Promoting Nutrition Education and Sustainable Eating Practices for National Nutrition Month

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Laura Brown, MS, RDN, LDN, discusses the importance of National Nutrition Month, collaborating with pharmacists, promoting sustainable eating habits, and overcoming common nutrition misconceptions

In an interview with Pharmacy Times, Laura Brown, MS, RDN, LDN, from Kroger Health discussed National Nutrition Month and its focus on making informed nutrition choices and developing healthy eating habits. She emphasized the importance of nutrition in preventing chronic diseases and encouraged pharmacists to collaborate with registered dietitians to help patients manage their medications and health conditions through nutrition. The discussion also covered sustainable eating practices like reducing food waste and incorporating local, in-season produce to benefit health and the environment. Additionally, Brown provided tips for making nutritious choices while eating outside the home and introduced Kroger's OptUP nutrition rating system to help customers shop and eat more healthfully.

Laura Brown, MS, RDN, LDN

My name is Laura Brown. I am a registered dietitian by trade and the director of nutrition here at Kroger Health. So, Kroger Health is the health care arm of the Kroger Company, which is one of the largest retailers in America. With Kroger Health we have 3 pillars— we have pharmacy, our little clinic, and nutrition. So, I oversee our nutrition team, and our food is medicine initiatives. So, everything around nutrition policy, our programs, and products we are developing, that is me and my team.

Key Takeaways

  1. Nutrition plays an important role in both preventing chronic diseases and helping patients better manage existing health conditions and medication side effects through medical nutrition therapy and collaboration between pharmacists and registered dietitians.
  2. Making small, sustainable changes like reducing food waste, cooking more at home, and choosing local, in-season produce can significantly benefit both individual health and the environment.
  3. Resources like Kroger's tele-nutrition services and OptUP nutrition rating system can help educate people on making informed, balanced choices and simplify healthy eating whether dining at home or on the go.

Kennedy Ferruggia, Pharmacy Times

Amazing. We are going to discuss a little bit about food as medicine, so that's great.

Can you give a brief overview on the aim behind National Nutrition Month?

Brown

Yeah, absolutely. So National Nutrition Month is the annual campaign from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, that are committed to improving the health of Americans while also advancing the profession of Nutrition and Dietetics through research, education, and advocacy.

Brown

National Nutrition Month is celebrated every single March by the Academy. The focus of National Nutrition Month is to celebrate nutrition and educate on the importance of making informed nutrition choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

Ferruggia

Great, excellent.

So, shifting gears, as a registered dietician, what are some common misconceptions about nutrition that are shared among individuals that could be working towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle, or having a healthy relationship with food?

Brown

That's a really great question. So, with technology, with the way our society is, nutrition is just kind of always on mind. And so, a lot of times people are constantly in flux with fad diets, with very black and white thinking around nutrition, it's super common. When I was working directly in patient care, so often, I had people coming to me, and they were very confused on what was healthy and what wasn't. They were asking questions like, well, should I not eat this food, because it's bad for me, or I should not eat this food because that's bad for me. But the reality is that all foods fit into a balanced diet, there really is no such thing as a good or a bad food. So that's a really important characteristic around our philosophy here at Kroger Health is to find balance with your nutrition choices and not demonize any food. Because the reality is that food is yes, 100% about nutrition, it's about preventing and managing chronic diseases. But it's also so much more than that. So, if I was to say that every single time I consume food, it's just for nutrition, I would be quite frankly, lying. Nutrition is about joy. It's about traditions, it's about your culture, it's about relationships, and enjoying, you know, a bowl of ice cream with your grandma, because that's something that you did growing up as a child.

