When two University of Alberta nutrition professors handed out a class assignment, they had no idea it would lead to a cookbook that eventually sold 4,000 copies.
Or that the university would confer diabetic researchers Drs. Catherine Chan and Rhonda Bell with the prestigious Community Connections Award for their tireless efforts in support of healthy eating.
The two influential women co-authored the Pure Prairie Eating Plan (PPEP), a cookbook that teaches people with diabetes to prepare naturally grown local food in a healthy way.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs when a person’s pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin to control blood sugar levels. For many preparing tasty and filling meals to manage their diet is a huge issue.
“People (with diabetes) said what we have to eat is different from other people and we feel deprived. It really struck a chord with me. If you look at what they eat, it’s consistent with the Canada Food Guide and it’s what everyone should be eating,” said Chan.
Diabetics often endure and suffer through huge lifestyle changes. PPEP’s explosion of interest stems from recipes that are not just diabetic friendly. Everyone at the table can savour them with pleasure.
As cookbook creators, Chan and Bell have also lessened the head-scratching calculations by providing 28 days of complete daily menus including three meals and snacks.
Although devised within a domestic science framework, the weekly menu plans are easy to read. The well-organized plans include recipes for each dish, weekly grocery lists, cooking tips and ideas on making modifications and substitutions. At the bottom of each recipe are nutrition facts and a calorie count.
“We try to make the recipes straightforward. If people want to practice healthy eating they can pick and choose or they can follow the menu plans for a week or a month,” Chan said.
Contrary to the popular myth that a diabetic diet is a bland diet, the 184-page cookbook does not skimp on the tempting dishes ranging from soups, salads and snacks to meats, desserts, cookies and quick breakfast meals.
As a sampler check out the Garlic Pepper Tenderloin Steak served with Roasted Vegetables and Herbs or the Chicken with Lime, Garlic and Cashews plated with brown rice – two dishes any palate could appreciate at the first bite.
As long-time researchers, Chan and Bell are focused on developing practical tools to help people manage diabetes. Back in 2008, they developed Physical Activity and Nutrition for Diabetes in Alberta (PANDA), a project that aims to improve metabolic control, reduce complications and generally improve the quality of life for diabetics.
In working with PANDA, the researchers gave six undergraduate students an assignment to develop a menu plan, recipes, provide handy tips with food preparation and storage guidelines.
The next step advanced the research to two trials through the Alberta Diabetes Institute. A pilot project worked with 15 diabetics. A subsequent, larger field study involved 73 people.
“They were asked to engage in diabetes education and follow the cookbook for three months. The results were quite favourable,” Chan said.
The duo spoke with nine various Alberta organizations such as the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, Alberta Crop Industry, Alberta Pulse and Potato Growers of Alberta in an effort to obtain a better sense of the local food industry.
“We said, ‘why not publish a book for everyone?’ We took the template which was the student project and worked another year to revise the menu. Many of our partners let us use recipes they developed.”
In past experiences with diabetes, the two researchers had encountered people from every culture, social position and economic strata.
“We wanted a balance. We balanced recipes that included lots of local food. We wanted to focus on food that was available to all Albertans, food readily available to everyone so as not to disadvantage some Albertans.”
Once the cookbook was completed, the duo made a “half-hearted” attempt at finding a publisher, but failed to obtain any traction.
“We decided to bite the bullet and do it ourselves.”
With grants and in-kind support from partnering food agencies, the book was published at the university and launched in January 2014.
“It got picked up by bookstores and was on Audreys Bookstore’s best seller book list for four weeks.” It is available at St. Albert’s Perron Bookstore.
Boxes of books were shipped across the prairies and marketed to dietitians at conferences.
“The goal was to promote a healthy diet for Alberta people with diabetes.”
While some diets focus on limiting food or eliminating desserts, Chan and Bell simply opted to include healthy alternatives.
“There’s no ice cream, but lots of yogurt – yogurt with fruit crisp for instance.”
Chan recognizes that the cookbook preaches to the converted.
“From our research, we know people already have a healthy diet, but this is tied to new things and we hope it will keep them motivated.”
Chan and Bell receive the Community Connections Award at a ceremony on Monday, May 2 from noon to 1 p.m. at Edmonton City Hall. Mayor Don Iveson along with university president David Turpin celebrate the recipients.
The following recipes are from the Pure Prairie Eating Plan.
Marinated Steak Sandwich with Melted Onions
1 lb. 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick sirloin or inside round marinating steak
4 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
2 tbsp. salad dressing, Greek or Italian
1 sweet onion, sliced
4 whole-wheat baguettes or buns
fresh herbs for garnish
• Combine barbecue sauce, 2 tbsp. salad dressing and garlic in a sealable freezer bag.
• Pierce steak all over with fork; drop in bag and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.
• Take steak out of bag, pat dry, season with salt and pepper. Discard marinade.
• Grill over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Let rest for 10 minutes.
• Meanwhile pan fry onions in remaining 2 tbsp. of salad dressing over low-medium heat stirring often until soft and golden, about 10 minutes.
• To serve, place steak on baguette, add onions and garnish with herbs.
Orange-Glazed Salmon over SautĂ©ed Spinach
1 orange, washed, grated and juiced
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. canola oil
tsp. red pepper flakes
1 12 oz (340 gr.) salmon fillet cut in 4 pieces
8 oz. fresh spinach
1 tsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. lemon juice
tsp. black pepper
• Combine juice from orange, honey, brown sugar, 2 tsp. canola oil and red pepper flakes.
• Arrange salmon in dish big enough to hold fillet; pour juice mixture over salmon and marinate in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Turn salmon once to distribute flavours. Discard marinade.
• Grill salmon skin side up for 5 to 7 minutes; turn and cook another 5 to 7 minutes until fish flakes easily.
• While salmon is cooking, sautĂ© spinach in 1 tsp. canola oil in a non-stick pan until it is just wilted. Season with lemon juice and pepper.
• Spoon spinach onto heated plates. Top with salmon. Sprinkle with grated orange peel and serve.