Nourishing Knowledge: Samantha Holmgren On The Power of Food as Medicine

Nourishing Knowledge: Samantha Holmgren On The Power of Food as Medicine

Turmeric is another popular option for inflammation. It has been used for centuries in many traditional medicine systems in Asia. While not a foolproof indication of the usefulness of an herb (we’ve all heard some of the interesting things our ancestors did), traditional systems are right more often than they are wrong. This has lead to a fair number of research studies into turmeric and the compounds found in this herb.

Inan 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 Samantha Holmgren, RD.

Samantha Is a registered dietitian who lives with psoriatic arthritis. She focuses on moving towards balance and wellness while living with chronic pain and fatigue. At the heart of her work is a focus on mindfulness and making small changes that have outsized impacts — the Bare Minimum Health Plan.

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 a small town with an amazing family. I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house and was given free reign to raid the garden all summer long. That definitely helped shape my love of fresh food including fruit and vegetables. I can still taste the raspberries, carrots, and peas. I had the normal ups and downs of a healthy childhood. There were tragedies and difficulties, but I always had the support of my family and looking back, that is something that I am very grateful for, because not everyone gets that.

My parents were teen parents and I saw how difficult it was for them to go back to school and figure out their careers after having children. Their relationship is strong to this day, but having children (me) so young made a lot of things far more difficult than it needed to be. Going to university and setting myself up on a career path was my number one priority through my teens and early twenties. I knew I wanted to do something in the health field, but it wasn’t until I got to university that I learned about dietetics.

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

The university that I attended has a College of Pharmacy and Nutrition. I remembered learning about vitamins in high school and decided to look into the program. As I learned about the dietetic profession, something really clicked. I remembered growing up raiding the garden. I remembered that my parents always had the mantra of “if you’re full, you’re full” at mealtimes, and the shock I felt the first time someone told me to finish my plate. In university, I was on my own for the first time and realized how challenging it can be at times to make time to prepare meals and how much of my student budget was going towards feeding myself.

At the time, I applied to both the pharmacy and nutrition programs and I am very grateful that I went down this path. I think pharmacists do amazing work but nutrition and self-care are really where my passions lie. As I started practicing in my profession and went through my own mental and physical health journey, I started to truly understand the concepts that I was teaching.

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?

As a fresh dietitian, I would sometimes jump straight into asking people about what they typically eat or, worse, jump straight into the education based on the referral sent by their doctor. It didn’t take long before I realized that for many people, food is just not that important.

You, reading this interview, know that food can be powerful, but for many people, there are simply things that are more pressing and important in their life than food.To actually help the client sitting across from me, I needed to develop a framework to better assess their life circumstances before getting into the weeds of food and nutrition.

To this day, I have a mental checklist that I always run through before asking for someone’s typical day of eating. After the initial small talk where I start learning briefly about people’s occupation and home situation, I always touch on sleep, stress, and movement before getting into the details about food. Each of these elements will play a role in how you see food, your ability to implement the suggestions I give, and what is important to your wellbeing.

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?


Mindfulness is a huge part of how I practice and support clients. It is the underpinning for intuition and finding your individual path to balance and wellness. When I make decisions in alignment with my intuition, they always lead me in the right direction. When I make hasty decisions or ignore my intuition, that is when I make decisions that I end up regretting.

To use a self-care example, it is easy to get caught up in scrolling on the phone. While there is a time and place for that, there are times when I need to — and want to — do other things, yet I end up feeling stuck. Whether that is bedtime procrastination or avoiding the dishes, there are a million things I want myself to do, and yet the phone can have this unhealthy hold on my attention.

However, when I take a minute to pause, take some deep breaths and consider what my intuition is telling me, I am able to make the better choice — without judgment. I think most of the time, it’s judgment that keeps a person stuck. So when we can tap into our non-judgmental intuition, we can do amazing things.


I don’t consider myself a naturally organized person. All around the house, flat surfaces magically collect piles and it is a constant battle to keep the place tidy and functional. Yet, I learned through university and my early years as a professional that organization in work is non-negotiable.

