Keri Gans – The Former Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Jonathan: Hey everyone Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Delighted to bring you today’s guest. She is a registered dietician, spokesperson and media personality who works out of New York. She’s also the author of the book The Small Change Diet, she’s the past spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That’s cool we got to dig into that. She is also the past president of the New York state Dietetic Association.
She’s got a master’s degree in clinical nutrition and she also has a bachelor’s degree in business administration. I only mention that because she got that from Ohio University and I am from Columbus Ohio so we have something in common in addition to our passion for helping people live better. She’s all over the media, she’s all over helping people, Keri Gans welcome to the show.
Keri: My pleasure Jonathan.
Jonathan: Keri, Ohio University. Tell me about, not specific to Ohio University but tell me a little, I always think it’s fascinating, you truly rose to the top of the ranks in the traditional nutrition and dietetic community being the spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the past president of the New York state Dietetic Association. What was your journey from little Keri to that?
Keri: Well interesting enough at Ohio University I was not even studying nutrition. That was not even something I thought about when I first went to school. I actually went to OU to study communications. I then met somebody and ended up deciding that communications at the time was boring, he was a marketing major and just like that I became a marketing major. So that’s how I wound up graduating with a business degree so it wasn’t really something I had even thought about.
So speed forward, graduate with a business degree, move to New York City and start working in the fashion industry. Did that for about ten years until I was like hmm there has to be more to life than, even though I am very passionate about clothing and fashion, there has to be more than just doing that. I decided to go back to school at New York University and follow my real passion and that was health.
I did that, went got a degree, got a master’s as you said in clinical nutrition and started on the path to helping people eat and feel better.
Jonathan: Keri so then you went on, you were a spokespersons, I can see now where the marketing background comes for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. What has been your observation on this journey? Have you seen any significant shifts or changes in the dietetic landscape that you either like or dislike?
Keri: Well the interesting thing is that it is a career and I should say a field that is always changing. That’s why I really do love it. It never really gets boring and within the field when we talk about health and nutrition, I mean when I started back in 2000 there was a certain belief we had about how to help people. Even over the years with so many ideas that come up it really goes back to still the basics.
That’s why I love it because there’s always all this new info but a lot of it you still think about and you’re like hmmm not as much has really changed it’s just a lot of new hype has come out. More people have an interest for it but I am kind still saying a lot of the same things I was saying thirteen years ago.
Jonathan: Well it does seem like there has been bit of a full circle where there was what grandma said what was just eat food and then there was all this complex calorie counting and metabolism math and trick yourself do this and now we’re like hey just eat food.
Keri: Exactly and that’s what I love about it. It’s still kind of yes your mother was right, start your day with breakfast. But how do we communicate that to people that are changing in their lives, in their careers. You know becoming busier, not at home as much. How do we really still focus on health when everything around us is changing? It has been, I think I do use my marketing background and it’s a way to really learn how to communicate.
Being a past spokesperson that’s very exciting for me because that was really getting out there and representing more than seventy two thousand members of the academy and saying okay this is really what is based on science. This is not fad diets and getting out there and communicating a clear and concise message about how to eat healthy.
Jonathan: Keri when you say eat healthy I think we all take that for granted as yeah we just need to do that. At the same time it seems like there is an equally as commonly doubted recommendation which is just eat less. I don’t care about your life style, I don’t care how much you’re sleeping, I don’t care if you go to McDonalds just eat less. Like just eat less.
Keri: Jonathan we have to start somewhere. For example part of what I still do is have a private practice and my whole belief is I have to meet my patients half way. If I have somebody coming into my office who’s basically really eating unhealthy and when I say unhealthy meaning they are not eating any fruits and vegetables, they don’t even know what a whole grain is, breakfast for them is a cup of coffee, I mean I have to start somewhere. So if that means right now still going to a fast food establishment but maybe having a better choice there.
For example maybe they were doing a cheese burger, double whatever loaded with extra bacon and everything, maybe now it’s okay maybe you just have a single burger. Maybe instead of having a large fries you have a small fry. Maybe instead of having the super-size Coke you are switching to water. Once step at a time. It doesn’t mean they should never never walk into a fast food establishment again. Because that might not be reasonable for this person where they are at this specific time in their life.
