Marlina Eckel on An Organic Conversation

Below is a transcript from Associate Director Marlina Eckel’s appearance on the radio program, An Organic Conversation.

Pounds of Wisdom: How Nutritional Knowledge is Shaping Society

From Dietitians in supermarkets, nutritionists in schools, and chefs basing menu’s on nutrition and in-season produce… How is nutrition changing the face of American business?

Consumer demand has significantly changed over the past decade. As consumers learn more about health, and how their health is related to what they eat, they are incorporating foods in their diet that are seasonal, organic, unrefined, local, and healing.This new culture around health and healing foods has really dictated that American businesses change in order to meet this increasing desire in the marketplace and remain competitive.

This stuff used to be seen as wacky, you know cuckoo – nuts loafs and stuff. But now it is big business. You’ve got everyone in the arena now trying to take a bite out of the action. The good thing is that the deep divide that used to exist between what was considered “alternative” and our conventional systems is closing….And you have tremendous opportunity for those who are working wholeheartedly with the intention of improving America’s health.

What opportunities do you see out there today for people who study Nutrition?

Opportunities are amazing right now, both for those who work specifically as nutrition professionals, but also for those who study nutrition and use this knowledge to make a huge difference in the lives of those around them.

In terms of the Nutrition Professional, we have consumers becoming more aware of the importance of good nutrition and dietary habits, and they want to change but most people need a lot of help and support in meeting this goal. Many people are choosing to work with Nutrition Professionals as part of their primary health care team. Nutrition Professionals are working in:

  • health care settings
  • recovery settings
  • food companies and recipe development
  • schools
  • senior centers
  • children with special needs and their families
  • community education
  • Ceres Project supplies cancer patients with healthy home-cooked meals, which at the same time is using teenager volunteers, so not only teaching them to cook nutritiously, they are seeing the direct benefit of their meals in healing these serious ill individuals.
  • Amy’s Kitchen puts people through our nutrition program so they can bring that knowledge back to the planning and production line.
  • Julie Matthews has done tremendous work as an autism diet and nutrition specialist providing diet and nutrition intervention guidance to help thousands of children and parent worldwide in dealing with autism
  • Institutional menu planning – One recent grad was hired to transform the dietary model of a behavioral health center. She incorporated a whole foods dietary model, cooking only from scratch. Not only did people’s mental health improve, there were several other health improvements noticed among all of the patients. They were losing weight, blood sugar was regulating, and cholesterol levels were lowering.
  • Corporate food program for employees – One of our recent grads was hired full time at the tech company that she interned at. She cooked for their staff 2 meals a day/5 days a week and the management saw such an improvement in energy and the way that the staff felt that they created the position right after her internship was over.

Speaking about ways that nutrition understanding is helpful in other arenas, we can look at how having an understanding that a person’s dietary intake can influence their ability to function optimally in their family, social circle, and society at large can improve outcomes for those employed in positions to assist others to be at their best and to function optimally. For instance I have had discussions with MFTs who with an understanding of blood sugar imbalances and the resulting mood swings and behavior tendencies that can ensue have literally have saved marriages by educating a person on eating habits so that they do not come home stressed from a blood sugar low, reaching for the easiest spike of calories, often alcohol, and being a aggressive and hostile to their partner and family. Same goes for those who interact with children in so many capacities. If they can recognize a situation of poor dietary habits influencing behavior, it can become easier to address some issues.

With the obesity epidemic sweeping the country, a nutrition background will be an essential piece in solving this giant puzzle. Why is it so important?

Certainly, the ways in which food has been grown and manufactured has altered the state of the American diet and American health. Whether addressing the obesity epidemic in this country or the overall state of health of many Americans, it is more important than ever to have Nutritional Advisors and Advocates working to change the state of our food supply. As it is said, we are overfed and undernourished as a county. With that understanding, we need to get back to basics in food production. Farm foods need to be sustainably grown and organic. Foods products need to be unrefined and additive free, true to their natural and whole form. Consumers today are eating food which is manufactured, processed, sugar laden, laced with trans-fats, and void of essential nutrients. People in so many positions who have this knowledge will make a huge impact in all of these aspects of the “healing of America”.

Is it mostly college-aged students looking into nutrition or is there a broader segment of our society seeking this knowledge?

People of all ages are passionate about the field of nutrition and the state of our country’s health and food supply. Today more than ever before, we are seeing students training in this profession at a younger age. But many people also train as a second career, finally having the opportunity to gain knowledge in the field that they are truly passionate about. Especially with the recent economic situation, we have had a lot of people suddenly available to follow their passion, and this fortunately will be able to have an impact on our current health crisis. Even seniors are looking to gain insight and knowledge into all the ways that nutritive dense and healing foods can improve their health and change their life’s. I think the oldest person that we enrolled in the nutrition program was an 80 year old Orthodontist. He is certainly working with a population and the parents of that population that can use his insight!

Basically nutrition knowledge is what will feed our nation and allow us to develop into the healthy individuals that we were meant to be. It’s only the last half century where things really got derailed. As I see it, this train is moving and it is picking up speed.