“We never want to have too much of something because it could lead to a medical condition.”
Today we are talking to Melissa Mendez about the role of food and nutrients in your body and why so many Americans are deficient in nutrients.
Melissa is a licensed and registered dietitian specializing in obesity and weight management. She has eight years of experience at Parkland Health and offers a variety of medical nutrition therapies, including those for diabetes, malnutrition, hyperlipidemia, and other conditions.
Shireen: Podcasting from Dallas, Texas. I am Shireen, and this is a Yumlish podcast. Yumlish is working to empower you to take charge of your health through diet and exercise and reduce the risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. We hope to share a unique perspective and a culturally relevant approach to managing these chronic conditions with you each week.
Shireen: Today we are speaking to Melissa Mendez about the role of food and nutrients in your body and why so many Americans are deficient in nutrition. Stay tuned.
Melissa Mendez is a licensed registered dietitian specializing in obesity and weight management. She has eight years of experience at Parkland Health and offers a variety of medical nutrition therapies, including those for diabetes, malnutrition, hyperlipidemia, and other conditions. Welcome Melissa.
Melissa: Thank you so much for having me Shireen.
Shireen: Such a pleasure having you on. So, Melissa, let’s dive right in. One, thank you for joining us and then two, can you tell us how has your approach to health changed since becoming a dietitian?
Melissa: Thank you again for having me. My thoughts on this is we learn everything we can in school about being careful with our diet, nutrition, exercise. But becoming a dietitian and working in the medical field has let me see how it plays a part in real life.
How people may not be able to afford all of these nutrients. They may not have a safe place to live where they can go outside to exercise. So, I’m able to use what I’ve learned in school, while at the same time kind of trying to manage life. Trying to manage the way people live their life, and budgets, safety, and just helping.
Shireen: All right. So, help us understand nutrition. Because it’s like a simple word, but very loaded. Can you help us break down exactly what are the different categories of nutrients? Macro, micro, just help us understand that world a little bit.
Melissa: Yeah, so there are both macronutrients and micronutrients. So, macronutrients would include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
The micronutrients would be like our vitamins, minerals. So, expanding on that, we have our carbohydrates, which are from our starchy items. They could be like rice, beans, spaghetti, those. Give us a lot of energy. We need them to feel energized in the morning to get up and get my day started to continue on throughout the day.
Well, protein that is coming from things like our meat products, dairy products, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Those are kind of our building blocks of our body. Those help me with just everything in my body. It helps us with our muscles. Our brain is a muscle, so it’s going to help us with our brain health as well.
And then we have our fats and usually we think, oh, fats are a bad thing. We shouldn’t eat fats. Back in the nineties it was like all about low fat diets, but we actually need fats in our system. So, some of the fats that we have seen there are good fats and bad fats. We have seen a couple of like oils, avocados, bacon. Some are necessary, some are not. And those actually help us with different areas in our body.
So, they help us with padding so that way we don’t feel as cold. It helps us kind of keeps different organs in place. It’s kind of like a glue that keeps organs in place. And then another one is that it helps break down our fat-soluble vitamins, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, and Vitamin A. On the other end we do have our micronutrients that also help us with everything. So like examples, calcium, phosphorus, sodium. We just need it to run our body correctly.
Shireen: Hmm, that’s interesting. You know, when you were talking about fats, I’m interested to know what are good fats versus bad?
Melissa: Yeah, so the bad fats that we all have come to know as like bacon and pork and sausage, chorizo, those are actually kind of like sticky.
And so, what happens is that when we consume them, they start to stick inside of our body. So, usually what we hear is like they start to stick in our arteries. And something sticky with something sticky is going to be more sticky. So, the more I consume those fats, the more they’re going to stick together on top of each other.
So, with time, it could cause like artery blockages, which could lead to heart disease or a heart attack later on in life. Something we don’t hear too often is about fatty liver disease. When we have so much fat, our body is trying to get rid of that fat that we don’t need, and it may be going being processed through the liver. So there that fat starts to stick on the liver.
