Jennette Turner: Simple and Rational Steps to Better Health and Nutrition
Health and wellness leader, Jennette Turner, discusses her journey, learning to make healthier and more rational food choices and helping others find what works for them.
Jennette Turner, public health and wellness leader
- Jennette first started cooking in college, preparing large dinners in her housing cooperative and learning the joy of communal dining.
- As she started learning more about nutrition, she went down some strict paths that ended up causing potentially serious health issues.
- She has moved away from “fundamentalist” diets to an approach that is more focused on finding a healthy balance in what you eat each day.
- Simple steps, like eating protein for breakfast, can make a huge difference in avoiding cravings that can derail your diet.
- Annemarie Colbin: Food and Healing
- Natural Gourmet Cookery School
- Michael Pollan: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
- The Wedge
- J. Kenji López-Alt: Every Night is Pizza Night
IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business, and the humans in it. I’m your host Ivan Stegic.
My guest today is Jennette Turner, a public health and wellness leader here in Minneapolis. Jennette has her Master of Public Health and is also a certified health coach. She ran her own natural foods education business for over 13 years that included an online meal planning tool. She was most recently with HealthPartners, where her title was Citizen Healthcare Program Manager health coach. I’m really looking forward to exploring her journey today.
Jennette, it’s lovely to have you on.
JENNETTE TURNER: It is lovely to talk to you. Thank you.
IVAN: It’s just been so long since we’ve talked. I feel like we have a bit of time here to catch up and to go through how you got to where you are today.
JENNETTE: Yes, I was trying to remember when I was at TEN7. What year that was.
IVAN: I looked that up as well actually, and I believe it was 2013.
JENNETTE: 2013? Alright.
IVAN: Yeah, it was a long time ago. Let’s go back a little bit before 2013 and talk about when you first developed your interest in natural foods. I believe my understanding is that you were at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and that’s where you got your initial interest there. Tell me how that all started.
JENNETTE: I was studying women’s studies and botany and French, none of which have anything to do with nutrition, and I was living though in a housing cooperative, so there was a giant house, and there were 30 college age kids who were living there, and I called it the hippy coop. And we ordered our own food, and that’s really where I learned how to cook, and it caused some problems later because we were feeding 30 people, so I was cooking with my cooking partner and we were measuring things in pitchers, not cups.
That’s really where I first encountered eating beans and greens and I learned a lot about vegetables really because I didn’t grow up eating very many. That was it, it was really fun. I still miss it actually. That kind of large community, everybody eating together, really fun. Of course you’re 20 years old, and everything is fun then. [laughing].
IVAN: Did you guys sit down for the meals and prep for it or did everyone just eat buffet style. How did that look?
JENNETTE: For dinner we all sat down together, anyone who was home, and ate together. Then leftovers would be put in the fridge, and anyone else could eat it when they wanted to. And then everybody was responsible for their own breakfasts and lunches. But dinners were a communal affair, and it was really nice.
IVAN: That went on for four years?
JENNETTE: I actually only lived there for two years. I was in the dorms my first year and living with a friend my second year, but I wasn’t learning to cook then.
IVAN: That’s a really different approach to eating food when you’re in college then what I would expect generally happens, which I’m sure involves a whole bunch of fast foods.
JENNETTE: Well, what it involved [laughing] for me in the first year it was just dorm food, and in my second year I really didn’t know how to cook. My mother didn’t cook much, I didn’t learn it at home. I just ate a lot of macaroni and cheese, and Ramen, and peanut butter sandwiches and food like that, because I didn’t know what else to do.
IVAN: When you taught yourself to cook in these important years you obviously took it to the next level after you left college. What happened after you left? How did that evolve?
JENNETTE: [laughing] Immediately after I left, I came home and lived with my mother again. And again she was not much of a cook, and [laughing] I remember this very clearly. I’d been home, and I was wanting to show off, because I had a younger sister at home, and I was wanting to show off all my new cooking skills, so I was doing a lot of the food prep for our family.
