Why One DIFM RD Recommends a Plant-based Diet

Monique Richard MS, RDN, LDN (left) and PPOD Speaker with Alyssa Luning RD (right)

Congratulations to DIFM Member, Alyssa Luning, who won the 2017 Plant-based Prevention of Disease (PPOD) essay contest! Learn why Alyssa recommends the plant-based diet and about her own transformative health experience on a plant-based diet. Thank you for your contribution, Alyssa!

A Plant-based Diet: My story —

For the last three years, I have been working as a bariatric dietitian. I have seen people do incredible things for the sake of their health, some would say, even “extreme.” I love the empowerment. People become motivated that they have the tools to change their direction in health, and they really do blast off. What has always brought me the most joy, has been seeing people resolve type 2 diabetes. The weight loss is great, but when I see people walk further and further from disease and closer to their improved quality of life, I am all smiles. However, the improved quality of life does not always sustain. Researchers, scientists, doctors, and RDs alike are flailing at the concept of weight regain, bariatric revisions, and continued complications with hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and unfortunately, reappearance of their type 2 diabetes.

My own dietary adventure began with influences coming from many places over the years, but ultimately, I landed in the health benefits of a plant based diet (Social media handle: The Little Green Pea – imagine my surprise when I saw the title of this conference). As a young professional in the world of nutrition, my main theme was to always attempt to try to help people to find their own path to overall optimum health through food. I knew my way would not be the way of others, as to each their own, and considered the way I chose to eat truly personal. As I became more and more familiar with the plant-based community of health professionals and enthusiasts, I was taken away. Essylstein, Cambell, Greger, Rich Roll, the list got longer. Then along came Dr. Garth Davis who wrote the book, Proteinaholic. This was it. The game changer.

I so related with his story that I became angry. I was frustrated, confused, and just about at a loss of words. My concept of providing optimal nutritional care became so cloudy that I could not decipher how to approach patients any longer. I was also overworked, stressed, and depressed. The only thing I could do was “mozy on,” and continue to teach patients willing to change their own bodies for the benefit of an improved life without disease by the approach of weight loss surgery, while also knowing their efforts are at risk for being in vain. Without an individual willing to change everything, they would not be successful in the long term. I would tell people this over and over during our sessions, but still felt as though I had red tape to tell them what exactly would improve their rate of success and decrease risk of weight regain, improve their success in their efforts to improve their quality of life for many disease states, and how to empower them to potentially avoid surgery (if medically appropriate). I was told the purpose of my position was, “to get them to surgery.” So that’s all I did. Backed into a corner, I need this job…my student debt is over 50k!

Within our healthcare system there is almost a laughable push to “preventative medicine.” Preventative in the sense of colonoscopies, mastectomies, and Lipitor for those with only a “family history” of heart disease and an LDL of 103. Revisions after revisions. Weight regain after weight regain. Reflux. Traumatic band revisions. I shudder with the knowledge of what could have been prevented. I started to run out of words to say, staring Blankley at patients as they expressed their frustrations to me- “I know what to do, but I just don’t do it!” This was driving me crazy. As a dietitian, all I wanted to do was provide people resources, research, and information to better their lives & improve their health, but instead I was backed into a corner of being their psychotherapist. I felt useless, since I am indeed, not a therapist. Why is it that insurance will pay for the surgery but not for the psychotherapy?! Without the ability or the clarity to say what I truly understood to be true at the time about a plant based diet to be able to be a tool to help them, I felt even worse.

I remember asking my father, “If you really loved me and my sister, could you please stop drinking?” I was 11 when he died. I was informed well on alcoholism my whole life. I was strong in knowing that there was nothing I could do – he had a disease. This disease was addiction. Addiction is something we have been taught is something that can be battled and won, like cancer. So, I was under this impression that my dad fought the good fight, and eventually it took control, and even though he loved me and my family that the disease was too strong. I felt as though this was rational.

Flash forward to age 25, I was treated for PTSD & Substance abuse. Determined to do whatever I could do not feel like a piece of trash, I participated as much as possible. One session was titled a “mock 12-step.” I thought it would be interesting to see what my dad had gone through. Within the first few moments I was in tears. How could a program like this exist- so supportive- so caring, and so real- that if someone wanted to get better, that they couldn’t latch onto this life-line? I got home and immediately talked to my mother. “If all this was available, why didn’t he get better?” I was devastated that he was unable to use the tools discussed to still be alive to be here today. My mother’s response was something that shook me. “He never stayed.”

