Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Eat Traditional, Get Active & Prevent Diabetes

What is Diabetes? Who is at Risk?
“Type 2 diabetes was previously called non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) or adult-onset diabetes. In adults, type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. It usually begins as insulin resistance, a disorder in which the cells do not use insulin properly. As the need for insulin rises, the pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce it. Type 2 diabetes is associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, history of gestational diabetes, impaired glucose metabolism, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders are at particularly high risk for type 2 diabetes and its complications. Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents, although still rare, is being diagnosed more frequently among American Indians, African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and Asians/Pacific Islanders.”  (CDC, 2011)
Currently the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the risk of diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes is 66% percent higher among Hispanics, 87% higher for Mexican-Americans than for non-Hispanic white adults. The CDC predicts that “Hispanic women born in 2000 have a 52.5 percent risk of developing diabetes in their lifetime while Hispanic men have a 45.4 percent risk.” (CDC, 2011)

How do I know if I am at risk?
If you are concerned about your own risk for diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes, or just want to learn more about how your body uses meals as energy have your blood sugar tested. Recently I had my  fasting blood sugar tested, along with two Healthy Kitchens participants. Fasting Glucose can be tested for in the morning before a person eats breakfast.  Pre diabetes or impaired glucose is when the fasting glucose level is higher than normal level. This indicates that the body’s response to digesting your dinner is not working properly and you have increased risk of type 2diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
But it’s never too late to prevent diabetes! “Studies have shown that people with pre-diabetes who lose weight and increase their physical activity can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and in some cases return their blood glucose levels to normal.”  (CDC, 2011)
How can I prevent Diabetes?
Get Active and Eat Traditionally!
Traditional diets have kept people healthy for centuries. In the book “The Jungle Effect” and “The Great American Detox”  and  the documentary films “ Unnatural Causes” and “Supersize me”, have led me to conclude that it is the modern “Standard American Diet” high in saturated fats, Trans-fats, refined sugars and carbohydrates (high glycemic foods) that has led to the high rates of diabetes.
Traditional diets are healthy and often serve to protect against the diseases so rampant in the United States. A traditional Mexican Diet consists of many “Slow Release Foods” .These foods are slowly absorbed into the body; they have a low glycemic index meaning that they do not cause a spike in blood sugar, protecting against diabetes.  It is also important to limit the intake of unhealthy fats common in the “Standard American Diet” such as saturated or trans-fat and consumer more healthy fats such as Poly Unsaturated and Monounsaturated Fats. Research shows that many traditional foods and spices such as Nopales, cinnamon, cumin, garlic and cloves, protect against diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar.

Traditional Mexican Diet
Standard American Diet

 High in whole grain, slow release foods with a low glycemic index.
Whole corn tortillas, high in calcium and fiber, made from corn that has  mixed with lime to make Calcium available for absorption
 High in refined foods with High Glycemic Index.
Refined corn tortillas (with less than 3g of fiber)   

Natural Snack foods
Jicama soaked in lime and chili, crunchy, tasty and high in fiber

Many processed snack foods
Fried chips high in Trans and saturated fats

Natural fats in small amounts. Animal and Vegetable derived fats constitute 10% of diet
A small amount of lard from an animal raised foraging.
Fats and oils made in labs. High amounts of Saturated and Trans Fats
Packaged lard with hydrogenated oils( Trans-fats)

The majority of protein from beans, less meat eaten, meat raised to contain healthy fats.
Beans high in protein and fiber, or meat from
from animals raised free range

Lot of meat! And meat raised in concentrated animal feed operations, which tend to be higher in omega- 6 fatty acids, increasing inflammation and heart disease.

