Health Center to add Nutrition Services

Renovated building to feature vegetable garden, cooking classes

The Petaluma Health Center is planning to expand its nutrition services once it moves into a much larger, renovated building on North McDowell Boulevard this summer.

Staff members and clients will collaborate to plan, install and cultivate a fruit and vegetable garden as part of its expanding Center for Healthy Living.

“In the new building, we will have the facilities to do this. By teaching people in classes how they can start with the basics and learn how to grow their own vegetables, they will learn how to do their own part in getting the nutrition they need without having to go to a store,” said Najine Shariat, a clinical nutritionist and the director of the PHC’s nutrition program.

Among the additional class offerings at the new building will be a variety of movement and exercise programs, as well as cooking classes emphasizing wholesome recipes, to be held in the state-of-the-art Healthy Living Kitchen.

“Many cooking classes make things too hard. We’re going to keep the classes realistic,” Shariat said.

Last month, in recognition of March being National Nutrition Month, the health center’s nutrition staff encouraged people to look closely at what motivates their food decisions.

“With our nutritional counseling program, instead of jumping right into food choices, we try understand the realities of clients’ lives,” said Shariat said.

An estimated 250 health-care clients participate in individual or group nutritional counseling programs. They learn to be aware of how food fits into their daily choices.

Once clients understand the connection, they are better able to make supermarket trips, as well as recipe and meal planning, with a positive intention, rather than picking up foods merely because they are familiar, inexpensive or convenient.

“The emphasis is on how we can prevent disease via nutrition and how to integrate nutrition and medicine —not by words, but by action,” said Shariat, a PHC staff member for 12 years who also is director of a Santa Rosa nutrition clinic.

During the first session with a client, Shariat and her staff ask patients about their lifestyle, including sleep patterns, work life, fitness, values, fashion preferences and relationships. All of these factors can impact health and food choices, and it’s important for clients to acknowledge them before nutritionists make specific food recommendations for them, Shariat said.

“Instead of overwhelming people with all that is wrong, our job is to teach them what is right. You have to be realistic. For some people, it’s putting music on and dancing, or going for a walk. Not everybody can afford to purchase organic food. It’s very individualized,” she said.

Health center nutritionists regularly offer their services to patients who are pregnant, have chronic illness, are experiencing stress or depression, or are diagnosed as pre-diabetic or diabetic. These patients may be referred to an ongoing PHC group or class, or meet individually with a nutritional counselor.

One popular program at the PHC, Petaluma Loves Active Youth, targets children who are overweight, a growing population in Petaluma. Children in this weekly group learn about nutrition and actively participate in exercises. Also, in partnership with nonprofit organization Petaluma Bounty, nutrition educator Patty Sherwood shows children how to make healthy recipes using ingredients donated by Whole Foods of Petaluma.

For more information about the PHC’s services, call 559-7500.

— Argus-Courier Staff

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