Gerri French recently joined Be Food Smart as a Special Advisor. She comes to us with over 30 years of experience as Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator (see Gerri’s full bio here). I sat down with Gerri last week to ask her a few questions. Here are some highlights from our chat.

Are there any popular/major diets that you like? For example, Paleo, South Beach, Zone, blood type, Mediterranean, Weight Watchers, etc.  Are there any you would recommend?

No one diet works for everyone. As a dietitian I listen to my patients to learn their needs and concerns while assessing their lifestyle, laboratory data and medical history; a very personalized approach.  A general diet book does not take the individual person into consideration.  There are many healthy people out there eating a variety of diets. Mediterranean and Asian people who follow diets taught by their ancestors tend to be healthiest and the research supports it. I am happy to see people returning to enjoying earthy seasonal local foods, heirloom grains and beans and also fermented foods.

I know you’ve been working with the teen population in recent years. Are there issues unique to this group?

As a mother of two daughters who are now 16 and 18 years old, I learned that it’s not cool to bring your lunch to school.  Teens tend to eat out a lot, not eat enough fruits and vegetables. They may have a Blenders (local smoothie) along with drinking sweetened beverages including energy drinks, soda, juice and teas. Many teens sit a lot and spend hours looking at an electronic screen.  Teens doing sports generally do better.  We are seeing an increased rate of pre-diabetes, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes in teens which can be reduced and prevented with healthy eating and exercise.

What can parents do?

Find out what motivates your child; health is usually not a motivator for teenagers. It might be healthy hair, skin, nails, improved sleep, or sustained energy. Don’t buy the juice and soda! Try to cook with them. Cook from scratch; get out the mixer. Visit farms to learn where foods come from.  Give them lots of [food] choices. I tell the teens I work with, “When your mom doesn’t give you the foods everyone else is eating, it’s because she loves you.”

What small change can people make that will have a large impact on their health?

If you are not already doing it, shop at your local farmers’ market or at a co-op; join a CSA and consider starting a garden.

What if people say they can’t afford to shop there?

I can almost guarantee that if you start eating local, healthy, fresh foods, your risk of health conditions will be decreased. You have to factor in the other costs associated with NOT eating well such as: loss of work from sickness, doctor visits, co-pays, medications.  In many ways, it is pay now or pay later.

What are some other tips?

Look at your food waste. Learn how to cook and eat less packaged foods. Have fun with cooking and include your family. If you do eat packaged foods, at least “make it alive” with fresh foods. Most basic staples are cheap such as bulk grains and beans. Pay more for higher quality fruits and veggies, meats and dairy.  We now have data that states that supermarket produce has less nutritive value.  Modern day produce is selectively bred to travel well, look pretty, retain color, bruise less and is inferior in nutritional content. Unfortunately many people are afraid of carbs. They’ll come into my office bragging how they avoided eating a baked potato. They put all potatoes in the same class as white bread and white rice. Locally grown heirloom red, purple and yukon gold potatoes are very nutritious.

What are your thoughts on vitamins and supplements?

If you don’t eat farmers’ market produce and don’t eat fish three times a week, if you have digestive problems, drink alcohol, take medication or are under stress, then you probably need supplements.

Ha ha, that pretty much covers everyone, doesn’t it?

Pretty much. Unfortunately, there is no good blood test to be able to know what you need. You have to look at your symptoms; it needs to be personalized to you.

Any final thoughts?
I tell people, “YOU be the processor.” Use less processed foods and let your body do the work.