Diabetic-friendly eating doesn’t mean sacrificing taste; it just means getting creative to flavor food without refined sugar and with less salt and saturated fats. Just ask singing diva Patti LaBelle, who has teamed up with Hood Calorie Countdown to speak to Brit + Co about how she navigates the dietary restrictions. Diagnosed with diabetes (like her mom and aunt) 22 years ago, LaBelle needed to make drastic changes to her daily eating. “My mind is saying I’m 74, and I’m really wanting to live to be about 174. So I can save my life [by] changing the way I eat,” said LaBelle. In addition to providing actionable tips for seasoning food (without salt and fat), she shared an ingeniously easy recipe for sea bass and veggies in a foil packet so you can prep a diet-friendly, low-carb dinner in a snap.

Patti LaBelle Sea Bass

Hot Stuff

LaBelle’s antidote to salt: Capsaicin! “I always use habanero peppers or jalapeño peppers — something spicy,” LaBelle told us. She also keeps cayenne and sriracha stocked in her cupboard for easy-to-reach heat. “I love hot things,” she gushed.

Flavor Boosters

The singer adds “lots” of onions, minced garlic, dried oregano, and citrus to dishes to build big flavor. “I use a lot of lemon zest and orange zest, even on a salad,” she advised. (The one herb she can’t get behind? Rosemary. Add it to your own dishes for big taste, but leave it out if you’re cooking for LaBelle!)

Less Fat

Diabetic-friendly diets are also low-fat, ruling out many Southern comfort foods, although LaBelle’s developed some work-arounds. Instead of fried chicken, LaBelle sautés the meat with a little grapeseed oil, fresh garlic, and hot peppers. Rather than tossing in a ham hock with boiled greens, LaBelle opts for a smoked turkey leg, some onions, and grapeseed oil with the kale.

Even shrimp receives special treatment. “I don’t cook the shrimp in butter,” she explained. “When you steam them, they taste as good as they do if you sauté them.” When it comes to burgers, she forgoes beef and grills ground turkey patties and serves them bunless with some hot sauce on top and a side of steamed spinach.

Succulent Steamed Sea Bass with Broccoli, Mushrooms, and Summer Squash

(Serves 6)

The steam gives the fish a moist and tender texture and cooks the vegetables perfectly — not too crispy, not too soggy. And because you cook all the ingredients in aluminum foil, cleanup is easy and super fast. Twenty minutes after you pop this concoction in the oven, unwrap the foil and announce, “Dinner’s ready.”

Patti’s Pointers: Don’t feel you have to use broccoli, mushrooms, and squash in this recipe. Whatever is fresh and in season — tomatoes, zucchini, corn — will work just fine. That goes double for the fish; you can use any fish with dense, tender flesh and a delicate flavor, like sea trout or cod.

*Recipe Note: Feel free to replace the margarine with extra virgin olive oil. If you are not watching your saturated fat intake, consider using real butter or ghee.

Patti LaBelle Sea Bass

Ingredients

  • 6 (4-ounce) sea bass filets
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white or black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or parsley
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced broccoli florets
  • 1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1/2 thinly sliced yellow squash
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-calorie margarine*
  • 6 lemon wedges

Instructions

Patti LaBelle Sea Bass

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Tear off a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, one large enough to hold all ingredients comfortably (about 2 feet long). Coat the foil with fat-free cooking spray.

Patti LaBelle Sea Bass

2. Put the fish in the center of the foil and sprinkle with half of the salt, pepper, and basil or parsley. Top with the broccoli, mushrooms, and squash. Sprinkle with the remaining salt, pepper, and basil or parsley. Dot with pieces of the margarine.

Patti LaBelle Sea Bass

3. Bring together the long sides of the foil and fold down tightly over the fish. Fold up the short sides of the foil.

Patti LaBelle Sea Bass

4. Put the packet on a baking sheet and bake until the fish is just opaque, 18 to 20 minutes. (It’s okay to open the packet to check that the fish is opaque all the way through.)

Let us know your favorite low-carb meal at @BritandCo!

(Recipe reprinted with permission from Patti LaBelle’s Lite Cuisine by Patti LaBelle, copyright © 2003. Published by Avery. Photos via Annelies Zijderveld/Brit+Co)