And at one point I came in the kitchen, and my mother was stirring up some frozen orange juice from concentrate and [laughing] she said, You know, it’s just so wonderful having you home. I’m so glad you’re here. But, gosh, I’ve just been cooking so much. And I was kind of shocked because I said, Mom, I’ve been doing all the cooking since I’ve been here. What’re you talking about? She said, Well, I’m cooking right now. [laughing] I thought that was just a really good example of what my mother thought cooking was, was making frozen orange juice [laughing] from concentrate. So, came pretty far.
IVAN: At what point did you decide you needed education around natural foods?
JENNETTE: I didn’t think I was going into any kind of food business at the time. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My major, again, was women’s studies, and then I had minors in botany and French, which people weren’t really running to come and hire me with that, [laughing] And I didn’t know what I wanted to do anyway. So, I was working at a record store and then a bookstore, and while I was working at the bookstore they put me in the cooking and self-help sections to shelve and things. And I started reading the books, you know, cause sometimes it gets boring at the bookstore and you can stand back there and just kind of look at things.
And so I started reading books, buying books, deciding I needed to learn how to cook more, and I got really into a very extreme diet, that I am not recommending. But it was part of my journey, called Macrobiotics, which is essentially vegan and based on a Japanese philosophy about foods being either yin or yang and trying to balance that. Okay, really no scientific basis there. [laughing]
But what it did was really make me aware of what I was eating. I did learn things doing that. Then I decided I’ve been doing all this cooking and practice cooking, and I took a couple classes in macrobiotics at the local coop. And I started cooking for people from my home, and working at the bookstore part-time, and then working at the Electric Fetus Record store part-time, where I met my husband, and your wife.
IVAN: Yes, I forgot that you worked at the Electric Fetus. That’s so sweet, I forgot about that.
JENNETTE: [laughing] Yes. So, I was working part-time at the Fetus and cooking for people, and I would do all this cooking in my very tiny kitchen, and people would come to my house and pick it up. Then I decided I needed more education, so I read a book called Food and Healing by a woman named Annemarie Colbin that I discovered at the bookstore, and it turns out she had a natural food cooking school in New York City. And there was also a natural nutrition program, a different program unrelated to her school, in New York City, and it was called Gulliver’s Institute. It is no longer, it got changed into a different thing, different people coming in.
But at the time it was a three-year professional nutrition program, and so I moved to New York and went to school for the Natural Nutrition program and I also took classes on the side at the Natural Gourmet Cookery School. And that is where I learned more cooking and nutrition.
IVAN: I want to talk about Gulliver’s Institute. You just talked about yin and yang and the theory and how it wasn’t scientific. Were the things you learned at Gulliver’s Institute scientific? What did that program look like?
JENNETTE: It was a combination, because they did bring in actual nutrition, and then there was also a lot of Japanese philosophy in the program. And the first two years I was there, and then the third year I was there I was managing their kitchen for them in exchange for room and board. The director of the program, I think, was having his own personal fallout with macrobiotics, and he started bringing in a bunch of people who had very different theories. Well, at the time I had been getting stricter and stricter with my diet and cleaner and cleaner as they would describe it, and I was actually getting sick, and my health was suffering.
So, at some point during my third year there the lightbulb finally went off, Like, it’s not that I am not doing this diet perfectly enough. It’s that this diet doesn’t work for my body. That was a huge problem for me cognitively at the time, just the dissonance. It felt like I had been putting a lot of my energy and a lot of my personality. I was really into this diet. And so, I’d been telling other people how great the diet was, and how everybody should eat this way, and I was just fundamentalist about it. Which I now in retrospect understand as early stages of B12 deficiency.
If you don’t get enough B12 it makes your thinking very black and white, and it just becomes more and more rigid. And eventually you get permanent brain damage. But thank goodness I did not make it that far.
IVAN: Oh my goodness. I had no idea.
JENNETTE: Yes. So sometimes there’s a lot of stereotypes about vegans being rigid and very black and white, and it’s because of B12 deficiency. I was an example of that. So, I had to readjust my thinking first, and I remember talking to my best friend and saying, Gosh, I’ve been promoting this diet, and I think it’s not working, and now I don’t know what to do, because I really believe in it. And it was this major issue for me.
