Eating and Living Healthier
New “Good Bites” videos are just one way Goudarzi is helping Central Health MAP members
Leslie Goudarzi practices what she preaches.
She not only teaches residents of Travis County better cooking methods and smarter shopping techniques as a registered dietitian and Central Health’s Clinical Nutrition Education Program Manager, but she also lives her healthiest lifestyle.
Last month in Maine, Goudarzi completed her eighth marathon, and everything she prepares in her cooking classes are meals she makes for herself and her two children.
“I’m very interested in sports nutrition,” she said. “I enjoy running and working out, and I think exercise is also very important and part of a healthy lifestyle. That can be a barrier sometimes, because people may not feel it’s safe to exercise in their own neighborhood. So we try to find alternatives to help people have access to activities, health and wellness. Advocating for that change in our community is very important to me.”
A lack of exercise resources is one of many challenges that can face Central Health Medical Access Program (MAP) patients, something Goudarzi is working to overcome. Other challenges can include language barriers, low income, food deserts, and lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, to name a few. Goudarzi likens her work in Travis County to the mission work she does in Guatemala.
“I have always been an advocate of the public health initiatives that Central Health is also aligned with,” she said. “We serve people who are underserved and underinsured for various reasons, and I think it’s very important to understand the barriers people face. I enjoy being part of the process to removing those barriers, so I feel that’s aligned to what Central Health is trying to do as well. Sometimes, MAP patients aren’t even aware of all the barriers they face.”
MAP gives healthcare coverage to Travis County residents at 200 percent below the Federal Poverty Level.
Goudarzi noted that she and others at Central Health often have to investigate to see what might be going on with a particular patient. She said MAP patients can have difficulty navigating the medical system in general, especially those with language barriers. Even transportation can be a barrier. These are all issues Goudarzi and others are working to overcome and are all identified in Central Health’s Healthcare Equity Plan. The plan, finalized in February, helps create healthcare equity to low-income and traditionally underserved populations in Travis County.
While Goudarzi is an East Texas native, she moved to Travis County from Boston, where she worked at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, one of Harvard University’s teaching hospitals. One of the challenges she faced there was the COVID-19 pandemic. Events like the pandemic or the current economic downturn can be challenging to all segments of society, but especially those groups traditionally underserved.
“COVID was a very interesting phenomenon that will hopefully never happen again,” she said. “That affected everyone – all socio-economic levels, all education levels, everyone in the whole world has an experience with that. I think it was even more difficult for MAP patients, just being able to figure things out. Also, having internet access and knowing what resources are available are a barrier. What’s happened, however, is that it’s given us the ability to be a little more creative. We’re able to do virtual visits, meet patients where they are. We have really great resources and work with our partners to address food insecurity, to help with transportation, things like that, to help make healthcare a more available resource to our MAP patients.”
One of the newest initiatives is “Good Bites,” a new nutrition education series Goudarzi began at the end of October. She works with the Central Health staff to create cooking videos in English and Spanish, blogs, recipes, and more. Each video, she said, has three main goals: to use the fewest ingredients possible, to take no more than five minutes to make, and to be no more than 500 calories. It makes a big change from when Goudarzi worked in an intensive care unit, where many patients were being fed intravenously and nutrition wasn’t always the main concern.
“The recipes I develop need to have the fewest ingredients as possible, be as simple as possible, be as cheap as possible, and it needs to be as quick as possible,” she said. “I’m really going for efficiency. That’s the way I figure out how to make something. I’m always looking for a short cut or an easy way. Regardless of the socioeconomic status of a patient, they want to eat healthy, they don’t have a lot of time, and they don’t want to have to go to the grocery story to buy 20 ingredients for one dish. Putting all those things in concert with one another is where the magic happens. But all the recipes I put on Good Bites are things that I actually do at home, things I actually eat. When you’re doing it for yourself, to me, that’s the gold standard.”
Goudarzi wants patients to understand they don’t need a fancy culinary background or a lot of money or time to produce good, healthy meals for them and their families, and also get some nutritional education. She’ll highlight the nutrients of each meal and teach the value of how those nutrients can make a person healthier.
Also, part of her duties at Central Health are to work with patients experiencing chronic diseases, including kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and medical weight management. As Central Health’s new specialty care service delivery options become more diverse in the near future, including the opening of the renovated Rosewood-Zaragosa Multispecialty Care Clinic in East Austin later in 2023, there will be even more overlapping services and need for Goudarzi’s nutrition expertise.