(this is mostly a nutrition-related post.. but still about food!)
Last night, I went over to a local college to see Brenda Davis give a talk about fighting disease with food. She focused on her experience in the Marshall Islands, where she ran a Diabetes Wellness Center.
It was really quite interesting, and I wish I'd taken notes! Overall, Brenda Davis emphasized a whole foods, plant-based diet coupled with exercise. As for what to cut out, she put much emphasis on animal foods and processed foods.
One thing that I found interesting was something she said about whole grains. The best ones to eat would be the ones that are intact (quinoa, whole wheat berries), broken (steel-cut oats), or rolled (oatmeal!). However, whole grains that are ground into flour, made into things like cereal and crackers and bread, or puffed, should be less important. This all had to do with managing diabetes, since the ground or puffed grains are much more quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. At least, that's what I got out of it.
Hearing about how the Marshall Islands people traditionally ate 60 years ago vs. how they eat now was quite remarkable and really sad. Before, their diet was based on local plants and fish, their main source of starch being the potato-like breadfruit. Now, it's mostly Spam, donuts, ramen noodles, fatty 'variety meats', white rice, and sugar, sugar, sugar. She showed a picture of a little girl, maybe 6 years old, with a popsicle in one hand and a can of pop in the other. And guess what? That picture was taken at 6:30 AM- it was breakfast.
In fact, Brenda Davis even said that a favorite breakfast among Marshallese children was a package of dry ramen noodles with a packet of Kool-Aid powder sprinkled on top... yikes! It's even been said that it would be harder to design a type 2 diabetes-inducing diet better than the one most Marshallese people eat today.
However, the way that Brenda was able to turn some of these people's lives around was just amazing. Even 2 weeks into the intensive intervention program, they reported to no longer have pain in their arms and legs, could now walk confortably, weren't constipated, and didn't have to get up to go to the bathroom at night. And that's only after 2 weeks!
Here are some participants' testimonies (taken from Brenda Davis' article)
"My pilot’s medical certificate was denied when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I am 38 years old. I was devastated as this certificate is necessary for my work as a pilot. I heard about the Diabetes Wellness Program and I became a participant. I completely changed my diet and embarked on a daily exercise program. Upon my last physical check-up, I was told that I am fully recovered and my pilot’s medical certificate was approved. I no longer have diabetes. I am very thankful. I have my career and my life back.
"I was bedridden all the time because in my mind I considered myself dead. I was skeptical about the program and told my wife that nothing could cure me. You see, I had a stroke and half my body was paralyzed. I had been in my bed for a year. I could not walk at all. Now I am proud to say that I can walk all the way to the supermarket without any pain in my body. I thank God for His plans to bring these doctors to our small island.
Isn't that just amazing? I love hearing stories like that :)
One great message that I got from this had to do with hope and really having faith in your own ability to take control of your life. Previously, most Marshallese believed that their high incidence of diabetes was due to radiation (the United States used some of the islands for atomic bomb testing, and exploded the equivalent of 1.5 Hiroshima bombs every day for 11 years!). There was a sense of hopelessness and that they were being owed something. But now, at least in the community where Brenda Davis helped out, it isn't as much like that anymore. These people have their lives back. They're no longer destined to deteriorate in their diabetic condition until they need to have limbs amputated. Can you believe that 50% of Marshallese 35 or more years old have type 2 diabetes? This condition is the #1 cause of death and disability there, and half of all surgeries are amputations for diabetics. Yikes!
But yeah. It was great. :) Brenda Davis is awesome.
Brenda Davis' article on her experience in the Marshall Islands
Pictures from the Marshall Islands from her website