The Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI) at the Joslin Diabetes Center has released a new iPhone app, Drag ’n Cook. Drag ’n, as you might have guessed, is a play on the word dragon, and the app features a cute little dragon in a chef’s hat. The app enables users to digitally prepare Asian cuisine while monitoring the individual ingredients. Users can select from extensive ingredient lists and drop those ingredients into interactive cookware (such as wok, fying pan and Urli) that builds nutrition information for the dish as it is being prepared. The app is very easy to use, and it’s actually a lot of fun. I just prepared a meal in a wok with five teaspoons of sesame oil, three garlic cloves, one teaspoon of ginger, three chicken breasts of three ounces each, one cup of broccoli, one cup of carrots, one cup of cauliflower, one cup of celery, one cup of Chinese cabbage, one cup of chopped onion, one teaspoon of black pepper, and three teaspoons of low sodium soy sauce. I immediately got all the nutritional information for my recipe.
The idea for the Asian American Diabetes Initiative’s new app came from learning about the needs of patients and their families. ”They told us that they can’t follow other people’s recipes or ingredients for too long. They wanted an easy and practical tool to learn more about the food they like to eat so they can follow their own food preferences,” said Chihiro Hernandez, communications and outreach officer at the AADI.
Studies have shown that 10-16% of Asian American adults have diabetes, and diabetes is a rapidly growing health challenge among Asians and Pacific Islanders who have immigrated to the United States. About 90 to 95% of Asians with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. The higher rate of type 2 diabetes in Asian descents results from a combination of genetic and environmental influences. Compared to a typical Western diet, a traditional Asian diet is higher in carbohydrates and fiber content, while lower in fat content. A traditional Asian diet has 70% carbohydrates, 15% protein, 15% fat, and 13g fiber per 1000 calories, said Hernandez. This can make diabetes management complicated.
But this app is a great way to simplify it. As someone who is too lazy to look up the nutritional content of each ingredient, and often estimates when counting carbs, I found this extremely useful. (I wish it existed for all foods!) And you don’t just get the nutritional information. Each dish prepared in the app can be analyzed according to three different guidelines – AADI’s traditional Asian diet, the percent Daily Value scale, and USDA’s. For anyone unfamiliar with these guidelines, the app provides a handy refresher for a full understanding of how food is rated.
The app also provides fun trivia tidbits about each food.
Straw mushroom: Straw mushrooms are grown on rice straw beds, hence the name “straw mushroom”.
Broccoli: “Broccoli” comes from the Italian word “broccoli”, which means “flowering top of a cabbage”.
Lobster: Lobster is the king of crustaceans. Before its rise in popularity as a food, it was used as a fish bait.
Water spinach: The Chinese name of water spinach is “hollow vegetable”, because the stem of these leaves are actually hollow.
The Asian American Diabetes Initiative team that created Drag ’n Cook hopes that users will figure out how to substitute healthier options into existing recipes, or come up with their own good-for-you concoctions.
“The concept of the foods that contain carbohydrates is sometimes confusing for people with diabetes,” said Hernandez. ”For example, Chinese people believe eating a “cold” food is good to them in balancing their “hot” health condition (diabetes is known as a “hot” disease). Some of these “cold” foods are high in carbohydrates which they may not realize, and these carbohydrate rich foods need to be eaten in moderation. Another example is that, beans (e.g. soy beans, natto beans) are also high in carbohydrates, which they may not know.”
As for rice, the AADI recommends using brown rice. For people who are used to eating white rice, Hernandez said, they can gradually change from mixing in some brown rice with white rice (50% brown rice mix with 50% white rice), before moving exclusively to brown rice.
The first version of Drag ’n Cook comes with a Basic and a Chinese package—vegetables, meats and spices traditionally found in Chinese cuisines – with 200+ ingredients.
“Drag ‘n Cook is about empowering individuals to take control of what they eat,” said William Hsu, M.D., co-Director of the Asian American Diabetes Initiative. “It can help people reach their health goals by choosing what they like to eat, not by following someone else’s food list or recipes.”
Once users have made the recipe their own, they can save the ingredients, add instructions, and share their creation via email or on Facebook.
Future releases of Drag ’n Cook will contain nutrition information for other types of Asian-style cooking, such as Japanese and Indian, as well as non-Asian cuisines.
Drag ’n Cook is available on iTunes. It costs 99 cents.
See a video demo of the app on Joslin’s YouTube channel.