Happy March! As dietitians this is one of our favorite months because it is finally National Nutrition Month! We are thrilled to have an entire month devoted to nutrition, food, and healthy eating. As an added bonus, we also have RDN Day which is on March 13!
In light of National Nutrition Month and RDN Day coming up, we want to talk about what it is that dietitians do, what the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist is, and why dietitians truly are the nutrition experts.
When working in the community or with clients, we have found that there is so much confusion on what a dietitian actually does or who is a dietitian.
So what is a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist (or RD/RDN for short)?
A registered dietitian must complete a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. A bachelor’s degree focuses on areas of food service, food service management, food science, chemistry, biochemistry, medical nutrition therapy, anatomy, and physiology.
Once the undergraduate is completed, students must complete a dietetic internship. Dietetic internships might be found within a university, healthcare facility, or food service management company. The internship is a comprehensive program, requiring 1200 hours of supervised practice in community, clinical, and food service areas.
After the dietetic internship has been completed, students must then sit for the national exam though the Commission on Dietetic Registration. After passing the exam, the professional is then deemed a dietitian and must hold a license in their practicing state. A dietitian is then required to complete continuing education appropriate to their professional areas.
Where do registered dietitian nutritionists work?
A registered dietitian nutritionist can work in many different areas. You might find an RDN in:
What’s the difference between a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutritionist?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions. It can be a confusing concept, but to simplify it: all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.
Why is that?
A nutritionist is not a legally protected title. This means that there is no consistency in education or background in order to become a nutritionist. In some cases, nutritionists may not have any nutrition background at all.
Whereas, registered dietitian is a legally protected title. Therefore, in order to practice as a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist, a professional must complete rigorous school work, dietetic internship, pass a registration exam, and hold an active license in the practicing state. Dietitians are the only people who can practice medical nutrition therapy.
Why does it matter?
Dietitians are the experts in nutrition and dietetics because they have a thorough background in the physiology of nutrition and the chemical interactions foods have in the body. This background allows them to weed out fact from fiction and help you to navigate your health considering a wide array of considerations. They are trained to consider your food preferences, health conditions, budgets, schedule, culture, lifestyle, and many other things to help you make the best nutrition choices for your life.
This graphic above is an excellent representation of all the components dietitians are trained to think about when evaluating nutrition and health habits!
How do I find a dietitian?
To find a registered dietitian near you, you can go to this website to locate an RDN in your area. You can also ask your doctor if they have a dietitian that they can refer you to as well. If you just have questions for a dietitian, Let’s Move! STL is a team of five registered dietitians ready to answer your nutrition related questions. To ask a question, click here!
This month, find an RDN and wish them a happy National Nutrition Month! Sign up for our monthly newsletter here to stay up to date with our NNM events and other blogs and recipes we share on the site!
In honor of American Heart Month, we’re talking heart health. Many of you may be affected by heart disease or know someone who has. This month, we wanted to give you information that could help you and your loved ones adopt healthy choices in the hopes of preventing this life-threatening disease.
Did you know that about 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year, which is about 1 in every 4 deaths. Smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, and being physically inactive all put you at a higher risk of developing heart disease. But there are some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle to help reduce your risk of heart disease!
For starters, eating a healthy and balanced diet can begin to reduce your risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease. We like to focus on the MyPlate method to ensure you’re eating balanced meals.
Eat Balanced Meals
The MyPlate method focuses on ½ of your plate fruits and non starchy vegetables, ¼ of your plate whole grains or starches, and ¼ of your plate lean proteins and nonfat or low-fat dairy. Whole grains can be found in whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, farro, and many other grains. Starchy vegetables like corn, peas, and potatoes also fall into this section of the plate. When choosing lean proteins, look for foods like chicken, fish, beans, nut butters, eggs, lean ground meat, or loin or round cuts of meat. Aim to make your plate look like MyPlate for most of your meals in the day.
Eat the Right Fats
Fat is a macronutrient needed by the body. Fat provides structure to cells and cushions membranes to prevent damage. Oils and fats are also needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, a micronutrient important for healthy eyes and lungs. But too much unhealthy fat can contribute to your risk of heart disease.
There are four major types of fat:
Saturated & Trans Fats
Both increase LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) and are linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Trans fats also lower HDL (or the “good” cholesterol). Aim to limit saturated fats by replacing them with healthier sources of fat like mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Avoid trans fats whenever possible.
