With the rise in superstardom for chefs and televised food connoisseurs, reality food shows like ”Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie,” ”Iron Chef,” ”Chopped” and ”No Reservations” have replaced traditional sitcoms and dramas as celebrated primetime television viewing in millions of homes across America.
According to a 2010 Harris Interactive poll, half of Americans watch food or cooking shows “very often” or “occasionally.” But as our cultural obsession with gourmet and foodie television shows deepens, our collective health worsens. The number of those with diabetes has reached an all-time high. In fact, the American Diabetes Association suggests that 25.8 million U.S. children and adults (or the combined populations of Texas and Rhode Island) have diabetes.
One of the most common – and potentially damaging – misconceptions about caring for diabetes is that it requires a monk-like level of deprivation. But your diagnosis doesn’t mean that all of your favorite cookbooks are destined for Goodwill, or that you’ll have to flip past the Food Network with a wistful tear in your eye.
If you – like 8.3 percent of Americans – have diabetes, you can balance your passionate love of good food with your diabetes management with a few good tips:
Make seasonal eating second nature. “Purchasing locally grown products from produce stands and farmers’ markets is an excellent way to ensure quality and freshness,” recommends Barbara Borcik, a registered dietitian at the Northwest Diabetes Center. “Experiment with fruits and vegetables outside your comfort zone.” The green-thumbed among us can plant vegetable gardens with their favorite dinner staples or snackable treats. If you lack the space for a garden, consider growing herbs in small pots. They’ll add a decorative freshness to your countertops or windowsills, and using fresh herbs like mint, basil, cilantro or rosemary easily transforms any meal. Martha Stewart would approve.
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You have control over your own kitchen, but you can’t very well stand over the chef who sautés your steak at that new restaurant. However, if you act with mindfulness, you don’t have to forgo your favorite neighborhood hangouts. “You can dine anywhere you want if you have diabetes,” notes Sally Pinkstaff, M.D., a physician with Sinai Hospital’s Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism. “But dining outside your home may require smaller portions if the fat content is higher and additional testing if you don’t know what the foods are going to do to you. No matter where and what you eat, the rules still apply.”
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Do your homework
Small accommodations help you make big strides in staying healthy. “Don’t starve yourself all day to indulge; you need to have a consistent blood sugar,” recommends Monica Dorsey-Smith, a registered dietitian at the Diabetes Resource Center at Sinai Hospital. “Consider making small changes in your meals [saving a carbohydrate serving from breakfast and lunch] to give you the freedom to enjoy a special meal. But never arrive hungry.” When dining out, review the restaurant’s online menu or, if appropriate, bring a healthy dish to your next social engagement.
The Zen masters had it right all along: Be present in the moment. Taking the time to slow down and savor our favorite tastes is a gift we can only give ourselves, whether we’re dining out or in. “I tell my patients – you go to a restaurant for the experience,” says Pinkstaff. Often, the food isn’t the only sumptuous experience we can enjoy when we’re out on the town. “Focus on the ambiance, the décor, the smells, the way you feel, the time you spend with loved ones and, most importantly, the conversation. Food nourishes us, but dining is a social experience at its very essence.”
Beware the tangerine-pomatini. “Remember, sugar in a liquid has the potential to raise blood gluclose levels quickly and dramatically,” explains Borcik. “Hydrate with water between alcoholic beverages. Ask for a twist of lemon, lime or orange.” Dorsey-Smith also recommends testing your blood sugar because “alcohol may have an impact on your blood sugar for 12 or more hours.”
Take it to go
There’s no shame in a doggie bag. Instead, think of it as a portion control tool. If you know you’re in for a hankerin’ helpin’ of a plate, you might even consider asking for a box when you place your order. “When eating out, know that you can always box up your leftovers for the next day’s meal,” suggests Borcik.
It’s no secret that getting a move on does the body – and the mind – a world of good. Whether you would prefer swimming laps at your local Y or shakin’ your groove thang at a dance class, going on long hikes with a canine companion or perfecting your downward-facing dog with your yoga instructor, anything that gets your heart pumping is a plus. Borcik notes that hitting the gym can also help balance out overindulgences.
Know your resources
You can certainly take advantage of the ADA’s online resources and cookbooks; but, since variety truly is the spice of life, you should also consult Diabetic Living’s print and online magazines, which offer a wealth of ideas and dining strategies. If you take a gourmet cooking class at your local health center or community college, you’ll pick up the tricks of the trade, and maybe even a new friend (or two).
Being diagnosed with diabetes can unquestionably change your relationship with food, but not in the ways you may fear. If anything, it’s an opportunity to expand your culinary competency and expose your taste buds to new treats. This may take a greater deal of preparation and creativity, but the payoff is improved health and memorable dining. And if you need inspiration, remember Virginia Woolf’s adage about food – “One cannot think well, love well, and sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
-Written by Kristin Lemmert, guest writer for Md.MD magazine
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