Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN is not only a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, she’s also a classically-trained chef, and an award-winning cookbook author. Clearly a top-notch nutrition expert, Jackie has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, and The Food Network, among many others. Plus she’s a Foodstand contributor! Many thanks to Jackie for her continuing wisdom and tips.
Please tell us about what you do.
I wear lots of hats in the world of culinary nutrition. Some of what I do includes working as a recipe developer for national publications and websites including Rachael Ray Every Day, Livestrong, and Fitbit. I’m also a spokesperson for food companies, including KIND Snacks and Wonderful Pistachios; a recreational chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education; and a cookbook author. I do tend to spend a lot of time cooking in my kitchen and shopping at Whole Foods Market and my local farmers market … and I love that!
The holiday season is upon us. Any good-eating advice to avoid overindulging?
Incorporate plenty of exercise into your routine, especially before a meal if possible. Fill up half of your holiday plate with a non-starchy veggie, like a leafy salad. Then go ahead and allow yourself to enjoy a taste of all your favorites.
How do you define good food?
I define good food simply as that which is real, fresh, and plant-based.
How did you become interested in good eating, and when did you know you wanted to work in nutrition?
My mother was a caterer and showed me from a very young age where “good” food comes from and what it tastes like. That ranged from getting chicken from a certain farm on a Tuesday when it was freshest, to befriending produce managers who gave us special tastings, to plucking grape leaves from wild vines in northeastern Ohio where I grew up. I also was interested in the medical field. So, I combined these two passions and became a registered dietitian nutritionist. But I didn’t stop there; I then went to culinary school after college to learn classical cuisine techniques … to make sure the healthy cooking techniques I was creating were born from a solid knowledge base.
Countries across the world are taking action on their nation’s food systems—for example, Brazil recently added the right to food to its constitution, and introduced enviable and comprehensive good eating guidelines that include everything from nutrition to sustainability. What efforts would you like to see the US take to help the American people eat better?
With the new administration taking over, my major worry in the food arena is about the loosening, if not deteriorating, of environmental regulations and climate change goals. My hope is that industrial farmers and food companies will take action and do the right thing, not just aim to meet minimum government regulations. I’d love to see all cities step up and make composting simple for all consumers. I hope people take their own action and “vote” with their pocketbook, supporting natural and organic foods as well as food companies that share and follow a planet-friendly sustainability mission. And at minimum, I hope Americans become increasingly aware of food waste—and do their part to reduce their own. Small changes really can add up to make a big difference.
What three ingredients are always in your fridge/pantry?
Avocados, almost every nut in existence, and maybe a dozen different vinegars.
What’s one piece of advice you can give to someone trying to develop better, long-term eating habits?
Eat more non-starchy veggies! Fill up half of every mealtime plate or bowl with them. And select them seasonally, as possible.
What’s your favorite healthy snack?
I’m a big fan of hummus! My mother was Lebanese, so I’ve actually been making and eating it all of my life—way before it was ever mainstream. I often scoop it up with English cucumber slices. But when I need a munchie treat, I enjoy it with organic blue corn tortilla chips. My mother certainly would not approve of this nontraditional pick!
How do you incorporate a variety of vegetables into your diet?
I could spend hours sharing all of the ways I incorporate vegetables into my meals. But, in a nutshell, I try to include them in practically every single dish that I make, including many desserts! For breakfast, I love sautéing up a seasonal hash out of any leftover veggies or veggie scraps I have—and topping it with a fried organic egg or two. For lunch, I’m a fan of a stuffed roasted or a grilled vegetable burrito. For dinner, I enjoy making major statements out of large vegetables, like heads of cauliflower or whole eggplant. And pumpkin purée, fresh herbs, zucchini and other vegetables may find their way into my desserts. Basically, I think of vegetables as the most versatile and playful foods in the kitchen!
Good eating habits need to be developed from an early age, not only to set the foundation for habits one keeps as an adult, but also to stop type 2 diabetes in its tracks. What do you think is the best way to educate our children about food?
The best way to educate kids about good eating habits is to have them get involved as soon as possible, including taking part in food shopping and preparation (as age-appropriate), as well as having them plant and care for of at least one vegetable or fruit of their choosing. That’s exactly how I was raised and wouldn’t change a thing about that!
How do you manage to eat well when traveling or on-the-go?
I think it’s important to have a healthful mindset. I don’t think of traveling or being on-the-go as anything “special,” but rather just a normal part of life. So, the only thing that really changes in these instances is I may dine out a little more and I need to be sure I have a planned, portable snack on hand. Vegetables and other healthful options are available all over the world; you just need to make it a point to choose them!
If you could get the general population to change one aspect of their eating habits, what would it be?
Other than enjoying more non-starchy veggies, I encourage all to sit down, take your time, and truly savor your meals way more often than you’re likely doing right now.
Favorite vegan proteins?
Beans, hemp seeds, or pistachios are nearly always in my daily eating repertoire.
Favorite sweet treat with no added sugar?
I “crave” a juicy, ripe, super-sized wedge of watermelon … when it’s in season!
Many people (ourselves included) eat well throughout the day, but get into trouble at that nighttime snack hour when it’s easy to grab sugary cereal or ice cream. What’s your favorite better-for-you late night snack?
I often have a “see-food” late night snack! What I mean by that is I keep numerous see-through lidded bowls and jars of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits on my kitchen counter—where I can see them. I mix-n-match a small bowl of them to satisfy my need for something sweet, salty, and crunchy. And if I really need something on the sweeter side, I toss in a little surprise of a few chocolate chips!
What’s your favorite part about what you do?
I don’t think of what I do for a living as a “job”! I absolutely love what I do. That’s my favorite part—all of it… including knowing that in some small way I’m helping others improve their health. And you can’t beat getting paid to do what you love!
Good eating isn’t about perfection, it’s about habits and progress. From time to time we all eat something we don’t feel so great about later. What is your advice for those oops moments?
Be positive and forgive yourself! Instead of dwelling on what you did, focus on what you’ll do differently in the future.