Ginger Hultin is a nutrition expert and Registered Dietitian coach at Arviale, a scientific wellness company in Seattle where I get to practice nutrigenomics to help change people’s lives. She is a health writer specializing in vegetarian nutrition, integrative oncology, responsible supplementation and how alcohol can fit into a healthy lifestyle. Other areas of expertise include weight management, fitness, and media/social media skills. She serves as a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Nominating Co-Chair for the Greater Seattle Dietetic Association, past-chair for the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and as a past president for the Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She speaks to students, interns and fellow dietitians about how to be more involved in the nutrition field, networking and social media skills.
With degrees in both English and Nutrition, she is a freelance writer specializing in food and health. See her long-time nutrition blog ChampagneNutrition (http://www.champagnenutrition.com) and follow her work on LiveStrong.com, Foodtrients, Today’s Dietitian and the Stone Soup Blog by Food & Nutrition Magazine.
Mathea Ford: [00:00:26] 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 Ginger Hultin on the show today. Alright, Ginger I’m excited to have you on my show. Can you tell my listeners a little more about you and what you do?
Ginger Hultin: [00:00:47] Sure yes. So so glad to be talking to you today. I am a Registered Dietitian and I’m working out of Seattle. I got into the profession partly because I was previously in the fitness industry and then partly because I was previously in the restaurant industry. And that’s one reason that I created the brand Champagne Nutrition. I have a lot of passion for going out, eating out, wine and champagne while still being healthy.
Mathea Ford: [00:01:13] Great! What did you do in the restaurant industry?
Ginger Hultin: [00:01:15] I started just as a hostess. I worked in restaurants for eight or nine years while I was going through school because becoming a dietitian is very time consuming. I ended up being a bartender and a restaurant manager. So, I really got to understand people’s relationship to food and their passion for food.
Mathea Ford: [00:01:36] And you got a lot of practice as counselor I’m sure as a bartender right?
Ginger Hultin: [00:01:40] So much! It’s such an interesting interesting way to meet and talk to people.
Mathea Ford: [00:01:45] Well I myself am a food service type dietitian so totally love that you have that background and I think it’s very valuable when talking to people about their food, to understand food preparation, food issues, recipes, that type of stuff. So, today we’re here though to talk about the vegetarian diet. So can you give a little overview talk about the vegetarian diet and why it might be a good choice for someone?
Ginger Hultin: [00:02:09] Yeah! I Think that’s even the term vegetarian is a little confusing for people and it actually carries a lot of emotion. So, just to break down what that means. Vegetarian Diet simply excludes meat and seafood. But you could be something called a lacto-ovu vegetarian. Lacto meaning dairy and ovu meaning eggs. So some people do include those foods and still call themselves vegetarian. You could also be a pescaterian which is basically a vegetarian that also eats fish and you could be many combinations of those things. Of course there’s vegans. They are a type of vegetarian but they actually exclude all animal foods including no dairy and no honey because it’s made from or bees make it. And then there’s this very hot phrase right now called plant based diet. That could mean a lot of different things that many people use it to mean eating less meat or very little meat or just eating a lot more plant foods.
Mathea Ford: [00:03:10] When somebody says they’re vegetarian, you have to kind of figure out what layer of vegetarian that is. What made you interested in vegetarian nutrition?
Ginger Hultin: [00:03:21] It’s actually one of my earliest memories. I have a memory of refusing a ham sandwich when I was probably five years old so I have this personal history of first not liking meat and just eating mostly plant foods and then I think as a teenager it was very trendy to be vegetarian. But then as I got older and especially as I started learning more about nutrition I realize the amazing health benefits, the environmental benefits and it also became more about animal welfare for me. Really happy to practice for all those reasons with vegetarian nutrition as a dietitian.
Mathea Ford: [00:03:58] What would you say are some of the benefits of eating a vegetarian diet?
