Nourishing Knowledge: Carlos Fragoso Of Nutrethos On The Power of Food as Medicine

An Interview With Wanda Malhotra

Wanda Malhotra
Authority Magazine

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Don’t underestimate the power of spices and herbs. Although we generally consume these things in very small amounts as seasoning for flavoring, many spices and herbs can help reduce inflammation, control blood sugar, improve blood circulation, have antiseptic properties, heal the gut lining, and so much more.

In an era dominated by pharmaceutical solutions, there is a rising consciousness about the incredible healing and preventive powers of food. As the age-old saying goes, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” But how does this translate in today’s world? Can we really use nutrition as a potent tool against sickness and disease? How does one curate a diet that supports health, longevity, and wellness? In this series, we are talking to nutritionists, dietitians, medical professionals, holistic health experts, and anyone with authoritative knowledge on the subject. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Carlos Fragoso, registered dietitian.

Carlos Fragoso is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and the founder of Nutrethos, a private nutrition practice. Carlos earned his bachelor’s in psychology at New York University (NYU) and later went on to earn his Master’s in Clinical Nutrition at NYU. Carlos completed his clinical rotations at NYU Langone Medical Center and worked at the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. When Carlos isn’t counseling clients, he enjoys spending time with his family and friends, moving his body (weight training, group fitness, yoga), cooking, and traveling.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

It’s a pleasure to participate, thank you! I was born and raised on Long Island as the youngest of three children (I have two older sisters). I was always a high achiever, having played an instrument, involved in multiple extra-curricular activities, and received my International Baccalaureate diploma when I graduated high school. So, when I took a quiz from my school’s career center that suggested I become a farmer, I was a bit confused! I ignored that calling when I decided to move to New York City for college, but 10+ years and a master’s degree in nutrition later, I’m kind of wishing I did become a farmer! How cool would it be to be both a dietitian and a farmer!

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I knew in third grade that I wanted to go to NYU for college and I wanted a job that was about helping other people. During my undergrad I studied psychology, which was incredibly interesting, but I wasn’t convinced it was what I wanted to do with my career. After graduating, I considering becoming a social worker, but while I was preparing to apply to social work programs, I decided to start training for the NYC Marathon. It was during my training that I started going to the gym regularly and focusing on my nutrition. I became enthralled with how much there was to learn about nutrition, and I wanted to know more, so I enrolled in an intro to nutrition class at a local college and that’s when I got hooked. From there I started interning for a non-profit in NYC with a team of dietitians and I knew that was where I was meant to be. I was fortunate enough to enroll in the master’s program for clinical nutrition at NYU and it remains one of the best decisions of my life.

It has been said that our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I think my biggest mistake when starting out was not being willing to accept help. I had it in my head that if I was going to make it in my private practice, that I needed to do it entirely on my own merit and that I needed to find my own voice. I spent a lot of time struggling on my own, until I finally let go of my ego and allowed others to help me. I find this to be funny because looking back I realize how silly it was and how much time I wasted. Since letting other people in I have learned so much and have found great joy in working with amazing minds.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I have always prided myself on being extremely organized. I write everything down, I use color coding, calendar reminders, lists, and I have a system for everything. I really think my organization has done me well because my colleagues and managers have always been impressed with how orderly and efficient, and it gives them confidence in my work. Additionally, it helps me to stay on track and keep up with my aspirational goals!

Something about me that could be a curse, but I see as a blessing is that I tend to be blindly optimistic. I go into many situations not even considering that the outcome could be anything other than what I want, but I think there is something to be said for the law of attraction. Not only am I attracting the things that I want, but I am inspiring those around me, as well.

The absolute most important thing in business is being resilient. Especially when starting my own practice, there are 100 ‘no’s’ for every ‘yes,’ and if you let all of the no’s get you down, you’re never going to keep up. You must remain steadfast in your goals and your confidence in your ability to achieve those goals, because if you don’t have faith in yourself, then how can you expect anyone else to have faith in you?

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I’m currently working alongside a mental health counselor to develop a program for anyone who is looking to improve their mental health with the help of nutrition. I think that it will be an invaluable tool for so many because the mind-gut connection is so strong and so often overlooked.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview about cultivating wellness through proper nutrition and diet. To begin, can you tell our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the topic of nutrition?

I am an authority on nutrition because I am a registered dietitian (RD)! As a registered dietitian, I have a 4-year undergraduate degree, plus a 2-year master’s degree in clinical nutrition, and a 1-year dietetic internship in a hospital. This is different from someone who is a “nutritionist,” as they don’t require a degree from an accredited institution. As an RD I incorporate scientific research in food science, social science, and behavioral science to promote a healthy relationship with food, help prevent disease, or help heal chronic disease.

We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

This is a great question and I think the crux of the matter is that it can be difficult for many different reasons, depending on the person. What I notice most often is that people underestimate how all-encompassing nutrition really is and how much time and commitment is required to make lasting changes. Having a good diet to promote health isn’t just eating fruits and vegetables (though that is a huge part of it!), but rather it is our daily habits and routines, relationships, self-perception, sleep, etc. Not that all these things need to change in a person’s life for them to achieve health, but achieving good nutrition and health sometimes means digging deep in unexpectedly difficult ways, and that takes time.

