Education and tasting event

By Holly Kestenis Staff Writer

St. Petersburg – The first annual Education & Tasting Event (E.A.T.) kicked off last month with area specialist giving out sound advice when it comes to the health of local residents, especially African Americans.

“Diabetes is almost up to the number one killer of people of color,” said retired registered nurse and educator Catherine Crumbs, who spoke on the subject of diabetes. Before diabetes was discovered, those inflicted by it would often die, especially babies born to diabetic mothers.

She emphasized the history of African Americans who in the infant stages of understanding the disease would lose family members without knowing why.

Segregation played a big part. With African Americans not allowed into all hospitals and doctor’s offices, a lot of times they would die without knowing the cause.

“That’s a secret history, and that’s part of the problem,” said Crumbs who also believes that the older generations believed they were being cursed by God when they acquired certain diseases.

But registered nurses (RN) were on hand to help make sense of all the advancements in technology and research on diabetes and even hypertension.

Retired RN Barbara Stockton got the audience going with her presentation of exercises she learned by watching “Sit and Be Fit” on WUSF-TV. Each morning Stockton, who had open-heart surgery in 2006 and also has diabetes, exercises her body to help control not only her weight but her medication as well.

“I’m here today because I learned how to take control of my illness,” she said. She is down to just two insulin shots a day from the five she used to take. She plans for the doctor to soon reduce that as well. “A lot of the doctors didn’t think I was gonna make it, but I’m still here today.”

Although she made sure to give out a lengthy disclaimer, admitting the exercise program may not be for everyone, she couldn’t help but to encourage those who are restricted in their exercise regimen to give it a try.

“Some of us cannot do that five mile walk anymore,” chimed in RN Nancy Holcomb. She wants residents to be proactive and take advantage of the resources the community has to offer, as well as to help one another out in the inspiration department. “We can encourage those who can’t.”

Jessica Mon’e, a cardiovascular nurse at The Heart Failure Support Group, touched on the negative affect salt has on the body leading to serious conditions, such as hypertension, heart failure, and kidney failure. “Your body has to work harder in order to compensate for too much salt in our body,” she said.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 1500mg of sodium intake a day for individuals, excluding competitive athletes and firefighters who lose large amounts of sodium in their sweat. If Americans would decrease their overall sodium intake to the recommended level, the AHA projects it could save over a million lives in the next ten years.

Mon’e cautioned that it doesn’t take much to reach the 1500mg limit. “That’s three-fourths of a teaspoon, so you can imagine what you’re putting on your food when you’re cooking,” she said. “That [adds up to] a lot.”

Mon’e proceeded to quiz the audience on how much sodium is hidden in some of their favorite foods to prove her point. Eager participants played along as she had them envisioning holiday dinners or a family picnic. Most wouldn’t think that piling their plate with corn on the cob, collard greens, mashed potatoes and some chicken would result with hypertension, but when you start to add up the sodium, the results are somewhat alarming.

With a cup of collard greens cooked with pork containing a whopping 353mg of sodium, a huge chunk of the daily intake is already being used up. A serving of canned carrots measured 552 mg, while a cup of baked beans equaled 871mg.

How much in one slice of ham? Well Mon’e recited an unbelievable 1417 mg of sodium.

“You really want to think about how much sodium is in that food there,” she said signifying the biggest offenders being canned foods. Packed with preservatives, consumers can be fooled into thinking they’re eating healthy, when indeed they are contributing to their health issues.

Cynthia Tomalin, a peer community advocate for the Healthy Start Project at All Children’s Hospital and John Hopkins, is mostly concerned with reducing the infant mortality rate in the city, particularly amongst black women who she states have a three times higher rate of dying than any other race. Currently she is enrolling females aged 14-45 in a program that will help to educate them on how to be healthier.

“We are highest at risk for hypertension, diabetes, obesity, poor nutrition, a lack of exercise and stress,” said Tomalin who acknowledges this is a national issue. Locally women living in the 33711, 33712, 33713,337 01 and 33705 area codes have the highest incidences of loss.

But the tasting part of the day was by far the fan favorite. With a countless amount of healthy foods to try, All Children’s Hospital’s Fit for All Kids Manager, Kellie Gilmore hoped the fun event would encourage others to take a look at their food choices and make better ones.

One way she hopes to get families involved is with a cook-off entitled, “Mom and Me,” in which both adults and kids will get a chance to test their healthy cooking skill and compete for prizes. Gift cards from Publix, Kohls and even Toys R Us will be up for grabs.

Check out how to sign up by going to, but you better hurry as preregistration is required if you want to be part of the cook off.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email

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