By Alexandra Molnar, Contributing Writer
Westborough – As a professor, the creator of her own television show, and an in-store dietician, Westborough resident Karen White’s career takes many different forms. Through multiple educational channels, White pursues her one main goal: to teach people about healthy eating habits.
White cited her upbringing as a factor that sparked her interest in nutrition. She said that she grew up in a strict household with regard to eating; there were only sweets in the house for special occasions and her stepfather was diabetic and had heart problems. She was intrigued by the role that nutrition plays in overall health. So, after doing her eighth-grade science fair project on nutrition, White knew that she wanted to study it further.
White, a registered and licensed dietician, received her bachelor’s degree in nutrition and her master’s in education with a concentration in nutrition from Framingham State University. She currently serves as an adjunct faculty member at Framingham State University where she teaches one to two courses per semester, including nutritional science and upper-level courses in nutrition.
Five years ago, White expanded her reach into the community by initiating the production of her own television show, “Healthy Bites,” through Westborough Cable TV. White has recorded 30 shows on which she demonstrates how to cook based on a theme. One winter episode will feature how to cook soups and stews, which White described as healthy meals that are easy to prepare.
“Healthy Bites” is broadcast on local cable networks in surrounding towns, such as Marlborough, Hudson, Grafton and Framingham, as well as in nine states including California, Maine and Indiana. Producing the show is a completely volunteer activity, as White conceives the topics, prepares for the show, and films with the Westborough Cable TV crew, all of which takes about 16 hours of work from start to finish.
However, once a semester White gets a break from executing the show by herself when she involves her students in an episode.
“This is where my worlds will come together,” White said about recording five-minute clips of her senior students in the food labs. The students cook a simple recipe to show that good nutrition does not have to be a result of labor-intensive and time-consuming recipes.
Having worked in a clinical setting for many years, White realized that in order to have an impact on people’s health and to rectify the obesity epidemic, she needed to be more integrated into the community.
“By the time someone’s in the hospital because of obesity, [we] should have been active 20 years ago to help prevent the disease process,” White said.
White increased her presence in the community by serving as a dietician at the Hannaford grocery store in Marlborough, providing nutrition counseling, classes and tours.
“To be an effective dietician, we can’t just tell people what to do. We need to show you how to do it,” White said.
She believes that many Americans have lost the ability to cook and sees that many people think that cooking healthfully is time-consuming. White believes that it is much more effective to show people what to make with items such as avocado and quinoa, as opposed to simply instructing people to eat “low-fat” or “healthy fats.”
This philosophy enters into White’s teaching methods in her nutrition courses at Framingham State University where she educates by demonstration. In one class, she illustrated the amount of fat that is in a Double Whopper with Cheese by instructing students to measure the equivalent quantity of the burger’s fat in Crisco and put it on a bun.
According to White, nutrition education should start at home, where it is essential that people “care what goes on in the kitchen. A lot of society is running on convenience foods. Once you buy outside of the home, [there is] lots more sodium, more fat. [It’s] hard to eat healthy if you’re eating out,” she said.
Despite the challenges of encouraging people to eat in a healthy manner, White has experienced many successes. Many of her customers from Hannaford return to White having tried the recipes at home that they learned in class or having lost weight as a result of their new nutrition education.
“[I] just wish I could convey to the general public that it’s going to take a village to fix our nutritional problem. There are resources in the community to help people to do things healthier and better, and people should take advantage of them,” White said.