Interview with Patricia M. Bannan, Registered Dietitian

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Patricia M. Bannan, M.S., R.D.,  a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian specializing in nutrition and health communications. Bannan is particularly passionate about helping children and adults incorporate healthier habits into their daily lives. Through her in-school and corporate wellness programs of Healthy-E-tips, Inc., she is able to reach 6 million people each day! Bannan has also appeared on over thirty news shows, including ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC’s Today Show. Her expertise has also graced the pages of publications like The New York Times, Newsday, People, Redbook, and Ladies Home Journal. I hope you enjoy Patricia’s responses as much as I did!

What do you find to be the biggest contributing factor(s) to childhood obesity?

The biggest contributing factors to childhood obesity are a combination of inactivity and eating too much high-calorie, low-nutrient food.  Obesity always comes down to a simple matter of too much energy in, not enough energy out – a simple formula that is becoming more and more off balance with children and adults alike.  Children are mirroring their parents and are often eating too much and developing bad eating habits at a very young age.  Due to a lifestyle of not eating enough wholesome, nutritious food and getting little to no daily activity, we are seeing a dramatic rise in type II (adult onset) diabetes and other chronic ailments not only in adults but in young children – it’s shocking.  A major reason for childhood inactivity these days is too much screen time – computers, televisions, video games – with so much time in front of the screen children have little need to run around outside for entertainment.

For parents, it’s important that good nutrition and physical activity become a part of the family routine, so that it becomes a habit early on in a child’s life – setting them up for a lifetime of healthier behaviors.

You hear of a lot of top 10 lists for healthy food/super foods, what top 10 items come to your mind when you think of healthy food?

I hope you don’t mind, but I’d rather answer this in terms of categories of food rather than individual foods. For example, blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, but if they are expensive and/or out of season that can be a problem for some people. I’d rather have people focus on including more fruits in their diet in a variety of colors that fit their budget and taste preferences. So here’s my top 10 list:

  1. A variety of colorful vegetables (e.g., spinach, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli) – If there’s one piece of nutritional advice that all people should know, it’s to eat vegetables!  Vegetables are naturally low in calories and loaded with essential nutrients, antioxidants and dietary fiber.  Vegetables help prevent chronic diseases like stroke, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer and are good for heart health and weight management.  Choose a variety of colors to get more vitamins and antioxidants for good health.
  2. A variety of colorful fruits (e.g., oranges, berries, kiwis) – Packed with antioxidants for good health, fruits are often high in important vitamins like potassium and vitamin C.  The more colors you have in your diet, the more antioxidants you’re getting.  Not only can fruits lower your risk of heart disease and cancer, they are also anti-inflammatory to help prevent a slew of chronic diseases.  Their flavors can satisfy sweets cravings for a fraction of the calories found in candy, and frozen are just as good as fresh!
  3. Whole grains (oats, quinoa, barley, whole wheat) – Whole grains offer important nutrients, fiber and help reduce the risk of some chronic diseases.  Quinoa (keen-wa) is one of the best whole grains because it’s high in protein and fiber and is a naturally good source of iron.  In addition to quinoa, other nutrient-packed whole grains include barley, oats, whole wheat, wild rice, buckwheat and millet.  Try to make at least half of your daily grain serving a whole grain.
  4. Nuts (e.g., pistachios, almonds, walnuts) – Nuts are a smart snack choice or recipe booster for taste and nutrition.  They contain protein, fiber and healthful fats to keep your hunger at bay for hours.  I like pistachio nuts because they also contain plant sterols (to lower bad cholesterol) and it takes longer to crack the shell and eat them, making it easier to control the portion.
  5. Omega 3-rich fish (e.g., wild salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel) – Omega 3 fatty acids you get from fish can lower heart disease risk, help arthritis and may even boost your memory and mood.  Aim for 2-3 servings a week of cold water fish.  Other sources of omega 3s include flax seeds, walnuts and fortified eggs.
  6. Beans (e.g., black, kidney, garbanzo, navy) – Loaded with fiber, beans are a low-fat source of protein, carbohydrates, magnesium and potassium.  They can be used as the centerpiece of a meal or in a side dish.  Aim for 3 cups of beans a week.
  7. Lean meat and poultry – natural when possible (e.g., Hormel® Natural Choice® deli sandwich meat) – Choose meat and poultry that’s lean or low-fat to make sure you are getting quality protein without excessive saturated fat.  When buying deli sandwich meat, going all natural is a great option as a way to cut down on additives and preservatives.  For example, Hormel® Natural Choice® deli sandwich meat have zero preservatives and are free of added flavors and colors.  They are also gluten free, with no MSG added and are low in fat and trans fat free.
  8. Whole soy (e.g., tofu, soy milk, soy nuts, edamame) – Although there have been mixed reviews on the benefits of soy, in moderation (2-3 serving a day) it’s a wonderful food for both heart and bone health.  Unlike processed soy (or isolated soy protein found in “foods with soy”), whole soy is packed full of antioxidant isoflavones, high-quality protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, fiber and all nine amino acids essential to human nutrition.  Plus, whole soy is low in saturated fat and cholesterol free.
  9. Tea (e.g., black, green, white, oolong) – If you’re bored with water or drinking sugary sodas, try quenching your thirst with tea.  You’ll be doing your body good!  Whether you prefer it hot or cold, tea is calorie free (if you hold the sugar) and loaded with antioxidants.  Recent research reveals the antioxidants in tea may inhibit the growth of cancer cells and support heart health.  Black, green, white and oolong tea come from the same plant (Camellia Sinensis) and have comparable health benefits.
  10. Low-fat dairy (e.g., plain low-fat yogurt, skim milk) – Low fat or fat-free plain yogurt is an ideal choice because it’s often higher in calcium than other dairy products and is a good source of protein and potassium.  Also, plain yogurt is a good vehicle for probiotics to help balance the bacteria in your gut.  Skim is low in calories with less than 90 per cup.  Look for dairy products fortified with vitamin D and add your own fresh or dried fruit to plain yogurt for added sweetness.

