NBA Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe has teamed up with Merck to challenge restaurants to create diabetes-friendly menu items.
For Monroe, supporting Merck’s Diabetes Restaurant Month program was a no-brainer. Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1998, Monroe has learned how to maintain a diabetes-friendly lifestyle and reduce his risk of complications like heart disease through a healthy diet and exercise. Now he aims to inspire others to do the same.
“When I spoke with Merck about working on their Diabetes Restaurant Month program, I kind of jumped at the idea because I know how hard it was for me when I found out that I had Type 2 diabetes — to change my lifestyle, and to be aware of all the things that were happening with my diabetes,” said Monroe, 67.
“Our program is one that educates people with Type 2 diabetes about the importance of making healthy choices when they do go out to dine. Understanding the fact that because you have a set menu at a restaurant that you can ask for options, for instance, if you don’t want French fries or rice, you can ask for a steamed veggie or a salad as a substitution so that you can keep down your carbohydrates.”
The focus on healthier eating comes as more than one-third of Americans’ daily calorie intake comes from food eaten at sit-down restaurants and fast-food establishments, which can create a challenge for the nearly 26 million people in the United States with Type 2 diabetes.
Monroe joined the NBA in 1967 and had a distinguished 13-year career. He is considered one of the greatest guards in basketball history and is known for his flamboyant moves on the court.
As an active athlete, Monroe never thought that he would develop diabetes. Prior to being diagnosed with the condition, Monroe suffered with frequent urination, sweatiness and excess thirst. At first, he attributed those symptoms to just getting older.
When Monroe’s doctor informed him that people with Type 2 diabetes are two to four times more likely to suffer from heart disease or stroke, he took action.
“For me that was a real wake-up call and kind of spurred me on to taking control of my life and taking control of my diet,” says the South Philadelphia native.
“One of the things that I talk to people about is the importance of talking to your doctor about working toward goals for the ABCs of diabetes, which is your blood sugar, your blood pressure and your cholesterol.”
Restaurants in 18 cities, including Philadelphia, have participated in Diabetes Restaurant Month to date and have created diabetes-friendly dishes with the help of a registered dietician and an endocrinologist.
“We’ve been blessed that this program has been so well received,” says Monroe who recently visited a local restaurant to sample a healthy meal with a fan.
Eleven restaurants in Philadelphia including Sbraga, Square 1682 at Hotel Palomar, and 10 Arts Lounge at Ritz Carlton are participating in the program that encourages local eateries to transform popular menu items into diabetes-friendly dishes to help show people with diabetes that they can enjoy dining out and stay healthy.
The program’s website www.merckdiabetes.com includes a list of participating restaurants across the country, tips for dining out and getting active, 100 diabetes-friendly and heart healthy recipes and information about the basics of diabetes management.