Increasing intake of healthy fats: Consuming healthy fats from foods like olive oil, avocado, nuts, nut butters, and fatty fish can help provide the body with omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to support healthy aging and brain health.
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 Staci Gulbin.
Staci Gulbin, a registered dietitian since 2010, is a graduate of the Institute of Human Nutrition and Teacher’s College of Columbia University and has treated hundreds of patients over the years for nutrition-related issues ranging from weight management, diabetes, heart health, renal health, and bariatric nutrition pre- and post-surgery. She has also been a freelance writer for various health platforms including Shape.com, Health.com, GoodRx.com, Livestrong.com, as well as Vita Sciences, Cdiabetes, and Casa de Sante since 2011, and has been featured as a nutrition expert on websites like OprahMag.com and EatThisNotThat, to name a few. Staci has two published cookbooks currently on Amazon.com, “The High Protein Bariatric Cookbook” and “The Healthy Bariatric Smoothies Recipe Book,” and she is currently working on finding representation for her self-help/memoir that chronicles her recent five-year battle with various health crises and life lessons she has learned from these experiences. Staci has a website and blog at www.lighttracknutrition.com related to new health food products, nutrition tips, and evidence-based wellness advice, and she plans on releasing a podcast with related content in January 2024.
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?
I grew up in a small town in Maryland with one sister and one brother, with myself being the middle child. From the age of three, I loved to read and was especially fascinated with science, particularly biology. I always wanted to become a doctor: one of my favorite books was a book about the anatomy of the human body, I loved watching St. Elsewhere (a medical show in the 1980’s), and I would hand out “Smarties” candies to my family members pretending they were medicine. However, I realized as I grew older that I simply wanted to be in a profession that could help other people lead healthier lives. I majored in biology in college as well as in my graduate school program at New York University. And as if through a twist of fate, I was led to the field of nutrition and never looked back.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
While at graduate school at New York University, I was in a class where we had to choose a topic to do a presentation on. I was one of the last ones to have the chance to choose a topic, and I ended up getting the topic “Obesity and Diabetes.” I enjoyed this topic so much that it became the focus of my Master’s thesis. Not long after this topic discovery, I went to the mailbox in my dorm to find a flyer in my mail slot advertising a Human Nutrition program at Columbia University. I didn’t have any money to apply at that time, but was fortunate enough to receive a rebate check in the mail one day from a laptop I purchased earlier that year. The check provided me just enough funds to cover the application fee and to purchase copies of my standardized test results to be sent with my application.
Less than two months later, I was accepted to the Human Nutrition Master’s program at the Institute of Human Nutrition. From there, I attended the Teacher’s College of Columbia University for Nutrition Education to obtain the rest of the credits I needed to apply for dietetic internships and eventually become a dietitian. Within a year and half of graduating, I was matched with Iowa State University dietetic internship, where after completing the six-month program, I started my journey as a dietitian.
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?
As a healthcare provider, I can’t say that any mistake I made was funny. However, when I was first starting out as a dietitian, I would be afraid to go into patients’ rooms when they were resting because I didn’t want to disturb them. But a mentor at the hospital I was interning at told me something I still remember to this day. She said, “Every time you see a patient, make sure you leave the room with them learning at least one thing from you that they didn’t know before you saw them.” I apply this lesson in my work to this day.
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?
The three character traits I think were most instrumental to my success are diligence, persistence, and resilience. Throughout my career, I have had to exercise diligence. Even if it was at a job I was not completely passionate about, I had to put forth my very best effort, learn all that I could learn from the job itself, other staff, and patients alike. Every skill or lesson I learned at each job was going to help me become a better dietitian or person in some way that would benefit my career journey in the long term. I knew that upon completion of my dietetic internship I was not going to automatically find my dream job. But in order to work towards that dream job of mine, I had to pay my dues at entry level positions and otherwise to help me build my resume and prepare me for that dream job in the future.