A plant based diet is a tool to help prevent disease. - Alyssa Luning RD Click To Tweet A plant based diet is a tool to help prevent disease. People can take it or leave it, but it is not fair that it is not known as a tool that is available (like 12 step). Dietitians and health professionals need to be liberated and empowered with the strength in the research. We need to stand strong and remain consistent and clear. It should be absolutely known, if indeed you want to recover, if indeed you want to avoid progression of disease- if you want to say, “hey you know what, I will do ANYTHING to NOT go down this path,” Then GRAB THIS TOOL, because IT WORKS. If you cannot grab it, check yourself for self-love and evaluate depression with a therapist. This EXTREME measure, relative to bariatric surgery, is a kick in the rear end. It is hard. It is weird. And yes, it can be socially awkward. But you know what it won’t be? As expensive as your think. It won’t taste like sticks. It won’t be lack luster, boring, or bland. The more people, family, friends, and community support you have, the more strength you will have in the change to become permanent method of REVERSING HEART DISEASE, type 2 diabetes, and depending on the individual, remaining in remission of cancer, dementia, and other autoimmune diseases. Oh yes, yes and we cannot forget – obesity.

We’d love to hear how you’re incorporating plant-based diet practices in your work or life.  Let us know about them in the comments below.  Also, stay tuned for future award opportunities by joining DIFM.  Learn more here.

Adaptogens: Can they improve the body’s response to stress?

Similar to how nutrition may be a preventative measure for chronic disease, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic Medicine may be methods to help protect the body from ailments. TCM and Ayurveda have many facets of preventive care, one of them being the use of adaptogens.

Adaptogens provide the ability to adapt to psychological and physical stress and help prevent the development of stress-related diseases. Studies demonstrate that adaptogens work upon the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis and inhibit or decrease circulating levels of nitric oxide and cortisol. Prescribed by an herbalist, adaptogens can be taken orally through capsules and tinctures. They can also come whole or in powder form to be used in cooking. For example, they may be boiled whole to make broths or mixed as a powder into dishes or drinks.


A·dapt·o·gen: A class of non-toxic herbs that improve your body’s response to stress.

Stress and our health

A little stress in life isn’t a bad thing. Studies show that acute stress can improve memory and minimize the chances of getting sick in the short-term. However, when our body is constantly exposed to stress, it can decrease our body’s ability to return to homeostasis, leading to health issues such as hypertension, insulin resistance, and obesity.

Common adaptogens

The list of adaptogens used in TCM and Ayurveda is quite lengthy. Some of the most common and better researched are:

Panax Ginseng, also known as Korean ginseng, should not to be confused with American or Siberian ginseng. This root can be steamed or sun-dried. The steamed version is known as red ginseng and the sun-dried version is known as white ginseng. The different processing can produce different physical effects. However, generally speaking, this adaptogen can be used to lower blood sugar, lower cholesterol, anxiolytic, immunomodulating, and decrease the body’s stress in those with cardiovascular issues.

Withania Somnifera, more commonly known as ashwagandha, is typically used in Ayurveda. Ashwagandha is known to provide vitality, may assist in improving libido, may be used as a sleep aid for insomnia, and, like ginseng, can be an immunomodulant and anxiolytic. While this adaptogen can be sedative, it can also be taken in the morning for those with anxiety to help calm nerves.

Ocimum tenuiflorum, known as tulsi or holy basil, widely used in the Ayurvedic tradition for medicinal and spiritual practices. This adaptogenic herb has many uses, such as combating metabolic stress and helping to alleviate anxiety and depression. Religiously, Tulsi is planted in one’s home to purify the surroundings, and its wood or seeds are used to make malas, a string of beads used to help focus the mind in meditation.

The future of adaptogens

Even though adaptogens have been used for centuries in the Eastern world, limited research studies have been conducted on humans. With the Western world catching up, we should expect to see more evidence emerge about the benefits of adaptogens and their ability to normalize stress. With more evidence and information being presented in the media, our clients may be coming to us with questions.

Are your clients asking about adaptogens?  Which ones do they ask about most frequently?

To learn more about adaptogens and Ayurveda, you may want to check out our Archived Webinars titled Foundations of Herbal Medicine: Getting to Know Herbs and Can the Wisdom of Ayurveda Complement Modern Dietetics? in the Members-Only section of our website. Not a DIFM Member? Learn more here and join today!

Stacy Leung, RDN, CDN, CLC believes changing your health starts with learning, understanding, and seeking support from those you trust. Moonlighting as a yoga instructor, she focuses on using mindfulness and functional nutrition to help her clients reach their goal. She enjoys traveling, immersing herself in other cultures, and baking cookies. You can learn more about her at stacykleung.com .

