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Napa Sonoma Magazine
Summer / Fall 2006

 
Eat, Drink, Be Merry—and Be Healthy

The Sonoma Diet author Connie Guttersen shows how wine country’s bounty is designed for good health

By Kimberly Olson

Spicy Moroccan kebabs. Thick, crusty bread. A bottle of Cabernet. And some great company with whom to share it. This is how Connie Guttersen, R.D., Ph.D., wants you to eat. The Sonoma resident, author of the hot new diet book The Sonoma Diet, says the wine country lifestyle can help you gain health, feel great, and even fit into your skinny jeans—all while enjoying food more than ever.

In a country where fast food reigns and entire food groups, from fats to carbohydrates, have become verboten, the idea of sitting down to enjoy a sumptuous, flavorful meal with a nice glass of wine is almost revolutionary. Except, perhaps, in wine country, where every meal seems to be a celebration of life. “Living here, you’re just immersed in great foods and a healthy way of eating,” says Guttersen. “Wine country food is a touch of Mediterranean, a touch of Latin, and a touch of Asian but always focuses on wholesome, natural, fresh ingredients. At the heart of the Sonoma Diet are 10 power foods that can help protect against heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even memory loss.”

Thanks to their temperate climates, both Sonoma and Napa Counties are brimming with superfoods—including Guttersen’s “power foods”—beginning with sun-drenched fruits, vegetables, and nuts. In this food category, Guttersen says, the heavy hitters are naturally sweet strawberries, blueberries, and grapes, as well as tomatoes, spinach,
broccoli, bell peppers, and almonds—all flavorful, lowfat, and chock-full of health-boosting nutrients. “The more colors on your plate—yellow, orange, red, green, purple—the healthier,” Guttersen says. For the freshest, ripest fruits, vegetables, and nuts, head to one of the region’s many farmers markets. Most towns in Napa and Sonoma counties offer them, and the foods are all grown by local farmers, who most likely picked their wares that very morning.

Another wine country staple is hearty, whole-grain bread and pasta. “Whole grains are healthy, flavorful, and contain key nutrients that are important for losing weight, like fiber,” Guttersen says. One of her favorite bread makers is Della Fattoria in Petaluma, which bakes up a host of tempting loaves like pane integrale (whole wheat and pumpernickel) and seeded wheat (with pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, and flax seeds).

To bring out the flavor of the grains, locals drizzle them with another power food: extra virgin olive oil. Olives are so important in Sonoma that every year, the county holds a special event called the Blessing of the Olives, to kick off a celebration of the fruit, the Sonoma Valley Olive Festival. Guttersen, who planted Sevillano and Mission olive trees in her own backyard, says olive oil can’t be beat for boosting heart health.

Find these oils—and perhaps engage in a tasting—at one of the many artisanal olive oil producers in Northern California. (If it’s the right season, you can even watch the pressing of the olives.) One of Guttersen’s favorite producers is Petroni Vineyards, which makes distinctive, Tuscan-style olive oils used by chefs around the country. “Frantoio is the predominant variety of olives we use here,” says Tim Crowe, Petroni’s general manager. “And then there’s Leccino, Moraiolo, Pendolino, and Coratina.” The result is an aromatic, buttery olive oil that’s a wonderful complement to breads, salads, and pasta.

In addition to the power foods, Guttersen recommends rounding out your meals with fish, lean meats, and flavorful cheeses, which are all plentiful in wine country. As for foods that may not be as healthy, allow yourself to indulge—a little. “Rather than choosing a low-fat cheese, which may not taste as good,” she says, “get a strong-flavored cheese, like blue or Gorgonzola, and eat a little bit less.”

Of course, the perfect accompaniment to any wine country meal is the elixir that gives the region its moniker. “A glass of wine a day can help reduce the risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s,” Guttersen says. “It also gets you to eat slower, taste your food, and savor it. So don’t be surprised if you eat less and are more relaxed at the table.”

And that, after all, is really the key to wine country living.

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