Nataleigh Nix, Miss Mississippi’s Teen 2023, will lead a session themed ‘Healthy Hearts, Happy Families’

Reducing dietary sugar isn’t as simple for everyone as it may seem. According to Johns Hopkins, the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar every day. If you’re not spooning that much into your morning coffee, though, where is it all hiding?

The latest session in Catfish Row Museum’s summer cooking series, this Saturday at 2 p.m., will focus on heart-healthy meals and snacks for families. In collaboration with the American Heart Association, Nataleigh Nix, who was crowned Miss Mississippi’s Teen for 2023, will lead the event with registered dietician Ali Hopson of Nutrition Matters and Chef OT from Morrison Healthcare at Merit Health River Region.

“After meeting with the American Heart Association and hearing their mission, I thought that because I am Miss Mississippi’s Teen, I have the platform to really do something about this,” Nix says. The Canton native, currently in her junior year at Madison Central High School, said her main goal is to help families learn how to prepare food in healthier ways and to demonstrate what healthy eating can look like to Mississippians.

“A lot of the reasons why obesity is such a huge issue is that while some people don’t have access to [many healthy] foods, others may have them but don’t know how to prepare them,” she says. “It just ends up rotting and going bad, so they end up eating things that aren’t good for their health.”

Hopson will lend her expertise to discuss how to decrease added sugars in diets, which include all sugars that do not occur naturally in foods. The National Institute of Health lists increased risks of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer among the dangers associated with consuming added sugars.

“Lots of times there are hidden, added sugars that we just don’t realize are in drinks or products,” Hopson says. “I’m going to discuss that as well as increasing the number and variety of fruits and vegetables in our diets.”

Hopson will focus on popular sugary foods and beverages the American Heart Association has termed the “sugary six,” including sodas and energy and sports drinks; fruit drinks and punches; candy; sweet baked goods; dairy desserts and milk products like yogurts; and sweetened breakfast foods. Her talk will also discuss how to read nutrition labels and how some food makers can make their products appear healthier by claiming a single package, for example, contains multiple servings.

“Sugar can be a big part of our calorie consumption, but there’s really no nutritional value in it,” Hopson says. “You’re not really getting any vitamins and minerals, or any of the nutrients you need, when you’re consuming too much sugar. It takes the place of nutritious foods you could be eating.”

A general rule of thumb, she says, is to reach for whole foods such as fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods like crackers, chips and pre-packaged snack foods.

“When you have a diet that has more whole foods in it, you’re getting natural sugars from fruits,” Hopson says. “You’re also getting added fiber, vitamins and minerals, and many other nutrients that you need, versus a product that just has added sugar with no nutritional value to it.”

Presentations coming up in the series include Jackson-based celebrity chef Nick Wallace, who has appeared on the Food Network cooking shows “Chopped” and “Fire Masters,” both of which he won, and was a finalist on Bravo’s “Top Chef” in 2022, and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in partnership with the Vicksburg National Military Park.

This series of stories on this Summer Cooking Series is produced by Lauchlin Fields Digital Media Consulting for the Catfish Row Museum.

Read the story as it appeared in The Vicksburg Post, our content partner.

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Jim Beaugez

Jim Beaugez is a Mississippi-based writer whose work has been published by Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, Oxford American, Garden & Gun, Guitar World and other publications. He also created and produced "My Life in Five Riffs," a documentary series for Guitar Player that traces contemporary musicians back to their sources of inspiration.