“And if you want to eat a healthier diet, maybe have better control over your blood sugar, it’s really important that you eat a lot of veggies. If you could make that the foundation of your diet, lots and lots of veggies, cause they’re loaded with nutrients that you really need to control your blood sugar.” - Ruth Clark, RD
Shireen: Ruth Clark is a registered dietician and functional nutritionist. For the past 25 years, Ruth has specialized in helping midlife women who are struggling with weight, fatigue, and mood to create more vitality in their lives. Welcome, Ruth.
Ruth: Hey, it's great to be with you, Shireen.
Shireen: Great to have you on. So diving right? In Ruth, I want to talk to you and understand what sparked your interest in nutrition and want, wanting to become a registered dietician?
Ruth: Well, when probably the most impactful thing that happened to me when I was a child was I lost my dad. And he was only 43 years old, and I was only nine years old. And he died from coronary artery disease and I didn't know then that I wanted to become a nutritionist. But then, you know, as I sort of started to go through school, and really, you know, loved science, and then somebody gave me this book, it was written by adelle Davis, which some of your listeners might remember back from the 1970s. And it kind of changed everything for me, because I realized that I could take what I felt I was strong in, which was science, and couple it with something nutrition, that could really help other families not have the same thing happen to them. And then, when I was 26 years old, I lost my mother to coronary artery disease and I was just sort of like, terrified, because this was way back before we really understood about genetics and epigenetics, and all of that. And it was like, these are the genes that I have what is going to happen to me, but I was lucky because I was actually in, you know, nutrition school at the time. And I was able to sort of start to grasp that, you know, most diseases are like, hugely preventable, like coronary artery disease, 80% preventable if you live a proper kind of lifestyle. So that kind of empowered me. And I was always, I was already on the track to become a nutritionist, but it really helped me get clear about what my mission was in life. And my purpose for being here is to help other families not have to go through that same kind of trauma that we went through. It helped me sort of like really understand how much power we have over the health outcomes that we experienced. And I find that just like, incredibly inspiring and exciting.
Shireen: So that's great, Ruth, speaking of having control in our lives, I want to talk to you about something that you do and you're really passionate about is growing your own plants. So tell us more about the benefits of growing a, you know, your oral plants, your own plants, excuse me and especially during COVID-19, I see a lot of people planting now, tell us to talk to us about that.
Ruth: I would love to and I you know, it still just started out to me as I was like a perennial plant gardener, that's where I started. But several years ago, you know, I started to kind of look at how expensive organic food, yes. And I thought, Well, why don't I just start to grow a good part of our food that we need, you know, at least in the summertime, and into the fall, and that sort of thing. So, you know, I just decided to teach myself I, you know, Google some things online to learn more. And, you know, as a result of that, just really started to develop that as a hobby. And it's wonderful, because it's just fantastic to be able to, you know, get out there and pick food, you know, right from the ground, right off a plant, you know, right off of a bush, and I'm telling my clients all the time, eat as close to nature as you possibly can. And, you know, I can't think of a better way to make that happen than to have, you know, your own veggie garden. And, you know, the truth is, I was a little intimidated about doing it at first because I thought, you know, I don't know if I can be successful at this. But the truth is, I just took what I had learned about, you know, creating, you know, a perennial garden and applied it to my vegetable garden. And it really wasn't all that hard at all. You know, I love it, because it gives me a chance to get some good exercise while I'm out there. And it gives me a big sense of accomplishment, you know, to put some seeds in the ground. And you know, to come back a couple weeks later and see them growing and then to watch them over the course of the next few weeks actually become a plant that you can then eat. It's awesome. So it's a great way to eat a less processed diet and not have to spend a lot of money at the grocery store.
Shireen: I love it and so, what are, what are some good plants that you recommend this time of the year that we can grow? And what are the benefits?
Ruth: Okay, great. So I think one of the best things that you can plant in your garden are greens, leafy greens. I'm sure this is not the first time you've heard that leafy greens are really good for you, right? And, you know, I like to kid my clients and say, you know, if I could get everybody to eat two cups of leafy greens every single day, I probably wouldn't even have a nutrition practice anymore, because they're so dense in nutrients, and they have, you know, really, you know, good amounts of fiber in them. And they're also a very easy plant to grow, like, spinach is easy to grow. And swiss chard is really easy to grow, and so is kale. So, you know, I especially like swiss chard, because the seeds are pretty big. So you can very easily space them out the amount of part that they tell you on the back of the package that you're supposed to do. And that's a lot of how I learned about how to garden was I just, you know, looked at the back of the seed packet, and paid close attention to what the directions were, if it said, to plant it an inch deep, that's exactly what I did, and then would come back and there would be, you know, green stuff broken out of the ground. So you know, it can be a very easy thing for you to do. And, you know, if, if you want to, you know, eat a healthier diet, maybe have better control over your blood sugar, it's really important that you eat a lot of veggies, like if you could make that the foundation of your diet, lots and lots of veggies because they're loaded with nutrients that you really need to control your blood sugar. And they're also a good source of fiber, that helps slow down the absorption of sugar. So, you know, there's a lot of great things that you can do. Very, very simply, it doesn't have to be like this big overwhelming thing that you take on.