Blueberries: A Nutritious Powerhouse for Summer Meals 

Summertime provides the perfect opportunity to freshen up dishes with a powerful and delicious fruit: blueberries.  Native to North America, blueberries are part of the Vaccinium species of fruits that were cultivated beginning in the 20th century by Frederick Coville, a botanist working for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Since the 1970s, the cultivation of blueberries has increased worldwide by over 600%, which is likely due to their multitude of health benefits.

Blueberries are a good source of fiber and vitamin C as well as an excellent source of manganese and vitamin K. However, the bioactive components of blueberries set this fruit apart as a nutritious powerhouse.  In particular, blueberries contain anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid and phenolic compound that provides the pigment for blueberries, protect the blueberry’s skin from overexposure to ultraviolet light, and may have significant health benefits.  Research has shown that the polyphenols in blueberries may decrease inflammation, blood pressure, disease progression of obesity/adiposity, improve insulin sensitivity, provide positive effects on vision and the gastrointestinal tract, and protect against cancer.

In addition to all of the health benefits of blueberries, they provide a tasty treat that can be added to a wide variety of dishes. Fresh blueberries have shown to retain more anthocyanins than processed blueberries, though frozen blueberries also provide higher anthocyanin levels than canned, dried, and baked forms as well as blueberry sorbet and juice.  Overall, choose fresh if possible, though frozen blueberries are still a great option.

Try these summer-inspired recipes featuring blueberries:

Fill your favorite jar with these overnight oats topped with one-half cup blueberries:

Indulge in these blueberry buckwheat pancakes from The Little Green Spoon:

Beat the summer heat with this simple blueberry smoothie as an afternoon refreshment using unsweetened vanilla almond milk.

Create this tasty blueberry parfait using nonfat Greek yogurt and your favorite granola:

Enjoy this light and refreshing antioxidant-packed salad and add ½-1 cup kidney beans to add some extra fiber and protein:


Kathleen Walters is a dietetic intern at Virginia Tech University.  She earned her BA in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame in 2008 and BS in Food and Nutrition from the University of Alabama in 2015.  She is passionate about nutritional genomics, food policy, and nutrition education and promotion.  In her free time, she enjoys ballroom dancing, hiking, cooking, and traveling with her husband.

Farmers’ Market Fare

It’s that time of year again! Farmers’ markets are in full swing, making it easy to purchase local produce, eat seasonally, and support local producers. Although individual market seasons may vary depending on your location, farmers’ markets are generally open from mid-spring to the end of summer.

Benefits of Farmers’ Markets

Why bother to buy local?

  • Eating locally gives us the chance to eat seasonally. This means our produce is picked at its peak harvest time. Oftentimes, foods are more flavorful compared to conventional store bought produce, which can be kept in cold-storage for up to 9-12 months.
  • Eating locally supports small businesses and increases social interaction between patrons/producers. Purchasing local food keeps profits within your community and increases likelihood of re-investment among the local population.
  • Eating locally allows us to control the amounts of pesticides/chemical additives we consume. Talk to your local producers about what kinds and the amounts of pesticides they use.

Nutrition Education & Farmers’ Markets

Farmers markets have the potential to serve as opportunities for nutrition education and increase access to fruit/vegetables, particularly in limited resource communities. However, few research studies have investigated the effects of implementing a farmers’ market education program on nutrition-related parameters.

Examining the Evidence

McCann and colleagues conducted the Willingness to Try (WTT) program at farmers’ markets to increase elementary school age children’s willingness to taste fruit/vegetables. Children’s readiness to try fruit/vegetables was recorded prior to tasting, after tasting, and 2 days after tasting. Researchers observed a decrease in willingness to try the 8 fruits/vegetables offered among the children directly after tasting. However, two days after tasting, children’s readiness to taste the offered fruits/vegetables increased.

Norman et al. investigated the effects of the Power of Produce (PoP) Club on children’s attitudes and fruit/vegetable intake. The Power of Produce Club was designed as a farmers’ market incentive program to engage both children and their parents. After participating in the program, 75% of parents stated their children help them choose which produce to purchase at farmers’ markets. About half (51%) of participants said their children were willing to try more fruits/vegetables at home. 41% of parents responded that their children were eating more fruits/vegetable at home.

Ernzen et al. discussed the opportunities for registered dietitians to develop “sound nutrition messages focused on sustainable living” at farmers’ markets. By collaborating with other health-care organizations, registered dietitians, and community partners, registered dietitians can educate farmers’ market patrons via tools such as: food samples, recipe cards, interactive display boards, and cookbooks.

