Vol 7 No. 19 - January 31, 2007

Food for Life: Learning to eat a healthy diet

Mashed grains and cauliflower and mushroom gravy simmer, while zippy yams and collards cook in the electric skillet.

By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer

What if you could help prevent cancer or fight diabetes and heart disease or reduce the need to take some medications by changing your diet? Would you do it?

Thirty members of the Food for Life cooking class at the Island Community Center are about to find out if they can put their money where their mouth is. Class members have completed six of eight sessions in the series, and it has become so popular that a second series of classes is being added.

"I love it," instructor Ellen Jaffe Jones exclaimed. "It’s better than a paycheck because you’re saving lives. It is so rewarding to see people make an easy change in their diet. You feel like you’re making a difference."

Jaffe Jones, an award-winning television reporter in Miami and St. Louis for 18 years, said she comes from a family with a history of "diseases of affluence," including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

"I started to eat this way after my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and I was rushed to the emergency room with a colon blockage," she explained. "The doctor told me that I would have to be on medication the rest of my life."

Jaffe Jones and her husband, Clarence, got married on Longboat Key and moved to the Island in 2003. They travel around the country as media consultants and "teach individuals how to deal with reporters like we used to be," she said with a laugh.

About 1 1/2 years ago, she learned about the Cancer Project, a group of physicians, researchers and nutritionists who educate people on how a healthy diet can help prevent cancer or help them regain their health once cancer is diagnosed. The Cancer Project sponsors the cooking classes and pays for the food.

"They train people to do what I had been doing informally," she said. "I applied and was accepted. They flew me to Washington, D. C. and I took classes to be able to teach the course. I began teaching right after that."

The classes are free and include lunch. Membership to the Center is not required, but registration is required because class size is limited.

Each of the eight sessions is stand-alone and sessions focus on low-fat foods, fiber, dairy alternatives, replacing meat, planning healthy meals, antioxidants and phytochemicals, immune-boosting foods, and maintaining a healthy weight.

In the first class, students get "The Survivor’s Handbook, eating right for cancer survival," which includes information on how foods fight cancer, a chapter on each of the sessions, all the recipes used in the class plus additional recipes, lists of resources and cookbooks and information on the Cancer Project.

"It’s a low-fat, plant-based diet; there’s no dairy, meat or fish," Jaffe Jones stressed. "The idea is to disguise the healthiness. You teach people how to really enjoy fruits and vegetables and the complex carbs.

"The beauty of these classes is the reaction –‘It tastes so good.’ There’s a great deal of variety and we use a fair number of basic seasonings."

Students reinforced her words:

"She’s the world’s most wonderful cook; everything she makes is great."

"I’ve never liked cauliflower and I loved it."

Jaffe Jones said if students could maintain the diet for three weeks and see how much better they feel, they can be convinced to continue.

"You look at other cultures that eat this way and you don’t find the diseases of affluence," she pointed out.

"It’s about feeling better and wanting to be around for the grandchildren. To be physically fit, active and healthy is really important."

The second session of eight classes begins Friday, Feb. 2, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Classes are held at St. Bernard Catholic Church activity center while the Community Center is under construction.

Call Sandee at 778-1908 to register.

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