… We spend little time on food procurement and preparation, we have a grab and go mentality. We eat what we want when we want it and when we think of it. We have lost our respect for nourishment and the connection between that nourishment and the health and well-being of our bodies. Azuluna’s ready-to-eat meals make eating nutrient dense and delicious meals convenient. Chef crafted and free from refined sugar, gluten, soy and gmos they can make nourishing yourself during the day an easy option. Azuluna’s hot logic portable oven allows someone to plan their food intake for the day regardless of where their day takes them.
In an era dominated by pharmaceutical solutions, there is a rising consciousness about the incredible healing and preventive powers of food. As the age-old saying goes, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” But how does this translate in today’s world? Can we really use nutrition as a potent tool against sickness and disease? How does one curate a diet that supports health, longevity, and wellness? In this series, we are talking to nutritionists, dietitians, medical professionals, holistic health experts, and anyone with authoritative knowledge on the subject. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Geri Brewster, RD MPH CDN.
Geri Brewster is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with a “whole person“ approach, which has made her an effective and motivating clinician with positive outcomes. In her 35+ years in private and corporate practice, she is known to not only change diets but lives. As a former adjunct professor and lifetime learner, she has educated and mentored many students and interns. She is the recipient of many accolades and honors including the Excellence in Practice award from Dietitians in Functional and Integrative Medicine at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She holds many advanced certificates of study in the field of nutrition, health, and weight management. Due to her expertise, Geri has been featured on and quoted in numerous radio shows, news programs, and periodicals, including Wall Street Journal Radio, CNN, and NY Times.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Iam happy and honored to participate in this interview series and am excited to share how I have always trusted in the healing capacity (and potential) of the body when it is nourished properly. That trust in the healing capacity of food, and ultimately the pursuit of an education in nutritional science and clinical application, was instilled in my early childhood.
My mother, having been diagnosed with MS several years prior to my arrival, believed in the need for clean, wholesome food, and the support she intuitively felt came from natural means, while seeking medical therapies for a condition that remained elusive to any substantive therapy especially at that time. Because the late 1950s and 60s were a time of food innovation and processing and a significant departure from the traditional fresh foods she had grown up with, she found herself interested in the discussions and debate about the quality of many of the food items showing up on supermarket shelves at that time. I grew up in a multigenerational household and often came home from school to the wonderful smells of dinner already being prepared. I grew up witnessing and participating in my grandmother’s cooking and family meals. Meal planning was part of everyday life. I learned the value of wholesome food. Food lore was part of growing up.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Because of my mother’s condition, I was cared for most of the time by my maternal grandmother. She served as a primary caretaker during childhood. I also spent time with my paternal grandmother. Both of them were Italian immigrants. Like most immigrant cultures, there was still a connection to “the land” and food. Food was enjoyed, and there was no separation from the need and respect for nourishment, and the use of food as medicine. There were always gardens. There were always vegetables. Pots on the stove, aromas and meals around a table. There were also teas and salves and other remedies that originated from the garden and food sources. However, as the decades have gone by, we have found that there are, in fact, many a cure in the cupboard. And what was old is now new and ancestral wisdom has been embraced and adopted in many modern day healing diet therapies.
So, I believe my inspiration to pursue my career, and my interest in nutritional science and the health benefits of food, came primarily in my grandmothers’ kitchens, and at my mother’s bedside.
It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Mistakes can certainly be our greatest teachers, I can’t recall a comical mistake to share, but I can share an anecdotal story that is amusing in retrospect that occurred when I first began working as a registered dietitian-nutritionist. This story involves a challenge to my recommendation by the ordering physician. And we all learn when we are challenged. I learned how to better articulate the rationale for my recommendations, and I ultimately earned their respect. In this instance, I suggested that yogurt be used for antibiotic administration rather than pudding. There was at the time some work published about the benefits of yogurt in preventing antibiotic associated gastrointestinal side effects, this was the early 80s, long before the NIHs human microbiome project. The medical director promptly dismissed my suggestion and quizzed me about the presence of bacteria in yogurt, concluding based on the responses I gave to the questions he asked, that all bacteria would be killed by stomach acid and would never get to the lower intestine. So, I paused for a moment and then asked him, “How is it that salmonella gets to the lower intestine?”. He looked at me and tilted his head and thought and then just smiled and said, “Fine I’ll order the med pass with yogurt.” I said, “Thank you very much” and years later we laughed about it. Of course, nowadays, we would separate the antibiotic from the probiotics.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Compassion and empathy
These traits were most instrumental to my success as a clinician and gaining favorable clinical outcomes for my patients. About eight years into my career, I read a story in the local newspaper of a family with a medically complex child. The focus of the article was on changes in health insurance and managed care and the impact on this family. I remembered how non-existent coverage for any type of home care was in the case of my mother years earlier as this was all before the 1990 American with Disabilities Act. This child was reliant on G-tube feedings due to a tracheostomy. She had significant G.I. issues related to her tube feeding. I felt a specialized tube feeding would make a difference which it did, and I was able to arrange with one of the formula companies a plan for the family. I provided as much time as I could in assisting this family and was so pleased to be invited to the celebration of her breathing on her own, when her growth allowed her trach to be removed, and eventually her g-tube to be removed. The goal is always to apply best clinical solutions for best clinical outcomes.
