Sustainability Spotlight: Rachel Mahalow
Rachel, also known as @soyumsofun, is a sustainable millennial who is a purveyor of excellent nutritional information via her Instagram account and blog. She is in active pursuit of another degree, and is constantly educating herself about the health benefits of food, really embodying the mantra of letting food be your medicine.
Rachel, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
The gist: I graduated from UDel last year, it’s almost been a year which is crazy. Last year I was applying to dietetic internships, which is a requirement, and the application process is really hard. Right now I’m doing a masters combined with a dietetic internship, and this year from 2019-2020 I’ll be done with my masters. I’ll be starting my internship at Morristown Hospital. You need the clinical experience, but it all depends on where I’ll end up. I like my career path because of the diversity of doing different things every day, like if you’re working in a community setting, you get to interact with people a lot. Or if I want to be super knowledgeable about one specific realm, you can specialize in preconception and be a certified lactation consultant.
What exactly does a RD do?
Community, clinical, food service, or research.
Where does interest in nutrition stem from?
I always liked science and was good at it. At one point I wanted to do PT, I’ve also considered personal training. I don’t want to be a physical therapist, then I was like “oh, eating well, food is a common thing among people, and Americans aren’t even eating real food.”
Where do you source most of your articles?
I have databases through my school, I would say Pubmed, EBSCOHOST. Other dietitians that I follow post podcasts and books, It’s really nice when people actually respond back. [Have you listened to Life Kit from NPR? Worth listening to!]
Which food bloggers that you would like to have over for dinner?
Rachel Goodeats, she owns her own café and is a certified personal trainer. I really like Lisa Hayim, she’s a dietitian, she focuses on intuitive eating, which is essentially ignoring diet culture rules - this could benefit people that have had issues with eating disorders, etc.
Healthiest foods to eat on a daily basis?
Any type of dark greens. [Why not light green?] They are essentially just water; there are barely any vitamins and minerals being consumed. Certain organic foods don’t have the same nutrient profiles they have years ago. So I try to spinach or kale on a daily basis. I recently tried experimenting with collard greens. Spinach is my big thing, If I don’t get it in one meal, I get it in another. Sweet potatoes, they are really healthy and easy to use in recipes, lots of vitamin A! The US has this weird mentality of a protein deficiency in the US. There would be visible signs of a protein deficiency, like no one in this town is protein deficient. That being said, I would recommend plant based protein powder for certain lifestyles. The focus of our diet should be on plants. There is so much research on the health benefits of a plant based diet, yet look at where we are.
[Well I couldn’t agree more. We are consuming far too much meat and not enough vegetables. Chicken is harder to make an argument against, and even seafood carries so many health benefits. But the one major drawback is the micro plastics that have been found in 28% of fish. Humans have polluted a life source that we continue to eat and drink. A study last year found traces of it in eighty-three per cent of tap-water samples around the world. (The incidence was highest in the United States, at ninety-four per cent.) It’s really hard to win.]
I have a hard time advocating for certain things because I don’t do things perfectly, and if I preach a really expensive item, am I going to buy them all the time? No. Maybe some of my followers have the means to do that, but I am an advocate for doing whatyou can. [The one thing I know as an alternative to seafood is cutting out the middleman and just eating the seaweed and kelp directly, where the omega 3’s originate.]
Tips for eating better?
You’re never uncomfortable if you eat a good meal. Eating food that makes you feel good is what you should focus on. Monitor your body after a meal and see if anything gives you stomach pain, etc. and then try cutting it out of your diet. Oh and if you eat eggs, my criteria for purchasing them are that they must be free range, cage free, pasture raised, and organic.
What are the benefits of a vegan or gluten free diet?
There’s lots of research behind eating plants, mainly the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits, as many diseases present are due to too much inflammation in the body. To alleviate this amount of inflammation, you need to eat these antioxidant rich foods that prevent inflammation and are vital in disease prevention. A vegan diet is beneficial and healthy, but can be done terribly wrong, like being B12 deficient. There’s a lot of existing research about the link between Alzheimer’s and diet. Fiber is good if you have high cholesterol, and for weight loss, etc.
