Tasterboxes, Eating Vegan, and App Updates with Cameron Linden, MS, EP-C
This week we chatted with our Registered Dietitian (RD), Cameron Linden. Aside from being an RD, Cameron is also a health coach and aims to optimize wellness. She gave us the low-down on her experience creating our Tasterboxes, some advice on how to be successful following a vegan diet, and a few of her favorite de-stress activities.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you found your way to Tastermonial.
Cameron: “I started off with a very strong interest in culinary arts, so I got my culinary degree. I’ve always been interested in nutrition and the science background, so I set out to become an RD. I went through a culinary nutrition program, and eventually got my Masters in Nutrition Exercise Physiology.
Plus, I’ve always been passionate about food and nutrition. My mission is to make it easier for the everyday person to eat what they want and not feel restricted by what they have on their plate. I found myself at Tastermonial by doing my Dietetic Internship with a friend of Bude’s, and they connected the two of us. We seemed to really connect and have similar views, and now I’m here!”
How do you determine what goes into each Tasterbox? Which has been your favorite to create?
“First, we determine which boxes we want to create. Right now, we have Gluten-Free, Low-Carb, Low-FODMAP, and Vegan Tasterboxes. Once we determine our selection, we make sure to provide a diverse array of snacks in the boxes so it’s not just one thing, like all sweets. We want people to have drink options, crunchy snacks, sweet snacks, and anything like that so shoppers are getting the value of their boxes and not just a few snacks. We provide something where you can explore different things you haven’t tried before, but also become familiar with brands that are up-and-coming.
My favorite Tasterbox is the Low-FODMAP box because it’s a challenge to create in terms of nutrition. It requires looking at the ingredients and seeing what exactly makes the product suitable for someone following a low-FODMAP diet, rather than just looking at products labeled gluten-free or low-carb. This allowed me to really dig into the products that we have and become more familiar with them as well.”
In 2014, 60% of Americans reported they restricted at least one food or component in their diet. Six years later, this statistic has no doubt risen. Do you see this reflected in the clients that you coach?
Cameron: “Definitely. Even if one of my clients doesn’t have a dietary restriction, they always have food preferences. You have to account for both of those factors. There are not many people who will say ‘I can/will eat everything,’ and everything actually means everything. Luckily, a lot of new and existing food brands are taking these restrictions and preferences into account when creating products. People are definitely exploring new foods, which can lead to realizing that some foods may not sit well with them or that they don’t like them. This doesn’t mean that they should skimp on variety or reduce the amount of products they can enjoy. Tastermonial ensures that we are still providing variety, no matter their restrictions.”
What was your experience like curating the Vegan Tasterbox?
“I loved creating the Vegan Tasterbox! Although I am not vegan myself, I have a lot of experience with vegan cooking and working with the vegan population. Vegan products are great – a lot of the time they take a lot of creativity and care to come out the way that they are intended and I appreciate that. Also, just because the product is vegan doesn’t mean it lacks in taste. We’ve handpicked delicious vegan products from small businesses to add to our boxes. It was so fun being able to discover new products out there and share them with you all!”
Aside from working on the Tasterboxes, you also work on the technology side to help develop and improve Tastermonial’s iOS app. Could you tell us about how the app works and the AI aspects?
“The app scans products and determines whether or not it fits within your dietary needs by analyzing the ingredients. When doing that, we have to make sure that we record all of the ‘alter ego’ names for a specific ingredient. For example, sugar can be labeled as many different ingredients depending on what form it takes. Food labels can be very sneaky and hard to interpret for someone reading the ingredients. We make sure that within the AI, we have all of the different names for each ingredient. This way, when you scan a product, the app gives you a true answer to ensure you are actually getting what you need.”
Having been a private chef, how important is taste in deciding which products we offer?
“Taste is super important. You can have a product that is exactly what you want it to be, for example gluten-free or vegan. But if you try it and the snack tastes like bark, nobody wants to eat that. We want to make sure that the snacks and ingredients we provide are tasty, because that makes you want to eat more of it! We also want to provide a diverse range of tastes, and maybe a product somebody hasn’t tasted before.”
What are some new features for the app that Tastermonial is working on?
“Within the app, we are working on figuring out more categories that we can add to the dietary restrictions list. If you have any dietary preferences or restrictions, we are working on expanding that list to cater to more diets and constantly improving to make sure the system is accurate.”
There are many products on the market that cater to those with dietary restrictions. How should individuals navigate these products to ensure they aren’t consuming foods that may contain ingredients that can harm their health?
“When looking through different products, it’s important to read the label and claims on the packaging. Sometimes, claims can be misleading in terms of wording and the statements don’t mean exactly what you would think. For example, if a claim is made on the front, always turn over the package and read the label and ingredients. Don’t be afraid to do your own research. If you are ever unsure about a product, it is always best to further look into it. There are certain labels that show certifications, for example ‘100% organic.’ Look for these labels to know if a product is truly what it claims to be. You can also use the Tastermonial iOS app to read the label and tell you the characteristics of a product. We are constantly adding new products into the app to ensure customers can scan a wide variety of products.”
What would you recommend to those looking to follow a vegan diet?
“Variety and experimenting! Do not think that just because one of your favorite treats isn’t offered as vegan that it is gone from your life forever. Make it yourself by researching ingredients and looking up videos. You are not limited to eating the same thing over and over again. Aim to have a happy and healthy relationship with food and fall in love with playing around with ingredients. Plus, emerging brands are always creating new versions of familiar food products that cater to vegans.”
Do you have a favorite vegan recipe or dessert?
“I love homemade avocado nice cream, it’s super easy to make! “Nice cream” is made by placing frozen fruit into the food processor and blending it into an ice cream-like consistency. It’s just simple syrup, a few ripe avocados, and lime juice. Blend it all together and then put in the freezer for a few hours and done! It goes well with fruit, chocolate, and coconut.”
What are some foods or components that promote health, and that individuals should aim to increase in their diet?
“I’ve hinted at this in a couple other questions, but definitely adding variety to your diet. Sometimes we get super busy, want to opt for the easy thing to make, or just eat the same foods over-and-over. I have done the same thing, it’s just something that you can fall into. And that’s completely fine sometimes! But you definitely want to get as much variety as possible in your diet with fruits, vegetables, grains, and the protein sources of your choice, because that is what is going to be the most beneficial at the end of the day. Rotating different sources of these products will be what is most beneficial for your health.”
What are some of the things you like to do when you aren’t working?
“Recently I’ve been getting into outdoor rock climbing. I really like being outside and it gives me an excuse to go walk around. It’s nice to get everyone together and those who don’t like to rock climb can still hang out and do their own thing. It’s like ‘hiking with a purpose,’ and you can go on a hike to go rock climbing. I also love cooking on my own and utilizing whatever ingredients I have on hand in my house to see what I can create. I have other people try my concoctions and tell me what they think!”
Tastermonial content is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Take necessary precautions when handling information regarding food and nutrition. If you are ever unsure about pursuing a particular diet, make sure to consult a medical professional or licensed dietitian for more individualized guidance.