Using Evidence-based Dietetic Practices to Address Food Insecurity

Lisa Jones, MA, RDN, LDN, FAND

This podcast series aims to highlight the science, psychology, and strategies behind the practice of dietetics. Moderator, Lisa Jones, MA, RDN, LDN, FAND, interviews prominent dietitians and health professionals to help our community think differently about food and nutrition.

In this podcast episode, Lisa Jones interviews Nicole Rodriguez, RDN, NASM-CPT, about using evidence-based dietetic practices to address food insecurity, including reasons she does not only “shop the perimeter” of the grocery store, her views on organic produce, and ways to incorporate nutritious foods into any diet. This is episode 2 of a 4-part series. 

Additional Resources:

Listen to episode 1 in this 4-part series.

Listen to episode 3 in this 4-part series.

Lisa Jones, MA, RDN, LDN, FAND

Lisa Jones, MA, RDN, LDN, FAND, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, speaker, and author (Philadelphia, PA).

Nicole Rodriguez, RDN, NASM-CPT

Nicole Rodriguez, RDN, NASM-CPT, is an award-winning registered dietitian nutritionist, co-founder of Step Bite Step, co-host of the Food Bullying podcast, and brand partner with  American Dairy Northeast, the New York Beef Council, Bush Brothers and Company, General Mills, Wish Farms, California Leafy Greens and Bayer Crop Science (New York Metro area). 



Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Nutrition411: The Podcast, a special podcast series led by registered dietician and nutritionist Lisa Jones. The views of the speakers are their own and do not reflect the views of their respective institutions or Consultant360.

Lisa Jones: Hello and welcome to Nutrition411, the podcast where we communicate the information that you need to know now about the science, psychology, and strategies behind the practice of dietetics.
Today's podcast is part of a series of short episodes on food access, featuring a Q&A with Nicole Rodriguez. It is my honor today to have Nicole here. Nicole is an award-winning dietician nutritionist based in the New York metro area. In addition to serving a diverse clientele via her telehealth-based practice, she is also the co-founder of Step by Step, a weight loss and physical activity program.

Nicole is passionate about empowering individuals to feel good about the abundance of food choices at their fingertips and utilizes her co-hosting duties on the Food Bullying podcast to do just that. While Nicole loves working one-on-one with clients towards their health goals, she also helps spread the word about food via her brand partnership, which has included American Dairy Northeast, the New York Beef Council, Bush Brothers and Company, General Mills, Wish Farms, California Leaf Greens, and Bear Crop Science.

During our most recent episode with Nicole, we did talk about food access disparities, and we discussed how the latest research impacted nutrition and food insecurity.
So, Nicole, if you had to sum up that conversation in one or two sentences, what would you say would be the key takeaways?

Nicole Rodriguez: I think the key takeaways are that we really need to consider a patient's entire lifestyle and living situation before making recommendations and that we really need to consider some of the buzzwords that are surrounding our foods and how, if we are too quick to adopt them, the potential impact that can have on people who are food insecure.

Lisa Jones: Yes, so true. Next, we'll deep dive into evidence-based dietetics practice, and my question for you is, talking about food access solutions, how can evidence-based dietetics practice address food insecurity and improve nutrition for vulnerable populations?

Nicole Rodriguez: Number one, we need to be aware of the actual nutritional content of a wider variety of foods and realize that saying blanket statements like, "Fresh is best," or "Shop the perimeter," right? Again, kind of buzzwords and expressions that just seem to latch on in our space. Really taking it upon ourselves to take a deeper dive into what we actually know in the center of the aisle and how more people can benefit from a lot of those things.

So I think it comes down to shutting out some of the noise because, Lisa, what gets so much attention on social media, it's a lot of shirtless guys trolling the supermarket and saying that seed oils are bad for you, sugar's bad for you, don't eat anything in a can, but when we take a deeper dive into the evidence, we know that, one, messages of shame do not work and that they actually exacerbate issues of food insecurity and people not meeting their nutritional needs.
So, maybe can we take a look at a couple of items that might be in those center aisles and how if we maybe learn a little bit more about them, how they can actually benefit our health instead of us demonizing them.

Lisa Jones: Yes, great point. And I do want to go back to what you said, and that is shop the perimeter, because that statement in itself is no longer true. If you think about the average grocery store these days, they're not even arranged that way. 

Nicole Rodriguez: Yeah, isn't that interesting? There's all this talk of this and that is poisoning, but there's a lot of push of product in its place, which, it's a very interesting kind of paradigm there, isn't it?

Lisa Jones: Yes. We need to come up with something new that we're saying, like fresh is best. It sounds good, but it's not valid either, because you can go to frozen. There's other things that you can eat.

Nicole Rodriguez:  Absolutely. So that's actually a place that we talked in our last episode about meeting people where they are, and I think a lot of times we need to literally talk about where are you in the supermarket? What's appealing to you? What applies to your budget? What applies to you culturally? What applies to taste preferences, and also, what applies to your lifestyle?

We'd be remiss if we didn't look at the research on pricing, because in the food industry, we should be keeping track of what do some recommendations actually cost. And I'll point one out. We know that a bowl of cereal and milk, that's registering at 50 cents total, as of 2022. So very, very reasonable. We know that there's a lot of vitamin and nutrient content there, but moreover, Lisa, in the last episode we talked about, yes, this plant-based trend, but also that only one out of 10 Americans is meeting that need for fruits and vegetables, meeting the requirements. So something's not going right, am I right?

