I am very excited to introduce to you my next featured RD in the spotlight, Sharon Palmer, author of The Plant Powered Diet. I have used Sharon’s website, blog and presentations as a resource for many of my clients with a desire to eat a more plant-based diet, especially her Plant-Powered Proteins list. Sharon is an exemplary leader in the nutrition world, keeping current on the latest food trends and nutrition topics and being at the forefront of the campaign to transition Americans to a more plant-based diet, for their health and for the environment. She makes me proud to be an RD!
Sharon, tell us a little about your path to becoming a dietitian and what got you where you are today.
I graduated from Loma Linda University with a BS in Dietetics and went on to enjoy a diverse career in dietetics, doing just about everything—from foodservice to sales to consulting to inpatient care. In 2000, I followed my dream and started writing exclusively. Since then, I have built a career around journalism and communications. I’ve written more than 850 articles, spoke at conferences around the world, edited for publications (Environmental Nutrition), written two books (The Plant-Powered Diet and Plant-Powered for Life), and served as a nutrition expert for several organizations.
Take us through a typical “day in the life.”
I get up early every day, make a cup of coffee, and walk (still in PJs!) to my office, which is literally steps away. I deal with my morning correspondence (reviewing articles, questions from colleagues and organizations, etc) and then I will enjoy my breakfast and my shower. After that, I plunge into my project for the day, whether it be writing an article, editing an issue of Environmental Nutrition, working on a presentation for an upcoming talk, interviewing an expert, or writing blog. I also fit in a couple of trips during the month, such as a speaking engagement, or a nutrition conference.
What got you interested in the field of nutrition?
I have always been fascinated with food and nutrition. I loved to cook as a child, and started reading about nutrition as a teenager.
Is there any food that you feel like you couldn’t live without?
I can’t live without green leafy vegetables. I eat them everyday. I love the raw, french crunch in salads, or the savory pungency of simmered greens. They are so nutritious, too.
What is your favorite part of your day as an RD?
I love communicating with my colleagues via email or phone. It’s so great hearing what other RDs are doing in the world of nutrition—whether they’re on TV being interviewed on a hot issue, or speaking at an upcoming conference, or helping out at a food bank. We have such amazing people in our profession.
What is the biggest challenge of being a dietitian in your field?
Staying on top of it all, and cutting past urban myths. The buzz of nutrition spreads like wildfire—today it may be coconut oil, but who knows what’s in store for tomorrow? It’s also hard to get through to people who have read every blog or listened to “advice” on nutrition issues that may not be factual, such as going gluten-free or avoiding soy for no real reason.
The question everyone wants to ask an RD: do you follow any certain diet?
I am a vegetarian—really about 95% vegan actually. I enjoy eating a completely plant-based diet, although I may relax it a bit when I travel. I feel best about my health and place in the world when I eat this way.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?
Part of my work in food journalism is to be a food expert; I’ve been lucky enough to eat at some of the best restaurants in the world! I would have to say eating at Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago was the most memorable meal of all time. He believes that food is a form of performance art, every dish is an experience for all of the senses, and it should also be based on memories. For example, one dish came on an oak branch which has been lit on fire, then blown out, so that you can recall the aroma of burning leaves in the fall time. Another dish came on a pillow of lavender. You were to press down on the pillow at the same time that you ate the dessert so you could experience those aromas and flavors together.
That sounds amazing! If you had to pick just one, what fad do you wish would disappear?
Paleo; I believe it is the antithesis of how we should eat. Although I do agree with their focus on returning to whole, unprocessed foods, we should be reducing our meat intake, not increasing it. Especially considering the environmental impacts of eating more meat, and feeding a growing, hotter planet.
What food or nutrition related book or documentary do you think everyone read or watch?
I still think if you never saw Food Inc it’s required viewing. Also, I liked Forks Over Knives.
What are your thoughts on GMOs? Do you think GMO foods should be labeled?
GMOs are a very complicated area. I don’t think there’s enough evidence to say for sure that they cause human health risks, however there is evidence that there many be some environmental issues that we should be concerned about. I am always an advocate of “the right to know” about your food system—the more you know, the more you can decide what to support by voting with your fork. I also try to consume most of my foods as organic, thus it’s a moot point, as all organic foods are GMO-free. Dietitians need to be more educated on the food system and agriculture.
What is the top nutrition tip you give your clients or friends?
Cook more, eat more whole, minimally processed plant foods. Shoot for 6 veggies a day.
What is your favorite place to go or thing to do in your city?
I love to go to my farmers market, and we have a great, diverse dining scene in LA. I like to go on walking trips in the city, as well as hiking.
What would you like to accomplish (can be career or non-career related) in the next 5 years?
I would like to continue to help promote plant-based eating to the public.
What would you say to someone interested in becoming an RD or getting into the field of nutrition? Any advice or caution?
I would say that it’s a wonderful career, filled with so many opportunities. And you can make a huge impact on people’s lives. Nutrition is of such importance for wellbeing. And people need help.
Check out Sharon’s her new book, Plant-Powered For Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps debuting this spring!
Thank you Sharon for being part of the Dietitian Spotlight Series and telling us more about the amazing work you do!