The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 13, 2013

RALPH COUEY | Sweet offerings sour dining experience

— We’re all familiar with the scenario. We’ve just finished a sumptuous dinner, three courses of artistry and flavor that has filled us to the point that some are surreptitiously loosening the belt. We are sure that no room remains in the stomach. We may not have to eat again for two days.

Then a shiny silver cart is rolled up to the table. Across its top are arrayed a dozen or so plates and bowls containing things like cake, fudge, ice cream, or any one of a hundred other temptations. Suddenly, we find there is room after all.

 But not for all of us.

 For those afflicted with diabetes, we have to turn away, ignore the plaintive cries of our sweet tooth and decline the offering. We can’t help but feel deprived, not of the food itself, but the pure pleasure of sweetness on the tongue.

 Diabetes is a growing problem In the United States. The American Diabetes Association estimates that 25.8 million people have the disease, a figure that includes nearly 8 million undiagnosed cases. That’s about 8 percent of the population, but there are also some 80 million who are termed pre-diabetic, whose blood sugar counts are high but don’t yet exceed the gateway count of 120.

Fortuately, it is a manageable disease for most, although the long term prognoses are grim. These include neuropathy, blindness, dementia, and loss of blood flow to the extremities requiring amputation of the feet and hands. Therefore it is important that people, especially those whose family history includes diabetes, manage their sugar intake.

For those of us already diagnosed, it becomes a constant conflict between the desire for sweets and a strong memory of how ill we feel after indulging. At home, I keep a container of sugar-free pudding in the fridge and that’s usually enough to satisfy those cravings. But on those occasions when we eat out, I get frustrated when I look at the dessert menu and don’t see a single sugar-free sweet.

Now, I’m not a marketing expert, but it would seem to me that a restaurant chain might look at the 105 million diabetic and pre-diabetic restaurant patrons and see a potential opportunity.

I’m not looking for an artistic brownie swimming in hot fudge and topped with whipped cream, mind you. I’d be happy with a couple of scoops of sugar-free ice cream to finish off a meal. Just enough to sate the sweetness devil.

And, by the way, if restaurants advertised that they had desserts tailored to the needs of 105 million Americans, I wonder how many of them might find their way to their tables.

I’m not necessarily chipping my gums here. I know that if one is not living with diabetes on a daily basis, it’s an easy thing to ignore or discount. But the problem isn’t going away.

If you’re a chef, or a restaurant manager, or chain owner, I’m just asking you to think about it. Try test marketing a few items and see what the response is.

It would be the sweetest thing you could do.

Ralph F. Couey of Chantilly, Va., is a freelance writer and occasional contributor to The Tribune-Democrat.

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