Q+A: Cookbook Author Elizabeth Brown Urges Healthy Change

With her cookbook and magazine writing, Elizabeth Brown combines fitness, nutrition and food all into one. In her own words, hear how she explains life is better when you live all three.

In the years since you first worked as a personal trainer, what workouts do you still keep up with that at the time, only trainers knew? Secret trainer stuff!

I was a competitive powerlifter in high school 1986-1987, and Powerlifting moves are still my favorite and have come back around in the fitness world, Think Cross-fit: squats, deadlifts, and even a dumbbell form of bench presses, will always be in my fitness repertoire. Body weight exercises never go out of style either: pull-ups, push-ups, jumping… again, all brought into the lime-light by the Cross-fit craze.

Which of your recipes do you most frequently fit into your fitness regime?

Smoothies, shakes, or even what I term “Smoochies,” which are smoothies with a chewy texture, thanks to nuts, seeds, beans and course vegetables, all which lend tremendous fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and even some protein. Soups, especially lentil soup, are another of my go-to foods which I prepare weekly and advise clients to do the same. These are all the most perfect, nutrient dense, weight loss/ wellness recipes around.

Does your belief of staying away from supermarket aisles also apply to fully organic supermarkets like Whole Foods?

YEP. Even at the Lovely Whole Foods, the aisles contain “snacky” type food which, for the weight conscious consumer, may displace more nutrient dense, unprocessed foods found mainly in the store’s perimeter: Think bulk bins of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, grains & legumes (although when in a hurry, it’s nice to just grab a premeasured bag of these goodies from the aisles), also think about FRESH produce, fresh fish, meat, eggs, yogurt, all around EVERY store’s perimeter. Go into the aisles for a purpose: perhaps some frozen berries, or nut butter or your environmentally friendly laundry detergent and dish soap. But don’t go into the aisles just to peruse or you’ll likely make some unplanned, less-than-optimal-health purchases.

What’s changed scientifically since you graduated with a nutrition degree to now…anything you learned that’s now incorrect?

This is where the public, and those who might be less educated “nutritionists,” are mislead, because when you go to college to study nutrition, on the path to becoming a Registered Dietitian, you don’t “learn” research, you learn how to decipher research and interpret it for the public. What we ACTAULLY learn is the science: biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, research methodology, etc. The tools which help us determine which “publicly known” nutrition concept is valid and which is hooey.

Just because the formerly known “American Dietetic Association,” now the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, generates a nutrition statement/ position paper, does not mean that I, or that all of my colleagues, agree with it or tout it as well. Dietitians do not automatically “belong” to this organization. So if “they” advocate for a carb based diet which includes bread and pasta, that does not mean we all advocate this diet as well. I get tired of being bunched into the white lab coat wearing Dietitian drone market. I do sometimes wear a lab coat when in the clinical setting but that does not mean I follow the Dietitian masses.

I started my education in 1988. I guess the low-fat craze was popular then but I never bought into it. My philosophy never changed, which was always to encourage consumers to consume mostly produce, along with whole grains & legumes. In looking at scientific literature, I personally don’t look at “big picture stuff,” like low-fat, low-carb, etc. Big picture nutrition is very subjective, in other words, to tell someone to eat more of one macronutrient over another takes away from what they “feel” they need. Some people like carbs, some like protein and some like more fat. What’s important to focus on when educating any of these consumer preferences, is to explain which carbs are BEST: unprocessed, whole food based: starchy vegetables, legumes, WHOLE grains, not processed. I was teaching my students and clients about Quinoa back in 1995. But I used to call it “Quin-oe-ah.”

When it comes to protein, leaner protein is better in most cases, but fatty fish is best for omega-3 fats, which leads to the fat debate. We were taught that coconut oil is a saturate, and therefore, harmful fat. Its reputation has always been in question, and despite the hype, and largely biased research, I am not sold on its integrity as a “healthy” fat. Fish oil, on the other hand, has been touted as a healthy fat, with a plethora of benefits, and sound research, for nearly a century. Nothing has changed about omega-3 fats except our more clear understanding of this class of fat’s benefits.

I can’t say that anything has become “un-true” but we are always learning more about the mysterious world of nutrition, a fairly young science, about 200 years old. We know there are at least 4,000 antioxidant nutrients, but we’ve only named about 400 of them. Each day someone is discovering that plants grown under organic conditions contain a higher level of these known antioxidants and even contain some antioxidants we had never observed in conventional produce.

The way I explain it is that organic produce is like the child who grows up without any financial help yet rises to the top of the financial world. How does he do it? Well, if done with integrity, he does not let any obstacles get in his way. He traverses every path and grabs every opportunity given to him.

A plant grown organically uses what is around it to survive and persevere and as a result, develops new, and even unheard of, defense mechanisms.

Why do you think women eat differently than men, apart from the obvious caloric intake requirements?

Women do tend towards more carbs and fat while men tend to favor protein. These tendencies lie in their biological needs: women are designed to have babies, and babies need energy, so it is said that we crave these fat and carb laden foods in preparation for childbirth. While men are driven by testosterone and their naturally higher muscle/ lean body mass composition and therefore require more protein to fulfill these biological needs.

Why would you recommend studying nutrition if one wants to be on their way to a career as a cookbook author or celebrity chef?

You absolutely do not need to study nutrition as a “degree,” simply to write a cookbook or to become a celebrity chef. In fact, and I do hope this changes soon, but I have been told, for the past 12 years, by Food Network affiliated people and production teams, that I am TOO health focused and that no one wants to have “health” thrust upon them. And while I agree that the need to make diet, and/or heath changes should not be forced, good HEALTH is a NECESSITY. But it is a necessity that people just don’t want to DEAL with until they are forced to do so perhaps by their doctor telling them they have Diabetes and will lose their vision if not controlled, or that their kidneys are failing, or they are experiencing impotency as a result of poor circulation, or they may be dealing with cancer and now are aware that “processed foods” by and large, do not “Help” and may contribute to the onset of certain types of cancers.

With all that being said, I WISH more people who are food focused, WOULD delve into the nutrition world BEFORE venturing into a food/cooking career, because frankly, there is just way too much stuff, either manufactured or home-prepared, that we just DO NOT need to EAT or to even know HOW to prepare.

I just cannot believe that in this day and age where our population is more than TWO THIRDs Overweight or OBESE and more than 29 MILLION people in the US have diabetes, including one of the most popular cooking show hosts in the past decade, that anyone who is teaching people to eat healthy can be told that they are TOO HEALTHY!!

So, to all future chefs and cookbook authors and wanna-be celebrity chefs, yes, do your part and learn about nutrition and learn to cook healthy and teach HEALTHY cooking techniques to your viewers/clients/students and readers. Because frankly, with the downfall of our healthcare system, and it’s really not the healthcare system’s blame, but we CANNOT afford to be UNHEALTHY any longer!!!!

This article originally appeared en español on my ELLE Spain blog.

ELLE Spain discontinued their freelance blog journalism program in 2016. I have republished it on NicoleRussinMcFarland.com once again so my journalism may live on. I am grateful for the experiences I had from 2011-2016 writing for my personal Spanish language blog, revista ELLE for providing the blog, and the time from all of my interviewees.