Currently underway, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC Fresh Start Randomized Control Trial is examining whether web-based nutrition education held at farmers’ markets could encourage fruit/vegetable purchases and intake among WIC participants. Baseline data was published in 2016 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Get Involved

As registered dietitians/healthcare professionals, we have a unique opportunity to introduce evidence-based nutrition education at farmers’ markets. Contact your local community farmers’ market director and volunteer to host an “Ask a Registered Dietitian” table, cooking demonstration, or children’s fruit/vegetable tasting. To locate a farmers’ market near you, visit Farmers’ Market Directory.

Mary White, MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian residing in Travelers Rest, SC.  She is currently a PRN clinical dietitian at Pelham Medical Center.  Mary studied Food Science at Clemson University and proceeded to complete her dietetic internship at Texas A&M-Kingsville University.  Passionate about nutrition counseling and children’s programming, she volunteers with community organizations to promote sustainable dietary changes and nutrition education activities. In her spare time, Mary enjoys yoga, cooking, kayaking, and cuddling with her dog, Maggie.

Super Seaweed: Is Kelp the New Kale?

Have you heard the buzz that kelp is the new kale? In fact, seaweed has been rated among the hottest food trends for the past few years by numerous health and nutrition publications. It’s no wonder why, considering that seaweed boasts a reputation for having nutritional superpowers that have been harnessed for centuries by adventurous eaters. No longer are seaweeds only good for wrapping sushi rolls and floating around in miso soup—these days you’ll find them playing a starring role in green smoothies, roasted into chip-like snacks, and nestled atop insta-worthy Buddha bowls.

Nutritionally speaking, seaweed is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, B, C, E, and K, along with calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Seaweed is naturally high in iodine, with kelp and arame containing the highest concentrations of all the sea vegetables. Recent studies have also shown that seaweed —especially those from the brown and red families—contain high levels of a polysaccharide called fucoidan that is being researched for its cancer-fighting, immune-boosting properties.

Want to start incorporating seaweed into your diet but not sure where to start? Listed below are some of the most common seaweeds, along with some creative ways to use them to spruce up dishes:


Most well-known for its use in sushi rolls, nori is a slightly salty, versatile seaweed. Try it as a wrap by adding your favorite fillings and rolling it up burrito-style; cut it up into matchsticks to sprinkle over grain dishes; or try this recipe for Wasabi-Toasted Nori Crisps.


Wakame is a slippery, mild-tasting seaweed and a standout in miso soup. Since it’s typically sold dried, soak a few tablespoons of it in water for 3-4 minutes, drain, and gently squeeze out the extra water. After that, simply toss it with your favorite dressing and serve over salads or bowls!


Dulse is a red-blue seaweed overtaking the plant-based food world as a bacon substitute. Dried dulse can be pan-fried (straight from the package) for a few seconds and eaten as chips, crumbled over veggies, or added to sandwiches (DLT, anyone?) for a hit of umami.


Hijiki is a high-fiber, mild and sweet seaweed very common in Japanese dishes. If purchased dried, it requires soaking for about an hour before being added to recipes. Hijiki pairs great with carrots and soybeans in this hearty salad.


Kombu, also known as kelp, is widely used as a seasoning for miso and noodle soups where it imparts a meaty flavor to the broth. Add dried kombu to the cooking liquid of beans to improve their digestibility, or crush it up and use as a salt substitute.

As the popularity of sea vegetables continues to grow, you can expect more questions from your clients on how they can be incorporated into their diets. Keep in mind that, due to the high levels of nutrients such as iodine, vitamin K and potassium in seaweed that can be deleterious for some health conditions, it is best to recommend that seaweed is consumed as an ingredient in meals rather than in supplemental form. Further, since seaweeds readily absorb toxins and heavy metals from their environment it is crucial to source seaweeds from reliable sources and vary the type of seaweeds consumed.


Julia Pleasant, RDN, LD, is a registered dietitian in Honolulu, HI. She currently works as a clinical dietitian with the Native Hawaiian, Native Alaskan, and American Indian communities on Oahu and co-owns a wellness business, Tru Change, with her husband. Julia’s interests include whole-foods nutrition, mindfulness-based stress reduction, nutrition counseling, and sustainable agriculture.

Research Review: Impact of Exercise on the Gut Microbiota

The gut microbiota and microbiome have been growing topics in the research field over the last several years with large role they play in both health and disease. It is estimated that we have trillions of diverse microorganisms living in our gut. Within these organisms, it is estimated that about 1,000-1,150 different bacterial species exist. While the microbiota refers to the microorganisms in our gut, the microbiome refers to the genome of the microorganisms, which is estimated to be 150 times greater than the human genome. Because of this, there is still much to learn about the gut microbiota.

