Ashley is a Registered Dietitian in Charleston, SC with a passion for cooking and helping people become more connected to their food. She is the founder of Cook With Me TV, a live stream cooking show run by Registered Dietitians where people cook alongside the RD in their kitchens. Ashley also has a private practice called The Fresh Beet Nutrition where she specializes in helping people post-kidney transplant ease back into a balanced way of eating and better manage the cravings and weight gain that come with post-transplant medications. Her social media networks are dedicated to helping clear up the misinformation surrounding nutrition and reduce the anxiety people have about food. She believes that a truly nourishing diet is one where both kale salads and glazed doughnuts have a place.
Mathea Ford: [00:00:27] Hi there. It’s Mathea. Welcome back to the Nutrition Experts Podcast. The podcast featuring nutrition experts who are leading the way using food starts today right now with our next guest. It’s great to have Ashley Thomas on the show today. Ashley welcome to Nutrition Experts. I’m excited to have you on the show and share your expertise with my tribe.
Ashley Thomas: [00:00:48] Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.
Mathea Ford: [00:00:51] Ashley we’ve been talking for a few minutes and I love what you’re doing with all the things that are related to Facebook and teaching people to cook but we’re going to get into all that. But I would be excited for you to tell my listeners a little more about you and what you do.
Ashley Thomas: [00:01:07] Sure. I am a Florida I’m a Floridian born and raised in Florida. Done a little bit of traveling and have been transplanted here in Charleston, South Carolina where I have a private practice and I specialize mostly in seeing a post transplant patients post kidney transplant. And I also hope people prevent or reverse lifestyle conditions like heart disease and diabetes by helping them follow a sustainable plant based diet as well as a couple of other things like helping them better manage their stress levels and having them practice some intuitive eating techniques because as you know and a lot of other health professionals out there simply having someone a black and white meal plan doesn’t always get the results that we want. So, I know that behavior change is crucial and we can only really change diet when we dig deep into stress management and all the other issues surrounding what we eat, how we eat and why we eat and so on that behavior change train. As part of my practice, I also help people put their meal plans into action. And I do that with a lifestream cooking show that I just started in January, its called Cook With Me TV which is essentially like taking a cooking class but in the comfort of your own kitchen so people can grab the recipes ahead of time. Tune in to our Facebook page and actually cook along with us and the benefit of doing it live is that they can ask the dietitian questions in real time and get the answers. We’ve also got a lot of other people tuning in. So there’s a community aspect there. There might be someone who’s going through the same thing you’re going through and you can talk to them about it. It’s a really neat resource that I’m so excited to share with people and we’re just really trying to get it out there and get more people using it.
Mathea Ford: [00:02:57] I think that’s great because a lot of times people are on Facebook and you’re still looking for interesting things and communities and so can you talk a little bit about how that works? What you guys do to make the Cook With Me? You know you said you post your meal plans then and then you cook, how does? Do you do certain days or what?
Ashley Thomas: [00:03:17] Yeah. So every Friday we post recipes on our website which is at cookwithme.tv and you can head to that recipe page of what we’re cooking the next week and you can click on the recipes that you would like to plan to cook the following week and then at the top of the page you’ll click My Shopping List which will auto generate a grocery list for you based on the recipes that you’ve chosen. So it also makes your grocery trip a lot less stressful. You can either print out that grocery list or you can just use your mobile device in the grocery store and just kind of click off the ingredients as you get. And then you know the following week when it comes time to actually cook your meals you will see on her recipe the date and the time when we’re cooking so you know when to tune into Facebook and join that live show. We’ve dietitians. We have a total of five dietitians on the show cooking right now and we have shows Monday through Thursday. We have two shows on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and then one show on Wednesday and we are continuing to grow so we’ll have a few more slots open there.
Mathea Ford: [00:04:24] So what inspired you to start that?
