Nutritionist Ginger Hultin Looks at Health From Different Angles

Monday August 9th

There’s a lot of chatter about what health looks like in this post-COVID world. From increasing your immunohealth and fighting off disease to anti-diet cultural movements, there’s a lot to say on the topic of health. Fresh Chalk CEO Liz Pearce sat down with Ginger Hultin, a nutritionist who coined her practice “Champagne Nutrition,” because she believes you can still eat nutritiously while enjoying a cold glass of bubbly or two. Ginger has made it her mission to meet clients where they’re at and come up with a personalized health plan that works best for them and accomplishes goals they set for themselves, because health looks and feels different on everyone.

Tell us about the term “intuitive eating” and what it means.

People have been talking about intuitive eating since the late '70s feminist movement. There was a piece called Fat is a Feminist Issue, and that was sort of the beginning of these conversations. Through the '80s and '90s, it was there, but it was very fringe. Fast forward to today, there's been a backlash against diet culture. Diet culture is all over social media, every image that we get idolizes and celebrates thin bodies rather than larger bodies. As a result, there's an intuitive eating movement that I think is stronger than ever. In 1995, there was a book written by Evelyn Tribole called Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, and this was the foundation for intuitive eating work.

Ever since then, there's been a lot of documents, manuscripts, and books about how to do intuitive eating, and how to change that type of mentality. I'm champagne nutrition, so for me, I think that people should be able to drink champagne if they want and still be nutritious. For other people that could be pizza, or whatever you like to eat, and still live a healthy life at the same time. So I am pretty anti-restriction, but I think there's a balance there.

Can you give us a little bit more of an in-depth exploration of what it is exactly?

There’s 10 steps to intuitive eating and a lot of people will start with one, then work their way through all 10 or look at the 10 steps and decide where they want to jump in to begin. The first step is rejecting the diet mentality. Stop dieting, stop trying to lose weight and look at things from a different angle. There's also the step of honoring your hunger, so eating when you're hungry, but also feeling your fullness and stopping when you're full. Then there’s a step for making peace with food. Stopping the war on food, not calling it good or bad, challenging that inner food police that says, "Donuts are bad, broccoli is good." Then there’s a step about  movement, like practicing exercise in a way that's joyful, respecting your body and honoring your health. These are just some of the foundational principles of intuitive eating, but there’s a whole program as well.

Is saying that you shouldn't worry about losing weight under any circumstances right for people's health overall?

There's a movement that goes along with intuitive eating called HAES, which stands for Health At Every Size. It communicates that just because you have more fat mass or have a higher BMI, or just because you live in a larger body, that doesn't automatically mean that you're not healthy. And on the other hand, if you're living in a smaller body, that doesn’t mean you’re automatically more healthy. You could have a very high BMI and feel good, have normal blood levels, normal cholesterol and be completely healthy, maybe more so than a person living in a smaller body. It really addresses why we associate body type with health so much and how can we start to honor the individual sizes of different bodies instead.

I know that I'm supposed to accept myself as I am, no matter what I weigh, but I still find myself seeking a way to eat that would allow me to consume foods that I like, but also lose weight. Is that possible within this framework or is it better to focus on what feels good for your body?

Intuitive eating completely rejects the idea of trying to lose weight. I personally value meeting each person where they're at and if a client comes to me and says, "I want to be more intuitive when I eat and it's important to me to lose weight," I'll explore that with them. I'll also assess if I think they have an eating disorder, disordered eating and talk about their relationship to food and their body. Some people I help, they lose weight, some people I help, they gain weight.

When it comes to my kids, I'm guilty of buying junk food like many other moms. At the same time, I want to help my kids have a healthy relationship with food where they can enjoy healthy food, but also don't beat themselves up for having an ice cream bar when they feel like it. Is there a way to kind of incorporate some of this healthy kind of food relationship principles of intuitive eating with kids?

Kids are the original intuitive eaters. If you’ve ever been frustrated by your toddler going on food strikes, like eating only one thing, or some days they eat so much and other days they won't eat anything. Or kids that say, "No, I don't want that, I'm not hungry." Those kinds of situations are children being intuitive and they lose that mindset along the way because sometimes we weaponize food. We say things like, "You have to eat everything on your plate or you don't get dessert."

I really want to acknowledge how insanely frustrating it is to feed kids. Every parent is doing their best and always mean well when it comes to their kids, but the Clean Plate Club mentality can cause a lot of challenges in the future. Using food as a punishment or reward is something that can cause conflict and issues with someone’s relationship with food.

