by Jaclyn Holtzman
Step away from the cookies and cake; I repeat, step away from the cookies and cake. Just because ‘tis the season to be jolly, does not mean ‘tis the season to get diabetes. Seem extreme? Not so. It is easy to splurge gastronomically during the winter months because, other than our jeans fitting a bit snug for a few days, there are no repercussions. Right? “Wrong,” says celebrity chef Charles Mattocks. In a recent conversation, he reminded me that, “diabetes isn’t something you can feel. So, I can eat a chocolate cake tonight and never feel an effect, but over time I can have heart disease…I could lose a toe, a foot a leg.”
Now, calm down. Charles and I are not trying to ruin your holiday fun or feast. In fact, Charles encourages you to eat chocolate. Yes, you read that correctly the new face of diabetes wants YOU to eat chocolate.
Charles Mattocks is a Chef, Actor, Author, Director and Filmmaker who is featured as “The Poor Chef” on hit national television shows such as the Dr. OZ show, Good Morning America, CNN, and The Today Show. He was appropriately titled “The Poor Chef” as his goal was to teach and inspire people from all walks of life to “Eat Cheap, but Eat Well”. Charles did so by showing his audience how to shop and eat for under $7.00, which in today’s economy is vital. Amidst all of this success, 11 months ago, Charles experienced a “NOT ME” moment as he received the devastating diagnosis that he had type two diabetes.
Chef Charles was not going to let this disease stop him and determined that, “Even out of the ashes there can come a jewel.” He found inspiration in being Bob Marley’s nephew; he knew that he had an undeniable drive running through his blood. He realized very quickly what a confusing and frightening issue diabetes is for many people and decided that the disease needed a face-someone to unify all of those suffering and to promote awareness. He finally found how he would make his mark on the world- by becoming a beacon for those looking for answers to address this life-changing disease.
I was able to speak with Chef Mattocks one afternoon to ask him questions about his life, what drives him, and his upcoming projects.
My interview with Charles Mattocks:
JACLYN HOLTZMAN: You have some really exciting things coming up in 2012; you have multiple television shows, cookbooks, documentaries, your new chocolate line, seminars, and the diabetic mall testing tour. What are you most looking forward to?
CHARLES MATTOCKS: Wow. Really just, I would say the documentary [“The Diabetic You”], because there are over 364 million diabetics and, you know, they haven’t done a good job of really marketing the issues of diabetes and getting this word out. And [I’m looking forward to] allowing this film to come out and hopefully touch people and really be able to open up people’s eyes to the seriousness of diabetes and encourage people to get themselves tested, and then from there figure out what they need to do to get on the right road, because it’s a very serious issue. I’m just trying to save lives with this film.
JH: How does the documentary appeal to people who don’t have diabetes?
CM: The thing is that anybody can get diabetes at any time. One of the things that we stress in the film is lifestyle, and just living a good, clean, healthy lifestyle is going to be great for whatever it may be. Because of the way we live in this country, with the processed food, the fast foods, obesity – even if you don’t have diabetes, this is still a great film to open your eyes and make you realize that maybe we do need to change our diet, maybe we do need to start eating a little bit differently, maybe we do need to start educating our kids, maybe we do need to start taking accountability for our health. So, the film is definitely great for people if you have or you don’t have diabetes. It’s going to allow you to say, “You know what, I don’t want to get in that position, and this is what I need to do to make sure I never get in that position.”
JH: When you were filming this documentary called “The Diabetic You”, you met some really wonderful people and some of them had really sad stories. How did that affect you and how did that fuel the documentary?
CM: When you hear about the number of Americans that don’t have health care, it really can just roll off your back if you don’t see it to believe it. So when you see people that don’t have a clue of how they’re going to get themselves taken care of, you know, I met a lady, she’s working four jobs to have health care. She’s had all kinds of stents in her heart, in her legs, in her brain. Had she not had health care, she’d be dead today. There’s not a lot that you can do to keep these people alive other than try to tell their story so other people can know about them, and hopefully there’s some kind of change that can come about from this.
JH: Tell me about when you were diagnosed with diabetes. Did you go to the doctor for a regular check-ups? Were you seeing symptoms? How can someone know if something is wrong?
CM: That’s really what we want to reiterate. I was seeing some small symptoms that easily could have been passed over. I had been urinating more often than usual over a weekend, and I thought maybe I had a bladder infection. But, I went to my doctor and found out that I was pre-diabetic. One of the first things he said to me was he wanted to put me on medication, and this is what really led me down this whole road, because I thought to myself: “Can you imagine how many people actually have taken those meds without getting the option from a doctor to lose weight, diet and exercise, do what they need to do?” My numbers were not even that high. I was around 179, I think it was. With diet and exercise my numbers no longer run over 120. So I’ve pretty much controlled my diabetes through diet and exercise.
