From the Heart - for the Heart

by Elizabeth Rose

A personal chef's epiphany leads to a health-conscious business plan.

In Louisiana, one in four people die from heart disease.

Thirteen years ago, personal chef and A Change of Heart owner Molly Clayton, now 36, was on track to be one of those numbers. When the Iota native visited her doctor in Michigan, where she was working at the time, she was a very unhealthy 240 pounds. "His mouth just kept dropping and dropping. He looked at me and said I had the worst family history that he had ever heard," Clayton says. "I thought everybody back home had the same family history. I don't know anyone whose mawmaw or pawpaw doesn't die from heart disease or diabetes or heart attack. They don't die from old age - they die from complications from one of those three diseases. I didn't know how to change - the doctor dismissed me and said I was a walking time bomb."

Fast forward to 2007, when Clayton went back to school for nutrition after working with a dietician who wanted to meld Clayton's delicious dishes with healthier alternatives.

"It was the first time ever that I actually saw people getting better," says Clayton. "People were getting off medication, diabetics were no longer diabetics, people were lowering their cholesterol naturally. I had a huge epiphany that, in my line of work, I'm educated to hurt or help people with the food I prepare."

So began Clayton's quest for the most delicious, heart-healthy food she could create. She moved to Houston and became involved with heart disease prevention, dropped 40 pounds and was chosen as the American Heart Association's national spokeswoman in 2010. "[Heart disease] touches everybody," she says. "It kills more people, especially in Acadiana, than the next three killers combined (cancer, diabetes, stroke). Heart disease is 80 percent preventable - if you just change and eat right and exercise, you're able to reverse it."

Clayton is a convenience queen, and she uses that mantra in her cooking. To lower the sugar content and sodium in a serving of ketchup, she recommends cutting it with lime juice or apple cider vinegar - the same goes for salad dressings, except try mixing them with water or lemon juice. She recommends fresh or dry herb-infused cooking oils as a butter substitute, like making mashed potatoes with rosemary canola oil. Don't cut fat all together, she says, but instead be mindful of what kind. She'll demonstrate these methods and more at a cooking class at Lafayette's Go Red for Women luncheon Feb. 7.

A Change of Heart food delivery service and food truck is full of dishes with low sodium levels, which Clayton says is the core of heart-healthy eating. The sauces and breads are made from scratch, the seafood from the Gulf, and the beef homegrown. Each meal clocks in at 400 calories or less with 300 milligrams of sodium or less and 3 to 5 grams of fiber. Clayton has become so committed to serving the best food but still maintaining affordability that she and her husband aim to grow all of the ingredients on the menu on their land in Iota. Clayton offers options with seafood, pork, chicken and beef every week. Come to the food truck for lunch, and take a few frozen entrées for dinner during the week, or order entrées online and pick them up at Personally Fit on Johnston Street. The truck is in Lafayette three to four times a week and Crowley once a week.

Clayton's business model is built on principle, as she donates 5 percent of her proceeds to the American Heart Association and 5 percent to A Change of Heart's Pay it Forward Program, where she prepares meals at cost for cardiac rehab patients.

"You can live a healthy life and not be sick - you can make a choice not to be sick," Clayton says. "It's the best thing that you'll ever do for yourself."