And again, more fat sticks on, more fat so it could later on become a fatty liver disease. On the other end there is the healthy fat. So those actually help lower bad fats in our system. Bad cholesterol. So, what we usually hear is like avocados, nuts and seeds or chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds. And then we’ve got fish as well and like omega, our omega fatty acids.
So those actually help lower bad fats in our system. So, and again, how I mentioned before was it helps with the padding. It helps break down some vitamins that are essential in our body. So, there are good fats and bad fats. It’s no longer, it’s bad to eat fat like we do need it. It’s just selecting the healthier ones more often.
Shireen: Okay. Okay. Makes sense. And then you know, we hear about high levels of cholesterol really being a bad thing. However, we also know that there’s good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Can you help differentiate those two for us?
Melissa: Yes. So usually when we do look at the labs here at the clinic, we usually see there’s about like five different kinds of labs that we look at.
So, when we’re looking at cholesterol, we do look or the lipid panel, I should say. We’re looking for the ones that are more unhealthier would be like the cholesterol. There’s one called LDL, and then there’s triglycerides as well that we look at. While when we’re looking at the good fat, the healthy fat, we look at one called HDL.
So, it’s always good to know these numbers, and it’s good to know if it’s elevated or to know which one may be elevated. So that way we can kind of focus on there and like, okay, try to think what in our diet made these numbers go up or go down. So, we recommend checking them every year, once a year.If they’re elevated, sometimes they check every six months.
Shireen: Okay. Can you talk to us a little bit about the different nutrients. So, you mentioned the macro, micro, all of that. Is there a hierarchy of all this like super important ones and then like the good to haves?
Melissa: Honestly, I think everything is important. For me, it’s just the balance. I always think we never want to have too much of something because it could lead to a medical condition. Too much sugar could be, could lead to diabetes. Too much fatty foods could lead to high cholesterol. Too much salt can lead to hypertension. But on the same side, if we, or on the other side I should say, if we have too little of something, it could lead to a medical condition as well.
An example would be too little iron that could cause anemia, and from there I just feel exhausted, tired. I do not feel good. Another thing, if we limit Vitamin D, Vitamin D also causes tiredness. It changes our mood. So, nothing is ever better than the other. I think we have to have all of it, but a balance of everything.
Shireen: All right. Now in the U.S. so when you were talking about, you know, too much of one thing. We do have a problem of over consumption, right? Of food. Yet, and on the flip side, there’s a large portion of the population that is under malnourished. Can you speak to how malnourishment exists within the context of overeating?
Melissa: Yes. So, what could happen is it depends on the foods that we do eat. Many foods that are eaten in America are fast foods, they’re processed foods, junk foods, and those foods typically just have a lot of unhealthy fat. They have a lot of salt, and they have a lot of sugar and no nutrients, no vitamins, no minerals, no protein.
So here we are, we’re eating this junk food and we’re getting so many calories because sugar has a lot of calories. Fat has a lot of calories. So, we may be maintaining our weight, or we may have like over a little bit of overweight or obesity. Yet I’m not getting those nutrients to have a working body where maybe some of the healthier foods that we do eat they have a lot of nutrients. And may not have a lot of calories, so we are able to maintain a healthy weight.
So, I think what’s happening is we may be over consuming on junk foods, fast foods that are readily available, they’re easy to get. Sometimes they’re cheaper to get than healthy foods. Not all the time, but sometimes. And it’s just our lifestyles are just busy, on the go, that it’s sometimes it’s easier to just grab something and go, and it may not be the healthiest.
Shireen: You know, when you mentioned grab something and go, I wonder if there’s a way to make this easier for people. What are some. easy to reach quick foods that people can either make or have handy where it’s like you don’t have to second guess this. In this sort of world that we live in, of grab and go convenience.
I think that’s where a lot of the processed less nutrient dense foods have really made a mark. It was like, oh, this convenience and here’s a quick fix. What would you say to someone who’s listening, who’s going, oh man, eating healthy food is so hard.
