Stephanie Simms Hodges is a Registered Dietitian with a background in child nutrition, public health, and food policy. Throughout her career, Stephanie has written and implemented child nutrition grants, supported childhood obesity prevention efforts, assisted with implementation of the USDA nutrition regulations Smart Snacks in Schools, and advocated for quality nutrition services in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Stephanie earned her Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition, Foods & Exercise from Virginia Tech. She earned a Master of Science in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition and a Master’s in Public Health from Tufts University.
Oola: What inspired you to focus on the field of diet and nutrition?
Stephanie: I never had an “ah ha” moment that led me to the world of nutrition but I really fell in love with the topic in college. The subject was fascinating and every professor I had was so passionate about nutrition that I knew I wanted to be a part of the nutrition and dietetics field! I have found that it is a very collaborative and supportive field!
Oola: You specialize in combining nutrition and public health practices to encourage healthier individuals, communities, organizations, and schools. Can you elaborate on what types of things that entails?
Stephanie: I believe that we must encourage healthy habits where we live, work, and play. Incorporating health focused programs and policies in our everyday lives make it easier to adopt a healthy lifestyle. When we incorporate public health and nutrition best practices in our individual choices, our communities, our workplaces, and even our schools, it makes the healthy choice the easy choice.
Oola: What’s a common misconception people have about working with a Dietitian?
Stephanie: I wish the word “diet” wasn’t part of our professional title. It insinuates that dietitians are only focused on weight loss and dieting which couldn’t be further from the truth! Dietitians do promote healthy eating but we have a wide range of other roles as well- preventing malnutrition, managing chronic diseases like diabetes through nutrition, communicating nutrition research information to consumers and many more!
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? ???????
Stephanie: As a Dietitian, I will be the first to admit that nutrition information can be VERY confusing! Consumers should keep in mind that nutrition, very much like other sciences, evolves based on the latest nutrition research. I always look at the source of the information first- is it from a medical professional such as a Medical Doctor or a Registered Dietitian? I then look for the actual scientific journal where the research was published. It is possible that recommendations change based on the research but be sure that the information is coming from an unbiased, reputable source!
I wish the word “diet” wasn’t part of our professional title. It insinuates that dietitians are only focused on weight loss and dieting which couldn’t be further from the truth!
Oola: What’s a food that a lot of people consider healthy that is actually pretty unhealthy?
Stephanie: I think a lot of consumers think a “natural” label on a product means it is healthy but that’s not always the case. The term “natural” is loosely regulated and only means that the product does not contain artificial ingredients or added colors and is minimally processed. If a product has a natural label I encourage consumers to look closely at the ingredients label and the nutrition facts label to determine if it truly is a healthy item.
I think a lot of consumers think a “natural” label on a product means it is healthy but that’s not always the case.
Oola: Eating healthy while traveling can be a real challenge. Any tips for making it more manageable?
Stephanie: As someone who spends A LOT of time on the road, I totally understand how traveling can make healthy eating a little more challenging. My first tip is to pack snacks whether this is for a road trip or a flight! This allows you to have some control over what you eat and it keeps you from getting super hungry. Be sure you take a reusable water bottle too! This ensures you stay hydrated during your trip and don’t pay $8 for a bottle of water at the airport. If flying, fill it up after you pass through security. Another tip is if you are staying in a hotel to find one with some type of breakfast whether it be continental or a full breakfast. There is usually some type of healthy option such as greek yogurt, fruit, or eggs. Starting your day off with a healthy breakfast sets the tone for the rest of the day! Physical activity is another way to stay healthy while traveling. This doesn’t have to mean spending hours in the hotel gym but exploring where you are visiting by walking or biking helps you stay active!
Oola: What’s a big trend in American diets that you think is really positive or negative?
Stephanie: I love that consumers are paying attention to where their food comes from and supporting local agriculture. The local food movement is reconnecting growers and consumers. Farmers Markets are popping up all over the US and there’s a huge focus on local procurement in restaurants, colleges and universities, and schools. I hope that this is one food trend that is here to stay!
Oola: If you could only keep one of the following items in your diet for the rest of time, which would it be: Coffee, Ice Cream, or Bacon?
Stephanie: Definitely ice cream although I do love coffee and bacon too!
Oola: What advice do you have to give to our readers for living life to their tastes while maintaining a healthy diet?
Stephanie: Enjoying food and life is such an important part of healthy eating! I am firm believer in balance- meaning that you can enjoy the foods you love and still lead a healthy life. If you deprive yourself of the foods you like, you are more likely to overindulge when you do eat them again. Consuming appropriate portions is key to practicing balance!
Stephanie Simms Hodges, MS, MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian, specializing in Public Health, Child Nutrition, School Nutrition. She is the owner of The Nourished Principles. You can visit her site here: https://www.thenourishedprinciples.com/.
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