Earlier in my career, I felt like I was constantly putting out fires as I would suddenly remember a deadline or report that I had promised. It was the equivalent of pulling an overnighter to get an assignment complete, though I was able to stick with regular working hours. I would periodically sit down and figure out what was going on across all my various responsibilities and “get my stuff together” for a short period, but it would all fall apart eventually.

Overtime, I have developed a work system that works for me. Now, I really do have my stuff together. Rather than waiting until everything falls apart to get organized, I do weekly reviews to stay on track throughout the year. By making proactive adjustments to the plan, I can stay on top of what is going on.


This goes along with the idea of intuition. Following and honoring my energy has been key to my success. There are times when something just needs to get done, it doesn’t matter how you feel. But for many of us working in the office, that isn’t necessarily true. And you can definitely avoid that “forcing” in your personal life. I have far better outcomes — and get more done — when I pause to consider where the resistance is coming from.

Am I exhausted and need rest? Do I need to adapt how I’m doing the task or exercise to reduce my physical pain? Do I just need to step outside and get a bit of fresh air before I continue? Do I need to clarify the project that I am working on? Is there a way that I can make this more fun?

Once I reset and return, I am better able to work. I can get the dishes done and keep the chaos down in the house. It also helps me be well and reduce burnout, which means I am better able to help others.

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

I recently wrote an eBook called The Bare Minimum Health Plan: How to keep the wheels turning when you are exhausted and in pain. It was something that I really felt called to create and share with people. As soon as I struck the idea for the title, the rest seemed to just fall in place. So many people know they need to make changes in their lifestyle, but don’t know where to start. They feel overwhelmed when they think about exercise and eating well and getting enough sleep and making time for their hobbies and working and on and on. This is my answer to that problem.

I am also starting to work on creating an online program to support people taking the next steps in their Path to Wellness. This is a self-paced adaptation of my group program, but with some additional support baked in. I am really excited about it so I am offering it now for a pre-sale steal. :)

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 completed my Bachelors of Science in Nutrition from the University of Saskatchewan in 2013 and have been practicing as a registered dietitian since then. I have worked with people in many different settings and across the entire lifespan while working in a small town. I’ve seen the impact that food can have on people’s lives, but more importantly, I’ve seen that often, it’s not about the food. Health is about more than how we eat; movement, sleep, stress, social relationships, genetics, and more play a part. And wellness is about more than physical health. The mental and social aspects of wellness are often more important than physical health.

When we can put healthy eating within the broader context of a person’s life, we can set goals and make changes that actually work in that life.

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?

The two biggest barriers that I see are time and stress. Many of us are simply busy people. Whether you have a full-time (or more) job, multiple jobs, are trying to build a business, have family members to take care of, or simply want to enjoy your hobbies, you have a lot going on. And if you haven’t filled your day with a plethora of responsibilities and activities, then you are probably spending your day stressed and doom scrolling or otherwise distracting yourself.

You don’t give yourself the attention, time, or space to take care of yourself. You don’t give yourself the priority. You are focused on other people or projects and don’t set yourself up for success. And, to be fair, sometimes that is a massive challenge to do.

Plus, somewhere in your mind, you believe that you should be cooking every meal from scratch, sleeping 8 hours a day, having a perfect bedtime routine, working out a hour (or more) a day, reading a book a week, journaling, meditating, spending time with friends, building a side hustle, playing with a hobby (that you don’t monetize)… The list is never ending. So when you can’t measure up, you decide to just not think about it at all.

Sometimes, focusing on the “bare minimum” actually leads you to doing more — especially compared to when you were avoiding the whole mess by doom-scrolling and ordering takeout.

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.

This is exactly where I focus. I have psoriatic arthritis myself and I help other people with similar chronic pain conditions. We all know that if you are not fueling your body well, your body cannot heal itself. No one argues with the fact that a vitamin C deficiency is going to cause scurvy and prevent wound healing. At a minimum, you need adequate nutrition.

