Insightful Wisdom: Elieke Kearns of On The Power of Food as Medicine

Insightful Wisdom: Elieke Kearns of On The Power of Food as Medicine

Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health — emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes; includes low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fish, poultry, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts; and limits added sugars, sugary beverages, sodium, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats.

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 Elieke Kearns, PhD, RD.

Dr. Elieke Kearns, PhD, RD, is a respected nutrition scientist and Registered Dietitian known for her expertise in translating complex scientific data into actionable insights. With a deep commitment to evidence-based decision-making, she has collaborated with leading organizations in the health and wellness industry, guiding them towards innovation and success. Elieke is on a mission to unravel the complexities of health and nutrition, enabling everyone to make confident decisions for themselves.

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?

Iwas born and raised in The Netherlands (hence, my name not being common in the US). My grandparents on either side lived on farms, so as a child much of my time was spent appreciating the agricultural back-story of our foods. This childhood foundation is something I’m deeply grateful for, it allows me to connect the dots when talking about food — from where it’s grown, how it’s taken care of or harvested, to why it may be beneficial to add to your diet.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

My parents. Growing up, my little brother had severe food allergies. So everything that my mom put on our dining room table was with a lot of purpose and intent. My dad is the one who really instilled a deep appreciation for farming and agriculture in me, as a farm-boy himself he was always showing me how things grow and how to nurture them.

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?

  1. Resilience: Resilience has allowed me to bounce back from failures, learn from mistakes, and persist in the face of adversity. My passion is working with start-up brands, but with that comes a risk. I’ve been part of a few big lay-offs, it’s never easy but by focusing on the lessons learned, connections made, and challenges conquered, I have been able to roll-up my sleeves and enthusiastically jump to the next adventure.
  2. Adaptability: In a constantly changing world, adaptability is crucial. I’ve had to adjust my strategies, approaches, and perspectives to align with evolving circumstances, technologies, and market demands. Sometimes this has meant not launching a project that I’ve spent months working on, other times is has meant passing the baton to someone else even though I was still enjoying the work.
  3. Empathy: I think it’s critical to understand the emotions and perspectives of others, it fosters strong interpersonal relationships, effective communication, and the ability to motivate and inspire team members. I lean on empathy do build deep authentic relationships that enable me to then work better with them.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I’m working with a few clients whose work I genuinely believe in — from clean medicine to personalized metabolic health, I believe that each of these projects will empower customers to make well-informed decisions for their own health.

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?

Holding a doctoral degree in Nutritional Biology, my academic background provides me with a deep understanding of the scientific intricacies of nutrition. As a Registered Dietitian, I bring practical, real-world experience to my expertise, and as a mom, wife, and friend to curious and nutrition-conscious friends I have a lot of experience identifying nutritious foods and educating others about them. My unique blend of technical expertise and scientific storytelling skills sets me apart. I love to translate complex scientific concepts into clear, relatable, and actionable insights to empower others to make informed decisions about their nutrition and wellness. I have worked with prominent brands such as Bobbie, PepsiCo, RXBAR, and the National Dairy Council, and demonstrated a commitment to evidence-based practices, making me a trusted authority in the field of 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?

Habitual Behavior: Breaking old eating habits, especially ones formed during childhood, can be incredibly difficult.

Misinformation: The abundance of conflicting health information can lead to confusion. Fad diets and trends often promise quick fixes, but lack sustainable results.

Lack of Nutrition Education: Despite general knowledge, many people lack specific nutritional education. Understanding how to balance nutrients or interpret food labels can really help.

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.

Absolutely, I believe that nutrition plays a crucial role in supporting the body’s overall well-being, especially in the context of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, liver disease.

We know that today more than half of adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases, in fact, the US Dietary Guidelines calls out that this number is 60% of adults.

There is evidence that eating a holisitc well-balanced nutrient-dense diet that contains foods and beverages from all food groups (think back to MyPlate…half your plate is fruits & vegetables, quarter grains that are ideally whole, a quarter lean protein, and dairy or a dairy alternative on the side). Consuming this type of diet within a calorie range appropriate for your age, activity, etc. supports overall health and can reduce the risk for diet-related chronic diseases.

Here is the main question of our interview. 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 . Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health — emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes; includes low-fat or fat-free dairy products, fish, poultry, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts; and limits added sugars, sugary beverages, sodium, refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats.

This style of eating can play a big role in preventing heart disease and stroke and reducing risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

2 . The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy, while reducing sodium intake.

This eating pattern has proven to help create a heart-healthy eating style. It focuses on reducing sodium and limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, including fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils. It also limits sweets

and sugar-sweetened beverages. The eating plan is designed to help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a leading risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and other health problems.

3 . Low-FODMAP Diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) — Low-FODMAP diet reduces the intake of fermentable carbohydrates such as certain fruits, vegetables, dairy, and grains that can trigger digestive symptoms in individuals with IBS.

4 . Gluten-free diet for celiac disease — By eliminating gluten-containing foods like bread, pasta, and baked goods, people with celiac disease can manage symptoms effectively.

5 . Plant-forward dietary patterns — these diets tend to focus on whole, plant-derived foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains while excluding or minimizing animal products. Plant-forward diets are associated with lower risks of obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure. They are typically high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, supporting overall health and well-being. Plant-forward diets can come in various forms, like vegetarian and vegan to flexitarian.

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?”

If ‘healthy eating’ seems daunting then my expert recommendation would be to focus on one thing — start by adding more fruits and veggies into your diet. It does not matter what form they are…they can be fresh, canned, frozen, peeled, or unpeeled, cooked, or raw. Any format that is convenient for you.

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 believe that the collaborative approach between medical professionals, health coaches, and nutrition experts in healthcare is pivotal for delivering holistic patient care. Together, a medical team can create personalized health plans, bridging the gap between medical advice and practical implementation. This teamwork empowers patients, addressing not only their illnesses but also overall well-being and preventative care. By integrating medical, nutritional, and lifestyle expertise, we can holistically improve patients health.

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?

Education stands out as the most important tool for ensuring that everyone, regardless of income, can access healthy food options. By prioritizing nutrition education, starting from schools and extending to communities, individuals can learn how to make healthier choices within their budget. Understanding how to cook affordable, nutritious meals empowers people to optimize their diets despite financial constraints. By investing in widespread nutritional education, we create a foundation where everyone can harness the benefits of healthy eating, ensuring that knowledge becomes the key to accessible, nutritious food for all.

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?

It’s true that everyone is different and navigating the sea of nutritional advice requires a personalized approach. My best advice is to consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider who can assess your individual needs, lifestyle, and preferences. They can then create a tailored, evidence-based plan to help you meet your unique needs and unique goals.

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 think that the accelerating trend of “food as medicine” and programs such as the “Produce Prescription Program” are truly exciting and ones to watch. As we delve deeper into the relationship between diet and health, integrating specific foods into treatment plans could redefine healthcare. Imagine prescriptions not just for medications but also for tailored diets designed to manage chronic conditions. This shift emphasizes prevention and personalization. The future might see medical teams collaborating even more closely to prescribe diets as a fundamental part of medical care.

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?

We need to meet the public where they are at — that means we need to leverage modern educational tools, especially social media, to share accurate information about food and health. Subject matter experts play a crucial role here; they need to be the ones to lead the conversation. The challenge is that researchers and medical experts are often not social media influencers and don’t have the training. We need to empower these experts with the needed tools and resources to ensure that correct knowledge prevails, countering and avoiding misinformation.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Instagram: @nosh_it_foodfacts


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!


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