh, the food…. it almost left me swooning. After a meal or 2 of ripe sun-kissed vegetables and fruit, fish caught locally and served that day… this, blended with an attitude of slow-paced enjoyment of a meal, makes any “foodie” feel they have traveled to food nirvana.

It’s impossible to duplicate the flavors and tastes, but I told cooks and locals about you, the visitors to Cyber Kitchen, and they generously offered wonderful recipes that I shall pass on. Best, of course, is to go to Sardinia and enjoy local Mediterranean flavors with a glass of light crisp local wine. Well, maybe next year……

Sardinian Cyber Kitchen Recipes

The Sardinian diet is the essence of what this humble chef and writer feel is the perfect balance of healthy nutrients, fresh locally grown foods prepared in a simple style that incorporates olive oil, lemon, and garlic to complement dishes. Meals are served in small courses usually with pasta or soup first, the main course of fish or white meat with vegetables, and a refreshing salad to aid digestion at the end. Desserts are primarily a little cheese and fresh fruit.

An expression in Sardinia goes ….” Eat pane da musica (music bread)and live to be cent’ anni (100 years) !

Zucchini with Mint (6 servings)
1 ½ T. olive oil
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 lbs. local dark green zucchini, cubed into large bite-sized pieces
Pinch of salt
3 T. each: flat-leaf parsley and mint, shredded
½ cup crumbled Ricotta Salata cheese**
2 sheets pane carasau (Sardinian music bread)**

  1. Warm oil in skillet over medium heat. Add scallions and sauté for 1 minute. Add zucchini, parsley, and salt. Lower heat a little and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes until zucchini is tender.
  2. Add mint and cheese. Toss. Cook for 1 minute. Serve over each piece of music bread.

Nutritional Value: ½ cup zucchini mixture with 1/3 piece of bread = 160 cal, 5 fat grams, 7 grams protein, 22 carb grams

**Ricotta Salata is aged ricotta cheese with salt added. It is easily found in any specialty cheese store. Many supermarkets now carry it also.
**pane carasau is a traditional Sardinian paper-thin flat bread that is known as music bread because the pieces are so thin they resemble sheets of music. It can be found at www.gourmetsardinia.com. Its crispness and rich olive taste is truly unique and delicious. Worth ordering if you cannot find it at a local Italian specialty grocer. You can substitute the tiniest possible crisp bread in a pinch.

Fregula with Jumbo shrimp (6 servings)
16 fresh jumbo shrimp with heads on
1 carrot, 2 ribs celery, sliced
1 ripe tomato, sliced
½ small red onion, sliced
½ lb.fregula** or substitute Israeli couscous
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
Shredded fresh flat-leaf parsley and basil leaves for garnish

  1. Peel and devein shrimp. Place heads and shells in a pot and add vegetables plus 4 ½ cups water. Season with s & p. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 40 minutes.
  2. Strain broth, pressing solids to extract liquid. Add water or dry white wind if necessary to measure 4 cups. Return to heat. Add fregula, bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring regularly, for 10 minutes or cooked al dente.
  3. Add shrimp and simmer another 5 minutes. Divide among 6 bowls. Drizzle each with olive oil and garnish with parsley and basil.

Nutritional Value: 1 portion = cal 175, 15 protein grams, 25 carb grams, 6 fat grams

** fregula, sometimes spelled fregola, can be found at any Italian specialty shop. It is Sardinian semolina pasta infused with Sardinian saffton. It can be used in soups, salads, side dishes, and with sauces. If you cannot find it locally, order it from www.gourmetsardina.com