Buffalo cauliflower and a spinach salad with watermelon are healthy eating choices, especially for residents with diabetes.

Those are just two of the food ideas that local diabetes patients learned during a nutrition class held in the community room of at Holy Family Catholic Church, Thursday.

The program was hosted by Fresh Start, a partnership between East Carolina University nutrition students and free community care providers. Fresh Start provides free healthy food items, cooking classes, nutritional advice, learning lessons and more to low-income and uninsured diabetes patients throughout northeastern North Carolina.

According to the Fresh Start initiative, the incidence of Type II diabetes in the adult population in eastern North Carolina is 14%, which exceeds the state average of 12.5% and the national average of nearly 11%.

ECU public health student Brandon Stroud opened Thursday’s session by discussing the importance of adhering to appropriate meal portion sizes. Using plastic replicas that represented different food items, Stroud asked residents to guess the number of calories in a small portion of nuts, which was about 80, he said. Considering that, he said a third of a cup of the same nuts amounted to about 280 calories.

“You see how that adds up quickly?” he asked.

Stroud emphasized the importance of balancing food options while ensuring people are eating enough protein.

“We don’t want y’all to get hangry,” he said, using an amalgamation of the words hungry and angry.

While ground hamburger is a source of protein, Stroud suggesting instead ground turkey or chicken, which also are sources of protein but contain less fat.

The human body needs protein to build muscle, but residents should focus on lean meat sources of protein, while also adding fruits and vegetables to their diets, Stroud said.

The Fresh Start seminar was held in partnership with the Albemarle Hospital Foundation’s Community Care Clinic, which was represented by Ramon Harmon an EMT and paramedic.

Harmon, who also serves as the clinic’s quality improvement coordinator, said residents attending Thursday’s class are clinic patients. The clinic’s partnership with Fresh Start represents the “whole circle of patient education,” said the former Marine.

Fresh Start is a collaboration between the Society of St. Andrew and ECU nutrition science professor Dr. Lauren Sastre, who created the program with help from a $365,000 3-year Duke Endowment grant. The Fresh Start team includes Sastre, Stroud, who is Sastre’s assistant director, and several other ECU nutrition and public health students. Each month, the team travels in its mobile unit to different communities to deliver group nutrition classes.

While Stroud and the students were conducting group learning lessons, student Ben O’Donnell was busy in a makeshift kitchen preparing Buffalo cauliflower, strawberry smoothies and a salad made of spinach and watermelon. The 90-minute session culminated with attendees getting to sample the different food ideas, plus receiving recipes and other take-home literature and fresh vegetables.

Sastre said what sets Fresh Start apart from other nutrition programs is it provides hands-on, group learning sessions with patients. Fresh Start teaches how to read a food label to make proper decisions when preparing meal ideas, Sastre said. The nutritional benefits between brands of cereal are an example Sastre used to illustrate the importance of understanding the food labels.

Residents also get to taste-test food ideas before trying them at home.

In one group lesson Thursday, the residents were presented a sheet that listed several meal options that amounted to more than 3,500 calories in a day. Stroud challenged the groups to calorie-swap the meal items to reduce the day’s caloric intake to 2,600.