Ginger Hultin: [00:04:03] There’s lots! A lot of different types of benefits like a lower body weight, cardiovascular health, and improved labs for heart health and also lower cancer risk of many kinds. I actually I’m a CSO so that stands for a Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition. So I’ve done a lot of work around vegetarian diets and cancer. I also think there’s some really powerful environmental benefits and like I said animal welfare benefits. They’re saying right now the average consumer is going to be eating over 200 pounds of meat or poultry in the U.S. this year. So that really exceeds the amount that is suggested to each. It’s really important topic.
Mathea Ford: [00:04:44] So when you talk about animal welfare, what specifically does that involve?
Ginger Hultin: [00:04:49] Well a lot of people are vegetarians or vegans to reduce animal suffering and the need for reliance for people to get their protein from animals. So of course it’s going to cut down just on animal suffering and or death if we are not eating them at all. There’s lots and lots of different kinds of plant proteins to eat that are really equal in nutrition.
Mathea Ford: [00:05:11] So, I know it’s an old myth that you have to kind of mix your proteins to get at a meal you know to get a complete protein, don’t you risk some issues if you don’t eat protein you know especially as a teenager or during pregnancy. Are there no issues with that? Can you get all the protein? Not Necessarily just protein but all the nutrients that you need by just eating a plant based vegetarian vegan diet?
Ginger Hultin: [00:05:40] The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a new position paper that came out just about a year or two ago and their position is that vegetarian and vegan diet are appropriate for all stages of the lifecycle and that includes pregnancy, lactation, infants, children, adolescents and older adults also the same for athletes. So, really as long as you’re balancing the diet appropriately and that goes for for meat eaters to everyone needs to be balancing their diet appropriately but it’s safe for everyone.
Mathea Ford: [00:06:12] How do you get your protein that you need or all of your nutrients? I mean any diet is general in nature but how do people who eat a vegetarian diet really make sure that they get that nutrition that nutrient dense food that they need?
Ginger Hultin: [00:06:31] You know the biggest nutrient of concern for a plant based diet is B12. That’s the only nutrient that is found only in animal foods. So if you’re a vegetarian, if you eat dairy eggs or fish probably you’re okay. The needs for B12 just for reference is one point two micrograms, I’m sorry 2.4 micrograms a day for men and women. One egg has 0.6, a cup of milk has 1.2 and fortified breakfast cereal has a lot. It has 6 micrograms. So you can very easily meet your needs for B12 if you’re a vegetarian. And if you’re a vegan you can either eat fortified foods or you can simply take a supplement just for safety there so B12 is the biggest nutrient of concern. Other nutrients people often have questions about on a plant based diet are Calcium, Zinc, Omega 3s. That’s some essential fatty acid and Iron, Vitamin D as well. But almost all those nutrients maybe vitamin D aside can really be found in plants.
Mathea Ford: [00:07:38] So, basically what you’re saying is that all nutrients are all foods that you would eat on a vegetarian diet as long as you’re eating a variety of them so beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits. If you ate variety of those, you’re going to be able to get protein from that? There’s protein in all foods or there protein and at least some of those foods?
Ginger Hultin: [00:08:04] Yeah! Great question. So the bean protein sources or vegetarians are beans and lentils, nuts and seeds and soy foods. Those actually are pretty important staple for vegetarian and vegan diets. There is a small amount of protein in whole grains and vegetables but really veggies and vegans maybe eating those beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and soy foods. You can easily meet your protein needs that way but I do meet a lot of people that are following a vegetarian diet and eating mostly carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables only. And those people will sometimes tell me “Oh! I don’t feel like I have energy or I’m craving meat.” And when I look at their diet I realize they’re not eating enough protein so then we do a simple education. They bump plant proteins up to meet their needs and they often feel much better.
Mathea Ford: [00:08:57] You mentioned a little bit about you know a healthy way, heart health, cancer benefit, what does research show specifically for a benefit of eating vegetarian in general and maybe for that specific conditions?
