March is Nutrition Month in Canada, and March 19th is National Dietitian Day. My lovely friend, Natalia Baker, is a Registered Dietitian who I regularly bombard with questions. I love being able to get her opinion on something or bounce ideas off her. She has saved me from some hair-pulling moments of trying to feed my picky little eaters!
(Image courtesy of www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk)
I asked her if she'd be willing to do a little interview for Hungry Janey, and was delighted that she agreed. Then I got thinking...maybe my readers have some questions they'd like to ask as well? Read on for my interview with Natalia, and check out the end of this post for your chance to ask her your own questions!
Hi Jane. Thanks for shining the spotlight on Registered Dietitians. Today is the fifth anniversary of National Dietitian Day in Canada. Although it's not exactly a high profile event, it is nice to receive some recognition and celebrate our profession with other dietitians across the country. Anyone looking for more information on Registered Dietitians can check out this YouTube video produced by the New Brunswick Association of Dietitians.
Tell me about your career and your love of food.
I've been working as a Registered Dietitian for about ten years. I have a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition from Saint Francis Xavier University and a Master of Applied Human Nutrition from Mount Saint Vincent University. These days I work as top chef for my husband and two young boys. My oldest son is a very cautious eater who prefers vegetarian fare. He recently asked if I was serving him beaver (it was roast beef). My 10-month old is an adventurous carnivore who loves Brussels sprouts and just can't seem to get enough meat. My husband does a lot of taste testing and knows better than to ask if I followed a recipe! My love of food stems from my 95-year old Italian grandmother who still makes pasta from scratch and forages for dandelion greens in her backyard. I try to follow her lead by feeding my family as she fed hers.
What is one food that should be in our grocery carts each week?
This is an easy one. A dark green leafy vegetable. Whether it be spinach, kale or Swiss chard, eating more of these nutrient-dense foods can go a long way to improving your health. Plus they are grown locally, inexpensive and so versatile! I like to mix it up by adding greens to soup, stir-fries and pizza. Sauteed, in a salad or smoothie, there are infinite ways to eat these powerhouse vegetables.
(Image courtesy of www.runninggreen.blogspot.com)
There are a lot of common foods that should be avoided! If I named one, I'd have to name one hundred. Unfortunately our current food environment is not very conducive to healthy eating. Think: fast food, vending machines and much of the packaged foods lining the aisles of our grocery stores. That said, I don't believe in deprivation. One of my favourite quotes is “don't worry about the food you eat once in a while, worry about the food you eat most of the time.” Sure, it's a good idea to avoid artificial ingredients, trans fat and added sugar as much as possible. But although we often hear the word “toxic” associated with these foods, I really don't subscribe to the “good food / bad food” mentality. There is no question that our society's eating habits need drastic improvement. But blaming foods or looking for scapegoats is not the answer. We need to learn to navigate our current food world. I try to help my clients make the best food choices based on their preferences and the food that is available to them. It is not about the achieving a perfect diet. I'm certainly not a purist and I don't think one should strive to be. This mindset is unrealistic and tends to set people up for failure; think binge eating, yo-yo dieting and the “all-or-nothing” approach. I think it's better to focus on what you eat - a variety of nutritious whole foods most of the time – and give yourself permission to enjoy the occasional indulgence.
What diet fad do you currently question, or think isn't founded in good nutrition?
To be honest I don't pay much attention to fad diets anymore. I've been around long enough to realize that most fads are recycled or reinvented versions of an earlier edition. In general, any diet that prescribes extreme reduction of an entire food group or macronutrient (fat, protein, carbohydrate) is suspicious. Not only do I question the science, but simply put – these diets don't work for the long term! If it feels like a sacrifice the diet is never going to work for you. There are a lot of top-selling diet books with flashy covers and hard-set rules. Most include research and success stories. But it's pretty easy to string together a few studies to support a sensational hypothesis. It's a lot harder to do the opposite; to provide recommendations based on a body of scientific evidence. At the end of the day healthy eating is not sexy. It's about variety, balance and moderation.
(Image courtesy of www.nuts-about-food.tumbler.com)
Like many families, we are always looking for ways to eat more vegetables and improve the variety of our meals. We make trips to the Farmer's market a family activity and talk a lot about where our food comes from. As I mentioned, my three-year old son tends to be very cautious about food. We try to make meal time a pleasant experience for him. We have one rule: you don't have to eat but you have to sit at the table. He's encouraged to eat our regular family meals but we don't push him too much. Often he protests but sometimes he surprises us! Last week he ate roast beef for the first time. I'm hopeful that over time, the experience of family meals and good role modelling will help to increase the variety of the foods he enjoys. That said, I am not above sneaking some greens into his smoothie or adding nut butter to his oatmeal!
What do you think is the most over-hyped "super food" these days?
I think it's great that more people are talking about healthy eating and care about choosing foods of high nutritional value. We now have access to many international and novel foods that are fun to try and may be great additions to our diets. Unfortunately the term “super food” has become a bit of a buzzword and used by the food industry to market their products. It may or may not mean what you think it does! Do some research and include more nutrient-dense foods in your diet but not at the expense of other healthy foods. Whether it be chia seed, kombucha tea or coconut oil, there really is no magic bullet when it comes to improving your health. Variety is key!
What is your favourite tip for healthy living on a budget?
It's the little things that help keep our food budget in check. Planning is essential. I use flyers and rarely buy anything unless I know how I'm going to use it. It's a little less creative but makes for a lot less waste! I also keep a decent pantry and stock up on sale items such as canned tomatoes and legumes. Our family doesn't eat out much or buy a lot of processed or convenience foods. Because of this I can justify paying a little bit more for the quality ingredients and fresh local foods we value. People may be surprised that you can save money simply by cooking your own food. I like to roast a whole chicken on weekends and make a big-batch tomato sauce for quick and inexpensive weekday meals.
Now it's your turn...Natalia has graciously agreed to a follow-up interview, answering questions from my readers. What nutrition question have been brewing in your brain? Leave a comment or send me an Email with your question, and hopefully they can appear in our next Q&A!