Cooking class offers recipe for diabetes prevention

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
Elaine Lee, left, heats Whole Wheat tortillas as Sylvia Reed, right, 66, both of Detroit, mixes black bean brownies, while Cooking Matters volunteer Jeneen Ali, center, 25, of Dearborn, helps.

Detroit — Sylvia Reed, 66, doesn’t have diabetes — and she doesn’t want it, either. So she’s dedicated much of the last year to learning the tools she needs to avoid the life-changing ailment that’s already affected her 40-year-old daughter.

Hoping to avoid diabetes is one thing. Having a support network for the journey, is quite another. That’s what the Diabetes Prevention Program, a free, year-long program from the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan, has been doing for Reed and hundreds of others.

According to the foundation, more than 2.6 million adults in Michigan may have prediabetes, which means elevated blood sugar levels, but not so elevated as to become a full-blown diabetes diagnosis. Another million Michiganians have diabetes.

“Prediabetes is dangerous, because it is ‘silent’ and typically has no recognizable symptoms. That’s why it often goes unrecognized by both the people who have it and their healthcare providers,” Eden Wells, Chief Medical Executive for Michigan, says in the state’s diabetes prevention action plan. “In fact, data show that nearly 90 percent of U.S. adults who have prediabetes are not aware that they have it. As a result, they also are unaware that they are at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.”

In addition to prediabetes, other risk factors for the disease include being physically inactive, being overweight and having a family history of it.

The Diabetes Prevention Program has served more than 1,550 people since 2012 by encouraging an active lifestyle and informing clients as to the consequences, positive and negative, of their dietary choices. Participants have lost, on average, 6 percent of their body weight and gotten physically active for an average of almost 190 minutes per week, well above the 150 minutes recommended by the program asks.

The program starts with 16 weekly, one-hour meetings, during which participants learn healthy nutrition practices. For the rest of the year the class meets monthly.

But a special group of clients, including Reed, who are enrolled in the Diabetes Prevention Program at St. Patrick Senior Center in Midtown, recently benefited from a collaboration between the Kidney Foundation and Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan. They are hosting a six-week “Cooking Matters for Adults” class as a supplement to the typical program.

The class teaches participants all aspects of how to take control of their diet, from the basics of hand-washing and knife safety to preparing healthier versions of popular foods and reading nutrition labels. Most weeks, participants leave with a bag full of groceries.

The class is designed for people on a limited budget, hence its challenge in week five, to see how close one can get to spending $10 on healthy groceries without going over. 

Mary Neumaier, a registered dietitian with the kidney foundation who teaches the prevention program, called the collaboration the “perfect addition.” 

People’s buy-in to the program tends to increase as they see results in terms of weight loss, or hear from loved ones that their body is changing for the better, Neumaier said. 

Reed enrolled because her attitude regarding diabetes was, “I don’t have it, and I’m not trying to get it.”

But her age, race and family history put her at higher risk of getting it someday. Rather than wait, she’s decided to take action.

At a recent class, the nine participants prepared two dishes: Veggie wraps and black bean brownies.

A Cooking Matters group member adds sparkling water to frozen pineapples, limes and mint as veggie wraps with 98% fat-free turkey cold cuts are displayed before lunch.

As the other women sliced veggies and warmed and cut the wraps, Reed took the dessert dish on as a personal mission, mashing the black beans down as small and as fine as she could. She wanted the nutritional benefits of the black beans, which include high fiber and protein, but not the taste.

“I’m not gonna lie, you won’t not taste the black beans,” instructor Anna Harris told the class. But when Reed went a little light on the chocolate chips — meant to offset the bean taste — Harris had her dump in half of the small bag.

“I’m still human,” Harris said.

Reed says she’s picked up new health habits since joining the program. Now, she won’t eat meat without a veggie. She’s done with yogurt and yellow cheese. She used to fry fish, but now she broils it. 

She eats 42 grams of fat or less per day, and these habits have led to a 22-lb weight loss. Oh, and she’s enrolled in a belly dancing class at the senior center.

“What you eat makes a big difference,” she said.

Learn more about the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan's Diabetes Prevention Program at 800-482-1455, or visit