So, I made peace with it, and then I jumped into another dietary plan. This one much more balanced, but also with its own kind of weirdness in the traditional foods movement. And these people were into preparing foods the way they have always been traditionally prepared, which involved things like soaking grains, and making sure that the quality of animal products you’re eating is very high, grass fed animals, and not feedlot animals, those kinds of issues. A lot of homemade fermented foods.
But then, I still believe in a lot of those tenants, I think that it’s very smart. But what I did not appreciate was I think when there’s a lot of a fundamentalist attitude about diet. So, I had gone from one extreme to another, and both sides were saying they are completely the one true way, kind of it’s a religious feeling, like this is the way to eat. And I was sensitive about that after the first time around. So I was seeing it in this other program, and I just didn’t want it to get that way.
IVAN: Do you think there is a way to eat?
JENNETTE: I do actually, but with a lot of caveats. I guess no. I don’t know if I think there is or not. [laughing] I mean, I don’t think there is one true way that works for everybody.
IVAN: So, it’s specific to who you are and what you’re like and what your body type is like?
JENNETTE: Yes, but that’s going to change throughout the year. What you need when you’re 20 is different from what you need when you’re 50. And if you’re pregnant, that’s different from what you need than if you’re an athlete, and that’s different from what you need if you’re a senior citizen, or if you have a digestive problem. There’s all sorts of things that are going to determine what works for you. Not least of which is what you have the bandwidth for in your life. Because one thing that I saw a lot in the traditional food circle, which again, great quality food, but there were a lot of people, mostly women spending their whole lives in the kitchen. It’s fine if that’s your hobby.
For a long time diet was my hobby, and food was my hobby, and that’s fine as long as you’re enjoying it. But if you have another life, like for example you want to work and take care of your kids, and have some fun once in a while or do other things, you can’t be spending that much time in the kitchen. So, there’s got to be a way to make it more accessible and make it appropriate for your own life.
IVAN: So, Michael Pollan’s advice: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants, is that still a good rule of thumb, or what do you think of that statement? It’s always around in my head somewhere.
JENNETTE: I think it’s mostly true. Though I think the mostly plants idea makes it sound like you have to be a vegetarian, and you don’t. So maybe if you qualified it with mostly plants, if you could put some plant eating animal food in that.
IVAN: That’s kind of the thing I’ve always been stuck on with those seven words, is the last two, mostly plants. It really does say you have to be a vegetarian, and I honestly don’t think that that’s what that’s trying to say. Right?
IVAN: It’s not saying meat is bad; fish is bad. It’s just saying most of the things you eat shouldn’t be meat and fish. Right?
JENNETTE: I think so. Michael Pollan himself is not a vegetarian, he eats meat. But I think, how much animal food do you want to eat. It’s more than just meat and fish. There’s eggs, there’s dairy. It kind of depends how you feel about that. Obviously, you don’t want a diet that’s all meat, because there’s no fiber in that. And animal food, there’s no fiber in that and you need fiber, and you need vegetables. I’m a believer in vegetables. But some people just don’t do as well on a vegetarian diet. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it. I got really sick being vegan.
I think that it’s good to include some animal food in your diet. It doesn’t have to be meat, it could be eggs, it could be dairy, it could be fish; whatever you want. And how much is really up to you. What I have found is that working with clients over 20 years is that when people have balanced meals, and by that I mean proteins, carbs, dietary fats, vegetables or fruits at their meals, when they get more of those dietary components at the meal, they are more satisfied with the meal. They have fewer cravings for sweets, fewer cravings for unhealthful foods, and they just feel better overall.
So, the question for me isn’t exactly, should I eat meat or not, or should I eat this, or x, y or z, it’s how are you putting those things together in your meal. And is it working for you. Because there’s a lot of people who eat cereal for breakfast, and it might be whole grain, healthy cereal, and they’re hungry an hour later, and they’re eating the candy from the dish at work.
IVAN: You reminded me of a steady energy train.
JENNETTE: [laughing] Steady energy train.
IVAN: Tell us what that’s about.