Ginger Hultin: [00:09:12] Plant based dietary patterns are strongly associated with a lower body mass index that’s a lower body weight and also less weight around the middle. So that’s showing up pretty strongly. Vegetarian diets are also associated with a reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease so they’re are very healthy, heart healthy. They affect labs such as blood pressure. They bring cholesterol levels down and they can also bring blood sugar down. So, there’s this protection against diabetes as well. There’s also some data out there that supports the vegetarian diets can calm inflammation including markers like CRP. That’s a pretty common one that a doctor might pull. Finally like I mentioned one of my passions is cancer care and there is very strong evidence that vegetarian and vegan diets are associated with lower overall cancer risk but especially of the G.I. so like stomach and especially colon cancer. They think maybe vegetarian diets are a lot higher in fiber and certain nutrients. There’s also some protection against prostate cancer. So pretty amazing research out there about very specific well proven health benefits of eating less meat and more plants.
Mathea Ford: [00:10:30] So what is it about eating less meat, more plants that gives those values for example with weight? What is it about a vegetarian diet that tends to cause those people to have a lower weight on average?
Ginger Hultin: [00:10:44] Well these vegetarians and begins eating less saturated fats generally. They’re having higher intakes of low calorie foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy foods, nuts and seeds and those are all really rich in fiber but they also have a lot of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. So it’s hard to suss out exactly what is causing the benefit but it’s likely the overall dietary structure and the big picture patterns that’s having the weight and health benefits.
Mathea Ford: [00:11:17] So they’re eating more nutrient dense foods, more fiber. There may be some other factors in there just purely from the plants that we don’t understand yet that seem to provide a benefit? A lot of vegetarian foods can be unhealthy. You mentioned people eat a lot of carbohydrates? You know maybe don’t necessarily know they’re just be eating beans and lentils but for example cookies, donuts, cakes, pies those can be vegetarian. But what’s the best way to get the benefits of a vegetarian diet without making too many pitfalls and what might be some of those pitfalls that people make?
Ginger Hultin: [00:11:53] You are so right! I mean Oreos are vegan. That’s like a classic vegan you know desserts. You could also be a vegetarian and you can live on mac and cheese or french fries. That isn’t meat. You could call yourself a vegetarian. So certainly you can do a vegetarian diet very healthfully just like you could do you know a omnivorous diet very healthfully but balanced appropriately they can be really amazing. It takes about as much time to make like a black bean burger as it does to make a beef burger. When you’re eating vegetarian, you’re just purchasing some different foods and you’re making different recipes. But a lot of them are very quick and easy grab and go. I think it can be a really simple balance for people that are changing.
Mathea Ford: [00:12:41] So what kind of things do people get wrong when they first try to start a vegetarian diet?
Ginger Hultin: [00:12:46] The number one thing is I think people say “Okay, I’m going to be a vegetarian.” And then they just start eating vegetables and fruits so it’s super low in calories, no fat and no protein. So, really people need to do that – that My Healthy Plate – wholegrain, carbohydrates, healthy fat and protein at every meal and snack so that everything’s balanced and you’re getting the nutrients that you need and the protein.
Mathea Ford: [00:13:13] If you think about you know your family you’re like I want make healthier choices for my family. I want to improve our diet. I see that a vegetarian diet is a good way to eat. Is That way sustainable for a family with a busy lifestyle or what types of things can you do to make it more sustainable if you’re constantly drive in car pool dropping kids off picking kids up that type of thing?