Melissa: Yes. So, if it’s something grab and go, on my way to work or school.The easiest thing that sometimes we don’t think about are fruits and vegetables. If they’re ready to go, grabbing an apple or a banana that’s super simple. Or maybe a drinkable yogurt, that might be something that is easy, grab and go, and they have the cap that you can twist back on if I can’t drink it all at one time.
If we’re thinking about like lunch, dinner, like more meals, that might be a little bit more difficult. I think there it’s more meal planning and preparing your meal before you go out to do your errands or go to work. That’s what happens most of the time where we’re just so busy, we don’t have the time to make it, but we have to set time aside to make something.
And it could be simple like a peanut butter sandwich with a bag of carrots and a bag of pretzels. A yogurt cup, a little sugar-free Jell-O cup and just pack it all in one and take it with you. And it may not even be just to work, it may be to run an errand. And you know, every time I run errands, I always get hungry, and I have to go through the drive through. So even if it’s something small, just meal prep it. Bag it beforehand.
Shireen: One question that we also always hear about is, does the way that a particular food is cooked change its nutritional benefit? So, baking versus frying versus steaming, how does that impact the nutrient content of the food?
Melissa: Yeah, that’s a good idea. So frying is usually going to increase the fat content, which also increases the calorie content. So that could increase our risk of cholesterol increase, and our weight going up as well. So, we definitely want to avoid frying foods. If we do have fresh items, I think that would be the best way to have them.
Just making sure we wash them properly. You do retain most of your nutrients there. When you do steam them, bake them or boil them. Well, at least with the steaming, if you’re steaming or, or boiling them in water, they do break the cells for the fruits or for the vegetables that it could lose some vitamin content, but I was reading a study that tomatoes actually, when they’re boiled, they actually increase the vitamin content. So that was pretty interesting to learn about. But usually, they do lose nutrients. My thought is it depends on how the person likes to eat them.
There’s several people that just do not like raw vegetables. They just like the steamed, like having them soft with a little bit of pepper on them. And I think, well, you would lose a little bit of nutrients, but if you would rather eat them as steamed than not eat them raw, like if you’re never going to eat them raw, I’d rather you steam them.So that way at least you get some vitamin content in there.
Shireen: I see. So, to really stick to the true nutrition value, you try to eat it raw is sort of the, if there’s a hierarchy, it’s probably raw over any kind of heat.
Melissa: Yes. Yes.
Shireen: Okay. Makes sense. We know that consuming too much fat and sugar can lead to being overweight which can lead to other chronic conditions, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular.However, is there any danger to consuming too much, let’s say protein for instance?
Melissa: Yes. So, I know that there was a time, it may still be going on. Like high protein diet, protein in your pancakes, protein in your cereal. Protein everywhere. Protein’s the best thing. So, there could be some negatives there.
So, our body only needs a certain amount of nutrient. The rest we don’t really need. Sometimes we get rid of it through our body. But we definitely do not need so much protein. What could happen is it kind of starts to affect our kidneys, like it overworks our kidneys if it’s too much. So, one day it could be a reason why I may get chronic kidney disease.
Another thing is too much of something could make my weight go up so I could start to gain weight with a lot of protein. So, for me, it was one of those trendy diets where protein everything. So, and we know trends, fad, dieting, it’s never going to work. So, for me it’s always a balance. Just having a little bit of everything.
Shireen: You know, when you mentioned about fad diets in particular, what are some of the fad diets that you hear about? And what are like some of the biggest myths that you bust for people to say, no, this is not true? Can you give us some examples?
Melissa: Yeah. So recently, in the last couple of years, the keto diet.
Melissa: That’s the big one. And the patients that I’ve seen it most with are the ones that have diabetes. Patients that have diabetes. The reason why It’s being seen more with patients with diabetes is that it’s low carb diet, it’s high fat, low carb. Again, we’re doing too much of one thing, so if we’re increasing the fat, most people think, oh, any fat is going to be a good fat.
