Healthy Living Begins with Healthy Eating

Simple dietary changes can lower cholesterol, blood pressure and trigger weight loss.

Kris Etze cooks romantic repasts for couples, party menus for hosts and single-serving meals for folks on the go at Abra…Ca…Dinner!, a personal chef service in Lewes that focuses on healthy dining.

At home, she works her magic to cook vegetarian dishes and whole foods, an approach known as plant-strong eating.

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“Basically, you eliminate animal products—poultry, meat, seafood and dairy—and eat fruits and vegetables, legumes and grains, nuts and seeds,” she says.

Once a week, Etze cooks beans and grains in bulk, portions them into smaller containers, then pops them in the freezer so they are at the ready. She teaches classes in plant-strong, low-fat cooking, including such techniques as sautéing with a splash of veggie broth in a non-stick fat instead of using oil. 

Etze also serves up generous portions of encouragement. Cathy Balsley, her friend and neighbor, became interested in plant-strong eating for health reasons. For years Balsley has taken medication to control her diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol—“the whole package that comes with being overweight,” Balsley says.

But before she started a plant-strong regimen, she attended lectures on the topic at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Delaware’s campus in Lewes. Balsley also consulted her medical team.

“My cardiologist and diabetes educator were ecstatic,” she says.

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For breakfast, she eats five-grain oatmeal and a banana. For lunch, she wraps greens and veggies in a tortilla. Throughout the day, she snacks on fruit. At dinner time, there are more veggies and grains.

Balsley and her partner, Margie Wuestner, combine beans and grains to make their own burgers in large batches.

“They keep in the refrigerator for at least a week,” Wuestner says. “Veggie burgers also freeze well.”

Etze says planning meals a week in advance and mastering a few no-fuss techniques are essential ingredients in sticking to a healthy diet.

“If you cook the spinach in the pasta water, it’s quick and easy, and you only use one pan,” she says.

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In five months Balsley lost 35 pounds. Her blood pressure and cholesterol medications have been cut in half and her diabetes meds have been reduced by 75 percent.

“And I’m off two of my medications completely,” she says.

As for the chef, her numbers have improved, too. In one month, her cholesterol count dropped from 221 to 155. In less than three months, she lost 28 pounds.

“I want to lose more weight, but I’m not in a hurry,” she says. “Eating healthy isn’t going on a diet. It’s a lifestyle.”


Heart and Soil

If Peter Fontaine had his way, every kid in Delaware would have a garden, starting with two five-gallon buckets of dirt.

“Plant a tomato in one and basil in the other and you will always have something fresh and delicious to eat,” he says.

Fontaine, executive chef at Greenville Country Club, grows fruits and vegetables at home, as well as in the club’s pesticide-free kitchen garden. He also has taught classes in schools, encouraging kids to stay away from salty, sugary snacks and embrace healthy habits.

“Instead of sitting down in front of the TV with chips, try arugula,” he suggests. “It’s nice and peppery.”

When he was a boy with a yen for something crunchy, his mom handed him raw cauliflower. He grew up on a farm in central New Jersey where he realized that even a small, sunny patch can yield a bumper crop of produce. 

“One of my favorite smells as a kid was brushing up against a tomato plant,” he recalls.

In the garden at the club, Fontaine checks on the progress of red beets, purple kale and mustard greens. Figs are ripening on the tree. A few yards away, a frilly Blue Cochin hen, part of a small flock of free-range chickens, pecks at cracked corn.

Because members have expressed an interest in heart-healthy diets, Fontaine will serve much of the veggies he harvests with grains, such as quinoa and faro, and organic salmon or chicken. 

He also is a believer in the occasional high-calorie indulgence, balanced with low-fat, low-sodium options. He enjoys experimenting with new foods.

“I remember the first time I grilled an oyster mushroom,” he says. “It tasted just like steak.”

Fontaine exalts the humble radish, roasting three varieties—black, French breakfast and watermelon, or other seasonal varieties—for an earthy appetizer.

“Roasting adds great flavor and is very appealing visually,” he says. “Food just can’t be good for you. It has to taste great, too.”


You Are What You Eat

Wendy Flannery provides one-on-one nutritional counseling, making meal plans for people with diabetes, eating disorders and other issues.

Years ago, she created her own plan when she developed kidney problems. 

“I learned that I could make changes in my diet that would improve my kidney condition,” she says.

A registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, Flannery is the founder of Contemporary Nutrition in Dover, where she works with consumers and companies to promote healthy eating. 

“I encourage the plate method, where half the plate at lunch and dinner is filled with non-starchy vegetables, a quarter of the plate is filled with lean meat or other proteins, and the other quarter of the plate is filled with whole grains or high-fiber starches,” she says. “For example: half a plate of steamed broccoli, a quarter plate of brown rice and a quarter plate of wild-caught seafood.”

She conducts tours at supermarkets, teaching shoppers how to interpret the fine print on labels. She goes into the workplace for lunch-and-learn sessions where employees learn to make healthy choices. She hosts cooking parties, showing homeowners and their guests how to prepare balanced meals. She leads pantry raids to purge cupboards of junk food.

“If it’s not in the house, you aren’t tempted to eat it,” she says. 

Lisa and Donnie Alexander, a Smyrna couple in their 40s, consulted Flannery because they wanted to shed the pounds they had gained over the past 10 years. 

“We had tried everything on the market to lose weight, but the only thing that got smaller was our wallet,”
Lisa says.

Because each spouse has different issues—Donnie needed to cut back on salt, and Lisa has gastrointestinal problems—Flannery came up with plans tailored to the individual. 

Donnie cut out flavored water and sodas, which contain lots of salt. He also switched to low-sodium sandwich meats. Instead of reaching for the salt shaker at the dinner table, he substitutes herbs. 

“For Lisa, she needed more fiber, water, healthy bacteria,” Flannery says. 

They discussed ways she could increase her water intake, such as keeping bottled water in the car. Flannery designed a menu that includes Greek yogurt, lots of fruits and veggies, legumes, whole grains, high fiber breads and bran cereals.

“My husband lost 42 pounds and I lost 16 pounds, and we feel great,” Lisa says. “There is no secret to weight loss. It’s all about eating the right things and life changes.”