A diagnosis of diabetes is not a condemnation to a dull, boring diet devoid of sweets and starches.
It is, however, a wake-up call for more education and information, which students in Elizabeth Ann Smith’s medical nutrition therapy class at MTSU are helping to make available.
In collaboration with the Nashville-based service called “Party Like a Diabetic,” Smith’s students are determining the carbohydrate counts from the menu items of local restaurants in Nashville and Murfreesboro as well as restaurants in Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii, with which “Party Like a Diabetic” founder Caitlin Grenier is familiar.
Smith, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Sciences and a registered dietitian, is guiding 11 seniors through their investigations of carb counts per serving in preparation for eventual internships.
She said the key for diabetics navigating their way through “carbohydrate country” is to make sure there is a daily balance of carbs — found in grains, fruits and vegetables as well as sweets and alcohol — along with proteins and fats.
“For example, at breakfast, if they’re going to eat 30 or 40 grams of carbohydrate, we want that (amount) to kind of mimic lunch and dinner so that we can keep that blood sugar on an even keel,” Smith said.
People with diabetes, whether they use insulin or manage their condition with diet and exercise alone, must keep track of their daily carbohydrate intake to stay healthy. Most either use apps, study menus or estimate the carbohydrate grams in the foods they eat, then tally those grams to get their total for a day’s meals and snacks.
While U.S. restaurants have considered calorie counts more important to provide to consumers because of the obesity epidemic, carbohydrate counts are more important to diabetics working to prevent blood sugar spikes and lows.
Grenier was diagnosed in 2013 with latent autoimmune diabetes of adults. She’s now a health coach and posts carb counts at www.partylikeadiabetic.co of food and beverage items from restaurants reported by Smith’s students.
“They’ve done breweries,” Smith said. “They’ve done ice cream shops. We did a tea shop … (and) we just did a big Italian restaurant. A little bit of everything is in there.”
Eventually, Smith and Grenier said, they hope to put the students’ hard work into an app that will help make dining out as easy and safe for diabetics as it is for their nondiabetic partying peers.
“Everyone’s all about easy accessibility and usability,” Grenier said. “There’s amazing information everywhere, but if people can’t find it easily or access it, they’re more than likely not going to use it, unfortunately.”
Jericho Yates, an MTSU senior from Nashville majoring in dietetics, said the partnership provides students with experience they’ll find valuable in their careers.
“This activity not only gives our future dietitians experience with food composition research, but it educates them on alternative career paths,” Yates said.
“(It) shows them different ways registered dietitians can affect their communities through networking and combining resources to help those that need it most.”
“It’s really about living your life to the fullest in spite of having diabetes,” Grenier added.
For more information, contact Smith at 615-898-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Grenier at email@example.com.
— Gina Logue (firstname.lastname@example.org)