‘Always add the greens last’
Nicole Cormier, RD, LDN
“Let’s make sure to balance our sugar with protein and fiber,” Nicole Cormier, RD, LDN explains to her attentive audience.
“Always try to add those dark leafy greens to your meal,” she cajoles.
“The fewer ingredients the better,” she explains. “That way you know them well.”
Cormier, a registered dietician and nutritionist who owns Delicious Living Nutrition, Inc., was meeting with 18 selected patients of Emerald Physicians who participated in a recent 12-week pilot project that prescribed farmers’ market fresh fruits and vegetables.
Their blood pressure, standing glucose levels, cholesterol, body mass, weight circumference and hemoglobin were measured and recorded before the 12-week program, a collaboration with the agricultural non-profit Sustainable CAPE, began. At the end, Dr. Kumara Sidhartha, who is leading the project, will determine what impact all the fresh produce and nutritional education has had on the patients’ health.
While half the patients got a prescription for fruits and vegetables, the other control group received gift cards for gas stations. The prescriptions have a value of $30 worth of free fruit or vegetables redeemable at the Orleans farmers’ market during the study period. That ensured a controlled experiment, he explained.
“The contrast between the prescription group and the control group should be considerable.”
Cormier, who has published several books including $5 a Meal Vegetarian College Cookbook, 201 Organic Smoothies and Juices for a Healthy Pregnancy, was contracted by the project called FLAVORx. It’s a collaboration between the primary care practice, Emerald Physician Services, under the medical leadership of Dr. Sidhartha and Sustainable CAPE. Sustainable CAPE is a local farmers’ market champion directed by its founder Francie Randolph.
Her mission was to show the participants, all low-income patients at Emerald Physicians who depend primarily on Medicaid, how to shop and eat healthier to prevent or improve chronic conditions ranging from diabetes to hypertension.
This particular week she was focusing on soups with all the ingredients purchased at the farmer’s market – sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, beets, onions and greens. Other ingredients included lentils and olive oil.
“Always add the greens last,” she instructed.
Other dishes the group cooked together included a crustless quiche, polenta and sautéed fall vegetables with lentils.
“What an amazing partnership,” she said, referring not only to Dr. Sidhartha, but also Cape Cod Healthcare, Sustainable CAPE and the local farmers market. “While this program focuses exclusively on a particular demographic, the power of fresh produce extends to everybody living on Cape Cod.”
It is easy to develop an unhealthy relationship with food, said Cormier.
“We are bombarded every day with fast food and processed food advertising. We are so busy in our lives that we don’t have the time or patience to shop for and cook fresh ingredients. With this project, we are trying to create and cultivate new experiences to build a healthier relationship with what we consume.”
There are as many as 75 farmers across every town on Cape Cod, many open year round, according to Cormier, and there are farmers markets from Provincetown to Falmouth.
“Eating locally has so many benefits,” she explained. “You are eating the produce much closer to the time it was harvested. That retains more of their nutrients. In addition, farmers here are strategically choosing their seeds for nutrition and taste.”
Cormier is enthusiastic about the growth of farms on the Cape, as well as restaurants that are featuring locally grown produce. She points to the Buy Fresh, Buy Local movement, a collaboration among land and sea farms, as well restaurants.
Buy Fresh, Buy Local emphasizes that:
- Local farmers offer food that is bred for taste and freshness rather than shipping and long shelf life.
- Buying locally grown food keeps dollars circulating in the Cape Cod community and sustains family farms.
- Shopping locally safeguards your health by knowing where your food comes from, actually knowing the farmers personally.
- The environment is enhanced because it reduces carbon monoxide emissions by trucks transporting produce long distances as well as packaging materials.
“Most of the people who come to me recognize that they don’t feel their best, that their energy levels are lower and their bodies are changing in ways that they don’t like,” said Cormier. “Others are being referred to me by their physicians like Dr. Sidhartha. They are going down the path of high cholesterol and heart disease.”
One woman came to Cormier with a cholesterol reading of 450. “She told me, ‘I should be dead.’ By making lifestyle changes only since last spring, her cholesterol is now down to 280 and falling.”
Cormier sees more physicians getting engaged in diet.
“I really enjoy working with doctors. I feel that I am a big part of the equation. We sit down with the patient for an hour and get to learn about their nutrition practices, their goals, the challenges they face. It really is a team effort among the doctor, patient and dietician.”
Cormier not only taught and cooked with the FLAVORx patients, she often accompanied the treatment group to the farmers market on Saturday mornings.
“They discovered vegetables that they may not encounter at the grocery store. Or there are different varieties of a common vegetable.”
After they shopped and brought the produce home to their families, they met on Sunday and often cooked with the same ingredients.
“We focused on what makes a particular fruit or vegetable nutritious, especially its fiber content. We planned meals as well. And we discussed how to eat healthy through the day, how to pair proteins and fibers to balance blood sugar and how to maximize the efficiency of all the vitamins in the vegetables and fruit.”
Every one of the FLAVORs participants came to the classes with a smile, said Cormier. They greeted each other and developed a camaraderie.
“They were all different professions. One actually is a farmer. Another lived in South America and introduced the group to ingredients like quinoa,” which is gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids, she explained. It’s also high in fiber, magnesium, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants.
One Sunday, the group prepared oatmeal with sauteed apples and cranberries. For protein, they made tahini, a condiment from toasted ground sesame seeds. At the same time, they prepared local turnips and a cranberry crisp.
“They were amused to realize that the oatmeal from breakfast was virtually the same as the crisp for desert,” she said.
“We focus on simple dishes on purpose so they can automatically incorporate them into their diet at home.”