Shireen: That's good to know. Now, what are, what are certain plants that you would recommend both to plant indoors and outdoors? And what are some very easy ways to get started?
Ruth: Okay, great. So let's start with indoors first, okay, because you know, I do know that there's a lot of people you know, who are literally, you know, right now indoors, stuck indoors, because of what's going on with COVID 19. And there really is a lot that you can do, what's really simple to do is, you know, just go to the grocery store or the garden center and get some herbs, and plant those herbs and pots and put them right on your window sill. First of all, it's going to help your food taste way more delicious, fresh herbs really add huge flavor. But you know, one thing that we don't, that we don't always remember about herbs, they are loaded with nutrition. They're very, very nutrient dense. And a lot of the herbs like you know, what comes to mind for me is time and oregano. They're antiviral herbs. So those are really good herbs to be using right now with covid 19. So herbs is a great place to start. But you can also take seeds, and grains and beans, and sprout them. And I have to do is go to, you know, Google. “Google, how do I sprout broccoli seeds?” for example. And broccoli sprouts are about 1000 times more powerful than the vegetable broccoli. So you can do that in your home, and not really have access to a garden outside and grow some really delightful things. And you could, you know, maybe have a couple of, you know, tomato plants that you have, and you put them in a nice sunny spot, along with maybe some basil to eat with those tomatoes. So I think those are some great things to do. And I don't know, you know, I feel like this. And that is, I personally want to stay out of the grocery store as much as I possibly can, right now, because you know, it's a place where you can cook guy, thank, you know, get exposed to COVID. So I'm trying to go only every other week to the store now. But what I notice is that I really miss greens, I don't get enough greens, because they'd be kind of really kind of slimy, by the time two weeks was done. So, you know, you could create a pot of greens in your home, you know, and you don't have to have those greens don't have to have tremendous amounts of sunshine, either. Maybe more like, sort of indirect light would be perfect. And then you could have, you know, Swiss chard, or spinach or you know, whatever suits your fancy out of your own, you know, within your home garden. But you could also add on a patio, or a little balcony, or whatever, you know, expand it a little further and have a little container garden for yourself. And maybe grow tomatoes and basil and Swiss chard and spinach and those kinds of things. Now, when we get outside, we want to kind of go for the things that maybe need a little bit more space and I would say probably the easiest thing in the world to grow our green beans. They're very nutritious. They're very good for you. Right? They have plenty of fiber in them. And you might remember, you know, back in elementary school for the science project, the teacher showed us how to grow green beans. And the reason why she picked green beans is because they are like the easiest thing to grow, right? So green beans would be on the top of my list of what to grow. Swiss chard, simple, very easy. I just take seeds and throw them in my perennial garden and they grow. Another really good easy one is zucchini, or summer squash. Those are some great ideas. But you know, what, if this is the first time you've ever done this, and you're like, ooh, I don't know if I want to do seeds. Because I don't think I started with seeds, I think I started with what are called plant starts. So just those little tiny tomato plants, and eggplants, and peppers, and you can get cucumbers and squash, and just you know, put them into your garden. But here's the really important thing they want to make sure you do. And that is that you work on making the soil really healthy. Because if the soil is really healthy, then you're, you're not going to have to worry about you know, do I need to put more fertilizer on this? Do I need to get a pesticide because I saw a bug and that plant’s not looking so good? If you grow in really well composted soil, that won't be an issue in your garden. You won't have pests that you need to worry about.
Shireen: So no pesticides?
Ruth: I don't use pesticides on my garden at all. You know, because I don't want to put that on my vegetables. And I would assume you know, most people don't want to do that, either. So the, the idea is because the plant has its own defense system. And just like us, if we are nourished, with everything that makes our body as healthy as possible, we will fight off these attacks that we're getting from viruses, right. So the same thing with a plant, if you just make sure that plant is really healthy, and it gets the sun that it needs and it gets the soil that it needs and it gets the water that it needs, it generally is not going to have issues with pests with paths at all.
Shireen: So how can we make foods that we grow more nutritious? Like you were talking about, you know, how we can be healthy? And then of course, we have a defense mechanism? How can we make sure that the plants that we're growing are more nutritious, and that they're healthy for consumption?
