JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Holidays mean abundant sweets and treats, but for those with diabetes the temptation of cookies threatens more than their waistlines.

As Missouri diabetes rates reach unprecedented levels, classes from University of Missouri Extension help diabetics and those at risk for diabetes to better manage their meals for healthier lives.

“A doctor might tell you to limit carbohydrates to 45 grams per meal, but that doesn’t mean a lot when you’re staring at your plate,” said Lynda Zimmerman, an MU Extension nutrition and health education specialist. “Our classes show people how to really follow those guidelines on a day-to-day basis.”

Eat Well, Be Well with Diabetes is a four-session class that teaches individuals to manage carbohydrate intake; track blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels; and be proactive in their diabetes self-care.

About 15 people attended a recent class in Jefferson City, where they shared strategies and used plastic food models to learn what portion sizes amount to a serving of carbs.

Stu Murphy was among them. He came after his doctor labeled him as prediabetic and told him to lose 10 pounds and watch his diet.

“I always just ate what I wanted and never really worried about it, but there’s a real science to this nutrition stuff,” Murphy said. “I had no idea there were carbohydrates in foods like milk until now, and being conscious of what I ingest should help me stay in the right range per meal.”

Diabetes results in high blood-sugar levels. When a person eats carbohydrates, they are turned into glucose in the bloodstream. In diabetes, the glucose isn’t processed properly because of low or dysfunctional insulin, creating dangerously high blood-sugar levels that cause health problems.

Zimmerman advises participants think of each item on their plate in terms of carbohydrate servings. Diabetics should limit their intake to three to four 15-gram servings of carbohydrates. Using strategies like this, they learn to eyeball the size of portions and not overeat.

Fulton resident Kathy Renner took one of Zimmerman’s classes in Callaway County last year.

As she prepared a lunch of pasta, garbanzo beans and tomatoes, she said the recipes and strategies she learned help her prepare healthier meals for her, her husband and her 18-year-old son that they all can enjoy.

“It’s hard to change habits that you’ve had for years, and carbohydrates have always been a problem for me since I was raised eating a lot of bread,” Renner said. “It’s a daily fight to change my diet, and have to make that decision one meal at a time.”

More than 23.6 million Americans suffer from diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which estimates that one in three people will eventually develop diabetes if current trends continue, and that those with diabetes will lose 10-15 years of life from their condition if left untreated.

Missouri diabetes rates rose from 4.4 percent in 1996 to 8.5 percent in 2009.

Eat Well, Be Well includes demonstrations and tastings of easy and nutritious recipes and hands-on activities to help participants plan healthy meals.

“Not everyone will go home and make these recipes, but we get feedback that shows us that a third try these meals at home,” Zimmerman said. “The whole family should be involved in encouraging healthy lifestyles and eating, because if a spouse knows how to plan a healthy meal for diabetes that is very helpful.”

The peer network created through Eat Well, Be Well also helps by connecting people.

“Support groups are always important because alone you can feel sorry for yourself because you have to change the way you eat,” Renner said. “The group helps you realize others have it worse than you, are fighting and it’s much more difficult for them.”

Zimmerman said this network adds staying power to people’s resolve to change their eating habits.

“Many pick up ideas and strategies from others who have different ideas and foods that work,” she said. “Classes like this let people know they are not alone in the challenges they encounter day to day.”

Find out about future classes in your area by contacting your local MU Extension office or check a calendar of events at

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