When a person is diagnosed with diabetes, diet and exercise is one of the most important things they can do to maintain their sugar levels. But, diet does not mean they cannot eat good food, it simply means portion control and healthy versions of good foods should be implemented.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life, according to the American Diabetes Association. While the cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles.
MaLinda Coffman is a certified nutritionist with the University of Arkansas Extension Office in Salem who devotes much of her time to educating people with diabetes. Coffman restarted the diabetic support group that the Fulton County Hospital used to hold.
The support group that was held by the hospital was put on hold several years ago due to the poor attendance. In 2008, Coffman decided to try the group again, "I thought, lets try it and see how it goes," she said. Now the group has an attendance of around 25 members each month.
"With us being so rural, there is a lack of information and we don't have the resources that other counties do," Coffman said. "That's why we have such a good turn out."
Coffman said the group works together to schedule guest speakers each month and Salem First Care sponsors a portion of the meal that is provided at each meeting. The guest speaker is often a healthcare professional from the area.
Coffman prepares the meal each month with the intent of showing the group that they can eat good food that is prepared in a healthy way. "We have had a healthy version of things like snickers and sloppy joes," she said. "And every meeting I always provide the guests with a recipe of what I prepared that day."
Diabetics are not the only ones who attend the meetings though, Coffman said. Often times the caretaker of a diabetic is the one who attends. Topics in the meetings cover things like how to improve memory or how to prevent falls, it is always something different.
Coffman said while most of the group members are those with type two diabetes, recently they have had some who are newly diagnosed and trying to get a handle on it early. She also said there is no age limit, those who attend range in age from 30 to 80 and they come from Sharp, Izard and Fulton Counties.
While the recession has effected almost every aspect of life for many, Coffman said a healthy diet should not be one of them. "I prepare the lunch for the group for less than $2 per meal," she said. "You just have to be thrifty and practice, but it can be done."
The meetings are held once a month on a Thursday. Coffman said she mails out letters to those who have previously attended to inform them of the date and publishes a notice in the paper. They are held at noon at the Hickinbotham-Miller building and she asks that those who plan to attend, RSVP so she has a count for the lunch. Coffman can be reached at 870-895-3301.
"Additional sponsors would be great, $35 for 30 people can be hard but we have done it so far," she said. "Members do chip in once in a while, and they don't mind, because they know it is going towards the meals."
Lastly, Coffman warns, "Don't take advise from just anyone (about diabetes), there are a lot of myths out there and misconceptions. Diet and exercise are the best thing you can do to help yourself and your insulin."