We do know factors that affect the gut microbiota include diet, medications, stress, birthing process, infant feeding methods, age, and geographical location. One example of the well-known impact that diet has on our microbiota is through the consumption of prebiotics and probiotics. A well-balanced microbiota is essential for our body to process nutrients in our food and plays a large role in the immune system, which affects health and disease in many ways.

A normal gut microbiota is in symbiosis, or living in compatibility with us, while a disrupted microbiota is known to be in dysbiosis. Dysbiosis can lead to inflammatory diseases that can develop into symptoms outside of the gut including allergy and asthma, obesity and diabetes and hypertension. Inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer can develop within the gut. Because of this, it is vital that we aim to keep our gut microbiota healthy and living in symbiosis with us.

Exercise and Gut Bacteria

Researchers are beginning to explore the impact of exercise on the gut microbiota. According to this review, exercise seems to impact gut microbial composition both in number and quality of microbes with potential health benefits for the host and may even have the potential to increase exercise performance. Most of the research has been conducted in mice and rats with both voluntary and controlled exercise studies, although several human studies have recently appeared.

Image source: The microbiota: an exercise immunology perspective

Animal Research

Matsumoto et al. (2008): Rats who voluntarily ran more had increased n-butyrate concentrations and increased cecum diameters. Butyrate is produced by gut microbiota through fermentation of carbohydrates and protects against colon cancer and IBD.

Evans et al. (2014): Mice were fed high-fat diets to induce obesity and combined with running as an exercise. The distance ran by rats inversely correlated with Bacteroidetes:Firmicutes ratios. Lower levels of Bacteroidetes and higher levels of Firmicutes have been seen in genetically obese mice and in the fecal microbiota of obese humans compared to lean controls. This showed that exercise may prevent diet-induced obesity and produced microbial compositions similar to lean mice.

Campbell et al. (2016): This study found that exercise helped develop a unique microbiome independent of diet (normal diet vs. high fat diet) and suggested that the exercised mice had more digestive tract protecting bacteria in mice.

Mika et al. (2015): This study found that exercise during early life influences microbiota composition in rats and favors health-enhancing microbial species that are optimal for brain function. This study suggested that the impact of exercise on gut microbiota may be dependent on time of initiation during the life span.

Cook et al. (2015): This study revealed that exercise has an anti-inflammatory role in the gut, and emerging data shows various forms of exercise training may impact severity of intestinal inflammation during inflammatory insults, such as in ulcerative colitis. Different forms of exercise may also be related to gut immune cell homeostasis and microbiota-immune interactions, but more research is needed.

Human Research 

Clarke et al. (2014): This study compared the microbiome of professional rugby athletes to age-matched sedentary counterparts. The athletes had greater microbe diversity in fecal samples compared to sedentary individuals. This study was cross-sectional and lacked control of dietary and other factors that may have influenced the outcome, but showed that exercise and microbial diversity may be correlated.

Estaki et al. (2016): This study demonstrated peak oxygen uptake (gold standard of cardiorespiratory fitness) can account for more than 20% of microbial diversity after accounting for all other factors including diet and fecal butyrate production was higher in physically fit participants, which also had higher amounts of butyrate-producing taxa of bacteria. This authors of this study suggest the use of exercise prescription as an adjuvant therapy for dysbiosis-associated diseases.

Bressa et al. (2017): This study compared women with active lifestyles versus women with sedentary lifestyles and found higher abundance of health-promoting bacteria species in the active women. Active was defined as participating in the minimum amount of exercise recommended by the World Health Organization. The active women also ate more fruits, vegetables and fiber-rich foods than the sedentary women.

In Summary

Overall, exercise seems to be related to an increase in the number of beneficial microbial species and enriched diversity to support a healthy gut microbiota, but research in this area is still in the early stages. Additionally, it is difficult to distinguish the effect of exercise alone, as diet and other factors may play significant role in gut health.

Regardless, exercise has plenty of other health benefits including decreasing the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. It can also help control stress, improve sleep, boost mood, control weight, and reduce risk of falling and improve cognitive function in older adults. It will be interesting to see if future research can provide more evidence.

The take-home message? Choose to enjoy physical activity regularly and you’ll enjoy numerous health benefits! Plus, physical activity is fun – just remember to fuel your body with nutritious food, too!


Anna Pashkova, ACSM EP-C is a medical dietetics student in the coordinated master’s degree program at The Ohio State University. Anna earned her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science at Gardner-Webb University where she also played volleyball and found her passion for food and nutrition. Her interests include plant-based nutrition, using food as medicine, nutrigenomics and food sustainability. In her free time, Anna enjoys trying new recipes and local food restaurants, practicing yoga, playing volleyball and finding the best local coffee shops in every town.

