LINDENHURST, N.Y. -- King Kullen's new Diabetes Club is helping diabetics better understand what types of food they should be eating and avoiding.
The club was launched with a store tour and food tasting at the Westbury, N.Y.-based chain's newly remodeled unit here. An SN reporter, who did not identify herself, participated in the tour held by King Kullen's Layne Lieberman-Anapol, a certified diabetes counselor and nurse educator.
A group of about 20 people gathered in front of the newly remodeled pharmacy, which is now adjacent to an aisle that includes medically directed grocery products, such as low-sodium and sugar-free items.
Two tours, one at 10:00 a.m. and another at 1:00 p.m., were offered at the club's kickoff here last month. While the Lindenhurst unit was the first to offer the tour, King Kullen's Mount Sinai unit has followed suit, and other stores are expected to participate.
At the start of the tour, participants received a folder with handouts and brochures on diabetes and its management, hyperglycemia, nutrition, exercise and food labeling.
Lieberman-Anapol began by introducing herself and then asking participants to do the same, while explaining what kind of diabetes or sugar problem for which they were being treated.
She then took attendees to the medically directed section, where diabetic products from companies like Estee and 50/50 are found. But Lieberman-Anapol stressed that it is not necessary for diabetics to eat "special food," and she continued to return to this point throughout the tour.
"This section is here for you, but you don't need to eat diabetic products," she said, noting that it's important to eat healthily, monitor carbohydrate consumption, and exercise.
What is really important, she said, is to pay attention to carbohydrates, which are the body's main fuel. She said diabetics should choose high-fiber foods, which slow down the rate at which carbohydrates are converted into glucose. Slowing down the conversion rate can prevent an insulin response.
Lieberman-Anapol encouraged participants to visit the natural-food section, a feature that is becoming more common in many supermarkets across the country.
"These foods have more fiber and fewer additives," she said, "It's important to eat more whole and natural food."
In response to a question about the benefits of oat bran, Lieberman-Anapol explained that oat bran has fat-soluble fiber that helps to blunt the blood-sugar response in diabetics. Thus, she recommended oatmeal as a great start in the morning.
She also called attention to some other products, like soy and rice milk for the lactose-intolerant; soy products that are estrogen-rich and good for menopausal women; and egg substitutes, which are low in cholesterol.
"Beans are a good protein source and full of fiber, nutrients and minerals," she noted.
Lieberman-Anapol noted various convenience foods that were available in the natural-food section, as well as snack food and cookies and crackers in both the medically directed and natural-food sets. But she cautioned the group to tread lightly in that area, saying it would be better for them to eat fresh fruit if they needed a treat.
Next, the tour headed for the frozen-food aisle, where the first topic of discussion was ice cream. "Can you eat it?" Lieberman-Anapol asked. "That depends on your blood sugar and what your whole day was like. Portion control is key, with one-half cup being a serving size."
In the frozen dinner and entree section, Lieberman-Anapol pointed out that although the "better-for-you" selections have reduced fat and sodium, they are still not an optimum choice for dinner on a regular basis. "Read labels," she said, "and keep your fat intake in the 20% range [in terms of total calories]."
Lieberman-Anapol's rule of thumb for gauging sodium intake when reading a label: total grams of sodium should not exceed the number of calories. At the end of the frozens aisle, the group stopped for two samplings: beef grown without hormones and antibiotics and veggie burgers. At this point, Lieberman-Anapol pointed out the benefits of vegetarian meals.
Next, the tour moved to the fresh seafood area, where Lieberman-Anapol explained the pros and cons of various fish choices, and then to the deli counter.
Another sampling table was set up near the deli, with fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese and crackers, rice cakes, dips and a tofu drink. Lieberman-Anapol pointed out the necessity of watching portion size -- even with fruits -- and told the group to eat five vegetables a day, in addition to fruits.
She then took a few minutes to point out the nutritional value of canned products, like pumpkin; and how items like nuts, when used in moderation, can add protein and variety to the diet.
In the produce section, Lieberman-Anapol encouraged the group to buy organic when available, to buy fruits that are locally grown and in season, to peel conventional fruits and vegetables, and wash all produce.
The group was comprised almost exclusively of seniors (age 60 or older), few of whom were noticeably overweight. Most had adult-onset (Type II, non-insulin dependent) diabetes, which can be controlled through proper diet.
One of the most important tasks a diabetic can do is to monitor his/her glucose levels, said Lieberman-Anapol. Blood sugar fluctuates, not only with what we eat, but also according to our exercise and stress levels.
Al Hesse, the store's pharmacy supervisor, explained to the group how the diabetes club works and how to sign up. Membership includes special deals and coupons. In addition, the pharmacy keeps records of each members medical history based on a questionnaire that is filled out and sends them the latest information on disease management and store events related to diabetes.
Also on hand for the tour was Solomon Laichter, the director of King Kullen pharmacies; Sue Falkowitz, the chain's occupational nurse; a representative from Vytra, a Melville, N.Y.-based managed care organization, who took people's blood pressure after the tour; and a representative from Boehringer Mannheim, Indianapolis, which makes glucose monitoring equipment.