Bonnie Balk, R.D. Maple Holistics
New York, NY
Brief Introduction/Tell Us About yourself (where you are from, etc)
As a Registered Dietitian, Health & Wellness Expert at Maple Holistics, and shameless foodie, I’m passionate about supporting healthful lifestyles. Born and bred in the suburbs of New York City, I have played many roles in the ‘nutrition world,’ including serving as a Clinical Dietitian in a hospital, partaking in community nutrition programs, and conducting healthy cooking demonstrations. Currently, as a writer at Maple Holistics, I stay abreast of health-related advancements and research, as I counsel and advise others in nutrition.
Why made you pursue a career in nutrition?
Although my career technically started when I became a Registered Dietitian, my unofficial path began as a fourth-grader, as I told my classmates, “My crackers are made with no hydrogenated oils.” From a young age, my mother instilled in me the idea of eating healthy, as she explained how certain foods are harmful or beneficial. With my curiosity in learning more about healthful eating, my interest in science-related classes (chemistry, biology, anatomy & physiology, etc.), and my empathy for others, I decided to pursue a career as a dietitian, which would combine all three. I view dietitians as therapists of sorts, only using food and eating behaviors as the main tool to support others in achieving a better quality of life.
How did you become passionate about healthy eating?
When I first heard the concept of “you are what you eat,” it changed my perspective on food. Although eating is an enjoyable experience and is used as a social unifier, it is so much more than that- it’s our key to survival. There may be many factors we cannot control (our genes, unexplained health complications, accidents, etc.), but the food we put into our bodies is very much our choice, and greatly impacts our health. With this idea in mind, I am very passionate about eating healthy, as I view food as a ‘drug’ of sorts, which can be used to harm or help us, depending how we use it.
What kind of training did you undergo / certification you received?
My training as a dietitian began in college, where I received my Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics. The courses in this major include 6 sciences (chemistry, biology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy & physiology, and microbiology), nutrition, food service, and food safety classes. Once I completed my required undergrad courses, I was able to apply to a Dietetic Internship, which is an academic program accredited through a college or university and is a supervised practice program. As my internship had a clinical focus, I was exposed to all areas of the nutrition field while being supervised by an RD (such as oncology, endocrinology, neurology, etc.). The program also included community nutrition experiences and food service training. Once completed, I was able to sit for the RD exam, and after passing I was officially a Registered Dietitian.
What do people look for in a nutritionist or dietitian?
The first thing to clear up is the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian. While a nutritionist is someone who advises others on food and its impact on health, a dietitian is someone who has formal training and maintains a credential as part of the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Some of the roles of a dietitian include managing diets based on individual needs, developing meal plans, counseling on healthy habits, and assessing a patient's nutritional status. In clinical settings, dietitians are involved with recommending and monitoring tube feeding regimens, as well as suggesting necessary supplements. Dietitians can also work with pharmaceutical companies, food manufacturers recipe developers and researchers. In the community sense, dietitians can be involved with education and community events, such as farmers' markets and food pantries.
How has your approach to nutrition changed over the years?
My overall mantra for following a healthful diet has generally stayed consistent. Our diets should focus on whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean protein, healthy fats, and minimal (or ideally no) processed foods. Packaged, processed, and restaurant food is automatically going to have ingredients that are higher in fat, sugar, and sodium than whole, fresh food you prepare. Having said that, I believe that eating should be enjoyable, not dreadful, and occasionally having foods outside your ‘set diet plan’ is okay. The key to maintaining a sustainable, realistic way of eating is by following the 80/20 rule, where most of the time you choose healthful choices, and for the occasional holiday, birthday dinner, etc., you enjoy treats. Moderation and balance are keys to maintaining a healthful (and happy!) way of eating.
What do you eat in a typical day?
My typical breakfast consists of plain oatmeal (as opposed to artificially flavored packets), with fat-free milk, and a handful of berries; plain Greek yogurt (I switch between fat-free and 1.5% fat) with a handful of plain, nuts, and half a banana; or eggs with avocado and Wasa crackers. My lunch generally consists of some sort of mixture of a grain (quinoa, whole-wheat couscous, wheat berry, etc.) a bunch of veggies (cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potato, zucchini, kale, etc.), a protein (grilled chicken, roasted salmon, tuna, egg) and a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. These bowls are filling and contain a wide variety of nutrients from multiple food groups. For dinner, I prepare a roasted vegetable (string beans, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.), a protein (salmon, grilled chicken, etc.) and a carb (baked sweet potato, brown rice, etc.), or I make some sort of dish with beans instead of meat (white bean meatballs, black bean chili, or chickpea burgers). For snacks, Pink Lady apples and Asian pears are my go-to, and on days where I need that extra energy boost, I add a fat-free Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey. Again, this is a typical day (80%), but there are times when I change things up (20%)! The key is moderation and portion control - if you’re at a pizza party, you can partake in the good time, just stick to your one slice and have a side salad instead of downing half the pie with fries. It’s all about balance!