Saturated fats are often found in:
Trans fats are often found in:
Monounsaturated & Polyunsaturated Fats
Unsaturated fats like monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats have been shown to improve brain function, lower cholesterol levels, and decrease risk of heart disease. These are the healthy fats that we want to include into our diet regularly.
Monounsaturated fats are often found in:
Polyunsaturated fats are often found in:
Including a range of healthy fats in your diet can have health protective benefits. Try cooking with olive oil, having a handful of nuts as a snack, or incorporating seafood during the week.
High blood pressure can also contribute to higher risk of heart disease because it increases pressure and stress on your heart. To decrease your blood pressure, be sure to limit your sodium or salt intake to 2300 mg per day. Aim to base the majority of your meals around foods naturally low in sodium like fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and unseasoned whole grains.For more information on sodium, take a look here.
High Sodium Foods Include:
To limit some of your salt consumption, opt for low sodium or no salt added versions of foods. For canned beans or vegetables, drain and rinse two times to remove some of that salt.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Practicing an overall healthy lifestyle reduces your risk even further. Make sure to exercise, get enough sleep, drink enough H2O, and live a smoke-free life. Find movement you enjoy such as walking, dancing, yoga, cycling, weight lifting, you name it!
This month, choose one of these tips to focus on. Create a SMART goal and take it as a challenge to reduce your risk and protect that loving heart. Work on filling out this handout here to determine a SMART goal for you! What goals are you going to work on this month? Leave a comment and let us know!
Hands up if you make a New Year’s resolution each year? This time of year is filled with cleanses, detoxes, and fad diets that are typically expensive, not evidence based, and unsustainable. How many of you have tried one of these fads once the New Year rolled in? How many of you kept that habit throughout the whole year?
Often, New Year’s resolutions are created with great intentions, but fall flat by the end of January. Have you taken time to reflect on why those goals don’t last? Have you ever wondered why this is? It could be that you took on too much too soon or worked hard toward goals that weren't really designed with your health and well-being in mind.
This year, we want to challenge you to build healthy lifestyle habits that are sustainable and realistic for your life and your body.
And we’ve got just the program for you!
Small Changes for Health is a program crafted by registered dietitians that covers a range of topics to help you achieve the healthiest life based on your individual needs! We’ll start the program by teaching you how to make SMART goals that will last for years to come.
So, what is Small Changes for Health?
A FREE, 10-week program designed to help you build healthy habits one week at a time. The program focuses on physical activity, healthy eating, sleep, and other self-care strategies designed to improve well-being.
The theme for 2019 is “An Ounce of Prevention”. Whether you’d like to do what you can to minimize your risk for chronic disease, or prevent the progression of an existing disease, the habits you build will support either goal.
How does it work?
Each week you receive an email with a small change in physical activity and a healthy habit challenge for you to complete We will also share tips and resources to help you meet the goals.
What are the changes?
For the physical activity change, you may be asked to do an activity for a specified length of time and number of days during the week. The goal is to move more often so you feel your best!
What are the challenges?
The healthy habit challenge encourages you to do a healthy activity like eating balanced meals, sleeping more, and adding to your support network. With practice, the activities become healthy habits designed to improve mental and physical well-being.
What are the prizes?
Small Changes for Health is offering up prizes and grand prizes that you could win by participating:
What will I need to participate?
Access to a computer, tablet or smartphone to access the information and tips and good walking/running shoes are the basics.
When does it begin?
The program starts the week of January 14th, 2019 and runs through the end of March.
Sign up today! https://www.smallchangesforhealth.com/
Follow Let’s Move! STL on Twitter and Facebook for the latest info and be sure to register for more information on www.letsmovestlouis.com!
This time of year can be as stressful as it is joyful. The holidays are a great time of gathering and celebrating. However, for many people, the holidays bring anxiety over food choices and overindulgence. Do you fear diving into holiday foods? In this month’s blog, we’re addressing the holiday food fears and giving you the tools you need to maintain your health goals all through this hectic month.
One of the best parts of a standard holiday meal is that it can be easily converted into MyPlate. We love using MyPlate as a simple checklist for creating healthy, balanced meals. Aim to make ½ of your plate fruits or non-starchy vegetables, ¼ whole grains or starchy vegetables, and ¼ a lean protein. You also want to ensure that you’re incorporating healthy fats at each meal to also keep you full. At least 3 of your meals per day should contain 3 or more different food groups.
