Pans or Pills? the Choice Is Yours

— Written By

Did you know that a full two-thirds of chronic diseases (such as diabetes and heart disease) can be prevented by lifestyle changes, specifically diet and exercise? Research has shown the connection between lifestyle and chronic disease for quite some time. We have options in how we can approach chronic disease prevention and control in our society and in our lives. We can choose PANS (by intentionally choosing the foods we eat) or PILLS (pharmaceutical intervention). A healthy eating pattern is essential for overall health, but some medical conditions may require pharmaceutical intervention in addition to a healthy eating pattern. As such, be sure to consult with your doctor regarding your specific health and pharmaceutical needs.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension offers a program entitled “Med Instead of Meds” that helps participants incorporate the basics of healthy eating that were traditionally practiced in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. The class series is entitled Med Instead of Meds because it looks at how we can prevent and control chronic diseases and promote overall health by eating the Med Way instead of focusing on medication to address these issues.

The key components of eating the Med Way include eating lots (and lots) of fruits and veggies; eating whole grains, beans, legumes, fish & seafood, nuts and seeds; choosing olive oil for cooking and eating and using herbs and spices to flavor food. The Med Way also recognizes the importance of physical activity, enjoying meals, and limiting added sugars. As always, we encourage you to support our local growers as much as possible and visit our Montgomery Farmers Market open every Thursday through October.

Some common reasons why people don’t eat healthier is because they feel healthy eating is too hard, too confusing, too expensive, not delicious and they don’t have enough time or cooking skills to prepare nutritious meals. The Med Instead of Meds program can help with all of these concerns!

Beginning in April 2020, Family and Consumer Science Agents with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Montgomery and Stanly Counties teamed up to offer this six-session class virtually using the Zoom platform. Averaging 15 participants per session, attendees engaged in educational discussion and recipe demonstrations. “One of the most interesting things about the Med Way lifestyle is the unique food combinations. So many times when we discuss a recipe, people just can’t imagine how the ingredients could possibly go together – but when they actually give it a try, they absolutely love it!” says Rhonda Peters, FCS Agent in Montgomery County. The public can access video demonstrations by visiting our website.

Trying new recipes is not the only way participants benefit from the class. One person shared that because of her participation in this program, she learned how to properly cut food; another reported learning what to look for on a food label so she could make healthier choices. Another said, “I’ve been cooking for a long time and I never knew how much-added sugar was in a jar of spaghetti sauce. I was astonished!”

Although both FCS agents enjoyed delivering this program in a virtual setting, they both love providing this program in a traditional face-to-face method as well. “When we are all in the same room together, our participants get to actually taste some of the recipes right then, and even practice some of the preparation skills together instead of on their own at home with no support. On the flip side of that, the virtual program was provided at no cost, where the face-to-face program requires a fee to cover the cost of ingredients used in the recipes,” says Hayley Cowell with Stanly County. “What we have learned is that no matter which way the program is delivered, participants are overall very pleased and confident in their ability to adopt the Mediterranean lifestyle,” says Peters.

For more information about the Med Instead of Meds program in Montgomery County and/or other food preparation programs, please email Rtpeters@ncat.edu or visit our website. In Stanly County, please email Hayley_Cowell@ncsu.edu or visit the Stanly County website.