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HaysMed offers up healthy overseas fare





They might have been in the middle of the United States, but a group of Ellis County residents was taken on a taste-test tour of the Mediterranean on Thursday evening.

Registered dietitians at Hays Medical Center served several Mediterranean-inspired dishes at the healthy cooking class. The goal is to encourage people who are trying to eat healthier at home, but staff also enjoys introducing residents to new recipes and ingredients, said dietitian Andrea Harmoney.

"I joked earlier we've been through a whole bottle of olive oil, a whole bottle of wine, a whole bulb of garlic -- so we've got some good Mediterranean food cooking tonight," she said, prompting a round of chuckles from the nearly 20 people in attendance.

The menu included baked flounder and artichoke dishes -- both loaded with culinary staples such as Roma tomatoes and Kalamata olives -- granola/plum bars and bean salad with balsamic vinaigrette.

The aroma of savory herbs and spices filled the room before guests started to arrive.

"It smells good," Hays resident Bev Bearley said appreciatively as she took her seat.

Bearley has been attending the cooking classes, which are offered several times annually, for many years.

"I just love to cook, so it's fun to get new ideas," she said. "We get to watch her prepare, and then we get to sample."

Mediterranean cuisine long has been recognized for its health benefits, so it was an ideal topic for the night's cooking class, Harmoney said, noting patients often ask her for information about the regional diet.

The Mediterranean food pyramid is heavy on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fresh and dried spices often are used in lieu of salt. Beans, legumes and fish are the main sources of protein, with meats and sweets consumed only sparingly. For this reason, the diet helps promote heart health.

Other lifestyle factors in that culture, however, also contribute to the effectiveness of the Mediterranean diet, Harmoney said.

"They sit around and enjoy their food. They don't shovel it down and move on to the next thing," she said. "Ultimately, it's those portions, too. Real Italians don't eat the never-ending bowl of pasta they serve at Olive Garden. It's really a small bowl, or things we often think about being side dishes."

"Don't they have wine?" Hays resident Peggy Lee asked, prompting another round of laughter.

Yes, Harmoney conceded, but noted wine also should be consumed in moderation. Guidelines are two 4-ounce servings each day for a man, and one 4-ounce serving for a woman.

When it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes, nutrition is key. For many people, however, it can be difficult to begin preparing nutritious meals at home.

Younger generations are getting in the habit of choosing convenient options such as fast food, while older people in Ellis County might have relied on traditional family recipes.

"It's a very big barrier, especially for the younger generation," she said, "and even our older generation here in Hays that do more of the traditional German cooking, which tends to be not quite as healthy."