Writing a cookbook wasn't high on Jayne Jones' to-do list, but that was before.
Before she had a harrowing bout with what she thought was the flu, before she started to lose her vision, and before she landed in the emergency room nearly two years ago with a blood pressure of 285 over 175.
Looking back, Jones, a Minnesotan who now lives in Sarasota, Fla., says she's amazed she didn't see the warning signs or wasn't diagnosed with diabetes earlier. She recently caught an old clip of herself on television and scolded family members for not telling her she looked so sick; she didn't even recognize herself.
"I lived with it so long, and I think I trained my body that this was what you were supposed to feel, and it literally came crashing down," Jones said recently in a phone interview. "But now everything is great, and I have my spirit back."
A health journey
Fans of her popular No Sugar Baker blog and Facebook page know Jones doesn't hold anything back. And her self-published book, "No Sugar Baker's Cookbook of Healthy Living and No Regrets," is no different.
"I think what people really like about the book is that it's so real, and I tell it like it is, or was," she said. "I'm not afraid to say, look, this just happened to me."
"This" is Jones' story of becoming violently ill and not being able to pinpoint why. Shedding diet soda and red meat from her diet didn't help. Then a celebratory birthday dinner and ice cream cone left her bedridden for two weeks, not being able to eat without getting sick. Her blog and cookbook go into painstaking detail.
The roller-coaster ride continued through a vacation, which ended with a weakened Jones being wheeled through the airport for the flight home. Soon after, husband Chris Beehler returned from playing golf to find Jones sick once again, this time warranting a trip to the emergency room. That ER visit was the end of one journey and the beginning of another.
Back in the kitchen
Jones loved being in the kitchen, calling it her hobby and release. But her diabetes diagnosis, frightening issues with her vision — her blood sugar levels were so high her vision went from blurry to barely being able to see — and a follow-up visit to a family doctor were wake-up calls.
"He said, 'If you don't change your lifestyle, I'll give you four years to live,' " Jones said. She was 45.
After googling "type 2 diabetes" and seeing obesity as the first word that popped up, she was crushed. "I can't tell you how much guilt I felt," she said. "I'm like damn it, I did this to myself."
She's also mindful that a family history of diabetes on both sides — a double whammy for Jones — was a factor. "But obviously my health choices didn't help," she said. "I mean, I love tater tot hot dish like nobody's business."
In frustration, Jones, naturally an upbeat person, threw everything in her kitchen away. But on a strict low-carb diet and a mission to regain her health, she eventually found her way back to the kitchen, albeit a sugar-free one.
"I had to figure out a way to make cooking happen. I said, 'You're creative, you're a problem solver. You can figure this out,' " she said. "Now it seems so natural. I haven't knowingly had a drop of sugar in two years."
Her return to the kitchen was a stealthy one. She didn't tell anyone — not even her husband or parents, her biggest supporters. Instead, she took her reconstructed version of cheeseburger soup, a family favorite, over to her parents.
"They started to cry," she said. "They said, 'We finally have our daughter back. That spirit is back.' "
A new way of life
Jones has always been an avid cook, but was never a recipe follower or a label reader. That has changed.
Another change? Sharing her story. Months into her health journey, as the pandemic upended everyone's world, she called her parents, announcing that she wanted to tell her story.
"They weren't quite sure, but said if it helps one person, it's the right thing to do," she said. From there, the No Sugar Baker was born. Jones now has more than 100,000 followers on her Facebook page, and some of her weekly videos chronicling new recipes and her garage sale finds have reached more than 50,000 views. She hears from hundreds of people a week, she says, asking about everything from recipes to her vision issues, and has been making "No Sugar Baker" appearances nationwide since her cookbook was published in March. Clearly, her story resonated with many.
She continues her strict low-carb diet, has added exercise to her routine and has lost a significant amount of weight — all part of her doctor's orders, and keys to her healthy lifestyle. And although her vision has returned, she says it's one of the first things to go if she finds herself exceeding her carbohydrate limits.
But the biggest benefit?
"The appreciation of what life really means. I really get it," she said. "I have nothing magical about me. I wake up every day, work out, take my glucose levels and tell my story. … Being that light for others is irreplaceable. My parents were right that day they told me that if I could help one person it was the right thing to do."
Jayne Jones on ...
The No Sugar Baker name: "[Daughter] Emily came home from college and said, 'You should start a Facebook page because people really like this.' … She said, 'You're like the no-sugar baker.' And I'm like huh, that kind of has a cute ring to it."
Advice for adapting a sugar-free lifestyle: "I get this question all the time. People on the Facebook page say, 'You're my inspiration, what do I need to do?' And here's what I say. Nobody handed out special instructions. … I tell them to go back and read my blog from day one and read what happened to me. Every BODY is different, but this is what worked for me. Even though my parents like to say I think I have a medical degree, I don't."
Her favorite sugar-free ingredients: "I found sugar-free white chocolate chips and almost did cartwheels at the Target in Brainerd. I bought all the ones on the shelves. And Swerve [a sugar substitute] in general, because I feel like it saved my life. It saved who I was. It brought back that crazy energetic spirit, and it gave me that life again."
