More than 18 million people in the United States have diabetes. That's 6.3 percent of the total population.
How many restaurants provide meals tailored to this demographic?
And that's one fat problem, said Jennifer Bucko, associate dean of the Robert Morris College Culinary school in Chicago. In an IACP panel called Cooking for People With Diabetes, Bucko urged chefs at restaurants, hotels and nursing homes to start cooking meals that aren't just good for people, but taste good too.
She applauded Applebee's Weight Watchers menu.
"The food's pretty darn good," Bucko said. "I just think that more restaurants should be doing stuff like that. It's really important not to have just the diet plate of turkey breast or the chicken breast with cottage cheese and a peach slice.
"I think restaurants really should have a really nice selection of things on their menu, at least I'd say 5, 6 even 10 items that are healthy and are right there with the nutrition information."
Easily said, but easily done?
"I don't know why they're not doing it," Bucko said. "You look at fast food restaurants, you can get the nutrition information really easily."
Bucko offered an enchilada example from the book she co-authored with registered dietician Lara Rondinelli: Healthy Calendar Diabetic Cooking. In her Mexi-makeover, she substituted lean ground beef for sirloin, reduced-fat cheese for high-fat cheese, yogurt instead of sour cream. The result: 200 fewer calories per serving. She trimmed the fat from 27.6 grams to 9 grams. Sodium fell from 2,429 mg to 562 mg.
The enchilada example illustrates an irksome ethnic issue: Hispanics, along with African Americans and Native Americans, are in diabetes' high-risk category, yet are probably the most reluctant ethnic groups when it comes to changing their diets, Bucko said. Bucko substitutes lower-fat ingredients without diluting ethnic allure.
"We want people to stay true to their cultures," she said.
She also wants diabetic diners to feel they're getting their money's worth at restaurants, whether it's a casual, mid-range restaurant or a sit-down, fining dining restaurant.
"Everybody's worried about volume, that they're not getting enough to eat," Bucko said. "People suffering from a disease are suffering enough already. Why should they suffer (when they go out to eat)?"