When Dolores Culp was told she had diabetes two years ago, she thought she’d never eat sweets again.
But last year she learned healthy ways to cook desserts and other dishes she had given up through a four-week, hands-on cooking class offered free by New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service.
“I couldn’t believe it when I came to the class and found out I could eat things like banana nut bread or apple and pumpkin pie,” Culp said during a post-class potluck lunch in November in Los Lunas where class graduates shared healthy, homemade dishes. “I really learned a lot in the class, and I got some great recipes.”
The course, “Kitchen Creations: A Cooking School for People with Diabetes and Their Families,” teaches healthy ways to prepare meals that include traditional New Mexican and Native American dishes. Participants learn by cooking a variety of dishes during four three-hour sessions.
“The course’s strong point is that participants prepare recipes in the class rather than watch someone else demonstrate,” said Karen Halderson, the state-wide Extension diabetes coordinator who helped write the course curriculum. “By doing it themselves, participants are more likely to make the dishes when they go home. This is unique in New Mexico because clinics generally offer demonstration classes, not hands-on learning.”
Kitchen Creations grew out of an Extension partnership with the State Department of Health’s Diabetes Prevention and Control Program. The two agencies contributed $50,000 each to launch classes in 12 counties last year. The program’s popularity and high rates of diabetes in New Mexico prompted the partners to double their contributions this year and expand the classes to 22 counties.
About 200 people participated in 2001 and 124 people were on waiting lists by year’s end. With the expansion, nearly 600 people will participate this year, and classes will continue for two to three more years, Halderson said.
Some counties will offer three or more classes, particularly those with high rates of diabetes, such as Valencia and Sandoval counties, which plan four to five courses each.
Approximately 14 percent of New Mexicans 40 and older have diabetes. However, Hispanics are three to five times more likely to develop the disease than Anglos, and Native Americans are 10 to 15 times more likely, so more classes are being offered in counties with large Indian and Hispanic populations, Halderson said.
“There’s just so much need here,” said Carolynn Wilson, home economist with the Valencia County Extension office. “About 50 percent of the county population is Hispanic, and nearly 4 percent of deaths here are caused by diabetes. That’s higher than the state average of 3.5 percent of deaths due to diabetes.”
To attract Hispanics, Extension teaches healthy recipes for dishes such as carne adovada and chiles rellenos. Now, the course will also be offered in Spanish at sites in Valencia and Doña Ana counties.
The course won’t be offered in Native American languages, but Extension is developing more recipes for traditional pueblo dishes, Halderson said.
The course, taught by home economists with assistance from a registered dietitian or nurse, encourages students to plan meals, eat appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, increase vegetable consumption, use natural sweeteners, such as fruit, and add flavor to meals with spices as substitutes for fat. Extension provides all course materials free to participants, including cooking utensils, ingredients and recipe books.
Post-class evaluation shows substantial knowledge gain among students. “After taking the course, people knew more about the food guide pyramid, the need to decrease carbohydrates in favor of fruits and vegetables and how to plan meals and food portions. Most participants said they would change the way they ate and cooked,” Halderson said.
Valencia County participants said the course opened new horizons for them. “They taught us how to watch our diets,” said George Culp, who attended the class with his wife Dolores. “We learned to read labels and to cook foods we thought Dolores couldn’t eat any more. We’re even exercising more now.”
Bobbie Mallory, a mother of seven from Tomé who learned she had diabetes last year, said the class taught her more about nutrition and a manageable eating style than any doctor, nurse or reading material.
“Kitchen Creations was the best thing I’ve done to educate myself about managing diabetes,” Mallory said. “I learned to cook foods I love but I thought were off limits, like chile relleno. It’s just a healthier way of fixing it, and it tastes pretty darn good.”
For information, call Carolyn Wilson at 865-9561, Valencia County Extension office.