We’re delighted to have Rachel Alves, Registered Dietitian, as an integral part of the Guido’s staff family! As our in-house dietetic professional, Rachel is a familiar face in our stores, sharing her food wisdom, answering nutrition questions, and making recommendations for smart food choices. Rachel sat down with Guido’s staffer Joyce Nelson to answer a few questions and let us all know a little more about herself and her role at Guido’s.
Joyce Nelson, Guido’s Staff: Nutrition is a fascinating field. What motivated you to become a dietitian?
Rachel Alves: When I attended Holyoke Community College, I took an Introduction to Nutrition course and loved it from the very beginning.
JN: It was meant to be! Where did you continue your education and how long have you worked as an RD?
RA: I graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst with a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Nutrition. I immediately followed graduation with a year-long Dietetic Internship at UMass. Since then, I’ve been in the clinical field for 13 years. [Rachel has been employed in a range of nutrition positions at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington, Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, and most recently at Sweet Brook Transitional Care & Living Center in Williamstown.]
JN: Your experience is impressive! It’s clear you enjoy your profession. What’s the best part of your job?
RA: I LOVE to talk about food, and that’s a big part of what I do. I enjoy getting people excited about food that might help make them healthy (such as pomegranates) and showing people how nutrition plays a positive role in health, that there is a direct correlation between what you eat and the state of your health.
JN: That’s the fun part, but how about the flip side? What’s the toughest professional challenge you face?
RA: When people come to me looking for advice about losing weight, I have to tell them that weight loss is simple – eat less and move more – but that advice is often hard to accept. Weight loss isn’t pretty, it’s not sexy, and it doesn’t come in a pill. There is no quick fix or miracle involved. It takes patience and balance; you have to make sure you’re not eating too much, you can’t overdo it, and you’ve got to be active. It’s practical advice that works, but it’s still difficult for many people to hear.
JN: How do you encourage all people, not only those looking to shed a few pounds, to eat well? If home cooking is part of your recommendation, how do you convince your clients that making their own meals is not too difficult, time-consuming or expensive?
RA: I encourage everyone to cook every day. I live gluten-free, so I cook almost every meal myself. [It’s not easy to follow a gluten-free diet in restaurants or from take-out menus.] From my experience cooking on a daily basis, I recommend keeping a well stocked pantry so that you can cook with what you have on hand, including frozen vegetables. They’re quick and healthy and don’t require prep time. I encourage relying on whole foods, those that are the least processed. If you do choose already-made foods, do so wisely, avoiding excess “bad” fats, added sugars, and chemicals. If you have basic whole food ingredients available all the time, it’s not hard to combine them into healthy meals. Also, I talk to people about how to plan ahead to keep home cooking speedy, and even how to keep pot and pan clean up in check. It’s possible for working people to eat well without spending a lot of money or excessive time in the kitchen.
JN: Some people have been told by doctors or other health care professionals to change their diets to improve their health. What’s your approach for those who are reluctant or resistant to making those changes?
RA: Changing how you eat can be intimidating, but knocking it down into smaller pieces can make it more manageable. I ask, “How MUCH are you willing to change at this time and WHAT are you willing to change right now?” If, for example, your health goal is to eat more fresh fruit, but the transition from your present not-so-great diet is overwhelming, it’s a step in the right direction to switch from soda to 100% juice. If your breakfast usually consists of a few donuts, eliminating one donut at a time is progress toward a healthier lifestyle. Gradual change is effective and successful in the long term.
JN: As a Registered Dietitian, are you held to higher standards than the rest of us? Is eating well second nature to you or do you, too, sometimes struggle with temptations?
RA: [Big smile here!] I LOVE to eat! I love to cook and demo food and I really enjoy healthy fruits and vegetables. There are so many to love! But I’m not the diet police. Special meals are OK, a glass of wine at the end of the day is a pleasure. Food gives us actual physical health and has a medicinal effect; but, food is also tied to our mental health, which may sometimes have something to do with a brownie sundae! Overall wellness is about balance. I can really relate to having to restrict eating. At the same time, I’m not striving to be someone I’m not at the expense of leading a happy life.
The next time you see Rachel in our stores, don’t hesitate to ask this outgoing, food-and-life loving dietitian any food, dietary, or cooking questions! Food is her passion, knowledge and experience are her tools, and balance is her guidebook.