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Sugar, sugar

Diabetes, desserts and a happy medium

Six years ago, Irma Boggio was forced to change her relationship with a few close “friends” she’s had since childhood; friends she grew up with in the form of comfort food.

Although the Phoenix resident misses the food diabetes has taken away from her, she’s learned to live without having them so present in her day-to-day diet. Boggio never had much of a sweet tooth, but she had to greatly reduce her consumption of carbohydrates, which turn into sugar in the body. And that hurt.

“Bread, cheese and wine – those were the three things I almost gave up completely,” says the Uruguay native. “I used to love to have a good piece of bread with cheese … I don’t have that anymore. Back home, [we] have bakeries on every corner. Pastries, bread that you eat with your café con leche. Those things, forget it. That was very difficult for me.”

Boggio is one of the 24 million people in the United States living with diabetes, who can’t use the holidays as an excuse to indulge; not even champagne dinners and exotic boxed chocolates wrapped in red bows for Valentine’s Day.

But there is hope for food lovers after diabetes. With obesity and diabetes rates on the rise among Latinos, portion control, keeping track of the diet and using sugar substitutions go a long way in making sure things stay sweet.

“Food is not your enemy,” Boggio says, “but it’s not your best friend.”

Living sugar-free – or close to it

Pasta and wine (which the body also turns into sugar) were also on Boggio’s forbidden list. Ice cream is another. Her favorite flavor, Tiramisu, is not common in the sugar-free varieties she enjoys on occasion.

“It was difficult at the beginning, but little by little, you get used to it,” she says. “But when I see someone eating that wonderful ice cream, I try to think of something else.” Eating a lot of fresh fruit, including starting her day with an orange, helps keep cravings in check.

When she was diagnosed with the disease, Boggio was confused, because she did not consume a lot of desserts. However, a hereditary tie has shown itself: her grandmother and father had diabetes, and her nephew recently discovered he is diabetic. Boggio does not need insulin injections, but she does take a new oral medication twice a day to help control her disease. She has also adopted an exercise routine.

She tries not to cheat, but if a craving hits, Boggio sucks on a small piece of hard candy. At a restaurant, she orders a dessert that comes in a small serving or eats only a small part of a piece of cake or pie. If she’s having spaghetti, she’ll only eat a little portion. Boggio keeps track of what she’s consumed that week and if she has not eaten carbs or sweets, she’ll allow herself a little treat.

“If you deprive yourself, you will never be able to maintain a healthy diet,” Boggio says. “Diabetes is a very difficult disease. You don’t get better from it. But it is not impossible to manage if you put your mind to it and actually embrace it.”

Substitution over elimination

Living with diabetes does not mean forever giving up all sugar, a common misconception, says Debbie Polisky, WIC program manager and nutritionist.

“The three basics we need are fat, protein and carbs,” says Polisky. “The myth is, ‘I’m going to stop eating rice and dedicate [meals] to vegetables, meat and chicken.’”

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This Article appears on the February 2011 issue of LPM under Health

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