Sylvia Ofei, MD, MPH, is an assistant professor of pediatrics and a gastroenterologist in the division of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition. She also serves as the medical director for patient experience at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. For National Nutrition Month in March, Dr. Ofei shares more about the important role nutrition plays in her practice, as well as some helpful tips for incorporating nutrition into your daily routine.

Q: How does nutrition play a part in your job as a physician?

A: Nutrition is an integral component of my job as physician, but most importantly, as a gastrointestinal (GI) provider. My training in fellowship focused on nutrition; however, aside from just being a part of my training, it is a great aspect of the development of children. The nutritional habits we set for children establish the standards for their nutritional habits as adults. A lot of adult onset diseases are related to dietary habits. I see my role as a physician to provide the information and the resources so that my patients and families are well equipped to make nutritional decisions. No matter your child’s medical diagnosis, you want them to have the best nutritional status in order to make sure they heal and recover appropriately.

Q: How important is nutrition in maintaining good health?

A: I believe that good nutrition is the crux of good health. The foods we put into our system determine a great deal of how we heal from different ailments. Nutrition has been a complementary therapy since the beginning of time. Many patients and their families often times inquire about nutritional options for treatment of their diagnoses. Vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are found in foods can be used along with lifestyle changes to prevent as well as treat different ailments.

Q: What are some key recommendations you provide patients and parents looking to improve their child’s nutrition?

A: I start with taking out the things in our diet that do not have any nutritional benefits. I always tell my patients that they should cut out sugar-sweetened beverages and drink water. Also, increasing the amount of actual vegetables in their diet, and vegetables do not include potatoes or corn. We want to make sure everything is done in moderation; however, we are seeing a significant increase in childhood obesity and a significant amount of it is due to increased consumption of sweet drinks and processed foods. Ultimately once you are able to establish the foundation for healthy eating and food options, then you are able to establish with your kids, moments when they can have certain things for treats and in moderation.

Q: What are your favorite healthy foods/recipes?

A: Luckily, I am not a picky eater. For snacks, I can have a fruit. A snack that I love to have is apples and peanut butter. This is a healthy and easy snack to put together. I have also found ways to substitute some vegetables for some of the starches and carbohydrates that I like. For example, I love fish so I make it in the oven; typically put some olive oil on it, season to taste and put it in the oven on broil (make sure to watch it closely). For sides, I will make veggies – for example spinach, asparagus, or brussel sprouts –  and instead of having a potato, I will substitute parsnips or butternut squash. All of these can be lightly seasoned to taste with a small amount of olive oil and salt and pepper.

Q: What are your favorite aspects of being a doctor?

A: I genuinely love the interaction I have with my patients. How can anyone not enjoy the perspective that children bring? They are just full of life with a sense of love and welcoming energy that it is infectious.

Q: What inspired you to pursue your specialty?

A: The initial draw to pursue a career in pediatric gastroenterology was my interest in learning about the pathophysiology of the intestinal tract. Once I did a rotation during medical school, it solidified my interest. It is a specialty that offers me the variety that I love including inpatient medicine, outpatient clinics, procedures, and also a variety of disease presentations from severely ill children to relatively well patients.