Bestselling cookbook author and nutritionist Marlene Koch (pronounced, serendipitously, “cook”) has been dubbed a “magician in the kitchen” when it comes to creating great-tasting, healthy recipes that everyone can enjoy, including those with diabetes!
DH: You mentioned you come from a big family. Tell me a little bit about your background:
Marlene Koch (MK): I grew up in a large food-loving family, the fifth child in a family of nine. In our house, big family dinners were a daily event. My mother lived in the kitchen (and at 82 still does). One of my fondest childhood memories is sitting at our kitchen table. My father custom-built it from a picnic table because the benches allowed for more seating. I loved to watch my mother cook, and by the time I was in high school I had become the family baker. My family still loves to get together, and to eat! Sunday dinners are still a tradition, and our brood has grown with the addition of children and in-laws. Last Thanksgiving I believe we had thirty at the table, only now my place is in the kitchen with Mom.
DH: Obviously, food is in your blood. Where does your nutrition know-how come from?
MK: I hate to admit it, but I was overweight as an adolescent. Switching out swimming, my early childhood sport, for television and junk food packed on the pounds.Years of dieting, learning about the calories and my food choices, and getting back to being active slimmed me down and piqued a personal interest in the nutritional side of food. Professionally, I graduated from UCLA with a degree in nutritional science. I am a registered dietitian and have advanced training in child and adolescent weight management.
DH: How did you get into writing cookbooks?
MK: Quite by accident! After years of working in food service and as a personal nutrition counselor, I wound up in Columbus, Ohio, as a culinary nutritionist teaching nutrition to chefs and healthy cooking to the public. It was there, while trying to teach a low-sugar baking class, that I discovered sucralose (sold as Splenda). I can’t tell you how excited I was. Although I had conquered delicious low-fat and lower calorie recipes, baking truly scrumptious desserts without sugar had never worked for me before. Given that my own stepdaughter had just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, the idea that I would be able make her a delicious cake that would easily fit into her meal plan was thrilling. When I shared my excitement with a book editor, she encouraged me to write a cookbook. The rest, as they say, is history.
DH: How has your stepdaughter’s type 2 diabetes affected your work?
MK: Enormously. Colleen loves food, especially sweets. As I craft recipes, I often think about how easily they would fit into her meal plan. Although my recipes have always been great for those trying to eat healthier, Colleen, and now my father, who also has type 2 diabetes, have made me far more carbohydrate-conscious.
DH: So you’ve been taking the sugar out of your recipes?
MK: Yes. Although small amounts of added sugar are acceptable in any diet, including a diabetic diet, excessive amounts are not healthy for anyone. The healthy recommendation for added sugar for all of us is no more than eight to 10 teaspoons per day. Unfortunately, we now eat an average of twice that amount, or more. A regular piece of carrot cake is filled and frosted with as many as 18 teaspoons of sugar and has over 75 grams of carbohydrate. In contrast, my version has the equivalent of just 1-1/2 teaspoons of sugar and only 22 grams of carbohydrate. In addition to reducing the sugar, I balance all of the carbohydrates in my recipes and use whole grains whenever possible. Consequently, foods like sandwiches and pastas can also easily fit into diabetic meal plans.
DH: In developing your recipes, what else do you consider?
MK: Taste, taste, taste! Taste has to come first. If something doesn’t taste good, no one is going to want to eat it. I truly believe that everyone deserves good health AND great taste. And neither my family, which includes teenage boys, nor the chefs who try my recipes show any mercy when critiquing them.
DH: You’ve been very successful. Why do you think that is?
MK: I honestly don’t believe that anyone wants to, or should have to, give up the foods they love. Everyone deserves dessert. I try to help people attain their goals, whether it’s losing weight, controlling their blood sugar, or just being healthy, in a way that’s easy and delicious. Bouncing between deprivation and guilt while struggling to avoid the foods you enjoy is not fun. Chocolate cake is.
DH: You’ve been called a “magician in the kitchen.” Why is that?
MK: There is nothing magical about eliminating sugar, fat, and calories from recipes, It’s in doing so and still ending up with food that tastes great. The title came from a food editor who was amazed that I could do just that.