One of the most enjoyable parts of my job as a diabetes educator with the Women’s and Newborn Health program at the IWK Health Centre is my exposure to patients from diverse cultural backgrounds. In the past year and a half I have provided care to many patients with diabetes, in particular gestational diabetes. I have also had the pleasure of meeting many women and families who have immigrated to the Maritimes from all over the world.


Family history is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes as well as gestational diabetes. In addition, age (women are waiting longer to have children) and certain ethnic backgrounds (Aboriginal, Hispanic, South Asian, Asian and African) play a role in the diagnosis of gestational diabetes.


It has been eye opening to say the least, to note that many of the existing resources around diet and diabetes are geared toward more traditional North American fare. I had to tailor my education around the needs of the people from other areas which has been interesting and even fun. Not only are the food choices diverse, but the traditions around eating and timing of eating can sometimes be very different from what has been traditionally advised in Canada.


Early into my position, I met a South Indian woman and her husband. They were very new to Nova Scotia and were eating many traditional South Indian foods. While I was familiar with some of the foods such as roti, chappati and dahl, we put together a whole picture of the foods being eaten at home and had great discussion of how they are prepared and enjoyed in the diet. Learning about this couple’s food culture was extremely helpful in assisting with their care. An understanding of traditional grain dishes such as idli, dosa, paratha, upma and plant based sources of protein, helped me better understand where sources of carbohydrates were coming from to educate on diabetes management. This couple enjoyed many teas with sugar and used traditional ingredients in cooking, such as jiggery – a traditional sugar made from date, cane juice or palm sap. All of this information was necessary for me to help them make informed decisions


.As most dietitians can attest, the revision of existing printed diet materials takes time and much review so I was pleased to learn about some of the resources available on the Canadian Diabetes Association that were specific to South Asian and Latin American food cultures. There is still much for me to learn but it is enjoyable meeting with patients from all parts of this great world. On a humorous note (and this is just a personal observation), people from all cultures and traditions enjoy carbs such as bread, rice, pasta and occasional sweets. Often it comes down to balancing out the diet, paying attention to portions and enjoying daily physical activity along with a healthy curiosity around trying new and interesting foods. Bon appétit!


Additional Resources:

The Relationship Between Food & Culture – A Dietitian's Story

by Cathy Walsh, RD

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