Kerryn, dietitian and founder of The Wholesome Collective was lucky enough to share her food and nutrition philosophy with the lovely Kat Caravella from gushing.com.au, in an interview that covered all things food, including her thoughts on the paleo way and other dietary movements.
Kat: When did you decide you wanted to work in nutrition and what inspired you?
Kerryn: From a young age I was a pretty adventurous eater and just enjoyed food and eating in general (except for chops and sausages). I loved unconventional foods for kids such as sardines, pickled onions, gherkins and pretty much all fruits and vegetables. I was always fascinated by food – how it’s grown and what it does to our body. I think this original interest was inspired by my pops vegetable garden and his passion for homegrown food and sprinkles of bran.
As I grew up I wanted to be vet (I also love animals), but still loved food. When I questioned my future as a vet it was my mum who suggested that I explore the option of becoming a dietitian. I didn’t even know what a dietitian did. But when I started reading I couldn’t believe that I could have a job where I got to talk about food all day! So I worked hard at school toward this goal.
The cooking thing really blossomed when I moved out of home with my now husband in my very early 20’s. I loved cooking out of recipe books and exploring new cuisines. The more I cooked, the more confident I felt experimenting with new ingredients and flavour combinations. I am now extremely passionate about connecting the dots between nutrition and real food using cooking and real food ideas.
Kat: Have you always been health conscious or was there a definitive point in your life that encouraged you to change your lifestyle?
Kerryn: I would say that I have always had a natural instinct to eat for health, which has stemmed from my upbringing. My mums cooking and food prep always focused on real food and the basics of healthy eating – exactly what I preach now. We always had fruit, vegetables, meat, chicken, plenty of freshly caught seafood (a given growing up around beautiful Lake Macquarie), eggs as a family on Sunday and takeaway or more processed foods on occasion. Our treats where homemade slices and cakes (I still think about my mums lemon slice…)
I was also heavily involved in sport growing up and still am. I believe that this has had a huge influence on continuing a healthy lifestyle as an adult.
Everyone who knows me well knows that I also love to indulge, and I’m not afraid to do so. My favourites are spaghetti con vongole with lashings of olive oil, good quality pastries, chocolate and red wine. I’m not afraid to enjoy all foods, because that is part of balanced eating, and part of LIFE! It’s just about finding the healthy balance for you.
Kat: What is a simple way to describe your food philosophy?
Kerryn: Focus on fresh, real foods and don’t complicate it – this also reflects my nutrition philosophy.
I also encourage everyone to look at foods as whole, not as individual nutrients. For example, don’t just judge them in their fat or sugar content but think about what else it brings to the party – is it packaged with a bunch of nutrients, is it going to keep you feeling nice and full, prevent that energy slump and manage those sweet cravings later in the day?
You will notice that my blog and Instagram feed focuses on many vegetarian dishes. I am not a vegetarian but our eating pattern does focus on many vegetarian meals through the week, some grains, plenty of fish and healthy fats, fruit, dairy and a little bit of red meat here and there. This encompasses many aspects of the Mediterranean way of eating. Now this doesn’t mean that this way of eating will be for everyone, nor am I ‘labeling’ how I eat. That’s the thing about nutrition, it is individual and there is no one-sized fits all approach.
I also love Michael Pollan’s philosophy – ‘eat food, not too much, mostly plants.’
Kat: What are your thoughts on extreme diets such as carb free/paleo/quit sugar?
Kerryn: I could talk about this topic all day. Okay, where to start…
Eating for health is so individual and I am the first one to acknowledge that we don’t have all of the answers when it comes to nutrition. Because I work with clients to help them find the best eating pattern for them, I am not going to be quick to dismiss these ‘diets.’ For some people, a lower carb (not NO carb) diet may be beneficial to mange a certain a medical condition, the paleo way may improve a persons irritable bowel symptoms (although this could be done using a more evidence-based way – the low FODMAP approach), or quitting sugar may encourage a person to eat healthier and dump the morning tea biscuits. Although I’m not quick to dismiss, I do have major concerns, opinions and they do often make my blood boil!
