When Katie Caldesi’s husband, Giancarlo, was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes over a decade ago, the couple “didn’t take it seriously”.

Caldesi and her husband are restaurateurs, so food is a massive part of their daily life – and they initially didn’t consider making any major changes to Giancarlo’s diet.

“We didn’t take it seriously, we just thought, ‘Oh well, lots of people have that’. It’s just one of those things,” Caldesi, 60, says.

Giancarlo, now 72, was told to cut back on his sugar, so he stopped taking it in his coffee, “But there wasn’t much [more] information available at that time,” Caldesi says.

But then he got “much worse”, she remembers. “He was told he was gluten intolerant, he had all sorts of aches and pains, he had terrible gout, terrible arthritis.”

This spurred him to give up gluten – no mean feat for a pasta-loving Italian – which Caldesi says “probably saved his life”.

From there, the couple went on a journey to discover the low-carb diet. In 2015, Giancarlo’s type 2 diabetes had turned into pre-diabetes, and by 2017 he was in remission.

Caldesi doesn’t have type 2 diabetes, but she says she’s benefited from a low-carb lifestyle. “You have more energy,” she says.

“Many years ago as a secretary I used to have a high-carb lunch, and I used to have a slump after lunch at my typewriter and think that was normal. But it’s not normal to have a dip mid-afternoon – there’s no need for your body to feel like you need a nap.”

She adds: “If you keep your sugar levels stable, you don’t get the tiredness and you don’t get the extreme hunger. I had to eat as soon as I got out of bed because I thought I’m going to faint if I don’t eat. And now I go without breakfast most mornings.”

Caldesi has written her 18th cookbook, dedicated to crafting a low-carb eating plan. It’s advisable to see a doctor if you have any queries around type 2 diabetes or your personal health, but these are Caldesi’s tips for anyone who wants to try a low-carb diet.

Know that starch is sugar

This is the first point Caldesi wants everyone to know: “Starch breaks down to sugar, and I still think most people don’t realise that.”

She suggests that when Giancarlo first gave up sugar, it didn’t make much of a difference because he was still eating a lot of starchy foods.

“That’s the message he needed to have from the start, because I don’t think we really understood that starch breaks down to sugar, and so giving up sugar is one part of carbohydrate – but the other part of the carbohydrate is the starch.

“Clearly giving up sugar didn’t help his diabetes, because it got worse. It wasn’t until we gave up the starch element that he started to not only lose weight very quickly, but the inflammation went down, his arthritis went, his gout went. And when he got checked for his HBA1C [a test of your blood sugar levels] it came down to pre-diabetes levels, and then eventually came down to normal levels.”

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Use alternatives

When Giancarlo first had to give up gluten, Caldesi says she “started experimenting” with his favourite recipes, finding a low-carb option.

“I remember giving him his favourite ragu recipe, which is his father’s, sort of like a bolognese – a meaty Tuscan ragu,” she recalls.

“I remember giving him that on ribbons of white cabbage, that really looked like tagliatelle” – and he loved it.

That’s her favourite hack for a low-carb diet: “Using non-starchy vegetables as an alternative to [things like] pasta has been a game-changer for us. You can do so many things with courgettes and leeks and mushrooms – really delicious alternatives to pasta, and you have the same pasta sauce.”

But you don’t have to cut out pasta entirely.

Caldesi says: “Pasta isn’t all bad. In small portions, it’s not the end of the world. But I mix, say, 25 grams of pasta with courgette ribbons – that’s really nice, because then you feel you’ve had a bit of pasta and you’ve got the bite of pasta.”

Don’t make things restrictive

Instead of cutting out all the things you love, Caldesi emphasises the importance of replacing less healthy food with something delicious – that might be slightly better for you.

She particularly realised this when slowly shifting her children onto a low-carb diet.

“I took crisps away and I put cheese and almonds out instead,” she says. “The boys never said, ‘Where are the crisps?’ They never seemed to miss them.”

Similarly, with her husband, she knew he liked a sweet treat after a long shift at the restaurant, so she made small desserts – “chocolate mousse or an almond sponge pudding or something like that” – and he had them instead.

“If you just take things away, it’s miserable,” she says, so it’s about finding something that will work just as well instead.

Spicy root patties:

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(Serves 4 – makes 12 patties)

For the patties:

450g trimmed and peeled root vegetables (such as swede, carrot, parsnip, celeriac and turnip)

100g trimmed leek, cleaned and finely chopped

2 eggs

250g halloumi cheese, coarsely grated

60g chickpea flour

15g chives, parsley or coriander, finely chopped

2tsp ground cumin

2tsp chilli flakes or finely chopped fresh hot chilli

Optional additions:

4 fried eggs

Handful of coriander or parsley


1. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Fill a kettle and put it on.

