Last week the girls at Sculpt & Shine got the chance to have a one on one with none other than New York Times best-selling author and nutritionist Cynthia Sass! When she’s not acting as the nutrition consultant for the New York Yankees and the New York Rangers, she’s a contributor for Health Magazine, counseling celebrity and sports clients and appearing on shows such as The Today Show and The Doctors. She also just released her new book, Slim Down Now.
Cynthia shared with us some cool perks about her job, what it means to be a nutritionist, her opinion of healthy desserts and her favorite secret healthy spots in New York City! See the exclusive interview below:
- What is the difference between a nutritionist and a dietician? Which one do you identify with?
I identify with nutritionist, but unfortunately that term doesn’t have a legal definition, which means that anyone can call himself or herself a nutritionist, even with no formal education or training. I am also a dietitian, which requires a university degree, with specific course work in the science of nutrition, including biology, chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, food science, metabolism, courses in vitamins and minerals, nutrition through the life cycle, and medical nutrition therapy. Dietitians must also pass a comprehensive exam, and complete ongoing continuing education. I’m proud to be a dietitian (I also have master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health, and I’m board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics), but my passion is optimal wellness and superfoods (I also have formal culinary training in vegan organic culinary arts), and in that realm, the term ‘nutritionist’ seems to be a better fit. So I often say that I’m a nutritionist, who has also completed the in-depth clinical dietitian training.
- What’s your favorite thing about being a nutritionist?
That’s a tough one, because there are so many things I love about what I do! First it’s exciting, because nutrition is a young science, so it’s constantly evolving. I spend about an hour every day reading new research just to keep up! It’s also incredibly rewarding. I love passing on tips, information, and recipes that truly change people’s lives, from boosting energy or mood to enhancing sleep, athletic performance, immunity and recovery, to helping someone manage, or significantly improve a medical condition through a dietary intervention. The power of nutrition is incredible, and the effects can be both immediate, and long-lasting. Plus, nutrition something that touches everyone, because we all must eat!
- In your opinion, what are some great best pre- and post workout snack ideas?
Pre-workout my favorite go-to is a banana. It’s easy to digest, so the carbs become readily available fuel. It also doesn’t cause digestive upset, and it’s rich in nutrients, including potassium, which is needed for muscle contractions and to prevent cramping. Post-workout I have a wide variety of favorites. If my athletes or active clients can’t eat a meal soon after exercise, smoothies are a great way to start the recovery process, and replenish nutrients and fluid. Plus, they’re refreshing, and you can whip almost anything in, from veggies and fruits to lean protein, nut butter or coconut oil, quinoa, and anti-inflammatory herbs and spices, like ginger, turmeric, and mint. I love formulating smoothies tailored to my clients’ needs and goals.
- What are your favorite ways to work out? (Are you more of a gym person, yoga, soul cycle etc.)
I am NOT a gym person! I love taking group classes, but they have to be fun, like some kind of dance-based workout. On my own my go-tos are hiking, rollerskating, and dancing. I used to be a runner, but I have injuries, so now I’m a power walker! I also love walking for utility. Both in NYC and LA I walk whenever I can, rather than taking the subway or driving. If I have the time it’s not unusual for me to walk from a meeting on the upper west side to another on the lower east side. And while it seems like nobody walks in LA, the other day I walked over for two and a half hours showing my nephew around Venice and Santa Monica. I love taking in the sights while I walk, from nature and architecture to people watching. It sparks my creativity and makes me feel alive!
- Why is protein before a workout actually bad for your body?
Pre-workout the top priority is energy, to fuel the activity, and protein isn’t an optimal fuel source. Protein’s top job is to serve as a building block to maintain, heal, and repair protein tissues in the body, so it’s ideal post-workout, along with appropriately sized portions of healthy fat, and whole food starch.
- In your new book. “Slim Down Now” you talk a lot about the importance of fiber in our everyday diet. Why is it so important and the secret to staying slim?
In addition to being filling, fiber itself does not get digested, which means it never gets absorbed into the blood, where it has to be either be either burned off or stored as fat. In addition, fiber slows the rate of digestion and absorption overall, which keeps you feeling fuller longer, and helps regulate your blood sugar and insulin levels. It also binds to some fat and protein, which prevents those calories from being absorbed. Essentially, every gram of fiber you eat cancels out about seven calories, so if we all ate 30 grams a day, it would be the calorie equivalent of going for a 40 minute walk. Finally, on top of all of the weight loss advantages, fiber offers numerous health benefits. Eating fiber is like strength training for the digestive tract, which keeps the muscle strong and healthy. It also improves bowel regularity, lowers cholesterol, and binds to cancer causing substances in the gut, so they can be swept out of the body. It’s pretty powerful stuff, and pulses (the cornerstone of Slim Down Now), which include beans, peas, and lentils, are one of the very best sources. Pulses also happen to be incredibly nutrient rich, providing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant levels that rival berries, and they’re gluten free, plant-based, versatile, and affordable – in my book pulses are the single most underrated superfood group on the planet.
- Why is meditation an important practice in everyday life?
I think intuitively we just know that meditation makes us feel better – more calm, and grounded, but the research on its benefits is remarkable. Meditation has been shown to quell inflammation, a known trigger of premature aging and disease. It’s also been shown to curb hunger, as well as mindless and impulsive eating, boost self-esteem and the desire to be more physically active, reduce belly fat, improve the ability to retain new information, and cultivate compassion, which can even be applied to yourself (very important when trying to lose weight). For all of the reasons, I devoted a chapter to meditation in Slim Down Now, and I recorded a free five minute guided meditation video for my website. Nutrition will always be my first love, but I’m enamored with meditation. Just five minutes a day can change your entire outlook and transform your relationship with food and your body.
8 New York or LA? Which one steals your heart?
They both do! New York City and Los Angeles are like George Clooney and Brad Pitt – they’re both magnetic, charming, and endearing, but in different ways. In NYC I feel inspired and exhilarated. In LA I feel balanced and happy, so it’s like yin and yang. I love them both, and feel so fortunate to bounce back and forth between the two amazing cities!
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- What are some of your favorite healthy places to eat in NY?
One of the things I love about NYC is that there are so many healthy places to eat. I love GustOrganics, and when I’m on the go I often just pop into Whole Foods, or an indie health food store, like Lifethyme in the West Village.
- Can dessert be healthy?! How?
Absolutely! To me baking is pure bliss, and I love creating other healthy treats, like puddings, frozen pops, and dark chocolate truffles! I have a variety of tricks for making them healthy, including using nut and bean flours and milks, pureed veggies, fruit and beans, spices, zest, and herbs, coconut oil, raw cocoa powder, and healthy sweeteners like maple syrup. I LOVE it when someone reluctantly tries one of my treats, like my vegan spinach brownies, or vegan chia pulse pudding (made with beans) thinking it’s going to be weird, only to be delightfully surprised by how tasty and satisfying my “healthied up” version is compared to the traditional.