Mon | Jan 27, 2020

Patria-Kaye Aarons | Dumpling causes diabetes

Published:Wednesday | December 4, 2019 | 12:11 AM
Ensure people get the message that carbs turn to sugar. All carbs. Even our beloved dumplin.

Not until well into adult life was it clear to me that I had missed a day of science class. I was a long-time big woman when I discovered that starches turn to sugar in the body. You know, like dumpling, and bananas and rice and my beloved bread.

I betray my Campion education by publicly acknowledging my ignorance, but it’s true. I was always of the impression that pure sugar was the one and only cause of the dreaded non-communicable disease that is diabetes.

Upon crude investigation, I have come to realise that that science lesson was grossly unpopular for many students, and the teaching went right over the heads of many I know. A quick survey of folks I randomly walked up to in an office building I frequent and also on the plaza revealed that far too many are under the impression that diabetes is caused solely by things literally sweet to the taste.

And the NGOs pushing the healthy lifestyle narratives don’t do society any favours by reinforcing this memo about “sugary drinks” and cake and candies being the cause of obesity and diabetes. Because we’ve been fed a steady diet of that message, it’s no surprise when people are diagnosed with “sugar”, as we call it, and their response is, “but I don’t eat a lot of sweet things”.

Kwasi and I were, in our gnon-scientific way, trying to figure out why the rate of diabetes in Jamaica is so high; why it was killing our people. Reality, we don’t consciously make the connection between carbohydrates and sugar.

A man who was very active in the past, going to ‘grung’ every day and walking miles, could burn off the 12 fingers of green banana and four dumplings his wife lovingly plated for him at dinner. But as his metabolism slows and his activity levels decrease, he doesn’t recognise the need to drastically reduce his meal size. It doesn’t connect that the very yam he eats turns to sugar in his body; and too much of it is what’s making him sick.


I’m literally horrified by the mountain of rice we heap on to our plates. Yes, I’m real. I know it’s cheap and filling (and with coconut milk, nuff seasoning and gungo peas, very delicious). My repulsion is relatively new-found, having come into the knowledge that rice turns to sugar. I don’t think I’m about to become some grass-eating radical, but the awareness now makes a huge difference in the food choices I make.

Telling myself to eat more vegetables now isn’t any more important than reminding myself to eat less rice, and bread and potatoes…and, yes, dumpling. If we want to make a meaningful, practical shift from healing sick people to raising a nation that is truly well, not getting sick in the first place, we have to communicate this one message better.

Counting calories and carbs can get complicated, and I honestly don’t see food label reading being cemented in everyday Jamaican behaviour anytime soon.

Want to tip the scales in favour of wellness? Ensure people get the message that carbs turn to sugar. All carbs. Even our beloved dumpling. That will move the needle.

Minister Tufton, I’m also still hoping that we can action that primary school community workout space suggestion I made. Jamaica needs more free space to walk off the flour; or all this will result in a big fat nothing.

Patria-Kaye Aarons is a confectioner and broadcaster. Email feedback to and