Fats and oils derived plants and seeds, sun flower seed, avocados
Fats and Oils derived from animals or
Highly processed oils
High in naturally, freshly prepared foods and sauces such as Fresh Salsa  
High in highly processed and pre-packaged foods such as Ketchup, loaded with high fructose corn syrup, which recent studies link to rise in obesity rates


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Youth Health Promoter Speaks out Against McDonald’s Advertising

As part of my service as a Community Health Promoter, I volunteer with Community to Community’s youth empowerment program, Raices Culturales (Cultural Roots). Raices Culturales, is a bi-lingual, multi-cultural program for Latino farm worker youth in Whatcom County, ages 6 to 12 years, which provides a structured and safe space for healthy play and educational activities around healthy food and sustainable lifestyles. The youth are allowed to grow and feel whole within themselves by gaining pride in their cultural identity and exploring the interconnectedness of all peoples in Whatcom County.
This past Saturday I had the opportunity to participate in a Capoeira lesson with the Raices Culturales Youth. With the help of the Western Washington University Capoeira Club, a Capoeira Mestre, came up from Seattle to teach the youth about Capoeira. He began by telling us of his memory of seeing people “play Capoeira” in the streets of Brazil growing up. He casually stood on his head and began explaining the history of this martial art form. Capoeira was derived from the music, dance and traditions from the African slaves in Brazil. The originators of Capoeira disguised this martial art as a dance in order to practice and eventually used Capoeira to defend themselves from their oppressors and free themselves.
The Capoeira Master asked the youth to explain what a slave was; what is slavery? Do slaves have rights, are slaves paid, are slaves happy? All of the youth emphatically answered: No, No, NO! And then the Capoeira Master asks: “Where does slavery exist today? Are there slaves in the United States, can you be a slave sitting there watching Television?” The youth are all listening, but not sure how to answer this one. He imitates a person watching T.V., stuffing his face with imaginary potato chips, his head and neck craned forward to better view an imaginary screen.  “They are telling you how to think, just pay attention.” I wonder to myself, is this message sinking in?
We spend the next hour learning the different movements of Capoeira and how to play a few of the instruments together. We encourage each other to try the different movements, walking on our hands, making small cartwheels and ducking under kicks. All over we have a great time, laughing and playing Capoeira and after thank the Capoeira mestre and the WWU Capoeira club for spending their afternoon with us. The youth run to the van energetically. We talk about how much hard physical work Capoeira is, and the youngest member of our group requests to go to McDonald’s because he is “SO hungry”; and my heart sinks. Monica and I have been making healthy lunches for the Raices Culturales group since September. Was I naïve to think that this would influence their food choices? How could an experience as small as eating a healthy meal from scratch, outweigh the influence of the collectable “Happy Meal” toys and McDonalds Playpens? I am at a loss of what to say; so I think back to my days as a preschool teacher, where I was trained that the role of the teacher is not to tell a child how to think, nor to provide the answers, but rather to provoke the thoughts and ask the questions. Children are the best teachers of their peers.
So as we drive home, I ask the youth: What do you think about what the teacher about watching TV making us slaves? What do you think he meant by this?
The twelve-year old: Well he didn’t mean this literally. T.V. doesn’t exactly tell you what to think but, advertising can influence you. It can influence you in a good way or a bad way. Like, it’s good when advertising tells you to exercise.
Me: That makes me think about all those ads that tell us how smoking is bad for us. That’s an example of advertising that can influence a person in a positive way. What’s an example of some advertising that can influence us in a negative way?
The twelve-year old: Well, McDonalds.
The seven-year old: See, I told you! Let’s get McDonalds.
The twelve-year old: No, that’s not what I said! McDonalds is bad for you.
The seven-year old: Why?
The twelve-year old: Because if you drink a milkshake it has like 200 calories.
Me: So why is that bad for you? What are calories and how do they affect your body?
The twelve year old: Well it can make you fat, like if you eat too much of it. And those hamburgers have a lot of fat in them, and that could give you diabetes.
Me: What is diabetes?
The twelve-year old: It’s when you get fat and you eat too much junk food your sugar (he gestures to the veins on the underside of his forearm) goes up.
Me: What causes people to get diabetes? Can anyone get diabetes?
The ten year old: My cousin has diabetes, and when he had to have the surgery, they said it was because of the oil.
The 12-year old: Yeah, the grease, like the grease in the food we eat.
Me: What can people do to prevent getting sick?  
The nine-year old: Eat more vegetables!
All the kids all at once list off junk foods that should be avoided.
And then the twelve-year old says: Don’t eat McDonalds, well maybe only sometimes like once in a while.