So, they start to eat the bacon and the sausage. Okay, my blood sugar will go down because I’m not eating a lot of carbs, but now my cholesterol is going to start going up as well, and my blood pressure, because those items have a lot of sodium. So that’s a big one. So keto diet is not my favorite. I usually ask people to not follow the keto diet.
Another trend that I’ve seen lately is the celiac, or not celiac, I should say. The gluten-free diet. Related to celiac disease. And what I’ve seen there is just people say gluten-free diet, it’s the healthy diet, it’ll help me lose weight. And so, everybody got on the train. And basically, the gluten-free diet is for a person that has celiac disease when they eat something with flour or wheat.
It tends to cause like stomach problems. It starts to play with our small intestine, and it could lead to diarrhea. So that particular person does not need a gluten item. So, they do have the gluten-free diet and that’s fine. That eliminates having diarrhea. But it just became trendy with celebrities and people just saying, oh, the gluten-free diet is so helpful.
And people just got on the train and there’s really no point unless you had celiac disease. And it costs a lot more. It’s very pricey to have a gluten-free diet.
Shireen: It is. It is indeed. And so, you know, when you look at those diets and someone says, oh, I’m on gluten-free, but then why do I have this disease?Or why do I have that? It’s so hard to, I would imagine, it would be so hard to say, well, gluten wasn’t your problem to begin with. I mean, glad you did it but not your problem to begin with. How do you navigate some of those conversations around building that nutritional understanding around either particular disease state or even just health goals more broadly?
Melissa: Yeah. Usually what I love to do when we’re here with the patient is we go through each lab. Like, okay, let’s talk about your blood sugar. Why could it have gone up? What was the reason? And so we go through the diet, we see what’s going on, what we’re eating, and so I do give them the education. Well, these are some of the foods that could have raised our blood sugar.
What do you think from your diet was the reason that that caused it? Okay. We’ve figured it out. Now let’s move on to the cholesterol. We discuss the cholesterol, the labs. Okay. What in our diet could it raise our cholesterol? And then, I give them a list, we discuss it and like, okay, what do you think was something that you ate from this list that could have caused it?
And if someone does say like, oh, I had this, I tried the gluten-free diet. And like okay, well why? What was the reasoning? And, well, the gluten-free diet actually helps with this. Have you been experiencing those symptoms? And, you know, maybe we don’t have to eliminate gluten from our life. And sometimes that brings back relief. Where it’s like, I thought this was the diet I should have been on, and I left all my favorite foods.And it feels good to know that I don’t have to eliminate these foods and maybe we can focus on something else.
Shireen: So now let’s get to my favorite topic around supplements. I’m sure you get that question all the time. Are supplements like multivitamins sufficient enough to maintain the micronutrients level that our body really needs in order to perform at like optimal health?
Melissa: So usually what I like to look at is, are we getting all five food groups? Are we getting our protein, our carbs, our vegetables, fruits, and dairy? If we’re getting a combination of all of that, we’re getting a hundred percent of our needs. There is no need for multivitamin.
However, if we do have someone that says, oh, you know, I’m a vegan.I do not eat meat, dairy, eggs. And then we discuss what they are eating, and they may be lacking in protein intake or B12 intake. Then that’s when we start to think, okay, what could we be lacking on a vegan diet? We could be lacking iron, vitamin D or B12. So, from what they tell me, okay, where else are we getting the vitamin D?
Where else are we getting our iron? Oh, you know, this person doesn’t, isn’t getting enough. So that’s when I recommend the multivitamin.
Shireen: So, what you’re saying is really look at the food first and then, so be it a sensitivity, be it food that’s been eliminated out of your diet. And then try to fill that nutrient void through the supplement.
Melissa: Exactly, yes. The example with the vegan diet, there is a, a way to get vitamin D through other foods. There is a way to get, or even through sunlight, like, if I go outside and get my sun, I’m getting vitamin D. There is a way to get iron through foods.
An example would be getting beans and rice in our diet. The only one that would be lacking would be vitamin B12. So, if they’re getting their vitamins from everything else, we’re fine with everything. I would only recommend the B12 multi or B12 vitamin.
