Everyone has misconceptions about food, said Joy Gilleard, who volunteers once a month with a nutrition class offered at the Fellowship Cup for seniors in Henry County. Fresh Conversations sets out to help people live healthier, happier lives, Gilleard said.
“Fresh Conversations gives people something different to look forward to and a chance to learn,” Gilleard said, during Fresh Conversations on Wednesday, April 17, during a lesson about eggs. “Eggs are a wonderfully cheap way to get protein. I think we were raised only to have three eggs a week, but we can have one a day.”
Fresh Conversations is a class through Milestones Area Agency on Aging and the Iowa Department of Public Health offered at the Fellowship Cup in Mt. Pleasant on the third Wednesday of the month at 11 a.m. It is evidence-based, and if seniors attend four or more classes, it helps them remain independent and in their own homes, according to research from Iowa State University. For every dollar spent on Fresh Conversations, about $4 is saved in health care costs.
“It’s truly a win-win situation,” said Lynda Murray, a registered dietitian who has been working with Fresh Conversations for five years.
Fresh Conversations is funded through Snap Ed funds with the Iowa Department of Public Health. Milestones Area Agency on Aging receives these funds and administers the program.
Elise Klopfenstein, dietitian with the Henry County Health Center, teaches the Fresh Conversations class at the Fellowship Cup each month.
“They keep me on my toes,” Klopfenstein said with a smile. “There’s always great conversations about their life experiences.”
Carol Scott, of Mt. Pleasant, attends Fresh Conversations each month.
“(Klopfenstein) is excellent in her teaching, and there’s a lot of knowledge presented. It’s good to refresh your memory,” Scott said.
Scott made a lot of changes to her diet six years ago for better heart health. She finds Fresh Conversations providing her with new, easy recipes to help her in the kitchen. She also enjoys the little treats and gifts she gets each month. Last week, each person who attended received a pop top opener for cans and a chance to sample an egg muffin.
Bruce King, who attends Fresh Conversations, said he appreciates that the Fellowship Cup offers their weekly Wednesday meal afterward, and he always looks forward to Klopfenstein’s presentations.
Murray said that people who attend the program have “so much fun.”
“I believe if you can make people laugh, you can make them learn. I try to make sure the Fresh Conversations programs are really fun,” Murray said.
Murray used to be a facilitator for a Fresh Conversations class in Burlington. Occasionally she would teach the class as a cooking class.
“People may never want to cook, but they love cooking shows,” she said.
During one class about avocados, Murray made deviled eggs with avocados. She put the egg yolks, avocado and seasoning in a zip lock bag and passed it around to the seniors who “squished” all the ingredients together. They cut a corner of the bag and piped it into the egg whites.
“They loved it,” Murray said. “Just seeing the smiles and the laughs and the light bulbs go off, you can tell they are learning, loving it and making positive changes in their lives. Maybe they’re not getting more birthdays out of it, but they’re getting a higher quality of birthdays they have remaining.”
During another class, Murray demonstrated macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of severe, irreversible vision loss in people over 60-years-old. She brought Vaseline for people to rub on their glasses and experience what macular generation looks like. The Fresh Conversations class then talked about how eyes respond to nutrition, Murray said.
“There was a cool study on mice,” Murray said. “They gave them a junkie diet high in soft drinks and white grains and they saw eye diseases develop. They turned it around and gave them whole grains and oatmeal and things like that, and the maculate degeneration started to go away.”
Murray became a dietitian because she was interested in vitamins and nutrients and their affect on athletes.
Since she became a dietitian 30 years ago, “the field of nutrition has just exploded,” Murray said.
“When I first became a dietitian in the ‘80s, we didn’t think fiber was important. In fact, we thought it was so non-important it didn’t have a place on the food label. Now, we know fiber helps with microbiome in your gut, manage weight and reduce risk of chronic diseases,” Murray said.
These are the types of lessons taught in Fresh Conversations. From the calories in a blueberry muffin from a small exercise everyone is capable of doing.
Anyone is welcome to attend Fresh Conversations, although it is geared toward residents 65 years old and older.
Murray said that Fresh Conversations is always looking for new volunteers and facilitators, and they can pay a small stipend for someone teaching a nutrition course. You do not have to be a certified nutrition to teach Fresh Conversations.
“It can be someone who is a passionate foodie,” Murray said. “Somebody who says, ‘I’m a retired teacher, or dietitian, or I’m retired and worked at a bank my whole life, I want something that’s fulfilling and rewarding, I want to be go and teach food and how to keep people healthier and moving in their own home.’”
The next Fresh Conversations at the Fellowship Cup is Wednesday, May 15, at 11 a.m.