Food that's healthy for soul and body

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Debra Hamilton helps her son Charles, 12, to some corn bread dressing Wednesday at HealthPoint Fitness in Cape Girardeau. All of the dishes served were healthy versions of traditional soul food. (Kit Doyle)

When people gather for the holidays, they tend to do so around a table. Unfortunately, the food they're putting on that table will rack up calories, sodium and health problems.

The NAACP and the American Stroke Association have teamed up to present the Power to End Stroke health fair Saturday with health screenings, exercise demonstrations and healthy twists on soul food staples.

Raina Childers, a dietitian at HealthPoint Plaza, altered recipes from a diabetes cookbook and modified them for heart health and low fat. The book, "The New Soul Food Cookbook for People with Diabetes," will be given away as a door prize at the health fair.

Childers had some help with the recipes.

"I'm an old-fashioned cook who just cooks to taste," said Regina Moore, who joined Childers and organizers of the health fair to test the recipes.

Moore made green beans and new potatoes and said it was one of the hardest recipes she's ever had to follow because it only calls for green beans, new potatoes, an onion and smoked turkey breast.

"I wanted to put some salt in it so bad," she said.

The outcome, sans salt, was a satisfying vegetable dish that fooled one young taste tester into thinking the turkey was bacon.

According to Childers, cooking healthy takes a change of habits.

"We're used to cooking a certain way," she said. "I think the main thing is some people are used to traditional family recipes. People are often hesitant to change that."

But just like people don't live the same way they did 50 years ago, people shouldn't cook the same way they did 50 years ago, she said.

"There's none of us who can sit at a table and not have someone affected by diabetes or hypoglycemia" or high blood pressure, Childers said.

Modern cooks can modify traditional recipes by using light margarine instead of butter, fresh herbs and spices, and commercially low-fat products like light mayonnaise or low-fat yogurt. Shortening and butter can be replaced with pureed apples or applesauce. For dark recipes like chocolate products or dark banana bread, Childers recommended pureed prunes.

For the sweet potato dish that usually graces every table during the fall and winter, Childers said using raisins or bits of apricot will sweeten the recipe and require less sugar, and substituting Splenda or Truvia for sugar will help, too.

Alexis Arnzen, a dietitian at Saint Francis Medical Center, said when building a plate, go for color -- carrots, green beans or corn -- and cut down on gravies and sauces to reduce sodium and fat.

"It is important to remember that you can enjoy the holidays without causing concern to your health," Arnzen said in an e-mail interview. "When it is time to sit down for a holiday meal, first pile on the vegetables and pick a lean meat; then go for a small portion of your favorite dessert -- small portion being the key."

Arnzen said most people gain five to 10 pounds during the holiday season, and continued weight gain predisposes a person to coronary heart disease, diabetes and sleep apnea. The high-sodium and high-fat foods people consume around the holiday table can also aggravate or cause hypertension and cardiovascular disease, both two prominent conditions of stroke.


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