2. Humbleness and humility
I wouldn’t ask anyone that I have worked with or who has worked for me to do something that I wasn’t willing to do myself. And I wouldn’t ask my clients to take on diet changes that I wouldn’t. I want my clients and patients to understand the rationale in each recommendation, so they own it and appreciate the value. I am not just providing dietary directives but teaching. In many ways, I think this has been instrumental in the growth of my private practice. And these traits help me to be a good listener which allows me to hear my clients’ stories and weave their life experiences together and provide explanation of that medical nutritional journey for better, or for worse, that led them to their need to come to me as a patient. There have been many examples of clients saying to me over the years that no one had asked them the questions as a means of discovering food and environmental triggers to their symptoms and conditions.
3. Intelligence and optimism
Nutritional therapy is a very optimistic approach, one that is empowering for the patient. As an information seeker, and historically a good student, my application of what I’ve learned has yielded good outcomes for many, and I will humbly acknowledge that it is the grace of intelligence to connect the dots in ways that have served my clients.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am working on two very exciting projects at the moment for Azuluna Foods. The first is tied to some of my early beginnings, having been raised by my maternal grandmother, who would not waste any part of an animal product. So quite often chicken bones became chicken bone broth. It’s a timeless food that has now been re-introduced to new generations. As mentioned, food to me has always been more than sustenance. It is legacy and heritage and possesses the nutrients that form the cellular structure for the optimal function of our body systems.
Azuluna‘s chicken bone broth is made from their pasture-raised chickens. Pasture raised chickens hunt insects instinctually under the vegetation canopy and forage on plants and native grass shoots, consuming a nutrient rich diet that improves the nutrient density of Azuluna‘s delicious pasture raised chicken bone broth.
Pasture raised chicken bone broth is rich in a number of nutrients and specific types of collagen known to help support the health and integrity of the gastrointestinal tract as well as the connective tissue supporting our joints. As recent science has determined when the gut and microbiome is healthy, it helps support the whole body as the gut is intrinsically connected to the neurological system, the immune system, and the endocrine system. Pasture raised bone broth takes many hours to prepare and cook, it is the quintessential slow food versus fast food.
A second project that I am working on now for Azuluna Foods is the Azuluna Sustainable Wellness Program designed to educate families, teachers, employee wellness groups, support practitioners’ patients, as well as individuals, looking to be proactive about their health and wellness, or those with health problems, looking to understand the influence of their food and lifestyle on their health conditions.
The Sustainable Wellness Program provides a foundation of knowledge to help form habits and routines needed to support an individual. One day at a time, to a lifetime of nourishing meals and day-to-day lifestyle habits to perpetuate health, rather than contribute to their potential health concerns. While we all have genetic predispositions, it is our environment, the food and beverages we consume from that environment, and the interface within our gastrointestinal tract that delivers throughout our bodies all things consumed. That is what will influence our genetic expression for better or worse, as noted in the fields of epigenetics, nutrigenetics, and nutrigenomics. Food is very powerful. Consumption of ultra-processed food is directly tied to chronic disease. Food is very powerful. Clean, wholesome food possesses the ability to prevent or reverse engineer chronic disease.
Food and its therapeutic value to health and wellness is further complicated because we also have to consider everyone’s individual preferences, exposures, and genetic predispositions and shape a personalized customized ideal plan that they will both enjoy, and remain committed to, while working towards optimizing their well-being in the face of everyday stressors and challenges. Azuluna’s Sustainable Wellness Program provides that forum and support.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview about cultivating wellness through proper nutrition and diet. To begin, can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the topic of nutrition?
