By Rodney Hays

Editor

Maybe the week after Thanksgiving isn’t the best time for advice on healthy eating. But maybe it is. Americans still have a couple of weeks in between Thanksgiving and Christmas to give their belt buckles and waistlines a break. Last month was also Diabetes Awareness month, and since many cases of diabetes can be prevented by healthy diet choices, it’s also a good time to discuss healthy eating. About 26 million Americans are dealing with some form of diabetes today.

One person who should know a thing or two about healthy eating and, unfortunately, diabetes is celebrity chef Art Smith, who was in Dallas recently to promote healthy eating and his new program called Taking Diabetes to Heart. Smith owns several restaurants in California, has authored a couple of cookbooks and has cooked for celebrities like Oprah, Jeb Bush, President Obama and Lady Gaga. In 2008, he was also diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

"It was hard because my father and grandfather passed away from complications from diabetes and my mother also has diabetes on her side of the family," Smith said via an e-mail interview during his stop in Dallas.

He said his first step was coming to terms with the diagnosis. Then he started working on a treatment plan. "I also made some changes to my diet to include more vegetables and started exercising five days a week, which led me to eventually lose 120 pounds," he said.

Smith also implemented a consistent eating schedule to help manage his blood sugar. "While most people with diabetes are aware of the importance of managing high blood sugar, but I learned from my doctor that it is important to manage low blood sugar as well. Low blood sugar can make you feel shaky, dizzy, sweaty, or hungry, and sometimes, faint," he said. "Make sure your health care provider explains the causes, signs and symptoms of high and low blood sugar to you and let him or her know if you are experiencing any of those symptoms."

Many people think healthy food choices equal bland food that is no fun. Chef Smith says that doesn’t have to be the case.

"As a chef I know that it’s possible to make favorite recipes in a healthier way, without compromising taste, and that moderation is key," Smith said.

In his own diet, he tries to avoid foods that are high in sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.

"I go vegetarian for two meals a day and, when I do eat meat, I prefer lean proteins like grilled chicken breast or fish. I also find ways to make healthier versions of my favorite foods such as burgers, fried chicken and burritos. It’s all still delicious."

Through his new program called Taking Diabetes to Heart, Smith has been working with Merck to come help Americans find healthy, delicious dishes to enjoy.

"Making changes to the way you eat can be challenging, but … I’ve started cooking up diabetes-friendly, delicious dishes that the whole family can enjoy," Smith said. ’ I want to show people that having type 2 diabetes doesn’t mean you have to make separate meals or feel alone at meal time."

To find more information about Chef Smith’s program, visit www.journeytocontrol.com or type in "Taking Diabetes to Heart" into a search engine.

With another round of holiday meals and holiday parties coming up, Smith says it’s still possible to eat healthy.

"Holidays are a great time to spend time with your family. Look for recipes that the entire family can enjoy and find ways to remake your favorite holiday dishes," he said.

Smith also recommended setting goals to avoid diabetes all together.

"My doctor told me that people with type 2 diabetes can reduce their risk of serious complications by setting individual goals to manage the ABCs of diabetes—that’s A for A1C, also known as blood sugar, B for blood pressure and C for cholesterol. There’s no "one-size-fits-all" approach to diabetes-management, so work with your doctor to talk about your blood sugar goals and develop a plan that’s right for you including diet, exercise, and, if appropriate, medication—and stick to that plan," Smith said.