rē•spin Your Diets in the Name of Women’s Health
Here's How, According to a Registered Dietician Nutritionist
“What’s at the tip of your fork matters for your health,” asserts Maya Feller, MS, ND, CDN, a Brooklyn-based, registered dietician nutritionist and the author of The Southern Comfort Food Diabetes Cookbook. She wants you to know that food is information, noting that the food we put into our bodies informs the different phases of our lives as women — from puberty to pregnancy, to nursing, and to menopause. In honor of International Women’s Day, a day meant to help promote gender equality in the world, we can’t think of a more fitting expert to share wisdom on how to nourish ourselves as women, with nutrition as a foundation of our wellness efforts.
The NYU-educated nutritional expert specializes in working with patients on modifying their diets to help manage disease and health outcomes. Early on in her career, she cultivated a special understanding of the intersectionality inherent in access to nutrition, which negatively impacts the health outcomes of the underserved population in a statistically verifiable way. Her unique understanding of this elusive political matter impacting the population’s access to whole, unprocessed foods — thereby impacting longitudinal health outcomes and public health as a whole — is infused with social justice and informs her wellness philosophy. We find her inherently compassionate approach to nutrition, with a reverence for its transformative potential, to be commendable.
The special perspective that her professional background affords us inspires a state of deep gratitude that we encourage you to cultivate while cooking and while enjoying your meals. Access to nutrition might not be a popular topic in conversation, but it is valuable nonetheless; let it inspire reverence for the foods with which we replenish, revitalize, and heal our bodies. Our belief that mindset matters is at the heart of one of our pillars: Nourish.
Feller teaches that nourishment — beginning with your body, but also impacting your mind and spirit — begins with re-spinning your diet to incorporate whole foods, and avoiding processed foods whenever possible. Processed foods contain added sugars, salts, fats, and carbohydrates that can disrupt your body’s state of homeostasis. When this happens, inflammation occurs, which is linked to many chronic illnesses. Plus, she points out that research shows that foods with fewer additives promote the biodiversity of our gut microbiome, while more processed foods reduce it.
Even if you are in good physical health, there are still ways to clean up your diets — and Feller can help on this journey. In honor of International Women’s Day, Feller shares her top five foods for women’s health to re-spin your diets in the name of wellness for all women.
Feller is a fan of fish and seafood because it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like EPA and DHA, which our body cannot make itself and must be incorporated into our diets. She recommends shopping for fatty (i.e., salmon, trout, tuna) or mini fish (i.e., anchovies, sardines, herring) and emphasizes the importance of shopping for responsibly and sustainably-sourced seafood. In terms of certifications, this means looking for an ASC or MSC label.
She adds that Omega-3’s are fantastic for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease — the leading cause of death for women in the United States — while also reducing systemic inflammation. Note that if you are plant-based or don’t eat seafood, Feller is absolutely wild about kelp.
Berries make the list because of their sources of phytochemicals and antioxidants, which help to reduce oxidative stress (from pollution, processed foods, toxins, obesity, smoking, and more) and thereby inflammation. They are also a fantastic source of fiber while remaining on the lower end of the scale in terms of sugar concentration, as far as fruits go. Fiber is also important because it helps to mitigate spikes in blood sugar, while also serving as a source of prebiotics that nourishes the probiotics (i.e. beneficial bacteria) that make up our gut’s microbiota.
“I haven’t met a nut I don’t love,” Feller says. Depending on the nut you choose, you are getting a source of prebiotics, fiber, plant-based omega-3’s, plant-based protein, and heart-healthy fats. In the case of walnuts, you’re getting a full day’s serving of vitamin E. Pistachios, on the other hand, relay the highest plant-based protein in the “nut kingdom” (that’s not a real term). Another of her favorites is almonds.
Beans + Leafy Greens
Again highlighting her love of fiber, beans and leafy greens both provide an important function on blood sugar by slowing down the rate of absorption of your carbohydrates (which are broken down into sugar). Regulating your blood sugar is important because spikes result in the pancreas’ production of insulin. When your body has high levels of insulin, this can cause insulin resistance and prevent your body from efficiently delivering the sugars from your food sources to your cells.
But beyond their being sources of fiber, beans provide the body with vitamins and minerals, too. Fresh sources of beans are ideal, but if you buy canned versions, Feller recommends you select low-sodium options or rinse the contents twice before cooking or serving.
She is also a major fan of leafy greens, which she recommends as an alternative (or addition) for anyone that just doesn’t like beans. Feller adds that they are hydrating, possess phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, along with a heaping dose of fiber.
Last, but not least, come eggs — which Feller goes through rapidly in her household. She calls them perfect little “nutrient powerhouses” to incorporate into your diet because they are inexpensive yet filled with beneficial components. The proteins, vitamin D, vitamin A, choline, and B-vitamins they contain provide a boost to your overall health and immune systems. If you’re worried about eating too many eggs, she adds that research indicates one egg per day should be just fine.
Food as Medicine
We are big believers in the old adage that ‘food is medicine.’ Gut health is at the source of everything from immunity to inflammation (and the expression of chronic illnesses), to the appearance of our skin. As women, one of the most empowering things we can do is to become intentional about what we are putting into our bodies in order to awaken to our most vital health. Using Feller’s tips, you can re-spin the way that you look at food in order to nourish yourself with the most potent ingredients possible to awaken to your true potential.