The Oldways girls saddled up this month to attend The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ annual Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) – a national event that brings dietitians, healthy food manufacturers, and nutrition organizations together under one roof to share ideas, questions, resources, and more. This year’s conference was held in downtown Philadelphia, where we got the latest nutrition buzz from the front lines to share with you.

This year, Oldways had the honor of both hosting an info booth and offering a seminar session to the dietitians. Oldways president, Sara Baer-Sinnott, presented Oldways’ new African Heritage Diet program along with two of our African Heritage & Health committee members—Academy spokespersons and diabetes educators, Constance Brown-Riggs and Angela Ginn-Meadows.

Our three presenters shared the history, science, and powerful health potential of the African Heritage Diet. They also reported on Oldways’ new A Taste of African Heritage cooking class series pilot, happening right now across the country. The audience’s reception was overwhelmingly positive. Many reiterated the need for more culturally centered nutrition programs for African Americans and signed up to teach A Taste of African Heritage classes when available in February, 2013. Others shared cultural initiatives, in the US and overseas, within their practices and communities, and talked about ways to expand.

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Back at the booth, we had a grand time. Dietitians are a fabulous group—bright, passionate, inquisitive, and extremely personable. Interesting dialogues and solution-oriented strategies churned as we talked about the future of health and nutrition. We shared our traditional diet pyramids, plus handouts from our Mediterranean Foods Alliance program, the Whole Grains Council, our exciting new ONE Program for supermarket dietitians, and Oldways Culinaria trips to Puglia, Italy and Madrid, Spain.

So, what were dietitians most eager to chat about with Oldways? Here are some major highlights of what we learned this year:

  • Dietitians are addressing more multicultural audiences. With the rising number of health disparities in minority and immigrant populations, more patients of multi-cultural backgrounds are seeking care. Dietitians see first-hand that many people who immigrate to the United States adopt the standard American diet (appropriately called the “SAD” diet) and end up suffering from diet-related chronic diseases. If dietitians can support patients in keeping their healthy, cultural traditions alive, using traditional foods and culinary techniques from their homeland, they feel they can make a huge difference. “Cultural Food” classes are becoming more popular.
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  • Dietitians still love pyramids! The USDA may have switched to MyPlate from its MyPyramid, but dietitians say they still value pyramids as an optimal teaching tool to convey the big picture of an overall healthy diet. Many dietitians told us that they continue to use Oldways’ pyramids as teaching tools with patients and in their classrooms. Oldways sees great value in the plate model too, as a way to show how a traditional healthy eating pattern translates into meals. That is why we are creating “Plates of Expression” for each of our pyramids that feature familiar, cultural favorites like ratatouille or miso soup.  At Oldways, we like putting the food into nutrition.
  • Elderly populations value the old ways. We had many dietitians talk to us about how well Oldways’ messages resonate with elderly patients when navigating their way to a healthier diet. It wasn’t too long ago that the food traditions we promote were enjoyed, that more people had gardens, and grandparents then shared more global food traditions. It’s especially nice for elderly patients to open up nutrition literature and see the foods and dishes they ate as kids.
  • Plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan diets are all the buzz. If there was one new consensus point we found at FNCE, it’s that most dietitians champion a plant-based eating pattern these days. We met more vegetarian and vegan dietitians than in years past. For patients, whether it’s simply joining the Meatless Mondays campaign*, becoming a modified vegetarian, or going full-on vegan—enjoying a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and other plant foods is applauded almost unanimously by dietitians. All of Oldways’ traditional diet pyramids promote a plant-based eating pattern, and dietitians agree that our gentle message to simply “Change the way you think about meat” is an accessible, positive way to inspire even the most carnivorous of eaters.  (While we attended FNCE, we enjoyed the tasty vegan pizza at Blackbird Café and the fabulous menu at Vedge Restaurant.)
    *Meatless Mondays’ booth was a stone’s throw away from Oldways. We got to meet the movement’s contemporary founder, Sid Lerner, and learned more about this public health campaign’s fascinating history.
  • Top priority: Get America cooking again! Both Oldways and dietitians know that effective nutrition education doesn’t stop at the “what” – what to eat more of, what to eat less of – it has to teach the “how.” Equipping patients with healthy cooking skills ensures better grocery shopping habits and more overall enjoyment in the kitchen. On a less utilitarian note, cooking is such a zesty addition to life. To love to cook is to love to live—Viva la cooking! Oldways’ new A Taste of Heritage cooking class series is our way to get America cooking again, and we’re excited to have a fleet of dietitians waiting to launch these classes all over the country!

-Sarah


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