While celebrity chef Curtis Aikens adores First Lady Michelle Obama, he said he wishes she would add diabetes awareness to her health advocacy repertoire.
Chef Curtis Aiken wants Black people suffering from diabetes to eat better. (Courtesy Photo)
And because she hasn’t, Aikens has taken up that mantle with an assist from healthcare company Novo Nordisk through its Eat and Test for Diabetes Health awareness project. The project is a national campaign that encourages diabetics to test their blood sugar within one to two hours after eating and points them to resources that help them manage blood sugar hikes. During the campaign, Aikens typically gives cooking demonstrations of healthy recipes he’s created.
For people living with diabetes, ensuring their blood sugar number or postprandial glucose remains in check is important when it comes to reaching long-term blood sugar goals.
Blacks, as well as Mexican Americans, American Indians, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are more at risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, according to the American Diabetes Association. This is partly because those groups are more likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure.
Type-2 diabetes is a lifelong, chronic condition characterized by high blood glucose levels. Unlike Type-1 diabetes where the body doesn’t make enough insulin, Type 2- diabetes means the body cannot use insulin properly.
“It’s like syrup running through your veins,” Aikens told the AFRO. He has lived with type-2 diabetes for more than 30 years. “Syrup tastes good going in but it’s not good for our veins … too much of it slows us down.”
There are 29.1 million Americans who have diabetes, 9.3 percent of the population, according to 2014 data from the CDC. Of them, nearly 63,000 live in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, Black adults are 80 percent more likely than White adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports.
“So I feel as an African American man, I’ve got to ring this bell because it’s in our families,” said Aikens, whose parents also had diabetes. “Diabetes has just crossed over, so we’ve got to ring this bell.”
Last weekend, Aikens, 57, brought the campaign to the American Diabetic Association Game On Greater Washington walk and expo in Landover, Md. But high winds cut the event short and meant he could only share tips for managing diabetes at mealtime and pass out samples of his chopped gazpacho salad as a healthy food option. It marked his second event with the campaign.
The campaign has been around for about a year and Aikens, a founding host of the Food Network, joined it four months ago. He left the Food Network in 2002 with 12 shows under his belt in which he shared healthy recipes and showed viewers how to use fresh produce. Other television credits include ABC’s “Good Morning, America” and “Home Show.”
Off camera, Aikens prepared meals at the White House for Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.
Diabetics can lead productive and active lives as long as they manage the disease and their portions, exercise and eat healthy, he said. With certain modifications diabetics can even savor foods that are typically high in fat and sugar, including soul food.
For example, Aikens makes his sweet potato pie with two tablespoons of butter and less than a quarter cup of sugar, a slight modification from how he used to make the pie two cups of sugar and a stick of butter.
“I want to be the best me I can be, the best we (Black men), we can be so we can help our communities be stronger and make a more positive productive contribution to this country,” Aikens said.