JENNETTE: So, most people are on what I call the sugar rollercoaster. When you eat a meal or snack that is only carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates, or highly processed carbohydrates, like a lot of breakfast cereal, white flour, sugary type things, sweet things, it spikes your blood sugar, and then after your blood sugar spikes, you crash. And, when you crash you might get headachy, or irritable, or you might have intense food cravings or just want something. You need a donut, you need a coffee, or something like that to pick you up, to lift your blood sugar.
Over time, if you keep going up and down like that, you will get Type II diabetes, but aside from that it doesn’t make you feel good, you are on this sugar rollercoaster. If, instead of eating all carbohydrate meals and snacks and going up, you have a balanced meal that’s got proteins and vegetables say, for example, it’s like you’re buying your ticket for the steady energy train. Your blood sugar does not spike, and then you do not have the crash, you are steady for a few hours, and then eventually you start to get hungry, but it’s not like an all of a sudden, This instant I need some food. It’s more of a gradual coming on of hunger, and then you can eat some food, and then you have a good choice in your food, What do I want to eat, and then you can make that decision.
Whereas if you are in a blood sugar low, it’s really hard to make a healthful decision about food because your body is saying, I need to raise my blood sugar quick because I’ll die if I don’t, and that’s true. And so you’re just going to grab something, whatever is the fastest thing.
IVAN: So your body is actually tricking itself into selecting those sugary, so it’s kind of like a vicious circle.
JENNETTE: It is.
IVAN: If we spike and come down, we’re not able to make that solid decision to eat something that isn’t going to cause the blood sugar to spike again.
IVAN: Whereas if you’re on the steady energy train, and it starts to taper off, you have more of a cognitive ability to make that better decision.
IVAN: I love it. I recall when you visited us in our office and gave us your program for a number of weeks, and we all sat in our conference room, this was back when we weren’t fully distributed, we drew a little train on the whiteboard and wrote steady energy train up in the corner. [laughing] One of the other things I remember is you talked about getting a variety of things in your meals.
One of the things you suggested was something very simple like adding spinach to your eggs in the morning and getting that kind of variety. I do that all the time now because of that suggestion. Those are at least the two things that I remember and that stuck in my brain. Tell me about that. Why is that variety so important?
JENNETTE: The wider variety of foods that you eat, the wider your nutrient profile is really, and you get a lot out of green vegetables. They are loaded with nutrients, especially magnesium, which is the stress mineral. If you’re low in magnesium, then your body can’t handle stress as well, and you feel more stressed by regular stressors.
So if you have a breakfast that has spinach and eggs in it, you’re getting good quality protein that’s going to keep you on the train, and you’re getting this nutrition shot with the spinach. It’s a great combination. Then I would probably have a piece of whole grain toast with that, with butter, a little jelly if you want, it’s all good, [laughing] but making sure that you’re getting that protein. And not everybody is wanting vegetables for breakfast though I think it’s a great idea, but even if you don’t, just getting the protein is going to make you feel better. I mean, could you tell a difference when you get a good breakfast like that?
IVAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. One of the things I love doing in the mornings is making that breakfast with Suzie. And when I don’t, when I have an early meeting or I have to skip the meal in the usual way, I am downstairs again in the kitchen looking for a hit, I think. It’s exactly what you describe.
JENNETTE: Yeah, it’s just a physiological thing. A lot of people, and I think this is an unfortunate thing, is that a lot of people view food as something they have to control, because they’re worried about their weight. And so they think, Well, I don’t want to eat very much for breakfast, because of weight or whatever. If I eat eggs, that’s going to be too much somehow. But then it’s just like shooting themselves in the foot, because if you don’t eat that good breakfast, then you’re buying the ticket for the sugar rollercoaster, and ultimately that is not getting you where you want to go.
IVAN: It’s not what you want in life, no. So, we kind of talked about this visit that you had to our office and the consulting you were doing. I want to go back just a little bit after Gulliver’s Institute. You started this company, Jennette Turner Natural Foods Education.
JENNETTE: I did. [laughing] I had no idea what I was getting into. I was so young. I was in my twenties. I was like wow. I think the way that most people do it is they have a real job for a company first, and then they go off and do their own [laughing] consulting. But I did not.
