After being diagnosed in 1994 following an onstage collapse, LaBelle turned to her hobby of cooking—even while on tour—to get her diet back on track. “Taking my pots and pans on the road was the best thing I could have done because I could control what I put in my food and avoid all the things that aren’t good for diabetes,” the 73-year-old singer tells PEOPLE in the latest issue, on newsstands now. “Cooking for myself is why I’m still here.”
In her latest cookbook, Desserts LaBelle: Soulful Sweets to Sing About, LaBelle adapted some of her signature recipes for fellow diabetics using sugar substitutes and cutting down on butter—balanced with more traditional desserts, like her famous sweet potato pie. “I made all of these recipes for you, not necessarily for me,” she says. “People ask me why I would write a dessert cookbook, and I say: ‘Because I can make it and you like to eat it.’ And of course, I can taste it to make sure it’s great.”
WATCH: Patti LaBelle Shows Us How to Make Her Famous Lemon Bars
On the savory side of things, LaBelle has previously said that she was “hooked on fried chicken and pasta,” heavy foods which she’s now substituted for bold, fresh flavors. “I use garlic in heavy doses, oregano, hot pepper flakes and habanero peppers. I’m a hot pepper kind of girl. I don’t miss the fried chicken and the fried fish because my food is just seasoned well.”
In addition to her culinary career, LaBelle also has a new jazz album out, Bel Hommage, showing no sign of hitting the brakes on either of her passions—and feeling better than ever. “This has felt like a year in my 40s,” she says. “It’s been amazing.”
For more on LaBelle and an exclusive recipe from her cookbook, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now.