COLLEGE STATION — African-Americans who have non-insulin dependent diabetes do not have to give up the taste of soul food completely. Adjustments can be made to keep diets ethnically appropriate and healthful, according to a registered dietitian and professor with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.
“The method of cooking and ingredients can be modified to maintain flavor,” said Dr. Mary Kinney Bielamowicz, a member of the cultural diversity committee of the American Diabetes Association- Texas Affiliate. “But persons with diabetes should first check with their doctor or dietitian before they began altering recipes.”
Today, one out of 15 African-Americans have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. There are more than 30 million African-Americans — 12 percent of the population — in the United States.
“People of all different backgrounds and races enjoy the taste of soul food,” Bielamowicz said. “However, traditional soul food has a tendency to be high in fat, cholesterol and sodium.”
Soul food favors fried foods, added fat and frequent consumption of high-fat products, which may lead to obesity and, therefore, hypertension, health disease and diabetes, Bielamowicz said. Therefore, the amount and type of fat must be modified to decrease caloric intake and reduce obesity and its associated health risks.
This can be done partly by using skin-free smoked turkey necks, liquid smoke, margarine and fat-free broths instead of fatback, ham hocks or bacon grease to season vegetables, she said.
Meat consumption should not exceed six ounces a day, Bielamowicz said. Also, those who have diabetes and those who are at risk should avoid eating high-fat meats like chicken wings, bologna, sausage and fried meats.
Those with diabetes should also avoid eating smoked, dried or salt-cured meat products, she said. Also, cut down on the use of salt and salty seasonings such as meat tenderizer.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are better alternatives to canned items, she said. The popular consumption of beans and peas, rice, sweet and white potatoes and corn can be incorporated into meals.
Recipes can be modified for a more healthful meal with a soul food taste, she said. For example, a breakfast of grits, fried eggs, sausage patties, buttermilk biscuits with a tablespoon of butter and coffee with sugar can be modified by substituting wheat toast with only a teaspoon of margarine, egg substitute, a sugar substitute with coffee and leaner homemade sausage patties.
“Instead of having pork sausage, make your own with ground turkey, ground sage, black pepper and red pepper flakes,” Bielamowicz suggests. “Also, many supermarkets are now meeting consumers’ demands by providing leaner products. Reading the label can help people make the best choice.”
Diabetes is a serious disease that can lead to numerous complications, she said. African-Americans experience higher rates of at least three serious complications — blindness, amputation and end-stage renal disease (kidney failure).
“Diet plays a very important role in controlling diabetes,” she said. “That’s why it is necessary to work with a dietitian who can help people get on with their lives by making a few lifestyle changes.”
For more information on modifying recipes or planning more healthful menus, contact a local dietitian or the local family and consumer sciences county Extension agent in your area.