"Move more. If I can leave anything with you today, move more," says dietitian Myrna Maschke, to seven women seated around a table with books and notepads.
Maschke has just asked the class to help her list why exercise is so important. "Lose weight," "heart rate," "muscle tone," "feeling better about self," "decrease risk for disease" "increases our HDL [high density lipoproteins]," Maschke has written on the blackboard.
The women are gathered at the American Red Cross' Greater Brookland Service Center for the final session of "Better Eating for Better Health," a six-part nutrition class written by the Red Cross in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The course covers a wide range of nutrition topics, from fad diets to food labeling, and is intended to equip students with "survival skills" to help them sort out the confusing array of nutrition information on the market.
It uses the U.S. dietary guidelines as its basis, and focuses on "The Food Wheel," an innovative poster that is sort of an updated version of the Four Basic Food Groups. The wheel is divided into six sections, with subsections in each (the breads, grains and cereals sector is divided into whole grains and enriched; vegetables are broken down by dark green, deep yellow, other, starchy and dried beans and peas, for example).
The $20 cost of the course includes a workbook, with readings and activity sheets ("rating your diet for variety"; scale-size pictures of lamb chops and roast turkey to teach portion sizes; food diary -- "when I ate, what I ate") plus "life cycle" brochures that provide specific nutrition information during six life stages.
"We've learned that there is a distinct relationship between diet and health," says Maschke, talking to an earlier class. The subjects of the session: the dietary guidelines, risk factors and if there's time, vitamin and mineral supplementation.
"Help me define the risk factors for heart disease," she says to the class. Ten factors are listed on the blackboard, and Maschke erases the ones that can't be controlled -- heredity, age and sex. The rest, says Maschke, "we have a great deal of control over."
We can start to exercise. Obesity: It requires motivation to lose weight, but it can be done, she says. The rest of the factors are whittled away, one by one, the last being dietary fat.
Maschke asks who in the class has high cholesterol. Two women raise their hands and Maschke asks them to explain what their doctors have advised. "No more whole milk," says one. Cut down on eggs, says another. Eliminate liver, too, Maschke tells the two women. And use corn or safflower oil, which are lower in saturated fats than olive and peanut oil.
The discussion moves to the risk factors of hypertension. Then to sodium. How can you reduce sodium? What is the difference between salt and sodium? How much should you consume every day? Maschke fires off the questions, then the answers.
The women use their workbooks to compare the sodium contents of foods, some expressing surprise at the results: 1 cucumber contains 15 mg. of sodium, a pickle contains 1,930 mg. Soy sauce: 1,320 in 1 tablespoon. Grain products, fresh fruits and vegetables are low in sodium, says Maschke. Tomato juice is high.
On to sugar: If you're dying for it, have a piece of fruit, suggests Maschke; an orange is easy to carry in your pocketbooks. Which is safer on your teeth -- eating five cough drops all at once or one every 15 minutes? (Answer: five all at once -- it adds up to less time exposing your teeth to sugar.)
Food labels, fat and sodium, those are the topics that consumers seem to misunderstand the most, says Maschke after class, an observation reiterated by Lilly Mae Johnson, another Red Cross instructor of the class. People don't recognize the extra calories in salad dressings, or the extras that add up in baked potato toppings, said Johnson.
During an administration that some critics have charged has been lax in nutrition education and research, the course is being viewed by the USDA as one of its major nutrition accomplishments. Betty Peterkin, associate administrator for USDA's Human Nutrition Information Service, said, "We do consider it the Better Eating course a major contribution." But, she added, "There certainly have been others."
The Center for Science in the Public Interest calls the course a "conscientious, if not particularly bold" program to advocate dietary changes in lowering fats, cholesterol, sodium and sugar. Although the consumer organization says the course doesn't make these points with great emphasis (i.e., recommendations to cut down on fat and cholesterol are not backed up with strong advice to cut down on meat and high-fat dairy products), it commends the Red Cross for "nutrition education that points in the right direction."