I don’t think anyone can argue that limiting processed foods and going for more whole foods is a bad thing, which is the foundation of many of these dietary trends. Also the passion and drive to eat well that often comes with following one of these trends is immense. The problem is how they are often presented to the public. They unnecessarily demonise specific foods and nutrients without considering all of the evidence and the context of a persons eating pattern – both extremely important!
My biggest issues are that often these diets can create a cult like following with followers and leaders suggesting that everyone should be eating this way. They often twist nutrition claims, and don’t get me started on the cashing in associated with these extreme dietary trends. They can also enforce strict rules and regulations around eating, label forbidden foods, come with a hefty price tag (although a healthy option, not everyone can afford grass-fed beef) and can create social isolation for followers. Remember, we don’t just eat for health or weight management but for enjoyment, religious reasons, culture and to celebrate.
These ‘diets’ and movements can often make people feel guilty and unhealthy for NOT following this way of eating. This has certainly led to the formation of unhealthy relationships with food and confusion. I have had clients in tears from feeling guilt and shame when they ‘lash out’ and eat a certain fruit or a slice of bread – what the? No one sees this side of a dietary trend.
I don’t want to take away from people who feel healthier for following one of these approaches. But I would encourage people to think about a few things and seek some professional advice to help them find their healthy balance:
- Are you unnecessarily restricting foods or nutrients?
- Are you still receiving all of the nutrients that you require? For example, are you getting enough fibre – our rates of bowel cancer have increased, our intake of grain foods has decreased.
- Are you following these diets in an unhealthy way? E.g. going paleo doesn’t just mean eat lots of red meat, this has very negative health implications, it can be done in a healthier way.
- Are you just feeling better because you are now eating less energy dense, nutrient poor foods and more whole foods?
- Do you have room to follow the principles of these diets in a more balanced way?
Kat: When you hear of celebrity chef’s like Pete Evans claim that a paleo diet can be a form of ‘medicine’, how, as a qualified nutritionist do you respond?
Kerryn: The one thing Paleo Pete has is passion. However promoting one dietary pattern and touting it as a form of medicine is naïve and scary.
Conventional medicine and current dietary recommendations are based on the best available evidence at the time. The word ‘best available ‘ definitely highlights that we still don’t have all of the answers, but we certainly have some pretty extensive research. Did you know that the Australian Dietary Guidelines were updated in 2013, which involved adjustments to the preexisting guidelines after consideration of more than 55,000 pieces of new scientific research and public consultation!
Making recommendations based on anecdotes and publicly backing claims that are not supported by science (especially when it comes to medical conditions) is scary. If I as a dietitian made claims that a dietary approach cured a medical condition without realms of research, I would probably loose my right to practice. Unfortunately we live in a world where ‘freedom of speech’ via online forums is socially (and legally) accepted.
As health professionals we abide by an ethical code of conduct with the first rule to do no harm. I couldn’t sleep at night if I had falsely given someone hope when my advice didn’t have sound backing.
In response to the criticism of the dietary guidelines, it’s interesting that nutrition surveys show that the majority of our population actually aren’t actually meeting the guidelines, so should they really be to blame? Also, our alcohol intake is high and activity levels are low, but no one really wants to look at these game players. They want something different and sexy.
Kat: What are a few simple diet tips that you live by (such as cutting out butter, cheat days etc.) to ensure healthy eating is a lifestyle change, not a diet?
Kerryn: To be honest I don’t believe in ‘cheat days.’ Without trying to sound all ‘airy fairy’ the word CHEAT places a negative tone on food and just forces another rule around eating. To eat for health I just listen my body and what it really feels like. If I feel like chocolate I just eat it and enjoy it without guilt (not gobble it up as quickly as I can to hide the evidence). A bit here or there will not negatively impact on your overall health if you find your healthy balance. If everyone really listened to their body they would find that they actually feel like fresh, nourishing foods most of the time and more indulgent foods just some of the time. This helps to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
I also believe that organisation underpins a healthy lifestyle. Most weeks I plan what we will eat ahead of time. I go shopping and make sure we have plenty of food available – I either prep meals ahead of time or plan quick and healthy meals for the week. This is a must, especially for those with a busy lifestyle!
