Cooking Matters’ diabetes classes meet an increasing need

Everyone lives with diabetes these days. Of course, the 25.8 million Americans who are currently diagnosed with it experience the brunt of the disease. But everyone lives with it. Whether you’re genetically predisposed to it, have high blood pressure or even just watch what you eat, it’s all around you.

Choose My Plate is the new Food Pyramid

Choose My Plate is the new Food Pyramid

In a food system where the cheaper, highly concentrated high fructose corn syrup regularly replaces real sugar and enriched wheat-packed processed foods dominate the affordable grocery market, the influx of people living on low incomes with diabetes is no mere coincidence. So, in a society with disparities in access to healthy food options, we all must think before we eat and make the right choices, whether it’s to prevent diabetes, maintain our health, or provide for a diabetic loved one.

You’ve probably heard this mantra before: Keep a healthy weight, make smart food choices and be active every day. It’s pretty easy to say. But in communities with limited access to affordable fresh produce, the actual doing of those things is incredibly difficult. That is why Cooking Matters, a program of Solid Ground in partnership with Share Our Strength, has started to offer diabetes classes. The series is made up of six weekly classes and focuses on diabetes prevention and management through healthy choices about food and physical activity.

While this disease becomes more commonplace, it can still be a difficult thing to talk about, especially for those living on low incomes. Since access to healthy food is a tough issue in the first place, openly discussing the physical and emotional tolls that diabetics endure can be challenging. This type of discussion is encouraged in Week 1, where the information provided is also meant to complement the current curriculum taught in Cooking Matters for Adults classes.

This first series for Cooking Matters Seattle was held at the Sea Mar Community Health Center in Burien, a region in King County that typically sees a lot of families and individuals living on low incomes from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds.

“[Cultural diets] do play a big role in how we structure the class,” says Sandra Williams, Cooking Matters Program Coordinator at Solid Ground. “We try as best as we can to diversify a recipe. At the beginning of the series (Week 1), we will ask participants, ‘What are some things that you’d like to learn in class?’ ” she says, explaining that healthy versions of traditional recipes or ingredient substitutions can be planned out over the course of the class series. “Oftentimes people are vegetarian or have different beliefs. So if they’re Kosher, we make sure to note that and take that into account.”

As the first local Cooking Matters class focusing on diabetes-centric nutrition, Sandra says that attendance was at capacity. Having access to knowledgeable specialists may have been a factor. “In the diabetes class, we do require that the nutritionist is a registered dietician,” Sandra says. “Unlike our other adult, family and teen classes where we require volunteers to have some background in nutrition and cooking, but not a degree.”

If the goal is to expand these diabetes-focused classes to more regions, more often, then we’re on our way. Another series is due in the fall of 2014. But new class series are heavily dependent on word of mouth from previous program participants, volunteers and donors. “We teach healthy cooking, nutrition and how to prevent diseases,” says Sandra. “I feel like people gain a lot from the class, and yet we don’t have enough resources to offer the curriculum [more frequently].”

Please click here if you’d like to learn more about participating in, volunteering for or coordinating a Cooking Matters class. Can’t wait until fall? ChooseMyPlate.gov is a useful, free tool you can use to put together nutritious, preventative meals yourself.

Cooking Matters receives local in-kind donations from Charlie’s Produce and Whole Foods Market.

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