Ashley Thomas: [00:04:27] So I really wanted a brick and mortar style teaching kitchen is really where this all started. And my husband is sort of in this with me. So we’re driving around Charleston trying to look for a place to actually open up a teaching kitchen you know making sure that it’s got everything you would need for that. It was pretty difficult to find something and things that we did find were very expensive. And as we thought more about that business venture, we realized that it would likely be very costly and we wouldn’t really reach as many people that we wanted to reach. And so that’s why we thought that doing it virtually would let us reach a lot more people for reduced cost. So we decided to turn it into a virtual teaching kitchen and that’s kind of how Cook With Me was born.
Mathea Ford: [00:05:12] Are they made for special diets these recipes or they kind of general recipes?
Ashley Thomas: [00:05:17] They started out pretty general and right now they are still pretty general sort of you know balanced eating. We don’t really promote all of those fad diets that you see today like the Keto diet, the Paleo diet, Whole 30 or you know low carb, low fat any of that stuff. But we do you know the dietitians that are on the show have their own specialties. So for example, one of our dietitians specialises in gut health. She’s actually a food sensitivity dietitian so she talks a lot about food sensitivities on the show and what you can do to improve your gut health. Another dietitian we have is specializing in prenatal nutrition. And so she talks a lot about you know what nutrients are crucial in that phase of life. We do have dietitians that are specializing in we’re going into the direction of making that more apparent so that we can capture the appropriate audience that would benefit from the service.
Mathea Ford: [00:06:12] You talked a little bit at the beginning about helping people get a more plant based diet and can you talk about how that’s different maybe than a vegan or a vegetarian diet because I hear plant based diet a lot but I don’t know that people necessarily understand what the difference is. What is it?
Ashley Thomas: [00:06:31] Yes! I’m so glad you asked this question because I hear this and I see this all the time and people do believe that plant based eating means vegan and it does not mean vegan. I think that there are many websites that are vegan but also call themselves plant based which is perhaps where this has come from the confusion surrounding what plant based eating is. But for me and for most of the dietitians that I know, plant based just means that your diet as a whole is heavily based on plant foods not that you don’t ever eat any animal products. The majority of your plate at meal time is filled up with plant foods and then maybe you have some more products like meat or cheese or seafood kind of sprinkled in there to ensure adequate protein and to sort of enhance the meal. So, instead of our standard American diet that we see today where meat is you know the star of the show. The plant based eating it switches it and really the plants are the star of the show and the meat is there to flavor. And as we know as dietitians know rather plant foods are so nutritious for us. They help with a slew of chronic conditions that we’re seeing today and so if we can somehow help people shift their mindset into seeing their plate as you know more plant based and less animal based than I think we can do a lot in reducing the chronic diseases that we’re seeing today.
Mathea Ford: [00:08:04] What are some of the changes that people can make if they want to eat a lot more plant based? And what types of conditions might that be best if you’re thinking along those lines? What conditions would be most helped by a plant based diet?
Ashley Thomas: [00:08:20] Yeah! I think that’s one of the things people can do to transition into eating a more plant based diet is to first assess you know how much animal products are you eating for one. So, how large is that meat portion that’s on your plate? Are you eating a 12 ounces steak pretty frequently or are you eating even like eight ounces of chicken. The chicken breast today at the grocery store are huge. And a lot of times you get you know 8-10 ounces in a chicken breast when really your body only needs about four ounces at a time. You know it packs almost 30 grams of protein and just four ounces of chicken so it’s plenty of protein. So honing in on the size of your meat is one place to start. And then I’m sure people are thinking and actually people have told me this after I’ve given this recommendation they’re like “well, I’m going to be hungry after that. You know what else do I eat?” And so that’s where the plants come in. So then fill in the gaps with starchy vegetables, non starchy vegetables, whole grains, beans. Scale back a little on the meat and then fill out the plant portions. And for the types of people that would benefit from plant based diet, honestly, I think most people can benefit from a plant based diet. But the literature does show that people who have high cholesterol or Hyperglycemia or elevated blood sugars can greatly benefit from a plant based diet because they’re giving us a lot more fiber specifically soluble fiber which we know helps to actually lower cholesterol levels in the body. We know that fiber helps to better regulate blood sugars. So you know high cholesterol, diabetes and really honestly anyone especially if you’re trying to prevent disease.