JH: We just discussed how you found out you had diabetes by noticing a symptom in yourself. Now you are doing this diabetes mall testing tour in urban communities to identify symptoms in others that might be diabetic, or just on the edge?
CM: I didn’t know anything about diabetes in my late 30s. So if I was ignorant at 38, how many other people are just as ignorant about diabetes or have diabetes and need some inspiration? I believe that inspiration is actually more important than education. Because if you’re not inspired you won’t do anything to help yourself. Through the mall tours, I hope to find people we can inspire to get back on the right road and take this disease seriously. Or, if you don’t know you have diabetes, to help them find out they have it and then point them in the right direction so they know what to eat, how to exercise, what to drink. I find people who have been diabetic for 15 years and still don’t know that drinking fruit juice is not good for you, because it has as much sugar as soda. Through the mall tour, we’re hoping to open some eyes and change some lives – expose diabetes for what it is, a disease that kills more people than cancer and AIDS combined. We’re going to be giving out information. Some of our sponsors will be giving out free meters, and we will be testing for diabetes and high blood pressure, as well.
JH: So, tell me about the Charles Bar- your chocolate bar that is sugar and gluten free, correct?
CM: Right. One of the things about diabetes is that people think you have to totally change everything about your diet. I love a late night snack, and I found myself wanting something sweet. I realized that I love chocolate and a lot of other people love chocolate, so we came up with a fantastic bar, from a company called Amber Lyn, in which we use coconut oil. It tastes unbelievable. I’m also working on a sweetener that is going to revolutionize the sweetening business. It’s going to be like a sweet-n-low, but much better for you. I’m trying to be like the Martha Stewart of diabetes.
JH: Few people realize you can lose limbs from diabetes.
CM: That’s right. It’s the leading cause of blindness, the leading cause of amputations, and the number one cause of kidney disease, which forces people into dialysis for the rest of their lives. It’s a ravaging disease.
Note: Chef Charles is also affiliated with The Heal2Gether and Save a Leg Save a Life organizations. Anyone with diabetes or is suffering with any type of diabetic ulcer, neuropathy, or wound should seek immediate medical attention from one of these organizations for life and limb saving support.
JH: What are some preventative tools you can share?
CM: I think overall, limit your portion size. Portion control is very important. We live in a society now where people go to restaurants and if food is not falling off the side of the plate, they’re not happy. We want the extra, extra portion, the supersize of it. So portion control is the key. That would cut out half the issues we face, even if we eat a bad diet, because if we eat only a small portion of whatever is bad, it wouldn’t affect us as much. Limiting carbs, starch, and sugars; that’s also going to be beneficial for us whether you have diabetes or not.
JH: If I were to look in your refrigerator, what are some key snacks or ingredients I would see?
CM: Avocadoes, you’ll probably find some. I am Jamaican, so I love curry, even though I’m a vegetarian now. So I often make vegetable curry with brown rice. You may find garlic, of course. You’re going to find some cilantro. I love cilantro. I love parsley. You’re going to find some pepper, maybe a little bit of sea salt, definitely fruits. I love pomegranates; they’ve worked wonders for me. No juice, just water or tea. I love ginger tea. Olives, I love olives. I make a great salad with olives and tomatoes and a dressing that’s just olive oil, lemon juice, and a little salt and pepper. It’s a simple diet, almost a Mediterranean style diet. And of course a Caribbean style diet.
JH: Speaking of your Caribbean heritage, you’re developing a cooking show where you can highlight your Caribbean cooking skills, correct?
CM: Yes. I already highlight those skills on many of the shows where I make guest appearances, like Dr. Oz. We’re also working on a cooking show that’s going to be a travel show. We’ll go from homes to 5 star restaurants, finding people across the country and across the world that are eating healthy meals, diabetic-friendly meals. We’ll get into the lives of real people and explain how they’re eating, and why people in certain cultures live longer.
JH: Lastly, you are very interested in communicating the threat of diabetes to children. Tell me about your children’s book that allows you to speak to children on their level.
CM: I have a children’s book called Charlie Marley. It’s based on my life as a child and wanting to be a chef when I got older. One of the characters is called Mo, who has juvenile diabetes. Charlie becomes his best friend and creates recipes that are good for Mo to eat. I like the idea of a children’s book because if you can affect the children you can affect the parents.
JH: Brilliant. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
CM: We went from 350 million diabetics 10 months ago, to 364 million today. Obviously, the message is not working. If Lil’ Wayne had diabetes or even rapped about it, everyone would know what diabetes is. But people still don’t know what diabetes is. Let me go hire Lil’ Wayne to talk about diabetes.
Chef Charles has a diabetic mall testing tour beginning in 2012, which will visit 10 urban and inner-city areas in the United States. He will also travel across the world to Japan, Haiti and India working to find sponsorship to bring supplies to those areas most riddled with diabetes. See his documentary “The Diabetic You” on the big screen in late 2012.