Throughout the summer, my husband, Drew, and I tried something new...a cooking class through the North Carolina Extension Service at the Wilkes County Agricultural Center. The six-week class, “Med Instead of Meds,” was taught by Courtney Parker Tevepaugh, Wilkes County Family and Consumer Science Agent, and was an introduction to “The Med Way,” or the Mediterranean (Med) Diet.

According to the Med instead of Meds website, following the Med Diet can lead to weight loss; protects against cognitive decline; may improve eye health including decreasing the risk of macular degeneration; decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes; can help manage blood pressure; and can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as much as 30-60 %.

The seven steps to the diet are: changing your protein (eating less meat and more seafood and white meat poultry and limiting processed meats); swapping fats (replacing fats such as butter and margarine with olive oil); eating more vegetables, especially dark green leafy ones; eating more fruit; snacking on nuts and seeds (avoiding honey-roasted and heavily salted); making grains whole; and rethinking your sweets by limiting your sugar intake.

 Courtney’s classes gave simple tips to incorporate the Med Diet into our lifestyle, without going “cold-turkey.” Each session, Courtney taught us “flips,” ways to switch to healthier options, and we practiced  cooking them in the home extension kitchen.

For example, one week the class cooked mushroom almond burgers and green beans with lemon zest. We cooked the fresh green beans the way I do at home...boiling them for 10 minutes then dunking them in ice cold water to stop the cooking process, then sauteeing until tender. Instead of plopping butter on the beans to saute, however, we added a few tablespoons of olive oil and lemon zest.

The mushroom almond burgers used mushrooms, cooked brown rice, whole wheat panko bread crumbs, almonds and  fresh herbs instead of hamburger meat. Even Drew, who is a carnivore, said they were good. After trying these recipes, I added a zester and a pair of herb scissors to my kitchen.

Courtney made deviled eggs for us to try with the burgers and green beans, which substituted olive oil for the mayonnaise. They were surprisingly good!

Our last class of the six- week session focused on “rethinking your sweets” and limiting sugar intake. Sugar is hidden in so many foods that are supposedly healthy, such as whole wheat bread, yogurt and salad dressing.

Courtney emphasized the importance of reading labels and of not drinking your sugar.  It’s better to make your own salad dressing and marinade from scratch, she said, and to eat plain yogurt and add fresh fruit. She also encouraged the class to make homemade granola using rolled oats, rather than buying commercial granola which is loaded with sugar.

The average 20 oz.  soft drink has 1/3 cup of sugar, more than double what you should have in an entire day, she said.

In our cooking lesson, Drew and I made one of his favorite things, pancakes. However, these pancakes were made with mashed bananas, oats, cinnamon, baking powder, eggs and vanilla, rather than Bisquick. Instead of syrup, they were topped with warmed fresh blueberries. Much healthier than the standard option, which is loaded with sugar.

Courtney teaches a variety of classes for the public, including methods of canning. Her next one will be a class on canning apple pie filling on Sept. 23 at 6 p.m. To register, call 336-651-7330 or stop by the Wilkes County Agricultural Center, 416 Executive Drive, Wilkesboro.

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