Mathea Ford: [00:10:02] Well, I totally agree with you that everybody could benefit from just even adding a little more. So what are maybe some ways people could be a little more plant based if they’re interested in it but they’re not sure they want to jump off that cliff? I guess it’s not cliff but you know what.
Ashley Thomas: [00:10:19] Yeah! I always start with breakfast. I feel like breakfast is the perfect way to start eating more plants because it’s oftentimes easier than a lot of the other meals. Personally, my go to is oatmeal and you can really can really do it up with me also you know starting with about half of a cup of oats cooked in milk. But it’s really what you top your oatmeal with that makes or breaks it if just a plain old oatmeal that’s technically plant based but you’re not really getting a lot of nutrition in that. You need a little bit more than that and it’s best for round that plate out with some other food groups to help sustain your energy levels throughout the morning and all that good stuff. So, adding some fruit and some nuts on top can help you better balance that. You know it’s tasty, you can add a little bit of honey on top too if you want to make it a little sweet but I find that that’s a really good place to start with people even if it is including even if it’s just fruit you know maybe you’d start adding little bit more fruit into your diet. And breakfast is absolutely one great way to do that.
Mathea Ford: [00:11:19] Some of it is also reducing the amounts of other things that we’re getting in our diet like you mentioned adding fruit or eating oatmeal. But we’re so used to either eating that predone packs where you just put it in there and it’s loaded with sugar and so you have to kind of dial back that sugar a little bit and get your taste buds re-acclimated to how food tastes really good without all the added added ingredients.
Ashley Thomas: [00:11:47] Something that’s very difficult for a lot of people and I get it. Because when I think back when I was in college I did not have the best day ever and I had a very large sweet tooth. And I knew that I needed to cut back on my sugar and it was hard because I was just so used to eating high sugar foods that fruit really didn’t even taste that sweet to me anymore. So it took some time to wash out all of the sugar laden foods. Give myself some time to acclimate to a lower level of sweetness to where I could start to enjoy fruit even more.
Mathea Ford: [00:12:23] Yeah I feel the same way about like salt. Like we eat when we eat bacon I buy low sodium bacon. And so when we go out maybe where we travel a lot this summer. And when you go to the buffet at the hotel I couldn’t even hardly stand to eat the bacon because I’m like “oh my gosh this is so salty.” So yes! But maybe you don’t even really see how sweet sugar is or like Cokes or whatever until you’ve dialed that back down and went oh this is recalibrated. So, so when you’re working with your clients you mentioned that you do some things were you know thought pattern’s, mental health, also eating. So, what sorts of things do you do with your clients that help them to have a healthier diet to make it more well-rounded?
Ashley Thomas: [00:13:11] Yeah you mean on the topic of like stress reduction?
Mathea Ford: [00:13:15] Yeah you did mentioned that if we getting so I wanted to make sure we talked about that.
Ashley Thomas: [00:13:19] Yeah! I think stress reduction is super important. And I know as dietitians, it’s not technically our area of practice but I feel like it is extremely essential and I have seen it benefit a lot of my patients. So and even if it’s something as simple as and I think we talk about this quite a bit as dietitians you know finding, finding an outlet for stress and helping people going through different scenarios of what they can realistically do. I always throw out meditation or deep breathing exercises whatever you want to call it. And it seems to stick quite a bit. I think people are pretty resistant to it upfront. But it is something that I’m seeing is benefiting a lot of people even if it’s just taking five to 10 minutes to close your eyes, do some deep breathing and try to clear your mind of whatever it is that’s happening at the moment that’s stressing you out or making you angry or sad or whatever it is. Especially in those moments where you’re craving something because that’s usually where I find people are eating the things that they’re trying not to eat as much of. Sugar for example, I think sweet and salty things are the vice of many people. And stress is oftentimes tied to that a lot of times its work stress. So whenever they’re in that stressful moment where they want to reach for that sweet or salty snack to selfsooth. You know I asked them to first become aware that they’re even doing it. So, I think a lot of us aren’t even really aware that that’s the case. The first step is just become aware. And even if you don’t stop it that’s okay because you’ve got to take baby steps to get to where you’re trying to go. And so that is the first step is becoming aware that your brain is saying “give me something salty, give me something sweet so I can feel better.” And so when you can get past that then you can start to break action and the next time you are aware that you’re doing it, find something else to do to deal with that stress. You know maybe it’s going outside for a five minute walk, maybe it’s doing 50 jumping jacks or going for a run or doing some kind of exercise if that fits in your day. Maybe its walking into the water fountain and filling up your water bottle and then just walking outside know a couple deep breaths. Maybe you do have the ability to turn the lights off on your office, sit quietly and do some deep breathing for five to ten minutes. But the point is you just find something to take your mind off of that stress so that you can learn how to deal with stress in another way other than with food.