Wheat Berries: A Staple for Salads of All Seasons

The Facts About Wheat Berries

The spring and summer months provide the perfect opportunity to try some new salad dishes that combine a variety of flavors and textures.  Wheat berries are one grain in particular that provides a chewy and fun addition to any salad.Wheat berries are a nutty, nutrient-dense whole grain that can be used all year long in a variety of dishes.  One serving (1/4 cup dry) of wheat berries provides about six grams of protein and six grams of fiber.  Wheat berries also provide a good source (10% of the recommended daily value) of protein, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, thiamin, and niacin and an excellent source (20% of the recommended daily value) of, selenium and 50% of the daily requirement of manganese.

As a whole grain, wheat berries contain the bran, germ, and endosperm of the grain, as opposed to refined grains, which mainly contain only the endosperm portion of the grain.  The bran is the outer layer of the grain that contains antioxidants, phythochemicals, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals such as iron, copper, magnesium, and zinc.  The germ is the inner layer of the grain which also contains B vitamins, antioxidants including vitamin E, minerals, phytochemicals, and healthy fats.  The endosperm is the middle layer that contains carbohydrates, protein, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.

Wheat Berries For Your Health

Research has shown that whole grains may play an important role in chronic diseases that are some of the leading causes of death in the United States. They may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease while helping individuals with weight maintenance. The soluble and insoluble fiber, in particular, have specific health benefits. Soluble fiber lowers blood cholesterol by binding bile, slows glucose absorption, slows the transit of food through the upper gastrointestinal tract, holds moisture in stools and softens them, yields small fat molecules after fermentation that the colon can use for energy, and increases satiety.  Insoluble fiber increases fecal weight, speeds fecal bulk and passage through the colon, and provides feelings of fullness. Like many whole grains, wheat berries provide both soluble and insoluble fiber.

Below are a few wheat berry salads that can add fun and variety to your next salad:

Try this wheat berry, grilled corn and spinach salad from Betty Crocker:

Savor this wheat berry waldorf salad from Spicy Southern Kitchen.

Make a honey chicken salad with wheat berries, grapes, and feta.

Indulge in colorful fruits and veggies with this Vegetarian Spring Wheat Berry Salad from Vegetarian Adventures.

Enjoy this light and fresh wheat berry salad from Spoon Fork Bacon.

Whatever the recipe, wheat berries provide a unique texture and flavor that make any salad appealing.



Kathleen Walters is a dietetic intern at Virginia Tech University.  She earned her BA in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Notre Dame in 2008 and BS in Food and Nutrition from the University of Alabama in 2015.  She is passionate about nutritional genomics, food policy, and nutrition education and promotion.  In her free time, she enjoys ballroom dancing, hiking, cooking, and traveling with her husband.

Review: Essential Oil Use During Pregnancy

Essential Oil Use During Pregnancy

In recent years, the interest in essential oils has soared. Many people have heard aromatherapy can work wonders on a number of concerns. They’ve also heard warnings against improperly using essential oils, especially during pregnancy. You may find some of your clients turning to you to help them safely navigate the burgeoning world of essential oils.

While safety is something to be mindful of at all points in the lifecycle, its use during the prenatal period warrants extra caution and attention.

Pregnancy is a time of rapid change for both mom and baby. Because foreign substances can affect fetal development and add an additional burden to a pregnant woman’s already taxed body, it’s wise to be cautious when using essential oils. This doesn’t mean that pregnant women should avoid them altogether. In fact, with proper use, essential oils can be a powerful self-care ally for many pregnant women.

What Does the Research Say?

Truthfully, not a whole lot. At least not for humans. Which isn’t all that surprising when you consider the ethical implications of testing any substance for safety on a pregnant woman. The same is true for most pharmaceutical drugs, over the counter medications, and ingredients found in foods, cleaning products, and personal care items.

Most of our recommendations for essential oil use during pregnancy comes from animal research, educated guesses based on the effect of specific chemical constituents found in essential oils, and anecdotal data.

Essential Oils to Avoid During Pregnancy

Despite the lack of rigorous studies on the safety of most essential oils, there are some essential oils women are advised to avoid because:

  • the oil is high in a specific molecule we know poses a danger to an unborn baby or a pregnant woman
  • there has been an incident where a pregnant woman intentionally induced abortion by consuming a large amount of the oil
  • animal studies have revealed a potential danger lies in using that specific oil

Based on the data we do have, the following oils should be completely avoided during pregnancy:

How to Safely Use Essential Oils During Pregnancy

Avoiding unsafe oils is only one part of aromatherapy safety. Of equal importance is choosing the right dilution and delivery method.