IVAN: I think that’s awesome. You worked at The Wedge as well, as part of that, right?
JENNETTE: Well, I was a contractor for The Wedge, and I did public classes. I would teach classes for anybody to come to, and they were on a variety of topics, you know, food and mood, and nutrition for pregnancy, nutrition for digestive issues, or whatever, heart health.
I also did natural foods training for coop staff at most of the coops around town, The Wedge, Seward, and Eastside. Actually I taught at the coop in Stillwater and in Northfield. It was a staff training curriculum that I developed with HR people at the coop really, that had basic nutrition and information, so that staff members really know what they’re talking about when they’re talking about natural foods.
What are organics? What are the organic standards? What does free range mean? What does cage free mean? What does pasteurized mean? The words that customers are going to see on product labels, so that staff can intelligently answer questions. Then basic nutrition information too. I did that for maybe 10 or 12 years, and it was great. I really enjoyed that. I liked knowing all the people at the coop, because that is where I shop also, that was really helpful just to have those personal relationships too.
IVAN: Then you started Dinner with Jennette, an online tool back in 2007. Can you tell me about that?
JENNETTE: Yes. [laughing] I did that for five or six years. Each month I had 12 meal plans, and subscribers paid an annual fee, and then I would send them the 12 meal plans, and each meal plan was a balanced meal. They were very simple meals and simple recipes. But they were all balanced, they all had proteins, carbs, fats, vegetables, and I really worked a lot on recipes. I forgot to mention, at The Wedge they used to have this program called What’s for Supper, and every Friday they would have a demo of a recipe and I wrote those recipes.
And so when I [laughing] started Dinner with Jennette, I was writing a lot of recipes, and I was in the kitchen a lot. And so I really learned a lot about what works, what doesn’t, what’s fast, what’s simple, what are people going to do, what are people not going to do. I really liked it. I would get a lot of questions from subscribers, and it didn’t take off the way I wanted it to. But there was a little blog area where people could talk to each other. But people weren’t talking to each other as much, it was mostly just asking me questions. [laughing] So, I discontinued that.
IVAN: We were very sad when you did. I remember getting the PDFs. Suzie was a subscriber.
JENNETTE: Oh, that’s right.
IVAN: I remember at the beginning of every month she’d get an email with a PDF. The PDF would have the recipes for the month, and we would be like, Oh my God, we gotta try these. It was just such a nice thing to look forward to. Is it something that you’re ever considering bringing back?
JENNETTE: Not the meal planning service. But I am writing a book.
IVAN: Tell me about the book.
JENNETTE: I’m writing it. I haven’t sold it to a publisher yet. I am working with a friend of mine who is a writer, and who used to work for a publisher, and she’s helping me with how to query a publisher, which is a very intimidating thing for me. But the plan is for two books. One is How to Eat, and the other is, What to Cook. So, the How to Eat part just goes through my basic premise, which is that if you eat balanced meals made from healthful food regularly throughout the day you will feel better.
It explains what a balanced meal is, what healthful foods are, what regularly throughout the day means, and it goes through breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, feeding a family, and how to make changes that last. Kind of step-by-step things. Then there is a companion cookbook to go with it, and that will have some basic information that people should know how to do.
People should know how to cook a piece of chicken in a pan, bake fish, things like that. Just really simple things. Steam greens, boil greens. Which ones to steam and which ones you boil. Then it’s going to have a lot of the recipes. So if you and Suzie have a favorite recipe or a couple favorite recipes, please let me know because it’s so hard to choose which ones to put in.
IVAN: Absolutely. I will talk to Suzie about it and we will let you know.
JENNETTE: [laughing] Okay. Even one that you’re like, We use this all the time. Anything like that let me know because I would be very happy about that.
IVAN: I have to be honest and say that I don’t know which of your recipes we’re using, because we’ve used them so much, they’re just engrained in what we do. But Suzie would totally be able to help.
JENNETTE: Can I ask one more question for Suzie?
IVAN: Oh sure.
JENNETTE: If there’s any recipes also, that she has tweaked in any way, let me know the tweaks. Or if she’s made them easier or anything and I will put that in there. Like, “my friend Suzie says this.” [laughing] That would be great.
