What is a micro and macro nutrient? What does processed really mean? Today we talk to David Fisher, a licensed dietician and consultant for Life Fuel in Grand Rapids. He is a wealth of knowledge and you won’t want to miss what he has to say about our eating habits! You can listen to this complete podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud.
Alyssa: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask the Doulas. I am Alyssa Veneklase, and I’m excited today to be talking to David Fisher, who is a consultant with Life Fuel. We talked to Genevieve a few weeks ago now about Life Fuel, and David is their dietician, correct?
David: That’s right.
Alyssa: Okay, tell me who you are and what you do.
David: Yeah, so I’m a registered dietician, and I’m consulting on the menus for Life Fuel. And I’m also a few months away from finishing becoming a physician’s assistant. And then also more importantly, I’m also a father of a couple of little boys, so that keeps me busy.
Alyssa: How old?
David: One and three.
Alyssa: One and three. Holy cow, you are busy.
David: Yes, I’m busy and exhausted.
Alyssa: So do you actually use Life Fuel, then? Do you order their meals that you help create?
David: Yes, it’s a savior to myself and my wife trying to feed ourselves and our kids healthfully without having any time. It’s very helpful to have them.
Alyssa: It’s definitely saved my life the past several weeks, too. It’s been my favorite so far. Everything has been so good. So how did you connect with Life Fuel?
David: So actually Genevieve and I knew each other a little bit before she started it, and it kind of started because she ran some nutrition questions by me trying to make sure her menu was nutritionally adequate. And that turned into a couple more conversations, and before long, it was like, well, why don’t I just review all the menus and be a little bit more involved? So that’s what we started.
Alyssa: So what does that process look like? Does Genevieve come to you with an idea, and then you tell her you need to add this; you need to take that out? What does that even look like?
David: Sort of. She’s the chef behind it all, so she creates all the meals. We had a lot of discussions in the beginning about nutrition theory and what I think adequate nutrition looks like, and then I review the menus that she comes up with. So she’ll have a whole week’s menu, and I look them over for nutritional adequacy, macro nutrients and micro nutrients, and give feedback like this should be tweaked; this might be something that you’re missing; this is something that you’re doing excellently; that kind of thing.
Alyssa: Tell me and anyone else listening who doesn’t know what a macro and micro nutrient is.
David: Oh, sorry. I’ll try to watch the jargon.
Alyssa: That’s okay. If I don’t understand, I will ask.
David: So macro nutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. And then micro nutrients are vitamins and minerals and other things that are in very small quantities like antioxidants, vital chemicals, things like that.
Alyssa: So you just know which foods have what?
David: I use software to help me know, but at this point I do kind of know. I can look at a list of foods or at a menu and know you’re probably missing this nutrient or that, but I still use things to help me make sure I don’t miss anything.
Alyssa: So what would you say – if we had a pregnant mom eating a meal versus someone who’s not pregnant or maybe a postpartum mom – are there different things they need to be looking for?
David: Yeah, good question. Fundamentally, no. I’ll just say this: no matter who I’m consulting on nutrition; could be a pregnant mom or an 80-year-old with diabetes, but 90% of my advice is the same. It’s only that last 10% that I might customize it to a particular person. And that advice is always about eating food that’s unprocessed; eating food that is close to the way it comes from the earth. Only once you get that down can you come and talk to me about whether you need this supplement or this specific nutrient, because none of that targeted effort is going to help if the base of your diet is not unprocessed, fresh food. If it is, if that’s taken care of, and I have someone who’s pregnant or lactating and they want to come talk to me, maybe we’ll start to talk about a few extra things. But if you’re eating a varied diet of fresh, unprocessed foods, your bases are covered. Now, the one that people talk about is folic acid, folate, things like that. And that’s true. The need for that, though, is honestly before you even know you’re pregnant, most times. So we have to get that base covered before you’ve even gotten pregnant. Don’t come at 30 weeks talking about your folate. That’s fine, but that ship has sailed. And that’s where getting that base down before we even get to being pregnant is the most important part.
Alyssa: Before conception, even? While you’re trying?
David: Yeah, exactly.
Alyssa: Explain maybe what “processed” means. At the very basic level, what is a processed food and why is it bad?
David: I’m really glad that you asked this question because I used to think that you could just explain to someone, “Don’t eat processed food,” and they would sort of understand it, but I’ve figured out over time that people don’t know exactly what that is.
Alyssa: They assume it’s – I’m trying to think of the worst thing, like a hot dog. Which it is, but there’s so many other things that are not as bad as a hot dog that are still bad.
