Diabetes does not mean end of good eats

A diagnosis of diabetes means lifestyle changes are in order, but where to begin?

Katherine Younker, director of Health Care Services and Patient Education at the Texas Diabetes Institute, says it’s important to get information from reliable resources, such as Web sites for the American Diabetes Association or the National Diabetes Education program.

“Those sites have tons of very basic info on how to eat and info about living with diabetes,” she says, adding that they also have materials that can be ordered and mailed for free.

Younker says after diagnosis, “the first thing they should do is look at any obvious changes they can make their blood glucose go down.”

For instance, sugary drinks and sodas are loaded with carbohydrates and sugar, and there are plenty of zero-carbohydrate alternatives, such as Crystal Lite or water.

Not too many years ago, it was believed managing diabetes meant avoiding sugar. Now, experts say sugar, if handled correctly, can be part of a healthy diet, but controlling the disease takes more than dietary changes.

“Diabetes is really four facets of management: Eating, activity, medications and self-management or care,” Younker says.

“You can take as many meds as you want ... what you’re putting in your mouth is how those things are getting in there to begin with.”

Doreen Howarth has seen the difference diet and exercise make for someone living with diabetes.

She cooks at the Milam Drugstore & Diner in San Antonio, and at home for her husband, John, who owns the restaurant and was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes about five years ago.

Howarth says her husband was in denial at first and gained weight because of all the medication he had to take.

“He couldn’t regulate himself with all this stuff. ... If he follows a strict diet and does what I tell him, he does really well,” she says, laughing.

They’ve made changes to his diet at home, and a few of those have made their way onto the diner’s menu.

“We have changed a few things and we have added healthier foods and vegetarian meals as well,” she says. New items include meatless salads, fish tacos on Mondays and Fridays, a veggie sandwich and veggie burger made with a Portobello mushroom.

Younker encourages diabetics to make conscious decisions before entering the restaurant.

“We encourage people to kind of plan what they’re going to eat before they go and look at what other healthy alternatives there might be,” she says.

That can be more difficult for children living with diabetes, something Soonalyn Jacob knows all too well with her teenage son Raymond, who has Type 1 diabetes.

“Adults can make their decisions a little bit easier than kids with all the temptations,” says Jacob. “As a consumer, you have to be hyper-vigilant in requesting that information.”

She says the family has found more restaurants that offer healthier options.

At home, she’s learned to prepare meals around side dishes that contain complex carbohydrates, such as substituting half cauliflower, half potatoes for mashed potatoes. And she doesn’t eliminate favorite foods from her son’s diet, such as pizza.

“If you eat things in moderation, with 100 percent whole grain and veggies and light cheese on the top and a tomato sauce, it works,” she says. “It’s just having that complex carb is so important.”

Seek out others

Another key is finding support. Jacob says her best resource has been other parents coping with juvenile diabetes.

There is also information and forums online, such as Diabetes Daily (http://www.diabetesdaily.com), founded by Elizabeth Edelman and her husband, David, after she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

“It can be very isolating to be diagnosed with a chronic illness,” Elizabeth Edelman says. Sharing with others the information she learned and her own experiences helped filled that void.

Based in Cleveland, Ohio, the forum has grown to 30,000 members and more than 2 million visitors. Members receive a free weekly newsletter with news, a recipe and the most popular discussions on the Web site.

By Jennifer McInnis
San Antonio Express-News

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