A few weeks ago, Ard’s Farm had the privilege of sitting down with Evangelical Community Hospital dietician/nutritionist Kimberly Criswell for a chat about health in our community. We went over several questions submitted by Ard’s Farm followers online and discussed ways to use nutrition as a tool for a healthy lifestyle.
The conversation began with a topic that was submitted by several members of the Ard’s community: restrictive/exclusionary diets. These range from the trendy keto diet (which is high in fat and protein, low in carbohydrates), to veganism (excludes all animal bi-products), to selectively gluten-free diets, and everything in between. While Criswell was very clear that individuals should adhere to any diet that fits them for personal/ethical reasons, she did lean into a more balanced option from a health perspective.
“In general, I recommend eating as much variety as possible. Nutritional diversity is very ideal for your body. For weight management, I believe that eating a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat—as opposed to a keto style diet—is the most feasible and healthy long-term option.”
She also contributed some food for thought (pun intended) for those who do plan to follow a diet that excludes certain foods: “If you’re avoiding certain types of foods—either because your body does not tolerate them, or for ethical reasons—then, in that case, I would advise searching for something nutritionally similar. So for instance, maybe a soy milk instead of a cow’s milk; or gluten free grains instead of wheat.”
The next topic of interest was nutritional guidelines and suggestions for different age groups. Here at Ard’s, our community is made up of an extremely diverse group; so we hoped to find recommendations to specifically serve some of the age demographics who frequent our market.
On the topic of older community members and tips to help them receive all the nutrition they need from the foods they eat, Criswell said: “At all ages, I’d love to see people eating as much variety as possible; but I notice that as people enter into certain phases of life, they might have certain unique challenges that would affect the variety of food they are able to eat; or even their food preferences. So some of those things can be limiting in their diet. For instance, sometimes people have trouble with chewing. I would say, if there’s something you notice that’s causing you to avoid [particular foods], I would try to substitute something as similar as possible. For instance…cooked fruits and vegetables, or softer protein choices.”
Parents of young children—another group we see often at Ard’s—may want to keep other concerns in mind, such as exposing children to many flavors and textures early. Criswell says, “Moms shopping for young children: I think that’s an awesome time to introduce them to as great of a variety [of foods] as possible, because then they can expand their food preferences from a very young age.”
As our discussion continued, we briefly touched on individuals who are not “broccoli and carrots” consumers. We all know that person who heads straight to the meat section at Ard’s, completely bypassing the produce and green options. To encourage this person to stay diverse, Criswell suggested, “Roasting or grilling really coaxes a lot of flavor from vegetables. And it’s also a great way to prep a selection of vegetables to eat later throughout the week…And also, when I’m preparing vegetables, I like to add a little bit of acid from citrus juices, or try out new spice blends. All so that you’re not eating the same thing every single week…Especially with the grilling. I meet a lot of gentlemen who like to throw a steak on the grill, and next to it they can put a little bit of their asparagus, or zucchini planks, or bell peppers. [Grilling] helps to give it a really special flavor that maybe they weren’t expecting, but they really enjoy.”
When asked what nutritional concerns she has for our area as a whole, Criswell pointed to an increased consumption of processed foods over whole food choices.
“There’s definitely a trend in this area, and even across the country, towards an increased consumption of highly processed foods…What ends up happening, is that you miss out on a lot of nutrients. You miss out on some fiber and some hydration. That in turn creates a whole host of medical issues for people.
But what can we, as consumers, do to minimize these unnecessary health issues? Criswell says it’s as simple as switching things to more natural food options, rather than processed foods and bottled supplements.
“What I would love to see is for people to add more whole foods to their diet, and especially plant-based foods. Those are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and hydration. You can really cover much more of your bases by eating a rich, diverse, plant-based diet; and what’s seen in research is that your nutrients seem to be absorbed better from foods than they are from pills. They call ‘supplements’ that for a reason. They are meant to supplement a diet. So even if you plan to take supplements, I would still rather people focus on getting as much nutrition as they can from their food and use the supplement as a backup plan.”
A diet that is focused on more whole, plant-based foods seems to be the big takeaway, and Criswell encourages local residents to take advantage of what’s in our own backyard during the warmer season in central Pennsylvania.
“I would say really enjoy the fresh, local produce. There is such an abundance of fresh local produce in this area, and you’ll see a shift in different types of produce as the weeks and months go by through the spring, summer, and fall. And it’s going to taste so delicious when it’s picked ripe…The vine-ripened or tree-ripened produce is just so delicious; so I’d really encourage people to take advantage of that.”
Check out the video here.