About Karen

Karen is a holistic nutritionist, herbalist, and the owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services, LLC. She helps people get better, especially those with mental health issues, by identifying each individual's root causes and then coming up with a plan to address these causes. The plan often entails diet, herbs, supplements, and testing if needed. She uses a step-by-step approach so that the client does not get overwhelmed and the steps are easy, doable, and achievable. Only when each client is ready, do they move on to the next step. Much of what she does involves education. Karen's goal is to educate her clients so that they only need her short term and have the tools and resources to live a healthy life.

woman looking at groceries

Oola: You're Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition. Can you elaborate on what it entails?

Karen: Not everyone who calls themselves a nutritionist can apply for and sit for the board exam in Holistic Nutrition. As for many other board certifications, I had to submit hundreds of hours of proof of direct and indirect contact with clients, in addition to a host of other information and recommendations, and then sit for the board exam. It was over a year-long process before I received my certification. This was after receiving my certification from Bauman College as a Nutrition Consultant. Having this designation gives me the credibility and validation that is needed in a sea of nutritionists who can buy a Groupon and "become" a nutritionist within a couple days. I always tell people to interview the nutritionist first and check their website for their qualifications. If it's not on there, in my mind, they are hiding something.

A holistic nutritionist is one who addresses the whole person and looks at the interplay of physical, chemical, mental, emotional, and environmental aspects of one being. It is much more than just putting someone on a prescribed diet!

Oola: What's a common misconception people have about working with a Nutritionist?

Karen: The biggest one I see is that we are put into the same category as Registered Dieticians. While some RD's may have some similar views as holistic nutritionists, our education is very different. Because of this, often our approach is very different as well. This is not to say one is better than the other. This is why I always encourage people to spend a few minutes interviewing to see which philosophy lines up with you best. I always make it clear to potential clients right away that I am not an RD and there is a difference.

The other misconception is that I am going to overhaul their diet right away and take away their favorite foods! Most nutritionists will not do a complete overhaul right away because we realize how difficult this can be and can set a person up for failure. Often for someone to get better, we need to use the step-by-step approach and build upon the foundation that was set up in the first step.

basket of vegetables

Oola: One day we read in the news that something is bad for us, the next day we read it's good. Is there a rule of thumb or method to use to figure out which to believe?

Karen: I know. So frustrating. It can also be challenging to keep up with the constant change of information. For instance, a glass of wine several times per week was supposed to be healthy and even better for you than not imbibing at all. Now we find out that no, that's wrong, we should not have any alcohol!

First of all, look at who is providing the information and who funded the studies behind it. For instance, there was a study that said sugar does not contribute to obesity and we just need to exercise more. The study was funded by soda companies.

Even in the health field, it can be challenging. For example, there was a brand of grass-fed butter that I recommended to my clients and come to find out that this company may be feeding GMO feed to their livestock and thus the butter is not a truly grass-fed butter. I had to tell my clients to switch it out for another brand. For those of us in the field who try to stay up to date, it can be difficult!

For the majority of instances, we all just need to use more common sense. For instance, when low fat was all the rage, everyone was eating low fat processed products high in sugar. Think about it. Is it better to eat low fat, high sugar processed foods, or just eat whole foods?

In the end, it really is simple. Reduce the processed foods in the diet. (I did not say eliminate!) That includes foods that some people may not consider processed foods such as bagels, bread, juice, and pasta. I believe that if most people followed the 80/20 rule they would be much healthier mentally and physically. This means 80% of the time eat whole foods and balanced meals and 20% of the time is for your treats.

When people start to follow this rule and stick with it, they find they really notice the difference in how they feel when they eat treats, whether it makes them bloated, puts them in a bad mood, or something else. The treats end up being less of the diet because of this awareness. I think this is an easier way to keep the "bad" out of the diet. If you follow this rule, then changes in the news shouldn't be much of an issue for you.

I believe that if most people followed the 80/20 rule they would be much healthier mentally and physically. This means 80% of the time eat whole foods and balanced meals and 20% of the time is for your treats.


Oola: What's a food that a lot of people consider healthy that is actually pretty unhealthy?

Karen: One that I have been seeing more and more are the plant-based spreads. People seem to like these better than butter for toast and bagels in the morning. Since it has the word "plant" on there, everyone assumes it is healthy.

I haven't looked at them all so some may be healthy, but the common one that I have seen clients use contains refined omega 6 oil that I cannot recommend. They also contain olive oil which sounds really healthy. However, a high-quality olive oil is very expensive and (Oola posted on this!) many olive oils are "fake" and mixed with cheaper and refined oils. I have no way of knowing what olive oil was used in these plant-based spreads but I'm wary. Inflammation is such a huge factor in diseases so we need to be mindful of foods that are inflammatory.

You have to remember a lot of money is invested into marketing these products. They really know how to pull you in. I find that most people will only read those bold words on the front of the label but never read the ingredients on the back.

The other commonly consumed unhealthy foods are artificial sweeteners. I thought most people would be avoiding them by now, but this is not the case. This is partly due because artificial sweeteners can come under different names that people may not recognize, so they think they are avoiding them when they are not.

Another reason is that people are not reading labels. They think that if they don't drink diet soda, they are not consuming artificial sweeteners. What they don't realize is that it can be hidden in your protein bar, your protein powder, your vitamins, your low-calorie English muffins, your flavored water, and so forth.

There are numerous reasons why we should be avoiding these low-calorie sweeteners. One is that some of it does get stored in the body and not completely eliminated as we were once told. Two, it can cause you to consume more calories, hence not really helpful for weight loss. Three, a 2013 study indicated that sucralose (AKA Splenda) may not be a good sugar substitute for diabetics due to the blood sugar response. Four, since it is absorbed in large intestine it may affect our gut flora disrupting the balance of bacteria.

overwhelmed woman at grocery store

Oola: Eating healthy while traveling can be a real challenge. Any tips for making it more manageable?

