Teaching Nutrition Education

When I decided that I would switch my career from Teaching to Nutrition, I had a feeling that the departure from teaching would not be a forever goodbye. I was right.

Last summer, at the very beginning of the nutrition graduate program I am in, I had the opportunity to help out at the Food As Medicine Everyday (FAME) series through the Food As Medicine Institute. At the core of this program is the empowerment of others to take the reins of their health. This is accomplished by a series of classes that combines, in each class, hands-on cooking experiences with nutrition lessons. I  can’t begin to tell you how much this experience with FAME meant to me. That summer with FAME showed me that I can still teach and help others on their own health journey through nutrition. That summer with FAME, a program that is meant to empower its participants, empowered me.

famifames Get a FAME book today!

I stuck around FAME and the Food As Medicine Institute (FAMI) to learn from them in other ways, but that experience with the nutrition education aspect of FAMI was definitely a spark that was ignited. By continuing to work with the program and furthering my own education in nutrition, that spark turned into a flame and that fire needed an outlet.

class2  Natural Grocers kitchen space

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In November, with a local plant-based chef from La Vida Veggie (Heather Solano), I co-presented my first class at a Natural Grocers grocery store for the local community and what an experience that was! I experienced several emotions that day from being a nervous wreck to worrying about how many people would show up to “Oh my gosh, we have 22 people in this kitchen; we can’t screw up!”  Heather and I taught a full-on vegan Thanksgiving menu to those 22 guests who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the nutrition component just as much as the cooking and eating portions. The fire kept growing.

I remember washing the dishes after that vegan Thanksgiving class and feeling so elated about what I was just a part of. I went home that afternoon exhausted, but completely motivated to figure out how to again achieve that feeling of elation. It didn’t take me long to connect with two other local grocery store chains: New Seasons Market and Fred Meyer.

I just taught my first New Seasons Market class on Mindful Eating and what an experience that was. There was no cooking involved, but the health and wellness topic still managed to get a group of eight individuals to commute through the slushy roads from Portland’s melting snow and ice. I may have led this class, but it was more of a facilitation experience thanks to the wonderful conversations and participation of the individuals who were in the room. I have another Mindful Eating class scheduled at a New Seasons Market and I’m definitely looking forward to connecting with another group in an attempt to strengthen their and my own connection to food in a more nourishing way.

fredmeyer Beautiful 20th Century Workshop kitchen space at Stadium Fred Meyer.

With Fred Meyer,  I knew of a local store equipped with a kitchen space that they used for classes. You can probably guess what happened next…I met with the kitchen coordinator, we were both mutually interested in coordinating a class or multiple classes, and we scheduled the first one. I just taught that class a week ago (Jan. 21st) and again I had an amazing experience that was very different from the Natural Grocers class. At this class, the smaller group allowed for a completely hands-on cooking approach that had us all huddled and cooking together while learning about the nutrition and health benefits of 3 plant-based breakfast recipes and enjoying conversations about nutrition and health.

The fire continues to burn and I have scheduled more classes at these listed grocery stores and am even going to begin co-teaching Food As Medicine Everyday classes at an elementary school twice a month. How amazing does that sound?! You’re probably not going to be surprised to hear that I am  currently planning a career that includes community nutrition education because of how inspired I am each time I conduct a class. Teaching at these stores and interacting with their customers has been a phenomenal experience. At a grocery store, you never know who to expect. It’s a wonderful place where different socioeconomic statuses, different levels of nutrition backgrounds, different health perspectives and experiences, and more, are all represented and can be present in the very room you are about to teach your class in. This is what community education is all about–bringing in and interacting with different persons and perspectives while teaching and learning from  each other through the sharing of questions and stories–and I’m grateful for these opportunities, but especially to FAME for igniting that initial spark.

willatgreenfest Manda (friend and FAMI staff) and I working the Food As Medicine Institute contest booth at the Portland Green Festivals, December 2016.

 

Pump(kin) Up Your Health!

 

The following blog post was written for and published on the Food As Medicine Institute (FAMI) blog.

 

Everyone knows that we are in pumpkin season right now. If you weren’t aware, it’s about time to get your head out of the gutter. Actually, since those gutters are probably full of fallen autumn leaves, you may want to get back to work. I digress…

Did you know that pumpkins are part of the Cucurbitaceae family which include melons, cucumbers, gourds, and squashes? That’s right: pumpkins are related to cucumbers! Neat, right? As a cucurbitacin, pumpkins are high in phytonutrients that will help keep you healthy and well throughout the fall season. But that means you have to eat them, not just take pictures of an orchard or create jack-o’-lanterns with your kids. Sadly, that just won’t cut it.

Healthy because its orange.

The more colorful the food, the better they are for you. If only it were that simple. Well, actually, it often is, with several exceptions of course. Don’t toss out that cauliflower or onion just yet!

The orange hue of the pumpkins’ skin and flesh is due to specific phytonutrients, chemicals found in plant foods. The phytonutrient category that lends the orange color to pumpkins are carotenoids which include specific chemicals you may or may not have heard of such as beta carotene, alpha carotene, lutein, lycopene, and others. Is there another vegetable that you can think of that is orange and might have carotenoids in it?

pumpkin1

But how are pumpkins healthy?

Due to the nutrient profile of pumpkins, this winter squash variety, like most winter squash varieties, is an anti-inflammatory and even an anti-cancer food. While most of the studies on winter squash’s benefits for health have been conducted on laboratory animals, there have been numerous studies on the various nutrients in pumpkin that support the claims made here.