Ginger Hultin: [00:13:43] Absolutely! I kind of fall into that category myself. I lived this on the go lifestyle so the good news is more fast food restaurants and restaurants in general and grocery stores even gas stations are starting to offer more plant based or vegetarian options. So it’s getting easier and easier. For example, the Seattle Airport just opened an awesome vegetarian restaurant where you can either sit and eat if you’re waiting for your plane or you can do grab and go. So I think it’s going to continue as a very hot trend to become easier for on the go folks. But you know there’s really simple recipes you can make ahead just like you could plan ahead for an omnivorous diet. One Bowl dishes where you put like grains and beans and veggies and sauce together. That’s so simple for dinner and it also makes great leftovers. You can do stir fries using tofu. You could do tacos using beans or tempeh, casseroles the same thing you could do lentils stews, salads, veggie burgers. There are so many options that are awesome for our family and for busy families. It can also be more affordable as well.
Mathea Ford: [00:14:56] You mentioned that it as a young girl, it was kind of a trendy thing to be more vegetarian. I have a daughter as well that is kind of turning that way and I just want to know maybe what should parents or caregivers be concerned about if there’s anything to be concerned about with a teenager who you know is going through a growth stage and making a determination to be vegetarian? You mentioned that they’re healthy for all those types of events in our life. But is there anything specific that we might want to watch or be concerned about?
Ginger Hultin: [00:15:31] I think that teenagers are maybe the most susceptible for going vegetarian but in an unhealthy way. Like you said cookies, donuts, cakes. I mentioned French fries. I mean all of these are kind of classic teen foods and they can be very devoid of protein and also lacking in nutrients. So, especially for girls on the go and teens that are athletes and feeding their brains for learning, they really need to have some education about you know they’re going to be eating beans, they’re going to be eating tofu. They need to be eating nuts and seeds and they need to be willing to do that. It’s actually an amazing way for teens to start learning about nutrition and balanced diets at an early age. And I think meeting with a dietitian even a few times can long way for those folks.
Mathea Ford: [00:16:23] We have you know listeners that are dietitians, that are medical professionals and I always try to provide some ways that as healthcare professionals, we can help people who either have this condition if it’s a condition or help people you know maybe even make some more plant based diet choices. So, what are some ways that listeners can help their clients to make these choices or to even just suggest them to them?
Ginger Hultin: [00:16:55] Absolutely! I think working clinically, it’s very easy. There’s such a wide range of health benefits. Whether someone’s working on their weight, whether they’re at a specific stage in life trying to meet protein needs as an athlete, trying to meet nutrient needs as a teen. Like we were talking about cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer. Anyone clinically might be asking questions about how to improve their diet for those conditions. So that’s a really simple way to start talking about plant based diets. I think there’s also a lot of opportunity in food service because schools, hospitals, restaurants and a lot of our large institutions like airports are starting to adopt more vegetarian cuisine partially because of consumer demand. But also to save money. And then in the community whether we’re talking about health, animal welfare or money saving or the environment I think there’s a lot of work to be done there too. So dietitians working in any type of quality might really be talking about this and hopefully working with doctors and nurses other health care providers that are also using evidence based research to say “hey, we should be eating more plants!”
Mathea Ford: [00:18:08] What types of suggestions do you give those people to start to increase the plant based amount in their diet?
Ginger Hultin: [00:18:16] Yeah I’m glad you brought that up because a lot of people are still a little scared of being fully vegan or fully vegetarian and they really don’t have to be. One example I use is a pretty well-known movement Meatless Monday and that’s a group that says “Hey, why don’t you just eat meatless one day a week?” And that can actually make an impact on the environment and on your health. So what I’ll talk to people is what kind of foods do you enjoy? “Oh I love making tacos.” Well how can we experiment with making that without meat? By using seasonings to still make it delicious and mixing up the diet to include different types of really nutritious foods. I think a lot of times it’s just a simple swap.
Mathea Ford: [00:18:58] So being a vegetarian is not necessarily all salads right? I really think people are doing themselves a disservice if that’s the way they’re eating. And like I said if you’re eating vegetables only, you’re going to be missing out on some really important food groups. So, I think really the way to think about it is what kind of foods do you like now and how can you swap the meat out and add in different plant foods instead?
