…Keeping a Food Journal. A food journal is an excellent tool! We can’t improve if we aren’t aware of what needs to change. Writing down what we’re eating promotes mindfulness allowing us to be more in tune with our thoughts, habits, and behaviors around food.
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 Kathryn Piper.
Kathryn Piper is a registered dietitian and national board certified health and wellness coach. She has significant training and experience in weight management and chronic disease prevention. Her passion is to provide evidence-based health and nutrition advice to prevent age-related disease. Kathryn owns and operates The Age-Defying Dietitian, a resource that promotes nutrition for healthy aging.
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 St. Louis, Missouri, with my older sister and younger brother. I attended catholic school from kindergarten through high school. As a child, I was quiet and found solace in books and playing soccer. I felt protected and nurtured by the values and teachings that shaped my childhood.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
My older sister’s passion for health and fitness influenced me. I was inspired by her dedication to a healthy lifestyle and the positive impact it had on her. This motivated me to eat better and exercise.
I was always fascinated by medicine. I knew I wanted to help others and work in the healthcare field. I thought about nursing, however, I became increasingly interested in nutrition and fitness in that first year away at college. I had some knowledge of dietitians from reading health magazines and was able to shadow a dietitian for a couple of days. After some thought, I decided to change my major from nursing to dietetics.
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?
In my early days as a dietitian, I eagerly participated in hospital rounds. During one session, I was tasked about a particular patient’s tube feeding. Confidently, I began discussing her case only to realize after that I had been talking about the wrong patient.
To this day, I am a double, sometimes, triple checker of information! This experience taught me to be more diligent, however, it also taught me that mistakes will happen. The best you can do is apologize and move forward.
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?
Empathy, resilience, and grit are three characteristics I associate with good leaders.
I have a strong sense of empathy. I value others’ needs, foster strong relationships, and strive to communicate effectively. When I worked as a dietitian and leader in an eating disorder treatment center, my ability to empathize with others was essential. It helped me to build rapport and gain the trust my patients needed to face difficult challenges in their recovery.
I possess a certain level of resiliency. A time I had to rely on this character trait was during an unexpected layoff. I had to start over and find myself a new career path. It was a tough season in my life; however, I found my way and like most things, it all makes sense now. Obstacles and challenges are inevitable. In my opinion, we grow the most, both personally and professionally, during these times.
Grit, the determination and perseverance to achieve long-term goals, is necessary for success. Building my website and learning all the technical aspects of this has been a challenge. Despite facing difficulties and setbacks, I remain committed to my vision. I’m not afraid to fail. I’ve learned a lot and will continue to learn and grow as an entrepreneur.
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 currently working on a digital course that provides nutrition education and support for preventing age-related diseases. Years of treating illness through nutrition has sparked a passion in me for prevention!
The course will initially help users identify how well they are aging based on risk factors for age-related illnesses. And then the course offers education and support to help individuals change their diet to reverse their risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
I am focused on making nutrition education accessible and easy to consume. I think people will appreciate simple and sustainable strategies to improve their diet. It is possible to enjoy growing older, without the pain and stress of chronic disease!
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 am a registered and licensed dietitian and am certified through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in weight management. Additionally, I am a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach. Throughout my 20-year career, I’ve had the opportunity to work in various health care settings. My expertise lies in weight management, diabetes care, and healthy aging. I am passionate about providing evidence-based nutrition information to prevent age-related disease.
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?
In my opinion, our environment is the biggest obstacle. We are inundated with unhealthy foods. Fast food restaurants are on every corner, treats are offered at every event we attend, and portion sizes are inflated.
Additional barriers to healthy eating are our busy lifestyles and the cost of food. It’s hard to eat quality foods when we’re busy. We often choose fast food because it’s quick and easy. In addition, unhealthy food is also often cheaper and easier to find than healthy food, especially in areas where there are limited grocery stores with fresh produce.
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.
A balanced, nutritious diet is a cornerstone of both prevention and management of chronic conditions!
When we eat healthy foods, we provide our bodies with the nutrients needed to repair damage, fight infection, and function properly. This is especially important during times of illness or injury.
Eating a healthy diet can help prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. A plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
Even if you already have a chronic disease, eating a healthy diet can help you manage, or even reverse it. For example, eating a low-sodium diet can help lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. And eating a low-sugar diet can help people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels and improve their quality of life.
Many factors impact one’s health choices and habits. A holistic approach to diet is both effective and necessary. When providing guidance, health professionals should consider the whole person, considering their unique strengths and challenges.
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 . The Mediterranean Diet
This diet is characterized by an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Additionally, it incorporates moderate portions of fish and poultry, while minimizing the intake of red meat and processed foods.
This diet has the most research to back up its role in the prevention of chronic disease. It really is our current gold standard when it comes to diets.