The philosophy of the course was not to recommend that everyone stop eating certain foods, says Barbara Clarke, the Red Cross' program director for the project; rather it was to present an educational framework in which students could formulate their own needs. "Variety, balance and moderation," those are our words, said Peterkin of the USDA.
It is the final session of the Better Eating class, and students have brought in dishes for a potluck lunch, after which they will receive their class certificates.
Maschke warns about fad diets (determine what the product is going to do, analyze the evidence behind the claim, analyze why the claim seems so appealing) and suggests how recipes can be modified (use two egg whites in place of one whole egg, use non-stick pans without oil, take the skin off the chicken, cut down on the sugar) as the members of the class eat an odd nutritional mix of salmon loaf, Hawaiian Punch with ginger ale, bean salad, Jell-O with canned fruit salad, tunafish, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato pie, collard greens and pork chops.
Have the members of the class changed their eating habits? "I weigh all my food now," says one. "Cutting down on meat, eating more vegetables," says another. Still another says that for the last Sunday's dinner she "made salmon loaf instead of pigs' feet."
Here are some recipes from the Red Cross' "Better Eating for Better Health" workbook. The first two have been adapted: CHILI BEAN DIP (Makes 1 1/3 cups) 16-ounce can kidney beans, drained 1 tablespoon vinegar 2 teaspoons chili powder 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin 1 tablespoon onion, finely chopped 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped Raw vegetable sticks
Place drained beans, vinegar, chili powder and cumin in blender. Blend until smooth. Remove mixture from blender. Stir in onion and parsley. Serve with raw vegetable sticks.
Calories per tablespoon: About 15 without vegetable sticks. FLOUNDER FLORENTINE (4 servings) 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach 1 tablespoon onion, finely chopped 1/2 teaspoon marjoram 1 pound flounder fillets 2 tablespoons flour 1 cup skim milk 1/2 teaspoon salt or less to taste Dash pepper 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
Place spinach and onion in 1/2 cup boiling water. Separate spinach with fork. When water returns to boiling, cover and cook spinach 2 minutes. Drain well. Mix with marjoram. Put spinach in 8-by-8 inch glass baking dish. Arrange fish on top of spinach.
Mix flour thoroughly with 1/4 cup milk. Pour remaining milk in saucepan. Heat. Add flour mixture slowly to hot milk, stirring constantly. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Stir in salt and pepper.
Pour sauce over fish. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees until top is lightly browned and mixture is bubbly, about 25 minutes.
Calories per serving: About 140. WHOLE-WHEAT PANCAKES WITH BLUEBERRY SAUCE (4 servings) 1 1/3 cups whole-wheat flour 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 egg, slightly beaten 1 1/3 cups milk 1 tablespoon brown sugar, packed 1 tablespoon oil
FOR BLUEBERRY SAUCE: 2 teaspoons cornstarch 1/2 cup water 3/4 cup frozen unsweetened blueberries, thawed and crushed 2 tablespoons honey 2 teaspoons lemon juice
Heat a nonstick or well-seasoned griddle while mixing batter. To make batter, mix flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat egg, milk, sugar and oil together.
Add liquid mixture to flour mixture. Stir only until flour is moistened. Batter will be slightly lumpy.
For each pancake, pour about 1/3 cup batter on hot griddle. Cook until covered with bubbles and edges are slightly dry. Turn and brown on other side.
To make blueberry sauce, mix cornstarch with a small amount of water in a saucepan. Stir until smooth. Add remaining water, blueberries and honey.
Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Serve warm over whole-wheat pancakes.
Calories per serving: About 245 for 2 pancakes, plus 50 for 1/4 cup blueberry sauce. APPLE CRISP (4 servings) 4 cups tart apples, pared and sliced 1/4 cup water 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour 1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 3 tablespoons margarine
Place apples in an 8-inch square baking pan. Mix water and lemon juice and pour over apples. Mix sugar, flour, oats and spices.
Add margarine to dry mixture; mix until crumbly. Sprinkle crumbly mixture evenly over apples. Bake at 350 degrees until apples are tender and topping is lightly browned, about 40 minutes.
Calories per serving: About 230.