So, it's really important that people find balance with food and find joy in eating. It can be extremely liberating and can really change the way you not just look at food, but also experience life. So rather than focusing on what not to eat, I really encourage people to focus on what can you add to your plate? How can you add more nourishing foods to your plate, because that can make a huge impact on overall health and nutrition while also promoting a really positive relationship with food. So, you know a great example, if I go back to that ice cream example. Let's not say we can't eat ice cream, but can we maybe add a serving of fruit with the ice cream. So, when you have a bowl of ice cream, can you also have a half a cup of strawberries for instance and help yourself to get that 5 servings of fruits and vegetables in per day when you're enjoying a sweet treat.

Ferruggia

Yeah, great. I love that answer. I feel like it definitely ties into diminishing diet culture and adding a more friendly aspect to food.

Transitioning to food as medicine, is recently became a focus in the health care system. So how does nutrition have a well-established link with the overall health and health issues that individuals could possibly face?

Brown

That's a great question. And like I said before, we know that we do eat for nutrition and nutrition is a component in preventing and managing chronic diseases. Poor nutrition is actually 1 in 4 main risk factors for preventing chronic diseases and sub optimal nutrition. It's a leading risk factor for deaths worldwide. So here at Kroger we have our food as medicine platform. It's led by our team of registered dietitians, and our aim is to deliver a dedicated, educated and personalized approach to eating and enjoying foods that we can live healthier lives and prevent illness before it starts. Our goal at Kroger Health is to continue to simplify health care, make it easier for Kroger customers to prevent chronic disease.

People go to the grocery store more often and they go to the doctor's office. They're going to the grocery store 2, 3, 4 times a week. So, it really makes a unique opportunity for grocery stores to impact health and help to improve overall health and decrease health issues that individuals might face.

Ferruggia

Definitely, yeah. It's going to be great to see how that comes to light more.

Since March is National Nutrition Month. How can pharmacists sort of raise awareness and promote healthy and sustainable habits?

Brown

I would encourage pharmacists to establish relationships with registered dietitians. They are the leading experts in nutrition and create those relationships that you can have an opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration and care. You are going to be hard pressed to find a medication that is not going to benefit from some nutrition advice and or maybe even medical nutrition therapy. So, some example if a patient's on a medication that's managing their chronic disease risks such as diabetes, medical nutrition therapy can really work well, concurrently to help further improve disease outcomes and decrease these disease risk. Similarly, you might have a patient who is on a medication for an acute disease. And dietitians can be really key in helping to provide recommendations to manage and decrease medication side effects. For instance, antibiotics— I have two little ones and they are constantly on antibiotics for their poor ear infections. So, you know, gut health is really important when you're on those antibiotics. And so, a dietitian can really help to provide those tailored recommendations on how can nutrition play a component into decreasing side effects of the antibiotics and maintaining gut health while you're on that medication.

Brown

So, at Kroger, we see that value that dietitians can provide to the pharmacy can provide the pharmacy patients. So that's why we have made it really easy for our Kroger pharmacists to refer patients directly to Kroger health dietitians through our electronic health medical system. With just one easy click of a button, pharmacists can refer the patients to our telling Nutrition Services, which is our virtual nutrition counseling services that allow patients to connect one on one with our registered dietitians. We offer these services to pro customers nationwide in 44 states. The dietitians can again not just help with managing medications, the side effects of medications, and preventing disease, improving medication outcomes, but also navigate food budgets, nourish their critical and chronic health conditions and learn how to shop online learn how to cook at home. So, lots of services that those dietitians can provide.

Ferruggia

That's excellent. That's a great resource also.

Ferruggia

Since this year's theme for National Nutrition Month is Beyond the Table, which addresses the Farm to Fork aspect of nutrition. What benefits does this provide to the overall health?