Jonathan: Keri what I really like about what you just said is it sounded like you can go to McDonalds and get something else a.k.a change the quality of what you’re eating. There’s two complementary approaches. One is you can just say you should just skip lunch, just stop eating lunch completely, stop eating to the extent that you can stop eating your good. In some ways telling someone for example to eat the Big Mac without the bun is telling them to eat less but it is also telling them to change the quality of what their eating. I realize it is definitely both but which did you tend to emphasize more?
Keri: For me really what I believe is small changes. I feel that that’s important. For example if somebody is having a Big Mac then maybe they don’t, they don’t necessarily need to lose the bun but maybe they need to make it just a single burger. Not do the ultra-huge size and maybe they might have brought some fruit with them miraculously to work, maybe they have a piece of fruit for dessert with that hamburger and fries. I think we focus too much on what people shouldn’t be doing and I think we need to start as a nation focusing on what they should be doing.
It’s not to say that some of those shouldn’t aren’t going to occur. This is life and I feel if we really start to tell people and we play like the food police, obviously that’s not going to work. It’s not working. People don’t want to be constantly told what they shouldn’t do.
Jonathan: I love the focus on pragmatism and baseline it seems like there’s a set of things that just don’t work. Tell me what you think about this. Telling someone that they need to be hungry, they just need to go through life being hungry is not, it can’t work.
Keri: It shouldn’t have to be. When my patients complain that they are hungry, first of all I say to them there is nothing wrong with being a little hungry. That actually means that you’re healthy. If you had no appetite and you never felt hungry then maybe there’s something wrong with you. It’s how do we even define hunger? Nobody should walk around starved all day. But being a little hungry, that’s okay. I think people aren’t comfortable with that. I think people aren’t use to knowing, oh okay I’ve eaten a wonderful healthy breakfast and its three hours later and yeah I am a little hungry.
Guess what its okay, have a snack. Eat a little something and then let it last to your next meal where again you might get a little hungry but you’re not going to stuff your face either. You know there’s different way that we look at things here. A little hunger is okay, being starved all day like I said that’s not what you should want.
Jonathan: It sounds like that maybe the distinction between this chronic hunger that is demoralizing and sabotage your ability to live versus hunger as a trigger to nourish your body. If we didn’t have like it’s like not having pain. Like you just leave your hand on the burning stove that’s not good.
Keri: Right an excellent point to nourish your body. I think more people need to look at that and I don’t think they do. I also think more people need to look at and identify are they really hungry because I always focus with people, especially when we focus on nighttime eating. You know they had a wonderful dinner and we are talking, what is a wonderful dinner? I am talking a broiled piece of fish, a vegetable, a whole grain with that, maybe they started with a salad, maybe they had berries for dessert, a nice well balanced dinner.
Then two hours later they are so called hungry, but are they really? Or are they just simply bored? Are they anxious? Are they lonely? Are they tired? Are they eating out of all the wrong reasons? In that regard I tell people to step back a moment and think about what’s going on with them and is it really food they want or do they need to do something else because it’s not really about hunger.
Jonathan: Or a hunger for something other for food.
Keri: Exactly, exactly. To identify that is challenging. You think about it, children they know when they are hungry, they know when they are full. Somehow adults over the years with all different environmental factors, lots of other stuff that might happen we lose the ability to really identify if we are really hungry, if we are really full. Unfortunately.
Jonathan: Keri one of the key reasons I wanted to have you on the show, obviously you have been doing this for a really long time. You’ve risen to the upper echelons of the dietetic association and I wanted your help. We’ve covered this indirectly twice so far and that is there is this potentially disconnect or at least a major disagreement in the dietary community nowadays. Protein, not necessarily a source of calories like it is a structural component of your diet, so should you be, and you can only get so many carbohydrates through fruits and vegetables.
You aren’t going to get too many carbohydrates from vegetables, you’d have to eat thirty pounds of vegetables right.
Keri: Right, you need a lot of veggies to get adequate carbs.
Jonathan: So do you get the balance of your calories that you need to just have energy from “healthy whole grains” or whole food fats? There seems to be this dichotomy where some people are like it’s all about starch and whole grain starches and that’s the bee’s knees. The other people are like its avocado’s, its chia, its grass fed beef, its seafood. . .
Keri: That’s why everybody Jonathan is so confused because nobody knows who to listen to, what they should put on their plate. My belief and what I tell my patients is that first of all let’s picture a plate and let’s picture it as your dinner plate. Half of that plate should come from vegetables. Plain and simple, vegetables. Now should they be smothered in lots of fat? No. Plain, now let’s just say for all intensive purposes steamed veggies. We will get to the fats in a moment. Then another quarter of your plate should be the whole grains.
