Bradley students tackle diabetes, host Healthy Living Day

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

Registered dietitian and culinary nutritionist Ashley Thomas will be on hand at a “Healthy Living Day” event to raise awareness of type 2 diabetes prevention and management on Saturday, April 20, in Peoria. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Thomas)

With Type 2 Diabetes on the rise in Peoria County, a group of students at Bradley University are planning a healthy living event open to the public as part of their senior project.

The “Healthy Living Day” event will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at Soulside Healing Arts Studio at 1311 SW Adams St. in Peoria.

“We’re encouraging the public to come out and see that being healthy is easy and doable, even with a busy schedule,” said Bradley senior Andrea Jabson, who’s planning the day along with classmates Alexis Benson, Stephanie Zuccato and Ruth Bertram as part of their capstone project in public relations.

Jabson said the group decided to focus on type 2 diabetes after research into the Peoria County Health Indicator Report showed that the number of Peoria County residents who have the disease has more than doubled from 4.25 percent in 2001 to 10.5 percent in 2015. In addition, the report showed that 6.5 percent of Peoria County adults were considered pre-diabetic in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available.

“We believe that part of the reason why it’s increasing is because a lot of people in the workforce have desk jobs in an office environment that sometimes makes it difficult to eat healthy or to get up and be active,” Jabson said.

Type 2 diabetes can lead to other underlying health issues, such as cardiovascular problems, but may be prevented through behavioral practices and lifestyle changes, she added.

The group has partnered with Soulside Healing Arts Studio and Sous Chef, which are both fairly new small businesses in Peoria’s Warehouse District, for the event.

Sous Chef, located in the same building as Soulside Healing Arts, is a specialty grocery store featuring fresh vegetables, meats and baked goods from local farmers and vendors, as well as prepared meals. Sous Chef will be selling various types of quiche and coffee on a first-come, first-served basis at the event.

Soulside Healing Arts will be hosting a yoga session at the event from 12:10 to 12:50 p.m. at a cost of $15 payable at the door. The business offers yoga and mindfulness in workplaces, community settings and at its studio. The studio even offers a shortened yoga session over the lunch hour for people who need a break from work, Jabson said.

The Methodist Wellmobile will also be at the Healthy Living Day event, offering free blood glucose and glaucoma testing. An 8- to 12-hour fast is required for the blood glucose screening.

In addition, registered dietitian and culinary nutritionist Ashley Thomas will be on hand at the event to answer questions, hand out information about her practice and talk about her live stream cooking show, “Cook with Me TV,” which people can view via Facebook at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays.

On the show, Thomas guides views through cooking a meal to have a delicious, healthy  dinner on the table in under 30 minutes. “Think of me as your accountability buddy who can help you establish healthy eating habits that will last you a lifetime,” she said.

Among the benefits of watching the show are learning new recipes, escaping the rut of eating the same thing all the time and learning how to balance meals for healthy weight management, she added.

“As a dietitian, I know that cooking is at the heart of health. We all know that eating vegetables is a cornerstone to good health, but if we can’t cook vegetables in a way that tastes good, we’re not going to eat them. My mission is help people cook healthy meals that taste amazing on a regular basis so that eating well becomes their norm,” Thomas said.

Thomas also offered some general guidelines for people facing type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes:

  • Reduce the amount of processed carbohydrates and refined sugars in the diet, such as snack foods (chips, crackers, pretzels, etc.), and sweets (cookies, cakes, pastries, ice cream, sweetened yogurts, sweetened cereals, soda, sweet tea, juice drinks, etc.). “These things are what we call ‘quick carbs.’ They are digested and absorbed rapidly, causing quick spikes in blood sugar and a large secretion of insulin, which helps get that sugar out of the blood and into the cells for use. Overtime, these frequent spikes in blood sugar and insulin wreak havoc on your body’s cells, making them less sensitive and more resistant to insulin so that sugar can’t get into the cell, and instead, stays floating around in the blood.”
  • Increase fiber intake. “Among a slew of other health benefits, fiber slows the digestion of absorption of food, which in turn results in better blood sugar levels. Dark leafy greens and all other non-starchy veggies, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole fruit and whole grains are excellent sources of fiber.”
  • Balance your plate at meal time for optimal blood sugar. “Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter with lean protein, another quarter with wholesome carbohydrates and a bit of healthy fat. This simple balanced plate method helps you meet your daily requirement for vitamins and minerals and provides sources of fiber, fat and protein, nutrients essential in preventing spikes in blood sugar.”
  • Stop skipping meals and get on a regular eating schedule. “Our bodies (and blood sugar) function best when we give it energy at consistent times throughout the day. There is no hard and fast rule for how many meals a day you should eat, because everyone is different. Some people do better with three meals a day and others do best with four to five small meals a day. Whatever it is that works best for you, keep it consistent from day to day.”

For more information about the Healthy Living Day, visit the event’s Facebook page at