"Some advice I sometimes give the Latinx community is to, you know, always emphasize on portion control, you know, eat your traditional foods, but portion control can go a long way, adding healthy fats that are traditional to the Latinx community is very crucial." Jennifer Rodriguez, RD
Shireen: On today's episode of the Yumlish podcast, we are speaking to Jennifer Rodriguez. Jennifer is the owner, registered dietitian and food photographer behind “Food is Vida” in nutrition consulting in media business, where she specializes in both teaching preventative and plant based nutrition, as well as inspires the Latinx communities to enjoy their cultural food in combination with nutrition therapies to enhance their health. Welcome, Jennifer.
Jennifer: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Shireen: Absolutely. So glad to have you on. One of the things that I want to dive into Jennifer here is what led you to become a registered dietitian, and specifically to adopt a plant based or vegan diet.
Jennifer: Yeah, so it's, it's funny, ever since I was young, I've always had a clear path of what I wanted to do. And I, I also knew I wanted to help others, I was always involved in like sciences. And I loved you know, just general well being of beings. So I thought I wanted to, you know, help, you know, beings and I say beings, because, initially I did want to be, you know, a veterinarian, I love animals, I want him to do veterinary medicine. So you kind of kind of see where this is going. And, you know, I just loved animals, and I loved helping them. I was born in Los Angeles, California, so it was very nature focused. And, and then eventually, I did move to Texas, which is, you know, it's great. It was its cowtown, you know, here in the stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas. However, one day, I did go to a vegan vegetarian restaurant, in Fort Worth, and they kind of changed my life, you know, I, like I mentioned, I loved animals, and I went to this vegan restaurant, it sparked a new path. And because I got to know a lot of good, yummy food that was plant based, so actually, both of these questions that you asked me kind of merge together, because me going to this vegan restaurant really opened my eyes to good, you know, plant based food, and then actually then sparked an interest in nutrition, which, you know, I was totally blind about, you know, when previous years as a, you know, young adolescent. So, it really, you know, put me in a path towards wanting to learn how we processed food, you know, what's in our food, how food is grown, like origins. And so that's really where I, you know, tend to reflect back on and think, you know, I think that that was the turning point for me of when I realized I wanted to be a dietitian, I wanted to learn about, you know, evidence, Space Science when it comes to vegan vegetarian nutrition. And then being born in a Latin x community, you know, almost Angeles, California, and I always had that tug, also of wanting to help out that community. And so I then blended those two things. You know, I wanted to specialize in plant based nutrition, I wanted to specialize in helping out the Latinx community as well. And so that's kind of, you know, where I came from, and how I came to being a dietitian and these specialties.
Shireen: Lovely. Now your company's called “Food is Vida.” What does that statement mean to you? And how does it shape your work? How does it really connect with your focus on the Latinx community?
Jennifer: Right? Right? So foetus vitta translates to food is life. It, you know, food really translates to many different definitions, it can be more complex than people think, you know, food is not just nutrients and energy. And food can be you know, joy, it can be culture, it can be compassion, it can be memories, tradition. And so this is why I kind of coined it, the two terms together, you know, food is life, but at the same time, I want to teach people that food is much more, you know, than the nutrients and you know, it can kind of form these different pillars in our life. And, you know, gives route to all these different things that really shape the values in our life. So that is, you know, initially why I coined it, the two terms together, you know, food is life, but it can also be many other things that we need to cherish and respect.
Shireen: That's so strong. You know, one of the things with yummilicious you know, our focus within the diabetes community. So how do you advise Latinx individuals living with diabetes to adjust their diet for diabetes management, while still incorporating their cultural foods and really honoring their roots?
Jennifer: Yeah, so um, I always try to, you know, teach that it's a combination of therapies, you know, it is going to be partly food. And it's going to be partly just managing you know, blood sugar's making sure you're self monitoring. Making sure you're taking medications, you know, going to your doctor's appointments. In regards to the nutrition, you know aspect of it, I do tell people to, you know, kind of embrace the plant based, you know, idea. You don't have to go fully vegan if you don't want to. But, you know, plant forward, you know, diets are helpful for diabetes management. And so some advice I sometimes give the Latinx community is to, you know, always emphasize on portion control, you know, eat your traditional foods, but portion control can go a long way, adding healthy fats that are traditional to the Latinx community is very crucial. So like avocados, eat them more often. And don't be scared that they're fat, they're good, healthy fats for us. And then, you know, low sodium is always something that I tried to encourage and this Latin, you know, community. And, you know, instead of putting a lot of salt in whatever meal you're making, or if you're going to get canned foods, you know, look for the low sodium canned foods. And so those are some advice I do try to encourage. And sometimes even in this, you know, specific community where diet culture is kind of rampant, I do encourage to be, to focus on the portion control, but also focus and kind of see if you are under-eating, sometimes under-eating can be the issue. And a lot of these, you know, communities or populations, so you know, avoid skipping meals, avoid skipping important foods like whole macronutrients and carbohydrates. So those are some good tips. I like to give this, you know, specific community if specially if they're trying to manage diabetes.