So often, people skip meals during the holidays in order to “save” for larger meals. Skipping meals leads to bingeing later on, increased cravings, drops in blood sugar, fatigue, and irritability. Stay happy this holiday season by eating regularly throughout the day. Start the day with a healthy, balanced breakfast to get you off on the right foot. Aim for MyPlate based meals, complete with fiber, protein, whole grains, and healthy fats to keep you full.
Bring Your Own
If you’re attending parties or family gatherings, offer to bring a healthy side dish. Take on the salad-making responsibilities or try out that roasted veggie dish you’ve been waiting to try. When you bring your own veggies, you can rely on having at least one healthy option on hand.
A healthy and balanced diet includes all foods. They all have a place, even those cookies and cakes. The key to enjoying these treats is practicing mindfulness. Be intuitive about your food choices. Choose foods that you truly enjoy, not just the store-bought cake that someone shoved in your hand. Evaluate which foods really do bring that sense of satisfaction and joy to your life. Choose those. Don’t just eat the candy that doesn’t do much for you because it’s around. Aim for wholesome and deliciousness and take the time to savor that treat slowly.
Physical activity doesn’t have to go out the window because you allowed yourself to enjoy indulgences. Make a point to go on a family walk after dinner or play an active game with friends. Embrace the cold and go for a morning hike before festivities begin or do a yoga video in your downtime. Activity does not need to be strenuous, but you’ll feel much better when you get that blood flowing!
This holiday season, ditch the stress and guilt associated with food. Refocus your holiday to be about spending quality time with friends, family, or giving back to the community. The holiday season is about celebrating the ones you love, rather than the food itself. Work on incorporating foods you love with mindfulness and intention, and experience the liberation from food rules. Check out more ideas on our holiday Pinterest board here! Happy holidays from Let’s Move! STL!
November marks the start of National Diabetes Awareness Month. We want to help spread awareness about managing diabetes with the ABCs of diabetes and tips on eating with diabetes.
So What is Diabetes?
When you have diabetes, you either make no insulin or not enough, which makes it difficult or impossible for your body to utilize carbohydrates.
After you eat carbohydrate-containing foods (starchy vegetables, grains and baked items, fruit, and dairy foods), your body breaks the carbohydrates down into a sugar called glucose. Once the carbohydrates are broken down, the glucose produced gets absorbed into the blood. Glucose is used as fuel for your cells. In order for your cells to use the glucose, it needs to move from the blood into the cells. This is where insulin plays a role. Insulin is a hormone that acts like a key that unlocks the cell and allows glucose to enter.
There are Two Types of Diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes: The body does not make insulin in this form of diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day. Type 1 is an autoimmune condition that typically appears earlier in life.
Type 2 diabetes: The body does not make insulin or use insulin well. People with type 2 diabetes may need to take pills or insulin. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes.
ABCs of Diabetes
The American Diabetes Association and the American College of Cardiology have teamed up to raise public awareness of the “ABCs of diabetes”. Managing your ABCs will help lower your chances of having a heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, or other diabetic complications.
A is for the A1c test: This test shows your average blood glucose levels over the last 3 months. The A1c goal for most people is below 7%.
B is for blood pressure: The blood pressure goal for most people is 120/80. A goal of 140/80 is appropriate for most people with diabetes. High blood pressure can put too much stress on your organs. It can cause heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease.
C is for cholesterol: Cholesterol measures the amount of fat in your blood. The goal for most people is a value below 200 mg/dL for total cholesterol, less than 100 mg/dL for low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), and above 40 mg/dL (men) and 50 mg/dL (women) for high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol can build up and clog your blood vessels. HDL cholesterol helps remove cholesterol from your blood vessels. Higher total cholesterol values put you at risk for a heart attack or a stroke.
D is for daily exercise: Stay physically active every day. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity per day or 150 minutes per week. Exercise can also help keep your blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure in check.
E is for eating well: Control your portion sizes, and stay on a regular meal schedule. Aim for the appropriate amount of carbohydrate calculated by your doctor or registered dietitian at each meal.
F is for foot care: Check your feet for sores, blisters, or injuries every day. Diabetes can make you more prone to infections. Always wear well-padded shoes and try not to walk around barefoot.
Eating with Diabetes
Good diabetes self-care means following your meal plan and keeping track of what you eat and drink. Eat a variety of foods in the right amounts, check labels for calories, total carbohydrate, total fat, and sodium amounts, and eat regularly. Avoid foods that are too high in calories, cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. Eating regularly throughout the day (every 3-4 hours), can also help to regulate blood sugar levels throughout the day.