After this conversation with the youth, I am reassured. These youth are the Health Promoters of their generation. They are questioning the world around them, because they have been paying attention all along and they are not too convinced on that what they are being sold and told is the truth.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Honest Hope is Movement"

Whenever asked what I am doing for the year in AmeriCorps as a Health Promoter, my response begins with the startling current conditions of the health of this generation. One of the most  disturbing predictions, especially for the parents whose children are included in this statistic, is that the Center for Disease Control calculates that one in three children born in the year 2000 will develop type II diabetes in his or her life time, two out of five Latino children. When doing outreach in the community I say to mothers with whom I speak that this prediction does not have to become our reality- and this is why we are inviting you to participate in Cocinas Sanas- because as women we have the power to influence the health of our families and communities.
What we are asking of these women is to alter the current predicted fate of their children and their current food system. We are asking the women to become part of a food sovereignty movement – a task that seems too large to fathom. As Frances Moore Lappe writes in Hope’s Edge: the next Diet for a small Planet: “we humans can’t do what we can’t imagine and we can’t imagine ourselves playing real, satisfying roles in creating  life-serving communities- what[I] came to call ‘living democracy’- unless we see regular people like ourselves developing their power, their capacity to create.” Thus in order for these women to become empowered, they must see living examples that this effecting change is possible- this is the idea of a Promatora.
Monica and I began our journey as Health Promoters (Promatoras de Salud) in September. The work of a Promatora de Salud is to circulate that which she has learned about her health to other women. Then these women will in turn spread this information to their families, friends and communities engendering change. We started by collecting information on food- learning about where our food comes from, who is responsible for raising or growing it, how it is raised or grown and how this food affects our health. As we each processed this information, we began to formulate how we would take this information into account in our own lives, and how we would incorporate it into the Healthy Kitchens (Cocinas Sanas) classes. After sometime learning about CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and how meat is raised my fellow Promatora, Monica has stopped eating meat. At the Cocinas Sanas (Healthy Kitchens) meal this inevitably comes up as a topic of discussion; all of the women are very curious as to why she has made this decision.  What I enjoy most about this is watching her tell the story of how she came to this conclusion and seeing the look on the women’s faces. I can never be certain, but within their expressions of intrigue I detect a hint of hope. Hearing the stories of other women, such as Monica, who have made these changes to lead a healthier life, gives me hope that I will have the strength to do the same.
At our most recent workshop each of the four participating women present set a small attainable goal, to begin the movement toward a healthier community. One women aimed to begin eating fruits as snacks and another to begin serving a side of vegetables at dinner. We each planned to try this goal for two weeks and discuss what our challenges were when we meet next. What truly inspired me was to listen to each woman offer encouragement to the other and possible tips on how she could attain this goal. We each shared what motivates us to be well and although each story was quite different the theme was the same: the health of those we love. And so we each thought of these people and mustered our courage to “develop our power”, our “capacity to create” and hope that change is possible.  “Honest hope is movement”.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cocinas Sanas serving up Albondigas

