By Sally Squires
Washington Post Staf Writer
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Gail Rutter of Frederick had a problem. Diagnosed earlier this year with diabetes, she and her two grown children thought that their traditional Christmas dinner would be off limits because of its high fat content and added sugar.
"When my kids learned that I had Type 2 diabetes," said Rutter, "they said, 'Oh my gosh, there goes all the good food that we like to eat.' "
So Rutter sought a holiday-meal makeover from restaurateur, television host and chef B. Smith. Smith has personal interest in diabetes: Her parents, mother-in-law and brother have all struggled with the disease, which afflicts about 20 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. "My brother just died of diabetes complications," said Smith during an interview at her eponymous restaurant at Union Station, one of three she runs with her husband, Dan Gasby.
Smith has teamed with Merck and Co. and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists on Journey for Control, an online diabetes education program aimed at patients and health-care professionals. Healthy recipes, nutrition and exercise tips are included. Participants in the program also applied to have their own recipes updated by Smith.
Last week, Smith delivered an early Christmas present to Rutter: her holiday favorites, made healthier. In a banquet room converted into a television studio for the day, the two seemed to have instant rapport. "She was so elegant and warmhearted that I felt like we had known each other forever," Rutter, 54, said later.
Like a television veteran, Rutter stood under the bright lights with Smith as the easygoing former model taught her how to make a lighter version of macaroni and cheese, the Rutter family's traditional Christmas side dish for Smith's Web site. During a dress rehearsal, Smith showed Rutter how to glaze her family's favorite ham with pineapple and cloves instead of honey, and advised adding a green salad to round out the meal.
Then they tackled the biggest challenge: dessert.
At the Rutter household -- which includes her children Christopher, 28, a District firefighter, and Emily, 25, an administrative assistant -- Christmas dinner isn't complete without cheesecake. Nor is it just any cheesecake. It's a mouth-watering recipe passed down to Rutter from her mother-in-law, loaded with fat and sweetened with sugar.
Smith and registered dietitian Samantha Heller replaced the full-fat cream cheese with a combination of low-fat cream cheese and nonfat vanilla yogurt, and the sugar with Splenda; they also added poppy seeds and orange zest for more flavor. The cheesecake is baked in a whole-grain graham cracker crust.
"I want people to know that diabetes is manageable," said Smith, who advocates making easy changes at home, from swapping brown rice, whole-grain bread and pasta for white, processed versions and using nonstick pans and healthy sprays of olive or canola oil.
"Small steps can really add up," said Smith, who says she loves lightening up Cajun, Creole and traditional foods, including gumbo.
Rutter got the message loud and clear. An administrative assistant at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville, Rutter tests her blood sugar every morning. Through diet and exercise, she has lost 17 pounds since her diagnosis and has controlled her diabetes.
For her, the best part of the holiday-food makeover was the cheesecake. "That recipe surprised me the most," she said. "The cheesecake was wonderful. . . . You could get by and serve that, and nobody would know" that it's lower in calories.
Don't tell anyone, but that's what Rutter plans to do for her office's upcoming holiday party.