MyPlate is a great way to balance out your meals and control your carbohydrate intake. MyPlate focuses on filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, ¼ of your plate with a carbohydrate source or starchy vegetable, and ¼ of your plate with a lean protein.
Healthy Food Choices Include:
Tips for Dining Out:
At the end of the day, living an active life with a balanced diet can help manage your diabetes. Always make sure you check with your doctor or registered dietitian for methods to manage your condition.
American Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.org
Joslin Diabetes Center: www.joslin.org
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: www.eatright.org
Written By: Katie Gallagher, MA, RDN, LD
These days there seems to be extra focus around the amount of added sugars in the standard American diet. This month, we’re focusing on added sugars in our diets and the many different effects that too much sugar can have on our health.
What are added sugars?
All sugar is a form of carbohydrates that give you energy and raises blood sugar levels. There are two different types of sugar: natural sugar and added sugar.
Natural sugars are those already present in foods such as fruit, dairy, and even some vegetables. Foods that contain natural sugars also provide important vitamins and minerals and other nutrients that help our bodies function.
Added sugar is sugar or sugar products, such as syrups, that are added into foods when they have been processed or added in baking or cooking. The downfall of added sugar is that it contains little to no other beneficial nutrients like vitamins or minerals.
So what are the health effects of too much added sugar?
Too much added sugar can contribute to many different health effects. Added sugar can contribute to heart disease, raise triglyceride levels, increase blood sugars, and promote tooth decay. It can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and other chronic diseases, which is why it’s important we limit our intake.
Additionally, added sugars digest very quickly. This quick digestion may lead to a short burst of energy that might feel jittery, shaky, or unfocused. The quick energy burst then also leads to a fast energy drop, that might feel like fatigue, less focus, and even make you feel hungry. When we limit added sugars throughout the day, we might be able to notice the positive benefits to satiety and focus in the moment.
So how much is too much?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans should limit their consumption of added sugars to less than 10% of their total daily calories. According to the American Heart Association, women should limit added sugar to 25 grams per day and men should limit their added sugar intake to 36 grams per day. This is equal to 6 teaspoons in women and children, 9 teaspoons in men.
To put that in perspective, one 16 oz. bottle of soda typically contains about 52 grams of sugar, or 13 teaspoons. That’s almost double what we should have in one day!
How you can decrease added sugar?
Added sugar is often hidden in many foods. The highest sources of added sugars can be found in juices, soda or soft drinks, baked goods, candy, sugary cereals, flavored yogurt, and ice cream.
To begin reducing added sugar in your diet, you must know how much added sugar you are consuming. Reading the nutrition facts panel is the best way to find out how much sugar is in certain items. Check out this list of common names for added sugar here that you can find in the ingredient list on the nutrition facts label.
One of the simplest way to decrease your added sugar intake is to avoid sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages. Try drinking water flavored with fresh fruit or herbs. Sparkling water can be another excellent way to switch up your water intake.
Other ways to reduce sugar in your diet, is to find alternative foods to satisfy your sweet tooth. If you find yourself reaching for sugary treats late at night, try to find healthier options to still get in something sweet. Other options might be:
Added sugar is hidden in a lot of the foods that we eat. Too much of this sugar can contribute to many different chronic diseases. As a part of a healthy lifestyle, work on your relationship with these sugary foods. You don’t need to completely eliminate them, but rather save them for special occasions and enjoy them as a part of a healthy, balanced diet.
By: Katie Gallagher, MA, RDN, LD
September is here which means that summer heat is coming to an end and the chill of the fall is soon to set in (depending on that Missouri humidity). Chilly fall days often call for cozy comfort foods. Give your comfort dishes a nutritional boost with whole grains.
Did you know that the month of September is dedicated to celebrating whole grains? Arguably, whole grains might be one of the most underrated health foods on the market. In this month’s blog, we’ll talk whole grains 101, why whole grains are often the healthier choice, how to find whole grains, and ways to incorporate whole grains into your daily routine.
Whole Grains 101
So what is a whole grain? By definition, a whole grain is made with or containing whole unprocessed grain. But what does that really mean? All grains are grown naturally in the whole-grain form. A grain has three major parts: the bran, the endosperm, and the germ. The bran is the outer shell of the grain that contains B-vitamins and most of the fiber. The endosperm contains carbohydrate and small amounts of vitamins and minerals. Finally, the germ contains the bulk of the B-vitamins, protein, and healthy fats in the grain.
