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Diabetes program tackles questions about cultural food

An insulin pump is used to balance out blood sugar levels for patients with diabetes. Staff photo by Riham Feshir

Do you order a burrito or a chimichanga? What do you do with the chips and salsa? How do you get through a Chinese buffet? Do you eat the bread sticks at an Italian restaurant?

Those are all questions patients of diabetes ask themselves on a regular basis.

The Diabetes Community Care program at Woodwinds Hospital hosted a session last week exploring foods from different cultures and how to adjust insulin intake when eating unfamiliar ingredients.

"This is not easy, this is really a challenge," said Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator Gail Radosevich, as she spoke to an insulin pump support group Monday, Nov. 28.

She added that even if patients of Type 1 diabetes who wear insulin pumps visit the same restaurants on a regular basis, often times the ingredients change, chefs change or there is a change in the recipe.

"Especially for people with Type 1, the proteins and the fats do matter," Radosevich said.

Anyone suffering from diabetes knows carbohydrates spike up blood sugar levels. But it doesn't stop there.

Radosevich explained that each person is different - some are sensitive to processed foods a lot more than others, some are affected by carbohydrates faster than others and some require more insulin than others.

She added that it helps to learn what ingredients are in the sauces, which may include hidden nutrition facts that affect blood sugar levels.

"There are some things where you might eat it and think it's pretty harmless, not a lot of carbs," Radosevich said, adding that Asian sauces added to rice and vegetables can be just as harmful.

Everyone at the insulin pump support group calculates their carbohydrates-to-insulin ratio, however, they still face some challenges when eating some foods.

JoAnne Bloomquist said even after calculating the amount of carbohydrates in a boxed dinner for example, and taking the insulin necessary, sometimes it's not the right amount.

"I'll take it, then I'll tank," she said.

The problem with many boxed dinners, eating out and convenience foods, Radosevich said, is that it's been processed.

Her advice is to eat as many whole foods as possible and watch for changes in blood sugar when eating different foods.

Because everyone reacts differently, she said choosing what one diabetic is used to over something new is the safest route. But portion control is also key.

"It's all very individual," Radosevich said.

Generally, 100 percent of all consumed carbohydrates, 58 percent of proteins and 10 percent of fats convert to blood sugar.

Radosevich told the group to consider changing when to take insulin when eating an Italian meal that's high in fat content, for example, because it takes longer to go through the body.

The challenging question of the program was how to identify "the devils" in cultural foods.

"The devil in Italian: one of the problems is, how much am I eating?" Radosevich said.

Alfredo sauce is high in fat, while marinara has more carbs and sugars, she said.

One bread stick contains about 30 grams of carbs, she added.

The key is to ask the restaurants how the food is prepared, look up nutrition facts online before going out to eat and plan ahead.

"This is not easy, there is no magic formula to this," she said.

But she emphasized it's not like those suffering from Type 1 diabetes can't ever have fried Chinese food, creamy Italian sauces, or spicy Mexican, it's learning how to bolus for it.

Almost everyone in the group has been living with diabetes for years. One of them is Frank Countryman who's learned over the years how to adjust insulin depending on what foods he eats.

"First and foremost, we're human beings," he said. "Secondly we're diabetics."

The program was part of ongoing diabetes education efforts.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.