A few months ago, Danny and I were wandering through the West Seattle farmers’ market, like we do some summer Sundays. Cucumbers, apricots, locally caught salmon. They all looked familiar. And then we strolled past a stall we didn’t know. Keep It Real Food Company. And we turned around to look more closely.
I caught the words gluten-free first. And then I saw “no-grain granola,” along with small peanut butter cookies and brownies. Well, I have to try any new gluten-free foods at the farmers’ markets. I like to support my fellow bakers and gluten-free folks. I didn’t expect much out of the granola, to be honest. How could granola without oats be good? Danny and I both looked at each other in surprise after the first taste. This granola, made with almonds, apples, lots of our favorite seeds, coconut oil, and a bit of honey? It was good. We took a bag home to try for breakfast for the next day. All three of us loved it, including Danny, who is a skeptic of any foods that feel too new. That bag was empty soon.
Katie Coleman runs Keep It Real Food Company. She’s thoughtful, genuine, warm, and astute. And she makes some darned-fine food. I find myself wishing I had stacks of her almond-apricot squares on me all the time for that after-swimming dip in energy Lu always has in the late afternoon. This is real food, made well.
We’re happy to share that Keep It Real Food Company is our latest sponsor. We hope you’ll order plenty of Katie’s food for yourself and your family. And we’ll let you tell you more about why she makes this food for you.
(Read through to the end for the giveaway.)
What compelled you to create this food? Why is your food grain-free? Why is it sugar-free?
When I was 11 years old, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. (Type 1 diabetes is a rare, unpreventable autoimmune disease caused by an overly-active immune system. There is no cure. Where many cases of type 2, the more common form of diabetes that we are all familiar with, can be treated through oral medication and in some cases even reversed, type 1 is treated through insulin injections.) As an active, soccer-loving kid with a sweet tooth, it was more than a bummer to hear how much work would be involved in maintaining a healthy lifestyle with the disease. I would need to learn how to test my blood sugar, count carbohydrates, and worst of all, give myself daily insulin injections — a hefty responsibility for a sixth grader.
At that time, the recommendation from my health care team was to switch to artificial sweeteners and whole grains. A well-meaning neighbor brought over some sugar-free candy containing the artificial sweetener sorbitol, but warned me not to eat them all at once because of the stomachache I would likely get from the chemical. After realizing that many commercial products claiming to be “low-sugar”, “sugar-free”, or “diabetic friendly” not only tasted fake but still contained a sizable amount of carbohydrates (because of white flour or other high-glycemic ingredients), my mom and I started experimenting with whole grains, since those had more fiber to slow down the absorption of glucose in my body (not to mention the added nutrients).
As an adult, I continued baking with whole grains more and more, while becoming increasingly skeptical of foods that claimed to be “healthy” but had a long list of chemicals in the ingredients.
I first opened for business in 2011 with a different name and focus. I had heard from nutritionists over and over about the benefits of whole grains, and I knew they were better for me. So, my business started as a whole grain bakery. Basically, I made a variety of baked goods using whole wheat (or other whole grain flours) and simply LESS sugar. It was important to me to use only naturally healthy ingredients, and most of all, it was important that my products were delicious and low-glycemic. (Eating low-glycemic foods is important for everyone — not just people with diabetes. A lifetime of blood sugar spikes can lead to type 2 diabetes).
However, during the first year in business, a combination of events, research, and conversations with customers made me realize that, despite being full of “healthy whole grains,” most of my products were not in fact healthy for me.
In order to manage my diabetes, I wear a continuous glucose monitor. It charts my blood glucose level in real time so I can see how a food affects my blood sugar levels soon after I eat it. Although my products contained large amounts of fiber from the whole grains, they still substantially increased my blood sugar levels, requiring me to take more insulin. It was also during this time that I realized that the recipes I was most excited about (those that had the smallest effect on my blood sugar levels) were those that contained NO grains at all. That, combined with the research I had been reading about gluten and wheat, inspired me to change the focus (and the name) of my business.
