Nov 142013


As a foodie blogger (and for personal reasons) I feel an obligation to promote World Diabetes Day. World Diabetes Day is the primary global awareness day of the diabetes mellitus world and is held on November 14 of each year. It was introduced in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organization in response to the alarming rise of diabetes around the world. World Diabetes Day is part of a campaign that features a new theme chosen by the International Diabetes Federation each year to address issues facing the global diabetes community. While the campaigns last the whole year, the day itself marks the birthday of Frederick Banting who, along with Charles Best, discovered and isolated insulin in 1922.  Before then people born with diabetes died young.  Banting’s discovery has saved millions of lives.

Each year, World Diabetes Day is centered on a theme related to diabetes. Topics covered have included diabetes and human rights, diabetes and lifestyle, diabetes and obesity, diabetes in the disadvantaged and the vulnerable, diabetes in children and adolescents, and talking about diabetes.  For 2009–2013, the theme is Diabetes Education and Prevention. People worldwide are still alarmingly ignorant about diabetes, including many diabetics themselves.  Go here for more information:


Frederick Banting is one of my great heroes.  The isolation of insulin ranks with the discovery of penicillin as one of the monumental achievements of medicine in the twentieth century.  Banting was born on November 14, 1891, in a farm house near Alliston, Ontario. He attended elementary and high schools in Alliston. He attempted to enter the army but was refused due to poor eyesight. He then attended the University of Toronto in the faculty of divinity but soon transferred to medicine. He received his M.B. degree in 1916 and enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps, which had a need for medics in World War I. He was wounded at the battle of Cambrai in 1918. Despite his injuries, he helped other wounded men for sixteen hours, until another doctor told him to stop. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1919, for heroism.

Banting returned to Canada after the war and briefly took up general practice in London, Ontario. Returning to Toronto, he studied orthopedic medicine and, in 1919–1920, was Resident Surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children. From 1920–21, he continued his general practice, while teaching orthopedics and anthropology part-time at the University of Western Ontario in London. From 1921–22 he lectured in pharmacology at the University of Toronto, receiving his M.D. degree in 1922.

An article he read about the pancreas piqued Banting’s interest in diabetes. Research by Naunyn, Minkowski, Opie, Schafer, and others suggested that diabetes resulted from a lack of a protein hormone secreted by the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas. Schafer had named this hormone insulin (from Latin “insula” – island/islet). Insulin was thought to control the metabolism of sugar; its lack led to an increase of sugar in the blood which was then excreted in urine. Attempts to extract insulin from ground-up pancreas cells were unsuccessful, because of the destruction of the insulin by the proteolysis enzyme of the pancreas. The challenge was to find a way to extract insulin from the pancreas prior to its being destroyed.

Moses Barron published an article on experimental closure of the pancreatic duct by ligature which further influenced Banting’s thinking. The procedure caused deterioration of the cells of the pancreas that secrete trypsin but left the islets of Langerhans intact. Banting realized that this procedure would destroy the trypsin-secreting cells but not the insulin. Once the trypsin-secreting cells had died, insulin could be extracted from the islets of Langerhans.

In the spring of 1921, Banting travelled to Toronto to visit J.J.R. Macleod, professor of physiology at the University of Toronto, and asked Macleod if he could use his laboratory. Macleod was initially skeptical, but eventually agreed before leaving on holiday for the summer. Before leaving for Scotland he supplied Banting with ten dogs for experiment and two medical students, Charles Best and Clark Noble, as lab assistants.

Since Banting required only one assistant, Best and Noble flipped a coin to see who would assist Banting first. Best won and took the first shift. Loss of the coin toss proved unfortunate for Noble, given that Banting decided to keep Best for the entire summer and eventually shared a large part of the credit for the discovery of insulin. Had Noble won the toss his career might have taken a different path.

Banting (R) and Best

Banting (R) and Best

In 1923, the Nobel Prize Committee honored Banting and J.J.R. Macleod with the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of insulin, ignoring Charles Best. This incensed Banting who then chose to share half of the prize money with Best.

Banting was appointed Senior Demonstrator in Medicine at the University of Toronto in 1922. The following year he was elected to the new Banting and Best Chair of Medical Research, endowed by the Legislature of the Province of Ontario. He also served as Honorary Consulting Physician to the Toronto General, the Hospital for Sick Children, and the Toronto Western Hospital. At the Banting and Best Institute, he researched silicosis, cancer, and the mechanisms of drowning. During the Second World War he investigated the problems of aviators, such as “blackout” in steep climbs and dives.

I have family experience with diabetes. My first cousin was born diabetic, my father lost pancreas function due to other medical complications, and my wife developed gestational diabetes while pregnant with our son, and it remained after the birth. During the pregnancy my wife was insulin dependent, monitoring her blood glucose levels 6 times per day to keep them within a very fine range to prevent harm to the baby, and injecting insulin before meals.  So, as a cook, I know something about living with a diabetic.  What do you cook for a diabetic?  The American Diabetes Association says the following to diabetics:

What is a Healthy Diet?

A healthy diet is a way of eating that reduces risk for complications such as heart disease and stroke. Healthy eating includes eating a wide variety of foods including:


    whole grains


    non-fat dairy products


    lean meats



There is no one perfect food so including a variety of different foods and watching portion sizes is key to a healthy diet. Also, make sure your choices from each food group provide the highest quality nutrients you can find. In other words, pick foods rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber over those that are processed.

People with diabetes can eat the same foods the family enjoys. Everyone benefits from healthy eating so the whole family can take part in healthy eating. It takes some planning but you can fit your favorite foods into your meal plan and still manage your blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.

In other words, eat healthy stuff – that’s all.  I can’t give you a “diabetic” recipe, because there is no such thing.  Here’s what I had for dinner last night.


Santa Fe Green Chile Stew

I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for a year doing research and eating sopapillas, menudo, posole, and green chile stew.  Green chile is a staple in New Mexico where it is grown in vast quantities.  It is a relatively mild long green pepper with a rich, complex flavor.  The chiles are prepared by roasting the skins black and scraping them off, then using the inner pulp for cooking.  If you cannot get fresh, canned green chiles (such as Old El Paso) work well enough.  You do not need a detailed recipe.  Here’s the one in my head.

Put lean pork, diced onion, and diced green chiles, in a pot, add oregano, cover with light stock, and simmer for about an hour or until the meat is tender.  Add diced potatoes and simmer another 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked to your liking.  Serve in deep bowls with flour tortillas.