Spotlight Interview: Meet Trista Yuan, a UBC Dietetics Student!

Reading Time: 13 Minutes

Last month was MOVE UBC, where we challenged the UBC community to move more and move better!

This month we are celebrating Nutrition Month a month focused on raising awareness and promoting healthy nutrition and healthy eating habits!

We are excited to introduce Trista Yuan, a dietetics student who has answered our big questions on nutrition and having a healthy relationship with food!

Trista Yuan

Is currently in her fourth year, in the UBC Dietetics Program, minoring in Psychology. She is passionate about dismantling diet culture and promoting food and body freedom. She guides people to cook and eat delicious food with pleasure, not guilt!

She believes that the dietetics profession is not just about nutrition. Food is also related to human connection, social justice, sustainability, and so much more. She cares for access, equity, and diversity. To her, health is holistic and food is physical, mental, social, and cultural.

1. “Please describe what you do and your general duties.”

As a dietetic student, my main role is to gain knowledge to support my future role as a registered dietitian (RD). Our program curriculum is quite interdisciplinary, including general science (biology, chemistry, biochemistry), clinical and public health nutrition, food systems, food production and safety, as well as counseling. Aside from core courses, I also took courses in adult education, counseling psychology, and pharmacology to support my learning. A crucial role as a dietetic student is being able to find, critically review, and translate scientific literature into practical advice for the general public.

As a co-chair of the UBC Dietetic Student Community, I advocate for the dietetics profession through liasoning with Dietitians of Canada, organizing events, and producing online content to promote food and nutrition literacy at UBC.

In 2019, I started my own nutrition Instagram (@allfoodsfit_nutrition) as a platform to promote food and body acceptance and showcase cultural foods around the world.

I also work with UBC Recreation as the program lead for the Move More Learn More program, a low barrier physical activity promotion program where we teach participants a range of health topics and lead small group physical activity sessions each week for 7 weeks every school term.

2. “Fascinating! When considering diets and nutrition in young adults/the student population, what are some of your general thoughts?”

The first thought that came to mind is that we need to raise awareness for food insecurity among the student body. According to the 2019 Undergraduate Experience Survey (UES), around 40% of UBC students are food insecure. Not only at UBC, but this estimation is also consistent across Canadian Universities, a prevalence four times higher than the general Canadian population (12.6% food insecure). Needless to say, we can all imagine COVID has exacerbated the situation.

The Right to Food was declared as a fundamental human right in Canada in 1976, but the current situation does not seem to reflect this statement in the university student body. Having access to a nutritionally adequate diet is important for the body and mind to properly function, especially for young adults who are going through a period of substantial learning and development in life. Some of the barriers to student food security include lack of awareness and knowledge about food insecurity, stigma in using community resources, as well as lack of access to affordable foods on campus or proper support.

Another thought I have is that this population is full of potential when it comes to fostering a healthy lifestyle. Yes, nutrition is very confusing, and there are tons of misinformation floating on the internet. But credible and evidence-informed nutrition guidelines are only one search away. There is an increasing number of registered dietitians and other healthcare professionals using online media to share their expertise. Credible nutrition information has never been this accessible and all we need to do is know how to find them!

Some tips:

    1. Avoid quick fixes and cures for everything. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is, otherwise, it would have won a Nobel Prize already.
    2. Look for consistent research evidence from more than one study instead of anecdotes or empty promises that do not seem to explain the “how” behind the “what”.
    3. Look for the qualification of the information provider. Registered dietitians (RDs or RDNs) are the only nutrition service providers regulated provincially and nationally. This is not to say people with other titles are invalid, but keep in mind that without regulations, there can be variations in qualification quality.
    4. If there is profit involved from the advice (eg. are they selling a product/service?), be mindful if they are focusing on your health or your wallet.
    5. Try to look for information within the past 10 years so they are relevant! Reliable sources will include the publish date and be regularly updated to reflect the most current nutrition information and advice available.

3. “Can you give some tips on how to easily incorporate nutritious foods into meal plans (keeping in mind student’s limited access to finances)? What nutritional recommendations would you give to busy university students?”

When we are in the zone of studying (or cramming), it is easy to forget that our body needs a regular supply of food. Avoid going without food for longer than four hours (except when sleeping). Going beyond this limit, your body does not have enough fuel to function optimally.

Snacking is a great way in adding nutrients and keeping hunger at bay. There are so many convenient and nutrient-dense options when it comes to snacks – roasted nuts and seeds with no added salt or sugar, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. Have nutritious food available so when you feel hungry you have them handy!

Meal planning can help you save time, money, and energy as well as keeping healthy eating on track! Meal planning is essentially planning your meals by week and cooking food dishes in large batches, so you have food readily accessible throughout the week. When you plan and cook your own meals, it is easier to follow your nutrition goals than when you are hungry and just want something to eat. You also save time and energy on grocery trips, oven heating, and dishwashing. You can also save money and reduce packaging waste as you can buy ingredients in value packs!

Save your money on supplements and spend them on real foods. We can get enough nutrition from eating a balanced diet! You don’t need to waste money on things like multivitamins unless it is recommended by a healthcare professional. Research has consistently shown that multivitamins do not help reduce the risk of diseases and can be harmful if taken at high doses. However, that being said, if you have certain dietary restrictions, it is worth consulting a registered dietitian to see if you need any supplements.