2 . Mindful Eating
This is one of my most recommended approaches. It involves slowing down and being fully present and engaged while eating. Many of my clients only practice this and see results. It’s simple and has a big impact! The benefits of mindful eating include an increased awareness of eating habits, hunger and fullness cues, and emotional eating patterns.
Many of my clients come back saying things like “I had no idea how much I ate while cooking” or “I had no idea how fast I was eating”. Mindfulness does wonders for changing unhelpful eating patterns.
3 . Keeping a Food Journal
A food journal is an excellent tool! We can’t improve if we aren’t aware of what needs to change.
Writing down what we’re eating promotes mindfulness allowing us to be more in tune with our thoughts, habits, and behaviors around food.
I advise clients to keep a food log for a few days, and then apply what they’ve learned. A few days is usually all it takes to identify a couple of areas for improvement!
I also recommend a food journal as a maintenance tool. If we notice we’re getting off track, it’s a great way to face the music and reset!
4 . Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has demonstrated various health benefits, including weight loss, improved blood sugars, and decreased inflammation. Additionally, it may offer positive effects for brain health and overall longevity.
I like this strategy because it is simple. Unlike conventional diets that focus on specific foods or calorie counting, intermittent fasting is all about when you eat. Many of my clients like this strategy due to the structure and simplicity. I often hear that the “cut-off” time to stop eating is most helpful.
5. The Plate Method
This is one of my favorite strategies. It’s simple and can be applied in virtually any eating situation. The first step is to find a smaller/medium size plate. Our dishes have grown over the years, which has contributed to our issue of “portion distortion”. Eating smaller portions off a smaller plate feels different psychologically than eating smaller portions off a larger plate.
Next, you fill up half of your plate with vegetables, and in the remaining sections of your plate, you include protein and carbohydrates. This method allows for volume eating, while reducing carbohydrates and calories.
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?
How we cook and eat our food can impact the nutrients we absorb and our overall health. It’s important to understand how cooking affects different nutrients in food, and to choose cooking methods that preserve nutrients, such as steaming and stir-frying for vegetables. We can enhance our nutritional intake by eating fruit and vegetable skins whenever possible, opting for whole grains over refined grains, and reducing our intake of processed foods.
It’s also important to debunk common misconceptions, such as the belief that juicing is always a healthy option. Juicing removes fiber from fruits and vegetables, an essential nutrient.
While the above is important, I believe access to healthy food would take priority.
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 our physicians and nurse practitioners are overloaded and don’t necessarily have the capacity to provide nutrition education and support. Health coaches and nutrition experts bridge the gap between medicine and lifestyle.
A collaborative approach is beneficial for both patients and healthcare professionals. By working together, we can learn from each other and share our expertise. Patients experience better outcomes, which is a rewarding experience for professionals, reducing fatigue and burnout.
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?
One way to improve accessibility to nutritious foods is to reduce the cost. The government could offer tax breaks to stores that sell these options or by provide vouchers for people to purchase them. On the flip side, fast food and junk foods could be heavily taxed since these inexpensive options are a significant barrier to public health.
The government could also Invest in healthy food resources, like community gardens and farmers markets making fruits and vegetables readily available.
Lastly, empowering people to make smart food choices is key. This means giving them the knowledge and cooking skills to choose and enjoy healthy foods. We can achieve this through public health campaigns and school nutrition programs.
By doing these things, we can work towards a future where everyone can easily get the healthy food they need. This would in turn begin to reduce healthcare costs.
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?
Individualized education and support is extremely valuable! Nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
I suggest finding a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. These professionals have attended several years of higher education, passed a national exam, and complete 1200 hours of supervised practice.
Dietitians are more accessible than ever, and insurance companies are reimbursing for these services.
Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to find a nutrition expert!
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?
Below are some emerging trends in nutritional science that I am excited about!
Functional foods are foods that have been enhanced with specific nutrients that offer health benefits beyond basic nutrition. For example, some functional foods may be fortified with probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, or antioxidants. Functional foods have the potential to play a major role in preventing and managing chronic diseases.
Wearable health devices are also exciting! Devices, such as continuous glucose monitors, provide insight into how individual’s bodies react to food, exercise, and stress. These devices are empowering people to take control of their health. They offer immediate feedback that they can then apply to their lifestyle choices and habits.
Another area is personalized nutrition that is being used to develop treatments for cancer and other chronic diseases. For example, researchers are using genetic testing to identify the best diets for individual cancer patients.
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 media has immense power to inform the public about food’s healing properties. Health professionals can work with journalists to ensure evidence-based, accurate information is being provided to consumers.
The reality is most Americans are getting a lot of their health advice online. Google has been and continues to strive to provide helpful content to its users. Their objective is to offer helpful health information from experts.
Health professionals need to be more visible. I am seeing more and more health experts on social media, on podcasts, and creating their own content, which is promising.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can visit my website — The Age-Defying Dietitian
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.