Gluten free: for a while I was eating well, but was still really tired and got bad acne. I don’t eat that much processed stuff, so I looked up this doctor who suggested cutting out gluten, even though anything with acne is usually involved with dairy. [Did it work for you?] Gluten free is supposed to mean eating more vegetables, instead of buying the expensive gluten free breads. I honestly don’t eat a lot of pasta, If I eat it, it’s when I go out, and I would rather spend the money to get really good pasta somewhere. I tried Udis breads, and it was okay; it had some added sugar. I also realized it had canola oil in it, which is not good. [I sympathize, I realized Doritos have palm oil in them, now I can never eat Doritos again. It’s such a shame when I can’t support companies anymore because of some dangerous or environmentally damaging ingredients]. We were not born with the enzymes, it’s called a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. If you are having IBS, you can just try eliminating it. There’s no harm in it, especially if you do more vegetables and less processed food.
I’ll be that person in a coffee shop eavesdropping if I hear people talking about diets. I most recently heard these older women talking about sugar and carbs. Some people have these terrible ideas. I have never eliminated gluten to lose weight, long story short it’s a protein mainly found in wheat, rye, and barley. Everyone is convinced they know what they are doing, when they are just following fad diets that aren’t correctly nourishing our bodies.
What should we stop eating/what ingredients do you avoid?
I wouldn’t say stop, but decrease for sure. What occurs in your body when you take in sugar, especially added sugars, your blood sugar rises. Once it drops, you want more sugar. The fact that these ingredients are purposely put in their foods, knowing what they will do, causing obesity and diabetes, getting consumers addicted, is really crazy. Now I look for it because I know they’re adding it. I avoid high fructose corn syrup, and variations of corn. Corn is one of the most processed commodity goods, but its used differently in your body when it’s processed. It’s not even equivalent to sugar, it does more damage than table sugar.
The recommendation of two cups of milk a day to get your calcium – there was never a study that showed a positive association of the recommendation to good health. [TBT to when we learned the food pyramid with milk and dairy on the second tier- which is completely false] When you read research, I’ve learned to look at who it is funded by. One instance was a dietitian said she saw an article about how eating 3 eggs a day prevented cardiovascular disease, and this study was funded by pharmaceutical agencies that produce drugs for this exact disease. [You have to be skeptical when it comes to health information because it’s heavily biased most times from those who benefit from you learning that information, and incorporating it into your buying habits.]
Be on the lookout for canola oil, is very inflammatory (vs. olive or avocado oil, which are heavily incorporated in Mediterranean diet) and types of sugar alcohols. They aren’t digested properly in your body, and are very bad for your gut. Your gut is closely linked in inflammation in your body, which then leads you to develop more diseases. Conclusion? The less processed foods you eat, the lower your chances of taking these bad ingredients.
What have been your biggest challenges with running your blog/Instagram?
It’s just fun for me, I try to keep it like that. Following certain people, I have a fine line of who I enjoy following. There’s too much conflicting information, if I could I would delete their accounts. For instance, accounts that still promote calorie counting. At one point I was really into recipes, and when I had more time when I was working twice a week, the best thing I realized is if companies repost your things with your recipe. I had a sweet potato mac and cheese recipe with five ingredients, I still have people DM’ing me for the recipe.
Words of wisdom for people looking to be healthier overall?
Just get back to the simple stuff – stop trying to look at things from a weight perspective of being in good health. You lose weight if you focus on the food itself rather than the end than a weight loss goal; like drinking more water, eating more vegetables, and naturally working out. In terms of quality of foods, try to buy products that are processed as least as possible. For vegan food, quality proteins would be organic tofu and tempeh.
Anything to look out more?
I hope to get certified in personal training, I’m going to work on another E-book, and It would be really cool to create an app down the road.
How else do you practice sustainability?
I went to a talk about sustainability by Abby from @abbysfoodcourt and Carolyn Brown from @Carolynbrownnutrition. I had no idea about the amount of plastic water bottles I use. I haven’t used one since. If my giant water bottle isn’t filled three times a day… [especially with the micro plastics in plastic water bottles..] I’m going to get glass Tupperware. I’ve been wanting to compost. I’m looking into imperfect produce deliveries [Misfits? There’s a really good show named misfits that I used to watch back in the day]. I’m working on being better.