David: Right, or people apply a very subjective meaning to it. So to one person, a processed food is one thing, and another person says, “Well, I’m eating yogurt.” Well, that yogurt has as much sugar as a Snickers bar in it. That’s still a processed food. So the way I’ve described it best is kind of what I mentioned, which is food that is close to the way it came from the earth. If you get someone to conceptualize that question, like whether you’re evaluating a particular food or a plate of food or a week’s worth of menus, you can ask yourself the question, “How close is this food to the way it came out of the earth?” And that allows you to think about the steps it took to go from a salmon swimming in Lake Michigan to the salmon that I’m eating on my plate. And that answer is, it didn’t take a whole lot, versus the Twinkie, which is also my example of the opposite end of the spectrum.
Alyssa: Is that even anything that came from the earth? It’s all chemicals in a bowl, right?
David: Right. You know, the amount of steps that it took is kind of mind-boggling, right? And most things fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but it allows you to conceptualize how far something came from the way it came from the earth. And your goal always needs to be shooting towards closer to the earth, something you could grow in your own garden.
Alyssa: And looking at ingredients is kind of a first step of understanding how processed it is, correct? Or not?
David: Yes and no. What I like to – so I have to teach people sometimes how to read nutrition labels, as a dietician. And what I tell them is, okay, congratulations. You now know how to read a label. Now I want you to go buy nothing that has a label on it. Because if something has a label, it by definition has multiple ingredients in it. It’s in a box or a package, right? But if you’re at the grocery store produce aisle, nothing is in a box or a package. Nothing has an ingredients list because it’s ridiculous to put an ingredients list on an apple. Everybody knows what an apple is. Well, they all know what it is because it’s directly the way it came from the earth, right? So if you to go to the store, the pretty healthy, unprocessed foods are the ones that have no nutrition label on them at all. The ones with the nutrition label – some are healthy; some are not, but you’re already starting to get into that processed side of foods. Now, of course, I buy things that have a label on them, and that’s when I start to evaluate, okay, what are the ingredients on this label? Is this a slightly processed food, or is this a very processed food I should really be careful of? So then it does become important at that point to be able to interpret a label and look at the ingredients list and try to avoid things that have things you don’t recognize in the ingredients and that kind of thing. But I like to point out that the first thing is to eat foods that don’t have a label.
Alyssa: Yeah, I started a garden a few years ago, and it makes me – forces me to eat because I don’t like wasting things. So if I have a mound of cucumbers and carrots and tomatoes, I end up eating lots of veggies. So that’s one good way to force myself to do it.
David: CSAs are like that, too, because you get a lot of whatever’s in season. You’re like, okay, my CSA gave me beets again; what am I going to do with them this time?
Alyssa: Right, you get really creative. And I also have a juicer, which for when I have a mound of cucumbers and they’re starting to get soft, I don’t want to throw them away, so we juice them. What’s your opinion on juicing? This is totally off topic.
David: That’s okay. I had a teacher who used to say the devil is in the details, and to me, that applies to juicing because it really – you could have juicing that I think is somewhat healthful, and a lot of juicing that I think is not healthful. So my questions are going to be, obviously, what goes into it?
Alyssa: Is it all fruit?
David: Right, exactly, and what kind of juicing are you doing, and is it something that you just bought from the store versus your own cucumbers from your own garden? I mean, that’s a vast difference from a purchased kids’ fruit juice at a store. But also how much of the fiber and the actual pulp is in the juice because that affects how it’s digested and absorbed. So it’s hard for me to give a straight-out answer, but if you’re more vegetable than fruit, and if it’s very fresh, then you don’t lose a lot of the nutrients, which you lose nutrients over time with storage.
Alyssa: Because it sits. It sits on the shelf for who knows how long.
David: Yeah, and a lot of the good – some nutrients aren’t very shelf-stable, so you’ll lose them over time, and then what remains is the sugar component and less of the fresh stuff.
Alyssa: That makes sense. Okay, well, back on topic to Life Fuel. How do you – we talked briefly about the macro and micro, and you’re looking at carbs and things like that. What’s your baseline for, okay, the meals each need to have this? How much protein and how many carbs? You don’t even have a ton of carbs in your meals, really, do you?
Genevieve: So I would say we don’t necessarily have a strict baseline for macro nutrients, proteins, carbs, and fat. We try to offer variety because we know that our customers eat a variety of different foods and have different requirements, so we try to just offer different variety so that each customer can kind of customize it to their own requirements. David does offer a lot of advice as far as – carbohydrates aren’t necessarily bad, I think, is a thing we talk about a lot. Even though a lot of our customers want a low-carb diet, they are necessary to fuel our bodies, so we do try to include a healthy amount.