I have been a registered dietitian-nutritionist since the early 1980s after completing my Bachelors of Science in Human Nutrition and Foods, graduating Summa Cum Laude. My motivation to enter the field was prompted by a belief in the medical-nutritional benefits of food and diet on health and wellness long before it was popular. Throughout and since my formal education I have been immersed and surrounded by the science of nutrition, nutritional biochemistry, physiology, food science and culinary arts. I earned my Masters in Public Health in 1990, and have practiced integrative and functional nutrition since the mid 1990s. I am an authority on the topic of nutrition, because after more than four decades of education, clinical practice experience, ongoing continuing education and teaching, and serving as a spokesperson in the field, I am quite comfortable and confident to speak on the subject of human health and nutrition.
We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
Blockage #1: Misunderstanding of the connection between food & health
- With the advent of modern medicines, which are lifesaving by many accounts, there are also many that are designed to manage the symptoms of chronic disease. That has allowed many of us to go on consuming unhealthy foods because the symptoms are no longer outwardly apparent; however, aspects of those chronic disease conditions continue to progress due to the intake of foods that have a negative effect on our overall health and contribute to the worsening of the condition.
Blockage #2: Lack of time
- We spend little time on food procurement and preparation, we have a grab and go mentality. We eat what we want when we want it and when we think of it. We have lost our respect for nourishment and the connection between that nourishment and the health and well-being of our bodies. Azuluna’s ready-to-eat meals make eating nutrient dense and delicious meals convenient. Chef crafted and free from refined sugar, gluten, soy and gmos they can make nourishing yourself during the day an easy option. Azuluna’s hot logic portable oven allows someone to plan their food intake for the day regardless of where their day takes them.
Blockage #3: Lack of nutrition education and application
- Educating children through school curriculums can also help younger generations walk the talk of healthy daily habits. Educating adults through public health messaging, so people do not think in terms of medicine vs food, but rather both.
From your professional perspective, do you believe that nutrition plays a pivotal role in supporting the body’s natural healing processes and overall well-being, particularly in cases of chronic diseases? We’re interested in hearing your insights on the connection between a holistic approach to diet and its benefits for individuals facing health challenges.
Yes, the role of nutrition in our overall well-being is crucial. Our body burdens are high in chemicals that are linked to many diseases. The phytonutrients and antioxidants present in food can help counter that, and yet we often ignore them until we have more time to pay attention to our health.
We are all concerned about the global environmental changes challenging our planet. We acknowledge that the chemical burden on the planet has exceeded its capacity, essentially to detoxify carbon emissions. As living beings on this planet, we are experiencing much of the same.
Mental health conditions are at an all-time high, especially in younger generations. Autoimmune and other chronic diseases in children have been increasing these last few decades. The recent “Mission: Readiness” report, based on the U.S. Department of Defense data, says 77% of young Americans 17 to 24 years old are ineligible for military service, a 6-percentage-point increase since 2017.
When I meet with teenagers who are on medication for their mental health, medication for gastrointestinal disorders and distress, chronic conditions, such as eczema and asthma, and may also be on some form of immuno-suppressant, they feel terrible, despite the benefit of the pharmaceutical interventions managing their symptoms. They would like to have more energy. They would like to perform better in school. They would like to feel better. They tell me their parents tell them that they should eat better; however, food is often brought in or taken out. And none of their other healthcare providers have asked them what they are eating.
As a society we need to be providing a much larger public health campaign about healthy food intake. It may not be 100% every day, but we have to do better each day. We cannot say this was just a bad day of eating junk. I’ll do better tomorrow. Learning baby steps and coping mechanisms regarding food so that at least the net net at the end of the day is not quite as catastrophic from an inflammatory standpoint. We appreciate that everything worth something in life takes effort and practice, yet when it comes to food intake, it’s all or nothing.
I personally had wished that all the public health messages that were broadcast in the media during the height of the Covid pandemic might have reminded the American public to eat more vegetables every day; to reduce their sugar intake every day; to support their immune system naturally, by not contributing to their body burden with ultra processed foods.
Based on your research or experience could you share with us five examples of foods or dietary patterns that have demonstrated remarkable potential in preventing, reducing, or managing specific health conditions? If you can, it would be insightful if you could provide real-life examples of their curative properties.
