As an undergraduate student, Bina Goykadosh, MS, RDN, CDN, knew she wanted to work in a health-related field. “I wanted to prevent diseases before they arose,” she says. “Dietitians can play a huge role in promoting good health and preventing poor health — even when people have chronic medical conditions.”
At the New York City Department for the Aging, Goykadosh works fully remote as a consultant dietitian for the Virtual Smart Living Initiative grant. “The grant takes a holistic approach to address the nutritional, social and mental health needs of older New Yorkers,” she explains. “We provide individual and group counseling. Once a month, we conduct live cooking demos where we show how to prepare healthy, easy and low-cost recipes.”
The Virtual Smart Living Initiative grant allows for innovation, creativity and planning in developing lesson plans and curriculums. “Resourcefulness is especially important in this type of work,” Goykadosh says. “Examples include being aware of different nutrition-related apps and tools, recipes for diverse populations and nutrition-related items that can be provided to participants to help them practice healthier eating.”
During counseling sessions and cooking demonstrations, Goykadosh focuses on ways to make food more flavorful while still being nutritious. For example, she offers clients who have hypertension ideas for salt substitutes that don’t sacrifice flavor. “When clients learn and experience that healthful eating can be just as delicious as eating other foods, we knock down one common barrier toward healthy eating,” Goykadosh says.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges, Goykadosh made the most of the virtual work experience, finding unique opportunities. “During sessions, I may have clients go to their kitchen and pull out some foods that they commonly eat so we can discuss them,” she says. “At times, clients tell me the type and brands of foods they eat and within a few moments, I can pull up the item with a nutrition label and share my screen with the client to review the nutrition label together. Using my mouse to enlarge the screen, which is particularly helpful for older adults who may not read smaller font as easily, I can point out which nutrients they may want to limit and which they may want to aim for more of.”
Due to the pandemic, many older adults are socially isolated which can lead to depression. The nutrition education and counseling that Goykadosh provides not only helps clients to improve their eating, but also serves as a social connection through real-time video interaction. “Since our services are entirely virtual, I find it particularly rewarding to be able to connect with older adults all over New York City,” Goykadosh says. “I enjoy connecting with people from different backgrounds, as this may not have been possible if the services were in-person.”
The Virtual Smart Living Initiative grant has another component, called “Do More, Feel Better,” in which trained coaches provide intervention to older adults with depression. “Being in a depressed state impacts one’s health, food choices and well-being,” Goykadosh explains. “We utilize a holistic approach toward health, screening older adults for depression and then referring them to ‘Do More, Feel Better.’ I feel lucky to play a role in improving not only the nutritional health, but their mental health as well.”