Mathea Ford: [00:15:48] So how does stress affect your health and your diet? I know this is a dietitian but we have a lot of different people listening to the podcast so they may understand kind of. So can you talk a little bit about the connection that stress makes to the diet and how managing that can improve just even a diet because they don’t necessarily automatically seem related?
Ashley Thomas: [00:16:13] Physiologically speaking when we are in a state of stress our body produces a hormone called cortisol. And what this does is it elicits that fight or flight reaction. And so it can also increase your blood sugars as well which we know is not healthy for us. So, finding a way to distress and prevent that hyperglycemia so frequently throughout the day can help you better regulate your mood which mood is strongly tied to what you choose to eat as we just talked about. We know that elevated blood sugars over an extended period of time can create or cause diabetes. And we also know that elevated blood sugar over time also helps us to gain weight. It actually helps us to store fat in the body. You know when people are highly stressed they may notice that they’re gaining some weight and that could be one reason for it but I think the strongest connection that stress has with diet is is our mood and the fact that we do search out foods specifically carbohydrates in order to soothe whatever is going on in our life. And whenever we do eat carbohydrates that are either sweet or starchy it floods the brain the serotonin the happy hormone it makes us feel better and so we are more likely to keep turning to that because it feels good.
Mathea Ford: [00:17:39] What are some like universal things that you see consistently with people when you work with them that they need to change to make their diet a little healthier?
Ashley Thomas: [00:17:48] Yeah I think a big one is meal skipping. I think that people are. A lot of people are very used to skipping meals and whether that’s usually breakfast for people who I see and a lot of times it can be it can be lunch as well. So, maybe sign eats a big breakfast and then they go all day and don’t eat anything until dinner. But you know when we do that we miss out on an opportunity to nourish our body and help meet all of those central vitamin and mineral needs that we need on a daily basis. And I also find that you know when people start to regulate their eating pattern, their moods are more stable, they do feel better. They may start to lose a little bit of weight because they’re kind of getting their body on this natural rhythm and a structured way of eating that helps to deliver good nutrition at regular times throughout the day. I think another one is not drinking enough water as well. And instead maybe drinking coffee all day or even drinking some sweetened beverages whether it’s Gatorade or soda. And simply just cutting that out and replacing that with water or finding maybe a fizzy water to kind of take the place of a soda for a short period of time to acclimate them back down to water. That’s another. Another common one.
Mathea Ford: [00:19:08] Can you talk a little bit about your work that you do with kidney patients, post transplant? What kind of things do you work with them on and I mean I would think that once their post transplant, do they not just go back to having a normal diet?
