Fashion and music tycoon Damon Dash has a “did that” list. Items include mastering the music world (he co-founded Roc-A-Fella Records with Jay-Z) and conquering the film, art, and fashion industries. Check, check, and check. But perhaps the most unexpected addition to this Herculean list of accomplishments? This past month, the hip-hop mogul launched Dash Diabetes Network to spread awareness and slash misconceptions of diabetes—and to convince all of us to live as well as he does.
Dash, who’s had Type 1 diabetes since he was 15, wanted to create a supportive and educational network for people with diabetes. But he also wanted to fill a prominent gap. The disease, one that inflicts 30.3 million Americans, hasn’t had a celebrity spokesperson who can speak to millennials. So Dash decided to become that person. “I think the biggest misconception about diabetes is that it doesn't happen to cool people,” he half-jokes (but is serious).
Dash Diabetes Network showcases musicians, artists, filmmakers, holistic doctors, and everyday people to enlighten people on medical innovations, culinary recipes, and wellness tips. Episodes are available on Dash’s streaming service (www.damedashstudios.com), the Dash Diabetes App, as well as the network’s social media accounts.
We spoke to Dash and his partner Raquel Horn about living with diabetes and the lessons they say are most important to consider.
1. Be conscious of how much sugar goes into your body
People with diabetes oftentimes end up eating more sugar than everyone else—and they don’t feel guilty about it since they say they must, says Dash, who adds he’ll nosh on a donut if it’s in front of him. But even if sugar consumption isn’t necessary for your wellbeing, it’s all about “knowing how to be healthy while you’re being indulgent.” In other words, relish something that makes your mouth water, but make an intelligent decision on how much is too much. Take stock of how much sugar (and other inflammatory foods) you’re putting into your body.
2. Determine—and implement—your go-to cooking hacks
Most of us don’t have the time (or let’s be real, energy) to architect masterful meals on the daily. Dash and his partner Raquel Horn rely on certain go-to “formulas” to make their plant-based meals easy, delicious, and most importantly, possible. Their meals, for instance, are all about farmers market-picked vegetables bathing in vegan sauces and gravies. (Dash’s current favorite is coconut curry over veggies.) And when they want something that texturally resembles meat, they rely on shiitake mushrooms.
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3. Don’t get fooled by faux-healthy food
When a can of Spam tries to be appealing by displaying it’s “low fat,” no one’s actually going to think it’s nutritious (at least we hope not). But be wary of foods that can hoodwink you into thinking you’re making healthy substitutes. “I was making a lot of dishes and desserts with agave, but agave actually has a higher fructose situation—more than high fructose corn syrup,” says Horn. Turns out agave initiates a second spike in blood sugar later in the day, a reaction even raw cane sugar doesn’t trigger.
4. Surround yourself with support
Well, true love helps, too. Dash confesses he wouldn’t eat as healthy if it weren’t for his partner, who harnesses her health and wellness expertise to craft their at-home meals. “Because he has diabetes, it’s like I’m living with Type 1 diabetes as well,” says Horn. (Awww!)
5. Eat your medicine
“I don’t understand how people spend so much time being superficial wearing designer clothes and buying designer cars, but don’t eat designer food,” says Dash. “Food really cures everything.” Following this ethos, Dash and Horn are, for the most part, happy herbivores. On the flip side, the lovey-dovey pair stays clear of meat, especially after learning about all the manure that seeps into it during processing. Dash was once a meat-eater but decided to stop because of all the, as he says, “doo doo.”
6. Make health a daily routine, not an end journey
“Every day my lifestyle revolves around the food I eat,” explains Dash. Daily exercise as well as activities directly related to diabetes management—such as measuring blood sugar and inhaling insulin—are non-negotiable elements of his day-to-day routine. In the same way a person with diabetes can’t simply decide to be healthy one week and not the next—you have to commit every day for lifelong wellness. Make organic plants a part of life, not temporary diets.
Dash and Horn assert they aren’t perfect, but they do have the perfect approach to healthy living. As Dash says, Type 1 diabetes made him appreciate life more. "There’s a gift and a curse in that. There’s a yin and a yang in everything. You either look at it as a loss or a learning experience.”
A most life-changing learning experience indeed.
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