Why Are Whole Grains The Healthier Choice?
Refined grains were created in the early 1800s to create a more edible and longer lasting grain product. To refine a grain, the germ and the bran are removed, only leaving the endosperm. Now if we recall from above, the germ and the bran have the bulk of the fiber and nutrients of the grain. So through refining, the grain loses some nutrition and fiber. According to the Whole Grain Council, “Without the bran and germ, about 25% of a grain’s protein is lost, and are greatly reduced in at least seventeen key nutrients.”
As dietitians, we often recommend choosing whole grain versions of grains and starches in order to get the most nutrition and fiber from our foods. Fiber can help promote fullness, increase digestive health, and regulate blood sugars, while B-vitamins can help give us energy, and promote brain health.
Finding Whole Grains
So how can you find whole grains? Many grains like amaranth, barley, bulgur, corn, farro, oats, quinoa, brown rice, or sorghum are often found in their whole grain form. The tricky part is finding whole grains within packaged foods or bread and pasta products.
Don't be fooled by the product color or descriptions like wheat or multi-grain. Use these two simple ways to know if you are getting a whole grain:
Including Whole Grains In Your Daily Routine
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend making half of your grain intake from whole grains. Simple ways to incorporate more whole grains in your diet are:
As promised, we have also included some healthy, whole grain, comfort recipes for you to try in these upcoming chilly months!
This month, aim to make at least half of your grains those hearty whole grains. What steps will you take to make whole grains a regular part of your diet? Let us know in the comments!
Written by Katie Gallagher, MA, RDN, LD
In April of this year, dockless bike sharing services rolled out (pun intended) in the St. Louis area. Since then, I’ve been spotting the colorful bikes all over town. I see clusters of the Lime bikes positioned in and around parks in my South city neighborhood. The yellow Ofo bikes popped up along my commute in a more random distribution with a customer’s ride ending at a city street corner or along a neighborhood sidewalk. The new bikes are part of a bike sharing network where bikes are available for short-term use. It’s a trend that has already hit cities like Chicago and D.C. In St. Louis, the system is dockless, meaning you locate the bikes using GPS via a smartphone app. Each bike is self-locking, so it doesn’t require a docking station, providing more flexibility with where you may end your ride.
Our efforts with Let’s Move! STL are to encourage physical activity, and what better way to fit healthy movement into your day than during the daily commute to work or school. Since it is back to school time, I was curious - could bike sharing provide a way for students to try cycling?
My curiosity led me to interview Bill, a Washington University (Wash U) student working as an intern within the Department of Health. Bill moved to St. Louis for school and lives north of the Delmar loop in U City. Though he is no stranger to biking leisurely and owns a bike, his use of the local bike sharing services could offer insight to those of you who may want to try it out.
What led you to try bike sharing?
I used bike sharing on a couple of occasions. The first was to explore Forest Park. I wanted a leisurely bike ride and the flexibility of leaving the bike in the park. If I used my own bike, I’d have to figure out how to get it back to my apartment before meeting up with friends. Bike sharing made it convenient to plan a one-way trip.
The second time I used bike sharing I was meeting up with a friend early in the morning. I didn’t see a convenient bus route and the distance seemed too short for an Uber. My own bike was broken and I spotted the Lime bike. It was right there in the parking lot near my apartment.
It sounds like the bike was right there and it made it very easy to use on that day. How did you locate the bikes at other times?
The smartphone app makes it easy to locate a bike.
Tell us about your experience. What did you like?
It is convenient. The app makes it easy to find a bike and to locate an approved parking zone [you can’t leave them just anywhere]. There is a phone holder on handle bars to make it easier to use the app during your ride.
There are 3 simple steps to get set up:
What could be improved?
It isn’t a comfortable ride on rough roads and paths. The wheels are hard and there is no spring action where the frame meets the wheel so you feel the road with each bump. It may be best for a paved, dedicated bike trail.
With my own bike, I can adjust the gears for hills. This isn’t the case with the Lime bike so it is challenging riding up a hill and there is no traction when riding down hill. The seat can be adjusted for height but the frame is not adjustable. The handle bars are wide set so the bike is more “one size fits all”. Since it isn’t tailored to your size, it isn’t designed for faster cycling.
How do you think the bike sharing could impact active transportation within the city?
My thoughts - without a dock, these bikes offer more flexibility in terms of where you can end your route, but it could mean a more haphazard placement. I’ve seen them knocked over on a sidewalk. I do see them on the Wash U and Saint Louis University campuses so students are using them.