Another main blockage that I see is people being unclear of their ‘why’ for wanting to make changes to their diet. A big part of my work as a dietitian is to help people get very clear on their reason for wanting to making changes beyond surface level things like looking good or fitting into certain clothes. Sometimes a person’s reason could be preventing chronic disease they may be genetically predisposed to, or help with symptoms of depression and anxiety, or be around a long time for their kids.

From your professional perspective, do you believe that nutrition plays a pivotal role in supporting the body’s natural healing processes and overall well-being, particularly in cases of chronic diseases? We’re interested in hearing your insights on the connection between a holistic approach to diet and its benefits for individuals facing health challenges.

I absolutely believe that nutrition plays a pivotal role in healing and promoting well-being in the context of chronic disease. Conditions like diabetes and heart disease don’t just start overnight, and our dietary patterns do not exist in a vacuum. From the time we are born and continuing into adulthood our psychology, environment, culture, and financial status are helping to form our lifestyle habits, which includes diet, activity level, sleep patterns, and stress management. Research even suggests that our dietary habits start to form as early as gestation based on our mother’s own dietary habits.

A holistic approach to nutrition is not limited to diet, but incorporates all aspects of life like I mentioned earlier — daily habits and routines (sleep, alcohol consumption), relationships, self-perception, trauma, etc. Additionally, holistic nutrition incorporates many approaches to nutrition care including intuitive eating, nutrition education, mindful eating, anti-diet messaging, and health at every size. Nutrition cannot be one-size-fits-all because we all have unique bodies and have had unique life experiences.

Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your research or experience could you share with us five examples of foods or dietary patterns that have demonstrated remarkable potential in preventing, reducing, or managing specific health conditions? If you can, it would be insightful if you could provide real-life examples of their curative properties.

  1. The first and most obvious dietary pattern would be the Mediterranean diet. This is a plant-based diet that originated in the region that includes Greece, Southern Spain, Crete, and Southern Italy. In addition to being a plant-based diet, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes daily intake of whole grains, olive oil, fruits vegetable legumes, nuts herbs, and spices. Animal proteins are eaten in relatively small quantities, with preferred sources being fish and seafood. There is a mountain of scientific evidence showing the efficacy of the Mediterranean diet reducing risk of cardiovascular disease (the most common chronic disease in the US), as well as reducing inflammation, managing blood sugar, and reducing overall mortality.
  2. Leafy green vegetables are perhaps the most nutrient dense and important plants that we can consume. Not only are they packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber, but they are also full of anti-inflammatory compounds and phytonutrients that help support immune function and hormone regulation.
  3. A perhaps unexpected dietary pattern shown to help prevent and manage chronic disease is that of the Seventh Day Adventists (SDA) — a Protestant Christian denomination. Their beliefs on nutrition are very similar to that of a plant-based diet, but a;so include a few other very important components that I think contribute greatly to overall health. The Adventist model of nutrition focuses on keeping food preparation simple, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables, but they also emphasis chewing food thoroughly and eating three regular meals per day without snacks. These last two points of are interest to me because I think that they can have a profoundly positive impact on digestion and overall caloric intake. Adventists also discourage intake of alcohol and caffeine, which can both have significant impacts on heart, liver, kidney, and brain health.
  4. Don’t underestimate the power of spices and herbs. Although we generally consume these things in very small amounts as seasoning for flavoring, many spices and herbs can help reduce inflammation, control blood sugar, improve blood circulation, have antiseptic properties, heal the gut lining, and so much more.
  5. Finally, this isn’t really a dietary pattern per-se, but cooking at home is the best thing that one can do for their overall health. When we cook from home, we know exactly what is going into our foods and in what quantities. Food from restaurants and fast-food establishments are far higher in sodium, saturated fat, calories, and are generally less nutrient dense. It is hard to eat food that is prepared outside the home on a regular basis and have a truly balanced and healthy diet. Also, there is something to be said for preparing the food you’re eating with your own hands — it makes of more appreciative of the time, energy, and care that goes into taking care of our bodies.

Do experts generally agree that merely choosing healthy foods isn’t sufficient, but that understanding how to consume them is key to unlocking their full health benefits? (For example, skins on/off, or cooked/raw, or whole grain/refined grain) Could you provide advice on how to approach this and sidestep common errors or misconceptions?”

I would not agree that there is some sort of secret way to unlock the full benefits of foods, but I would support saying there are some general ways to enjoy food that are more healthful than others. Whether or not you like to eat the skin from a piece of salmon or have your vegetables raw or cooked, what is important is to focus on food that you enjoy and that is in line with your cultural, religious or ethical beliefs. One can never eat too many fruits and vegetables, but there are a few things to be mindful of regarding the quality of food and the method of food preparation.

