EvolvEd intern Annie Wang sits down for a conversation with Justine Thorner, an expert on nutrition. Read about her tips for eating healthy, shopping organic, her thoughts on trendy foods, and finding what works for you!
AW: To get started, I was interested in how you became interested in the Health and Nutrition space.
JT: I was always interested in nutrition. throughout my childhood and in high school I was very into sports – I played lacrosse and basketball in high school and went on to play lacrosse in college. I realized early on that what you eat and drink impacts your performance. In college, I became even more interested in eating right. I was just becoming more aware that what I was eating impacted how I felt and how I performed.
And then after college, my interests grew tremendously. I became really into nutrition for healing and really got into yoga and through getting into yoga there was such a big community within the yoga world of nutrition. I ended up getting a job and also becoming certified at the Institute for Nutrition, so as I studied and learned more and more, my interests just continued to grow.
AW: With that, do you have a healthy recipe that you like to make?
JT: No, I don’t have a favorite. I like to stick to rules. I don’t actually follow recipes, it’s really funny, I more have these rules that I follow and there’s a few. I try to for the most part like 80% of the time, eat healthy–eat clean, organic, homecooked meals, mostly vegetables. And then 20% of the time, I just let it go–I go out to dinner, I splurge on a cookie or croissant, like that’s really the rule of thumb that I follow: the 80-20 rule. Like 80% of the time really sticking to what makes you feel good and 20% of the time being okay with divulging and eating what you love and feels good. Because if you limit yourself too much that never works in the long run and then you feel like you’re sacrificing, you’re missing all the good things.
And then any time I eat, I fill my plate with mostly green vegetables. So I’m all about eating whatever works for you and I never say don’t eat steak or don’t eat this. I actually love red meat, it’s very very nutritious–high in nutrients, high in good fats, all that–but if I’m going to have a steak, I’m probably going to have a huge salad with it and some roasted broccoli, really have a complete meal loaded with vegetables because vegetables contain so many antioxidants, so many good nutrients. That’s sort of how I go about what I eat. I know that wasn’t a recipe.
AW: Yeah and that’s something I notice a lot with people who are trying to eat healthier like it’s always a lot of cutting this out of their diet or cutting this other thing. And I always feel like they’re always so miserable about it if they cut out carbs and stuff.
JT: Yeah, exactly. There’s this other theory that’s called “crowding in” and “crowding out.” So instead of taking things out, if you actually think about it like you’re adding more things in, so you’re adding different proteins and vegetables–you’re adding all these really healthy good things in. You naturally start to crowd out the bad things. I like to reframe things as “No, we can add all of these great things into your diet” instead of all these things we’re going to take out.
And sometimes it is important to take some things out if someone is dealing with IBS or digestion issues or even joint pain. We do sometimes have to think about if there are food triggers. Are they allergic to or sensitive to gluten? Are they lactose intolerant? For cases like that, you do have to take things out, but again we don’t have to take it all out. You can find a healthy alternative.
AW: I saw on your Instagram that you often make healthy meals for your son such as “green waffles” or olives and things like that. Do you ever have trouble getting him to eat them?
JT: No, I don’t. I don’t know if that’s just because he’s young and he doesn’t know any better, but what I’ve found with children is that they’re a product of their environment. So, my husband and I juice every single morning, and he is a part of that: he helps me clean the vegetables, he helps load them into the juicer–and he loves it. He wants to take the first sip once it’s all done. I feel like the more you can include them in healthy eating–they see what you eat, see how you do it. He wants to eat how we eat, so for him that’s good and that’s exciting. So I found that’s what works best.
AW: Yeah, I was just thinking about how much of a picky eater I was when I was a child, but I agree a lot it is about habit.
JT: With parenting especially, they eat what you eat. I’m not going to make him separate meals. He’s going to eat what we eat, and we eat healthy. So he’s used to that.
AW: I was wondering if you had any strong thoughts on trendy foods such as kale, celery juice, or avocado toast?
