A ham and cheese sandwich every day. Fried chicken and pork rinds. White rice, white bread, and few leafy greens. Soft drinks with every meal. When interviewers asked a nationwide sample of Cubans what they ate on a typical day, and what they would put on a daily menu if they could choose whatever they wanted, these were among the top responses. Results of that landmark study revealed that a majority of Cubans eat too much sugar, not enough fruits and vegetables, and have an unhealthy predilection for fried food, red meat and saturated fats.
I reached out to Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN, who is the co-author of ‘Diabetes Guide of Enjoying Foods of the World’ for her advice on how to enjoy Cuban foods without compromising your diabetes wellness. Below is our exclusive interivew for Divabetic:
Q: What do you eat if you love fried foods and you have diabetes?
Constance Brown-Riggs (CBR): Years ago, conversations about food and diabetes were based on what you couldn’t eat. But having diabetes doesn’t mean the end of good eating. The principles of a healthy diet are the same for the person with diabetes as they are for everyone else. Fried foods prepared with minimal amounts of heart-healthy oils can be included in your meal plan. However, fried foods are higher in calories than baked foods. Therefore, it’s a good idea to eat fried foods in moderation. Click here for a step-by-step guide to healthy frying—your taste buds will be glad you did!
Q: What are the healthiest options to choose when eating Cuban foods?
CBR: Cuban cuisine contains many healthy ingredients including fresh seafood, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Two popular dishes are ropa vieja and sancocho.
Ropa vieja is shredded beef made in a slow cooker with tomato paste, tomato sauce, onions, green bell peppers, garlic, olive oil, and spices. It’s often served over rice or on tortillas.
Sancocho is a hearty Cuban stew made with native root vegetables—squash, yucca, yams, or potatoes with pork or beef. Beans, lentils or pigeon peas are also added.
Q: What advice can you give to someone trying to cut back on salt without comprising flavor?
CBR: Get familiar with your spice rack! Spices are low in sodium and add wonderful flavor to food. The good news is you don’t have to cut sodium out of your diet all at once. If you cut back on sodium little by little, your taste for salt will change with time. While you’re cutting back, it’s a good idea to avoid adding salt to your food after it’s cooked. Contrary to what you might think you’ll use less salt and improve the flavor of your food by adding just a pinch of salt during the cooking process.
Q: How much visible fat on your beef, pork or lamb should you remove before eating?
CBR: The general recommendation is to remove as much visible fat as possible. To prevent the meat from drying out and becoming inedible, I suggest trimming some of the fat before cooking. Then trim the remaining fat before eating the meat.
Q: What kind of oil do you recommend to use for frying foods?
CBR: For healthy frying as mentioned above, it’s important to use heart healthy oils with a high smoke point, such as almond, avocado, hazelnut, or sunflower. Remember even healthy fried foods should be reserved for special occasions.
Q: How important is other people’s support when trying to change eating habits?
CBR: Changing eating behavior is one of the most challenging behaviors to change. Having a support system in place can really help. You may tell people around you that you are going to change your eating habits and lose weight so that they can encourage you—not police you! It’s also a good idea to schedule a consult with a registered dietitian (RD). An RD, especially one who has been trained as a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), can help you to understand how food affects your diabetes and how to make dietary modifications that increase your wellness. They can also help you develop strategies for dealing with the food police.
Q: I hate vegetables, what do I do?
CBR: With a little creativity you can begin to eat vegetables every day. Add kale or spinach to your morning smoothie, order veggie pizza for lunch and mix cauliflower with mash potato for dinner. And for dessert have zucchini bread or zucchini brownies. Don’t forget basic tomato sauce counts as one veggie serving! To boost the veggie power of your sauce, add puréed carrots or winter squash, peppers, onions, or greens.
Constance Brown-Riggs, is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, national speaker and author of the Diabetes Guide to Enjoying Foods of the World, a convenient guide to help people with diabetes enjoy all the flavors of the world while still following a healthy meal plan. Follow Constance on social media @eatingsoulfully
We’re talking about different ways to ‘SPICE UP’ your diabetes life with musical inspiration from the “Queen of Salsa”, Celia Cruz on March’s Diabetes Late Nite podcast. Guests include Best-Selling Cookbook Author (Eating Well Through Cancer Cookbook – Spanish Edition), Holly Clegg, Constance Brown-Riggs MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN, and the Charlie’s Angels of Outreach. LISTEN NOW