One of the Fresh Chalk members had a question about the gut and mind connection and whether what you eat impacts your mental health or your state of mind. Can you talk a little bit about that?

As we learn more about the gut microbiome, all the hormones and neurotransmitters that are being created there, like serotonin in the gut. I have clients come to me all the time wondering if they can help their depression or anxiety through food. One of the first things I look at is, are you eating too little? Are you skipping meals? Do you have low blood sugar? Those are the factors that will stress your body out and make you anxious. There's also a lot of vitamins and minerals that your brain and gut need to make the feel-good hormones and metabolites. So, yes, what you eat directly affects your gut, which affects your mood and also directly affects anxiety and the way that your brain works.

Are there things that you should try to incorporate in every meal or every snack to check the major nutritional boxes like protein, healthy fats or things that tie directly to anxiety and mood?

One of the most stabilizing types of food out there is protein and a lot of people get out of balance by eating too much fat or carbohydrates and not enough protein. If you only eat a piece of bread for breakfast, you’ll be hungry within the next hour. But, if you add some avocado or peanut butter, which are healthy fats, it’s going to be a lot more stabilizing. Stabilizing your blood sugars and creating that balance in your body is very important.

Let's talk about protein and meat, because many of us are realizing the impact of our food choices on the climate and it's driving a lot of people to give up meat. Can we talk about protein when it comes to vegetarianism, plant-based meats and how people can begin incorporating those in their diets?

In the past, people have come to me about the health benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet to lose weight, control diabetes, help with heart issues, etc. But now, a handful of them are coming to me about these lifestyles because of environmental concerns and animal rights issues. There's a lot of benefits to vegan and vegetarian diets, but there's also a benefit to eating less meat. You don't have to be 100% plant-based to get a lot of these benefits or do your part for the environment and cause less harm to animals. Protein sources are everywhere around us, nuts, seeds, whole grains like oats and quinoa and farrow. And then the plant-based favorites like tofu, tempeh, beans, lentils and edamame. There's so many options that people don't know how to cook with or just forget that they’re there and so a lot of work I do is working with people on incorporating those foods back in.

What do you think about the Beyond Burger, Impossible Burger and the MorningStar Farms patties that are on the market?

I think they're a gift and unfortunately have been villainized. If we're looking at the environmental benefits of eating less meat and animal rights, then eating those foods really helps you get your protein but keep a low environmental footprint. I think the biggest problem people have with these alternative meats is the ingredients. Real meat is just meat, it has one ingredient and it’s unprocessed. Fake meat doesn’t have the same luxury, it has packaging and is generally more processed.

The interesting thing about fake meat is the nutrition is very comparable to the nutrition of real meat. If you're trying to cut your cholesterol down, you're going to be getting a lot of saturated fat from a plant-based burger because they're using coconut oil and they're trying to mimic actual meat. But I will say, a real burger or a real steak is a once-in-a-while thing for a lot of my clients and that doesn’t change if they begin substituting with fake meat and I don't recommend them to be a staple of a plant-based diet because there are healthier alternatives to it, like tofu, beans, etc.

The big topic of the last year has been COVID, and people have been looking for ways to improve their immune health through food. Let's talk about how to include things that we know help your immunohealth like Vitamin D and whether you can get it through food or supplements.

There's a lot of information and studies coming out about different nutrients like Vitamin D and zinc. One thing that they’re seeing is that deficiencies in certain nutrients like vitamin D are a problem, they can always be a problem, but they're a big problem with COVID.

The most important thing is before you begin to supplement certain vitamins is have an idea of where you're at. Ask your physician if you’re low in those vitamins because you can actually get too high if you're taking really high doses of supplements. There are some food sources, but not a lot and that's why a lot of people supplement. It’s not often that we're eating foods on a daily basis that have enough Vitamin D in it, especially when you live in the PNW.

Anything else food-wise that we should think about in terms of immunity? Is it your basic healthy diet, or are there certain foods that are more protective than others?

It really all depends on your general dietary pattern and the quality of the nutrients that you're getting. Making sure that you’re getting the B-vitamins you need from fruits, vegetables, plant-based proteins and whole grains. Vitamin D, Zinc, Vitamin C - these can come from your food sources, but unfortunately, a lot of people aren't eating those healthy whole foods. The best way you can protect your immune system and let it do what it's supposed to do is by eating more fruits, vegetables and plant-based foods.

There's a lot of talk about probiotics, collagen, kombucha and fermented foods. Is there something real there? People weren't taking collagen supplements in the last decade. So what's the deal?

