The Happy Diabetic Chef
A type 2 diagnosis turned Robert Lewis into the Pied Piper of diabetes with his welcome smile, hopeful message, and good-for-you recipes. Learn about the Happy Diabetic’s mission, plus sample a few of his diabetes-friendly dishes and download a FREE vegetable roasting guide.
Getting Happy and Healthy
When Robert Lewis, the Happy Diabetic, was told in 1998 that he had type 2 diabetes, the chef from Davenport, Iowa, just didn’t get it. Then his wife signed him up for a seminar on living with diabetes, and it finally hit him: Lewis realized he had to adjust his ways of living and eating.
Lewis, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and is director of training and development for Happy Joe’s pizza shops, put his chef training to work. He started creating diabetes-friendly recipes and teaching a healthy-eating course at a community college.
One of his students asked him to participate in the Women’s Health and Lifestyle Fair, which included television cooking demos leading up to the event. At his daughter’s suggestion, Lewis entered with a title befitting his cheerful demeanor: “The Happy Diabetic chef.” After one demo he found his table of recipes surrounded by a bunch of women. “We’re here to buy your cookbook!” they chanted.
“That was my lightbulb moment,” Lewis says. “I came home and decided I’d write a cookbook. If I make a difference, wouldn’t that be an amazing thing? And I better make sure I know what I’m talking about.” Lewis turned to the resources he’d first resisted—dietitians and diabetes educators—to learn more.
He self-published his first book, Get Happy, Get Healthy: Recipes from the Kitchen of Chef Robert Lewis. Next came The Happy Diabetic: Simply Desserts.
We've included three recipes from Lewis’ latest cookbook, Cook Fresh, Live Happy, that feature fresh ingredients.
Roasted Mediterranean Chicken
Lewis incorporates roasted vegetables into many of his dishes, including this low-carb Mediterranean-inspired meal featuring roasted chicken, onions, mushrooms, and peppers. “People are used to boiling vegetables, and they overcook and kill them,” he says. “Roasting makes vegetables irresistible.”
Chia-Crusted Oven-Roasted Tuna with Mango Fruit Salsa
In his unique take on a lean tuna dinner, the chef coated tuna fillets with crunchy chia seeds, then topped the low-carb meal with balsamic glaze and fruity salsa.
Beef and Roasted Vegetable Soup
Roasted root veggies and lean ground beef are the stars of this flavorful diabetic recipe. With just 5 grams of fat and 25 grams of carb per serving, the hearty soup satisfies without weighing you down.
Creating Good Habits
Lewis presents at about 35 events a year. “I have no PowerPoint,” he says with trademark cheer. “I cook, we talk, we laugh. I’ve got to bring a little joy and love to the gloom and doom.”
He reaches out to everyone. “You aren’t not worthy because you’ve got diabetes,” he says. “So now just suck it up and figure out how to live better. Is it difficult? Absolutely. Is it challenging? Absolutely. I get it. I live with diabetes.”
Lewis approaches his type 2 with a plan. “It’s a diabetic lifestyle, but it’s also how everyone should be eating,” he says. He also emphasizes exercising and regular visits with doctors and dentists. When it comes to eating, Lewis quotes Steven Edelman, M.D., of Taking Control of Your Diabetes: “You are not what you eat, you are how much you eat.” Keeping that in mind, here’s Lewis’ strategy: Create good habits. “I don’t deny myself anything, but I control what I eat,” he says. “I love ice cream, but I can’t eat it like I used to. So Friday is ice cream day.”
To deal with notoriously large restaurant portions, Lewis uses his pare-and-share method: He and his wife split an order. This way he eats what he wants but controls the portion. The bonus: “The bill is half the price, which is always a beautiful thing,” he adds.
For more information about the chef’s schedule and how to get his cookbooks, go to happydiabetic.com.