Alyssa: Like the sweet potatoes I ate yesterday?
Genevieve: Correct, yes. And we use healthy grains like quinoa and brown rice and things like that.
David: I think the carbohydrate part is one that we’ve discussed more than anything else on the menus.
Genevieve: Yes, it’s a very hot topic these days.
David: It is, and she’s right that a lot of people want lower-carb meals, which is fine, but I think that there are a lot of healthy sources of carbs that people might be missing out on, and some people need more carbs than they’re allowing themselves. That’s something I’ve seen working with people.
Alyssa: What does a healthy carb look like?
David: It has a lot of fiber. Period. That’s one simple way to look at it; it needs to have fiber, and so the classic example of that is brown rice and white rice. White rice has zero fiber. Brown rice or wild rice has a lot more fiber. The fiber slows down how fast you digest and absorb it, so it slows down how quickly the starch, which turns into sugar, hits your bloodstream, so that’s what makes it healthier. And that’s the kind of carbohydrates that we’ve eaten for thousands of years. It’s only in the last hundred or so that we’ve had the modern techniques of removing all the fiber out of foods.
Alyssa: Is that how you get white rice? They just remove the fiber from brown rice?
David: Yes. I mean, they remove the coating on the rice, and that has not only the fiber, but also some of the other nutrients that you’re missing out on, so all you’re really left with is starch, plus some nutrients that we add back in the steps of processing, called fortifying. So the other thing to think about with healthy carbohydrates is back to the question that I said before: how close is this food to the way it comes out of the ground? Wild rice, we’ve eaten for a long, long time, and you can literally grow it in wet environments where we grow rice, and you can eat it just like that. You don’t find white rice in the wild. You have to go through these steps of processing, so there’s steps to get to the point of being white rice. It’s removed from –
Alyssa: I thought we grew white rice. I had no idea. I thought there were little shoots of white rice. I didn’t know they literally had to pull it off – so if I took wild rice and took the hull off, like you said, it would be white rice inside?
Genevieve: I think a good comparison might be whole wheat versus white flour. It’s the same process. They remove the hull and they remove the bran, which is all the fiber, where all the fiber is, to get white flour versus a whole wheat flour. And so whole wheat is obviously better because you’re getting a lot more nutrients.
Alyssa: Who did this? And who started it, and why? Like, how did this even come about? Why would they say, I don’t like the color of brown flour; I want to make it white?
Genevieve: From what I understand of the history of it, it’s just that for flour at least, the white flour was considered a luxury item, and so very rich, wealthy people, that’s what they wanted. And so it just became more and more popular because obviously, everyone wants to imitate the rich and powerful, and so yeah, it just became the natural way that we eat flour.
David: My understanding, too, is there’s better shelf stability when you remove some of those nutrient components, and so we can store these things better. So maybe at first, we might have thought that was great, and now we’ve learned a few things about how that’s not so great.
Alyssa: My mind is blown. I had no idea. I knew it was bad, but it’s like you don’t really know how – again, it’s the whole processed thing, and that’s what the definition of processed is.
Genevieve: And we’re coming to a really cool point in time right now where people do want to be educated about what they’re putting in their bodies, and I feel maybe for the last 50 years, it wasn’t that way. People wanted the things that were shelf stable and wouldn’t go bad, and that was the priority, and convenience, especially. And now people are realizing this isn’t helping us. We’re not healthy. We’re going to the doctor for all these reasons that have been preventable for many years. So people are really paying attention to their diets again.
David: They are, but I think a lot of people don’t – we haven’t learned how to cook and how to be a home chef very well, and so people think, oh, I’m supposed to eat these things. They go to the store and they buy these healthy vegetables, and then they come home, and they either don’t know how to make it and it goes bad, or they make something mediocre. And that’s one thing I like about Life Fuel is that it’s healthy foods, but it’s all delicious. You know, people would like the foods whether or not they were trying to change their diet or eat healthy.
Alyssa: Right. So we’re going to stop this one here, and I want to talk to you again because you have two little boys at home, and I want to talk about getting them to eat. So thanks for joining us today. And thank you, Genevieve, for being here from Life Fuel. Why don’t you tell us your website?
Genevieve: So the website is www.lifefuelbyvault.com.
Alyssa: I’m going to go home and eat one for lunch today! You can always find us at goldcoastdoulas.com, and you can listen on iTunes and SoundCloud. Thanks for listening!