Karen: The first thing is pack your own snacks if you can. I always go on a trip prepared. I bring the type of protein bars that I like and I make individual portion size bags of nuts and seeds. I make my favorite bar recipe and pack that too. I pack fruit and raw veggies for the plane. I pack my own herbs for tea.

When eating out, most places are very accommodating (just leave a good tip!). I may ask for sauce on side or no sauce, extra veggies instead of rice or french fries, and no bread at the table. You can get a salad at most places so I try to start the meal with that or make it the meal with added protein. Again, I request dressing on the side and use it very sparingly. It's not perfect and I know the food is not organic. The odds are they are cooking with refined oils and the type of oils for the dressing are rancid and inflammatory, etc. However, try not to stress about it and just do the best you can. I just keep in mind that as soon as I get home, I get right back on track. But when I follow these rules, I don't stray too far from a healthy diet.

apple spinach salad with cranberries and walnuts
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Oola: What's a big trend in American diets that you think is really positive or negative?

Karen: Awareness. When I was at Bauman College for my nutrition certification, many students were much younger than me and in their 20's. I was just amazed at their age they had this awareness of healthy food and the impact food has on our environment and our bodies. When I was their age, I was eating french fries and a diet soda for lunch! We have so much more knowledge about food now. We have all this data and research at our fingertips so I think future generations will start to turn away from processed foods and start eating more whole foods.

Intermittent Eating: I think adding this new trend into your diet is an excellent idea for many people (depending on health status). There are many benefits to short fasts such as balanced blood sugar, weight loss, increase in energy, and less brain fog.

However, I do want to stress that this is not the same as "just too busy to eat breakfast and skipping it". One needs to get the hang of eating healthy before they do intermittent eating. Eating the standard American diet all day long and then skipping breakfast will not have the same benefit as incorporating intermittent eating into a healthy whole foods diet. You will instead end up with blood sugar dysregulation, fatigue, cravings and more.

Also, many people eat right until they fall asleep and then eat again as soon as they wake up and thus are fasting only 7-8 hours. We are made to fast longer than that. So while they are getting the hang of switching off the standard American diet, they need to focus on discontinuing eating a couple hours before bed to have that natural 12 hour fast.

I also like intermittent eating because it's not something you have to do daily to reap the benefits. Intermittent eating just one to three times per week can be effective when combined with a whole foods diet.

Intermittent eating just one to three times per week can be effective when combined with a whole foods diet.

seasoned salmon steak

Oola: What advice do you have to give to our readers for living life to their tastes while maintaining a healthy diet?

Karen: It's funny. Most people think it is really hard to eat healthy. They hear about all these different diets and they bounce from one restrictive diet to another and are constantly depriving themselves.

They think eating healthy is boring and tasteless. But good quality whole food tastes so good! They may have to invest some time and money in cookbooks or cooking classes to get the hang of it. I work with clients to show them how to eat healthily, I show them how to cook certain foods and how to use different spices and herbs etc. I also show them that they don't have to spend all day in the kitchen in order to eat healthily. It really can be simple and taste good at the same time. But it may take some learning up front if you have not been exposed to whole food eating.

It's amazing how taste buds can come alive once you start adding in whole foods with herbs and spices. I remember someone saying to me after she cut out processed foods from her diet that she didn't realize how sweet an apple is! We've gotten so used to all that processed sugar; but once you remove it, and try to enter it back in, it's like you can't even tolerate it because it is too sweet!

You can eat healthily and still have your ice cream. Like I said above, follow the 80/20 rule. Of course, all this depends on health issues and what foods a person may be allergic to or have a sensitivity too. But I think for the general public, you should be able to go out and have a drink every now and then or eat cake at a party. The main issue is have a plan. Don't go to a party and gorge yourself on cake, but have a slice. Treat yourself but have a limit set in your head before you head out the door.

Oola: Anything else you'd like to comment on while we have you?

Karen: I'd like to comment on breakfast, cravings, and willpower. I know we talked about intermittent eating, but breakfast is very important!

Most people are eating the wrong foods at breakfast and this is setting them up for failure in their food choices for the rest of the day. For breakfast, I see people eating cereal, a bagel with butter (or the plant spread I mentioned), a muffin, or a pastry and a huge coffee. This is the opposite of what your body needs in the morning. If you are heading off to school or work, you need brain fuel in the form of fat and protein. Yet, most people are consuming mostly carbs (refined ones) at breakfast.

If you want to be able to focus and concentrate and regulate your blood sugar so that you can have more energy and not crave carbs a couple hours later, consume protein and fats at breakfast. This could look like a green protein smoothie (not a fruit smoothie), or my favorite, a frittata slice with some avocado slices on the side and maybe a ½ cup of berries.

By flipping the balance of the breakfast you set yourself up for success, fewer cravings, able to go longer (not snacking) without food, make better food choices, and have more energy and focus. Who doesn't want that for themselves or their child?

If you want to be able to focus and concentrate and regulate your blood sugar so that you can have more energy and not crave carbs a couple hours later, consume protein and fats at breakfast.

almond milk

Follow Karen:

If you enjoyed the insight Karen provided in this interview, be sure to continue to follow her here:

Name: Karen Brennan

Expertise: Nutritionist

Title: Nutritionist and owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services LLC

Company: Tru Foods Nutrition Services

Website: http://trufoodsnutrition.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Karenmbrennan1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Trufoodsnutrition

LinkedIn: https://wwwllinkedin.com/in/karen-brennan-96879995

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/trufoodsnutrition/

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