Shireen: When we look at you know, that's interesting that you say that, because when you look at diabetes, when we look at obesity, we see it rampant in minority communities, like a lot the next community. And one of the key things that we see sort of there is while there may be obese, they're still male nourished, right, so malnourishment Can you know, it's not, it's not just like, oh, if you're obese, you're getting all the nutrients you're not. And so malnourishment is another huge element to all of this, how do you sort of navigate that in such a way so that you're addressing the nutrition needs, you're addressing sort of the diabetes, obesity as well, at the same time?
Jennifer: Yeah, so a lot of it has to do with the food guilt, you know, sometimes we try to avoid meals or skip little snacks, that might be crucial to our health. Because we have food guilt, because there's a big emphasis in you know, body image, and that, you know, diet culture often pushes. So I try to, you know, teach my patients really, you know, my community to not be so focused on that diet culture, or that body image, you know, so kind of teach them to get broken, you know, release that food guilt in a healthy manner. And I think that can go a long way with helping someone. Also, if you don't tackle malnourishment or tackle deficiencies, you know, letting go food guilt really opens up the variety of foods that people can start bringing into their meals, instead of focusing on taking things out, you know, I try to tell people what to focus on, bring things back in.
Shireen: Interesting. Now, your unique approach to nutrition is plant based or vegan. What do you see as some of the health benefits of following such a diet? Again, particularly for those with diabetes?
Jennifer: Yeah, so I mean, some short term goals, and if you adopt or, you know, focus on a plant for diet can be blood glucose control, you know, we've seen a lot of studies where fiber really does benefit, and short term control of blood glucose. And so incorporating all these good grains, all these vegetables, fruit into your diet, and balancing it all Well, can really, you know, give us that short term benefit of, you know, blood glucose control. And some long term you know, benefits often are tied with other chronic diseases that might accompany someone who has diabetes. So like cardiovascular disease, sometimes kidney failure, you know, some of these things go hand in hand together. So we see that plant based diet really does focus on these chronic diseases and their symptoms and their signs being lowered. For example, plant based diets are low in sodium, they're low in saturated fat, you know, both of those things decrease blood pressure, they're decreased insulin resistance, and you know, cholesterol and in our blood lipids. So these are all, you know, benefits of a plant based lifestyle for people who have diabetes or under other chronic diseases.
Shireen: Interesting. So within plant based diets, they're often assumptions made that people can't get enough nutrients. From just plants, whether it be a lack of iron be 12, or protein, when someone living with diabetes is thinking about transitioning to a plant based diet to manage their diabetes, what are the key things they should be thinking about when building their plate.
Jennifer: So kind of, like I mentioned, you know, let's not leave out any big nutrients out of our plates, let's focus on the, you know, making sure we have some carbohydrates, making sure they're rich and whole grains and fiber, bringing in some fats, you know, not being scared of the fats, bringing in the healthy fats, like the avocado and the, you know, healthy oils. And also bringing in like, the prayer, the plant protein that, you know, we often talk about making sure your plate is really balanced with those key things. And usually when they are balanced, and we bring a variety of foods, and we see that there is, um, you know, less of a chance of getting deficiencies. So, for example, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, they, they do agree that this plant based diets can be appropriate for all life stages. And they really helped us and you know, preventing certain diseases, certain chronic diseases. So it's very beneficial in that sense.
Shireen: Interesting. So we'll be, we'll hear more about Jennifer's thoughts on this topic. After this message from our sponsor, we'll be right back.