On November 3, fourteen people sat down to share a meal. All evening the room had been filled with the sounds of children playing games and women telling stories of their traditions and memories of food.
The smells, sounds and textures of a meal can evoke so many memories: when was the last time you ate this meal and with whom did you share it? While we chopped fresh herbs and vegetables, the women recounted their stories of who had taught them to cook and memories of learning to cook through trial and error.   One woman laughed telling the story of how her grandmother would shoo anyone away from the kitchen who was in a bad mood, stating that your grumpy attitude or “mala onda” would spoil the tamales. Throughout the room the laughter of the children playing making cookies could be heard. As the women prepared a traditional meal, albóndigas (a type of meat ball); the next generation created traditions of their own, shaping  a modified recipe of traditional Mexican Wedding cookies into faces with raisins for eyes, noses and Mohawk hair styles.
While the soup boiled the ladies sat and discussed the mission of the “Cocinas Sanas (Healthy Kitchens)” project: to maintain the knowledge of how to prepare traditional foods and sustain the health of the community. We hope to achieve this through collective cooking events such as this. The consensus among the woman was that as time passes people can begin to lose their traditions and memories, food available in the United States is less fresh and eating habits begin to change, which can lead to many health problems.  It is through arts of storytelling and cooking that we can preserve these traditions and memories of our grandmothers, mothers, aunts and all the women who have shaped our histories.
Each participant was asked to give feedback, share how she would like to see the mission carried out and how she herself would be able to further develop the project. It was interesting to hear that each woman had a slightly different recipe and way to prepare the meal. We are excited to continue a dialogue about traditional foods as the women share their stories and recipes. One woman remembered having large meals at her grandmother’s house, with all of the extended family present. She said “those are some of my fondest memories, and I know that my best memories will be sharing meals with my own children.”
Perhaps tonight we made a few new traditions as well as memories.  The next time I smell a waft of boiling potatoes, oregano, mint and onions, I will remember this night and the new relationships and traditions made.
I have never been the type to take a moment and think about where I come from and think about my culture. I would consider myself being part of that generation when our families arrived to the United States we lost some of our cultural roots and just let it happen. Working at Community to Community Development has been such an experience both challenging and rewarding. Being part of an amazing group of women at Community to Community has made me open my eyes and look at my life in a new perspective. Whether it may be me thinking about the foods I eat every day and where they come from, my rights as a human being and how I can help my community; Community to Community teaches me something new every day.  Not only has my time with the organization changed my perspective on life but has also helped me bond with my mother. Something my mother and I rarely do. My job at Community to Community is working on their Cocinas Sanas (Healthy Kitchens) project. The program is about empowering the Latina women in our community to make healthier eating choices for them and their family. My co-worker and I host collective meals with a group of women that we have met through our outreach. We cook together with the women and they share their stories about the foods and different methods of cooking they may have from where they come from. Personally I do not cook and I have a hard time understanding the cooking scene so I go to my mother a lot for help. She helps me put the recipes together then I come back and use that as a guide when working with the women. I’ve never really asked my mother about cooking or how to make something and, my mother is a great cook; she feeds our family well.
The first time I asked my mother for help on a recipe she was so surprised that I was asking. I was honest with her and told her it was for work, she might have been a little upset that it was not for my own interest but she was still happy to help.  I then went on and used that recipe to cook with the group of women. After that day, experiencing the hard work, dedication and the time that it takes to cook a meal I have looked at my mother so differently. I still continue to ask for her help but this time when I ask I am more interested in what she has to say. Our project recently got the opportunity to team up with Community to Community’s youth empowerment program, Raices Culturales (Cultural Roots). When the youth group meets my co-worker and I prepare the children’s lunches and then have a small group discussion on food. One day we planned on making chilaquiles for the children, ripped up tortilla pieces in enchilada sauce, sounds simple right; well not so simple for someone who does not cook. Once I again I asked my mother for help on putting the recipe together. Not only did I get the recipe but I also received a little story about this food. You see I have had chilaquiles with egg so when I asked my mother about when do I need to add the egg she looked at me and said chilaquiles don’t have egg. Now I was confused, were we talking about the same thing here? She then told me adding egg to the chilaquiles was something people started doing to “modernize” this food. She said “chilaquiles was something people made in the ranchos” (back in Mexico) when they did not have a lot to eat. They friend their tortillas lightly, blended some chilies, put them together and ate. If there was any at home they would also top them off with some chopped onion and queso fesco (Mexican cheese).
Here I am thinking the egg was the whole foundation for chilaquiles and wondering if I ever would have found that out if it weren’t for this opportunity Community to Community had given me of working with them. The story may be small for some people but and mean nothing but to me this story was a big deal. That moment with my mother will be a memory; she shared a little piece of our culture with me which I then had the opportunity to share with others. Coming into Community to Community I was not completely certain of what I was getting into. All I knew was I wanted to help people and help make a difference somewhere, little did I know they were going to be helping me and making a difference in me.