Chef highlights role of nutrition in new diabetes documentary
A new documentary focused on the effect of the growing type 2 diabetes epidemic in minority communities in the U.S. aims to challenge the stigma associated with the disease while offering practical responses through healthy eating, according a chef and lifestyle expert featured in the film.
A Touch of Sugar, narrated by actress Viola Davis, explores the type 2 diabetes epidemic, which is estimated to affect more than 50% of Hispanic adults in the United States over their lifetimes. The film, produced in partnership with Merck and screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, includes interviews with people with diabetes and their family members, as well as clinicians and diabetes advocates, who discuss the day-to-day struggles of living with the disease, particularly among underserved populations.
Endocrine Today spoke with chef and cookbook author Leticia Moreinos Schwartz, who is featured in the film, about her family’s connection to type 2 diabetes, the importance of personalized nutrition in disease management, and what she hopes people take away from the new film.
W hat inspired you to create recipes for people with diabetes?
Schwartz: Type 2 diabetes is a very personal topic for me. My grandfather died from complications of type 2 diabetes. My grandmother struggled to care for him, because at that time, she didn’t have the right resources. She did not have access to any education to help him meet his HbA1c goal. It affected the whole family, and when we lost him, it prompted all of us to dramatically change our lifestyle. We realized we could not continue on the same path with our eating habits.
What is your role in the film A Touch of Sugar ?
Schwartz: My role in the film is to share my passion for healthy cooking. I participate by helping a women named Susie Katona, who lives in a rural community in California. Susie was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes 8 years ago and is one of many Americans living in food deserts across the country. Her rural community doesn’t offer her the resources and medical assistance she needs to properly manage her disease. This is a challenge because type 2 diabetes is a disease that involves food and culture. Food is such a crucial part of type 2 diabetes. My role as a chef and as a Latina is to help educate her and show her that recipes can be prepared for the whole family. The worst thing you can do is isolate a member of the family. I see that a lot, and it used to happen in my family. People will cook separate meals for the person with type 2 diabetes while the rest of the family enjoys another type of food. This is the worst thing that you can do.
The American Diabetes Association recently released an updated consensus statement that highlights the importance of personalized nutrition therapy . Why is it so important to tailor meals to an individual and their cultural background?
Schwartz: Type 2 diabetes is not the kind of disease where one size fits all. People have to work with their providers to come up with a plan that is individualized. There are so many different aspects to this disease, from blood glucose levels, to cultural aspects, food aspects and even geography. Probably the most important thing is the level of education people have. There are some people who, when diagnosed, they barely know what type 2 diabetes means. That was the case with my grandparents. My grandfather would say, “I have a sugar high.” Now, finally, there is new awareness, and people are starting to realize that, in addition to seeing a doctor regularly, they also need to see a nutritionist. That is where my role comes in as a chef. Food is such a crucial part. People get bored and don’t know how to explore. A cucumber and a tomato sound boring, but once you learn to do interesting things with those vegetables, it is almost like an awakening. You can create amazing recipes that are great for the whole family and are delicious.
What do you hope people take away from this film?
Schwartz: We are hoping that we can inspire other people to take action and to change their lifestyles, whether that is to manage the disease in a different way or to support someone living with type 2 diabetes. We hope to focus on the importance of this positive message in the film and on how we can all work together. It starts patient by patient, family by family, community by community, to ultimately make an impact on how our country is dealing with this epidemic. – by Regina Schaffer
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Disclosures: Merck supported A Touch of Sugar. Schwartz reports no relevant financial disclosures.