Through this process of finding my dream job, I had to be persistent and keep applying for jobs as if it were a part-time job in itself. I had to network with people in my field and send out queries for any jobs that I wanted but may not be listed online. This was especially true when I started trying to become a health writer. I had to take any writing jobs I could get at first to gain experience, hone my craft, and build my resume. I had to take small wages for these jobs even though they were a lot of work for me since I did not yet have the experience to garner larger wages. But over time, as I gained experience, clients trusted me more, recommended me to their colleagues, and I could ask for higher wages and have more creative license in what projects I took on.
Finally, my career journey required, and still requires a lot of resilience. Putting yourself out there, sending queries (to editors of magazines and to literary agents in my case) to any authority figures in your field will produce a lot of rejections. At first, such rejection will be a sting to your ego. But if you stopped trying after every rejection, you would never succeed. You only need one “yes” to provide you a new opportunity. So, if you want a dream job bad enough, you will keep trying in spite of any rejection to find that “yes” to help you move one step closer to a job that will allow you to do what you love for a living.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I just recently finished a self-help memoir that is based on the past five years of my life and the health trials I faced: a pancreas mass, digestive infections, and multiple injuries from a serious car accident. The book tells the story of such events in my life along with lessons I learned from each event. I think this book could help people realize that they are stronger than they think and that every event in life, good or bad, has something in it that can help us grow and strengthen us in body and mind. I am in the process of finding a literary agent for this book, and hope soon to be able to accomplish this so that others can benefit from my story.
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 the topic of nutrition since I have been working in the dietetics field since 2008, have been a dietitian since 2010, and have been a health and nutrition writer since 2011. Through my work with hundreds upon hundreds of patients and clients, I have worked in various fields of nutrition including medical weight loss, bariatric surgery pre- and post-nutrition therapy, long-term care and rehab clinical nutrition, as well as clinical inpatient nutrition and related medical nutrition therapy. Not to mention that through my health journey, I have personal experience in dealing with the nutritional challenges that come along with food allergies, food intolerances, as well as with pancreatic enzyme insufficiencies.
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?
In my opinion, the main blockage that prevents us from taking the information we all know and integrating it into our lives is the overload of information in front of us. It is one thing to know instinctively that eating fruits and vegetables is healthy for our bodies and that cutting down on sugar can benefit our health. However, it can become confusing to know how to apply this to daily life when there are so many commanding voices on social media and online telling us how to do it.
For example, I have encountered many patients in my career that would tell me the latest health advice they saw on television. They would tell me that so and so said that wheat makes you gain weight or that bananas are “fattening” (even though bananas are virtually fat-free). As a dietitian, I know that this information is not only inaccurate, but unproven by any evidence-based research. And then some clients will tell me that research can’t be believed because it’s all funded by “Big ____” food company. I would tell them that this is false, but unfortunately, a lot of people believe anything they hear online or on television.
In recent years, social media has become a cesspool for health misinformation, with millions of people following “influencers” with no health credentials or experience and falling on their every word. And those same influencers are demonizing health experts who have spent most of their adult lives learning about their field of study in order to help people. It has become a near impossible task for any health care provider to be taken seriously online or otherwise since there are so many snake oil salesmen brainwashing the average consumer to believe that taking one pill, one supplement, or drinking one “special” juice or smoothie can cure all of their ailments.
Many people in this life want easy answers, even if the “answer” is nonsense, since it is better than having an expert tell you that feeling better, losing weight, or becoming healthier will take long term hard work and sacrifice. I hope that by continuing to tell my story through my upcoming book and podcast, I can start to help changing this view on healthcare experts and start opening people’s eyes to the hard, but real truth of what it takes to create your best and healthiest life. I hope my podcast specifically will help to provide simple nutrition tips that just about anyone can incorporate in their daily lives to help them start building a healthier lifestyle.
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 do believe that nutrition plays a pivotal role in supporting the body’s natural healing processes and overall well-being, especially in chronic disease, as I know personally. The important thing to remember is that there is not one way of eating that will benefit everyone with a certain ailment or illness.
