Making Food-and Diabetes-Easier To Swallow

One of the fun things I did this week was, of all things, a cooking demonstration. One of the companies in town, which makes baking products, hosts a demo every week. When its chef is unavailable, it calls on people from the community. For some reason, I got a call asking if I would do a demo on Jewish food.


I chose a date during Passover, an eight-day period during which many Jews refrain from eating anything with leavening. Originally, I was going to include a cake among my offerings, to show how you could make a baked product rise without using leavening. Through a quirk—I failed to buy one of the ingredients I would need for the cake and it was unavailable locally—I changed that to a matzoh kugel, or pudding. Since I’d already planned to demo two other dishes that used matzoh, that meant a trio of foods with a common theme: matzoh.

Matzoh, or unleavened bread, is made from flour and water only and usually resembles a giant, salt-free saltine cracker. It’s dry. It’s bland. To some people it’s truly the “bread of affliction,” as it has been termed. But from that dry, pretty much tasteless square of baked flour and water can come some pretty amazing and tasty treats. Light, fluffy dumplings floating in a bowl of golden chicken soup. A Passover version of French toast called matzoh brei, served up with syrup, jelly, or cinnamon sugar. A “bread” pudding, bursting with the flavors of apples, raisins, almonds, and cinnamon.

But before people can appreciate what you can do with matzoh, you have to eat it in its unadulterated state. So I first passed around pieces of plain ol’ matzoh to the audience, most of whom had never eaten—or even seen—it before. Nobody had much to say about the matzoh, but had plenty to say about the tastiness of the dishes made using matzoh.

Then I thought that that, perhaps, that was an allegory for diabetes. I’m not overly fond of matzoh, but I put up with it during the eight days of Passover. However, I can add ingredients to it to make it more palatable.

I don’t like having diabetes. You may not, either. While we have no choice in that matter, perhaps we can do something to make it more palatable—either to ourselves or to others.

There are those who have done that, and in a big way. Two who come to mind, Jeff Hitchcock and Michael Robinton, each have a child with Type 1 diabetes. Jeff Hitchcock founded Children with Diabetes (, the foremost gathering place and support group for parents whose children have diabetes. Michael Robinton took on Insulin Pumpers ( and created the ultimate Web site and support group for people who use insulin pumps.

Rabbi Hersch Meisels, an observant Jew who has Type 1 diabetes, created Friends With Diabetes (, which marries his knowledge of both the Jewish religion and diabetes to create a place where observant Jews can get support and learn how to fit their diabetes into the special considerations of their religious practices.

Much like a matzoh kugel, their groups have multiple ingredients, including conferences, chat rooms, mail lists, links to resources, and so on.

Others, like the matzoh balls, may have fewer ingredients. Deb started a pump support group in the Boston area. Sandy, an RN/dietitan/CDE in Indiana, has hosted dinners where she teaches the participants about the relationship between diabetes and food.

Perhaps, however, most of us are like the two-ingredient matzoh brei: just two people, one who’s had diabetes for a while and one who has just found out that he or she has diabetes. For example, somebody once gave me a book about diabetes when I didn’t know such books existed. Somebody else went with me to select my first blood glucose meter. Another person used to come by every morning to go for a walk in the park with me. Still another would chat on the computer with me when I first started taking insulin. It was support that was meaningful to me. People who didn’t have diabetes let me know they cared. People who did have diabetes let me know I wasn’t alone.

Since then, I’ve tried to do what I can for others. I’ve given books. I’ve lent an ear. I’ve offered encouragement. Hopefully, my background as a reporter and knowledge of diabetes has resulted in articles about diabetes that have been of help to somebody.

Maybe we can’t make diabetes more palatable, but perhaps by offering our support we can help to make it easier to swallow.

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  • Priscilla

    Jan, you have helped me a great deal. I am still struggling even getting the basics in but my biggest problems are attitude and denial.

    Today, is another of those “start over” days for me. A visit to the doctor yesterday brought news of bad cholesterol, trigliceride and A1C(9.1) numbers. Added Actos to the medication regime bringing my daily pill count up to 10 . Today, my new replacement blood glucose monitor arrived.

    I keep coming back here and learn something new every time. I only wish that you all could deliver long distance kicks!

  • Jan Chait

    Priscilla, thank you for the kind words. You’ve made my day! But now to you: I’m not going to kick you. I work better on positive reinforcement. That is, praise me for what I’m doing right and I’ll keep on doing it. “Kick” me for my failings and I’ll kind of cower and feel like I can never do anything right so why bother? My suggestion for you is to accomplish something. Just one thing. Don’t try to take it all on at once. I used to have problems with my blood pressure and cholesterol, too. Seems I wasn’t very good at taking my medications. It was a lot of trouble–all of those bottles to open and such. I solved the problem by buying a pill container with a section for each day of the week, filling it up and putting it in front of my computer so I wouldn’t miss seeing it. It also let me know if I’d taken my meds for that day. Easy and, most importantly, successful. I felt better about myself and was able to go on to the next thing. Good luck and keep us posted on how you’re doing.

  • Ephrenia

    You don’t say how long you’ve been diagnosed. I’m assuming it isn’t very long? You have to concentrate on one major change at a time. I started with insulin. I’ve never taken the pills (for diabetes, I take a lot of pills due to other conditions!) so that was the first thing. Next was food. Once I started getting my portions right and the better choices figured out, I took the next step. Exercise. All along the way I used this site as well as to gain information and support. It doesn’t happen overnight. My new A1c is 6.0, so I’m doing something right, now! You can get there too if you don’t try to do it all at once and get frustrated.

    Jan’s blog is a great one for down-to-earth “Mom” style advice!