JENNETTE: So thank you. Sorry.
IVAN: That’s no problem. Not at all. I was just going to mention, J. Kenji Lόpez-Alt was a guest on our show Episode 100, and we talked about how he ended up doing the point of view videos he’s doing, ended up having that restaurant on the west coast, how he ended up actually being in the food industry. And, and he just released a book, a children’s book (Every Night is Pizza Night). I’m blanking on the name right now, but we’ll put it in the show notes. He would be someone who you should absolutely talk to about your book.
JENNETTE: Alright. Well, if you can [laughing] connect me. That would be great.
IVAN: Absolutely. We will do that. We’ll connect the two of you, and he will, I’m sure, have some advice for you. His seminal book The Food Lab is just an incredible compendium of things. I got it for Christmas last year, and Suzie has been very patient with me as I go through it, trying all the different things that he suggested, and all the methodology, and I just love how scientific the book is.
JENNETTE: Yes, it is very cool. My recipes are just really, really simple. I could never compete with Kenji Lόpez-Alt. [laughing]
IVAN: But I don’t think it’s a competition. I think you have a very practical way of addressing a meal. And what I love about it is how it tries to get to the essence of the actual meal, and something that’s realistic that a person who is busy, who has to make the decision that, Oh, I’m actually going to cook something healthy for myself or my family, has to make. If it’s not realistic and approachable, you’re not going to do it. So, I really love that aspect of the way you write in your recipes.
JENNETTE: Well, thank you. I am not a fussy cook. I get inspiration from cookbooks. I like to see, Oh, they’re putting these flavors together. But a lot of times I’ll look at a book, and there’ll be way too many ingredients, [laughing] and I’ll think, Uh, that’s going to take too long, forget it.
If I’m having a very fancy meal once in a blue moon, I might do something like oven roast a red pepper first before I put it in something else. Or sauté meat before it goes in the crockpot. But for me, the point of the crockpot is you put it in in the morning and you come home, and it’s done. If I have to mess around sautéing things beforehand, forget it. [laughing] I just do not have time for that. So, yeah, my cooking is very basic, but from scratch.
IVAN: I love it. What’s your favorite thing to be cooking right now? What do you really love right now?
JENNETTE: You know what popped into my mind, which there’s no recipe for it really is, I’ve been really into making hot cereal for breakfast with these wild rice pieces you can get at The Wedge. So normally you buy wild rice and it’s these long pieces of wild rice, and these, I don’t know if it’s a byproduct of how the rice is processed or not, but it’s cut into small pieces. It’s like the size of steel cut oats. So I soak it overnight, and then in the morning I cook it up with some dried cranberries and walnuts, and I serve that with either a little bit of sausage, or some eggs, sometimes spinach, and I’ve been really enjoying it. I love the wild rice flavor, and it’s really nutritious and rich in fiber.
It kind of happened during the pandemic. I think I was looking for some kind of comfort food, and my dad used to always make hot cereal for me for breakfast when I was little, and I just have been gravitating towards that again. I’ve been having that for breakfast a lot, and for other meals I eat other things. I really like soup. I think it’s so convenient. I make a lot of pureed vegetable soups because if you make a big pot of it you can have it for dinner one night, lunches for a few days, and it’s a really easy way to get extra vegetables in. So I might have pureed vegetable soup with a sandwich for lunch, and it just feels really satisfying, plus it’s nice and warm in the winter.
IVAN: Yeah, it’s really cold outside. It really needs to be warm inside.
JENNETTE: [laughing] It is so cold out. I know, I went skiing this morning.
IVAN: You’re so brave.
JENNETTE: It was so cold that I did not last very long, and I had to come back in. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] It’s interesting to me that you could make a hot cereal in the morning with wild rice. I always think of things like Malta Meal and steel cut oats and that kind of stuff. That never crossed my mind.