Brown

Farm to Fork can be an important aspect to keep in mind not just for our physical health, but also for the health of our environment. When we say farm to fork, what we're talking about here is the footprint that your food has. So that's the result of everything that it takes to make food and get it to your home. So, think about the farming, the processing of the food, the transportation of the food, the cooking of the food— all of these things take food from farm to fork, to eat. There are things that consumers can do to change their shopping and cooking behaviors that can make it more sustainable. That's going to just improve your overall health as well as the health of our environment. Cooking at home more is a really key thing we are thinking about beyond the table farm to fork. So not just eating more at home, which is going to help you to obviously have more control over the foods that you're putting into your body, but then thinking about how you can reduce food waste. So, a great example would be when you have fresh produce and you are cooking up, let's say a kale salad and you're cutting off the stems rather than throwing the stems away. You can store those stems in an airtight baggie, put it in the freezer and then when you're ready to make a smoothie, throw those stems into a blender and then you have some not just veggies in nutrition, you're adding some veggies in nutrition to your smoothie. So just a really easy way to reduce that food waste and up your nutrition. So, you're not just improving again, the health of the environment, but the health of yourself too. Also figuring out ways to not let that food go bad. So, I don't know about you, but so often, you can buy some food, and you have every intention of using it. But if you don't have a plan on how to use that food, it might go bad. That's not great for the environment, and it's not great for your health, too. We say all the time, if you buy the nutritious food, that's step one, but you have to get it in your body, right. So having that plan of how you're going to use that food and not let it go to waste can be extremely beneficial to be really sustainable.

Brown

Our program health dietitians are fantastic resources for this. They can teach you how those little ticks and trips, like the kale stems, and then give you tips on how you can save money, stretch your dollar, and increase your intake of produce. The other component too, is shopping sustainably. You can do that at your local Kroger grocery store. So buying local, and in season produce can go a huge way for the environment, as well as for your health.Produce that is in season is going to be higher in antioxidant content. So, antioxidants are disease fighting chemicals that are found in our foods. If you buy that produce when it's in season, it's going to have more of those great nutrients in there for you. Kroger makes it really easy for customers to find the I'm local and in in season produce at the store. There's a I am local tag that you can find on that produce and that really can help the customer locate that. Then also thinking about, can you just buy those more sustainable foods, things like oats, beans, lentils, figs, key wall, mushroom, leafy greens, these are very sustainable foods— finding ways to pull them into your diet as often as possible. Having oatmeal for breakfast, a bean and lentil salad as part of your lunch, maybe having quinoa with some mushrooms on it as a side at dinner time. So, lots of ways to just be sustainable in that and what you purchase and put into your cart.

Ferruggia

Yeah, definitely. Those are all great tips, so thank you for sharing those.

This month's theme also addresses what various ways and settings that individuals eat. How can the settings negatively impact nutrition and health?

Brown

That's a great question. We know that the dinner table is just one location that meals can occur. Meals are often consumed on the go. You can consume them at school, at work, restaurants, games, events. And so, when meal time does occur beyond the table, and it's not just at the dinner table, we know that there's a lot of confounding factors that can influence our nutrition and health. Some of them are just out of an individual's concern. An example is just lack of time to prep a balanced meal. If you're not eating breakfast on the go every single day and you don't have that time to create a balanced meal for yourself, then it's kind of out of your control and so you're just grabbing and going. Or maybe if you're eating away from home, you're eating at a basketball game. So, you're going to a basketball game and the only option there is what that the vendor is providing you, so you don't have control over those menu items. That obviously has the potential to negatively impact your health. But really, the reality is, is that you just must have a plan because it doesn't have to negatively impact your health. This is where working with a dietitian, especially a retail dietitian can be extremely helpful. Retail dieticians are product experts, they can introduce you to products that are convenient and can help you to have something on the go. That can really help you so that you can balance your plate all the time. On the go breakfast does not have to negatively impact your health. That's kind of a misconception people think on the go means, going through the drive thru or grabbing something that's not nutritious out of the pantry. But there are lots of amazing products at the Kroger grocery store that my team could introduce you to that can really help you to have really nutritious meals, that you can eat while you're driving down the highway.