Ashley Thomas: [00:19:25] Yes. And that’s a great question. So, for post transplant they can go back to having a normal diet which is one of the reasons why they tend to gain a lot of weight is because they’re now free to eat whatever they want and they’re no longer tied to the phosphorous and potassium and sodium and protein and fluid restrictions that they were once tied to before they got their transplant. Getting back to eating is normal things are fun, it feels good and they’re so happy that they can do that. Another issue though is the medications that they’re taking. So, the immunosuppressant drugs and then the low dose prednisone steroids they’re on for life increases blood sugars. It does increase hunger and so they do eat a little bit more. So, managing blood sugars is a large part of the post transplant world. So bringing it back to that plant based eating so that we can get enough fiber in them and they can better regulate their blood sugars is very very important. And then again the intuitive eating techniques that go along with really anyone in figuring out how, what and why you eat is very important to you for weight control. You know a lot of the physicians that work with the post transplant patients are always very concerned about what we gain and so that’s usually what I hear about more and so they tell their patients that they need to lose X amount of weight and then don’t really give them any resources on how to do that. So that’s where we come in in. Yes, food and nutrition helps people lose weight. But there are other things too like stress and all of those Intuitive Eating techniques that can help better connect people with their food and help them make healthier choices.
Mathea Ford: [00:21:13] All of this comes back to eating right, eating more plant based cooking. So, what brought you full circle with this cooking and health care thing because I noticed that you said you know you want people to do more cooking at home that it’s harder to eat a healthier diet necessarily on when we’re more eating out alot. So how do you see that as part of a healthy diet? The cooking piece?
Ashley Thomas: [00:21:41] I strongly believe that cooking is at the heart of health. And I say that all the time and it’s plastered all over my social media. So I’m sure people that I know are listening to this, they’re like “Uhh! She’s saying that line again!” But I really believe it. You know I feel like cooking is so essential to our health on so many different levels. Yes, of course you’re able to control you know what you’re putting in your food and you’re able to choose healthy ingredients to create a meal out of. But there’s also something about touching food and manipulating it and turning individual ingredients into something new that helps people feel more connected and grounded. It also gets them thinking about where did this come from? How is this food grown? It cascades into a bigger picture of the food world in general. And I think that really helps to just ground people and instead get them to start asking questions, get them to start saying “why is this nutritious for me? Or how does this help me?” It’s no longer be the black and white you have to do this to get X Y and Z. It’s more engaging and interactive and it leads to people thinking a little bit deeper about food.
Mathea Ford: [00:22:55] Yeah I think you can be more engaged with your family too and have better habits. When I grew up my family we cooked a lot but a lot of what I’ve seen when I was teaching at the college and stuff is that a lot of people have not grown up with necessarily a lot of home cooking and understanding how to do that. And that’s actually a life skill. You know that is so important. So, I can see you know how people could find it difficult and needs some help and just even to see it happening on the screen like you do with your Cook With Me. Just builds confidence and then also maybe some older people who for example, a husband and his wife has passed or maybe she’s got Alzheimer’s or something but she was responsible for the cooking and so he needs to do a little bit more about cooking and learning. And you know that can happen at any age. So.
Ashley Thomas: [00:23:52] Right. So yeah I agree.
Mathea Ford: [00:23:54] Go ahead. Go ahead.
Ashley Thomas: [00:23:56] I was just an say and I say I agree and expand on the idea that not everybody did grow up with a home cooked meal with everyone sitting around the table and the fact that in school in elementary school even in high school I did not receive any nutrition education. And I know that a lot of those classes have been cut from the education system and so we’re not growing up understanding food anymore. And so whenever we get out into the real world or when kids go off to college they don’t really know what to do. They buy lot of convenience foods. They go out to eat. They get a lot of fast food. I know when I was in college. I mean I grew up with a home cooked meal. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where mom made dinner every night, we sat around the table, we talked about our day and that was awesome. But I didn’t really cook myself or learn how to do that. So when I went to college I was eating just lots of bagels for breakfast and getting fast food all the time and drinking soda and looking back on what I know now I was experiencing IBS symptoms that were caused by typical college diet, those high in fat and sugar processed carbohydrates and low and the vegetables and whole grains and all those nutritious foods that we know today can help heal our bodies. So, I understand that you know we really just don’t receive education on how to eat well and so we can see what it’s doing to our country.
Mathea Ford: [00:25:27] A lot of the people I talked to on this podcast we talk about plant based eating. We talk about vegetarian, we talk about mindset, meditation, mindful eating. So how do you see this trend of change? I would hope it’s change affecting health care?