One of the many benefits that the beta carotene nutrient in pumpkin provides for our bodies is reducing organ damage brought on by oxidative stress in the body. What causes oxidative stress? A poor diet, smoking, drug use, and environmental pollutants are among the sources. And what does oxidative stress lead to if left unchecked? Disease and possibly cancer.

Some studies show that adequate or higher levels of carotenoids may result in a reduced risk of pancreatic cancer and a reduced risk of breast cancer for women. And there is adequate research to show that the nutrients found in pumpkin have been shown to improve blood sugar regulation and possibly improve cardiovascular health. Even iron deficiency anemia may be prevented or treated with Vitamin A supplementation and pumpkin has plenty of Vitamin A.

So what are you waiting for? Start pump(kin)ing up your health today!

 Health properties (not every micronutrient is included)

Based on 1 cup:

Calories: approx. 50

Rich in: Vitamin A

Good source of: B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Copper, Iron,

Decent source of: Manganese, Phosphorus, and Potassium.

Bonus: Pumpkin has minimal amounts (but amounts nonetheless!) of all of the essential amino acids.

The pumpkin oatmeal recipe that I wrote up for this blog post can be found on the FAMI blog. 🙂

Enjoy your health!

 

References:

  1. Jansen RJ, Robinson DP, Stolzenberg-solomon RZ, et al. Nutrients from fruit and vegetable consumption reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. J Gastrointest Cancer. 2013;44(2):152-61.
  2. Esrefoglu M, Akinci A, Taslidere E, Elbe H, Cetin A, Ates B. Ascorbic acid and beta-carotene reduce stress-induced oxidative organ damage in rats. Biotech Histochem. 2016;91(7):455-464.
  3. Jayaprakasam B, Seeram NP, Nair MG. Anticancer and antiinflammatory activities of cucurbitacins from Cucurbita andreana. Cancer Lett. 2003;189(1):11-6.
  4. Eliassen AH, Hendrickson SJ, Brinton LA, et al. Circulating carotenoids and risk of breast cancer: pooled analysis of eight prospective studies. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2012;104(24):1905-16.
  5. Semba RD, Bloem MW. The anemia of vitamin A deficiency: epidemiology and pathogenesis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002;56(4):271-281.

A Summer of FAME

Update! — The Food As Medicine Institute is a finalist for the Green Festivals Community Award. This award is for $5,000 and will help spread nutrition education to schools and other communities. I have worked for this program and I know the doctors and people who are involved and you can trust me when I tell you that great work is being done. Please take 10 seconds to click on the link above and vote for the Food As Medicine Institute to win this award! 

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This past summer was extremely busy and went by rather quickly due to starting grad school again at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM). This may or may not mean that I’ve still not been to the Oregon coast and now likely won’t get there until sometime next year (eek!), but I did participate in something else that I’ll certainly remember Summer 2016 for: FAME.

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FAME stands for Food As Medicine Everyday and it is a cooking series of (generally) 12 weekly classes that combines simple and fun cooking experiences with nutrition education. The two naturopathic physicians who primarily led this summer’s Food as Medicine Everyday series used the recipes from their book  to teach participants simple cooking techniques right in Charlee’s Kitchen in NUNM’s Helfgott Research Institute building. It was so inspiring to watch everyone become so comfortable with a knife, a Vitamix, with spicing foods, and with having fun while cooking, and then return to the dining table as a group to learn about a health and nutrition topic that varied with each weekly class. And by “inspiring”, I mean that my experience with the cooking classes and with FAME behind-the-scenes a bit more has made it clear to me that community nutrition education is an area I want to explore for my career after graduation.

fame8  fame2

My role and the role of the other two or three staff who I worked with throughout the summer was to supervise one of three cooking stations as well as initiate and/or facilitate conversations about meal prep, cooking, or even the nutrition of the foods we were preparing and boy was that a fun experience. I mean, I got paid to help supervise cooking and to socialize with new people who really want to be there. How sweet is that? And how do I know they actually wanted to be there? Well, they told me. But also because they signed up for a class that started at 6pm on Wednesday…in Portland. If you’ve driven near downtown Portland at 6pm on a weekday, you know the level of commitment I’m talking about.

I know that the participants learned quite a lot over the 10 weeks of the class (it was shortened for the summer) such as various cooking techniques, recipes, reading labels, and a great deal on pertinent health topics, but the FAME series proved to be a learning experience for me as well. It is always invaluable to practice skills such as supervising, teaching, listening, and working on a team and that’s what working the FAME series this summer allowed me to do.

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I’m incredibly grateful for the experience that I was given and for the opportunity to continue working with the Institute this fall as a blogger and with other tasks. I feel a calling to learn all I can from everyone at FAMI and the work they do and I can actually see myself following their lead after graduating from this nutrition program. I believe that when one is in school, they often learn or experience the most valuable things outside of the classroom and I think FAMI is and will continue to be that valuable experience for me.

Update: I’ll be tailoring and teaching (possibly co-teaching) FAME classes to two 5th grade classes to a school in West Linn, Oregon. I cannot wait for this awesome experience! I’ve been wanting to teach nutrition education to kids for sometime now and I’m humbled to do this while still a student (though I am also a licensed teacher so that helps!).

In February, the Institute will be putting on their 4th annual Food As Medicine Symposium  and you can bet I’ll be there. I hope to see you some of you Portlanders there, too. Until then…

Happy Eating! And Cooking!