The whole grains meaning rice, brown rice or quinoa or barley or whole wheat coos coos or whole wheat pasta, or whole wheat bread. I am a big fan of all carbs but I am looking for, when I say all high fiber whole grain carbs. Then the other quarter of the plate is where the protein comes in. Not half the plate, not the whole plate but a quarter of the plate should be protein. Protein should come from sources that are preferably lean. We’re talking fish, or beans or poultry without the skin. I find that you can even find you can put even a lean beef there.
A ground sirloin, a bison, it fits into that quarter of the plate. Then you want to think do I have any healthy fats with this meal? Is it coming in my salmon? Am I adding a little bit of olive oil? Fine not overkill. The whole point is to have a balanced plate. Then for dessert we throw in the fruit. Now we’ve incorporated all the food groups but we are not overdoing any of them.
Jonathan: Keri when you say a balanced plate, certainly what you described half vegetables, quarter whole grains, quarter lean or nutrient dense proteins, would you feel comfortable if someone said well instead of getting 25% of my plate from a whole grain I am going to have some avocado or maybe I am going to sauté my vegetables in a coconut oil.
Keri: I don’t think whole grains and fat can be replaced one or the other. They are completely different types of components. Whole grains which predominately are high in fiber can help lower cholesterol while avocado and unsaturated fats do have that ability as well. However whole grains also can monitor blood sugar control, can help relieve constipation. It has a different role, also its energy. You can’t use fat for your energy the same way you can use carbs for energy it’s different.
I feel the avocado needs to be part of the plate in a small amount because that aids in satiety. So the healthy fats help fill you up so you don’t want to over eat. That’s where the balance comes into play.
Jonathan: So it sounds like you had mentioned that the key components of the whole grains, correct me if I am wrong is there is a fibrous component and an energy component?
Jonathan: I think sometimes there is almost a false [inaudible 0:15:03]. We get confused because when they say I eat fat they would conflate for example a coconut, a coco, a chia, a avocado which are fibrous and super fibrous actually, they are incredibly fibrous and certainly the body can run off of fat. Fat is obviously what we. . .
Keri: Yes but your number one source of energy should come from carbohydrates. But people when they think carbs they tend to think only bread. Carbohydrates are also fruit and vegetables. Yes there’s less vegetables, only three grams of carbs versus the fifteen in a piece of fruit but nonetheless those are carbohydrates.
Jonathan: The reason I am asking this kind of digging on this is because I think, I have seen both in research and in practice just in the world there are people who have had a lot of success with half their plate being vegetables, quarter being whole grains, quarter being protein. I’ve also seen and the research supports a lot of success with half vegetables, quarter protein and then the balance or the caloric balance coming from whole food fats and relying on fruits and vegetables for the fiber and relying on whole food fats for the energy. Do you think that is wrong or?
Keri: I have not seen the science to support that. I feel that fat is definitely a component of a meal but I don’t know if I would put it as much as a quarter of the plate more or less. If we want to talk percentages, I mean yes I do think it’s typically 20% from protein, 25% from fat, and 55% from carbohydrates. That’s how I look at a daily intake of the breakdown as how it should be.
That’s because really if we think about it fat it comes in certain foods that we’re eating naturally. If we are having a fatty piece of fish or we’re having a lean piece of beef, there’s fat in there. So fat comes into play naturally. Should we also add the healthy fats like the nuts, the seeds, because they have health benefits onto their own, yes. I don’t think they need to take up more than 30% maximum of a daily need of a person’s consumption.
Jonathan: Is it not your recommendation or do you feel it’s detrimental to have a higher percentage of your calories come from whole food fats?
Keri: I would think that I would need to know about a person. There is no one size fits all and that’s the whole thing about nutrition. We need to look at individuals so there is a lot of recommendations out there and I think people really also need to take into consideration their own needs. Their own health risks. Are they at risk for heart disease? Diabetes? What is their current weight? Lots of other factors.
Their activity level. I don’t know if I would say that to an endurance athlete. I wouldn’t want them to cut back so much on carbohydrates. So I think we really can’t say this is the way it should be. We need to look at everybody individually and then make recommendations.
