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Clifton’s classes promote healthy lifestyles during COVID-19

LAPLACE — The average Louisianan is watching nearly 20 additional hours of television per week and doing 33 percent less exercise than before the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to a survey by Ezvid Wiki. (see more here: https://wiki.ezvid.com/surveys/lazy-lockdowners/index.html)

Cynthia Clifton, local nutrition agent for the LSU AgCenter, said more time at home has also led to poor eating habits and weight gain. Now more than ever, she believes it is essential that people in the community have access to nutrition education for a healthier lifestyle.

Clifton has been working for the LSU AgCenter for 12 years.

“When I first started, I was doing all kinds of different programs. In 2011, they transferred me to just doing nutrition. It was something that I really wasn’t familiar with,” she said.

Clifton lost more than 60 pounds when she made diet and lifestyle changes. Along the way, she gained a passion for helping others lead healthy lives.

“I wasn’t a person who liked to cook, but that has all changed,” Clifton said. “I know people need to get healthy because a lot of people are not healthy. I wasn’t healthy. When I started getting into nutrition, I started seeing things I should be eating and things I shouldn’t be eating, and that was something that we needed to teach people.”

Clifton teaches a variety of classes for the community, many of which are held in partnership with the St. John Parish Library. Her “Dining with Diabetes” class is available at no cost to help adults at risk or with Type 2 diabetes manage their condition through meal planning, label reading and portion control.

Participants in Cynthia Clifton’s “Smart Choices” class take a grocery store tour at the LaPlace Winn-Dixie to learn about smart shopping.

Her “Smart Choices” class is a four-part series that includes a trip to the grocery store. Clifton will point out healthy foods as participants learn to shop with a goal in mind. The final session of the class checks in with participants to see how they are doing on their journeys.

Former St. John Councilman Larry Sorapuru was one of the participants in Clifton’s “Smart Choices” class.

“It was very informative, and it’s important that we eat healthy, pay attention to what foods we eat and inspect labels,” Sorapuru said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how classes are offered to the community. A lot of participants who aren’t tech-savvy have picked up computer skills to stay involved virtually.

This week, Clifton conducted a Zoom class called “Breaking up with Salt.” The class explained how sodium is linked to hypertension.

Her next class, “Make Half your Grains Whole Grains,” will be held via Zoom at 10 a.m. Aug. 25 in coordination with the LaPlace Library. The class will explain the differences between whole grains and refined grains.

“Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and the germ. The process of milling gives grains a finer texture and makes it last longer, but it removes fiber, iron and many other nutrients,” Clifton said. “White flour is made with refined wheat grains, so foods like muffins, pancakes and biscuits made with white flour contain refined grains and contain less fiber, vitamins and minerals than whole grain foods.”

To sign up for the course, please email cclifton@agcenter.lsu.edu.

Clifton often sends out exciting homework assignments in the form of recipes for class participants to try out between sessions. In all of her courses, Clifton emphasizes that people can eat the foods they want to, as long as they eat appropriate portions.

“I try not to tell people to not eat things, because when you start eating it again you have a tendency to overeat,” Clifton said. “If you want something, you don’t have to give it up. You can eat it in portion sizes. Say you buy chips and you look at the nutrition label. The serving size tells you exactly how much you can have.”

Clifton also tells class participants to keep a journal of what they eat. This often makes people avoid foods they aren’t supposed to eat.

“I tell them, if you want to eat it, eat it, but write it in your journal. If you don’t lose any weight or any inches, then we know why,” Clifton said. “Everybody messes up. Start again the next day. You keep starting over, and eventually you’ll get it.”

Exercise is another important factor of a healthy lifestyle, according to Clifton. She encourages the audience to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines, even if it’s just doing leg lifts or walking around the house during commercial breaks when the TV is on.

Clifton said people can start with 10-minute walks outdoors a couple of times a week and build their way up to hour-long walks over time.

She also encourages her class participants to keep an open dialogue with their doctor and ask questions when needed.

For more information, visit lsuagcenter.com/topics/food_health/nutrition or call 985-497-3261.

Healthy Recipe: Fat-Free Roux

Place 2 cups of flour in a black iron skillet over high heat. Stir constantly with a wire whisk. Lower temperature setting if flour begins to brown too quickly. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the flour is light brown (about the color of brown sugar). Once the flour is browned, remove from the burner and continue to stir until the flour is cooled. Store in a tightly covered container.

If you would like to participate in any of the nutrition workshops, please call Cynthia Clifton at 985-497-3261.