Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals that have been linked to a range of health benefits. They have been shown to improve cognitive function and protect against age related cognitive decline. For example, a study found that older adults who consumed blueberries regularly experienced improved memory and cognitive function.
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 Omaira Ferreira.
Omaira Ferreira, a skilled and empathetic Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner (FDN). With a passion for uncovering the root causes of health issues, Omaira combines her expertise in functional medicine with a compassionate approach to guide her clients towards optimal health and wellness. Through personalized protocols, targeted testing, and ongoing support, she empowers individuals to reclaim their health and thrive.
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. What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Growing up with my holistic minded and nutrition based father has been a truly transformative experience. From a young age, I was exposed to a world of natural remedies, and food as medicine. My father would often share his knowledge and wisdom with me, teaching me about the power of Whole Foods. From apple cider vinegar to help balance blood sugar to his famous beets, carrots, apples and ginger juice he often made as not only a detoxifying aide but also for the immune boosting properties. My father very rarely ate out as he did not like to, he preferred to enjoy a home cooked meal. I remember spending time in the kitchen with him as he taught me how to create and cook nourishing meals.
Not only my father but also my grandma’s holistic mindset inspired me to look at health and wellness from a holistic perspective. I became fascinated by the idea that our well-being is influenced by various interconnected factors, including our diet, lifestyle, emotions, and environment. This realization sparked a deep passion within me and ultimately shaped my career choice.
His teachings have instilled in me a strong belief in the power of food as medicine and the importance of addressing the root causes of health issues rather than just treating symptoms. I strive to educate and empower others to make informed choices about their health, guiding them towards a more balanced and vibrant life.
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?
Well, as a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner, I was filled with enthusiasm and a burning desire to help everyone. However, I made a mistake in my eagerness. I ended up spreading myself too thin. I was like a superhero trying to save the world single handedly.
But this mistake led to valuable lessons. First, spreading yourself too thin by trying to help everyone can be overwhelming and counterproductive. Also, when it comes to helping others, it is important to recognize that you cannot assist someone who isn’t fully committed in bettering and optimizing their health and life. No matter how much you try, if an individual lacks the willingness your efforts may go in vain. These lessons ultimately led me down the path to becoming a more effective and successful Functional Health Practitioner.
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. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. In the context of a functional health practitioner, empathy allows me to connect with the people I work with on a deeper level, understanding their struggles, fears, and concerns. By practicing empathy, I can provide a safe and supportive environment, fostering trust and collaboration.
Adaptability. The field of functional health is constantly evolving, with new research and approaches emerging regularly. A successful practitioner must be adaptable, willing to learn and integrate new knowledge into their practice. They should be open minded and flexible, adjusting their protocols and recommendations based on the unique needs and circumstances of each individual.
Communication: Effective communication is essential for a functional health practitioner to convey complex health concepts in a way that people can understand. I need to be able to listen actively, ask relevant questions, and explain things in a clear and concise manner. Good communication skills also involve being able to build rapport, provide encouragement, and motivate individuals to make positive changes in their lifestyle and habits.
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 not sure it’s a project per-say, but I’m currently investing my time in learning food neuroscience which focuses on how the intake of food determines brain performance and characteristics and the neuroscience of eating which speaks on how an entire biological ecosystem influences our daily food choices. This knowledge allows me to provide people with a deeper understanding of the connection between food and the brain.
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?
As a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition practitioner, I am trained and certified in the field of functional health and nutrition. I have undergone specific education and training to gain expertise in assessing and addressing the underlying imbalances and dysfunctions in the body that contribute to health issues. I take a functional approach to health, which means I focus on uncovering the root causes of health issues rather than just talking to the symptoms. This approach allows me to identify individual nutritional needs, assess imbalances, and develop personalized protocols that address the specific needs of each person.
I am also trained in functional lab testing, which helps identify imbalances and dysfunctions in various body systems, including hormones, digestion, detoxification, and immune function. This diagnostic approach allows me to gather objective data and make informed decisions about nutritional interventions. I consider the interconnectedness of various body systems and how they influence each other.
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?
Humans are creatures of habit, and breaking old patterns and adopting new ones can be challenging. If someone has been following a particular eating pattern for a long time, it can be difficult to change their habits, even when they have knowledge about healthier alternatives.
