LASALLE — As people rush through their lives in the modern world, eating can begin to seem like just another task to accomplish, and with convenience often prioritized over healthfulness.
To help residents of the Illinois Valley choose more wisely and consider the significant link between eating and well-being, the University of Illinois Extension regularly offers free, nutritionally focused classes at a number of convenient locations, including at their purpose built community teaching kitchen in LaSalle.
Susan Glassman, a nutrition and wellness educator with the Extension for more than 16 years, has presented a multitude of these programs. They have covered a wide range of topics, from managing diabetes to managing holiday leftovers. The common ingredient is the focus on personal health. She’s also a frequent sight at local health fairs.
“Since I can remember, I’ve always loved cooking and studying nutrition to help people live healthier lives,” Glassman said.
“In college, this led me from studying business to food and nutrition. My bachelor’s degree is in food and nutrition with a specialty in dietetics. I was then accepted into the Health Education and Administration graduate program at Southern Illinois University,” she said.
Glassman has since used her knowledge to build partnerships with local schools and community agencies. Part of the Nutrition and Wellness Team, she works in the Family and Consumer Sciences Team at the U of I College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. They strive to bring research-based, unbiased educational information to individuals and organizations to encourage people to live healthier lives.
“I’ve been able to share my expertise and teach residents of Bureau, LaSalle, Marshall and Putnam counties to practice healthier lifestyles. I’m supported locally with our amazing staff, and statewide with our team of nine educators,” she said.
The team develops new classes and keeps materials updated so the most current resources can be shared with local communities. Glassman said the Illinois Valley’s biggest nutritional challenges are its rates of obesity, diabetes and lack of exercise, all of which are statistically higher than state and national averages.
In addition to the helpful programs designed to help reduce the prevalence of these conditions, other classes have addressed food safety, heart health, food preservation, cooking for one or two, soups, slow cookers, nutrition labels, leftovers, prescription and food interactions, school nutrition, healthy holiday choices and youth classes.
“Some of my favorite classes include nutrition education and cooking together. I serve youth and adults and have found that when we cook together, it opens the door to sharing and learning from each other,” Glassman said.
She frequently prepares food during the classes to demonstrate her methods. They also show her suggestions don’t require a more complicated and lengthy approach. Mindfulness, simplicity and creativity can coexist with tasty meals and result in a healthier lifestyle.
“It’s never too late to make a change, and one of the easiest ways to manage your health is through nutrition. Sometimes simply changing a few things can be the best medicine,” she’s said during a class.
Many members of her diabetes support group have developed both their cooking skills and knowledge of nutrition to successfully lose weight, reduce their blood sugar levels and become more physically active and healthy.
To help improve health, Glassman recommends writing down what is eaten throughout the day.
“It will help you see your poor choices and then you can begin to develop healthier behaviors.” she said, recommending that people look for patterns including mealtimes.
Advising to layer proper nutrition onto what has been advised by a doctor, Glassman recommends eating “nutrient dense” food, limiting portions and avoiding carbohydrates, processed food and sugary foods.
She also suggests the use of spices and herbs to help replace the desire for sugary, salty and fatty foods. Using smaller plates is another easy suggestion.
What you drink during the day also makes a significant impact on your health, especially if an abundance of soda and other “sugar-packed” beverages are involved.
“Drinking plenty of water is the number one thing you can do for improved health because it flushes toxins from your body,” said Glassman, recommending people drink eight eight-ounce glasses, or a half-gallon, of water per day and avoiding sodas and other sugary drinks.
“You must remember that, more than anyone else, you are in charge of your health,” she said.
For more information about the U of I Extension’s Nutrition and Wellness programs, online videos and other resources, visit www.web.extension.illinois.edu/state/nutrition.