During pregnancy, a 1% dilution is the highest recommended concentration. To dilute essential oils, drops of oils are added to a carrier. A few common carriers are vegetable oils like coconut, avocado, and olive oil, whole milk, hydrosols, and water.

Below is a quick guide to essential oil dilution:

Delivery Methods

The safest aromatherapy delivery method is inhalation. Only a small portion of inhaled essential oil molecules make it to the blood stream, which greatly reduces the potential chemical effects on both mom and baby.

Inhalation includes diffusion, air spritz, fabric spritz, directly sniffing an oil from an inhaler, piece of fabric, or tissue, and steam inhalation.

The next safest route is topical. Think massage oils, creams, lotions, etc. Again, proper dilution is key. Though topical use is generally considered safe during pregnancy, special care should be taken when using potentially phototoxic oils.

These oils can increase the risk of sun burns. If they’re used topically, the sun should be avoided for 24 hours or the skin should be covered and protected.

The least safe route is internal use. Oral ingestion, rectal, and vaginal delivery are all types of internal usage. They should only be used with great care under the supervision of both a clinical aromatherapist and a physician. This doesn’t include the essential oils found in commercial food or oral care products flavored with essential oils. Eaten or used in normal amounts, these shouldn’t cause a problem.

Essential Oil Recipes for Common Pregnancy Problems

Lower Back Pain

Peppermint Massage Oil

  1. Add 6 drops of peppermint oil to 1 oz (30 ml, 2 tbsp) of a carrier oil of your choice.
  2. Massage into the lower back using gentle circular strokes.


Lavender Essential Oil

  1. Add 1 drop of lavender oil to 1 tsp(5 ml, .17 oz) of a carrier oil of your choice.
  2. Massage the mixture into the temples and back of the neck.

Nausea/ Vomiting

Lemon + Ginger Inhaler

  1. Use a small glass tube packed with coarse salt or an essential oil inhaler with a wick.
  2. Add 10-15 drops of ginger oil and 10-15 drops of lemon oil, or 20-30 drops of either to the wick or tube.
  3. Waft under nose, taking deep slow breaths to alleviate nausea.


Essential oils can be a wonderful ally for pregnant women. With the proper precautions and information most pregnant women can safely and comfortably use essential oils to find relief from many common pregnancy complaints.



Kendra Tolbert MS, RDN, CDN, CLC is registered dietitian, certified aromatherapist, and certified lactation counselor specializing in women’s health. Her website, Live Fertile, is packed with fertility, pregnancy, and women’s health wellness information. She currently lives in Alexandria, VA where she can usually be found taking a yoga or belly dance class.

Finding Equilibrium with Meditation

Interest in mind-body practices like meditation, yoga, and acupuncture is on the rise. These practices have been around for centuries, but researchers have only recently started to study the tangible health benefits. This post focuses on the positive health benefits of meditation, various types of meditation and how to get started.

Why meditate?

Meditation cultivates mindfulness through sitting and observing oneself. Mindfulness brings attention to the present, including your thoughts, actions, and emotions, and helps you accept them without judgment. With the constant stimulation of modern life, sitting quietly and acknowledging our feelings is becoming harder. Practicing meditation regularly has many health benefits.

These benefits include: 

  • Stress reduction
  • Improvement in concentration and memory
  • Increased self-esteem and happiness
  • Increased awareness of yourself and others

Meditation can also help with weight management in the following ways: 

  • Helping to reduce binge eating and emotional eating by increasing your awareness of emotional and physical hunger cues.
  • Helping with weight maintenance and possibly weight loss when combined with nutrition and lifestyle change.
  • Assisting with lowering blood pressure for those at risk of hypertension by facilitating a calmer and more balanced mind. Meditation also helps our body limit the “flight or fight” response in times of emotional distress.

Types of Meditation

All forms of meditation will evoke similar results. Some popular methods are:

  • Zazen means “seated meditation.” Derived from Buddhism, this seated meditation focuses on posture while observing your breathing and mind, like lying on the grass while watching clouds.
  • Kundalini Yoga incorporates a variety of movements, breathing practices, and chants to stimulate the dormant energy held at the base of the spine. As the energy is channeled, it will move upwards and out of the crown of the head and increase consciousness.
  • Yoga nidra also known as “yogic sleep” is a guided relaxation. Although “nidra” means “sleep,” you’re not actually snoozing. Rather, you are in a state between being awake and asleep. During this time, the teacher will lead you through a series of exercises to help discover and make peace with your true intentions and desires.
  • Mindfulness based Stress Reduction was created by John Kabat-Zinn. This technique is led by trained providers where the focus is primarily on the body and breathing. Practitioners will participate in body scans and focus on inhaling and exhaling, reducing stress and tension.

