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10 Questions With Ashley Littleton

We asked our own Ashley Littleton 10 Questions all about diet, health, nutrition and why she elected to make this her passion in life! Read on to learn more, and if you have questions about how to proceed with your diet be sure to contact her.

1.) What drew you to working in nutrition and becoming a registered dietician?

My dad had a heart attack and was diagnosed with diabetes on his 50th birthday. I was 15 at the time and it scared me. There is a family history of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity in my family as well. I knew I wanted to be in the healthcare field, but wasn't sure what path I would take. So, I decided I would learn about health and nutrition and see where it would take me from there. Initially I thought I might continue my career farther into the healthcare field, but I have found great passion and enjoyment becoming a Certified Diabetes Educator. It is a topic I am very passionate about. I love helping people learn about diabetes and develop management plans that meet their goals and lifestyle.

2.) What is considered a healthy diet?

A healthy diet by definition is a diet that meets all criteria for micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, as well as macronutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Moderation is key to a healthy diet and lifestyle. More specifically, the general American population is lacking in fiber intake from fruits and vegetables, is over consuming proteins and saturated fats. Research has shown that a good "diet" to follow is the Mediterranean Diet lifestyle. Reason being is that a Mediterranean lifestyle incorporates more fatty fish, (good for cholesterol levels), more nuts, (for the same reason), decreased consumption of high saturated meats, (less fatty beef and pork), and increased vegetable and fruit consumption. I also have a philosophy that a healthy diet is one that someone will follow. My goal is to direct people towards a healthy lifestyle, but there are times that finances, food preferences, or general lifestyle will make following a Mediterranean diet pretty difficult. As a result, I am trying many times to start on the easiest change and work my way up to other lifestyle changes.

3.) What are the most common concerns you see in Converse County that patients face with Diet and Nutrition?

Converse County has some challenges related to diet and nutrition. We are an area of the country that relies heavily on beef products due to agricultural practices and the economy. Frequent consumption of high saturated fat beef is a risk factor for increased cholesterol. On the flip side, we are lucky enough to be able to have access to quality beef that is local. Often times, the closer to the source of food a person is, the better it is for them to consume. Our local beef is a very good product if beef is consumed. Our high plains climate poses a challenge in obtaining ripe, high-quality fruits and vegetables. Often times, frozen products may contain more vitamins and minerals as they are frozen when they are the ripest. Access to farmers markets is significantly reduced because of weather and growing climate. I have seen some initiatives to help Wyoming increase the number of vegetables grown per capita. Hopefully, these efforts will provide adequate, ripe, and nutritive fruits and vegetables for the county to enjoy.

4.) How much do diet and nutrition affect our health?

Nutrition isn't just about food, it is about the effect we have on our health. And it is significant. Inadequate fiber intake can increase the risk of colon cancer. When we do not have variety in our diet we can miss out on key vitamins and minerals. One effect that is noticeable is oxidative stress. We can have physical stress or emotional stress, or stress on a chemical level. Oxidative stress can occur when we have trauma or sickness that occurs. It can cause damage to our tissues and cause inflammation. Inflammation by itself is a stressor, that can make tissues not work well. We can combat oxidative stress and inflammation if we consume healthy foods and receive enough vitamins and minerals to reduce the damaging particles in our body. But when we don't get the nutrients we need, this stress and inflammation will continue and can cause serious chronic health issues.

5.) If there is one item on a nutrition label we may be getting too much of what is it?

Sodium. We consume too much sodium in general. Sodium is used in processed foods for preservation as well as to enhance the flavor of a product. If you are a label reader, you will notice the closer the food item is to how it was grown, the less sodium there will be in that item. Excessive sodium intake can contribute to increased blood pressure, increased fluid retention, difficulty breathing if extra fluid is sitting on the lungs. We should aim for food items that contain <150 mg per serving. Some food items will not come close to 150 mg, even if they are "reduced sodium". These food items may be a part of a healthy diet in the correct portion as well as mindfulness of sodium intake throughout the day.

6.) What are some changes that we can make to have better health?

Start eating breakfast. I know that most people know that 'breakfast is the most important meal of the day'. Many people don't know why. The basic reason is that we need to switch off our bodies night time mode to change it into our daytime mode. In daytime mode, our body expects to receive energy in a different way, instead of our body making energy for us. When we eat within an of waking we turn that switch internally and stop our body from producing its own calories as a survival strategy. Also, one of the easiest things is to simply increase fruit and vegetable intake. Two actions in one if included at breakfast.

7.) When it comes to fats most people have been told to avoid avoid avoid. What is your opinion of fats and can they be a part of a healthy diet?

Fats are an essential nutrient and key to a healthy diet, we just have to be mindful of the types and amounts that we consume. In general, we want to avoid TRANS fats at all costs. The contribute to oxidative stress and can contribute to blood clots. We need to limit or avoid, when possible, saturated fats. Foods that contain saturated fats are usually animal sources, butter, milk, cheese, beef, pork, and chicken. Fats that should be incorporated are polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. These fats help increase HDL cholesterol and may help lower LDL cholesterol. They are found in plant fats such as nuts, seeds, oils, and fatty fish like salmon. They may not be listed on a food label, so read the label. If the food is high in Total Fat but has minimal saturated fat and trans fat, then that food contains the healthy fats. It may be added to a healthy diet, just in a mindful serving size, not the whole container.

8.) They say that 10% of weight loss happens in the gym and 90% happens in the kitchen. Is there any truth to that? If so, do you see this often?

I don't find much truth in this statement. Physical activity and healthy eating really go hand in hand with contributing to a generally healthy lifestyle. Many times I see where people go all out on one side of their life and neglect the other. As a result, people can become frustrated because they are not seeing the results they expected. I always recommend increased physical activity that is above the normal activity that one does in a day. Just because you are on your feet all day, does not mean that you do not to have planned physical activity.

9.) With often shifting information coming in the way of various studies, sometimes it feels almost weekly we get conflicting information, are there basic truths in nutrition that we should stick with to have a healthier life?

The amount of nutrition information available is vast and at times serves a purpose for the one writing about that information. It may not even be accurate or researched based. The basic truths in nutrition are very simple. Eat a variety of foods that are colorful to be pleasing to the eye as well as provide a variety of vitamins and minerals. Monitor servings sizes. Even excessively large portions of cauliflower can derail a well-intended meal. No food is "bad", moderation is key. Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and has a place in a healthy diet, but an entire family size chocolate bar does not.

10.) If you had one last piece of nutrition advice to give us, what would that be?

Make sure the information you are relying on is good information. If you have questions, a registered dietitian is the best source of information to meet your personal goals.