I would love to hear more about your in-school and corporate wellness sessions.

I work with a company called Health-E-tips ( that focuses on preventive wellness solutions.  Health-E-tips enables organizations and schools to impact the wellness of their employees and students. The company currently provides wellness solutions to corporations, health plans, clinics, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools across the country through its Health-E-tips subscription and Just-A-Minute (JAM) School programs. JAM is designed to teach kids (and adults) healthier lifestyle habits. JAM delivers a weekly one-minute exercise routine called the JAMmin’ Minute and a monthly health newsletter called Health-E-tips.  JAM is a free program for schools. My role as the nutrition expert (we also have a fitness expert) is to provide creative and doable health and nutrition messages that reach 6 million people each day through the in-school and corporate wellness programs.

I know that you’re the spokesperson for Hormel® Natural Choice®. What are some of the health implications of consuming meat that has preservatives and nitrates? Why should consumers make the switch?

I recognize that a lot of confusion exists around the terms, words and key claims shoppers see floating around the supermarket or on the ingredient lists of the food they buy. In the “Shop Smart, Live Well” brochure, I attempt to define these terms to make shopping for wholesome products easier for families. Readers can download this brochure by visiting Specifically, sodium nitrite is a preservative found mainly in packaged meat to maintain color and help protect against bacteria. Hormel Foods doesn’t need to add sodium nitrite to its Hormel® Natural Choice® deli sandwich meat; instead it uses the High-Pressure Processing (HPP) technique to protect against harmful bacterium naturally. Hormel® Natural Choice® deli sandwich meat are great-tasting and 100 percent natural, with zero preservatives, and no nitrates, nitrites or artificial ingredients added. They are also gluten free, with no MSG added and are low in fat and trans fat free.

Additionally, according to a recent study by the makers of Hormel® Natural Choice® deli sandwich meat, nine in ten (88 percent) Americans feel it’s important for the ingredient list on food they buy to be easy to understand. Hormel® Natural Choice® deli sandwich meat have short, easy-to-understand ingredient lists, so parents know exactly what they contain and can feel good about serving them to their family, and they are competitively priced against other, non-natural mainstream pre-sliced deli sandwich meat brands. In short, the deli sandwich meat offer a nutritious, budget-friendly and great-tasting option allowing families to have it all without sacrifice.

What are some of your favorite authors/books for healthy lifestyle information?

I’m a big fan of Dr. Mehmet Oz’s series of books (e.g., You on a Diet…) – he’s so good at taking complex information and making it simple and actionable.  I also like Dr. Andrew Weil for a more holistic approach.  For healthy cooking, Jackie Newgent just released a new cookbook called “The Big Green Cookbook” that is great. I love the healthy and delicious recipes and it helps the environment – a double winner.

2 thoughts on “Interview with Patricia M. Bannan, Registered Dietitian

  1. Wow! I like the great compilation of super foods. I just posted about this in my blog recently. I myself led an overweight, and at one point obese childhood to teenage years. And I must say, that is really something I regret in life. Now, I just want to lead a healthy lifestyle.

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