Cook up some food for health and soul

2/10/2009 - By: Claudene Wharton

Macaroni and cheese and enchiladas may seem like high-fat, high-sodium indulgences. But thanks to a University of Nevada, Reno program, those concerned with heart health can still enjoy such tasty dishes.

“Many of these dishes are not inherently bad choices,” said Joyce Woodson, Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist. “It’s just the method of preparation or the choice of a couple ingredients that make them unhealthy.”

While working as a dietician in community health centers early in her career, Woodson advised people who were recently diagnosed with heart disease and other conditions.

“I came to realize how people felt about food and their food choices,” she said. “They thought they wouldn’t be able to enjoy their favorite foods and family recipes any more. That was a great loss to them. Food is a large part of people’s cultural heritage and they hate to lose those favorite foods.”

Woodson and her University Cooperative Extension colleagues developed and tested recipes for some heart-healthy, traditional and ethnic recipes in the nutrition lab at their Clark County office. She also developed six one-hour lessons that Cooperative Extension instructors deliver to various community locations, such as churches, community centers and libraries. They teach participants how to adapt their own favorite foods to make them heart healthy, as well as share the recipes developed in the Cooperative Extension nutrition lab.

Woodson started the program in 1998, visiting many of the African-American churches in southern Nevada. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for African-American males and females.

“Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a particular concern in this population,” Woodson said. “It’s really a concern for many in the United States, regardless of race. That is why one of the lessons focuses on salt and sodium. We give participants a sample of an herb mix they can use instead of salt and the recipe so that they can make their own.”

Other lessons focus on topics such as reducing fat and sugar, deciphering food labels and making healthy choices at the supermarket, increasing fiber in the diet, and using spices and herbs. At the final class, participants bring in their own family dishes that they have adapted to be heart-healthy foods. They exchange recipes and all sit down to enjoy a “buffet for health and soul.”

Within three months of taking the courses, participants report a significant positive change in their food preparation and reduction of fat and sodium in their diets, Woodson said. In fact, in October the program was recognized as the national Nutrition Education for the Public (NEP) Award of Excellence winner. NEP is a subgroup of the American Dietetic Association. The curriculum is also used in Oregon, Washington, Missouri and Illinois.

The program’s success has led Cooperative Extension to broaden its reach. This month, instructors will begin teaching the first bilingual Spanish-English classes. They have modified the curriculum and created lab-tested recipes for the Hispanic population. Although classes are currently offered only in southern Nevada, Nevadans statewide can call Woodson, (702) 257-5508, or their local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office for heart-healthy tips. Download some of the heart-healthy recipes.


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