Interview with a Nutrition Expert | Amanda

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Nourish Bowl | A Couple Cooks

Roasted Nourish Bowl with Lemon Tahini Dressing

We are so pleased today to feature our friend Amanda from the blog Whole Nourishment. We met Amanda through her comments on our blog; she was so kind and thoughtful that we reached out to get to know her more. Turns out she’s a certified Health Coach with a wealth of knowledge about nutrition! We asked her to be part of our Healthy & Whole series to give us some professional tips on that age old question, “How to eat?” Thank you so much to Amanda for your passion and insight!

First of all, how did you become passionate about healthy eating?

My interest in food started in my childhood where I observed the value my mother and grandmother placed on homemade meals. It turned into a passion as a student at the University of Texas in Austin. One day during the fall semester of my first year, I remember experiencing a distinct shift in my awareness of food and how it made me feel. I ate a rushed lunch between classes and suddenly it occurred to me I was blindly following a routine: I had not been hungry, I was acting out of habit. This lack of mindfulness weighed on my conscience. I didn’t feel good about myself, and I felt a vague but nagging sense that I was not honoring my body. That light bulb moment sparked a 10+ year journey in not only developing my passion for eating well, but discovering an even deeper passion for leading a mindful lifestyle that truly nourishes; a lifestyle rooted in a deep-seated value of finding balance and ease in my relationship with food and with my body. During this time, I read Mireille Guiliano’s book, “French Women Don’t Get Fat” and fully embraced her idea of eating and finding pleasure in it, in parallel with life. This was another milestone for refining and acting on my vision of a nourishing lifestyle.

After graduate school and work in the field of Public Health and Epidemiology, I became certified as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach so that I could share experience, knowledge, and passion with other women. Working closely with a client for several months makes a lasting difference in their appreciation for the pleasures of good food and benefits of living a life that nourishes. I call this Whole Nourishment.

There are so many diets out there, which can get very confusing! With your training as a health coach, what do you recommend as “the way to eat”?’

Simply put, we need to revisit some traditions and stop obsessing over the modern fix of the day or the idea that there is a singular Holy Grail “best” way to eat. In my view, rediscovering some basics for eating well is a process to incorporate a few timeless principles, two of which I’ve listed below. It’s my responsibility as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach to help those motivated to make this way of eating part of a sustainable lifestyle.

  • Principle 1: Get back to the basics. Stop making what should be the art of eating into the science of eating. Business makes good money turning this once pleasurable, intuitive, and social act into an overcomplicated science experiment. We must acknowledge and appreciate that the nutrients in whole foods work together synergistically to nourish our bodies. In other words, we can’t limit ourselves by ranking any whole food superior or inferior. We have to look at the whole picture. And once we start respecting and listening to our body, giving it real food, and tuning into how different foods make us feel, we can be more at ease and trust the healing process of intuitive eating.
  • Principle 2: Eat dark leafy greens every day. No matter how we eat, plant-based foods of one sort or the other are the common denominator across all diets, and for good reason. Dark leafy greens in particular are something most of us don’t get enough of. They play an extremely important role in purifying and alkalizing our blood, building strong bones, supporting healthy gut flora, boosting our immune function, balancing blood sugar, and more…Mother Nature’s ultimate superfood! Furthermore, in a society often obsessed with getting enough protein, research shows that most of us are far less likely getting enough other nutrients; especially calcium, iron, B vitamins, and healthy fats. These are essential for our health and risk of getting too few is much higher when a diet lacks whole, unrefined plant-based foods.

Salmon en Papillote | A Couple Cooks

Salmon en Papillote

What would you make as a quick and healthy dinner option, if you have 30 minutes of preparation time?

First of all you two deserve a big thank you for proving home cooked meals can be approachable and practical for every night of the week! Your recent (and delicious!) Tomato Artichoke Soup is a perfect example. Otherwise the abundance of ready-made, packaged foods at the supermarket these days persuades us to think it’s the only sane way to end our busy day. Since when did we turn that deadly corner into the inner aisles and decide we don’t have time to cook and eat with whole foods anymore? [ok, rant over 😉 ]

In all honesty, with some strategy and planning, quick homemade meals can be made with little effort. My go-to strategy is the “one pot” technique where everything is cooked together on stovetop or in the oven.

Minimizing clean-up helps. Cooking in parchment has become one of my favorite ways to cook everything at once, plus it makes dinner feel special and elegant without any effort. I just posted a recipe for Blood Orange Salmon and Sweet Potatoes in Parchment, which is a favorite. And now I know you guys love this technique as well from the looks of your Salmon en Papillote recipe last week!