Brown

Dietitians can also provide really great tips on meal preparation. You can prepare meals ahead of time, so you have easier on the go options, and then tips and techniques for navigating meals outside the home. Now, is there a way that when you go to the arena for the basketball game, a dietitian can help you to navigate and create a plan for making maybe a more nourishing meal choice. Again, all foods fit. There's no such thing as a bad food. Maybe that is the time where you choose a food that isn't necessarily about nutrition, it's just about the fact that it's a game and you want to eat that food and it sounds good to you. That's okay and just looking at those meals outside the arena to make sure that your entire day, your entire week is very balanced.

Brown

I think the other component too, that I would be remiss to not bring up is how we eat. You know, we live in a day of distractions. We live in a day of technology of go, go, go go. It can be really detrimental to not just our relationship with food, but the speed at which we eat, a mindfulness that we have. I always encourage people to put the phone down at mealtime, turn off the TV, step away from your work, step away from the computer to truly enjoy your meal. Because pleasure and enjoyment are a big reason why we eat. And so don't forget about that. Sit down and look at your meal, look at the colors, the textures, the smells, taste it and enjoy every single bite, even slow and mindful. That can really improve your health and nutrition, not just your relationship and your mental wellness there, but also, it's going to improve your gut health. There's research to show that the speed at which you eat can negatively impact your gut health if you're eating too quickly. It can help you to recognize those signs of fullness sooner so you're not overeating as well.

Ferruggia

Definitely, yes, that is great. Also, more great tips that I'm happy to share with everyone.

Ferruggia

That's all the questions I have. But is there anything else? Anything else?

Brown

Yeah, I think I would just love to circle back to the fact that Kroger does offer our talent nutrition services. So, we have dietitians, available in 44 states nationwide. If that's something that you heard me talking about today, and really interest you, I would encourage you to visit https://www.kroger.com/health/clinic/virtual-care#telenutrition to learn more and schedule an appointment with our dietitian.

The other resource that I have to share with listeners is our OptUP nutrition rating system. Maybe you're not quite ready to jump in and schedule an appointment with a dietitian, but you're still looking for a tool to help guide you to make healthy choices. OptUP would be the tool for you. OptUP is Kroger's industry leading nutrition rating system that helps shop shoppers to simplify their shopping experience and find those more nourishing foods. OptUP scores a food or a product on a scale from 1 to 100. The higher the score, the more nourishing and healthful that food is going to be for your health in your body. And so, what we've done here is we've actually trained an algorithm to think like a registered dietician. It takes into account the fact that food is not black and white, that nutrients are very synergistic. It considers the fact that just because it may have a little bit of added sugar, let's look at the whole picture. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's a food you need to avoid. So, it takes all these factors into consideration and gives you that score1 to 100. They also give some color coding, which is really helpful for consumers. It gives a green, yellow, and red color coding to help identify those green foods that you want to add to your cart as often as possible. These are the foods that should make up 50% of your cart or more. So, think those fresh fruits and vegetables, absolutely. But the canned and the frozen as well. And then the orange foods, those are still very nutritious foods. We should add them to our cart, they should be 40% of our cart. So still great food options. Then the red foods is 10%, so just foods we want to be more mindful of. We don't want to avoid them, certainly want to purchase some candy for Easter, if you celebrate Easter in a couple of weeks here or you know have yourself a bowl of ice cream from time to time. But looking to see, is there may be an opportunity to opt up from a red to an orange or from an orange to green. That's the other component of OptUP is that there are product recommendations on each product page that can give you a higher scoring alternative to consider if you are interested in making some changes. Then as a whole, you can navigate to your mind nutrition insight page, if you are a Kroger shopper to see what your purchase history looks like. Are you purchasing 50% of your cart in that green zone or are you a little under and you need to look for some more green items to help improve your overall health. So just a really great tool that if you're a Kroger shopper you already have access to it. It's built into your Kroger experience as a Kroger loyalty shopper. I would encourage anyone to take a look at that resource because it's a great way to make those very small changes over time that can make a very big impact on your health.

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