Adapting recipes to be sugar-free: "I loved making caramel pecan pie, and I thought there had to be a way. I feel like I'm always googling my favorite recipes and trying to figure out how I can make them."
Conquering the baking aisle: "I just sat in the aisle on the phone researching what I could use. There was so much I didn't know. You'd think as a baker I would have known, but I didn't have a clue about almond flour, coconut flour, high-protein flour."
Cooking with sugar substitutes: "The textures are comparable, but I really can't speak to the taste. I can't really remember what sugar tastes like, isn't that weird?"
Why she wrote a cookbook: "Everyone kept asking for it. That was the number one comment, do you have a cookbook? You need to have a cookbook and tell your story." (Jones is already a published author with a novel, "Capitol Hell," and the "Drop the Puck" series of children's books.)
Her favorite recipe in the book: "The pumpkin bars. I'm so Minnesotan it's not even funny. I love a pumpkin bar with cream cheese topping. You know what I used? Sugar-free breakfast syrup to give it that sweetness. I also like the lasagna, because I miss pasta."
What she has yet to tackle: "The one thing I want to try to master, but it will never happen, is tater tot hot dish, but potatoes. I have news for you, you cannot substitute cauliflower for tater tots. I can't have peas, carrots and corn, either, so what would I put in there? Just cream of mushroom soup and hamburger? No thanks."
The recipes in her cookbook: "I wanted to make sure the cookbook showed that [sugar-free cooking] is more than dessert, and that it's not — here's a word I hate — a diet. When a magazine called it a new diet trend, I was like this is no diet trend. This is the way I am. This is nutrition for me. This fuels my body. This is what I need to do the rest of my life. And if I choose not to, I know the consequences. I have zero regrets."
Jones is already working on her second cookbook, which she hopes will have 100 recipes just like her first. Follow her journey and order her book ($23.95) at nosugarbaker.com.
No Sugar Baker's Holy Smokes Pumpkin Bars
Makes a 10- by 15-inch pan.
Note: Swerve is the author's preferred sugar replacement (there are several). Find it online or in the baking aisles of most grocery stores; a 12-ounce package is about $8. From "No Sugar Baker Cookbook of Healthy Living and No Regrets," by Jayne J. Jones.
For the bars:
• 3 eggs
• 1 (15-oz.) can pumpkin purée
• 1 c. (2 sticks) melted butter or 1 c. vegetable oil
• 1/4 c. sugar-free breakfast maple syrup
• 1 c. Swerve brown sugar (see Note)
• 1/3 c. Swerve granular sugar
• 2 tsp. vanilla extract
• 2 c. all-purpose or almond flour
• 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
• 2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
• 1 tsp. salt
For the frosting:
• 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
• 2 c. Swerve powdered sugar
• 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
• 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
• Pumpkin pie spice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 10- by 15-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
To prepare the bars: In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, pumpkin, oil or butter, syrup, sugars and vanilla.
In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the pumpkin mixture, stirring to combine.
Pour into baking sheet and bake for 30 to 35 minutes.
While the bars are cooling, prepare the frosting.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla and cream until it reaches a spreading consistency. Once the bars are cool, spread frosting over bars, and sprinkle with additional cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice, if desired.
Refrigerate for at least 2 to 4 hours before serving.
No Sugar Baker's Zero Pasta Lasagna
Serves 8 to 10.
Note: You might be skeptical about the cheese "noodles," but it works surprisingly well as a pasta stand-in. Zucchini "noodles" could also work. Jones prefers Rao's tomato sauce as it's lower in carbohydrates. Adapted from "No Sugar Baker Cookbook of Healthy Living and No Regrets," by Jayne J. Jones.
For the "noodles":
• 8 oz. cream cheese
• 3 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
• 4 eggs, beaten
• 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
For the filling:
• 1/2 c. chopped onion
• 1 lb. ground beef
• 1 lb. Italian sausage
• 2 tsp. Italian seasoning, or more to taste
• 1 jar Rao's tomato sauce (see Note)
• 1 c. cottage cheese
• 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
• 2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9- by 13-inch baking pans with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the mozzarella and cream cheeses together. (A microwave works, too.) Stir until smooth and add in beaten eggs and Italian seasoning. Blend until evenly mixed; it should have a thick liquid consistency. Pour cheese batter onto prepared baking pans. Use a spatula to spread batter across pans. Bake for 20 minutes, and then set aside to let cool.
While noodles are cooling, prepare the meat sauce. In a large skillet, add onion, ground beef and Italian sausage. Cook on medium heat until meat is browned, then drain. Return to pan and add Italian seasoning and tomato sauce. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until flavors meld.
Meanwhile, mix together the cottage cheese and Parmesan.
To assemble lasagna, evenly slice your cheese noodles into thirds. Add a thin layer of meat sauce to the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch pan, and top with the first noodle layer. Next, add half of the remaining meat sauce across, and then spread half of the cottage cheese mixture. Repeat with second noodle layer and remaining meat sauce and cottage cheese mixture. Top with mozzarella.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until browned and bubbly. Let set for 5 minutes before serving.