Aug. 13, 2001 -- Lanier Clance grew up eating fried chicken, and vegetables cooked in pork fat. It's still the classic diet of the South -- but not in Clance's Atlanta kitchen.
Congestive heart disease at age 50 convinced Clance to change his ways. Now 62, he says that switching to a healthy diet not only wasn't hard -- he wouldn't go back if he could.
"For me it is like the discovery of flavor," Clance tells WebMD. "Yes, it is different. I remember the old flavors, but my memory of the old flavor is not what that food is like to me now. For example, I'll try some home-fried chicken and it will taste greasy to me. My experience is completely different. It is just unbelievable."
Clance's new diet cuts way back on fats and cholesterol. And because of his heart condition, he doesn't cook or season food with salt any more. Instead, he uses a variety of herbs and vegetable accents when he cooks.
"Getting rid of salt is the least hard thing I ever did," he says. "Asparagus and spinach and broccoli tastes fantastic. I use ginger a lot, and onions, garlic, carrots, stuff like that. The subtleties of spices -- it has been the most wonderful thing. I use basil, cilantro, curry, paprika, mint, oregano, tarragon, just all kinds of stuff. It makes each dish different."
Thersa "Tess" Lovendale soon will celebrate her 78th birthday in Salt Lake City. She was one of the participants in a National Cancer Institute study of the health effects of a high-fiber, low-fat diet with large amounts of vegetables and fruits. For the first year of the study, researchers coached Lovendale and other study members on healthy eating habits. They also held weekly support-group meetings and kept in close telephone contact with the study participants.
Joan Benson, a nutritionist with the Huntsman Cancer Institute, led the Salt Lake City arm of the study.
"The most helpful thing was meeting with Joan once a week," Lovendale tells WebMD. "She was with us every minute keeping track of everything we ate. It helped me to lose 25 pounds. When I first started I think my fat content reached about 80 fat grams a day, and she cut me down at first to 30. I thought I would never make it but I did. Then she dropped me to 20, which is what I try to keep now."
Lovendale doesn't miss her old eating habits. Unlike Clance, however, she doesn't use a lot of herbs. Instead, she eats a mostly vegetarian diet and substitutes low-fat, low-sugar alternatives for the fatty seasonings and oils she used to cook with.
"For example, I never make a cake with oil or grease -- I use apple sauce or mashed up bananas," she says. "If a recipe calls for two eggs I use one. And I use yogurt instead of grease, too."
Lovendale lost weight -- but the best thing, she says, is the effect on her overall well-being.
"I feel better," she says. "I notice if I go off my diet, and I eat a big meal of meat, gravy, rich potatoes, and I don't eat enough vegetables, I get stuffed up, my bowels don't work, and I literally hurt."
It's no problem for her when she goes out to eat at her favorite buffet-style restaurant.
"Oh, I used to go and have meat and gravy and dressing and all that," Lovendale says. "Now I start with salad -- I make me a real nice salad with some light dressing. Then I go around the hot table and pick up cabbage, green peas; I love corn, I just love squash. I like the five-bean salad and carrot salad. Each one does have richer things than I would do at home, but I watch how much I eat."
Lovendale's healthy eating habits are contagious. Her sister and her son live with her, and both have adopted her diet.
"I love to talk about this way of eating," she says. "It is the best way. The recipes Joan gave me, I made copies for my friends and my family, and they live by it, too. I've been advertising it."