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Food Farmacy

Amelia Gelnett, community health coordinator for Comfort Food Community in Greenwich, looks through a box of fresh produce that is customized for a diabetic patient at Hudson Headwaters' West Mountain Health Services building in Queensbury. The food, given out for free every two weeks, may help patients get their blood glucose levels under control.

QUEENSBURY — Avocado with melted chocolate. Cubed and roasted rutabaga. Grated radish, made into patties with cornmeal and egg and cooked on the stove.

These could be part of the solution for people with diabetes who can’t get their blood glucose levels down.

Hudson Headwaters Health Network recently received a grant to support a new initiative for diabetics with “uncontrolled” diabetes, defined as blood glucose levels above 9 despite efforts with medication and diet.

The grant, for $175,000, is through Adirondack Health Institute. It funds a Food Farmacy pilot program through the end of the year.

The idea is that if medical professionals “prescribe” healthy produce and give it to their diabetic patients, it might influence them to change their diets for the better. Every two weeks, the patients pick up their customized box of produce and meet with a dietitian, which is another big advance. Typically, diabetic patients get just one appointment with a dietitian, said Amelia Gelnett, community health coordinator for Comfort Food Community.

Comfort Food Community runs a food pantry in Greenwich and helps connect people to services to eliminate food insecurity.

Gelnett tells patients about their box and what they can make with it.

Recently, she enthusiastically told them she was including a rutabaga as a “challenge veggie.”

Every patient reported that they’d tried it. Almost no one liked it, but trying it was a start.

“You need to cube it and roast it. That’s the easiest way. You can puree it. I recommend it in chipotle soup,” she said.

This week, she asked each patient to taste daikon radish, which was also in their boxes.

“They’re a good one to use in your soup,” she said. “Grating is easiest. If you want to kick it up a notch, shred it and make patties with cornmeal, egg and spices.”

Every recipe avoids starches and uses whole-wheat carbs. But it doesn’t skip all sugar: The idea is to control sugar, not eliminate it. Banning sugar altogether could make the patient “whiplash” back into too much sugar, Gelnett said.

She also provides tools to patients who don’t have a grater or other kitchen implement, and helps them locate thrift stores if they need to acquire many tools.

The process has already helped Hudson Headwaters figure out why some patients can’t control their blood glucose levels.

“If someone doesn’t have a stove, we work on recipes for the microwave,” said Jessica Fraser, director of care management. “If you don’t have that, it pulls into a bigger conversation about barriers to care management.”

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Care managers can work on everything from transportation to housing needs. They’re using the program as a way to build relationships.

“It’s a place to start: eating healthier,” Fraser said. “Then we use the relationship to help them overcome other barriers.”

One of the patients, who asked that only her first name be used, is planning to change her entire life.

“I want to get away from food. I don’t want to celebrate food,” said Rosemarie, 62, of Queensbury. “I don’t want to make food the center. I’m the center.”

She told her son not to take her to a restaurant on Mother’s Day.

“I told him, ‘You’re taking me bicycle riding. Rent a big bicycle that can hold me. I want to go bicycle riding,’” she said.

She was shaken recently by a third cancer diagnosis. It is in remission after a stem-cell transplant, but the treatment made her think about her mortality.

“I want to be there for my grandkids,” she said. “I want to lose weight, get my cholesterol down, get my A1C (blood glucose level) down, and stop making food my center.”

She came to the realization recently that she mostly has “fat friends,” whom she hangs out with because of their interest in food.

“They don’t want to go to the theater. They’d rather spend money on food,” she said. “They don’t want to go bicycle riding.”

She thinks the program will work for her because she has struggled to buy a lot of vegetables.

“When you have food stamps, it’s very hard. It’s expensive,” she said.

The program will run until the end of the year. Hudson Headwaters will track each patient’s blood glucose levels, blood pressure and body mass index. They’re hoping to see reductions in all three.

They’re also hoping this will change the conversation.

“We spend a lot of time telling people what they can’t eat,” Fraser said. “Now we can tell them what they can eat and we can prescribe it and people will help make this appealing for you.”

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You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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reporter - Health care, Moreau, Queensbury, South Glens Falls

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