4. “In general, would you recommend cooking your own food or subscribing to a subscription service – and why? If making meals is not an option, is there a meal plan or service that you suggest?”

In general, I recommend cooking your own food because, in this way, you have control in choosing ingredients, you know what is in your food, you can personalize things to your preference, and it fosters your food literacy and skills. Plus it costs significantly less without all the operation fees charged by meal service providers. One limitation I found with meal kit and meal service delivery is that the options are mostly western foods and I enjoy eating foods from various cultures.

There are quick recipes and meal planning strategies that make cooking easy and convenient. Cooking food is also a fun activity you can do with your friends and family!

I personally do not know enough to recommend any meal delivery service. However, I have tried a few meal kit delivery services (HelloFresh, FreshPrep, GoodFood) and I personally like Fresh Prep the most based on ingredient quality, recipe taste, cultural variety, and sustainability.

5. “What kind of foods should students incorporate into their diet to support immune function?”

If you are consuming a generally healthy diet according to Canada’s Food Guide, your immune system is likely getting full support. If you want to pinpoint some key nutrients, foods rich in zinc, probiotics, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory compounds are good immune boosters.

Foods high in protein are also rich in zinc so we can hit two birds with one stone (or feed two birds with one scone). Seafood (especially oysters), beef, pork, and turkey are good sources of zinc. Cheese and yogurt are great vegetarian options while beans and lentils are good vegan sources. Read more about zinc here.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria living in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, and miso. All yogurts sold in Canada contain live bacterial culture! Read more about probiotics here.

Antioxidants are naturally found in food. They can be vitamins such as vitamin A, C, and E, as well as selenium and phytonutrients. Vitamins and phytonutrients can be found in colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as in nuts and seeds, while selenium is rich in Brazil nuts, oysters, fish, and beans. Dark chocolate (70% + cocoa) is also a good source of antioxidants! Read more about antioxidants here.

Foods rich in anti-inflammatory compounds also support the immune system. Omega 3 is one of these compounds. Cold water fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and anchovies, is a good source of omega 3. Plant sources include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybean products. Similarly, the gingerol in ginger and diallyl disulfide in garlic also has anti-inflammatory effects.

6. “What are some foods to avoid?”

Keep an open mind and try all types of food! When it comes to food, there are so many options and variations. Vancouver is a multicultural city and we have the privilege to try foods from various cultures – let’s celebrate this!

There is no need to avoid a certain food unless it causes an allergic reaction or discomfort in your body.

For a balanced diet, I would encourage you to try more whole food based options and limit highly refined and processed foods. Whole foods are more nutrient dense while processed foods contain little nutrition. Some examples include sugary drinks, candy, breakfast cereals, and fast foods. However, there is no need to see these foods as our enemies as they can definitely bring us joy from time to time.

7. “When thinking about food, do you have some tips on healthy eating and promoting a healthy relationship with food?”

When it comes to having a healthy relationship with food, you must first come to understand your relationship with food. When you see food, do you see it as nourishment and appreciate it, or do you think about gaining weight and feel guilt/shame about eating what you want. Maybe you have mixed feelings and that is okay (and normal given diet culture is everywhere)!

Second thing is to learn about diet culture and the ways it can manifest in life. Think about how diet culture has affected your relationship with food and what are some ways you can take back control.

The theme of this Nutrition Month is “good for you” and indeed healthy eating looks different for everyone. We need to stop using the good/bad dichotomy when thinking about food, as eating is not just for nutrition and physical health. Food provides comfort, conveys emotions, and helps build connections among people. Essentially, context is important, and let’s be flexible about what we choose to eat! One thing to always keep in mind is that all foods fit and eating is all about balance and moderation.

Lastly, surround yourself with positive influences in life! Follow RDs online, seek credible and objective nutrition information, and eat with people who don’t judge your food choices (or other life choices).

8. “What are some effective methods to motivate lifestyle changes?”

Establishing S.M.A.R.T goals

When trying to make lifestyle changes, we want to make sure the goals we set are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. This way, you can clarify your direction, focus your efforts, and use your time and resources effectively to make lifestyle changes. If a goal is too general, there will be less sense of direction to channel your energy and thus less motivation to make changes. SMART goals also help you to take small and concrete steps and when it comes to lifestyle changes, it is more sustainable to focus on one thing at a time!

Positive self-talk

How we talk to ourselves is crucial to influencing our behaviors in the long term. Negative self-talk reduces your self-esteem and self-efficacy, making it harder to achieve and maintain lifestyle changes! It might be cliche but you need to have faith in your ability to achieve your goals. Treat yourself with compassion, encourage yourself to make changes, and recognize each step you make (regardless if it’s forward or backward). A great quote I like to say is “no amount of self-improvement can make up for any lack of self-acceptance”.

For more information on the Right to Food and the relationship between mood and eating during COVID-19, check out these links!

Thank you so much Trista for teaching us about dietetics and for sharing these great tips! To check out more on Nutrition Month and how to get moving, check out the Get Active at Home page and the Nourish U page!