Emotional and psychological barriers. Food choices are often influenced by emotions, stress, cultural factors, and personal beliefs. Emotional eating, cravings, and psychological barriers can make it challenging for individuals to consistently make healthier choices, even when they possess the knowledge.
Lack of support and accountability. Making sustainable changes in dietary habits often requires support and accountability. Without proper guidance, encouragement, and a supportive environment, individuals may struggle to implement the information they know into their lives.
Modern lifestyles can be fast paced and demanding, leaving little time for meal planning, cooking, and seeking out healthier food options. Lack of time and convenience can be significant obstacles.
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 indeed plays a pivotal role in supporting the body’s natural healing processes and overall well being, especially in cases of chronic diseases. A well balanced and nutrient rich diet can strengthen the immune system, which is crucial for fighting off infections and promoting healing. Proper nutrition provides the body with essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other bioactive compounds that support immune function.
Certain chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity, often stem from poor dietary choices. By adopting a holistic approach to diet, individuals can manage these conditions more effectively. For example, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help regulate blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, and maintain a healthy weight. A holistic approach to diet can also address inflammation, which is a common underlying factor in many chronic diseases. Certain foods, such as fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens, have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce inflammation in the body.
Also, a well planned diet can enhance energy levels, improve mood, and support mental well being. Nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and magnesium are essential for brain health and can positively impact conditions like depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline.
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 . Anti-Inflammatory Foods. Chronic inflammation is linked to various health conditions, including arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and certain cancers. Consuming foods with anti-inflammatory properties can be beneficial. Examples include fatty fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, turmeric, ginger, leafy greens, berries, and nuts. These foods contain compounds that can help reduce inflammation in the body. For example, curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. As a personal real life example, I was experiencing joint discomfort in my right knee. I started incorporating turmeric and curcumin in my diet in the form of supplements as well as elixirs. It has now been two months and I no longer feel joint pain.
2 . Incorporating a Mediterranean like diet. The Mediterranean diet is well known for its potential in reducing the risk of heart disease. It emphasizes whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and olive oil, while limiting processed foods and added sugars. Research has shown that following a Mediterranean diet can lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and certain types of cancer. For example, studies have found that the consumption of olive oil, a staple in the Mediterranean diet, is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
3 . Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals that have been linked to a range of health benefits. They have been shown to improve cognitive function and protect against age related cognitive decline. For example, a study found that older adults who consumed blueberries regularly experienced improved memory and cognitive function.
4 . Fatty fish like salmon are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA. These fatty acids have been linked to numerous health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and improving brain health. Research indicates that regular consumption of fatty fish can lower blood triglycerides, decrease inflammation, and support overall cardiovascular health.
5 . Low Glycemic Index (GI) Foods. For individuals with diabetes or those at risk of developing it, choosing low GI foods can help manage blood sugar levels. Low GI foods are digested and absorbed more slowly, resulting in a slower and more gradual rise in blood sugar. Examples of low GI foods include legumes, non starchy vegetables, and certain fruits. For instance, incorporating steel cut oats, quinoa, or lentils into meals can help prevent blood sugar spikes. My father was pre-diabetic. Once he learned this, he adjusted his diet to focus on lean proteins and low glycemic vegetables such as brussel sprouts, eggplants, zucchini, celery, and cabbage. When he incorporated fruits, they were fruits like blueberries, strawberries, apples, oranges and plums. When he was tested again and received his blood work, his A1C reading which measures your average blood sugar levels over the past three months was at an optimal range.
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?”
Yes, experts generally agree that it’s not just about choosing healthy foods but also understanding how to consume them to unlock their full health benefits. Including a variety of whole foods ensures that you receive a wide array of nutrients. Opting for whole foods over processed foods whenever possible as whole foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins, are generally more nutrient dense and contain fewer additives compared to processed foods.
How you prepare certain foods can impact their nutritional value. For instance, leaving the skin on fruits and vegetables, such as apples or potatoes, can provide additional fiber and nutrients. However, it’s essential to thoroughly wash produce to remove any contaminants.
