Hello, and welcome to Nick digs food! I work as a Community Nutrition Educator, so I spend most of my time talking about food, farming, cooking and health. I often find myself contemplating the future of food and advocating for a more sustainable food system. I am completely fascinated by our food system and enjoy digging into the interconnections between food, culture, health, and the environment.
I enjoy teaching different groups of people about food and nutrition as a Community Nutrition Educator, working for the largest member owned food co-op in the US. In this role, I have the pleasure of helping people to better understand the science of nutrition, how to read food labels, and how (and why) to put the best options in their shopping cart. I also respond to common nutrition questions, and write about hot topics such as:
- What’s the difference between a probiotic and a prebiotic?
- How much sugar should I eat?
- Can you list one simple dietary habit that would benefit everyone’s health?
- Are there any home remedies for heartburn?
- Are beer and wine good for me?
- Which foods are the top sources of calcium?
- How can I eat healthy while traveling?
As a Community Nutrition Educator I get to teach in a wide variety of settings, reaching a very diverse mix of people, with different levels of knowledge and interest in food/nutrition/cooking. One of the challenges in nutrition is to be able to meet people where they are, so that your messaging is appropriate for the audience. Some of my classes cater to well-educated foodies, looking for the latest trends in what to eat for optimal health; while other classes cater to the needs of limited resource families, trying to raise their children to become healthy eaters. Ultimately the goal is the same, but I find myself taking different paths to get there.
Here’s a few examples of some of my teaching experiences, and some lessons I’ve learned along the way:
- Making kale chips with cub scouts….where I learned that 8 out of 10 kids actually like to eat kale (at least when it is called a chip).
- Tip: don’t mention how healthy the kale is, because if you do – they won’t eat it!
- Teaching college students how to eat well on a limited budget.
- Tip: learn how to cook a few basic recipes that you enjoy, because it’s always cheaper when you cook it yourself.
- Leading support groups for adults with food-related health conditions (diabetes, celiac disease, Multiple Sclerosis).
- Tip: any time you have to make a major change to your diet, it is helpful to reach out to others who are going through the same thing to learn from similar experiences.
I recently learned that the very first Dietary Guidelines for Americans came out the same year that I was born (It was actually called the Dietary Goals for Americans back then, the name was changed to Dietary Guidelines for Americans in the next update).
“The Dietary Goals reflected a shift in focus, from obtaining adequate nutrients to avoiding excessive intake of food components linked to chronic disease. These goals were controversial among some nutritionists and others concerned with food, nutrition, and health.”
This first edition of the Dietary Goals, published in 1977, reflected a major transition in nutrition policy for the US. Nutrition had been an “eat more” message up until that point, focusing on the prevention of nutrient deficiencies. But now we also needed an “eat less” message, and this is always a harder sell. People respond better to positive messaging (“eat more fruit”) than negative messaging (“eat less chips”) and of course, the food industry definitely prefers the “eat more” approach.
The Dietary Guidelines continue to be “controversial among some nutritionists” largely because of the role the food industry plays in nutrition research and policy. These Guidelines may not be perfect, but they are constantly improving with each update. The newest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2015) helped to establish a % Daily Value for added sugars (which will be on food labels in the coming years) and loosened up on dietary cholesterol. “Sugar is the new cholesterol” has been my mantra over the past couple of years, as I have tried to help people understand that eggs are good for you, despite their cholesterol content.
Considering that I was born the same year as these controversial nutritional guidelines, and my life seems to be completely in line with the need to “provide a clear path to help Americans eat healthfully, informed by a critical, and transparent review of the scientific evidence on nutrition“ …. I am inclined to believe that this is what I was born to do – to help people better understand the complex, often-changing science of nutrition.
I enjoy helping other people make conscious food choices for improved personal and planetary health. I hope to use this blog as a place to share my knowledge and experiences, and to share my enthusiasm for explaining the science and research behind common nutrition questions. You dig?