Many people come up to me at the farmers market and get thrown off by the fact that some of my products contain small amounts of honey or coconut sugar. They think the only thing that matters for a food to have a low glycemic index is the sugar content. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that. Even though my products do contain small amounts of naturally healthy sweeteners, they also contain large amounts of healthy fats and fiber. This is where the magic happens. When you eat a snack containing a small amount of carbohydrates combined with a sizable amount of healthy fats and fiber, the fats and fiber actually slow down the absorption of the carbohydrates. Although this is common knowledge in the nutrition world, I had come to this conclusion through experimenting on my own body, and watching my glucose monitor.
Have you found it difficult to eat well avoiding grains and sugar?
I’ve been avoiding grains and sugar since before it was in style
In all seriousness, I’ve spent the last 20 years (I’m always surprised at how long I’ve had diabetes) learning how to keep my blood sugar levels in control. What I realized in the last ten is that what I was learning about has a name: the glycemic index.
The foods I learned to avoid from experience are some of the foods with high glycemic index values, meaning that they raise blood sugar levels very high very quickly. The foods I avoid are:
juice and other sugary drinks (except when treating low blood sugar)
candy (and I’m NOT including dark chocolate in this category)
It’s not difficult for me mainly because it’s been a transition that has taken shape over many years. Some of these things were obvious to avoid from the very beginning (candy and soda), but others I realized over time. It’s amazing how eating a grain or starch with meals is so ingrained in our culture. But, once you make it a habit to add a pile of delicious vegetables, you stop missing the bread and potatoes.
One thing I highly recommend is signing up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) or, as I like to call it, “veggie box.” I’ve been getting one every two weeks for five years now, and I credit it as the reason I know how to cook vegetables of all sorts.
As for sugar, I believe that many of us are familiar with the idea that you can actually lower the intensity of your sweet tooth, or your body’s “sugar tolerance.” I definitely recommend if anybody is looking to lower their sugar intake, to understand that it can be done over time by eating foods that are less and less sweet until your body stops craving it. A piece of dark chocolate is a perfect way to end a meal (start with 60% dark, then 70%… until you get to 90%).
I also find that the taste of creaminess is often just as satisfying to me as sweetness. Many foods that are marked “low fat” contain extra sugar to make up for the lost fat. I’ve switched back to full fat ice cream and yogurt — I find that I eat less, it has less impact on my blood sugar levels, and I feel more satisfied. All of this leads to fewer calories consumed in the long run!
Lastly, to give a quick plug, many of my customers love my products because they are not too sweet. They actually have flavor! One small cookie goes a long way when it’s full of healthy fats, lots of fiber, and just the right amount of vitamin-rich coconut sugar
Can you tell us the story of a customer who has been pleased by your food?
I try to make it clear that Keep It Real Food Co. products are delicious and healthy for everyone, not just people with diabetes or those of us who eat gluten-free. Therefore, it makes me happy when I hear from customers with no particular dietary needs or concerns who just really love my food. One customer comes to mind — she’s a mom with two young boys (and a Keep It Coming subscriber). She and her husband both work full time, so it’s really important to her that the boys have healthy snacks while she’s at work. Their family eats the no-grain granola for breakfast, almond apricot squares for snacks, and peanut butter cookies and black bean brownies for dessert. I know she’s happy that our products are healthy, and I’m happy that two young boys love my black bean brownies.
What fuels you to do the work you do?
Literally? Coffee, dark chocolate, lots of veggies, and wine
But seriously, I know I’m lucky to do what I do and to have a personal connection to it. My diabetes allows me to measure the affect foods have on my body, and I hope to use this information to help others sort through all the food available to us today. I love that I offer something different that people can trust to be delicious AND healthy.
I also think it’s a really exciting time to be involved in the world of food. You can’t read a newspaper these days without seeing a headline about food or nutrition, and farmers markets are actually in style! Everybody is starting to pay attention, and I think our world will be a better place because of it.
We think you’ll like the food from Keep It Real Food Company as much as we do. Katie has kindly offered to supply us with a package of food for one lucky winner. She’s including a package of the no-grain granola, the flourless peanut butter cookies, and the seedy crackers.
(She would also like us to tell you about her Keep It Coming program, a subscription site for the no-grain granola!)
Leave a comment here about why you would like to try this food. We’ll choose the winner at random by Thursday, August 29th.
Update: the winner has been chosen at random and notified. Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments! And please do try the food from Keep It Real Food Co.