Happy National Nutrition Month!
You’ve probably heard– March is National Nutrition Month, which means you’ll find nutrition advice galore from Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) around the world.
This morning I was trying to think of a unique twist on nutrition advice. I thought of how most people think that dietitians never splurge, don’t enjoy good food and never eat meat. True– there are many dietitians who are vegetarian or vegan, but trust me, whatever our nutritional flair, we all love good food! Go to any meeting of RDNs and you’ll see that just like you, we sometimes go all out with extravagant eating and even sometimes hate ourselves in the morning for it! #EatMoreFat? #EatWheat? #Surprising #nutrition advice from an #RDN. bit.ly/2mgF0F2 Click To Tweet
So, I thought I’d give you some advice that would seem surprising to get from a dietitian, until, of course, you read the fine print!
Eat More Fat
No. It’s not what you think! I don’t mean eat more fat mixed with salt, or mixed with lots of sugar, (cookies, cake, candy, French fries). I mean real-food fat! So slice that avocado on your sandwich or salad or soup, eat a handful of nuts on the way home from work or dribble some oil on your salad. The key is tuning into the healthy fats and watch for the company they keep.
Fat does lots of jobs in our body—helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins, makes food tasty and helps you feel full at the end of the meal. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever eaten a salad with fat-free dressing and found yourself hungry an hour later!
Can eating more fat help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol? Yes. In this meta-analysis that compared a low fat and a low carb, higher fat diet, weight loss and a decrease in waist size were the same between the two types of diet. The research and following of high-fat (for example, Bulletproof)and ketogenic diets are growing in popularity, so we should be seeing more research about them coming soon. (Here’s one article about ketogenic eating from Pubmed.)
Eat More Mexican Food
I live on the border of Mexico where there’s a Mexican food restaurant on every corner. Can you get overweight and hypertensive eating Tex-Mex every day? Absolutely! Do I see that in my clients? Of course! Does it have to be that way? No!
The trick to eating Mexican food is being choosey. That means, don’t eat 2 bowls of chips before your meal comes!
Don’t eat everything that is served on a typical Mexican plate because it IS mostly carbs. Instead sub out the rice for salad or veggies. Ask for corn tortillas instead of flour. Limit the table to one bowl of chips. Check out the fish dishes and soups. DO eat the guacamole, but with corn tortillas or a limited amount of chips. Take half of your meal home for later.
Honestly Caldo is probably the healthiest thing on the menu (except for it’s high sodium content.) Meat, fish or chicken with cabbage, squash, corn, potatoes, cilantro and onions. They serve rice on the side, but skip it and instead ask for avocado to dunk in there. And make sure to put a squeeze of fresh lime in your caldo for a little extra zing (and a bit of vitamin C!)
Let’s face it–when you dissect the basic foods in a traditional Mexican diet, which varies widely depending on the region, here’s what you find: Corn, beans, tomatoes, chiles, onions, garlic, cilantro, tropical fruits like mango, papaya and avocado. Healthy stuff!
Eat More Wheat
Wait, what? Aren’t we all supposed to be eating gluten-free? It is all the rage, but not everyone needs to be eating sans gluten. (Though it’s true that a small amount of the population has celiac disease and others have gluten sensitivity, the majority of people can eat gluten without problems.)
Now when I say eat more wheat, I’m NOT talking about the kind of wheat that is in a white bun, accompanied by a greasy hunk of meat or fried chicken. I’m talking about healthy whole wheat, like what you’d find in bulgur, wheat berries and whole wheat bread, cereal and pasta.
Let’s look at the science about eating whole grains including wheat:
- In the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, women who ate 2-3 servings of whole grain products a day were 30% less likely to have a heart attack or die from heart disease than those who ate less than 1 serving a week. Find the study here.
- Women who switched out some white rice servings for whole grains could cut their diabetes risk by 36%. (The risk was also cut by switching to brown rice but the effect was not as great.) Rice is a common starch used by those trying to go gluten-free. Get the full article here.
- Specific health benefits of wheat can be found in this article. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4998136/
A whole article on the subject of maybe why you should reconsider gluten-free (unless you do have a medical reason for it) here.
Eat Sugar, In Moderation
Huh? I bet you thought sugar was the enemy, right? Well, it still is. Sugar-sweetened beverages and sugar-dense foods are the enemy of people trying to maintain a healthy weight, control blood sugar and prevent chronic disease. (And that is just about everybody.) Sugar causes tooth decay and a host of other problems when eaten in bulk. That’s not to say you can’t have any sugar! Remember, “the dose makes the poison!”
Here’s why my nutrition advice includes eating a little sugar. After years of bugging me about my use of those little packets in my tea, my husband finally talked me into using sugar instead. (I’m a Texan and down here iced tea is a staple!) So what happened? Did I gain weight? No. Was I finally able to lose those 5 pounds I’d been working on for the last 5 years. Well, actually, yes! Not that I attribute it entirely to switching to sugar. But it does make me wonder…
A Spoonful of Sugar…
Like Mary Poppins, I’ve always believed “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”. Remember that a spoonful has only 4 grams of carbs and 16 calories. Adding a little something (whether it’s sugar or fat) can make foods like fruits, veggies and milk go down a lot easier and make us healthier in the long run. Need a squirt of chocolate syrup for your kids to drink his milk? No problem. A sprinkle of brown sugar on your acorn squash to make it taste just right? Yummy! When you add your own sweetener, you know what you’re putting in there and you can limit how much. You are likely to get many times more sugar in processed foods you eat, so cut back on those instead. And start reading the labels for added sugar. (And while less-processed sugars are always a good way to go (honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, etc.) sugar is sugar and the body uses it the same way, meaning even if you eat honey instead of sugar, it can still cause your blood sugar to go up!)
Sugar vs. Artificial Sweeteners: The Jury is Still Out!
The truth is, it’s been suggested that the rise in the use of artificial sweeteners coincidentally matches the rise in obesity levels. Hmmm. It’s also been suggested that because artificial sweeteners provide the sweetness but not the expected calories, they don’t let your brain finish the “reward pathway” and this could lead to more cravings/eating. Read this article for a good review about artificial sweeteners and their effects on weight and health. And here is another update from Harvard about unexpected effects of using artificial sweeteners. I think in the long run, you really can’t fool Mother Nature. She eventually will come back at you with a vengeance! So, if it’s that little bit of sugar you’re using in your coffee or on your cereal, go for the real thing. If you are having more than 5 teaspoons of sugar at a time in the form of sweet drinks or other sugary stuff, you need to carefully consider the pros and cons. And whether you have diabetes or not, the healthiest approach is to limit VERY sweet foods and drinks and get your sweet naturally from whole fruit.
Eat More Popcorn
I bet you’re not surprised when I say I don’t mean the fake-butter-laden stuff you get at the movie theatre. That would be bad nutrition advice!
Did you know that popcorn is considered a whole grain? And, that it’s full of fiber? Probably.
But I bet you didn’t know it’s also full of polyphenols—plant chemicals that fight inflammation in the body. In fact it even has more than most fruit! Most of the good stuff is in the hulls (you know, the part that gets stuck in your teeth?). Because popcorn is minimally processed it’s a rich source of nutrients. Read about the research here.
The healthiest kind is air-popped or cooked on the stove the old fashioned way. You can make your own air-popped popcorn in a glass contain in the microwave. Read how to do it here!
I can’t think of a food that gives more textural sensations and eating satisfaction than popcorn! Though I like mine mostly “original,” putting a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese brings back college memories of dorm life! And if you really want to be inspired with popcorn (and wine pairings? Who knew!), check out this post from a fellow RD.