Jonathan: I think that is spot on. I so appreciate your willingness to describe this because what I am just observing in the community at large, because we try to bring a diversity of people on the show. I try to talk to everyone, get research from all angles is that some people perceive the dietetic community, and there is even some dieticians now coming out and believing in this lypophobia. Or that just fat is scary and bad.
You have this counter culture which is like you should eat all fat and only fat and it seems like the answer is it depends on the individual and regardless you should be getting your food. However carbohydrate, protein, fat from the highest quality whole food sources.
Keri: Yes and I think that we shouldn’t be afraid of any food group. I mean that is to me the bottom line. So if you’re saying there’s all these new people coming out that are you know all about fat, well I don’t want them to forget about the carbohydrates. There are still people who are carbphobic. It works both ways and I wish that people would realize every food group believe it or not offers different nutrients and different components that we need to run our bodies efficiently.
Jonathan: When you say the unique nutritional contributions, what I see a lot of people do is say I’m going to get my carbohydrate from fruit and vegetables and that’s going to give me all the fiber like everything a whole grain will do fruits and vegetables will do nutritionally. There is not a unique property, you can’t have a grain deficiency. There is no such thing as an essential grain.
Keri: But there are unique properties to whole grains that you will not find in a piece of fruit. So therefore people really need to look at the whole picture. I mean I just don’t see a reason, the other thing is yes if someone said to me I hate whole grains. Okay, I mean if they hate them then they are not going to eat them. I will try to find a way for them to get all, as best nutrients they can without them. So I don’t think again its so clear cut.
I think a job as a nutrition expert is make sure that you are helping people to achieve their ultimate wellness the best as you can based on their likes and their dislikes. If you also go out there and say to people you only need to be eating avocado and all these different types of fats and they hate avocado, now where do you stand? It’s not going to work. People go out there and saying and touting certain foods, oh these are super foods, this is what you should be eating.
But what if they don’t like it? I think we have to, and I said this earlier in the interview. We need to really meet people half way. Where are they at? Get off of our own interests and not just do it on what we believe for ourselves personally, but what would also be best for someone else.
Jonathan: Really with that focus on results and helping people to live better rather than being right.
Keri: Exactly. You know what? There is no right and wrong. The right and wrong comes in at, the bottom line is when you look at somebodies blood work and you see where’s their cholesterol levels? Where’s their blood glucose? Also how’s their blood pressure? We need to look at those numbers and then make our decision on what’s working and what’s not.
Jonathan: I love it, I love it. Let the results be your guide rather than dogma or what you’ve heard from someone. So Keri one last thing, I know we are at time. Just given your role I am so curious, you’ve mentioned the term food groups and for example, dairy is its own food group.
Keri: Yes it is.
Jonathan: Do you know things become their own food group? How is that decided upon?
Keri: It was decided upon long before any of us were born. People sat in a room and decided. I don’t really know how the food pyramid was originally created. That’s something I guess we can all google and see when it started. Yes, I mean we didn’t even mention low fat dairy and I’m also component for that. I feel dairy has a lot of nutrients that you’re not going to find in other foods. I know that’s disputable too. We can have a whole other twenty minute discussion on whether someone should eat dairy or not. That’s the beauty of nutrition and that’s why I love the field because there is always so much conflict and controversy. We all have our opinions but we also know what science points out and I always do err on the side of science.
Jonathan: Absolutely that makes a lot, I think its such an interesting marketing or historical question when you say, cause when everyone says balance, yes balance is good we all agree with it. Like up with people yay. But what is balance is defined by what are food groups? Who came up with the food groups?
Keri: You know what we are going to have to reconvene on that one. We’ll both do our research then we will dispute that for a little while.
Jonathan: I love it, I love it. Keri thank you so much. This has been an absolute pleasure. Your book is called The Small Change Diet. Folks you can learn more about Keri at kerigansnutrition.com. Keri you’re obviously full of passion, what’s next for you?
Keri: I am just going to continue going out there and talking to people about what I love and that’s health. So that’s what’s next it’s always continuing.
Jonathan: Love it. Folks her name is Keri Gans. Again her books is The Small Change Diet: Ten Steps to a Thinner, Healthier You. She’s focused on results which makes me happy. And again you can learn more about her at kerigansnutrition.com. Keri thank you so much for joining us today.
Keri: My pleasure.
Jonathan: Listeners I hope you have enjoyed this conversation as much as I did and please remember this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.