Try this tasty kitchen switch-up for a healthier you

Some time around my 60th birthday, I had a thorough physical. I went into the doctor’s office pretty cocky. I enjoyed robust good health and was within 10 pounds of my high school weight. I worked out at least five days a week, and I even taught a few fitness classes. My diet, if not perfect, relied heavily on nutritious foods that included fresh vegetables and lean protein. My vice of choice was red wine, which I enjoyed most nights with dinner.

Imagine my surprise when, a few days later, my doctor called to tell me my blood test indicated I was pre-diabetic and at risk for developing full-blown diabetes. Most people who get this diagnosis are sedentary or overweight or both. My lifestyle and eating habits, though healthy, needed fine-tuning.

Since it was clear that more exercise wouldn’t fix the problem, I had to look at my diet for solutions to my health issues. As a food writer, I’ve befriended a number of registered dieticians and nutritionists in my career. With their input, I shaped a food plan that would help me avoid the devastating health consequences of diabetes.

My first step was reframing my relationship with carbohydrates. As an endurance athlete (19 marathons and hundreds of road races), I was schooled in the efficacy of carbohydrates to fuel an active body. I relied on a high-carb, low-fat diet. It turns out, my food choices were working against me.

Most days my go-to breakfast was toast or a bran muffin, lunch was often a turkey sandwich and my default dinner when I was too tired to cook a proper meal was pasta with vegetables, which I enjoyed several times a week. My diet was heavy on carbohydrates and light on protein—just the opposite of what my body needed.

And there was the wine…

Now I find ways to up my veggie and protein intake, while reducing carbohydrates. I eat a lot of vegetables—for lunch and dinner. Most Sundays I roast a chicken to add to salads throughout the week. Instead of a turkey and cheese sandwich, I’ll make turkey and cheese lettuce rollups. Breakfast is yogurt and fruit or a veggie omelet.

And I’ve cut way back on the wine.

I miss pasta. I miss rice. I miss potatoes. But I’m finding tasty food hacks that can take their place. Cauliflower is a miracle ingredient in my diet these days. I make a cauliflower and sweet potato mash to substitute for mashed potatoes, I have a great recipe for cauliflower “mac” and cheese. I even make pizza with a cauliflower crust. And I’ve finally perfected a new version of an old favorite.

Friends, I give you…

Photo by Candace Karu

Spiced Shrimp and Cheesy Cauliflower “Grits”

1 large head cauliflower
1/2 cup chicken broth (or vegetable)
1/2 cup half & half
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
Dash of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Trim and core cauliflower and cut into small pieces. Chop pieces in food processor until they are the consistency of rice grains.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, add broth and simmer until liquid is absorbed, about 8–10 minutes.
Add half & half and slowly incorporate cheeses. Add a bit more liquid for a creamier consistency.
Season with cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

1 pound jumbo shrimp (21–25 count), peeled and deveined

For Shrimp Spice:
1 1/2 teaspoons mild chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2+ tablespoons olive oil

(To save time and ingredients, you can find a variety of spice rubs off the shelf. Try to avoid those with added salt and sugar.)
Combine dry spice ingredients thoroughly.
Generously coat shrimp with the spice mixture. Save what you don’t use in airtight container for another dish.
Heat olive oil over medium high heat in large non-stick sauté pan.
Cook shrimp on each side until just pink, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Do not overcook.
Serve on a bed of Cheesy Cauliflower Grits.

Candace Karu makes her living writing about food, fitness and travel. She lives near the ocean in an old farmhouse with two ill-behaved dogs and two hard-working barn cats. Follow her on Instagram: @candacekaru or at


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