Diabetes Forecast

Charles Mattocks: Budget-Meals Maestro

The "Poor Chef" offers his two cents about healthful eating

By Tracey Neithercott ,

Charles Mattocks is a Renaissance man. His résumé reads like the program for a high school career fair: actor, chef, TV personality, author, documentary filmmaker, producer, and diabetes advocate. Talk with Mattocks for five minutes and you'll understand why he's taken on so many roles. The man's passionate about helping others eat wholesome, affordable meals.

After a brief stint in television and film (including a role in the Golden Globe–nominated TV movie The Summer of Ben Tyler), Mattocks, 38, moved his career to the kitchen. The Long Island, N.Y., native had grown up eating healthy food based on his family's Jamaican roots, so he was familiar with cooking homemade meals. Prompted by his son, now 17, Mattocks set out to show the world that healthful eating didn't have to break the bank. "A lot of people had the misconception that you have to spend a lot to eat good food," he says. "You can still eat healthy on a dollar budget." With that mantra in mind, Mattocks dubbed himself The Poor Chef.

The idea took off, with wide appeal. Young urbanites and Midwestern housewives alike took notes on Mattocks's $7-a-pop meals, and soon he was writing a book, Eat Cheap, but Eat Well, and appearing on national television shows such as The Dr. Oz Show and the Today show. And then, at the end of 2010, Mattocks was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Charles Mattocks's Smoked Salmon
Snack Wraps

The diagnosis helped Mattocks get more specific about nutritious meals. "I was focused on healthy eating, but in the last year since I was diagnosed my version of healthy has changed," says Mattocks, a pescetarian (he eats fish but not meat) who largely avoids starches. The hardest change, he says, is passing up his high-carb Jamaican favorites. Instead of making them regular parts of his meals, Mattocks sometimes treats himself to dumplings and rice with beans. (Also a treat: chocolate, part of the reason he created the Charles Bar, a sugar-free bar of Belgian chocolate.)

And those processed foods he ate in a pinch? Gone. "I eat a lot more fish and a lot of fruits and vegetables and smaller portions," he says. "Before, I was eating a lot of sandwiches at night with processed meats and processed foods." Mattocks's diet currently consists of fresh foods, not packaged. That goes for drinks, too. He's given up juice and ginger ale—which he says he fooled himself into believing was healthier than cola—for water and tea.

Diabetes changed Mattocks's professional cooking habits, too. Instead of focusing only on homemade versus fast food or baked versus fried, Mattocks learned the importance of whole grains (think brown rice) over refined grains (such as white rice). Even though Mattocks's audience is people with and without diabetes, his recipes now focus on diabetes-friendly meals made with fresh ingredients that everyone can enjoy on a budget.

The execution isn't as difficult as it sounds. "The flavor to me tastes a thousand times better," he says. "Last night I made fresh, homemade soup with all those fresh vegetables. The flavor is more natural." Other meals that pass the low-cost, diabetes-friendly test: curried tilapia with a tomato, cucumber, and cilantro salad; tofu soup with fresh vegetables; and Caribbean salt fish with a tomato base and thyme, onions, and cabbage.

His career isn't just about cooking anymore. Ever since his type 2 diabetes diagnosis, Mattocks has been on a mission to spread the word about diabetes. "I think one of the keys for me, especially being a black male, where diabetes is very prevalent, was the fact that I knew nothing about it in my late 30s," he says. "How many other people don't know what diabetes is?"

The question prompted the creation of Mattocks's latest venture: TheDiabeticYou.com, an online resource for people with diabetes. The site goes hand in hand with The Diabetic You TV show, which Mattocks expects to roll out in select cities this year. The show will delve into the lives of people with diabetes, doctors, and other providers who treat the disease. Soon, he'll take to the road—in a giant tour bus—to visit malls across America and provide screenings for diabetes.

But first, he's wrapping work on The Diabetic You documentary. A couple of weeks after being diagnosed, Mattocks got behind the camera to document life with diabetes from his perspective as a newly diagnosed person. "Looking into this [disease] and finding out how many people worldwide have this disease, that it's a global epidemic, I realized this was bigger than I thought," he says. Case in point: When filming started, the International Diabetes Federation estimated 285 million people worldwide had diabetes. Eleven months and a just-about-finished documentary later, and the estimate was up to 366 million.

The documentary takes a brutally honest look at type 1 and type 2 diabetes, including both the triumphs and complications many face along the way. "It's things a lot of people don't want to talk about," he says, such as amputations because of uncontrolled diabetes. Yes, it paints a stark reality at times, but that's the point. Mattocks hopes people will realize diabetes is just as serious as cancer and AIDS (not just "a touch of sugar") and get tested.

Of course, Mattocks's overall goal has less to do with scaring people and more to do with saving lives. And when it comes to type 2 diabetes, Mattocks now has experience on his side. "You can live the best life you can with diabetes," he says, "if you change your diet and if you exercise."



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