Can I cure my psoriatic arthritis? No. No medication or lifestyle change is going to cure that chronic illness. However, I can still improve things by eating well.

When I had a severe flare back in 2018, I fell into the same black hole that so many people do when faced with that level of daily pain. I spent nearly all day laying down. I would grab a snack and drink when I got up to pee, because I wasn’t about to make an extra trip for food and I certainly wasn’t about to stand in the kitchen to cook. I couldn’t see the problems that habit was causing at the time, but it was just driving me deeper into that black hole.

One day, I realized that not all my pain was in my joints. Some of my pain was in my muscles. I couldn’t immediately do anything about the joint pain, but I realized I could make this moment suck less. I could stretch and use those muscles that were hurting. Yes, it made my joints uncomfortable, but it made my overall experience so much better (even though it wasn’t “good” yet).

Later, I realized that was one of the key moments, where I stopped staring down into the hole I was in and started looking up. I could see the steps I could take to feel a little better. I could grab snacks that were a bit more balanced. I could take advantage of times with less pain to set myself up for the times with more pain.

There was something I could do. This is one of the most underrated aspects of eating well. Fueling your body and choosing foods that make you feel good is something that you can do, even when you are struggling. Even when you don’t know what is going on with your body. Even when you don’t know how long this flare will last. Even if you are scared that you’ll never be without pain ever again. You can choose nourishing food to give your body what it needs.

Once you’ve got that foundational piece in place, you can start experimenting with some of the best practices, including the foods and patterns I’m going to share next, to find what works for you.

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 . Omega-3s

Omega-3 fats are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties, and for good reason. The research shows a very clear mechanism of action — in other words, there is a clear pathway for it to help in our bodies. Even better, there are randomized control trials (the gold standard of research studies) showing actual benefits. In particular, one review study I read recently looked at omega-3 supplementation for people with arthritis. This review found 20 studies that looked at the effects of omega-3 supplementation on people with rheumatoid arthritis. In 16 of those studies, at least 2 clinical outcomes were improved, including tender joint count, swollen joint count, and physician global assessment. Even better, 5 of the studies reported on people’s use of NSAIDs (Advil and Aleve are types of NSAIDs) and in each of those studies, people who took omega-3 supplements were able to reduce their use of pain medication.

When it comes to food choices, increasing your intake of fatty fish, like salmon and trout, is an ideal way to increase your omega-3 intake. It is especially beneficial to replace sources of omega-6 fats (like sunflower, corn, or soybean oil) with sources of omega-3s like fish, chia, and flax. While omega-6s are still essential, they should be in balance with omega-3s, and for most people swapping out foods high in omega-6 for foods high in omega-3 will help improve the balance. You can also replace high omega-6 fats with olive oil.

2 . Olive Oil

Olive oil is another one that you’re probably not surprised to see on this list. During a recent dive into the research, however, I was surprised by just how strong of an anti-inflammatory effect olive oil has. One meta-analysis pooled the results of many different olive oil studies. There was a wide range of how these studies were set up but 6 of them compared omega-3 supplements with olive oil. In this analysis, olive oil had as much — if not more — of an anti-inflammatory effect as omega-3 supplementation.

But, of course, in real life, you don’t have to choose between them! Including foods high in omega-3s alongside using olive oil as your main source of added fat is my most common suggestion for clients.

Another factor with olive oil use is that some of the anti-inflammatory compounds (called polyphenols) are also food for the good bacteria in our large intestine. So in addition to olive oil being good for your heart health and inflammation, it is also good for your gut!

3 . Turmeric

Turmeric is another popular option for inflammation. It has been used for centuries in many traditional medicine systems in Asia. While not a foolproof indication of the usefulness of an herb (we’ve all heard some of the interesting things our ancestors did), traditional systems are right more often than they are wrong. This has lead to a fair number of research studies into turmeric and the compounds found in this herb.

Curcumin is the compound in turmeric that has been the subject of quite a lot of research and is a popular supplement for inflammation. However, despite there being a fair amount of research, most of it is looking at individual cells, animals, or small scale human studies, so we do have to reserve judgment on how beneficial curcumin supplementation is. This is particularly important when we consider just how strong the placebo effect can be.

