TAHLEQUAH, Okla. -- A $20,000 smoothie grant from the First Nations Development Institute has improved fruit and vegetable consumption and mobility for Cherokee Nation citizens.

The eight-month smoothie demonstration grant provided more than 150 Food Distribution participants in Adair, Cherokee and Sequoyah counties with tools and recipes to encourage better use of fruits and vegetables they receive through the program.

Participants experienced improvements in cholesterol, blood sugar and metabolism. They also had an overall mobility increase of 80 percent and increased fruit and vegetable consumption by 25 percent, according to self-evaluations.

Adair County resident and participant Janet Navarro said the program was a blessing and has improved healthy eating in her family.

"My grandchildren are drinking smoothies now for more vegetables," Navarro said. "Without even realizing it, my blood sugar levels dropped and I lost inches off my waist."

Each participant received a blender and accessories such as shaker cups and measuring spoons needed to make smoothies, along with monthly classes on exercise and smoothie-making, taught by Food Distribution employees in Sallisaw, Stilwell and Tahlequah.

"At each meeting participants spoke out more. They were all very positive and open. They shared recipes, exercises, experiences and improvements in their health and well-being with each other," Food Distribution Manager Leah Duncan said.

The tribe is working to secure more grant funding to expand the smoothie program to more counties within its jurisdiction.