Think about nutrition, but don’t obsess over it. I love the nitty-gritty aspects of nutrition science and of course value how food affects health, but we need to also acknowledge the emotional, social and cultural role it plays in our lives and how to balance eating for both nutrition and general well-being. If you love cookies, they can totally fit into a balanced diet along with plenty of produce, whole grains, and nutritious proteins and fats. If it brings you joy, eat it in moderation.
Jenn LaVardera, MS RD CDN is a registered dietitian, nutrition expert, and wellness specialist with Naturipe Farms, where she guides marketing, labeling, and product innovation from a nutrition perspective. In addition to her work with Naturipe, Jenn provides nutritional counseling to clients, specializing in working with adolescents struggling with eating disorders.
Jenn holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science from Pepperdine University and a Master of Science degree in Nutrition Communications from Tufts University. She completed her Dietetic Internship at Hunter College in New York City where her focus was in community nutrition.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Nutrition was my first career choice. Back when I was deciding where to go to college, I started looking at Pepperdine University. Being from upstate New York, the idea of going to college in Malibu, California was very appealing. Looking at their website, I saw that Nutritional Science was one of the majors offered and I knew that sounded like the perfect fit. I did end up studying nutrition at Pepperdine, and though I wasn’t entirely sure of what type of job I wanted to pursue, I knew a traditional dietitian job in a hospital wasn’t my passion. After Pepperdine, I went to Tufts University and earned my Master’s degree in Nutrition Communication, and afterward I completed my Dietetic Internship at Hunter College in New York City. During that time I held internships at a magazine, in television media, at a wellness website, and with a PR company. Once I was done with school, I got my first job in the food industry as a Nutrition Communications Manager.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
There have been many interesting moments! I’ve gotten to travel a lot with my career. One of my favorite memories was participating in a 200-mile bike ride with members of the produce industry in Tour de Fresh, which was raising money to put salad bars in schools. I am a strong runner but had never cycled before. I got a bike, learned how to ride it (clipping in was a learning curve!), and a few months later completed the 3-day ride. There were a lot of lessons during that experience, and being humble was a big one. There was a time I was on a training ride and was 20 miles from home when I got a flat tire. I had nothing with me, not even a phone, and had no idea what to do. Thankfully another rider came along and helped me out. I guess I also learned to be prepared. I definitely added some emergency tire equipment to my bike after that!
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s so easy to make mistakes in a digital world when you are trying to keep up and things are moving so fast. A while back I was part of a team that made a mistake with labeling on a product’s package. I always remember that experience when reviewing labels now. We are programmed to get things done fast but some things are worth taking your time on.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been working with CarrieAnn Arias, VP of Marketing at Naturipe for the past 7 years. I know CarrieAnn was advocating to hire me when I was a young dietitian and fresh out of school! From there, she’s continued to support and advocate for me and for my skills in nutrition marketing. Believe it or not, not all food companies have dietitians working behind the scenes. It’s important for us to have advocates who understand our unique skill sets and how we can elevate a company’s brand.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
There is so much nutrition misinformation out there. I’ve been doing this for a while and it still amazes me what people try to get away with saying. My number one mission is to ensure the information I’m putting out is true and not misleading…because let’s face it, things can be technically true but still very misleading. I’m a stickler for making sure our messages are rooted in factual science, whether it’s digging into scientific research studies or making sure I have a very clear understanding of a nutrient’s function before jumping to a marketing conclusion. We’re up against quite a bit when it comes to the real truth in marketing, but it makes me proud to know I’m doing my best to ensure everything I’m putting out there I can feel great about.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. No matter what any fad diet will tell you, it’s really tough to overdo it on the produce. Aim to include fruit or vegetable with every meal or snack and eat a variety of colors. I eat fresh berries with breakfast every single day and fresh fruit with an afternoon snack. I typically get my vegetables in with lunch and dinner. Fruits and vegetables are linked with countless health benefits, including mental health benefits like lower risk of depression.
- Understand what’s in your food. My general advice when buying a packaged product is to see if the ingredients list sounds like a recipe or a chemical formula. There are plenty of nutritious foods with lengthy lists, but if you take a look and think “I could make that in my kitchen,” that’s typically the type of food I lean towards buying.
- Drink water! There are so many trendy hydration brands out there, and while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with most of them, good old filtered tap water does the trick just fine. Staying hydrated has numerous benefits for digestion and overall health.
- Do movements that you enjoy. Physical activity is so important for health, but we need to consider our mental well-being too. Don’t do exercise that you hate. I did hot yoga once and I’d never go back, but I do love to run outside and do that a few times a week. I also love spending time with my dog and we typically walk for an hour every morning.
- Think about nutrition, but don’t obsess over it. I love the nitty-gritty aspects of nutrition science and of course value how food affects health, but we need to also acknowledge the emotional, social and cultural role it plays in our lives and how to balance eating for both nutrition and general well-being. If you love cookies, they can totally fit into a balanced diet along with plenty of produce, whole grains, and nutritious proteins and fats. If it brings you joy, eat it in moderation.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
More fruits and vegetables, a little less of everything else. We don’t need to give anything up, we just need to flip the plate and adjust the ratios of what we’re eating. Instead of a giant steak with a few pieces of broccoli, fill half the plate with veggies, add some whole grains, and enjoy a small palm-sized piece of meat. Instead of a big bowl of ice cream with a cherry on top, have a bowl of berries topped with a dollop of ice cream. That’s a simple, realistic tweak that would improve our nation’s health.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Be prepared for rejection. I did well in high school and was used to succeeding, so my first rejection hit me hard.
- Science can adapt. When I think of my viewpoint on nutrition from college, a lot has changed, not only because I’ve learned more but the research is telling us more.
- Your job description is not exclusive. I’m always asked to do things that don’t necessarily fall in the realm of nutrition (social media management, email blasts, budgeting, etc.) but those details are part of most jobs.
- Have clear work boundaries. Early on I learned that keeping my work email in a separate app on my phone would make it a lot easier to have boundaries so I wasn’t bombarded by work on weekends or vacations. This trick has been key for my mental health.
- Careers aren’t linear and nothing is for certain. You never know what might happen and we need to be prepared for change. This past year the pandemic turned many careers upside down. Years ago, I was faced with a relocation I wasn’t expecting. There will be tough times and it’s okay.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Sustainability is a big component of my work with Naturipe. At Naturipe, enabling our family of farmers to produce fresh, high-quality fruit for our consumers around the world is our number one priority. At the same time, we are dedicated to operating the business with minimal impact on the environment. In fact, our Cultivate with Care™ program represents that commitment and ensures we continue to reduce our environmental footprint as a business while also keeping our growers financially sustainable.
In 2020, Naturipe removed over 90 metric tons of plastic from our packaging, almost quadrupling the amount we reduced in 2019. This was the result of the new technology Naturipe adopted in 2014 that replaced the rigid lid on the clamshell package with a thin piece of plastic, resulting in 33 percent less plastic. Our goal is to double our total plastic reduction in 2021.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights!