Tag Archive | diabetes

spring cleaning and the NBA Finals

I recently decided to revisit some of my old posts, brush them off and bring them out for some fresh air–a kind of spring cleaning. I found a few that I have now fluffed up or polished, but this one is screaming for immediate attention.

As I write, I am sitting and watching Game 5 of the NBA finals–Cleveland Cavaliers v Golden State Warriors. The postseason with the advance of Cleveland and LeBron James has necessitated this postscript to “Dominique et Moi”. There, I wrote about my meeting with NBA legend and diabetes ambassador Dominique Wilkins on his visit to the Health Center where I worked. (Yes, really! Did you miss that one?)


Curry Varieties Image by TeeFarm at Pixabay

In that meeting, I asked Dominique how he felt about famous athletes using their celebrity to market unhealthy products–making reference to LeBron’s Pepsi ads which were running at that time. Though not to single out LeBron, I do find certain celebrity endorsements particularly troubling. During this year’s final rounds, LeBron has been featured in an ad for Kia automobiles.

The spot starts out with him sitting alone in his kitchen, eating a bowl of cereal with a box of Fruity Pebbles prominently displayed. The milk is in a plain, round, unmarked glass bottle. Just as he raises the spoon to his mouth, his zen moment is interrupted by a maintenance worker outside the window wielding a noisy leaf blower. LeBron leaves the table, miffed that his quiet moment has been disturbed–but not before five camera shots feature the Fruity Pebbles. A few more distractions, including his kids playing with a ball, pursue him until he finally finds solace in the quiet, obviously roomy and reclining back seat of his very clean and crumb-free fancy Kia.

I have been catching up on recent seasons of Mad Men so I know how these pitches are made by ad companies. But, can someone please tell me what marketing seduction was intended here? Does Kia own Post Foods or are they just sleeping together? What demographic is eating kids’ cereals and buying fancy cars? Long-legged adolescents saving their lawn mowing money? And, why is LeBron party to it all?

Ironically, recently as I watched LeBron on the court, I noticed he seemed more lean and lithe than I remembered. I turned to Pete, my source for all things sport and nutrition-related. Concerned he may have missed something, I implored him to get me some scoop on LeBron’s diet. Thirty seconds later he was back to me with a report that sure enough, this incredible sports phenomenon was adhering to a lower carbohydrate diet and was playing minus fifteen to twenty pounds this season. I was not surprised. I knew it! No Fruity Pebbles for King James. Notice he doesn’t actually eat the cereal in the ad. And, I am also going to venture that he’s likely lactose intolerant and not much of a milk drinker.

Well, I do hope that these athletes heed some warning from Dominique. Not even the creme de la creme are immune from negative dietary impacts and diabetic consequences. Well, except maybe LeBron–because the way he plays, he likely is immortal. And, they should be mindful of the messages they embody through their endorsements. But, hey, what is that food that his nemesis is hawking on his jersey? Curry? You mean that anti-inflammatory spice blend that may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and that contributes to some spectacular shooting? I wonder who is marketing that.

The truth of the matter is that increasingly, many athletes (and teams) are caring a lot about diet and nutrition and making it a prime focus for performance and endurance–and for helping others.

Here is what LeBron is really fueling on, and what he actually drives. Here is what Steph Curry is doing to promote healthy eating. And, here is how 4-time NBA Champion John Salley has committed himself to conscious eating.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Related Posts: Dominique et Moi, Wings of Desire, Love is Love

OH, DEAR ME. After writing this whole thing, I went to look up the ingredients of Fruity Pebbles for a link, only to find out that Fruity Pebbles is also a LeBron James endorsed Nike Air Foamposite One sneaker!! Wow. Your thoughts?


Child’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Food is medicine

Farmers are doctors, Cooks priests

Eat, pray, eat, pray, love.

by Gordon

set the twilight reeling

Lou Reed died on Sunday. This was strange to me because my relationship with him had only begun on Saturday night. I am a little embarrassed that I was not fully informed about the music of this artist. Of course, I knew some of his songs and was aware of the Velvet Underground and their being part of the Andy Warhol scene, but I think I was just a little too young and a lot too unhip to have accessed more of his music in its time. When I was just a little older and a touch hipper, I did become a fan of Laurie Anderson’s work and got it when she and Lou Reed later became an item.

Being attached to the elements of time, sound and place that Lou Reed inhabited, I would have responded with some curiosity and sadness upon hearing of his passing. But, having been in his presence just the night before, made the news resonate through my being. 

English: Lou Reed performing Berlin at the Globe Annex in Stockholm July 9 2008  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What had happened was that on Saturday night, Pete and I found ourselves still adjusting to being parents without boarders. This is what my daughter called us when she moved out recently to start college, leaving us with no kids living in the house. Simultaneous with that event, by means of some cable wire, our computer had become magically capable of projecting things onto our television set–thus widely expanding the viewing opportunities at our disposal. So, giddy with this new means of entertainment against the backdrop of a quiet house, Pete turned me onto a show called Spectacle, where Elvis Costello interviews an array of musical guests. Though this was big news to me, the episodes were recorded between 2008 and 2010. The show is a combination of storytelling and casual performance which I love.

Comfortably curled up for a night of relaxation, we started with Elvis Costello’s interview with Elton John. Right away my rock and roll pulse began to quicken. Next, we chose the one with Lou Reed. With Costello’s thoughtful and serious questions and Reed’s droll but meaningful answers, the segment just began to unfold like a walk through a park. Reed was iconic but also gracious and familiar-seeming. He discussed lyrics, the influence of the Beat poets, songs as stories and the effectiveness of minimal chords. Then, the artist Julian Schnabel joined them on stage. A very close friend of Reed, he told a touching story about loss that brought out the richness of their relationship. He recited Reed’s Rock Minuet as if he were Hamlet. Costello and Reed performed a perfect duet of A Perfect Day and they ended the segment with Set the Twilight Reeling. The combination of the scorching guitars and contrasting vocals was beautiful. I turned to Pete and said that I felt that I had just had a spiritual experience.

So, when on Sunday, as I was home working on some frustrating and soul-constraining activities and then saw the news that Lou Reed had died, I was strangely affected. How could that be? I just saw him the night before. He seemed ok–his heart was full and he treated us to some of Sweet Jane. I texted Pete–who was at a conference–the news. He wrote back agreeing that was very weird. Throughout the rest of the day, in between tending to my mundane tasks, I gobbled up the various contents of the musician’s cholesterol-rich oeuvre by reading articles and listening to his music. When Pete returned, he played me some more. I felt kind of empty. I regretted the loss to the world of a sensitive artist.

My own clinical work can frequently feel quite vapid to me–I am reactive to when there is too much science, too much medicine, too much judgment, and too little soul. The lyrics of my day are littered with mean or inflamed words like hypertension, arthritis, hypertriglyceridemia, gout, GERD, diabetes, obesity, and diabesity. Diabesity–actually sounds like it could be the name of a Lou Reed song. While Lou Reed’s lyrics can be ugly, angry, and crass sometimes too, they are also tender and romantic.

I am always longing for the lyrical and the poetic–and am grateful for artists and their art. For the lives and stories that I am privy to, I imagine something I call Diapoetry–where the impersonal becomes personal, where healing becomes love. This is any artistic or humanistic expression of matters related to health and the conditions that support or hinder it. It has applications wider than its name. There are beautiful renditions of illness and loss; there are healing practitioners whose science is art, there is life-giving food prepared with love and there are acts of service. It can be pretty or not–but it touches emotions and represents our fuller selves. Diapoetry can be represented in many ways. My observation is just that the collective psyche is weary of the bombastic and literal when it comes to our bodies.

So, it was additionally strange when on the following night, Pete said, “El, read this“. He handed me a New York Times article about Lou Reed having diabetes. Apparently, as Reed struggled with what to eat in response to it, the restaurateurs and chefs he knew throughout his little village of New York City began to create special menus for him and helped him to become interested in food for health. I was shocked. Here I am following the life and times of this legendary artist who was known for his often alienating and transgressive behaviors–and he ends up with the same humbling condition that brings many to their knees, praying for culinary and nutritional redemption. Suddenly, Lou Reed who traveled in realms quite foreign to me landed in a place I know a little something about.

The article concluded with a quote from Reika Alexander, the owner of one of the restaurants that nourished him. She said, recalling a strong final hug, “Even a couple of weeks ago he told me that he loved eating our food because it made him feel really healthy. He was really sweet. I really miss him. I was hoping I could see him again.”

That story, that food, that hug and Lou Reed himself–I think that is Diapoetry. It may be a fitting ending for this man who obviously fed the collective psyche. Maybe this beautiful tribute by his friend, Patti Smith, best reflects this sentiment.

Anyway, send word, love and any expressions of Diapoetry you may wish to share.

In health, Elyn

Happy Birthday to my dear husband Peter, who brings a lot of music to my life. Really– jazz, classical, post-rock, electronic, some really weird stuff–and always rock and roll. This video is for you, my love.

My Plate Diapoetry

As the twilight sunburst gleams
as the chromium moon it sets
As I lose all my regrets
and set the twilight reeling
I accept the new found man
and set the twilight reeling.

by Lou (Reed)

reporting from the rim of the sinkhole

A few months ago, at about 4 PM, Pete sent me an email saying something about soul food. I was rushing to end my day so I overlooked the attachment that would have filled me in on the details and why he thought this might be of interest to me. I dismissed the message quickly.

That evening though, as fate would have it, I got another message on my email informing me that I had a new follower on Twitter. This was big news given that it is a rare occurrence. As Pete assures me that I am right behind Lady Gaga in terms of followers, I must assume that she might have like twenty-eight. So, I decided to check out my ignored little bird account and see who my new follower might be.

Once there, I stumbled upon a flurry of activity on the feed from someone I follow–chef and food activist Bryant Terry, author of Vegan Soul Kitchen and Urban Grub. The excited conversation was about a PBS documentary Soul Food Junkies which was apparently being aired right then. The praise was pouring in for this film by Byron Hurt, about his exploration of the historical and cultural roots of soul food cuisine and its relationship to the current health crisis with its impact on the African-American community.

Image result for soul food junkies

A documentary by Byron Hurt

Ah, now I got it. I ran upstairs to the TV room and grappled with the remote. Attempting to master its controls, I pushed that channel button frantically. I must mention that I have about as limited a relationship with the television as I do with my Twitter account–and relying on an old antenna like apparatus, have access to about seven channels. Still, I knew I did get PBS. Round and round I cycled through those seven channels, three PBS stations and still could not find the show I was looking for.

Instead, what I found was a program about a guinea worm eradication program sponsored by Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center in Africa. It was rather fascinating though quite gruesome to watch. Apparently, water-borne guinea worm disease which has plagued a wide swath of Africa and Asia for thousands of years is poised to be eradicated. In 1986 when the Carter Center began its campaign with the partner countries, there were an estimated 3.5 million cases in 21 countries. By 2012 there were 542 cases left in just four African countries.

Guinea worm disease is contracted from drinking unclean water contaminated with larvae that once inside the human abdomen grow into worms up to three feet long. These worms eventually emerge from the body through excruciatingly painful blisters on the skin. I guardedly watched as health workers painstakingly exorcised these worms from the legs of screaming children and stoic adults, wrapping the worms around little sticks that were slowly turned. One worm, one person at a time. The success of this amazing eradication program has been due to water treatment and filtration programs and community education at a very grass-roots level.

A few days later I was able to watch Soul Food Junkies on pbs.org. It is an excellent film and I have been talking it up with a lot of my clients–and others as well. Many of my clients are African-American and my daily consults revolve around discussing this interface between food as cultural identity and health. Soul food is not the only problem area. Many cultural cuisines that have sustained people for millennia are causing problems in the context of our modern existence. This is due to various reasons including agricultural alterations in the actual foodstuffs that form the basis of these cuisines, more processed versions of these dietary staples being substituted for the real foods, traditional diets being padded with the excess of sugars, concentrated carbohydrates and other addictive substances that infiltrate our beings and a massive increase in sedentary lifestyles and stress. The vulnerable communities that are more exposed to poverty and its attendant health disparities are experiencing greater discord between their food and their health.

This is multi-layered stuff that claws at the core of who we are as eaters and which reveals how deeply connected we are to our heritage. Food is clearly not just an extrinsic matter. It communicates intimately with our cellular makeup. And, it is a heavenly sacrament. I remember as a child listening to my mother and my aunties trying to sever the relationship between my hypertensive grandfather and the heavily salt-cured foods of his Russian roots. Little did I know I would one day be standing between an African-American man and his beloved fried chicken or an Asian woman and her dear little grains of rice.

But yes, there I am. Standing tall at five feet one, holding firm with my big professional tweezers before every diabetic who sits in my office. With exact precision, I try to extract each granule of sugar that has gone rogue in the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on the body–sort of like a guinea worm. Just as guinea worm disease takes hold in unsuspecting individuals so does diabetes. Persons consuming available foods for the purpose of sustaining survival and attaining some pleasure, awaken one day to learn that they are infested with massive globs of excess glucose.

I have been doing this work for a long time and I can tell you that the diabetic epidemic is getting worse. My daily roster is full of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes. This morning I woke up to some crazy NPR story about the woes of candy makers due to the relatively high price of sugar–the price regulated by the Farm Bill. Apparently, the makers of Dum Dum lollipops require 100,000 pounds of sugar for the daily manufacture of ten million Dum Dums–and they are having a hard time affording it. Can those numbers be for real? Well, please don’t tell Dum Dum that I have some sugar stockpiled in my office–mounds of the stuff that I have removed from my clients. I know they will just try to recycle it right back into the very folk I took it from.

Diabetes might not seem to be as bad as guinea worm–but one can actually make many metaphorical if not actual comparisons. Diabetes leaves many physical and emotional scars. My clients look at me through eyes that plead to spare them from this scary disease–that comes complete with implements that stab and jab and symptoms that pain and worry–depleting the soul. I scurry furiously to help pull them out of the sinkhole of this very complicated condition. If a disease caused by a swarm of microscopic larvae can be eradicated from the planet, it is hard to believe we can’t do better to minimize the incidence or increase the reversal of diabetes. The methods employed essentially would seem to be the same–access to ‘clean’ food, governmental responsibility, respect for human dignity, caring, education, and cultural adaptation.

And so, that is why the work of Bryant Terry and the film of Byron Hurt are so important–and why folk should watch Soul Food Junkies and align it with their own food foundation. Time is of the essence and Jimmy Carter deserves a rest.

Thank you for reading, really. As always, thoughts, tweezers, and twitter followers welcomed.

In health, Elyn

Related Recipe: Bryant Terry’s Citrus Collard Greens with Raisins Redux

(Update February 2020: Bryant Terry has just published a gorgeous cookbook, Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes. From the Introduction: Vegetable Kingdom is inspired by my daughters, Mila and Zenzi. They have blessed this book like my ancestors blessed meals, by humbling me to that which is greater than myself.)

(Update June 2020: Bryant Terry prefers that his book(s) be purchased from independently-owned bookstores (check indiebound.org & bookshop.org) and ideally, from Black-owned bookstores like: @marcus.books@esowonbooks@peoplegetreadybooks, and @unclebobbies.)

(Update February 2021: Check out Byron Hurt’s continuing efforts @byronhurt and support completion of his new film, Hazing.)


Bryant’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

This isn’t steroids

It’s Collard Greens.

from Ballin’ at the Graveyard (Documentary on an Albany, NY neighborhood basketball game)

“It includes the authentic voices of men working to do what’s right—for themselves, their families, and for the larger community. If you want to better understand our City’s character and come away feeling good about it, this film is a must-see.” Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan


I have a confession to make. I recently had a soda. Yes, I did. That means, of my own volition, I purchased the vibrantly colored 12-oz. can, pulled up on that little flip top, and brought that fizzy, bubbly nectar–rife with all its high fructose corn syrup–up to my own lips…and swallowed. Then I swallowed again. And, I did all of this under the bright lights of the public eye. I tell ya. That little burst of Sunkist Orange Soda was quite satisfying.

It was a cold winter’s night. Pete and I had gone to our little local community-run movie theater where nice volunteers staff a humble concession stand. I don’t really know how it happened. I was thirsty. Ordinarily, I would have just purchased water–which was what I was assuming I was about to do again as I approached the counter. However, uncharacteristically, my thirst informed me right then and there that it would not be humored this time by just plain water and it insisted that I consider the offerings stocked in the small glass-front refrigerator.


Alice and the Cheshire Cat

I was stunned. I did not know what to do. Healthy-oriented me does really enjoy a few lines of lightly sweetened specialized iced teas but there were none of those to be found in that bastion of freon-cooled fare. Instead, there were just waters, sodas and those pouches of Capri Suns that you stick little straws into. I panicked. The cloyingly sweet fruit juice concoctions aroused a mild nausea, the sodas provoked my usual disgust and disdain and the concession people were beginning to look at me funny.

Suddenly, the sun logo on the little orange can seemed to wink at me and I found myself saying, “Yes, I’ll have an orange soda.” When I went back to sit in my chair, Pete turned to tell me that the seat was saved…for me. He really did not recognize me with that can in my hand. The last time he saw me with a can of soda was about 1981 when we were parched and poor living in Dallas, Texas.

Now, you might not think this was such a big deal without appreciating that I have about the lowest per capita soda consumption and am kind of like the Carrie Nation of the soda-drinking world. I tote around soda bottles emptied of their original content and refilled with their hidden sugar equivalency. Like I described in Private Health, I paste pictures of skulls and cross-bones on these bottles. I make my victims hold those bottles while I read them the insidious list of ingredients that their beloved brands contain. I make them weep as they promise to not ever imbibe again. When forced on rare occasions to empty the bottles of their original contents so I can use them for my own devices, I don plastic gloves and a face mask. That is how corrosive I consider these substances to be. And, if anyone had ever dared offer my own kids a soda in my presence, who knows what their fate may have been.