1. Bone broth: Especially, pasture raised bone broth, like Azulua’s Pasture-Raised Chicken Bone Broth, is a nutrient dense low calorie per serving food. Rich in protein and collagen, it contains amino acids especially important for gut health and detoxification pathways, as well as nutrients supportive to all connective tissue structure and function. It is an ideal nourishing food as a standalone beverage or soup or incorporated into meals.
2. Vegetables and Fruits: Plant foods, especially vegetables and fruits, contain natural compounds, otherwise referred to as phytonutrients rich in antioxidants. They provide many functions in the plant itself and many of those beneficial protective properties support the human immune system, detoxification system, metabolism, and cardiovascular health. The phytonutrients in vegetables and fruits, along with herbs and spices, nuts, and seeds and lagoons and teas, can all help reduce risk to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammation and arthritis, and cancer.
3. Olives and Olive Oil — Olive oil consumption has been associated with a reduction of cardiac disease risk, and a recent, large 28 year study, of both male and female cohorts, produced a significant reduction in total and all cause specific mortality.
4. Salmon and fatty fish — In another recent very large population based prospective study, the consumption of fatty fish was associated with a lower risk of all cause mortality.
5. The Mediterranean Diet- This way of eating is composed of the foods mentioned above and is associated with health and longevity. In studying the various Mediterranean diets, based on different regions around the Mediterranean, there is overlap of many components with the diets of those living in the “Blue Zones.” The diets follow more of a seasonal rhythm as well as consuming more locally grown foods. And there are associated benefits to seasonal rotation and diversity in intake as well as eating locally produced. There is a smaller carbon footprint produced when embracing these factors as well.
Do experts generally agree that merely choosing healthy foods isn’t sufficient, but that understanding how to consume them is key to unlocking their full health benefits? (For example, skins on/off, or cooked/raw, or whole grain/refined grain) Could you provide advice on how to approach this and sidestep common errors or misconceptions?”
Correct, the amount of additives or even cooking surfaces can turn a healthful food into one whose benefits are diminished by exposure to compounds in the prepping and cooking process. My advice to a client when I examine their food intake log is to be mindful about preparation and I ask where a meal was consumed: home, restaurant, take-out, frozen meal, etc. to better understand their exposure to additives and processing. Then, I focus on reviewing ways to optimize the wholesomeness of the “healthy” foods they believe they are consuming. Knowing where your food comes from is extremely important and something that many people are disconnected from. Children’s work is learning, and these are points to discuss in lesson plans. When children and adults visit Azuluna’s hub farm in Woodstock, CT and learn some of the foundational principles of regenerative farming they are amazed at the circle of life from pasture to plate, soil benefit, crop benefit, benefit to the environment. It gives greater perspective to the concept of “clean eating.”
With the recent prominence of nutrition’s integration into healthcare, what’s your perspective on the collaborative approach between medical professionals, health coaches, and nutrition experts when it comes to delivering holistic patient care? Can you please explain?
I have always worked collaboratively with my client’s other healthcare professionals. Early in my career, I worked as a consultant and part of an interdisciplinary team. The benefit of working with an interdisciplinary team includes everyone learning from each other, putting together comprehensive individualized care plans for each patient and learning a great deal from each health care discipline. It also provides an opportunity to teach other disciplines how nutritional status provides value to every facet of health, from mitochondrial support and stamina for physical and occupational health goals as well as nutritional foundations for optimal mental and physical health.
Interdisciplinary collaboration helped me develop my skills for a “whole person” approach to clinical nutritional care that I apply to this current day.
It’s been suggested that using ‘food as medicine’ has the potential to reduce healthcare costs by preventing disease severity. However, there’s concern about the affordability of healthier food options. What solutions do you believe could make nutritious choices accessible to everyone, ensuring that food truly becomes a form of medicine for all?
I am excited to envision a future of healthcare, not sickcare. Healthcare from clean wholesome food, fewer chemical additives that are associated with microbiome perturbations that lead to disease. This can help minimize costly sickcare. When sickcare is needed, that root cause can be explored as it pertains to diet and lifestyle, in addition to diagnosis and symptom management. Generally, with chronic disease conditions, root cause can be linked to an environmental trigger, many of which enter our bodies as antigens through our food and beverage intake. Of course, these antigens can also be bacteria and viruses, but everything we consume interfaces with our gastrointestinal tract of which the integrity of is vital. It is a primary gateway to our blood and circulatory system. Toxins go into circulation before they exit. They do damage along the way. Reducing our toxic body burden by encouraging the production of a safe and clean food supply is vital as a preventive measure.
