Cooking Green with Karla Williams

The executive chef at Hilton Head Health points out the benefits of a plant-based diet.

Story By Eddy Hoyle + Photography by W Photography

When it comes to the food we eat, going green is not only better for your health, it’s better for the planet. Karla Williams, executive chef at Hilton Head Health, is a huge fan of vegetables and a plant-based menu. Williams hails from Indianapolis where she earned a bachelor of science degree in science, nutrition and exercise. In 2010 she came to the Lowcountry to join Hilton Head Health. Williams explained that more water and energy is needed to raise, feed, and process animals and their waste than to grow grains and vegetables. Shifting away from the trajectory of meat-based diets and choosing healthier, traditional Mediterranean, pescatarian or vegetarian diets could not only boost human lifespans and quality of life, but also slash emissions and save habitat for endangered species.

But I “yam” a carnivore!

Not a fan of veggies? That’s okay. You don’t have to become a vegetarian, a pescatarian or a vegan. “Instead of eliminating meat, add veggies,” Williams explained. “Start small in whatever you do. To maximize vegetables in your diet, start by incorporating more veggies in meals you already enjoy, or do a meatless Monday. We all love lasagna, for example. It’s a great comfort dish. I use lean ground beef, but I add volume with layers of roasted veggies.”

Eat the Rainbow

By “eating the rainbow,” Williams said, your meals are more visually appealing, healthy and nutritious. The deep greens of dark, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and arugula are high in iron, fiber and vitamin K. Red tomatoes boast lycopene, while orange sweet potatoes and carrots are sources of beta carotene. Take advantage of the bright color palette that veggies create and the powerhouse of vitamins they store.

Flambéing is an exciting way to make your food more flavorful. The fire goes out quickly, but it creates quite an impressive show. Rum, cognac or other flavorful liquors that are about 40 percent alcohol (80 proof) are ideal.

“Unbeetable” tips

Williams offers sage advice to improve your health and lifestyle. Recognize that a quick fix doesn’t work. Try a Mediterranean diet that includes veggies, seafood and extra virgin olive oil to lower cholesterol, improve heart health, reduce high blood pressure and fight diabetes. Substitute alternative sources of protein such as beans, nuts, barley, and brown rice for meat. Williams suggests using portioning plates with fun designs that show the correct portions for protein, vegetables and starch. You can also use portioning scoops instead of measuring, weighing and counting calories.

To curb hunger pangs that may lead to overeating, serve vegetable-based soups before your main meal. They are healthy and help to fill you up. “People don’t know where to begin and become frustrated by all the restrictive diets in the media – low cal, low carb, low fat, keto. Incorporate the foods you love. Eat the real thing,” she said, “but control portions.”

Williams promotes the three pillars of health. “Eat well, move well, and be well.” To “eat well” she explained that adding vegetables, consistency, moderation and portion control are all key to success. To “move well” means to add some activity every day, whether it’s walking, yoga or cycling. Do what you enjoy, but do it daily. To “be well” is to take care of the mind and soul. Offer yourself forgiveness and grace, meditate, and be mindful of your needs.

“Romaine” calm, but understand that our planet needs help, too

• There are 7 billion people to feed on the planet today, and an estimated 2 billion more are expected by 2050.

• Livestock production is responsible for 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

300 million tons of manure from livestock is responsible for 37 percent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Manure produces large quantities of methane, a gas that warms the earth 20 times faster than carbon dioxide.

• Animal agriculture is a major contributor to deforestation and desertification (which happens when livestock grazing destroys native vegetation and speeds up soil erosion).

• Animal agriculture is the leading cause of water pollution and ocean dead zones. Waste from farm animals is stored, and applied untreated, to crops as fertilizer.

Hundreds of toxins in such large quantities of manure can’t be absorbed by the soil, and eventually find their way into groundwater and then into rivers and oceans, where they destroy marine ecosystems. Oxygen depletion from animal manure and fertilizer creates dead zones. Manure produces ammonia, the most potent form of nitrogen, which kills fish, causes algae blooms, and contributes to smog.

• It requires about 100 times more water to produce a pound of animal protein than a pound of grain protein.

Data Sources: United Nations Food and Agricultural Commission, Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, University of Minnesota study


Black Bean Burger

Recipe from H3 Healthy Kitchen 

Ingredients (makes 7)

2 cups black beans, cooked, drained

1/2  teaspoon olive oil

1/2 cup red bell pepper, 1/4 inch dice

1/2 cup yellow onion, minced

1 cup zucchini, skin on, 1/4 inch dice

1 cup yellow squash, skin on, 1/4 inch dice

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cumin

10 tablespoons oats, old fashioned, gluten free



[1] Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, pulse 1 cup of black beans until smooth. Set aside. Preheat a sauté pan with oil. [2] Sauté onions, peppers and squash until onions are translucent and squash is soft. About 5-7 minutes. [3] Add in seasonings, remaining 1 cup of whole black beans and oats, sauté about 2 minutes until all is incorporated. [4] Place vegetable mixture into empty food processor and pulse about 5 times, or until vegetables and beans are slightly chopped but still distinguishable. [5] Fold into pureed black beans. Portion out with 1/4 scoop and form into patties. Place formed burgers into a greased sheet tray and lightly spray the tops. [6] Bake for 3-5 minutes until slightly browned and firmer. [7] Scoop 1/4 cup and shape into burger patties and store excess burgers in the freezer. Note from chef Williams: Serve on whole wheat bun and top with a quarter of a sliced avocado for a simple yet satisfying meal.


Green Smoothie

Recipe from H3 Healthy Kitchen 

Ingredients (makes 5 servings)

2 cups spinach

2 cups coconut water

1 1/2 cups pineapple, diced

1/2 cup avocado, cubed

1 cup banana



[1] Peel bananas, wrap in foil or in a plastic bag, and freeze. [2] In a blender combine spinach and coconut water, blend until smooth. [3] Add pineapple, avocado, and frozen banana, blend until smooth. Serve cold, enjoy! Note from chef Williams: The browner the banana, the sweeter the smoothie. Also, this green smoothie is loaded with Vitamin C.

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