Shireen: Got it. Okay. And so, what that would mean is to really be able to reflect that off of there.Are there other vitamins that come to mind where you’re like, okay, these are some of the other sort of vitamins where you traditionally see a deficiency? And if you can also speak to how, you go about identifying potential deficiency in a particular micronutrient.
Melissa: Usually, I just try not to recommend them unless they’re absolutely necessary.Sometimes doctors do check labs if they’ve also noticed something on their end where they do a B12 check, they do a vitamin D check, and from the lab review, you can see if they do need it. And in that case, a doctor personally calls them to tell them. Hey, I’m going to prescribe you this medication. Go pick it up at the pharmacy because they know the exact IUs or the exact milligrams that they need.
But other than that, if I don’t see any lack in an intake, I usually say, go ahead. Just keep, keep up with your diet. And that helps in a way to save money as well, because supplements, the price is already high. But within the last year, I think prices are going even higher. So, if it’s not necessary, then let’s just save the money.And just focus on our diet.
Shireen: Makes sense. Okay. We’re coming up to where at the end of the interview here. What are some of the foods you think everyone should incorporate into their diet?
Melissa: So, a great one if we’re trying to get a good blend would be, it’s going to sound super random, but nuts and seeds. Those are really great.
They’ve got a lot of fiber. They good fats. They’ve got protein, It’s awesome. And then an economical one that’s really great is rice. Rice and beans. You could buy a big bag of them. They don’t cost a lot. You can kind of cater to your needs. You can add all the kinds of seasonings, the spices that you like, and it’s high in protein.
And we’ve got some carbon in there. And I think those two are awesome. Another thing that’s very important is water. We have to drink more water. It’s just now these days there’s so many sports drinks, there’s so many sodas. There’s just so much and there’s something for everyone and we just don’t take the time to drink. water.
Shireen: I love what you’re saying there because I feel like there’s so many things competing for attention at the grocery stores, like has all this fancy labels on it, on the shelf, And it’s like, let’s just take it back to the basics. Just drink water. Like you don’t have to get extra this or that.
Shireen: Just like water. From your tap. It’s not complicated.
Melissa: Yeah. Rice and beans.
Shireen: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Love it. Love it. So, with that, Melissa, we are tour the end of the episode. At this point, can you tell us how can our listeners just connect with you, learn more about your work?
Melissa: Yeah, so they can connect with us through ParklandHealth.org and we also have a specific diabetes page.
It’s called ParklandDiabetes.com and they can visit. We’ve got recipes on the Parkland Diabetes website. We’ve got handouts. It’s in both English and Spanish for anyone who needs Spanish resources. There’s a lot of videos on there. So that would be the best way.
Shireen: Okay. Okay, that sounds great. And then with that, Melissa, thank you so very much for your time.
It was such a pleasure having you on. And to our listeners, we have a quick question for you, head over to our social media, Facebook, Instagram, and answer this quick question. Which is, how are you planning to pivot your diet to make sure you’re getting the nutrients that your body needs? So based on this episode, what did you learn and how are you going to change up your diet to make sure that you get the nutrients that your body needs?
Head over to Facebook or Instagram on our Yumlish page. Find this particular podcast post and go comment on there and let us know. And with that, Melissa, it was such a pleasure. Thank you again for your time.
Melissa: Thank you so much, Shireen. I really appreciate it. It was fun.
Shireen: Thank you for listening to the Yumlish Podcast. Make sure to follow us on social media at Yumlish_ on Instagram and Twitter and @Yumlish on Facebook and LinkedIn for tips about managing your diabetes and other chronic conditions, and to chat and connect with us about your journey and perspective.
You can also visit our website, Yumlish.com for more recipes, advice, and to get involved with all of the exciting opportunities Yumlish has to offer. If you like this week’s show, make sure to subscribe so you can hear more from us every time we post. Thank you again, and we’ll see you next time. Remember, your health always comes first. Stay well.