Mathea Ford: [00:19:23] There’s some excellent thoughts I have. I’ve actually heard of a food called a jackfruit.
Ginger Hultin: [00:19:30] Yeah!
Mathea Ford: [00:19:31] Do you have any experience with that? Can talk a little about that? About how you might maybe use that in your diet or what it would value?
Ginger Hultin: [00:19:37] Yeah jackfruits are very cool. It shreds up so that it’s actually the consistency of pulled pork. It’s a very interesting hardy fruit and what people are doing is you know putting barbecue sauce and lots of flavorings on it and eating it like they might pork. The problem is I will tell you jack fruit is a fruit. It’s not a protein. So if you ate like a jackfruit sandwich you really wouldn’t be getting the protein you need. So it is super fun thing to experiment with but understanding which foods are carbohydrates and which foods are protein is an important balance there.
Mathea Ford: [00:20:17] So, what does the typical person what amount of protein if they’re reading labels looking at stuff? If this is at all of concern, what amount of protein should they be looking to eat?
Ginger Hultin: [00:20:26] So it really depends on someone’s stage of life, body size and activity but just very rough ballpark, many clients I work with need between say 50 or 70 50 to 70 grams of protein a day. So really you’re just looking at which foods have protein whether it’s beans, lentils, soy foods, soy milk, fortified foods, protein powder, maybe you do eat some eggs, dairy or fish. Lots of options there and just spreading those throughout the day to make sure that you’re getting a protein source at every meal and snack and that it’s adding up to your unique needs. To know what you actually need, you should definitely meet with a registered dietitian because needs do range quite a bit.
Mathea Ford: [00:21:14] So there’s no vegetarian police. Right? So if I wanted to eat you know like you said a Meatless Monday and the rest of the week you know have meat in my diet that just makes me healthier and kind of going in the right direction. There’s nobody going to come to my house and say you can’t call yourself a vegetarian or what kind of vegetarian would that be?
Ginger Hultin: [00:21:39] You know someone called more like a flexitarian – someone they eat vegetarian sometimes but not all the time. Personally and I’ve been a practicing dietitian for a long time. If I was working with someone that was eating more plant based, eating less meat I would still say they could call themselves a vegetarian. I think it really is personal for each individual. There is no vegetarian police. Everyone is just trying to do the best thing for their bodies. And I also want to point out that meats not a bad thing. I think humans are designed to eat meat. It’s very nutrient dense. It’s got some benefits too. I just want people to understand that not eating it or eating it is an option and you don’t have to eat meat to be healthy. There’s actually a lot of evidence shows that eating less meat is a very healthy way to be.
Mathea Ford: [00:22:32] What types of foods is somebody is thinking you know I want to eat more plant based and it’s getting to be summer I want to plant a garden and you have any suggestions for types of things that they might include in a garden that would be the most nutrient dense for them?
Ginger Hultin: [00:22:48] Herbs and spices go a long way. Another reason that people sometimes try to eat vegetarian or vegan and don’t like it is because they don’t flavor their food. So I give this example let’s say you were going to make a steak on the grill. A lot of people will go to great lengths to like pound it, put some marinade on it, put some sauce on it. You know really think about how they’re going to balance the flavors and enhance the steak that they’re making. So, you have to do the same thing. Let’s say, you’re going to grill some tofu. If you just eat tofu on its own, it doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Same with beans if you just eat a bean it tastes kind of neutral. So the more you put like fresh basil or hot chili flakes or sauces or seasonings all those delicious herbs and spices you can grow in your garden. Those are going to really enhance the flavor of vegetarian food and make it equal or even more delicious than meat based foods.
Mathea Ford: [00:23:49] That’s perfect! And you can bring those herbs and spices into your house all year long whether it’s the growing season or not. You can grow in your house or outside so that’s a perfect example. And I love love love fresh herbs and spices. Alright so Ginger, what do you see as how this vegetarian diet is changing health care, affecting health care? And what sort of research is being done to enable that?