What would you tell others who may be considering using the service?
It’s worth a try. Bike sharing companies are still finding their niche. I think St. Louis has a way to go in terms of “bike culture”. Ofo got started in China where there is more of a bike culture and the cost was more affordable.
If you are a first time cycler, inform yourself of the rules of the road and tips for safely riding, like wearing a helmet. Also, bikes offered in bike sharing programs may be best for adults as bike fit is important when it comes to children riding safely.
Bike sharing may be a great way to try a new form of active transportation or to give cycling a go as a new leisure activity. It sounds like Ofo is pulling out their bikes in the St. Louis area, but Lime bike is sticking around so you still have a chance to try it out.
More great resources:
Greenway Search: Locate Greenways with this handy tool!
St Louis Bicycle Works: Earn a bike program gives kids a chance to earn a free bike while learning about bike safety and maintenance.
St. Louis City resources to help you cycle safely: Bicycling Safety in St. Louis
Trailnet: They are making walking and biking in St. Louis better for everyone with routes, group rides, and advocacy.
Check out their page on Confident City Cyclin
Recent research has shown that recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake are not being met in the U.S. Only about 12% of adults are getting enough fruit intake, and about 9% are getting enough vegetable intake. Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals that are not in other food groups. They also have fiber and antioxidants which help us stay healthy! It is recommended to get about 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables each day. Start by slowly increasing your fruit and vegetable intake and build up to the recommendations once you have found an approach that works.
Although the colder winter months bring some challenges with finding fruits and vegetables in season, it can still be done. There are still plenty of ways to reap all the health benefits of produce even when it is freezing cold outside. Try to purchase seasonal produce as much as possible (seasonal produce listed below).
Don’t let the winter months discourage your fruit and vegetable intake. Instead, get creative and and enjoy some different selections and recipes. A little extra time and planning can improve your health in the long term.
The Health Department is striving to increase its reach to those most in need and enhance its inclusiveness for people with disabilities. To that end, Melissa Ramel, a nutrition coordinator with Nutrition Services, along with Saint Louis University (SLU) nutrition graduate students Yiwei Zhao and Allie Howard, provided a fun, interactive series of cooking classes for seniors at the Patch Neighborhood Senior Center. Although the seniors in this neighborhood live independently, about half of the ones at this center were living with disabilities. Being able to learn beneficial skills and behaviors that could be used at home could benefit them greatly.
The goal of the cooking classes was to educate the participating seniors and promote healthy living through proper diet and physical activity. This was accomplished through a series of six classes. Each of the six classes included a specific nutrition topic and a tasty recipe that participants made and enjoyed at the center. The class topics ranged from MyPlate basics to adequate hydration to the importance of protein to nutrition label reading. Each recipe was chosen based on the number of ingredients, time it took to prepare, and likeliness of reproducibility.
The classes were specifically tailored to allow maximum participation from all seniors regardless of ability. Each week, all thirteen participants were encouraged to help prepare the recipe and refresh their memory on food preparation safety and cooking skills. Participants not actively engaged in preparing the recipe were part of the nutrition education activities and discussions. At the end of each class, all participants received a bag of groceries to take home. The groceries included most of the ingredients used for making that week’s recipe. This allowed them to recreate the recipes at home and enhanced their food security, a concern for many seniors on fixed or limited incomes.
Overall, the classes were beneficial for the participants. Through evaluation and observation, behavior changes were apparent. One notable example according to Ramel involved the use of the water cups provided during week three. Participants faithfully brought them to class and only filled them with water. Although the participants had varied backgrounds and ability levels, they all expressed their enjoyment with the class and continued interest in making healthier choices. In addition, working with the Patch Neighborhood Center created a new partnership, one that will allow for additional nutrition educations and cooking demonstrations in the future.
Seniors are one of the most vulnerable populations today. Many are at an age where chronic diseases and disability can set in, and both support and resources may be limited. Teaching these seniors how to apply beneficial cooking skills and health behaviors, will help them to have a better quality of life in spite of whatever challenges they face.
Nutrition Services is a contracted function between the City St. Louis Department of Health and Saint Louis University’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nutrition and dietetics professionals are available to provide health/nutrition education, perform cooking demos/classes, and educate community members on healthy lifestyle changes throughout the City. To schedule Nutrition Services for your agency, please contact us at 314/657-1571 or RamelM@stlouis-mo.gov.
Written by: Melissa Ramel, MS, RD, LD