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Healthy cooking class teaches how to combat diabetes

IMMOKALEE — The statistics about diabetes are chilling.

More than 30 million Americans have diabetes and about 25 percent (7.2 million) don’t know it.

Native Americans have a greater chance of getting diabetes than any other racial group in the U.S.

They are more than twice as likely to get the disease as non-Hispanic whites.

More than 17 percent of Native Americans over age 18 are diagnosed with diabetes compared to 7.3 percent non-Hispanic whites.

Kidney failure from diabetes is highest in Native Americans than any other ethnic group.

Adults with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke as people without it. Over time, high blood glucose from diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves that control the heart.

Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include obesity, diet and physical inactivity.

But there is also good news about Type 2 diabetes; in many cases it can be prevented or kept under control.

In observance of Diabetes Awareness Month in November, the Integrative Health department held a hands-on lesson about how to create delicious diabetes-friendly meals and treats.

The Dec. 6 class was led by chefs Ruth Fehr and Ahmed El, of the Immokalee Culinary Accelerator, and included Integrated Health department health educators and nutrition counselors.

During a healthy eating class Dec. 6 in honor of Diabetes Awareness Month, chef Ruth Fehr shows Karen Two Shoes, center, Hollywood health clinic nutrition coordinator, and Lenora Roberts a piece of cilantro and explains that the entire herb, including the stem, may be used in recipes. They were making a yogurt, cilantro and jalapeno sauce to use with roasted chicken. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“I have had diabetes for 20 years and I can still eat my favorite foods,” said Karen Two Shoes, Hollywood health clinic nutrition coordinator. “If you eat healthy 80 percent of the time, you can have your favorite foods. If I want that brownie on the weekend, I plan for it.”

The key to managing diabetes is monitoring intake of carbohydrates, eating lean protein, plenty of vegetables and complex carbohydrates instead of processed carbohydrates.

The day’s menu included roasted chicken breasts with a cilantro, jalapeno and yogurt sauce, Bison chili made with squash, sweet potatoes and other aromatic vegetables, salad with blue cheese dressing and cornmeal sugar cookies with orange zest for dessert.

“Exercise is great way to keep the blood sugar level down,” said Two Shoes, who runs to keep fit. “I learned to count carbs and not overdo them. I can indulge, but I have to fit it into my diet.”

Two Shoes said she chose her profession in nutrition because of her diabetes.

“I didn’t want my children to get it,” she said. “I brought them out of the womb eating healthy and they are both very healthy.”

Fehr, a chef and educator, considers herself a culinary translator who teaches people to use food to support health and healing.

Health nutrition counselor Andrea Kuzbyt makes a salad with heathy ingredients and homemade blue cheese dressing during a healthy cooking class at the Immokalee Culinary Accelerator. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“People think healthy food isn’t tasty,” Fehr told the class as they consumed the fruits, and vegetables, of their labor. “But if you start with fresh food, you just have to enhance it. Use local and in season food and the flavor is right there. You just need to give it a kick and bring it to a higher level.”

Throughout the morning, participants followed recipes with some help from Fehr and El. Tips were shared at each stage of the preparation.

Bone in chicken has more flavor than boneless. Use a meat thermometer; chicken is done at 165 degrees. Bison is leaner, but has a similar flavor to beef.

Unlike most herbs, cilantro stems can be chopped up with the leaves and used in a recipe. Caramelizing, or browning, vegetables first adds a lot of flavor to a dish.

When baking, use room temperature eggs. All professional kitchens use gas because it cooks quicker and more evenly than electric stoves.

When the food was done, the participants enjoyed it like any other chef-prepared lunch. The flavors of the meal were big, but the food served as a small step in a lifetime of preventing or managing diabetes.

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at