When eating fruits and vegetables, choosing organic is preferable but not mandatory. A lot of small farmers (often found at farmers markets or even local grocery stores) grow their food organically but cannot afford the organic certification. If you’re unable to get your produce locally, I recommend looking into EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” to get an idea what which produce you should try to get organic, and which might be safe to eat conventional.

Meats are another area where quality matters. Whenever possible, beef should be from pasture-raised and grass-fed cows whenever possible, chicken should be free of antibiotics and pasture raised, eggs should be pasture-raised, and fish should be wild caught.

Baking, steaming, boiled, and sautéing (lightly in oil) are preferred cooking methods over frying. Frying often means higher levels of saturated fat (“bad” fat), increased free radicals, and less nutrient density.

Whole grains are always preferred over refined grains, though I personally still like to eat regular pasta (semolina is my favorite)! Whole grain products have fiber, which is important for blood sugar management and digestion, but they also have more vitamins and minerals than refined grains.

With the recent prominence of nutrition’s integration into healthcare, what’s your perspective on the collaborative approach between medical professionals, health coaches, and nutrition experts when it comes to delivering holistic patient care? Can you please explain?

Absolutely. Interdisciplinary care is so important because all healthcare professionals have their primary focus, but inevitably our scope of practice overlaps with one another. I may be working with an individual with IBS who I am treating with diet and supplementation, but if their IBS is triggered or exacerbated by stress or anxiety, collaborating with their mental health provider means my client is getting the best in practice care. An individual’s needs are so varied and no one health professional can do it all. If you are seeing a healthcare professional who is not willing to confer with your other providers, I would question whether that provider has your best interest in mind — that is how important interdisciplinary care is.

It’s been suggested that using ‘food as medicine’ has the potential to reduce healthcare costs by preventing disease severity. However, there’s concern about the affordability of healthier food options. What solutions do you believe could make nutritious choices accessible to everyone, ensuring that food truly becomes a form of medicine for all?

I am a big supporter of a top-down approach to effectuating change in food and nutrition. Public policy has long dictated our food system and I think there needs to be change at the government level. In my ideal world, food companies like Pepsico (also the owner of Frito-Lay) or Mars, and fast-food chains would be taxed at a higher level, and the purpose of this increased tax would be two-fold: (1) ultra-processed convenience foods would be less affordable and therefore less likely to be purchased, and (2) proceeds from the taxes can be used to offset the costs of healthful whole foods. So, instead of having a snack bag of chips cost $1.25, they should cost $5. Then a container of organic strawberries can cost $3 instead of $8.

Everyone’s body is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. How does one navigate the vast array of nutritional advice available today to curate a diet tailored to individual needs, ensuring health and longevity?

There is so much confliction nutrition information online and in the media that it can be confusing for so many people. The best rule of thumb is the stick to a plant-based diet, specifically the Mediterranean diet. For anyone who wants a more tailored approach to nutrition or has specific medical needs they’d like to address, the best course of action would be working with a registered dietitian. Dietitians are skilled at meeting your cultural, religious, or socioeconomic needs as they pertain to food, and can also provide vital education on the ways to plan and prepare food for improved health.

As our understanding of the intricate link between food and health continues to evolve, we’re curious to know which emerging trends or breakthroughs in nutritional science excite you the most. How do you envision these advancements shaping the future of healthcare?

The area of gut health, specifically the gut microbiome is such a burgeoning area of research that I think has the potential to provide a lot of solutions to long unanswered questions regarding health. We know that the connection between the gut and the brain is incredibly powerful, but I think we’ve only just started to uncover a tiny portion of a vast sea of possibility for human health and development.

How can we better educate the public about the medicinal properties of food, and what role do professionals like you play in this educational journey?

I strongly believe that nutrition education needs to start when we are children. Just has we learn earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics, understanding food science is the most vital science we can learn as we grow. My ethos as a dietitian has always been ‘knowledge is power’ — the more we know about nutrition and food science, the better we can take care of ourselves, navigate the confliction information we see in social media and on the news, and protect ourselves from chronic disease.

Dietitians like me are such powerful educators with a wealth of knowledge and desire to promote change. The more we can involve dietitians in schools and healthcare, the more we can empower people to care for themselves.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can follow me on Instagram, where I post bits of nutrition education and commentary on current topics related to food. They can also sign up for my newsletter through my website. I send out newsletters monthly with recipes, current nutrition events, opportunities to learn, and updates about my practice.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you for the opportunity to share with you and I hope the readers take away at least one helpful piece of information!

About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra, a Certified Health Coach and wellness entrepreneur with 28 years of experience, is the visionary founder behind Crunchy Mama Box, a Mission-driven Marketplace promoting healthier, sustainable living. Committed to social engagement, Wanda supports causes like environmental preservation, animal welfare, mental health, human rights, and social responsibility. Through her work, Wanda writes passionately about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact, and eco-friendly living. She shares valuable insights, advocating holistic health and sustainability, and aims to simplify wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at CrunchyMamaBox.com

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Wanda Malhotra
Authority Magazine

Wellness Entrepreneur, Lifestyle Journalist, and CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living.