I know for me, I have always had digestive issues. I discovered I was lactose intolerant at the age of 21, developed an egg allergy in my thirties, and was diagnosed with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth at the Mayo Clinic in 2020. And over the past few years, I developed pancreatic enzyme insufficiency as well as post-cholecystectomy syndrome, which both make it hard for my body to digest fat. In turn, I have to carefully watch everything I eat to lower the risk of malabsorption and abdominal pain episodes. I notice when my body is not absorbing enough nutrition because I start to feel fatigued and low on energy and motivation.
In my hospital work, nutrition therapy is critical to help keep a patient’s strength up so they can fight whatever disease or condition they are dealing with, or to support their wound healing. It is important however that nutrition is not the only form of treatment one uses to help them heal. It is necessary to use nutrition therapy as an adjunct therapy in collaboration with other treatments such as certain medications, physical therapy, acupuncture, surgery, etc. (depending on what condition you are trying to treat) in order to manage your condition most effectively.
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.
I want to preface the five examples of foods or dietary patterns I believe are helpful in supporting or managing health conditions by saying that no food or dietary pattern has proven itself to “cure” any disease or illness. Nutrition is the basic foundation of health, but nutrition alone does not a healthy lifestyle make.
1 . Increasing intake of fruits and vegetables: Research shows that increased intake of fruits and vegetables can reduce risk of high blood pressure and in turn reduce risk of heart disease over time (Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37106252/). Not to mention that the increased fiber intake obtained from consuming such foods regularly can help reduce all-cause mortality overall (Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37854351/).
2 . Increasing intake of healthy fats: Consuming healthy fats from foods like olive oil, avocado, nuts, nut butters, and fatty fish can help provide the body with omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to support healthy aging and brain health. (Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37191867/)
3 . Ensuring adequate hydration: It’s important to stay hydrated daily to support optimal health. Recent studies show in fact that those older adults who had reduced hydration had lower cognitive functioning (Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36882739/). Also, a long-term study shows that those who are most adequately hydrated have a lower risk of chronic conditions (Source: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/2023/good-hydration-linked-healthy-aging). Water, low-calorie, and non-caffeinated beverages are the healthiest options to support adequate hydration (Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/caffeinated-drinks/faq-20057965).
4 . Reducing sugar intake: Research shows that reducing your daily intake of sugar, specifically added sugars, can reduce risk of chronic diseases like heart disease (Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37019448/).
5 . Eating a balanced diet daily instead of chronic dieting: Research shows that chronic dieting can lead to anxiety, depression, and disordered eating behaviors that can harm a person’s relationship with food and make eating a stressful activity, which it should not be (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7538029/#REF38). Also, weight cycling as a result of chronic dieting can put stress on the body and may place stress on the cardiovascular system (Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6489475/).
And as a real-life example, as someone who has a history of disordered eating throughout my teens and twenties, I didn’t realize how much stress chronic dieting was having on my mental and physical health. That is until my digestive and pancreas health problems forced me to start listening to my body instead of listening to a restrictive meal plan. Once I freed myself from the chains of tracking every calorie and macro, I started to enjoy food more and began to listen to what my body needed to feel its best. This in turn helped to heal my body as well as my relationship with food.
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?
In my experience with patients and clients, merely getting someone into the habit of eating healthy foods is the first and foremost important step. Starting a healthy lifestyle can be overwhelming, especially if you do not know how to prepare or cook foods or have never really looked at nutrition labels before. I have had some patients who had never eaten a vegetable before in their life and they were well into their forties when they saw me.
Therefore, I try to start by explaining simple methods of preparing vegetables such as steaming or roasting, finding a few vegetables or fruits a person is willing to try, and then showing them how they can fit those foods into meals and snacks. I don’t worry about whether they eat it cooked or raw or with skins on or off. Whatever method makes eating healthy food taste good to them and will in turn make them want to eat healthy food on a regular basis, then that is what matters most.
