Focus on Whole Foods Prepares Nutrition Students to Make a Difference

Bastyr student preparing whole foods.

We’ve all heard the adage, “you are what you eat.” On the surface, it seems like a pretty simple idea:  the foods we grow, cook and put into our bodies have a profound effect on our health.   

And yet, most educational programs dealing with the science of nutrition tend to focus on individual pieces of the wellness puzzle: supplements, nutrient deficiencies or special diets, for example.

Bastyr University’s nutrition programs begin with the whole picture, focusing on how nutrition affects not just one aspect of biology, but the entire spectrum of health. Nutrition students leave Bastyr with a comprehensive education that merges the science of nutrition with a much broader view of wellness, community and the environment.

“We come from a whole-food perspective, and our work is very food-focused” says Debra Boutin, MS, RDN, CD, chair of the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science. “It’s difficult to communicate about the idea of wellness without sharing the knowledge of all the different ways to use, cook and nourish with food.”

The concept of whole foods is coming up with increasing frequency in our fast-paced modern lives — lives that often include processed and fast foods. A whole-food diet means eating a broad variety of foods in their least-processed forms.

"Not everybody thinks that processed foods are a problem, quite frankly," says Boutin. "People are so used to things being one way that they don't see a need for change. There is so much work that needs to be done, and so many places our students can make a difference."

This pervasive emphasis on whole foods allows students to examine food in its entirety, from its individual components to how it affects the human body. Whether looking at nutrition through the lens of physiology, biomechanics, biochemistry, whole-food cooking, or health psychology, students learn how to support health from a variety of perspectives. Many Bastyr graduates also develop creative paths that are entirely their own. 

Whole Foods, Holistic Education

Such is the case with Rebecca Oshiro, who earned her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr in 2012, and is now working on her Master of Science in Nutrition, as well as another Master of Behavior Analysis through Florida Tech's Seattle satellite campus. Oshiro will eventually become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

Rebecca OshiroOshiro is on a unique path of research and study, seeking to marry her knowledge of nutrition with her behavior analysis training. She’s currently studying conditions like migraines, traumatic brain injury and stroke — and how nutrition affects all of these. Oshiro is fascinated by the connections between neurology, brain function and nutrition. What if, for example, people might be more receptive to behavioral change if they are well-nourished?

Oshiro praises Bastyr’s focus on whole food: “It’s cutting edge,” she says. “With most other nutrition programs, people think more narrowly — about low-carb diets or low-fat diets, or focus on specific nutrients rather than taking into consideration the whole.

“But at Bastyr, you’re taught how food is interacting across the entire body. It’s phenomenal — you’re really studying how whole foods affect body chemistry as a whole.”

The nutrition programs at Bastyr also contribute to the University's work to bring scientific rigor to natural medicine. The opportunity for students to acquire a high degree of clinical experience is uncommon, and something both faculty and students point to as a factor making Bastyr graduates competitive in the job marketplace and more ideally positioned for future practice.

“Some of the work I’ve done at the master’s level feels more like doctoral-level thesis work,” notes Oshiro. “Faculty really want students to think critically. You become a critical scientific thinker. And you can take that anywhere and to any job market.” 

A holistic approach to nutrition science is clearly woven throughout the coursework, but is also reflected in the style of education: Teachers care about the entirety of the experience of students.

“There’s a small faculty-to-student ratio, and the staff is world-class,” she says. “You get to work with world-class minds, and experience amazing mentorship. The teachers really care about your progress, about your work; they make themselves available.”

Master of Science in Nutrition for Wellness (San Diego)

Also at the heart of study in the Bastyr nutrition department is the idea of whole-person health. This is in line with the University’s overarching focus on the interconnected nature of physical, mental and spiritual health, a major appeal for many students.

A new two-year program, the Master of Science in Nutrition for Wellness at Bastyr University California, prepares students to serve as leaders in whole-food education and enable others to reach a state of health and wellness.  

Nutrition for Wellness students develop tools for communicating complex information in simple ways, and establish advanced skills in writing, public speaking, cooking demonstrations and more. Graduates are prepared for a wide variety of careers, including designing workplace wellness programs, creating innovative nutrition programs and public health programs, and working with grocery store chains, schools and senior centers.

A Different Kind of Culinary Arts

Students in all nutrition programs receive training in Bastyr's whole-food teaching kitchen, but they can also focus on cooking with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Culinary Arts

Bringing creativity and culinary expertise into the picture makes eating whole foods not just healthy and therapeutic, but also delicious and pleasurable. After all, there’s a large psychological component to why people eat the foods they eat. Social factors, family influence, traditions, and tactile and visual appeal all go a long way in influencing what kinds of foods make it to the table.   

A second-year student in the culinary arts program, Lyndsay Richey, had an epiphany about the holistic approach to nutrition after a conversation with her professor, Cynthia Lair, CHN. Lair emphasized the necessity and importance of being well-versed in all of the components of nutrition science, such as macronutrients, micronutrients, dietary reference Intakes, recommended dietary allowances, and the like. 

“But she also stressed that people don't eat nutrients, they eat food,” says Richey. “And if you can’t translate your expertise into the food people eat, how will you communicate with your patients?"

That realization led Richey to understand that “nutrition is a complex language understood by few, but food is a universal language understood by all.” Richey applies that idea through her coursework: “At Bastyr, there’s a holistic, whole-food approach to nutrition, but the culinary arts program offers students the expertise to apply it in the kitchen.” 

The curriculum provides an in-depth exploration of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and research analysis, but is also designed to appeal to the aesthetic and creative aspects of food and nutrition. Classes in areas such as menu design and therapeutic cooking immerse students in the creative and intuitive skills necessary to help others achieve good nutrition.

Making a Difference

Whether a student has in interest in culinary arts, wellness, exercise science, dietetics or any of the other degree programs available at Bastyr, they know that their coursework will employ and advance the holistic approach that is one of the hallmarks of the University.

This cutting-edge approach to nutrition means that students are benefiting from something special. Rebecca Oshiro sums up her experience: “I’ve grown academically in ways I wouldn’t have expected or couldn’t have elsewhere.”

She and other current nutrition students, alumni and future students are well poised to make a real difference in the health and wellness of countless people now and into the future.

Read more about Rebecca Oshiro’s path to Bastyr University in the article “Appetite for 'Real’ Foods Leads to Creativity in Nutrition Programs.”