That said, the research that we do have is remarkably consistent. There is a logical mechanism of action that curcumin could have in our bodies and some very promising studies. Even better, it looks to be very safe, with only minor side effects being reported, so you can feel confident experimenting with it, though you should always get the thumbs up from your medical team, particularly if you are taking other medications or supplements. In fact, after reviewing the recent research, I am more hopeful about the benefits of turmeric use and curcumin supplements than ever before!

4 . Pumpkin seeds (Magnesium)

While most of the items on this list are related to inflammation, I’m going to shift focus to a different issue — restless legs. Because I always ask about sleep while working with clients, I’ve had several people mention that they have difficulty falling asleep due to restless legs.

Magnesium supplementation is often suggested as a possible treatment when people have leg cramps at night, so I suggested ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds (which contains 300mg of magnesium) to my clients with restless legs. Some took the food approach, others took a small magnesium supplement before bed. Most of them found that this made a significant difference in their sleep quality. So if you’re struggling to fall asleep before bed due to restless legs, this is something to consider.

5 . Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet is one of the best studied dietary patterns. It has been looked at for preventing and managing diabetes, hypertension, obesity, arthritis, and so much more. There is a ton of research supporting it and a lot of information out there on how to follow it.

The power of the Mediterranean Diet is that it combines many of the general recommendations, including some of the things I have mentioned here today. Olive oil is the main source of fat; fish is eaten at least a couple times a week; it’s filled with fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. There is also an emphasis on using herbs and spices for flavor and enjoyment, but also because it includes many nutrients and compounds (like the curcumin in turmeric) that may have health benefits.

While we often talk about individual foods and nutrients having health benefits, we eat a variety of foods — and need that variety to get all the individual nutrients that we need for proper functioning and our overall wellness. The foods that we eat impact one another. Nutrients may compete for absorption, but eating foods in combination can also improve absorption and digestion. For instance, adding a source of heme iron (from meat) or vitamin C to a plant-based source of iron will improve iron absorption.

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?”

One of the biggest misconceptions is that there is a single “healthiest way” to eat a particular food. Some nutrients, like vitamin C can be very easily destroyed. If you boil your vegetables, they will have less vitamin C than when they were raw. But cooking can increase the availability of nutrients, for instance, cooking spinach increases the availability of nutrients such as folate and iron. The best advice is the classic advice: variety. Cook your vegetables sometimes, leave them raw at other times.

Similarly, whole grains will have more fibre and minerals and choosing whole and intact grains will generally be more filling and nourishing. However, eating some cookies made with refined white flour isn’t going to irreparably harm you (unless you have an allergy to the ingredients!). And in some health conditions, the lower fibre refined flour is preferred.

This is related to the false belief that you can, and should, fully optimize your lifestyle. There is no such thing as “perfect,” in large part because there is a lot of variation between people and throughout your life. When you are recovering from an illness, you might need more food and nutrients to replenish what was lost. If you have a hormonal cycle, your energy needs will change throughout that cycle. There are so many factors that affect our nutrient needs that attempting to logically optimize your habits most often leads to frustration and can lead down a pipeline of eating disorders.

Frameworks like mindful eating and intuitive eating help you avoid this optimization trap. By becoming attuned to your body’s signals, you can tap into feedback loops that help you make choices that work 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?

In traditional health care teams, dietitians are the nutrition specialists. Even if a doctor has spent the time to educate themselves on the topic, they do not have time to go into all the details. They often have 15 minutes, 30 if you’re lucky, to spend with a patient. An outpatient dietitian generally spends an hour for an initial appointment. We have so much more time to spend with the client so we can go deeper into learning about you, what you’ve tried in the past, and what you need, so we can provide more detailed and personalized support.

In a high functioning healthcare team, each person is able to recognize their gaps in knowledge and refer to team members who have more expertise. They also are able to recognize when other team members may be able to provide better care simply due to availability or time constraints. When this happens well and communication is flowing, it is a beautiful thing. It truly provides that holistic care that patients deserve.

