Jim Huter of Terre Haute has been managing diabetes since 2008. Food Prescriptions for Better Health, a collaborative program offered through Purdue Extension, was exactly the prescription he needed for flavorful and healthy food choices.
He signed up at Wabash Valley Health Center in Terre Haute, he says, because as a diabetic managing his health, “I can take all the information about diabetes that’s out there.”
The 16-week program is a collaborative effort by Purdue Extension – Vigo County, the Indiana State University (ISU) dietetics program, United Way of the Wabash Valley and the Wabash Valley Health Center. The program was also supported by a grant from the Anthem Foundation and produce and kitchen supplies from World Gospel Church and Columbian Home Products.
Allison Finzel, Vigo County’s Nutrition Education Program Community Wellness Coordinator, was the catalyst for the program, assembling the partners, facilitating weekly food demonstrations and providing logistical support.
Food Prescriptions for Better Health is designed to help people with Type 2 diabetes lead a healthier lifestyle. It includes a free A1C blood test (to measure average blood sugar level) at the beginning and end of the course, as well as weekly blood pressure and weight checks to help participants monitor their progress.
ISU dietetics students use a mobile teaching kitchen to provide on-site food demonstrations, with participants sometimes cooking alongside the instructor. Weekly vouchers for free fresh produce from the United Way Mobile Market provides opportunities to practice healthy eating habits at home.
“The students from Indiana State did a little cooking and showed us how to prepare different dishes so that they were within the guidelines of the diabetic program and good healthy eating,” says Huter. “Many of the foods that I ate were involved in the program, but I was all wrong in my preparation. I eat a lot of vegetables, and preparing and steaming them, as opposed to just soaking them in water and letting them boil, I retained a lot more of the nutrients that were in the vegetables. And they tasted a lot better!”
Food Prescriptions for Better Health participants also attended Purdue Extension’s Dining with Diabetes program led by Jay Christiansen, Vigo County’s Health and Human Sciences Extension Educator. Participants learned ways to manage diabetes through food choices, meal planning, and food preparation and physical activity.
Huter, who counts carbohydrates to manage his diabetes, says that Dining with Diabetes clarified starchy and non-starchy vegetables, as well as the best sweeteners and dessert options.
“It’s really helped my diet and my choices,” he says. “Even my doctor has mentioned how much better I look. I didn’t notice that myself, but I feel much better, and I do have a little more energy than I did.”
Participants also took part in Extension’s Be Heart Smart program, which helps individuals identify their risk factors for heart disease and make simple, heart-healthy lifestyle changes.
Huter says the 16-week course flew by, and that he was grateful for the opportunity to learn. “It’s well worth anybody’s time to go through that course, because it just educates you tremendously.”
Food Prescriptions for Better Health is designed to help people with Type 2 diabetes lead a healthier lifestyle with weekly health checks, information on healthy food choices, and cooking demonstrations.
Survey results for participants in the Be Heart Smart program indicate increased knowledge about heart disease risk factors and strategies to prevent or reduce personal risk of heart disease. Participants are also more likely to incorporate heart-healthy behaviors into their daily activities.
Results show that this pilot program resulted in positive health outcomes, and community partners have indicated a long-term commitment to the program. Future programming will focus on increasing the number of participants to assist in generalizing the impact of food prescription programs and adding an exercise component (walking groups) to the program.