Lisa Jones: Exactly. So true. That's a grim statistic. Thank you.

Nicole Rodriguez:  Grim. Very, very, very grim, but we have to talk about it. So as it turns out, the data shows us that a bowl of cereal and milk, that's actually the number one driver of produce consumption in the morning. So, I think we need to take a look at things not only with what we know about them, when we really take that hard look. So let's look at that bowl of cereal and milk. We know that it's providing a lot of shortfall nutrients. We know that it's a vehicle for another nutrient-dense food that more people need more of.

So instead of looking at foods and finding what's wrong with them, maybe if we look at the wide variety of safe foods that we have at our disposal here in the United States, we could look at them and say, "Okay, well, how can this maybe benefit me otherwise? How can I utilize this overall as part of my day to make it better and make it more nutritious?"

Lisa Jones: Yes, and I think that's a great suggestion too. That goes back to what you said in the previous episode, which was meet people where they were at. So you're kind of looking at their 24-hour recall. You find out, okay, they're already having a bowl of cereal, and maybe it doesn't have milk in it. Now we can add some sort of milk to it.

Nicole Rodriguez:  Yes.

Lisa Jones: And then how can we add fruits and veggies if they're not consuming them? So just taking what they're currently doing versus saying, "Okay, none of this is working. We need to throw it all out and start over again." And that's where people are like, "Okay, I'm not listening to you."

Nicole Rodriguez:  That's it. No, that's such a great point. And, again, just as we discussed in our previous episode, we're not going from zero to 60 because I think sometimes, and we have data that reveals this too, people feel intimidated by RDNs. They might not want to be totally transparent. So then when we come with these recommendations of like, "Oh, you need to do this complete overhaul and you need to change every little thing, it doesn't earn buy-in." Whereas we can be looking at an overall diet.

Say someone has on a log, "I eat cereal." Instead of demonizing it, be like, "Hey, you know what? That's a really great start. What can we add to that?" Or someone tells me, "I have rice and beans on my regular daily menu."

"Okay, fantastic. Why don't we look at what those ratios look like? Let's make sure that they're appropriate for your energy needs for your other health goals. And hey, if you're open to it, did you know that you can also be doing canned beans to make this meal even easier?"

So looking for suggestions and solutions that make sense instead of taking things off of the table, because then we're coming from a place of yes and, instead of a place of no, you can't.

Lisa Jones: Yes, and I'm a big fan of the yes and.

Nicole Rodriguez: Yes. I know.

Lisa Jones: It would be great if you could share, maybe from one of your clients, but an example, a story, an analogy of how you use this evidence-based practice, and maybe it's something that somebody came to you and they said, "Hey, I was told by a dietician to shop the perimeter," and you turned around and said, "Well, the current evidence says."

Nicole Rodriguez: Yes. Absolutely. So, on a related note, because we're talking about produce, I had a client local to me, and I will say, a pretty well-heeled client, and we got to discussing produce, and she follows a plant-based meal pattern. And she had said that she really quote-unquote tries to buy organic. And then she had seen something on my social media page where I highlighted the safe fruits and veggies calculator. I'm not sure if you've seen it before, but it's basically a calculator that will let you know how many servings of a fruit or vegetable you would have to consume based on gender and age, roughly. How many servings would you have to consume and then pose a risk to yourself via pesticide intake.

And so I invite you to utilize that. It's a really eye-opening tool, but even this person was blown away and then had gone and said, "You know what? I had no idea that I could be saving all this money. I had no idea that this was not really necessary, that I don't have to buy organic, and that conventional produce is actually safe."

So why is that important overall in terms of talking about access? We also have data that shows that when lower-income people are out shopping, they might not purchase any produce if they can't afford the organic because we've gone out and so conditioned people into thinking organic is best. I should only have organic, et cetera, et cetera. So instead of being that eraser that says, "Oh, if it's not organic, don't have it," let's be pencils and let's say, "Hey, actually, guess what? Conventionally-grown produce is just as nutrient-dense, and in many, many cases, it's way more affordable."

Lisa Jones: And the one that pops in my mind the most or it's kind of in your face in the grocery store is the bananas because they take up a lot of space and they put them side by side, and it's organic versus the non-organic bananas. And the difference is, I believe, 20 cents at the supermarket I was just at. And it's kind of like, so somebody walks up and they don't know, they're like, "Oh, I should get this one and spend 20 cents more." When no, you could just get the regular one. You don't need the organic bananas. There are certain things that don't have to be organic.

Nicole Rodriguez: Yeah, there are a lot of things that just ... I'm not purchasing organic unless it's on sale or it just happens to look really good and is on sale. So I think a lot to consider there. And, again, when we're having these conversations as dieticians, making sure we are putting those messages out so that, long-term, hopefully, someone's seeing that message and we do have a positive impact on produce consumption.

Lisa Jones: Yes. Great conversation, and thank you so much for sharing the information with us about evidence-based practice and food access solutions.

Nicole Rodriguez: My pleasure.

Speaker 1: For more nutrition content, visit

© 2023 HMP Global. All Rights Reserved.
Any views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and/or participants and do not necessarily reflect the views, policy, or position of Consultant360 or HMP Global, their employees, and affiliates.