In the private field, you have more options in terms of the background and qualifications of the person that you work with. You want to be sure to vet the person, whether a dietitian, nutritionist or health coach, to see if their knowledge, experience, and speciality matches what you need. For instance, I know a lot about inflammation, IBS, and heart health but if someone were to ask me advice regarding dialysis, I would be running for help!

On the internet, there is a lot of information out there, and there are people without formal training who are sharing really valuable information. But there is also a lot of information that lacks any evidence or logic. With generative AI, this might even get worse in the next little while. So always check your source and consider whether the information you’re reading even makes sense considering what you already know.

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?

First of all, there is some evidence that healthier eating can actually be cheaper than average eating patterns, such a study released Aug 2023 out of Northwest Tasmania. I’ve noticed this in my own life. Planning ahead and buying groceries at the store, even if there are a couple trips each week, costs far less than impromptu stops at the convenience store, especially when you pick up miscellaneous unplanned items.

For another example, look at the cost of meat versus the cost of dried beans or eggs as a protein source. Even if you are relying on meat to reach your iron needs or enjoy eating it, you may be able to reduce your intake and supplement the protein with plant based sources.

However, in order for any of these ideas to be helpful for people, they need to have the knowledge, skills, and ability to use them. You can’t stock up on healthy food for a week if you don’t have a refrigerator or freezer. You can’t buy in bulk if you don’t have a vehicle. You can’t take advantage of the inexpensive dried beans if you don’t know how to prepare them. You can’t cook at home if you don’t have a working oven.

There isn’t a simple answer to making nutritious food accessible for everyone. It is a complex issue. And there are things that can be done to slowly move us towards that end goal. Public health dietitians do incredible work seeking to alleviate food scarcity and help people learn skills to take advantage of inexpensive healthy options. So much good work is also being done in other fields by many different people. The increased awareness of the importance of healthy eating is helping to make it easier to do this work, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

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?

Mindfulness! Mindful and intuitive eating is a way to uncover your body’s feedback on the effect your habits are having. Mindful eating is all about savoring the present moment, experiencing all your senses while you eat, rather than being distracted by your phone or rushing to the next task. It is a very calming and grounding exercise, and who couldn’t use a little stress relief during the day?

Then, in the longer term, you build a better sense of what your body needs. It feels good to fuel your body well, to have the energy to do the things you want to do. It doesn’t feel good to constantly be hungry. It doesn’t feel good to be overly full or eat meals that are lacking balance.

This knowledge of how it feels to eat well also gives you the confidence to filter the information that you’re hearing. You can compare that information with your experience and reflect, “Might this work for me?”

Having someone on your healthcare team that you can meet with to review what you are doing and thinking about unlocks another layer as well. If you have someone who is knowledgeable about your health conditions and gets to know you, the two of you together can chart a path, particularly when you are feeling overwhelmed or confused by the plethora of information out there.

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 am fascinated by all of the research into inflammation that is happening. Our immune system is all over our body and it touches every aspect of our health. I am eager to see what happens as we learn more about the biochemistry of it, but also — how can we put this information into practice? How can we shape a more balanced immune system and inflammatory response within our bodies? What habits can we change as an individual to have better outcomes?

There is also research using different blood biomarkers to determine inflammation and get an earlier warning that things aren’t working well. I would love to be able to better assess and monitor people’s health using blood tests. There are some things that we can do, but I know it’s possible to go deeper.

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 internet brings us so much information. Some of it is great. Some of it is completely made up. But even the accurate information is in small pieces. It is challenging to figure out how all the pieces fit together. Part of that is because the research is ongoing. We are constantly discovering new details and nuances that we didn’t realize before.

With all the information available, the key piece that professionals play is helping people consolidate and filter the information. By reviewing the new research and new ideas and then putting them back into the bigger context, we can help people have a framework that they can use to identify what will work for their life.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

If you’ve enjoyed reading this or are curious to learn more about my work, check out the Bare Minimum Health Plan at

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 .

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