JENNETTE: Those are great, but you can also make hot cereal with millet or polenta. I make this thing with millet where I soak the millet and then I drain it, and I know this is going to sound fussy but it’s really not. Because you soak it and drain it and then I put it in the blender with some water until it gets broken up, then I cook it in a pot. When it has gotten a Malta Meal texture, I add a couple beaten eggs, and I add a little vanilla in there and some nutmeg, and then you get this kind of custard. I call it millet custard. You can also do that with corn polenta. So you soak your polenta overnight, then just turn it on and cook it up, and once it’s polenta texture you add your beaten eggs. You have to stir it really fast so that it gets custardy and not strips of egg in there. But you just stir it up, and it’s great, and then your egg is in the cereal, and that’s fun too. I serve it with a little maple syrup on top and pecans or something, and it’s very tasty.
IVAN: it sounds amazing. I have to ask the question. What is millet? I have no idea what millet is. [laughing]
JENNETTE: [laughing] Millet is birdseed.
IVAN: Is it really?
JENNETTE: Yeah. Millet is bird seed. If you get cheap bird seed there’s those little yellow round grains. That’s millet. I would not actually recommend that you get millet for bird seed because the only northern birds that eat it are house sparrows and they’re invasive pests. So, don’t use it as birdseed, but you can eat it. It’s a staple grain in a lot of West Africa. It’s just a whole grain like quinoa or rice or oats, or anything else. It’s just a different grain.
IVAN: Well, I’m going to look out for it at The Wedge the next time I’m there. [laughing]
JENNETTE: Wash it well.
IVAN: Wash it well? Okay.
JENNETTE: Wash it well, because both millet and quinoa actually have a coating on them that is naturally there, that’s made by the plant to protect the seed from insects, and it has a slightly bitter taste. So, if you put the millet in the pot, and then add water and slosh it around with your hand a couple times, you’ll see the water gets very cloudy, and then drain it, and then you can soak it overnight. Then drain the old water off and put new water in in the blender with the millet. Blend it all up a few minutes until it looks kind of white and milky and then put it back in the pot.
IVAN: That sounds amazing. We’re definitely going to try that.
JENNETTE: Try it. Call me if you have trouble. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] We will. One final question. A lot of people struggle with their diets, with what they eat. What is some high level advice you could give to people that really want to change, want to eat more healthily, who maybe want to eat more natural foods as opposed to more processed foods? What’s your advice to them to help them take that first step?
JENNETTE: Get protein at breakfast. The very first steps would be you got to have protein for breakfast, because if you start off on the rollercoaster, you’re going to be craving stuff, and it’s going to just set you back. So get the protein in the morning.
And then start with making sure you get vegetables at least once a day. This can be anything. I’ve worked with people who really just do not cook at all. But they start bringing sliced cucumbers and baby carrots to work with their sandwich instead of chips or even with the chips. But whatever, you’re getting some vegetables that way. You can dip them in hummus. You can dip them in ranch dressing. It doesn’t matter, just get some vegetables in. Or you can buy that salad in a bag stuff and that would be fine. A lot of people will make half a dinner. They’ll make a piece of meat, or they’ll have some pasta, but they’ll forget the vegetables. So, make sure you’re getting vegetables at least once a day, preferably twice, but start with once, and it could be any kind of vegetable you want. It counts. Start doing that.
And what happens that I’ve noticed is that once people start getting protein for breakfast, then they’re not as ruled by cravings. And once they start eating vegetables at least once a day, some kind of psychological thing happens, where people start to feel like they are a person who eats vegetables. And then they start making decisions, like if they’re out at a restaurant, that involve vegetables. They think, Ah, I’ll try that. I’ll get this. They just start to think about vegetables more, and then they’re more likely to try more vegetables, and then maybe even steaming vegetables. And, if you want to start off in the beginning with frozen vegetables, that’s fine. Just get vegetables, and put butter on them, they’ll taste much better. A lot of the nutrients in vegetables are a lot more bioavailable when we have dietary fat. So, you don’t have to worry about butter, it’s not bad for you, that was a mistake. They’ve changed their mind on that. Put the butter on the vegetables, and you'll like it much better.
IVAN: Wow. You mentioned going out to a restaurant and I didn’t know what that was? What is that?
JENNETTE: [laughing] Well, it’s been a while.
IVAN: [laughing] It’s been a while.