So, imagine my inner confusion as I leaned over and whispered to Pete during the movie, “This is pretty good.” Now, don’t get me wrong. It is not like I never had the stuff. I was raised on soda. The only thing that had stopped me from having a relationship with it long ago was an early adoption of a whole foods, crunchy granola lifestyle, an understanding of the depleting aspects of white sugar and resistance to large multi-national corporations. If I had not had such a strong philosophical position on such matters way back, I might have just gone along enjoying these nice little fizzies with the rest of the masses. Especially the innocent flavors like orange, black cherry, and ginger ale. Sometimes they do just hit the spot like nothing else can. If not bolstered by my iron-clad conviction that soda should be a banned substance, I could easily imagine getting another one of these little cans of sunshine the next time I go to the movies. And then, maybe when I go to a restaurant or if I am on a trip. I could then just keep a few in my own fridge.

Maybe I should have relaxed a little last week with my lovely 300 plus-pound 35-year-old client who was diagnosed with diabetes a year ago. His blood sugars are better but still not in good control. He is drinking way less Pepsi than he used to. Now, he only has one or two cans a day, sometimes none, while on the job during the day as a building maintenance supervisor. Should the fact that he is the father of five– the youngest of which was with him during our consult and who was the cutest thing ever–matter? Is it just a coincidence that he sees a connection between his blood sugar levels and his soda consumption?

Maybe I shouldn’t have tried so hard last week to figure out what was up with my 34-year-old pregnant client. Prior to this pregnancy, her chart indicated that there was evidence of high blood sugar–hyperglycemia–without a full diagnosis of diabetes. She came in bemoaning her foul moods, agitation and lack of both patience and energy. Came to find out she has been consuming 2 to 3 liters of Cherry Coke daily for a long while. Imagine her surprise when I pulled out a sugar-filled bottle of her favorite blend from under my desk.

Once again, there is a new hoopla in the divisive soda world as Coca-Cola is releasing these commercial spots touting their supposed corporate responsibility in the fight against obesity while at the same time ignoring the true effects of their confectionery concoctions. You can watch one of them here. My peeps, Mark Bittman, Marion Nestle, CSPI, and others are thankfully responding to this deceptive campaign accordingly. This is good because I am busy in the trenches.

These little stories I cite above are just examples of situations I really encounter over and over, even in the course of a day. Corroded teeth, eroded stomachs, poor mood regulation, extreme belly fat and of course, diabetes lie in the wake of soda consumption and its adherent addiction. It is this that fuels my manic reaction to the stuff–and will continue to do so.

Being diagnosed with diabetes is like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. Every day I meet the people who have unfortunately fallen into the hole chasing some elusive White Rabbit. Reality changes mighty quickly and quite extremely. Simply awakening from a strange dream will not make it go away. Eating cake will certainly not help and the Red Queen is apt to yell, “Off with her toes!” And, Coca Cola and Pepsico will have nothing to offer except a Cheshire Cat smug grin.

So, though I enjoyed that little refreshment, it will be a long time until my next one.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn


A Bank of Beverage Machine’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Did you really think

That you could hide fish in rice?

Oh, the green paste burns!

by A Cat

(from I Could Pee on This and other poems by cats collected by Francesco Marciuliano)

the dance of diabetes

It is a modern dance though it has its roots in classical forms. It was originally choreographed for just a handful of dancers but now it is staged for many. In recent years it has been performed all around the world. I have seen it many times.

The curtain rises and the stage is empty. Slowly, alone and in pairs, the dancers enter–men and women. They are dressed simply in tights and leotards, all in tones of soft browns and grays, with one wrist wrapped in a band of red fabric. The dancers inhabit their space with sparse yet defined movements, engaged with each other, but each portraying a distinct set of steps.

Suddenly, one of the dancers contracts his center and extends one arm forward, palm facing upward. While he curiously studies the fingers of the upturned hand, his other arm reaches behind and then quickly arcs overhead coming full circle its palm slapping down against the other. As palms meet, the dancer deepens the contraction, a pained look grabs his face. Grazing his fingers along the wristband it unfurls in a flutter of scarlet fabric. He straightens and assumes his previous movements–the colored cloth now flowing behind his every step. ballerinas-g39791c62a_1920

This contraction of the body, where the torso curves forward over the controlled pelvic area is a fundamental movement in modern dance. Martha Graham–the mother of modern dance– developed the gesture from observing the physical manifestation of grief in the body.