Here are some of my other favorite One Pot meals ready within 30 minutes.

  • Green Quinoa Bowl + some great tips for Cooking for One
  • Green Lentil and Coconut Soup
  • Noodle Bowls where the veggies are dropped into the pasta water at the end: I love your Peanut Noodles with Napa Cabbage

Tomato Artichoke Soup | A Couple Cooks

Tomato Artichoke Soup

When eating a mostly vegetarian diet, are there certain foods to focus on to make sure we’re getting enough nutrients and protein?

Cultivating a diet of variety is the most fundamental principle I live by in order to 1) get the complexity of nutrients a plant-based diet offers and 2) give the digestive and immune systems a break from encountering the same foods over and over.

Repeated consumption of a limited range of foods taxes the immune system and is thought to be one cause of food sensitivities. I encourage clients to break out of habits and find inspiration to explore a wider range of foods. Eat a variety of colors, but also vary the types of food in each color category and within each food group (vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds). Switch out kale occasionally for Swiss chard, collards, or watercress. Replace quinoa more often with lentils, mung beans, or black rice. And making your own nut milk and nut butter is an incredibly empowering (and easy!) ritual to ensure you have diversity in the nuts and seeds consumed.

When it comes to protein, regularly seeking out variety means we may already be consuming the highest sources of plant-based protein from foods like lentils and legumes (including green peas), quinoa, buckwheat, nuts and nut butter, tempeh, seitan, chia and hemp seeds, and eggs and dairy.

How to combine these foods and find the right mix to optimize energy is an individual and personal decision. We must experiment to find what works best for each of us and consider how we eat and how our lifestyle can affect nutrient absorption. The simple act of eating does not guarantee optimal digestion and nutrient absorption. Our ability to manage stress, sleep quality, a balanced gut flora, eating in a calm environment, and getting enough Vitamin D are a few factors that can optimize our digestion. Extending our attention to how we take care of ourselves outside of the kitchen is what makes the difference between healthy eating and whole nourishment. Bridging the gap and embedding these factors into a lifestyle is the challenge I help clients with as a Health Coach.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding | A Couple Cooks

Naturally Sweet Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding

Is there a recommended amount of sugar intake per day? Is there a nutritional difference between white sugar and natural sugars like honey and maple syrup? Do you have any helpful hints on how to satisfy sugar cravings?

Sugar is such a huge topic. Sugar is rarely so much the problem as the symptom of the real problem. Cravings are the body’s way of telling us something is out of balance, and there are several sources for imbalance; physical, emotional, hormonal, and bacterial. Identifying and working at the source to improve one or more of these can help.

The most common source of sugar cravings I see over and over with clients is emotional-based. If this is you (and it’s all of us at one point or another), I suggest tuning in to these emotions when a craving hits. Give yourself 5 minutes before you respond to the craving. During that time write down or journal about your emotion if you recognize it. Feelings like boredom, loneliness, or anxiety can trigger a need for quick comfort, but try to address those first before reaching for that candy bar. If properly addressed, the craving intensity will likely diminish.

For more tips, check out my post for adding naturally sweet foods to main meals to curb sugar cravings later in the day, and Dr. Hyman’s article here on reprogramming our taste buds so we learn to be satisfied with less sweet foods.

I choose sweeteners closest to the source because they are purer, less-refined products. That means they are not completely stripped of nutrients and digestive enzymes, nor subjected to the toxic chemical-laden processing of white sugar. Maple syrup, raw honey, dates, coconut sugar, and brown rice syrup are my favorites. While these sweeteners do have more nutrients intact than white sugar, we would have to eat a large quantity of them to get a nutritional benefit, which is not the point when consuming sweeteners. And when it comes to metabolizing sugar, sugar is sugar to our liver no matter what form it comes in, and too much of any type taxes our system and can suppress our immunity.

Isn’t it more liberating to think about eating as an art rather than a science? Following nutrition guidelines gram for gram can perpetuate an obsessive and perfectionistic nature around nutrition and eating. I encourage my clients to tone down the need to measure everything and to focus instead on cultivating a sustainable and pleasurable way of eating based on variety, intuition, and mindfulness. The goal should be learning to trust intuitive eating and impulse eating will naturally fade. When we’re consciously striving to nourish our body and self in a deeper way, we cannot also fear going overboard on sugar. These two mindsets simply cannot exist at the same time. Through this process of intuitive, mindful eating, we’ll likely feel satisfied with less and become more in tune with when sweet is too sweet or when sweet isn’t what we are craving after all.

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