JENNETTE: Oh my gosh, I can’t wait for this pandemic to be over.
IVAN: Me too.
JENNETTE: It is. And I feel so bad for the people who own restaurants, and their business has just been really taking such a hit, and I want to keep them open. So, we have been trying to get takeout every other week or so, just to support our local restaurants that we like, and also just eat something different. [laughing]
IVAN: I think one of the good things about the pandemic has been if we try to look at a silver lining, I’m sure that more people are cooking more at home.
JENNETTE: They are.
IVAN: That’s got to bring a smile to your face.
JENNETTE: It does indeed. If you’re just cooking at home, even if you’re making something that isn’t natural food or whatever, you’re already better off than if you were eating processed food or eating fast food by a mile.
IVAN: I have so many more things [laughing] I want to say and I’m going to because we can. Can we just talk a little bit about what natural foods actually are, and why is processed bad?
JENNETTE: That is a great question. There is no official definition, and that’s an important point. If you are seeing natural on a box of something at the store, it does not mean anything. But the way that I am defining a more natural or healthful food is that it is less processed. In every step of food processing you lose nutrients from the food. One of the biggest ways food is processed is that it’s refined. You take whole wheat, and they remove the bran and the germ to make white flour. But all the fiber is in the bran, and all the nutrients are in the germ. So, you’re losing a lot during the refining process.
So, healthful food is less processed. And processing can be refining; it can be using a lot of additives that are themselves processed. I think the way that is the easiest to think about it is, could the food be made in your kitchen, or in a kitchen? Have people been making this food for a long time?
Something like cheese, technically it’s processed because it is not milk. So, people have been making cheese for hundreds and hundreds of years, and thousands of years with sheep cheese, and it could be done in a kitchen. Not my personal kitchen. I don’t know how to make cheese, but somebody could do it in their own kitchen.
But then when you think about Velveeta or cheese spread, that is not a product that could be made in a kitchen. You could bake crackers, but you could not make a Dorito in the kitchen, because of the additives that are used. You could not make a Twinkie in a kitchen. You could not make a cheese puff or Cheerio for that matter in a kitchen. It requires giant extrusion machines and high temperature processing. Each step of that you’re going to lose nutrients. So, it’s what is stripped out of the food in processing and then what other things that aren’t very helpful that’s put in, like the different kinds of flavor enhancing chemicals and petroleum-based preservatives, chemicals that just really aren’t great for your body.
IVAN: So, your recommendation is try to eat as much natural foods as possible, as much as a variety as possible, healthful as you’ve described them, and try to cut processed food out, and don’t be hard on yourself. When you eat and you need to change your diet, add the small things like add vegetables and get protein in the morning and try to be more well balanced.
JENNETTE: Yes, and I’m so glad you pointed that out, because adding things in is so much easier than taking things out. When I work with private clients I do not say, Oh, you need to stop eating that, or Quit that. It’s more of add these things in, add these things in. And, what happens is people really do change over time, and their tastes change. Once you start eating more vegetables suddenly brown rice is going to taste better than it used to. It really is. Then instead of saying, Oh, you shouldn’t eat white rice, let’s get there more organically over time.
IVAN: I love it. You’ve been so inspirational Jennette. I always love talking to you, and I just feel like I’m going to go downstairs right now and eat some brown rice.
JENNETTE: [laughing] With protein and vegetables, right? So it’s balanced. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] Exactly. Exactly.
JENNETTE: Very good.
IVAN: That’s great. Thank you so much for spending your time with me today. It’s just been a great pleasure talking to you.
JENNETTE: It has been a great pleasure for me as well. Thank you very much.
IVAN: You’re welcome. Jennette Turner is a public health and wellness leader in Minneapolis. She has her Master of Public Health and is also a certified health coach.
You’ve been listening to The TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is email@example.com. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thanks for listening.
This is Episode 111 of The TEN7 Podcast. It was recorded on February 4, 2021 and first published on March 3, 2021. Podcast length is 42 minutes. Transcription by Roxanne Chumacas. Summary, highlights and editing by Brian Lucas. Music by Lexfunk. Produced by Jonathan Freed.
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