Updates on the Food Pharmacy at HealthRIGHT360

Each week, our NHC-SF AmeriCorps members will blog about their 2019-2020 year of service. NHC members will gain invaluable experience while supporting the health care safety net by serving at host sites such as community health centers and Department of Public Health sites to provide health education and care to vulnerable and underserved SF residents.


While patients mainly associate Food Pharmacy with the fresh produce they receive each week, the nutrition education section comprises another important component.  Last week, I started working on that aspect of Food Pharmacy because the dietetic intern who normally does it finished his rotation here at HealthRight 360 and moved on to his next rotation.  I currently alternate with another intern to create the educational material for Food Pharmacy.  I covered the topic of sugar last week since Food Pharmacy coincided with Halloween.  Mariana, the dietitian, and the AmeriCorps members dressed up that day to add some festivity.  A decent number of people at the clinic dressed up for the costume contest held earlier that afternoon.

            Since last Thursday was Halloween, I compiled a list of different chocolates and candies and had patients guess which ones had more sugar.  Among Red Vines, Starbursts, and Sour Patch, Sour Patch has the most sugar, but many patients thought it was Red Vines or Starbursts.  This was tricky because one may not think something has a lot of sugar when it tastes sour, but in fact, it is coated with sugar.  I created a handout with different ideas for candy alternatives, such as strawberries drizzled with chocolate, frozen grapes, and homemade chocolate peanut butter cups.  I made another handout distinguishing different types of sugar, including white sugar, honey, and molasses.  The point is, sugar is still sugar at the end of the day, and they will all impact our blood sugar in a similar way.  Some have slightly more nutrients than others, but the difference is quite minute, and it is not recommended to try to get the bulk of our nutrients from sugar.  Besides, people aren’t devouring bags of sugar at a time, so it mainly comes down to personal preference.

            Before I took over the nutrition education section, I mainly helped with food distribution, so each conversation with patients only lasted a few seconds to about a minute.  Conversations mainly consisted of “How are you?” and “Would you like some potatoes?”  While I still enjoyed being able to interact with a multitude of patients, it would’ve been nice to have slightly longer conversations.  With nutrition education, it’s flipped.  I tend to have longer conversations with fewer patients, since it often involves explanations, and patients are more willing to carry a conversation when they aren’t trying to bag their groceries and move on to the next produce item.  Some patients are more talkative than others, so I’m still trying to find that balance where I am able to reach a good number of patients while still having meaningful conversations.  A few patients, unfortunately, could not participate in the activity because they only speak Spanish, which makes me wish I were fluent in more languages.  Overall, it has been a positive and rewarding experience, and I am looking forward to the next time I am in charge of the nutrition education section.


Natasha Dao