In Portland, A Boot Camp To Help Veterans Cook Healthier Food
At the Portland VA in Oregon, Ray Spaulding stands over a frying pan full of sliced green apples at a cooking class,
"I feel like I'm on the Martha Stewart show," says the 85-year-old Air Force veteran. "This is caramelizing!"
Today's class is about ways to make healthier desserts, like brownies made with cocoa, Splenda and pureed black beans rather than flour and sugar. Spaulding is making cooked apples sprinkled with a little bit of cinnamon.
Jessica Mooney, a clinical dietitian at the Portland VA, says this class is part of a series. Veterans learned to cook healthier breakfasts, dinners and snacks. She says they also learned about portion control and how to read nutritional labels.
"The majority of our veterans have some type of health issue that could be managed through, or improved through, diet and exercise," she says.
About 25 percent of veterans who use Department of Veterans Affairs services have diabetes and 80 percent who use the services are overweight or obese, according to the agency. Those figures are higher for vets than the general population.
Spaulding says he's taking the course because he was hospitalized several times in the last few years before finally being diagnosed with diabetes. He says the class has given him a better understanding about what's going into the food he's eating and cooking.
"I will be able to control things like my blood sugar, which is a real trial for me because I like sweets," Spaulding says.
Another veteran in the class, Deeann Croteau, served in the Army during the mid-1980s.
"I have diabetes and I also have a sciatic nerve pinch in my back, and they keep telling me to lose weight," she says. "In this past 12 weeks, I've lost almost 10 pounds."
Michele Goldschmidt, who heads up health promotion efforts at the Portland VA, says some veterans face significant challenges after their military experience, like homelessness, job challenges, PTSD and other things related to war experiences.
Some of them turn to food as an outlet.
When they were in the service, most vets had the cooking done for them, and so they never learned how to do it for themselves. And many of those who can cook are used to cooking for hundreds or thousands of people.
Back in the cooking class, Spaulding reaches his hand into the pan of simmering apples, fishes one out and pops it in his mouth.
"These apples are really amazing!" he says.
Since 2013, about 150 veterans have taken the cooking class. That's small compared to the 96,000 vets served by the Portland VA this year alone.
But compared to other medical procedures and treatments, cooking classes and promoting exercise are less invasive and expensive ways to fight obesity and diabetes.
Copyright 2015 Oregon Public Broadcasting