Soon, another dancer stops. This time a woman. She too contracts her center, contemplates the fingers on her upturned palm and follows also with the circling arm, the jolting slap and the unfurling of the scarlet rivulet of cloth. And, so it goes. In syncopated rhythms, new dancers initiate the pattern while those already afflicted repeat it over and over. Their eyes now remain fixed on their upturned hands that lead them forward.

As the tempo of the music intensifies so does the frenzy of the dancers now marked in red–about 10 percent of the performers. They respond to the dissonant notes that punctuate the melody while the others maintain a more composed presence. The noise of the slapping of the hands amplifies. Sporadically, they also clasp fist in hand drawing their arms in toward their torso or legs. Again the contraction of their bodies and the grimaced faces. Continually, they return to their earlier movements but always with one palm upturned and leading their way.

As the dancers’ paths intermingle, the rivers of red become intertwined among all of them. There is a flurry of color amid the neutral gray and brown hues. Some of the grieved are gently lifted up and held in the air or are tenderly embraced while others dance quietly alone extending their arms upwards calmly or angrily beseeching the heavens. A few tuck the wounded hand behind their backs, tethering its gestures and move on without it–though the red trail remains.

Eventually, the music regains a slower pace. The dancers all resume the steps of the first part of the piece regaining semblance of movements of everyday life and common interactions. Slowly they each quietly walk off stage. The lights dim.

This is the representation of the experience of diabetes. Its steps are hard to master and its care is tempting to ignore. Unsuspecting individuals in unprecedented numbers, an abrupt diagnosis and suddenly a life marked by the demands of modern blood-letting. Rather than preferring to allow one’s life fluid to course through the body unseen and uninterrupted, diabetes requires a more intimate relationship.

The hand must reluctantly but gracefully present itself. Fingers must be pricked, poked and squeezed multiple times a day begging the deliverance of the droplets of our inner essence. The sacrificial digit must be chosen and its offering must then be measured with precision to determine blood sugar levels. Numbers digitally displayed on a meter determine one’s destiny for the day as well as for the tomorrow. Medications are quickly and somewhat arbitrarily prescribed–some of which are delivered by measured injections to various parts of the body.

Food becomes more enemy than friend and each bite becomes suspect and open to investigation. Kidneys, eyes, and toes–and yes, hearts, are no longer private property but are open to the purview of medical technicians. And yet, the dance of life must go on. Interestingly, Martha Graham once stated that the mission of her work was to “chart the graph of the heart”. In essence, diabetes monitoring requires the same.

Not everyone appreciates modern dance. This is an unsettling piece. But, diabetes can be re-choreographed as its treatment is improved and, more importantly, as its causes are prevented.

Sharings on the experience of managing diabetes respectfully welcomed.

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Food is medicine

Farmers are doctors, Cooks priests

Eat, pray, eat, pray, love.

By Gordon

visions of sugar plums

When I arrived at my office on Monday morning, a bag was hanging from the door handle. My first glimpse through the plastic made me think the bag contained cucumbers, maybe small pickling ones. I was a little puzzled as I did not think December was the season of the giving of cucumbers, but even so, I was all for it. I put the bag aside and started my day. I figured the answers to the questions the cucumbers posed would present soon enough.

Sure enough, a short while later, Marie, my hallmate, friend, and partner in the quest to nourish the needy, came by to tell me that a mutual client of ours had brought me some bitter melon. Bitter melon? Oh yes, of course. My East Indian client had told me months ago that he would bring me something. I reached for the bag and untied the knot. Staring me in the face were five of the strangest cucumbers I had ever seen. I suddenly felt like the gamekeeper of little tiny crocodiles.

Article featured image

Bitter Melon Food Republic

A quick google search informed me that I was now sharing my office with five Momordica charantia, the most bitter of any fruit, and though they come in various shapes and sizes, I was in the company of the sub-continent phenotype. Moments later, Marie, who is a nurse and thus always quick to action, was back in my office with a red plastic plate and a white plastic spoon. She grabbed one of those emerald babies and took immediately to its dissection. With the red, green and white color palette, it seemed like some ancient Christmas ritual. I was not sure she knew what she was getting us into. This was not your momma’s ordinary cucumber and I was still not convinced it was vegetable, not animal. I winced as she made the first vertical slice.

