Woman turns around big diabetes risk factor for Mexican Americans: Her diet

Grace Rubenstein

Maria Medina's life is littered with the destruction of diabetes.

Her neighbor had a foot amputated because of the disease. Her mother went blind from it. Her sister died of it.

Damage that pervasive is a common experience in the Mexican American community, which has some of the highest rates in a surge of diabetes nationwide. The disease can provoke heart attacks, high blood pressure, kidney failure and blindness, and is the seventh-leading cause of death nationwide.

But when Medina, a 43-year-old mother of three, was diagnosed with diabetes five years ago, she decided not to let the disease exact such a heavy toll from her. The Rancho Cordova mom began, bit by bit, turning around one of the big risk factors for Mexican Americans: her diet.

She got coaching from a nutritionist and took free cooking classes with Kaiser doctors and at her younger daughter's school, Cordova Villa Elementary. The sessions taught her healthy substitutions – like whole wheat for white bread, and oil for lard – and cooking methods that use less fat than the traditional preparations she brought with her from Mexico City more than 20 years ago.

At various points, Medina's family resisted. But she pressed on, and now her kids and husband abide by the low-fat, soda-free, veggie-rich regime she has created. She hasn't needed to take her diabetes medication, glipizide, in four months.

"I want to live a long time," she said last week in her kitchen, speaking in Spanish as she prepared a dinner of baked tilapia fillets with nopal cactus salad. "I want to know my grandchildren."

Medina exemplifies the kind of transformation possible for people in heavily affected groups, who are up against genetic and cultural forces that propel them toward diabetes.

Read the complete story at sacbee.com

Grace Rubenstein
Sacramento Bee