Getting Started with Meditation

As a novice, these methods can be intimidating. Luckily, there are apps to help you get started:

  • Headscape has a free 10-day introductory course for beginners. Each daily meditation lasts 10 minutes and includes a fun video illustrating the ins and outs of meditation.
  • Inscape offers “Today’s Inscapes” for users to meditate a few times throughout the day. It changes daily and practices vary. This app is great for meditators of all levels. As an added bonus, Inscape also has a physical space you can visit in New York City.
  • Yoga Nidra – Deep Relaxation Practice offers 10-, 20-, and 30-minute sessions so that you can pick the session that best suits your time. These sessions can be reused to help bring you deeper into consciousness.


Stacy Leung, RDN, CDN, CLC believes changing your health starts with learning, understanding, and seeking support from those you trust. Moonlighting as a yoga instructor, she focuses on using mindfulness and functional nutrition to help her clients reach their goal. She enjoys traveling, immersing herself in other cultures, and baking cookies. You can find Stacy on Twitter @stacykleung.

Insight into Autoimmune Diet Protocols

Can diet really help cure or prevent autoimmune disease? Anecdotes about the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) Diet and Wahls Protocol, claiming to do just that, breed warranted skepticism. Popularity amongst the generally healthy public concern many dietitians, as these autoimmune diet protocols restrict otherwise wholesome and nutrient-dense foods. However, for people struggling with autoimmune disorders, these protocols deserve a second glance.

What is Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune disease is a complex, multi-faceted process that the scientific community is still striving to fully understand. Today it is particularly relevant, with a large prevalence of several diseases and disorders such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, and many others. Theorized causes of autoimmunity range from chronic stress, to leaky gut, to vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency, among many others.

While there are several other autoimmune diet protocols that claim to mitigate autoimmune disease, the Wahls Protocol and the Autoimmune Paleo diet are discussed here.

The Wahls Protocol

This protocol was developed by Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor at the University of Iowa, who was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis. She combined her knowledge of functional medicine and paleo diet principles to develop the Wahls Protocol. After a year of following this diet, in addition to neuromuscular electrical stimulation, she halted and even began to reverse the progression of her MS.

Since then, she has fully developed an autoimmune diet protocol that aims to optimize mitochondrial function by ramping up intake of 31 micronutrients that support the mitochondria.

Foods emphasized:
• 9 cups of vegetables per day
• Berries
• Grass-fed meats
• Wild fish
• Bone broth
• Fermented foods
• Organ meats
• Seaweeds and sea vegetables

Food restricted:
• Gluten
• Eggs
• Dairy
• Refined oils
• Refined sugar
• Processed foods
• Food additives

*Note: these foods are just restricted on the basic level of the Wahls Diet. There are more strict Paleo versions of this.

Dr. Wahls has continued doing research on diet and lifestyle interventions targeting multiple sclerosis patients, testing her protocol, like the one found here.

Autoimmune Paleo Diet

The Autoimmune Paleo diet emphasizes all foods encouraged in the Wahls protocol, but additionally restricts the following foods:

• Grains
• Legumes
• Nuts
• Seeds (particularly cocoa, coffee, spices made from seeds)
• Nightshades (eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers)
• Alcohol

There has been a fair amount of anecdotal evidence supporting this type of regimen with remittance of autoimmune symptoms, such as seen with Dr. Sarah Ballantyne (also known as The Paleo Mom) and her followers.

The Take Away

The basis for restriction of the foods discussed in these autoimmune diet protocols are that they may cause an immune-mediated reaction in susceptible individuals.

Does this mean that everyone with an autoimmune condition should restrict all of these foods? Absolutely not. As always, diet must be personalized.

Before delving into any of these restrictive eating patterns, a standard elimination diet may be a better place to start (testing gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, corn, shellfish, etc). Because there is a lack of strong evidence supporting these autoimmune diet protocols, they may serve better as a reference for experimentation, rather than a rigid tool for those with autoimmune disorders or diseases.


Christina Stapke is a dietetic intern at Bastyr University and received her B.S. in Clinical Nutrition at UC Davis in 2015. She has a passion for addressing the underlying causes of chronic illness, as well as optimizing the body’s ability to heal itself. She is excited to see what the rest of the year will bring as an intern and plans to incorporate these ideologies in her future practice as an RDN. In her free time she enjoys cooking, yoga, surfing (when by the beach), and hiking.