INSTRUCTOR PROFILE: TEN QUESTIONS
Katie Ferraro readily admits she has a weakness for tortilla chips, a surprising admission for a registered dietitian who values the benefits of health and nutrition.
As she details below, smarter snack-food choices include eating more fresh fruit, nuts and low-fat dairy products. But a handful of tortilla chips need not be considered inherently evil.
In the bigger picture, it’s a matter of what, how often and when you eat – plus portion sizes — that tends to be most troublesome.
An assistant clinical professor at UC San Francisco and the University of San Diego, Ferraro is a UC San Diego Extension instructor in four current courses: Cultural Foods, Introduction to Nutrition Science, Nutrition Therapy for Healthcare Professionals, and Nutrition Throughout the Lifecycle.
Formerly a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, she graduated from Texas Christian University with graduate studies at UC Berkeley.
Amid her roles as a spokesperson, author, and nutrition consultant, her corporate clients include the California Avocado Commission, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Discovery Channel.
Ferraro’s keys to healthy nutrition are outlined within her website, Ingrain Health.
1) What’s the most important lesson you hope your students learn about nutrition?
I want my students to have a more informed viewpoint of consumer nutrition. My over-arching goal is to help them make more informed food and nutrition choices for themselves and their families.
2) How does the food we eat affect our everyday lives?
Nutrition plays a role in the development of four out of the top 10 killers of Americans. More than half of death in the U.S. each year is from diseases with a strong nutrition implication — either in the development or prevention of the condition. So the food choices you make today are affecting your health outcomes of tomorrow.
3) What is the most fulfilling aspect of teaching about nutrition science?
Food is relevant to everyone. Every day we are faced with numerous food choices — and we have to eat to live. So in a way, the subject matter should be of interest to every human being who eats.
4) When did you first get interested in nutrition?
My mom is a self-employed registered dietitian and I was fascinated by her work. I also admired that it was a relatively female-dominated field and that you could have a family and run a nutrition business and be very rewarded in both your home and work lives.
5) What was your favorite thing to eat as a youngster?
Growing up in San Diego I feel fortunate to have been exposed to a variety of ethnic cuisine. I had Filipino friends with whom I could eat lumpia and pancit, and Mexican friends whose families made mole and tamales.
6) Do you have a favorite “comfort food”?
I’m a sucker for tortilla chips.
7) Do you ever feel guilty about having an unhealthy meal?
As a nutrition professional I feel an obligation to avoid ascribing unhealthy emotions to foods. I take issue with the “guilt-free” approach to food marketing these days. I truly believe that “All Foods Can Fit” — it’s a matter of frequency and portion size that gets you in trouble. But there are no inherently “evil” or “healthy” foods.
8) Do Americans snack too much on junk food?
We have data showing that snacking is way up. It’s true, most people think of snacks as something that comes out of a bag. I encourage my students and patients to eat fresh fruit, nuts and low-fat dairy for snack foods. If you make those your go-to snacks, you’ll automatically avoid the calorie-filled and fat-laden items you find in a typical vending machine. But you have to think ahead to prepare those snacks — because you are not going to find them in a vending machine.
9) What’s the most important message you give to your nutrition clients?
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!” If you don’t consciously pack and bring your lunch to work, you can’t act surprised that you get hungry around 12 noon or 1pm and find yourself hitting up a drive-thru. You make plans for your kids’ childcare, plans for your weekend, plans to get yourself to work. You also have to make plans to have healthy foods at your disposal at all times. Because the alternative isn’t pretty.
10) How important is taking vitamins?
That depends on who you are. The vast majority of Americans do not need to take vitamins. If you eat a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods, you’ll automatically be meeting your vitamin and mineral needs. There are certainly special populations – such as pregnant women, vegans, and older adults — who may need supplemental vitamins and minerals. The key word is “supplement.” These things don’t replace good food choices. They simply help fill in gaps where food might not meet all of their nutritional needs.