Most of the collagen powder that we have access to comes from two sources, cow or pig. To put it frankly, it's the skin and the bones of these animals. So if you come across a product that claims to be vegan-friendly or plant-based, it’s not collagen. Collagen is the building block of protein, it’s in our skin, nails, hair and joints but as we get older, we lose our collagen. The appeal of collagen for people is that they’re replacing the collagen they’re losing. There's been some really interesting studies that have shown potential benefits in the way that people feel their skin looks and people are extremely motivated to take collagen for beneficial results.

My mother is going through chemo right now and she asked me to talk to you about any recommendations for someone going through chemotherapy as a vegetarian. Is there any special diet that you typically recommend to people who are going through chemo?

The biggest issue with chemo seems to be the side effects and nutrition choice can help navigate side effects during treatment. Navigating what you eat and recognizing if you're feeling nauseous or if you're having constipation or diarrhea, then changing what you’re eating, can be very helpful. I usually recommend softer foods for people in chemo. When you have cancer, you need more calories and protein, but it’s possible to accomplish that on a plant-based diet. Because cancer is very inflammatory I recommend an anti-inflammatory diet. This can be successful for all sorts of conditions, but especially cancer.

Let’s talk about green tea versus coffee as a caffeine source. I know both have antioxidants, but there’s this constant debate of whether one or the other is more likely to contribute to anxiety.

The bottom line that just keeps coming out is that the antioxidants in coffee are very special. They don't really exist in any other food and they do have some really nice health beneficial effects, same thing with green tea. I would say the green light goes to green tea or coffee and it’s a personal choice. Generally, depending on the brew, there is a little bit more caffeine in coffee than tea and caffeine can be anxiety-producing for some people. If you’re drinking caffeine in general and noticing an issue, then you as an individual need to adjust. I think the thing we should talk about the most in terms of coffee and tea is what you're putting in it.

The biggest problem is adding a lot of saturated fat from cream. The other issue is a lot of people add a lot of sugar to their coffee, whether it's straight sugar or syrups or creamers. If you're adding a lot of sugar and high saturated fat to an antioxidant rich beverage, you're still going to have some of those negative outcomes over time.

What does a nutritionist eat? Day in the life. What is a normal breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks for you, under normal operating circumstances?

I really try to practice what I preach. One thing that I focus on with people very much is starting your day with a healthy, balanced meal, taking a break at lunch to eat, and having a balanced dinner. I’m pretty proud that I’m able to take the time for those meals but I'm working on my veggie intake because dietitians don't eat perfectly.

We want to help people understand that even people who have all the knowledge don't necessarily make the perfect choices every time. And that's okay, right?

It really is okay. Dietitians have dietitians, and physicians have physicians. I have so many really smart high-level folks on my caseload. They always say, "I know what to do. I just need help sticking with it." So accountability and support is a major thing that I do with people.

I want specifics, Ginger, specifics. What is on the breakfast plate?

I'll do oats most days with cherries, coconut, and peanut butter. That's one of my favorite mixes. Lunch is usually leftovers because I'm really into meal prepping, so I'll usually meal prep bigger dinners, for example, sheet pan dinners and then rotate them in for lunch. That usually looks like tofu and cruciferous veggies like broccoli or cauliflower, brown rice or potatoes or some sort of quinoa. I add a lot of hot spices, so it’s usually very spice-heavy because that's really good as an anti-inflammatory.

I know you just had a book come out so tell us what the book is about and where we can find it.

It's called The How to Eat to Beat Disease Cookbook. And it’s inspired by a famous doctor named William Li who wrote Eat to Beat Disease. He wrote this big manifesto about all the different ways that food helps our body, supporting our natural immune system and our healthy gut microbiome. My book is a how-to-do-that and an update on the research. I took some food off of his list, added some on to my list, and included a two-week meal plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even baking, like sweet treats and how you can use natural foods to really support your body.

What we're trying to do is eat in a way that helps beat all types of disease because the root is so commonly the same. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, some of the big hitters, its chronic inflammation, poor diet, chronically high blood cholesterol and blood sugar. Those are the roots of these issues so if we can stop that from happening, you're going to help your body in many ways.

Where can we buy your book?

It’s on Amazon and in a few local bookstores like Ballast Book Co, Madison Books, Eagle Harbor and Liberty Day Book. I really want to encourage people to shop local to the places around Seattle and they ship all over the country if you’re not in the area.

We want to know what healthy looks like to you. Whether that's green tea, coffee, collagen, plant-based meat or supplementing the vitamins you need. Leave a recommendation of your own to earn good karma and share your tips and tricks with the Fresh Chalk community.

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