Ginger Hultin: [00:24:19] It’s such such a hot trend. I mean whether you’re a vegetarian vegan yourself or not as a health provider you are getting asked about it all the time. So many celebrities are becoming vegans or forgoing meat. It’s all over the news and it’s just this very hot trend. So a lot of people will be asking all dietitians about this and I think we should be armed to provide evidence based research. Like I mention the Academy of Nutrition and Diet has position paper on vegetarian diets is a really great resource. It really breaks down the current large studies that were polled to say plant based diets help with cardiovascular disease, help with diabetes and reduce body weight and also help reduce cancer. So gigantic studies like the Adventist Health Study are out there. They’re looking at huge populations and the benefits of eating less meat. So, very well documented research and lots of places we can roll this out whether it’s schools or hospitals. It’s going to save money and it could improve health outcomes as well.
Mathea Ford: [00:25:29] With eating a lot more plant based, you have a concern or you may hear the concern about GMOs or genetically modified organisms. Yes. OK. So is there any concern with that that’s evidence based and is there any sort of ways that people need to make choices about foods so they don’t get to have any issues?
Ginger Hultin: [00:25:56] That’s a great question. Very very hot passion filled topic. Right now, there is no evidence that’s genetically modified foods are negatively affecting health. So, really that’s not a huge concern when you’re choosing fruits and veggies. I would also say the same thing about organic. There’s not evidence that fruits or veggies should be consumed less let’s say for example somebody couldn’t afford organic. They should still choose a conventional because fruits and veggies are so so healthy. That’s the bottom line is people need to be eating those foods.
Mathea Ford: [00:26:33] That’s a great point. So the benefit of the food in and of itself is huge for your health and like you said right now there’s no evidence that you should avoid it just due to that type of concern. One question I tried to ask all my visitors is what is your favorite food?
Ginger Hultin: [00:26:57] I might have to say pizza myself. I am a bit obsessed. I love tomatoes and the pizzas are this amazing vehicle for veggies. You can just put anything you enjoy on them. I like we’re talking about herbs and spices they love fresh basil on there and and it’s also kind of fun year round food – you can eat it in summer, you to eat it in winter and it makes awesome leftovers.
Mathea Ford: [00:27:23] That’s true! And you can actually even make it for multiple people so if you have someone who wants meat on their side of the pizza and you don’t want any just one of veggies you can make it very flexible.
Ginger Hultin: [00:27:36] Absolutely! You know you’re mentioning family meals and getting together and eating that way so if you do have many different diets and a family, pizza is actually kind of a fun way to go.
Mathea Ford: [00:27:47] Yeah! A great idea. Well, Ginger 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 the vegetarian diet and how to incorporate it even just to be a little healthier. And so listeners want to connect with you what is the best way to do that?
Ginger Hultin: [00:28:07] Oh I’d love to connect with anyone. I’m very active on social media. So my Instagram. I post a lot of my vegetarian recipes I create and also my cocktail recipes and some of my adventures at restaurants in Seattle and beyond. I’m active on Twitter and I’ve got a Facebook page too. Pretty active Pinterest as well. And you can always find me talking about vegetarianism and healthy eating out on the go and champagne at my blog champagnenutrition.com.
Mathea Ford: [00:28:40] Great! And you also work with a startup right?
Ginger Hultin: [00:28:43] I do! That’s my daytime full time job it’s called Arviale. And what I do there is a counsel people on the phone using their lab values, their genetics and actually we do some microbiome and cerebral cortisol as well. I graduated from Bastyr University in Seattle. So really my approach to working with any person is very holistic. I’m an integrative practitioner so really looking at the whole person. That’s why I love having lab values and genetics and doing behavior change counseling on the phone.
Mathea Ford: [00:29:16] Well, guys! That has been another great episode of the Nutrition Experts Podcast. The podcast that is all about learning more so you can do more with nutrition in your life.