JT: Yeah, so I think it’s great when any sort of health food becomes trendy because that just means more people will eat that food. And kale is nutritious; avocados are great food. So in a way, these trends are a good thing because mainstream people who might not have ever eaten an avocado are going to eat that food. And I would much rather see someone eat an avocado toast than a burger or any other sort of fast food. So I think it’s a good thing. I think it becomes a bad thing when there are all of these claims around it like celery juice is going to heal you of every single thing on the planet. But we really need a diversity of plants and foods in our diet. So kind of mixed thoughts. It’s a great thing that healthy foods are becoming more popular and mainstream, but people really need to look at their diet as a whole.
AW: So making sure not to treat the newest trendy food as a sort of elixir of life or something like that.
JT: Exactly, that’s a good way of putting it.
AW: Do you have any budgeting tips for people wanting to eat healthier but having difficulties with cost?
JT: Yes. I like this question a lot because I think a lot of people think that eating healthy has to be expensive, and it is, right? Because at first, I think there’s a little sticker shock because when you start buying organic and you start buying higher quality meats and all that–yes, they are more expensive, but when you really think about why they’re more expensive, there are reasons. Like it takes a lot more effort to raise cows that are treated humanely, that eat grass, that need acres and acres to roam and feed on, and the end product is so much healthier and more nutrient-dense. So when you think about the outcome, you don’t need as much. You don’t need this ginormous steak when you buy a 15 dollar grass-fed steak. Just a little bit is going to pack way more nutrients into your body, and we need to start looking at food as fuel. We really care about what we’re putting in because that’s going to feed us and fuel us, if you reframe it.
And I think, right now we’re living in an age where there’s always a huge organic section. People don’t need to go to Whole Foods or a health food store. You can really find organic healthy options at any grocery store these days. And I think that’s really great. The price has come down. You can also join a CSA, that’s a local grocer, and your cost of produce will go down tremendously. So we now have access to so many more ways to get healthy foods–they’re way more available. And then when it comes to cost-saving–because I also get this question from clients, especially clients who have three or four kids so they’re feeding six–and their grocery bill is going to be $4,000 a month if they buy everything organic. Another great tip is the Environmental Working Group (EWG), they put out a report every year of the clean 15 and dirty dozen and these are foods/produce items that have been tested to have the most and least pesticides, so I say follow those rules. Don’t bother spending the extra money on organic foods when we know that food item is on the clean 15 and be careful with the items that are on the dirty dozen–you definitely want to buy those organic. So there are ways that we can sort of cut corners there to save money.
And then the biggest savings really is from incorporating vegetarian meals into some of your meals per week because bottom line a rice and beans meal–organic, healthy–is going to cost way less than wild salmon or grass-fed steaks. So the more you can get your family used to being vegetarian a few nights per week, you can really save a lot of money. As long as you really balance out your place between starch, healthy carbs, proteins or beans, some leafy greens–you’re going to feel full and satisfied.
AW: That reminds me of when I was studying abroad and had to budget my weekly groceries. I noticed that I liked prioritizing fruit even though it was more expensive than the other things I was buying.
JT: Yes, and you need to prioritize. If your family loves fruit–we actually don’t eat a lot because organic berries depending on the seasonality can be super expensive. Like the other day, a little carton of raspberries was $9, like “Oh god, my son eats that in one sitting.” Another thing is going to the farmer’s market because buying produce that’s in season is going to be way less expensive and of course better for the environment because of less shipping costs, carbon emissions, etc. You have to go a little more out of your way, but it’s worth it.
AW: I noticed that you have a couple of subjects on EvolvEd tailored towards pregnant women, so I was wondering if you were motivated by your personal experience to spread this knowledge.
JT: Yeah, I think it was definitely motivated by personal experience when I was pregnant with Julian. Follow the 80-20 rule. You’re feeding both yourself and your baby and that baby needs all the nutrients possible. If the mother isn’t eating a nutrient-rich diet, the mother will actually become depleted in vitamins, antioxidants, minerals…because everything goes to the fetus. Everything goes to the fetus first and the mother second. So it’s more important than ever to eat healthy for your baby and yourself. You want to have energy and you still want to feel good to pregnancy. A lot of pregnant women do struggle with symptoms–morning sickness, nausea, exhaustion–and as pregnancy goes on even more complications can happen with high blood pressure, diabetes…having a healthy diet can really help pregnant women have a safe and healthy pregnancy which leads to a safe and healthy birth and good outcomes for the baby.
Follow Justine on Instagram to see some healthy eats!