As she did, an intense, I suppose bitter odor filled the room. I would not say it was completely unpleasant, but now I was more afraid we might be dealing with a controlled substance. Eviscerated, the dear little bitter melon did not look dissimilar to other members of the squash or melon family. As it was pretty narrow, the insides were filled mainly by the seeds surrounded by a little flesh. Marie went right for the seed and then wondered if she should have exercised more caution. I dabbled in the skin and flesh. Little tiny ‘microbites’ seemed sufficient for now. We then googled how one was to prepare these things, which I was determined to do in honor of my client who had gone to the trouble to bring them to me. I considered regifting but thought better of it.

The amazing Internet proposed a multitude of recipes for my little warty friends. Teas, sauces, curries, stir-fries, and cocktails were all possible. Even desserts apparently–though I wondered if they would be deserving of the extra “s”. Marie, who was not yet hallucinating, left me alone to ponder. Shortly after, as luck would have it, my other hallmate, the psychiatrist, who is from India, happened by. I invited him in to show off my gift. Of course, bitter melon. He was familiar and well-versed in this botanical wonder. He gave me a few suggestions including stuffing the little buggers with any nice savory filling. He said all parts could be eaten but some people don’t enjoy the seeds. Further research did inform that some types of these seeds can indeed induce difficulties in susceptible individuals.

As the day proceeded, the sacrificial fruit lay exposed right next to me on my desk. Though I had been aware of bitter melon’s powerful anti-diabetes properties since it increases insulin sensitivity–which was why my client and I had even discussed it –my experience with it had been seeing it used in various glucose support supplements. Spending a day with one was a different story. Just seeing it, touching it, and most potently, smelling it made it obvious that this was a powerful healer–like many plants are. Maybe not too dissimilar from hot chili pepper, its acrid scent wafted into my lungs, blood, and brain.

Bitter melon contains many biologically active substances and has many medicinal uses. Its benefits are quite impressive. Besides its role in diabetes, it has anti-parasitic, anti-viral, anti-malarial, cardio-protective, anti-dysentery and anti-cancer properties. After a short time in its company, I would not doubt any of these. So informed, I carried these big green pills home with me. To be honest, visually they gave me the willies and I was cautious about their use. I enjoy the taste of bitter to some extent and gladly ingest all types of bitter greens but my lack of experience with this incarnation of bitter gave me some pause. Still, I jumped right in and sliced one thinly into that evening’s dinner of a seitan stir-fry. As my family sat to eat, I gave fair warning. Blended on my fork with other foods it found some welcome in my mouth. I am open to a future relationship though I may leave that to other Asian cooks. And, if I ever do have a nematode worm or diabetes, I would gladly consider its use.

Due to my nutritionist vibe in my work settings, I am often excluded from excuses for food excess events. Just the other day I was walking down the hallway with a co-worker. A nurse approached us and said just to my co-worker, “I have coffee cake back in my office. Go have some.” Years ago, this obvious slight would have stung, but now I am rather used to not being invited to play in all the reindeer games. Someone did give me some lovely little Ghiradelli chocolate squares but besides the bitter melons, those were my only holiday treats. Oh, but Miss Henry from my post, Lose 14 Pounds in Three Years did tell me she was bringing me some Sweet Potato Pie.

Well, anyway, so it goes. In the spirit of this holiday season, I wish you both peace in the world and in your hearts, and wonderful visions of sugar plums–which it turns out were once sugar-coated coriander but now seem to be a confection of almonds, dates and dried apricots (see recipe) and the gift of health.

I would love to hear from you and could use some new holiday Haikus.

In health, Elyn

My Plate Haiku

The children were nestled all snug in their beds                                                                   

While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads. by Clement Clark Moore

have it your way at Red Chinese Sorghum Mutton Noodle

Happy Chinese New Year. It is the Year of the Rabbit, but things may not be so cute in bunny land no matter what astrological system you ascribe to. Last month there were reports of a shift in the astrological alignments apparently due to an Earth wobble or precession. This wobble or twist of the Earth’s axis is caused by the gravitational attraction of the moon on Earth’s equatorial bulge. I may not know a lot about astrology, but I do know about anatomy, and with the sudden burgeoning of obesity amongst 325 million people in China, I suspect that equatorial bulges may, in fact, explain the wobble.

About twelve years ago I caught a segment on television, perhaps on 60 MinutesLay’s Potato Chips were being imported to China for the first time and a massive marketing campaign was underway to introduce these thinly sliced, deep-fried and salted tubers served in a colorful and crinkly bag. One early morning as millions of people in some enormous city were bustling to work on foot and bike, a very large display of cardboard boxes was stacked at the entrance of a market.  The boxes were marked with lots of Chinese letters–and Lay’s. People were being stopped in their busy tracks and asked to sample this wonderful new product. Many of them were holding small paper bags of peanuts–their centuries-old “on the go” breakfast. The chips got a mixed review.

