Community Highlight: Dr. Emily Gutierrez

Dr. Gutierrez has an extensive list of credentials - a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, practitioner certification through the Institute of Functional Medicine, a masters degree from The University of Texas, board certification as a pediatric nurse practitioner and mental health specialist through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, and more. Beyond her impressive training, she is also a seasoned speaker, writer, and researcher. She teaches several courses at the University of Texas and was the first to ever teach functional and integrative medicine at Johns Hopkins. In her practice, she incorporates functional nutrition, genetics, immune, and environmental health into providing individualized medical care for her patients. Dr. Gutierrez is a passionate practitioner, delivering outstanding functional and integrative pediatric medical care and direct support to families committed to raising healthy, happy children.

How did your nutrition journey start?

My journey started pretty typically. I cared because I knew that what I ate impacted the way that I looked. So, I drank light beer and ate low calorie and low fat foods. Throughout my 20s, I didn’t think at all about nourishment, and only focused on my body shape.  

When I was in my 30s, I started suffering from autoimmune skin conditions and bouts of anxiety. I never thought that there would be a correlation between the way I was feeling and the nutrition (or lack thereof) I was providing my body. Finally, I started to learn more about the benefits and impact of certain nutrients: vitamin c as an antioxidant, zinc as a mineral building block, and fiber to aid in growing and keeping the beneficial microflora in my gut fed. I started to put the pieces together and to see how greatly food contributes to health. I also learned that I was allergic to a lot of the food that I was eating, which was contributing to my discomfort.  

Around that same time, I started studying at the Institute of Functional Medicine. After a week in their program, I cleaned out my pantry, got rid of the Diet Coke and low calorie snack packs, and drew a line on what I was willing to accept for my family moving forward.

What do you find the most rewarding and the most challenging about being in charge of your family’s nutrition? 

The most rewarding is definitely seeing the transformation in my older child. He went from showing many ADHD symptoms, lacking energy, and having anxiety, to being a confident, lean, and strong young man. We attribute so much of that to nutrition. The best part is that he views the transformation positively, and recognizes how to maintain these outcomes on his own, through nutrition and caring for himself. 

My biggest challenge is less about personal nutrition, and more about the global perspective on food. I am so frustrated by the inundation of sugar that we are faced with all the time. Sometimes it feels that sugar is lurking around every corner - birthday cake at parties, Girl Scout cookies, the snack aisles at the convenience store. So many foods are branded and packaged in a way that suggests they are healthy when they are really not. I know what to look out for and how to hold myself accountable, but it is sometimes tough to give my children the motivation and understanding to make really good nutrition decisions when no one else is around.  

Of course, there is no magic food that will address all of the nutrition needs of your children, but what are some of your go-tos and why?

Nuts and seeds are big for me. They don’t have to be refrigerated, which makes them easy as a grab and go snack that’s packed with lots of good fats and protein. And, I love eggs. You can eat them at any time throughout the day; they are perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack. They are low in carbs and full of great nutrients for your brain and body.

What role do supplements play in your approach to nutrition?

In a perfect world, we would get everything from our food. But, the reality is that a lot of people aren’t able to properly digest and absorb nutrients, even when they are eating as healthfully as possible.

Supplements can be critical in balancing and optimizing people’s health, and it’s important to take a specific and individualized approach to ensure you are getting what you need. You need to understand what you are lacking and why you are lacking it. Supplements shouldn’t be a forever solution, in my opinion. I use supplements during times of deficiency, to build up stores, and then I incorporate other approaches to sustain.

Here’s a way to imagine it. When I think about greater health, I picture a boat. And when I think about nutrient deficiencies, I imagine holes in the boat. I don’t want to build a new boat, and start from scratch! I want to fix the leaky holes, which I do with supplements. But, I have to say, it’s always important to ask, “Why do I have these leaky holes? Why do I have these nutritional gaps?”

 What are your go-to daily supplements?

Essential fatty acids, vitamin d, probiotic, methylated b-complex, curcuminoids, amino acid support, and sulforaphanes that aid in hormone balancing.

What dream product do you wish existed, but you can’t seem to find?

I want a high dosage fish oil that tastes good! We need something that is palatable for kids who can’t swallow pills. There are so few out there that offer a high enough dose, but don’t have a fishy smell and taste.

We are interested in exploring nourishment at the intersection of food, family, community. Can you tell us a story about an especially nourishing meal that you had alone or shared with others?

To me, a nourishing meal is one where I know the quality and source of my food, and I can enjoy it in the company of those who I love. It warms my heart when I can sit with my kids and know that they are getting nutrition and true nourishment from what they are eating.

What books have influenced your personal nutrition education the most?

I co-authored The Parents Roadmap to Autism: A Functional Medicine Approach. The research that went into that book had a huge influence on my life and perspective. The book explores Autism from the immune system, to the gut, to nutrition, and beyond.

I also loved The Disease Delusion by Jeffrey Bland.

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