What’s the easiest thing to correct nutrition-wise?
Although there is no quick fix to a healthy-eating-makeover, one area that can be corrected is portion control. You may not be able to regulate what food your given (cafeteria food, holiday meals, etc.), but you can control the quantity of your food consumption. No matter the setting, you are always equipped with your mindset and self-control, which can allow you to monitor how much you are eating. This concept of portion control may be the least complicated, as you can control your fork movements, but it may not be the easiest in terms of restraining from overeating tasty food! As I said, there is no one simple solution to eating healthy, and therefore it’s important to consider altering multiple habits and food choices when trying to eat healthy.
What are the five best foods to incorporate into your diet?
As every food offers unique benefits, it wouldn’t be fair to limit it to 5 foods. However, 5 foods that offer a plethora of nutritional benefits are salmon, oatmeal, Greek yogurt, sweet potato, and broccoli. Salmon is rich in omega 3-fatty acids, protein, B vitamins, and antioxidants. Oatmeal is full of fiber, maintains blood sugar control, and contributes to satiety. Greek yogurt is loaded with probiotics, protein, calcium, and potassium. Sweet potatoes contain beta carotene, fiber, and vitamins. Broccoli is a great source of vitamins (folic acid), minerals (potassium), and fiber.
What’s one change that a person can make to their nutrition that will get them the best results?
Everyone has their own strengths and struggles, making it tricky to offer a ‘one change fix.’ However, across the board, a helpful modification that will support weight loss efforts is having dinner before 7 pm. The later you eat, the more likely you are to overeat, especially late-night snacks that are usually high in sodium, fat, and sugar. When you go to sleep on a full stomach, your body must work extra hard to digest the food, and often you wake up feeling sluggish and heavy. Late-night eaters are therefore less likely to have breakfast, as they feel too uncomfortable to eat in the morning. By skipping breakfast, they tend to overeat throughout the rest of the day, which contributes to an unhealthy eating pattern and leads to more weight gain.
What nutrition trends are you paying attention to?
In the world of nutrition, as with all health-related fields, it’s imperative to stay abreast of up-to-date research and innovative ideas. Among the many evolving health claims, intermittent fasting seems to be a hot trend that many dieters are trying. As I am a strong believer in balanced meals, intuitive eating, and portion control, I am skeptical about the health benefits of fitting all your calories into a set time-frame. However, as there are many research studies on this topic, I’m keeping it on my list of trends to track to see if there are actual health benefits attached.
Plant based living is becoming more and more popular. When eating a mostly plant based / vegetarian diet, are there certain foods to focus on to make sure we’re getting enough nutrients and protein?
The plant-based diet focuses on having a variety of whole, unprocessed plant-based foods. This includes whole grains (barley, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat), legumes (black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans), greens (spinach, kale, lettuces), other veggies (tomatoes, peppers, celery), fruit, omega 3 seeds (flax and chia seeds), spices, and beverages (water, plant milks unsweetened, tea, decaf coffee). The key to properly following this diet is to have a variety of foods from each group. As each food offers its unique set of health benefits, it’s important to change it up! For those limiting (or eliminating) animal-based protein, make sure to have ‘complete proteins’ by combining grains (i.e. rice) with plant-based protein sources (i.e. beans).
Speaking of plant based, what are some of the benefits of drinking chlorophyll water?
There are many potential benefits of incorporating chlorophyll water into your diet. These perks include speeding up the healing process, detoxifying the liver, fighting cancer, and inducing weight loss. Since chlorophyll is naturally part of most veggies, as it is a molecule found in all green plants, you’re likely getting adequate amounts of this molecule from your diet. However, as drinking chlorophyll water will increase your fluid intake, and it has a plethora of potential benefits, it’s favorable to include it in your routine in moderation.
What’s one of your favorite organic/natural supplements or vitamins you recommend?
Although you may not see it on the pharmacy shelf, my favorite supplements and vitamins are fruits and veggies! I strongly believe that if you have a variety of fruits and veggies you are bound to get a plethora of vitamins, making supplementation unnecessary, and at times even harmful! However, for certain populations, stages of life, medical conditions or diet-followers, supplements may be necessary. For example, vegans may need vitamin B12, pregnant women may need folic acid, and children may need vitamin D.
Any favorite health / nutrition podcasts or books you recommend to our readers?
The truth is that having a more research-based approach, I tend to stay up to date with nutrition trends and studies by reading up on reliable sites, rather than listening to podcasts or books. Particularly, I stay in the know through researching sites that end in .gov or .org. My personal favorites are Mayo Clinic, American Heart Association, Eatright, and Choosemyplate. Whether a new diet trend, a buzz word about a specific food or nutrient, or disease-related research, you are bound to find reliable facts from these sources.
Where can our readers find you? (Instagram, Facebook, etc)
Be sure to check out nutrition facts, encouraging healthy tips and delicious (and healthy!) recipes on my Instagram page, or reach out on LinkedIn for more info on private counseling.