Blueberries–These berries contain polyphenols, including anthocyanins which give these fruits their blue color. You can get all the dietary fiber you need in a day with just one serving of blueberries.
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 Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN.
Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, is a plant-forward culinary nutritionist, classically trained chef, award-winning cookbook author, professional recipe developer, media personality, spokesperson, and food writer. She’s the author of six cookbooks, including The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook, 1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes, and her latest, The Plant-Based Diabetes Cookbook (October 24, 2023, Health Communications Inc.) Based in Brooklyn, NY, Jackie is a Forbes Health Advisory Board member and contributor to Diabetes Food Hub and a former national media spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and cooking instructor at The Institute of Culinary Education.
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?
Igrew up in Ohio where I spent lots of time in the kitchen with my mother. She was a caterer and Lebanese–so everything revolved around food … very, very good food. One of the few things not involving eating was the fall hiking spree that I went on every year with my brother, sister, and dad. I was a natural born lover of nature — and my parents nurtured that.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career?
Both of my parents encouraged me to pursue medicine. So I went to Ohio State and began studying pre-med. But that took an intriguing turn when I volunteered at the school’s health center and assisted with a study on how eating affects performance. I was fascinated — and from that point forward decided to study medical dietetics to become a registered dietitian.
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?
I was giving a talk on the importance of the role of time management in a healthy eating plan. I was late to the talk! The biggest takeaway for me was that it’s OK to not be so “perfect” — people can relate to you more when they see you have flaws.
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?
Determination: I live by that famous motto, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” I don’t think I was a gifted speaker at the beginning of my career. But after I had a group laughing so hard they were crying (and nearly peeing their pants!), I realized that perhaps I did have some skill at it after all–and it boosted my confidence from that point forward.
Organization: If I didn’t color code and plan out my calendar by at least hourly blocks, I wouldn’t be nearly as productive. But I am flexible if I need to change or reprioritize that calendar–which is also a key to my success.
Authenticity: I know when to say “No!” If a food company asks me to be a spokesperson for their product, and it’s something that I don’t use, I don’t like, or doesn’t fit my nutrition philosophy, I pass on the opportunity as well as the money that comes with it. Staying true to who I am has been an asset in my career.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
One of the most exciting projects is the release of my newest cookbook, The Plant-Based Diabetes Cookbook. As a chef and dietitian, this is one of the best ways that I can help people … through recipes. If I can impact just one person’s life for the better, it’s all worth it. And I know it’s not just one person.
Something else I’m doing at the moment is growing a startup plant-forward pet treat company as the co-founder of Peterra Kitchen. Now I can improve the lives of pets, too.
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 studied medical dietetics at The Ohio State University and became a registered dietitian. I’ve been practicing for over 20 years–bringing a significant amount of experience to the table with me. I also attended Kendall College and became a classically-trained chef. I love being able to translate my nutrition advice through food.
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?
Everyone is unique and has different obstacles for putting good nutrition advice into practice. However, since I focus on culinary nutrition, being able to prepare healthy foods in a quick, simple, and delicious way is something I do hear regularly. Instead of overwhelming people with too many ideas or lengthy recipes, I go with a KISS approach for my food and nutrition recommendations — Keep It Short and Simple.
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, nutrition plays THE pivotal role in supporting our body’s natural healing processes and overall well-being.
I support a wholesome, plant-based eating approach for promoting good health. It offers a strong, evidence-based link to overall well-being and reducing risk of chronic diseases, particularly for people confronting health challenges, including obesity and diabetes. It offers a wide range of protective nutrients by boosting intake of anti-inflammatory foods. Ultimately, plants have the power to enhance physical and mental health, which can lead to improved quality of life.
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.
It’s nearly impossible to choose just five. So here’s a list of some of the favorite foods that I enjoy eating often–along with key reasons to choose them for good health.
- Avocados — A velvety-textured superfood rich in heart-healthy fats and eye-friendly carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. This unique fruit acts as a “nutrient booster” — in other words, it can help boost your body’s absorption of fat-soluble nutrients.
- Pistachios — A tree nut considered “the colorful nut” — its natural green and purple hues are a sign of antioxidants. A serving (which is 49 pistachios!) offers 6 grams of protein … that’s about as much as you get in an egg.
- Blueberries–These berries contain polyphenols, including anthocyanins which give these fruits their blue color. You can get all the dietary fiber you need in a day with just one serving of blueberries.
- Unsweetened cocoa–When not adding excess sugar to it, cocoa starts as a powerful source of plant nutrition. Research suggests that cocoa polyphenols are associated with a healthier blood pressure and blood glucose levels, and beyond.
- Mushrooms–Though fungi, they offer a meaty (savory) taste called umami and a meaty texture. When exposed to ultraviolet light, they’re a significant source of bone-friendly vitamin D.
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?”
While there can always be good, better, and best ways to consume foods for optimal health, I suggest not getting too caught up in the “ideal” way to eat healthy food. Rather, I want people to just eat healthy foods, period! For instance, you can absorb more of the beta-carotene from carrots when they’re cooked. But if someone truly doesn’t enjoy cooked carrots, they’ll be less likely to want to keep eating healthfully if they feel they need to include those cooked carrots in their eating repertoire. Raw carrots are still awesome.
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?
Healthcare is best provided when there’s collaboration amongst health professionals, such as a registered dietitian working with a physician on managing the blood glucose level of a patient with type 2 diabetes. Most importantly, you’ll want to work with professionals that have solid credentials. If someone has a “generic” title like “coach,” you’ll want to find out more about the provider’s background to assure they’re a credibly trained individual and not just someone that likes to use the title.
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?
Healthier food options can be affordable. To start, people need to know which options those are. For instance, beans are one of the most nutrient-rich and affordable foods on the planet!
However, “food deserts” do exist. Ideally, I’d love to see physicians or registered dietitians (like myself!) being able to write prescriptions for specific healthy foods–and those food purchases being easily reimbursed by insurance companies or governmental health programs at point of purchase, like with a healthy food savings card or qr code.
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?
Yes, everyone’s health needs are unique–and need to be individualized accordingly. Just like most people visit their doctor or dentist at least once a year, it’d be ideal if they also see a registered dietitian at least once a year to make sure they’re following an eating plan that’s personalized and optimized just for them. If that’s not possible, at minimum I advise not using social media as the main driver of diet advice–it’s often the key source of health misinformation.
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 see artificial intelligence (AI) as a key player in the future connection of food and health–and healthcare overall. I see it as a road to improved treatments and better outcomes. And while it sounds like it could take the place of healthcare professionals, like dietitians, I see it as a need for more guidance from healthcare professionals in order to use the technology properly and to interpret it for individuals.
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?
Keep lifting up the voices of qualified health professionals–it’s not all about the number of followers you have on social media.
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!
About the interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at CrunchyMamaBox.com.