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NMSU To Launch Cooking Schools for People with Diabetes

ALBUQUERQUE - Good news: New Mexicans with diabetes aren't doomed to a life of special diets and food cravings. Many favorite dishes–be it carne adovada with chile caribe, chicken enchilada casseroles or a simple taco–can stay on the menu if diabetics learn to cook them in healthier ways.


And more good news: Starting this fall, New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service will teach free, four-week classes to help New Mexicans with diabetes learn healthier ways of preparing traditional dishes.

"Kitchen Creations: A Cooking School for People with Diabetes and Their Families" will be launched in November in Sandoval and Los Alamos counties, the two pilot test sites for the program. By mid-2001, the classes will spread to 10 more counties, including Curry, Doña Ana, Eddy, Hidalgo, Lea, Luna, Quay, Roosevelt, San Juan and Valencia.

"By June we'll be teaching the classes in 12 counties, but our long-term goal is to slowly extend the program to all the counties," said Karen Halderson, an Albuquerque-based diabetes coordinator for Extension who helped prepare the course curriculum this year. "How fast the classes spread depends on funding and on our evaluation of the program's success in the initial counties."

The cooking classes grew out of a partnership with the state Department of Health's Diabetes Prevention and Control Program. Last year, the two agencies jointly contributed about $50,000 to finance diabetes education in targeted counties around the state, given the growing impact of diabetes in New Mexico.

The state ranks seventh in the nation for deaths due to diabetes. Approximately 14 percent of New Mexicans 40 and older have the disease, which costs state residents about $1 billion per year in medical expenses, lost productivity and early deaths.

The problem is magnified by widespread poverty in the state, which limits people's food options and often leads to poor nutritional choices, contributing to the spread of diabetes and other diseases, said Martha Archuleta, Extension food and nutrition specialist.

Moreover, Hispanics are 3 to 5 times more likely to develop diabetes than Anglos and Native Americans and 10 to 15 times more likely, creating a higher risk of diabetes for much of the state's population.

"We started the diabetes education program a little over a year ago in direct response to the growing need for that kind of assistance in New Mexico," Archuleta said. "Through the partnership with the Department of Health, we approved mini-grants of $1,000 to $2,000 to Extension offices in 16 counties. Home economists used the funds for local outreach and education, ranging from the creation of support groups for people with diabetes, to educational newsletters, workshops, and health fairs."

As diabetes education spread, Extension educators saw a need for hands-on classes that would not only encourage diabetics to adopt healthier diets but also would teach them how to cook traditional New Mexican meals in healthier ways.

"We designed the cooking class curriculum as a practical tool for participants to adopt in their everyday lives," Archuleta said. "It combines information about diabetes with information about cooking."

Extension experts developed healthy recipes for traditional dishes as part of the curriculum. During the four-week course, the students themselves will cook about a dozen different foods in the classroom.

"We find that if they cook the dishes in the class itself, they're more apt to try those recipes at home," Archuleta said.

The classes, which will be taught by home economists with assistance from a registered dietitian or nurse, will also encourage students to plan meals, eat appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, increase vegetable consumption and add flavor to meals with spices as substitutes for fat.

To finance the cooking classes and other diabetes education activities, the diabetes education program's budget increased to $115,000 in the fiscal year that began July 1. Extension will provide all course materials for participants, including cooking utensils and ingredients.

Up to 15 students will be admitted into each class, allowing for about 150 graduates by June. Participants will be invited back for a potluck reunion three to six months after the class ends to check their progress.

Pilot classes will begin in Sandoval County in early November for participants recruited from Zia, Sandia and Santa Ana pueblos.

"We want to finish these first classes in advance of the end-of-year holidays so that participants can come back in January to help us assess how many of them used the recipes in their holiday cooking," said Charolette Collins, Extension home economist in Sandoval County.