Shireen: All right, Jennifer. So we're back. I wanna I want to talk to you about an interesting poll that we did on Instagram. So we asked her Instagram followers, who has considered we asked them pretty much who has considered a plant based diet, but thought that it might be too expensive. And actually turns out that 100% of the voters responded, yes. It seems there's a stigma that eating plant based is more expensive than a diet, which includes meat and dairy. What are your thoughts on this?
Jennifer: Yeah, so that's not surprising, you know, often for someone who might be new to the plant based, you know, lifestyle or diets, they do have the stigma of plant based foods being expensive, and it actually can be expensive. You know, like any diet, if you focus on, you know, just expensive ingredients, or overthink things, you know, things can get expensive. But the reality is, you know, if we do some research, if we do some exploring the plant based diet can be affordable. So a good example I love to give people is, you know, for example, the TVP, or textured vegetable protein is often advertised as being like a high end food and some of health, you know, focused grocery stores. And but it's, it's actually been found in Latin grocery stores for many, many years. And they just call it you know, dehydrated soy, it has two different names, but it's essentially the same thing. And the price point is cut in half. You know, so if people just do a little bit of researching, you know, just go exploring in their grocery stores, and they'll often find affordable choices, you know, beans and legumes are actually much more affordable than some cuts of meat that are, you know, very lean. So comparing, you know, plant based diets to animal focused it is there actually is a good, you know, good evidence that shows that they actually can be affordable and sometimes even more affordable than meat focus diets. So that's the misconception.
Shireen: Yeah, it's good to see. So I think, I think the, because playing bass seems like, you know, a newer concept, in essence, but really, it is not right. Like we've been fighting playing bass we've been eating plant based foods for for, you know, decades, centuries, in fact. And so it seems like a newer concept, it seems like a concept that would cost too much. But the truth is that, that it isn't.
Jennifer: Right, right. And then many, you know, cultural cuisines, there is always some type of plant substitute that is always been encouraged in that cuisine. And so we'll still be hydrated. Sawyer TVP has always been in Latin cuisine, it's sometimes not widely known. But it's always been there, it's always been affordable. So that's when I always, you know, recommend to some people. And then just another simple example, that also has to do with soy is just a basic toy, the tofu block, and it's, you know, about $1. It has multiple servings, you know, it can be very, very affordable.
Shireen: Interesting. So I'm totally going to put you on the spot then. And I'm going to ask you for your favorite plant based recipe that you would like to share here and that maybe you've shared with patients in the past and maybe we can do something weird with tofu or dehydrated soy, so I'd love to hear that.
Jennifer: Yeah. So two recipes that come to mind that are actually, it's my favorite dinner and it's my favorite breakfast and my favorite dinner is tacos. Specifically I'll bust or tacos. It's a very traditional, you know, type of taco, it's actually getting a lot of popularity right now. And I do have a recipe and on my website that people can go visit and it does use the hydrated soy, you know, crumbles or TVP. And very easy to make very high in protein, you know, have some carbohydrates have some veggies, so that's one of my top favorites. And then my favorite breakfast food would be like a basic egg scramble. But you know, when a vegan version we would make tofu scramble, and, and to make it you know, Latin and you know, a favorite Latin cuisine of mine, it would be adding a little bit of charissa, which there's also soy substitutes for that. And they'll have also been in, you know, a lot in grocery stores for many, many years. So it's called soy diesel. And so it's basically breakfast, you know, egg scramble, but a vegan version that's actually widely known already in many Latin countries. So those would be my top two, and I have those, you know, on my website, and I actually have videos too, so you can just watch it.
Shireen: Oh, that's great. And what we're gonna do is, you know, we're going to link that so, so folks can see that on there. So maybe now's a good point to talk about, you know, how can people as we, you know, come to the end of the episode? How can people connect with you and learn more about your work? Tell us about that.
Jennifer: Yeah, so I do have a YouTube video, you know, that's where you can find some of those videos. So “Food is Vida” on YouTube or on Instagram, you know, any social media platform, I'll be, you know, and you can connect with me there or just visiting my website, you know, via email or phone number. Those are easy ways to, you know, be in, in connection with my business and myself.
Shireen: And what is the website again?
Jennifer: Food is Vida dot com.
Shireen: Perfect, that's lovely. Well, Jennifer, it was an absolute, absolute pleasure having you on. I absolutely love talking about food and like cultural foods more specifically, especially for those with diabetes, which is right up our alley. So it was a pleasure to, connecting with you and talking to you. Thank you so much for being on.
Jennifer: Thank you Shireen.