2. Coarsely grate the root vegetables in a food processor or by hand. Put them into a bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Leave to stand for two minutes, stirring a couple of times. Pour the vegetables into a colander and leave to drain for a few minutes. When cool enough to touch, thoroughly squeeze the mixture in a tea towel to get rid of the excess water.

3. Drop the squeezed vegetables into a large mixing bowl.

4. Heat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan (425°F), Gas Mark 7.

5. Now add the leek, eggs, halloumi, flour, herbs and spices and stir through to combine. Divide the mixture into 12 (each roughly 70 gram) balls and gently squeeze them into burger shapes with your hands, squeezing out any further moisture. Lay each one on the prepared baking tray and flatten slightly, then bake in the oven for 20–25 minutes until golden brown and just firm to the touch.

5. Serve with a fried egg on top if you like, scattered with coriander or parsley, if using.

Seafood and nduja stew:


(Serves 8)

4tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

80–100g nduja

4 garlic cloves, lightly crushed

2 onions, finely sliced

500g fresh, or frozen and defrosted, raw calamari (squid), cleaned and cut into 1cm rings

200ml dry white wine

3 × 400g cans Italian plum tomatoes, chopped

1tbsp tomato purée

250g clams or mussels or a mixture

1–2tsp smoked paprika (optional)

500g monkfish, cod or coley or other firm fish, cut into bite-sized pieces

250g raw prawns, heads left intact, shells and black veins removed

Small handful of parsley, leaves and stems roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

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1. Heat the olive oil and 80 grams of the nduja in a frying pan (with a lid) over a medium heat for a few minutes, bashing the nduja with a wooden spoon to break it up. Add the garlic and onions, then continue to cook for around 10 minutes, stirring to prevent it burning, until the onion is soft.

2. Add the calamari to the pan and let it cook until the water is released from the calamari, about 10 minutes. When the calamari has a ‘bouncy’ appearance, add the wine and allow this to evaporate for five minutes. Add the tomatoes and the purée and bring the stew to a bubbling heat. Then lower the heat and simmer for at least one-and-a-half hours, partially covered, or until the calamari is soft.

3. Keep the clams or mussels in the fridge until you are ready to use them. Generally they are purged and cleaned when you buy them but to be sure, put them into a bowl of cold water and stir them through. Leave them for 20–30 minutes in a cool place (the fridge if your kitchen isn’t cool), stirring a few times to encourage them to release any grit. Pick over them, discarding any that remain open once tapped. Pull any fuzzy beards off the mussels. Discard any shellfish with broken shells. Drain and use straight away.

4. Taste the stew and add more nduja or smoked paprika for spice or salt and pepper. The stew can be cooled and kept for one to two days at this point, if it makes entertaining easier. Reheat until bubbling before continuing.

5. Just before serving, drop the monkfish, prawns and mussels, if using, into the hot stew with the lid on and continue to cook for around 10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through, the prawns are pink and the clams or mussels have opened (discard any that haven’t). Serve straight away with the parsley scattered over.

Chocolate, date and walnut brownies:

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(Makes 18 brownies)

125g walnuts, macadamia nuts or pecans, halved

60g pitted dates, roughly chopped or 100g erythritol

3tbsp hot water (if using dates)

125g dark chocolate (at least 75% cocoa solids)

75g salted or unsalted butter

Pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter)

100g ground almonds

2 eggs, beaten

½tsp baking powder

2tsp vanilla extract


1. Heat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan (425°F), Gas Mark 7.

2. While the oven is warming, put the nuts on a baking tray lined with baking paper and lightly brown in the oven for six to eight minutes; do watch carefully as they burn easily. Use the paper to shoot the nuts onto a plate to cool. Return the paper to the tin. Turn the oven off and close the door to retain the heat, as you’ll use it again later.

3. Line a 20-centimetre square cake tin or similar-sized ovenproof dish with baking paper. Soak the dates, if using, in the hot water for a couple of minutes. Use a fork to mash them to a purée.

4. Roughly chop the nuts; each nut should be cut into around four pieces. Reheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan (425°F), Gas Mark 7.

5. Place the chocolate and butter in a small heatproof bowl and melt together in the microwave for a couple of minutes. If you don’t have a microwave, melt the chocolate and butter in a glass or metal bowl over a pan of simmering water, ensuring the bowl does not touch the water.

6. Add the date purée or erythritol and stir through. If your butter does not contain salt, add a pinch now. Add the remaining ingredients, including the chopped roasted nuts, and stir through to combine. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 15 minutes until firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so.

7. Use the paper to remove the brownies from the tin, then cut into 18 squares. Serve at room temperature on their own or with Greek yoghurt or whipped cream and a dash of vanilla extract.

The Diabetes Weight-Loss Plan by Katie Caldesi is published by Kyle Books