Eating healthy doesn't have to be an all or nothing experience. People can have their cake -- or chocolate, hamburgers, candy, ice cream, etc. -- and eat it too. The key is to do it in moderation.
This is one of the many themes stressed in a new series of nutrition education classes offered at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank taught by Colleen Deal of the Cooperative Extension Service.
The classes are a combination of nutrition education and hands-on experience. Deal provides a wide variety of information to class participants, including an explanation of the food pyramid, information on how to read food labels, food storage ideas, cooking tips, recipes and more.
"The whole goal (of the classes) is so people make the wisest choices," Deal said.
Classes are held from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursdays in the food bank's soup kitchen area. They are free and open to anyone who wants to attend. A cook book is given out as a door prize each week.
The classes are geared toward people on a tight food budget, so Deal includes money-saving ideas for cooking and shopping, including ways to use cheap but not always appealing foods, like beans and lintils. One class period will be a field trip to a grocery store so Deal can show participants how to get the most food for their money.
"They will learn the wisest ways to go into a store and pick out what is a good buy," she said. "... To me its worth it, every penny makes another penny go farther."
The program began Oct. 3 with a class titled "The Basics -- A Magic Mix," in which Deal discussed the merits of making a versatile baking mix from scratch. Deal's mixture, called the master mix, is comparable to store-bought, ready-made baking mixtures, like Krusteaz or Bisquick, in that it can be used to make the same kinds of things, including biscuits, muffins, cakes, etc. The master mix, however, is more nutritional, more economical and even tastes better, Deal said. Deal distributed directions for using the master mix and recipes using it, including a cream base soup, cookies, gingerbread, biscuits, pancakes and waffles, muffins and cakes.
Participants in the Oct. 10 class were greeted with coffee cake and apple pudding Deal had made with the master mix and apples from the food bank.
"Come in," Deal said. "Help yourself."
Although she was referring to the food, "help yourself" is a good description of Deal's goal for the classes. The information she imparts to students is designed to give them the knowledge they need to eat nutritionally on a regular basis.
In the Oct. 10 class, Deal discussed the grains food group, touched on food label reading and gave an overview of the food pyramid. The nutritional information she spoke about wasn't new or revolutionary. A lot of what she tells people in the classes is information they already know or have heard about, but don't always remember or follow, Deal said.
A lot of people know about food groups and the food pyramid, but that doesn't mean they follow its recommendations.
"Our society today reflects the fact that we are not eating the portion sizes and servings recommend by the food pyramid," Deal said, after reading a statistic that the United States ranks first in the world in adolescent obesity. "The key to a healthy diet is variety and eating in moderation."
For instance, the food pyramid recommends women should have six servings from the grains group, three servings from the vegetable group, two servings from the fruit group, two servings from the milk group and two servings from the meat group a day.
For men and active teens, those recommendations jump to 11 servings of grains, five servings of vegetables, four servings of fruits, three servings of milk and three servings of meat a day.
Just looking at the numbers can seem daunting to someone who wants to follow the food pyramid.
"Six seems like a lot of servings but it's not," Deal said, "You really need to know what your doing if you have goals. That's really the key to it is portions."
Half a bagel, one slice of bread or half a cup of rice is one serving of the grain group. A serving of meat would be roughly the size of a deck of playing cards. With those standards, it's not difficult to eat enough of what you're supposed to every day, Deal said.
The problem, however, is eating too much of something. Foods in the grain group are high in carbohydrates, which are good because they provide energy. Carbs are stored in the liver and muscles, Deal said, but those storage spaces can only hold so much. So if someone eats more carbs than they burn off in a day, the excess turn into fat.
"When you're taking in anything more than the body can utilize, the body's going to do something with it," Deal said. "... It's very hard to get them back into your system to burn them off. That's why its easy to put on weight. You can gain three to five pounds in three days, but you can't lost it in three days. We've been so programmed to look at things that are low in fat that we forget the importance of other areas."
Being health conscious and following the food pyramid is a great way to live, but Deal conceded that certainly isn't always the way it goes.
"Its wonderful to eat the nice triangle but there have been times when my food pyramid could have been called a food mushroom (since the most servings came from the food groups on the top)," she said. "And that's just being realistic with our lifestyle."
Indulging in french fries, candy and other treats doesn't have to be the downfall of a healthy diet, as long as those treats are kept to the status of an occasional treat.
Again, this is not a revolutionary idea, but it certainly bears repeating.
"I think that (the classes) are informative," said Patti Post of Kasilof. Post brings her four home-school children, ages 9 to 14, to the classes as part of their health education. "I'm glad that they participate. A lot of it is stuff you need to know, instead of eating Twinkies all the time."
Classes will continue through Nov. 21. Today's topic is fruits, vegetables and herbs, Oct. 24 will be cooking with legumes, Oct. 31 will be breakfast foods and nutritional snacks, Nov. 7 will be weight loss, Nov. 14 will be the field trip to a grocery store and Nov. 21 will be soups. For more information about the classes, call Deal at the Cooperative Extension office at 262-5824.
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