Enthusiasm for improving one's diet is evident at local food co-ops, says Laurie Gadbois. Yet too many new shoppers, she says, wander around like they're in a "foreign country."

Enthusiasm for improving one's diet is evident at local food co-ops, says Laurie Gadbois. Yet too many new shoppers, she says, wander around like they're in a "foreign country."

The former employee of natural-foods stores recently was certified as a guide through the terrain of healthful cooking and eating by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Gadbois' five-week series, "Food for Life: Kickstart Your Health," which starts next week, is the first PCRM program she plans to teach locally.

"I am really excited to kind of be the intermediary," she says. "It's not just cooking; it's nutrition information, as well."

Gadbois, 55, previously taught vegetarian cooking classes at The Right Plan in Medford before attending PCRM's four-day certification training in August in Washington D.C. To be accepted, among other criteria, the Ashland resident had to submit a videotaped cooking demonstration, which can be seen at www.mailtribune.com/cooking.

"It was like I was trying to get into the (Culinary Institute of America) or something."

Cooking experience Gadbois has aplenty, most recently at a local bakery where she made croissants and pastries. Employment at Whole Foods Markets in San Francisco then Ashland Food Co-op's deli, however, aligned more closely with her eating ethic.

"I just didn't feel quite right anymore making things I didn't want to eat myself."

Her own habits were held up for a makeover a couple of years ago when Gadbois attended a "packed" lecture at a Central Point school by Medford ophthalmologist Philip Paden. The physician has become known locally for prescribing a vegan diet of whole, unprocessed foods to patients who report dramatic health improvements.

"They were all just behind him 100 percent," says Gadbois of Paden's audience. "I decided to practice what I was preaching."

A longtime vegetarian, Gadbois "stopped cheating so much" with handfuls of "naughty" trail mix containing chocolate chips. She cut back on other sweets and fatty foods, eventually eliminating animal-derived edibles. Ultimately, she lost 20 pounds.

"Vegan is actually kind of a loaded word," says Gadbois. "You can eat a vegan diet, but it doesn't necessarily mean a healthy diet.

"They make vegan doughnuts, for goodness sake."

Many proponents, including Seventh-day Adventist churches, where Gadbois also teaches, favor the term "plant-based." That means the full spectrum of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Cooking is essential for avoiding processed foods in its myriad forms.

"It's no cholesterol; it's lower fat," says Gadbois, who promises "no crazy, obscure, overpriced ingredients" in "Food for Life" classes.

Simplicity will be evident in Gadbois' cooking demonstrations over portable induction burners at Medford's Smullin Health Education Center. She'll also use blenders for smoothies, featured on sample menus, along with oatmeal, bean chili, quinoa salad, lentil soup, portobello fajitas, scrambled tofu and pasta with spring vegetables.

"The menu is really straightforward and simple for people," says Gadbois. "It's really easy and economical."

The series starts with an overview and instructions on what groceries to purchase for healthful menus. The following week tasks students to get started on new, more healthful eating habits. Week three troubleshoots the plan for students who are having difficulties and reinforces positive results and progress.

"Breaking the Food Seduction" in the fourth week delves into why certain foods seem addictive. The fifth week has keys for natural appetite control, which relies on fiber, says Gadbois. Eating good, wholesome, flavorful foods also keeps hunger at bay, she says. With each week building on the one before, students should plan to attend the entire series.

Because Asante is donating the Smullin Center for the event, Asante employees can attend free of charge by calling Gadbois to register. All other participants register at Medford Food Co-op, which pledges $5 store coupons for each student and is donating many of Gadbois' ingredients.

The series' timing, of course, is intentional.

"Everybody wants a new start in the January," says Gadbois.

A self-directed "21-Day Vegan Kickstart" program with tips and recipes is available at www.pcrm.org/health/diets/kickstart/kickstart-programs. A nonprofit advocate for preventive medicine, PCRM emphasizes good nutrition, conducts clinical research and advocates for higher ethical standards in research. It has a membership of some 150,000 health care professionals and citizens, according to its website.

Mail Tribune Food Editor Sarah Lemon can be reached at 541-776-4487 or slemon@mailtribune.com. For more tips, recipes and local food news, read her blog at mailtribune.com/wholedish