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?
When I started working as a dietitian about 13 years ago, I remember dietitians had to get permission from the medical team to give a patient an oral nutrition supplement like a nutrition shake. It took a lot of time to find the busy doctors to get such permission, and therefore took time away from caring for my other patients. It was a very frustrating time. That is why I am so glad to see that over the past several years, times are starting to change, and the medical team and other healthcare providers realize the importance of registered dietitians in providing optimal nutrition recommendations to their patients and respect their expertise in their field of nutrition. The patient benefits the most when everyone on the healthcare team works together for their benefit.
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?
Food accessibility is a large issue when it comes to providing adequate nutrition resources for all. I have worked in a lot of public healthcare setting over the years and have seen firsthand how it is not that many people do not want to eat healthy, but it’s that they simply cannot afford healthy food and in turn do not know how to include it in their daily lives.
I am not an expert on food policy or economics by any means, but I would hope that there would be changes in the healthcare system where people with low income could receive more access to vouchers specifically for healthy food items at the grocery store, that they would be eligible for free community cooking classes, and would have access to free or low cost meetings with a dietitian to learn how to prepare and fit healthy foods into their daily routine. I see such programs starting in some major cities, but there are not enough in more rural areas as well as in smaller towns and cities surrounding such large cities where a lot of low-income individuals reside.
I think it would also be helpful to encourage people to donate healthier foods to food banks such as canned fruits and vegetables, beans, rice, nut butters, and other whole grain foods like cereals, oatmeal, and dehydrated dairy products. It’s a habit to just donate cheap foods to such organizations like ramen noodles, prepackaged boxed meals, and soups which are high in sodium and low in nutrition. Don’t get me wrong, any donation is a kind gesture and can be beneficial overall to help a person’s daily caloric intake to avoid malnutrition. However, healthier foods would help support healthier habits for those with food insecurity and in turn help them to lower risk of or manage any health conditions they may have.
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?
The best advice I can provide someone for navigating the vast wellness culture is to check your sources. Sure, someone who lost weight successfully or helped manage their diabetes successfully can hold some good advice and tips. But ultimately, it is vital to lean on healthcare experts with credentials and vast experience in their field to provide medical nutrition therapy such as ways to help with nutrient deficiencies and what foods to eat for certain health conditions.
It is very important to avoid any information online that shares a website with selling “special” supplements, pills, powders, or programs that offer quick results or “cures” to ailments. These sites are simply harmful and are likely created and managed by people with no nutrition background or expertise.
Even if someone claims to be an expert or a doctor, be sure to check credentials for exact information on a person. For example, a psychiatrist with no nutrition background is not a reliable source of information for dietary advice. Also, avoid any sites or blogs where people try to make you scared of food. A healthy relationship with food is crucial to long-term health of body and mind.
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?
I think the most exciting research prospects for me are the studies hoping to discover how to make heart healthy foods more accessible and affordable. From my experience working in a public hospital, I see how much of a barrier this is to positive health outcomes. Time and time again I see how malnutrition makes it difficult for people to manage wounds or chronic conditions, and in turn makes the hospital their second home when it shouldn’t be. I think finding out ways to make food insecurity less of an issue in society will help so many aspects of healthcare in the long run.
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 feel the best way to better educate the public about the health benefits of food is to join forces with popular online entities to help spread accurate health and nutrition information to a wide audience. I also feel it is very important for prominent social media organizations to set higher standards when it comes to who they allow to disseminate health and nutrition information on their sites.
Currently, I see many nutrition science experts and dietitians who spend a lot of time debunking false nutrition claims that uncredentialed, fearmongering influencers promote. This wastes precious time that those experts could be using to spread nutrition education to the masses. Although I understand freedom of speech is important to maintain, I feel that policies should be placed against such speech that can harm others such as false and misleading health and nutrition information that is not evidence-based.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can further follow my work online by following my blog and updates on www.lighttracknutrition.com.
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!
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