Healthy and happy in 2022

Judy Palken leads ‘The Art of Good Nutrition’ at the Edgartown library.


With the holidays behind us, a typical resolution for the new year might be striving for a healthier lifestyle, particularly when it comes to food choices. If that’s you, perhaps you’re a little bewildered about where to start, or just want to be better informed. Just in time, the Edgartown library is here to help, with a four-part series, “The Art of Good Nutrition,” by registered dietician Judy Palken.

Palken adores teaching nutrition and health classes, and adds her own twist by illustrating them with works of fine art, many by well-known artists. She says, “My classes are evidence-based nutrition, with a side of appreciation for beautiful art!”

The gist of Palken’s classes is how to eat healthily, and make simple but effective changes. Her first Zoom class on Jan. 18 is “So Many Diets!” which will examine some popular diets, because there are an overwhelming number of choices. Some of them are very restrictive; have a lot of arbitrary rules; and may not be very good, or difficult to maintain — even though some have good points. Palken will address the paleo, ketogenic, alkaline, the Whole30, and grapefruit diet, and also others that she says are “really, really crazy, but are out there and have followings. I try to guide people so that if they are going to follow some diet, they know how to evaluate it, and take the good and leave behind what isn’t.”

An example, she points out, is the paleo diet, which tells you to eliminate whole grains and legumes. Palken comments, “On what planet are whole grains and legumes not good for you? They’re very healthy, almost for everyone. I have a problem with this, even though there are some good aspects of the diet.”

Feb. 15 will be “Food and Mood.” and will explain how what we eat affects how we feel. “First,” Palken says, “I’ll talk about how in the short term it feels so good to eat all these hyper-palatable, processed. and fast foods. I struggle with it, too. We gravitate toward the high-carb foods, the sweets, and fried foods, but in the long run, we don’t feel so good when we do that.” We’ll also learn about healthy patterns of eating, such as having three meals a day and consuming foods that give us a slow release of energy.

March 15 will be “Diabetes — Prevent, Treat, Eat,” which will illuminate how to make the best choices to avoid diabetes and prediabetes. “Really,” Palken explains, “the treatment is to get the diet, carbs, and portion sizes under control … and you can turn it around.”

April 12 will be “Eating for Cognitive Health,” featuring the foods that help us with paying attention, learning, judgment, and memory. “It’s really exciting that there are dietary patterns like the Mediterranean diet,” Palken says, “which is really good for cognitive function. And that there are specific food choices such as leafy green vegetables and deeply colored produce, such as berries, eggplant, grapes, tomatoes. that all have these wonderful phytochemicals that are good for cognitive health.”

“One thing that is really different about my classes,” Palken says, “is that I incorporate art into them, weaving in a different way to present nutrition.” When she addresses sugar and carbohydrates, for example, you can might see works by Renoir, who did a series of paintings of sugar bowls, some with cakes and cookies. She often goes to Ceézanne, Monet, and Matisse for still lifes of apples, peaches, and plums.

Palken stresses that no matter the topic, there are common takeaway themes: “I want people to choose mostly whole, minimally processed foods. And emphasize plant-based eating; it’s better for us and the planet. You don’t need to be vegetarian, but shifting the needle just a bit more toward plants. I also like people to cook, even if you have a small repertoire like a nice chili or pasta sauce that you get really good at.” The message won’t be about forgoing everything yummy all the time. She stresses, “You can enjoy almost anything, just have reasonable portion sizes of the indulgences.”

Palken plans to feature regional foods such as cranberries, which have anthocyanins — compounds that have beneficial health effects, such as decreasing inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, and improving insulin sensitivity.

Clearly, there will be something for everyone, allowing each of us to feel good about some feasible steps we can take toward a healthier 2022.

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