Ashley Thomas: [00:25:45] One thing I will say that I’m noticing though a lot of younger dietitians are choosing to open up a private practice. And a lot of those dietitians use a lot of intuitive eating techniques, talk a lot about cooking but the thing is that insurance will not reimburse for a service like that. And so we’re missing out on a large group of people who can’t afford this kind of thing. And we know that not all insurance companies or most insurance companies won’t cover for preventative services they’ll only cover for a disease day like diabetes or kidney disease. But I think you know we as RDs we have a strong presence in public policy and I do see a future where insurance will eventually cover preventative services by dietitians so that we’re not just able to manage a disease and were able to help people prevent it. At least that’s my hope.
Mathea Ford: [00:26:37] It’s my hope too or at least just even have more resources like as much as we can as dietitians out in social media encouraging, teaching people get success with these short term fixes like Keto or Whole 30 or whatever. But how sustainable is that versus you know making these changes over time is the question. So, what are some of ways that the listeners can use this information we’ve talk about? Whether it’s cooking or eating more plant based or stress reduction in their daily life? Whether it’s with patients or it’s just personal changes? What are some things you think that they could you know some key takeaways they might have?
Ashley Thomas: [00:27:23] Okay sure. I think behavior change is really the hardest part when it comes to eating well consistently and making sure that you’re eating nourishing meals. I think that what can be helpful is to take a baby step and just choose one realistic thing to work on at a time and be able to do that consistently until you feel that it’s now part of you and your lifestyle. I know that we’ve talked about a lot of different things on the podcast and it could be overwhelming for a lot of people sort of like “oh there’s so much information and I don’t even know where to begin but it’s really a finding just one thing that you can work on for a few weeks and try that out until it feel like it’s a part of your lifestyle. So, for example, maybe if you’re somebody who doesn’t really cook a whole lot, give yourself the goal of cooking a balanced dinner maybe twice a week or whatever the realistic number is for you. Maybe twice a week is too much and maybe once a week would be better or maybe you’re already doing once a week and you would want to do three times a week. So pick them you know how many times a week you think is realistic for you to actually start cooking and really hone in on that and make it a priority for yourself. So what that means is on the weekend maybe Saturday or Sunday you make a plan for yourself. Go online, look up some recipes. I’ll do a shameless plug here. Go to cookwithme.tv and grab a couple recipes that you want to cook during the week. Make your grocery list, go to the grocery store, get everything that you need to make those two meals and then you know schedule that on your calendar or put a sticky note on your refrigerator so that you know which days you’re going to be cooking those meals and do that for a few weeks and you can get the hang of it and you can actually work it into your lifestyle so that it no longer feels like work and that it no longer feels like you’re forcing something. And I want you to jot that down then maybe mosey on over to the next goal that you’re trying to work on. Trying to do too many things at one time is going to set you up for failure. I know that with myself and I see that in the people that I work with. So, focusing on one thing is really going to help you help us succeed. We know that Rome was not built in a day and neither are healthy diet so I just take it one step at a time.
Mathea Ford: [00:29:39] Yeah, I think people underestimate what the thing people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years. So, it’s kind of that we always want to hurry up and get a lot of stuff done but that consistent process is important. So, something I always ask my podcast guests is what’s your favorite food.
Mathea Ford: [00:30:01] A nice thick slice of freshly baked bread dipped in Olive oil. Toasted and dipped in Olive oil is absolutely my favorite food I think.
Mathea Ford: [00:30:12] Well, Ashley thank you so much for being on the podcast today. It was a pleasure to have you on the show. I know my listeners have learned a lot about all the different topics we talked about – plant eating, you know kidney disease, all that stuff. So, if listeners want to connect with you what’s the best way to do that?
Ashley Thomas: [00:30:30] Sure! The best way would be is to find me on our Facebook page at Cook With Me TV. If you don’t have Facebook though, you can always head to our website cookwithme.tv or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mathea Ford: [00:30:49] Great! So well guys. This has been another great episode of the Nutrition Expert Podcast. The podcast is all about learning more so you can do more with nutrition in your life.