Kat: What are 5 must-have ingredients in the house at all times and why?
Greek yoghurt is a very versatile food. I add it to smoothies, have it as a filling snack with some berries and nuts, put it on my porridge and make dressings out of it (as simple as Greek yoghurt with some olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and seeded mustard). It also bumps up the protein and calcium content of your meal.
A bit like Greek yoghurt, it’s versatile. The process of making ricotta means that it is a high protein food, the type that aids in muscle strength and recovery. It’s also a very stable ingredient when heated so it’s great to use in frittatas and desserts instead of cream. One of my favourite desserts is ricotta filled pears baked in the oven!
Cumin is my favourite spice. I don’t like to use packaged sauces or marinades and I am always looking at ways to add a little flavour and spice. Cumin matches perfectly with other spices such as paprika and ground coriander and works well on its own. I like to rub cumin on salmon before pan-frying, and sprinkle on pumpkin and sweet potato before roasting. Delish!
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
Most dietary trend spruik coconut oil, but the benefits of olive oil are so well established. An extra drizzle of olive oil in the diet has been shown to lower rates of chronic disease and assist with weight management. Its filling, nutrient dense and adds flavour to our food. It’s a win win!
Roasted almonds add a crunch to any dish. I mix them through salads, add them to porridge and muesli and snack on them. I buy them already roasted or roast my own with a sprinkle of cumin and a drizzle of olive oil. The high fat and protein content of all nuts leaves you feeling satisfied all while providing a good nutrient hit!
Kat: What are you currently doing in Adelaide and what’s the greatest part of your job?
Kerryn: At the moment I see clients on an individual basis at a private practice clinic called Nutrition Studio. This is located within Sprout, an interactive cooking school established by Accredited Practicing Dietitian Themis Chryssidis and Celebrity Cook Callum Hann. I also work at the cooking school teaching kids and adults. I love that I get to work with a team of young passionate people that love fresh, real food and cooking. I also love that we get to teach people about nutrition through food, this can really connect the dots and enhance knowledge and skills (in a totally fun way).
I also love the work that I do with clients. I specialise in sports nutrition, diabetes management and have a special interest on women’s health. Many people think that dietitians just use the Australian Dietary Guidelines and tell people what to eat. If that were the case we wouldn’t need four years of study. We tailor nutrition education around a persons goals, current lifestyle, current eating pattern, food preferences, dietary patterns, medical conditions, medications, culture, morals, attitudes, barriers, knowledge and skills. This is both challenging and rewarding.
Kat: You are moving back to your hometown of Newcastle (with husband, future Newcastle Jets defender, Nigel Boogaard). What do you plan on doing when you get here?
Kerryn: Yes we will be heading back in June this year!
I am currently working on setting up a food and nutrition consulting business. I have spent the last 5 years in Adelaide establishing a pretty cool set of skills that has involved writing, guest speaking, group education, cooking, resource development, recipe writing, menu reviews and individual counselling (online, phone and face-to-face). I think its time to establish and market these services, which I am totally excited about!
Kat: What are your ultimate aspirations as someone working in nutrition? Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Kerryn: I really hope that I can continue to run my business (lets hope it grows in 10 years) and have a positive influence on people’s perspectives, knowledge and skills around eating and nutrition. I think this interview has clearly highlighted some of the issues surrounding nutrition and I would like to be one of the leaders in moving forward.
One thing we haven’t clearly highlighted in this interview is the need to prevent chronic disease and the role nutrition and establishing a healthy lifestyle plays. I would love to see more funding in preventative health and would love to work closer with childcare centres, schools and sporting clubs to teach children and teens the skills to live a healthy balanced lifestyle.