Some nutrients are better preserved or enhanced through specific cooking methods. For example, lightly cooking tomatoes can increase the bioavailability of the antioxidant lycopene. Steaming or sautéing vegetables can help retain more nutrients compared to boiling them. Also, some foods are more nutritious when consumed raw, while others are better cooked. For example, cooking can enhance the availability of certain antioxidants in tomatoes, but raw cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower retain more of their beneficial compounds when consumed raw or lightly steamed. Strive for a balance between raw and cooked foods in your diet. Overcooking can lead to nutrient loss. It’s best to cook foods until they are tender but still retain their vibrant colors and textures. Avoid boiling vegetables for prolonged periods, as this can result in nutrient leaching.
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?
The collaborative approach between medical professionals, health coaches, and nutrition experts in delivering holistic patient care is highly beneficial and increasingly recognized as an effective approach within the healthcare system. Integrating nutrition experts and health coaches into healthcare teams allows for a more comprehensive approach to patient care. While medical professionals diagnose and treat diseases, nutrition experts and health coaches focus on preventive care, lifestyle modifications, and behavior change. This collaboration addresses both the immediate medical needs of patients and their long term health goals.
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?
Increasing education and awareness about the importance of nutrition and its impact on health is essential. This can be done through public health campaigns, school programs, and community initiatives. By promoting nutritional literacy, individuals can make informed choices and prioritize healthier options within their budgets.
Encouraging community gardens and urban farming initiatives can increase access to fresh produce, especially in areas where nutritious options are scarce. These initiatives empower communities to grow their own food, reducing dependence on expensive store bought options and improving access to healthy choices.
Investing in sustainable agriculture practices can help reduce the overall cost of nutritious foods over time. By supporting regenerative farming methods, organic agriculture, and reducing reliance on chemical inputs, the cost of producing healthier foods can be lowered, making them more affordable for consumers.
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?
Seek guidance from a healthcare professional who can provide personalized advice based on your specific health goals, medical history, and dietary preferences. They can help you navigate through conflicting information and develop a customized nutrition plan.
Take into account your unique needs and goals when curating a diet. Factors such as age, sex, activity level, existing health conditions, and personal preferences play a role in determining nutritional requirements. For example, athletes may have different needs compared to sedentary individuals, and those with specific health conditions may require specialized diets.
Pay attention to how your body responds to different foods. Experiment and observe how you feel after consuming certain foods. This self-awareness can help identify any food sensitivities, intolerances, or allergies and guide your dietary choices accordingly.
Focusing on whole, minimally processed foods is generally beneficial for health. Emphasize fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods provide a wide range of nutrients and are less likely to cause adverse effects compared to highly processed or sugary foods.
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?
One exciting area is personalized nutrition, where advancements in technology and genetics allow us to tailor diets to meet individual needs. This means that we can optimize nutrition based on a person’s unique genetic makeup, lifestyle, and health goals.
Another exciting trend is the exploration of the gut microbiome and its impact on overall health. Research has shown that the trillions of microorganisms living in our gut play a crucial role in digestion, immunity, and even mental health. Understanding how specific foods and dietary patterns influence the gut microbiome opens up new avenues for preventing and treating various health conditions.
Advancements in food technology are also shaping the future of healthcare. Innovations such as functional foods, nutraceuticals, and food supplements enriched with bioactive compounds offer potential health benefits beyond basic nutrition. These products can target specific health concerns, such as inflammation and may serve as complementary approaches to traditional medicine.
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?
As professionals in the field, we play a significant role in this educational journey. We can translate complex scientific information into simple, understandable language. By using clear and accessible communication, we can bridge the gap between scientific research and the general public. This includes using relatable examples and avoiding jargon to make the information more relatable and engaging.
Creating and sharing evidence based content through blogs, websites, and social media platforms is an effective way to disseminate information widely. By providing reliable resources, recipes, and practical tips, we can empower individuals to make informed choices and incorporate medicinal foods into their daily lives. As well as engaging with various media outlets, such as television shows and podcasts which allows us to reach a broader audience.
Collaborating with healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, is essential. By partnering with them, we can contribute to the development of educational materials, conduct joint workshops, and provide valuable insights into the role of food in managing and preventing various health conditions.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My website: https://www.ferreirafunctionalhealth.com
Instagram account: @OmairaFerreira.nyc
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.