Cooperative Extension Program Tackles Diabetes with Nutrition Education

Almost 150,000 people are estimated to have diabetes in Colorado. As many as 75,000 others statewide are likely to have the disease and not know it.  Many Coloradans have type 2 diabetes, which can be controlled through diet. That’s where Dining with Diabetes in Colorado, a Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Program, comes in.

In partnership with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Diabetes Prevention and Control Program, Colorado State Cooperative Extension educates people with diabetes and their family members throughout the state on using nutrition to manage their disease.  

Since 1990, the diabetes prevalence rate has increased by 48 percent due to increases in the rates of overweight and obese Coloradans, the aging population and higher numbers of people of certain racial or ethnic origins who are at high risk for the development of diabetes.

"Diabetes is a big concern," said Shirley Perryman, Colorado State Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. "What we’re doing is raising awareness first and providing education second. The intent of the program is to reach as many people as we can."

The Dining with Diabetes in Colorado program includes four classes – each about two hours long – intended to help people with diabetes and their families learn the role of nutrition in keeping diabetic patients healthy.

The first class, in addition to providing background information on type 2 diabetes, covers the Idaho Plate Method, which is the basis of meal planning. It fits well with the Food Guide Pyramid and can be used by those with and without diabetes, so the whole family benefits. The guidelines in the plate method are to have one serving of bread/grain/potatoes (covering one-fourth of the plate), one serving of meat (covering one-fourth of the plate), two servings of vegetables (covering half the plate), one serving of milk and one serving of fruit. Eating more vegetables and less starch and protein is a healthier diet for anyone.

The second class focuses on carbohydrates, label reading, carb counting and the glycemic index. Since carbs are prominent in the media today, there is a lot of misinformation that needs clarification. It isn’t necessarily true that all carbs are bad choices. Carbs from white rice and white flour are refined and lack many of the vitamins, minerals and fiber found in the whole-grain versions. The high-fiber carbs found in brown rice and whole wheat bread, for example, are better choices. One of the most important things people with diabetes can do is have a consistent intake of carbohydrates to keep their blood glucose stable, avoiding high and low peaks that lead to complications.

In the third class, heart-healthy dining and exercise are the focus. Heart disease is one of the major concerns for people with diabetes. Heart-healthy dining centers on the types of fat consumed, with the emphasis on consuming less trans-fat, which is produced when liquid fat is turned into a solid, as well as less saturated fat, which is found in animal products and palm oil and coconut oil. Exercise, which also is important, helps lower blood glucose levels and reduces complications from diabetes.

Finally, in the fourth class, fruits, vegetables, fiber and food safety are emphasized. People with diabetes are at increased risk for foodborne illness. Because their immune functions are reduced, they are more susceptible to infections. Fiber can lower the glycemic index, which indicates how much blood sugar increases after eating a particular food. Also, fiber can help lower cholesterol and maintain weight. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are sources of fiber. The highlight of each class is food preparation, which permits participants to taste favorite and familiar foods prepared in new ways.

"Participants leave with recipes they can prepare themselves," Perryman said. "That’s often an impediment for people with diabetes. They don’t know how to cook or how to eat to manage their disease."

Colorado State Cooperative Extension and the state’s Diabetes Prevention and Control Program deliver Dining with Diabetes in Colorado through Cooperative Extension agents, health care educators and practitioners throughout the state.

Dining with Diabetes in Colorado is an example of a Colorado State Cooperative Extension program that conducts important outreach in the community, delivering the university’s expertise to the public. It’s also an example of Cooperative Extension’s partnerships with government and private organizations to fulfill the university’s crucial service mission.

For more information about the Dining with Diabetes in Colorado program, contact the Colorado State Cooperative Extension office listed in the county government section of the local phone book. A simple test called the American Diabetes Association "Diabetes Risk Test" can help family members become aware of their risk for diabetes. Take the test at