The once virtuous seeming reasons of over-processing and preserving foods for the sake of reducing spoilage, is no longer necessary. There have been advances in food packaging and transportation that allows fresher foods to be safely transported. Supporting these advances and passing this support onto farmers through changes in the farm bill is significant. Providing ease for patients to receive reimbursement for medical-nutritional therapy through their insurance companies. And, supporting physicians in writing orders for food as medicine and insurance legislation that will allow for reimbursement of medically tailored meals and fresh produce is vital and exciting as programs like this begin to emerge.
Everyone’s body is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. How does one navigate the vast array of nutritional advice available today to curate a diet tailored to individual needs, ensuring health and longevity?
Since the completion of the Human Genome Project 20 years ago, genetic testing has provided the great ability to further customize individual nutritional care plans. As a result, genetic testing of our unique genetic profiles can give us insight into variants that tell us how foods, primarily macronutrients, as well as micronutrients influence our biological pathways.
Many athletes, as well as everyday people are having their genetic profiles tested to know what’s best for them to consume. If they have genetic tendencies toward increased need for proteins, reduced need for carbohydrate for example. If support is necessary for cellular functions such as methylation, or someone’s risk to oxidative stress, glucose and insulin metabolism, aerobic exercise potential, or predisposition to exercise injury or recovery, cholesterol response, lactose intolerance, and inflammation. These are just some of the areas that can be determined. Dietitian-nutritionists can use this information to customize meal plans for clients and patients.
As our understanding of the intricate link between food and health continues to evolve, we’re curious to know which emerging trends or breakthroughs in nutritional science excite you the most. How do you envision these advancements shaping the future of healthcare?
I feel that the fields of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics coupled with microbiome studies will advance the field of personalized medicine to include customized dietary-nutritional plans for the purposes of disease prevention as well as treatment. Even as breakthroughs in pharmaceutical management of disease conditions occur, we can appreciate that the pharmacokinetic mechanisms of every pharmaceutical relies on nutrient driven pathways. You cannot have medicine without nutrition and you can not have healing, growth or development with a nutritional foundation for cellular and microbiome optimization to set the stage for a lifetime of health. I am excited to see these advancements come to fruition. Sometimes people think that diet optimization is a “versus” medicine, when in reality you need both.
How can we better educate the public about the medicinal properties of food, and what role do professionals like you play in this educational journey?
The body is so complicated, so we need to see a specialist for each part of it. I feel that medical follow-up with specialists, while it’s important, is all that we are ultimately responsible to do based on our conditions. We give very little time in our day to planning our meals and consuming foods that would be healthful and work to support anti-inflammatory processes in the body rather than contributing to furthering inflammatory processes. Busy specialists have little time to ask a patient, regardless of condition, what and when they eat during the day and yet, everything we consume has the power to influence our cellular function for better or worse. All health care professionals should have a certain number of hours of annual continuing education in the field of nutrition and all office visits should include some examination of a patient’s intake and a referral to dietitian-nutritionist or nutrition specialist when necessary. Everyone benefits from a comprehensive nutrition assessment. And while the professionals and adult population are learning more about nutritional health, children can learn it in school.
Educating children through school curriculums can also help younger generations walk the talk of healthy daily habits. Food has a place in science, math, economics, and social history. School garden programs and incorporating vegetables into daily intake is an enjoyable experience for kids.
The goal is for everyone to appreciate the nutritional science that points to healthful eating habits contributing to quality of life in addition to longevity. We want everyone to appreciate health span, not just lifespan.
Medicine can provide symptom management and treatment for chronic illness, but someone may not necessarily feel better. The epidemiological studies of diet and groups of people who have lived long and well with less need for reliance on symptom management has been demonstrated. Those principles need to be applied daily as best as we can and supported by our markets, marketing, access and education and healthcare.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!
Wishing you all the same! Thank you for this time.
About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra, a Certified Health Coach and wellness entrepreneur with 28 years of experience, is the visionary founder behind Crunchy Mama Box, a Mission-driven Marketplace promoting healthier, sustainable living. Committed to social engagement, Wanda supports causes like environmental preservation, animal welfare, mental health, human rights, and social responsibility. Through her work, Wanda writes passionately about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact, and eco-friendly living. She shares valuable insights, advocating holistic health and sustainability, and aims to simplify wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at CrunchyMamaBox.com