Ruth: So it's really all about starting with your soil, right, and really making sure that your, your soil is well fed and well nourished. And how do you do that, you do it through, you know, having really good compost and lots of it in your garden. Because that compost is what's going to literally make the nutrients available to the plant, and then the plant then transfers those nutrients to you. It's really kind of the way that it works. So you know, here's what I do for compost. Now I'm a lucky girl. My neighbor has donkeys and chickens and all kinds of animals. I actually live in the, you know, in the country in New Hampshire. And so I can just go over there and you know, get a wheelbarrow full of stuff and bring it back and put, spread it on my garden. So I'm really very lucky. And you know that manure from both the chickens and from the doggies really helps to put fabulous stuff into mice, my soil, you know, small, little organisms. And what those organisms are very, very important for is they actually help to break the soil down and make the nutrients more available to the plant. Or you know, if you're not as lucky as I am and you live you know, in a more populated part of the world, then go to the garden center and get some good compost at the garden center and spread that over your soil. And then plant I actually take a little bit of the compost and as I make the hole for my veggie I, you know, plant it right into some compost and that keeps it you know, extremely well nourished, but the soil that you create for your food is really, really important. And it's kind of like, you know, I don't know if your, your listeners have heard about our microbiome yet, but that's that, you know, 10 trillion organisms that we carry around within our gut and on our skin. And it's profound the research that has come out over the last 15 years about how important that microbiome, all of those little organisms like bacteria, and fungi, and viruses, and all of that are really important to the health of the human body with far reaching effects. You know, for example, your microbiome will dictate what's happening to you in terms of your mood, and how you feel. I mean, literally, there's this huge connection between the gut and the brain, it's called the gut brain access. And the more that we have a balanced microbiome in really good healthy bacteria, what that's what makes it balanced is that there's much more healthy bacteria than there are unhealthy bacteria. And I think it's fair to say that unless you're eating a really highly nutritious diet, that you've got more harmful bacteria dominating in your system, then you do healthy bacteria. So we want to do everything that we can to have a very, very healthy microbiome. And one of the most important things is eating, you know, vegetables, and lots of them and fruits as well, because they will help feed the microbiome, and literally, the microbiome in the soil is attached to the plant, which then enters into our system. And so you know, when you when you pick something out of your garden, I mean, I don't clean it up excessively, and I don't peel my veggies that I take out of my garden, because I want those microbiome, that and those microorganisms that are on the plant to go into my system. So instead of peeling a carrot, I just kind of you know, wash it really well. Because that will then transfer those soil microbiomes into our body.
Shireen: And that's what we need to create a healthy microbiome. We need some of those microorganisms from the soil, into our, into our stomach and into our gut, and really create that healthy bacteria, like you're talking about.
Ruth: Absolutely. Oh, yeah.
Shireen: So there's, there's a connection between how we're growing our foods, how we're consuming it, and then the impact that it has on our gut, and then eventually our health.
Shireen: I love that.
Ruth: Yes. So you know, our diet for the longest time, we sort of like tended more towards highly refined carbohydrates, not a healthy way for us to go at all. Because it's really not good for our microbiome. In fact, it's bad for our microbiome, because those highly processed carbohydrates help the unhealthy bacteria grow sugar and refined carbs, increase unhealthy bacteria, slow carbs that are unprocessed like you know, the veggies and the fruits and that sort of thing. Increase our healthy bacteria.
Shireen: Lovely. I love that connection. Thank you so much for making that for us. So with that, we're near the end of the, of the podcast episode, Ruth, it was an absolute pleasure. I would love to have people connect with you post this podcast, how can they learn more about your work? How can they learn? I know you have a book, we'd love to learn a little bit more about that.
Ruth: Yeah, so the book actually, I published it last fall. It's called Cool the Fire: Curb Inflammation and Balanced Hormones, because that's sort of the root of most of the chronic diseases that we suffer from, in our society. And for information about me, my website is the best place to go. It's just simply Ruth Clark, rd dot com.I'm also on Facebook and Instagram and that kind of stuff. And I think shareen you're going to be able to post that.
Shireen: Yes. So we'l,l we'll link all of those in our show notes so folks, folks can connect with you on on social media.
Ruth: That's great. That's awesome.
Shireen: Well with that, Ruth, thank you again for gracing us with your presence on this podcast. It was an absolute delight and pleasure to learn so much about, about planting and, and the impact that it can have on health. I know I am less afraid to plant it as a result. So truly appreciate having you on
Ruth: Great, and you know, there's nothing quite like going out to your garden and picking something and coming back to your kitchen and cooking it that night. So thank you, so much for having me.