This segment was followed by a piece on the rapid increase in childhood obesity in China. Apparently, within ten years of the introduction of American fast food into China, ten percent of urban youth were overweight. Featured was a military boot camp-like program where about one hundred rank and file uniformed kids were being led sternly through a highly supervised exercise program.  This did not look particularly fun, but to the Chinese government, this was no laughing matter.

Five years ago, I attended a conference sponsored by the American Heart Association on obesity. A Chinese physician who now practices in the US was one of the speakers. He said, that twenty years prior–about 1985–when he attended medical school in China, it was extremely rare to encounter diabetes. For his training, he had to travel to a far off province to find a study case. He explained that now, diabetes is so rampant in China, that it is a significant drain on the Chinese health care system, and subsequently on its total economy.

As I sat to write this, my original thesis was that the US had purposefully set out to fatten up, sicken and slow down the industrious Chinese with fast food as an economic dominance tactic– but my research now makes me wonder if it was payback for what the Chinese had done to us–in retaliation for what we had done to them. Chinese cooks and restauranteurs had long ago figured out how to alter their cuisine to meet and oversatiate the American palate– happily to their own economic advantage. Consider that the first privately owned restaurant only opened in Beijing in 1980; while the first Chinese restaurant opened in this country in San Francisco in 1849. According to http://factsanddetails.com/china, there are more Chinese restaurants in the US than the top three large fast-food chains combined. Can that be?

I am often apt to echo Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation rant against food additives and flavorings and how their application to our food supply has fostered an epidemic of food addiction that afflicts even very young children. But, was not the MSG that peppered our Chinese take-out and addled our brains perhaps the grandfather of all such flavor enhancers? Had the Chinese immigrants who were so mistreated here, literally found a way to have us eating out of their hands? Nowadays, Thanksgiving is the only day of the year that Chinese restaurants here are not busy–apparently, it’s a big day for Chinese weddings.

One of the more difficult parts of my work is weaning folk off of General Tso’s Chicken, Beef and Broccoli, and pork fried rice. Big grown men look at me with sad puppy dog eyes and whimper like puppies too. They whine, well how come Chinese people aren’t fat–(or didn’t use to be)? I respond harshly, make them do a hundred jumping jacks and tell them to walk home.

The second that China loosened its restrictions on the West, American fast food conglomerates were ready to flood its shores with a deluge of the additive-enhanced foods we specialized in–and the modern, more prosperous populace was ready and eager to be seduced. The first American fast-food chain to set up shop was Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1987. Apparently, what has been attractive to the Chinese diner is the cleanliness, efficiency, and courtesy of the western establishments where customers get escorted to their tables. This gesture (perhaps along with the under 5-yuan menu) has put western establishments way above their Chinese competitors who actually serve food more accommodating to the Asian palate. However, once exposed to our mischievously enhanced food products, there is no looking back. Even the big Chinese national chain, Red Chinese Sorghum Mutton Noodle could not withstand the heat. Perhaps Confucius say: Kill enemy softly.

Though I know this is not breaking news, it is still hard for many people to fully comprehend the effects of these “manipulated” foods on our bodies. They have contributed to the alteration of the global waistline and median blood sugar level. It is really difficult for me to explain this to the many kind and gentle adults and children who sit before me as clients. How could we imagine that we are sold food that fosters a profoundly unnatural, addictive relationship? But, we are.

Well, I have a few more people in this country to tend to and then I may have to head over to China. Until I arrive, they may need to use some of those ghastly Chinese manufactured plastic food models that they ship here to teach us about food and proper portion sizes. Once there, I’ll have to convince them to reclaim their own cultural snack food of peanuts–or hua sheng. I am told that they do still magically appear if you say pi-jin–the word for beer. One thing I won’t have to contend with there is fortune cookies-the alluring end to an Americanized Chinese meal. Apparently, they originated in Japan and are not at all part of China’s culinary traditions. Still, I must remember, the stakes are high. The wobble may just make this the Year of the Hippopotamus if they do not act quickly.

I leave you with an old Chinese proverb: Wherever smiles happen and happiness is celebrated you’ll find Lay’s Potato Chips. So tell me, how are you going to celebrate?

Thank you for listening, sharing, following and supporting my writing. Please subscribe in the sidebar to receive notice of new posts. Comments and greetings always welcome.

In health, Elyn