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D.C. chef makes eating healthy fun and tasty for diabetics

Sunday - 3/18/2012, 6:13am  ET

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Chef Gayle Plummer Owens. (WTOP/Paula Wolfson)

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Local chef Gayle Plummer Owens has cooked for sports days and diplomats. But she says her favorite catering gig is preparing meals for a unique set of dining clubs in Montgomery County -- all designed to reach African Americans who are either diabetic, or at risk of developing the disease.

It is a labor of love, she says.

"This program is very close to my heart, because both my mother and my grandmother died from complications from diabetes."

Owens and her "Catering 2 You" staff prepare all the meals for the dining clubs. And when the tables have been cleared, and the winner of an extra low-carb cupcake has been chosen, she picks up a microphone and turns from chef to teacher.

"Since I have been a chef for over ten years, I feel that it is my duty to share my knowledge -- my personal knowledge about the trials and tribulations of not eating properly with diabetes, and how we can overcome that by just making a few adjustments."

Owens says she asks participants in the dining clubs to come with an open mind, and realize they can make a big difference in their health with a few modifications, such as portion control, cutting down on carbohydrates and salt and adding more fruits and vegetables.

Owens says its OK to start with "baby steps." And she says her role as a chef and educator is to prove that healthy food can be incredibly good.

"Taste is big. A lot of people think that you have to sacrifice good taste when you cut out certain things and that is really not true," she says.

Using fresh herbs instead of salt is one tip, adding a small splash of wine to main course casseroles is another. One recent meal she prepared for a dining club at Rockville's Mt. Calvary Baptist Church showcased chicken cacciatore seasoned with fresh thyme, parsley and a bit of dry red wine, and cupcakes with ingredients including shredded carrots and unsweetened applesauce.

Every bit of the food was devoured, she says. But Owens notes that getting healthy eating habits to stick is tough. She says most people don't realize that cutting carbohydrates means more than just cutting foods made with refined sugar

"If you are drinking a bottle of juice or sodas, and eating bread or a lot of carbs, you are getting a double whammy. And that is really what most people aren't aware of. They don't stop to think of it in that way."

She says the time crunch facing many people has led to a decline in family meals, and an increased dependency on fast food. Owens says the result has been a rapid increase in diabetes, particularly in the African-American community.

"I believe the statistics were one in four, and it's looking like it is leaving toward one in three at an alarming rate," she says. "And that is because people have sacrificed cooking healthy food at home for being able to eat quickly and going to fast food restaurants."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)