What are some of the most commonly asked questions about nutrition that registered dietitians hear from their clients? Below are some of those questions, along with answers, provided by our Your Fuel Nutrition Counseling team.
Is going gluten free healthier for you?
Well, it depends. It can be difficult to navigate through the internet when it comes to health and eating. The question to go gluten free is no exception. If you have known celiac disease (those who can’t digest the proteins in wheat products), then yes, it is the best choice. For those who have unexplained stomach issues, you could have a gluten sensitivity. This means that you can tolerate small amounts of gluten; but, going overboard can put you into GI distress.
For those who are interested in going gluten free to be healthier, then no, there is no evidence to support this claim. Gluten-free products can be higher in calories from added fat and sugar. Additionally, they can be lower in fiber and other essential nutrients compared to whole wheat products. This means that avoiding gluten could put you at risk of nutrient deficiencies like fiber, iron, and folate. Unless you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, the best advice is to choose 100% whole grains and starches while not overdoing it on the portion size. Be adventurous and try grains like farro, barley, or bulgur with your next meal!
Robyn Beechuk, MPH, RD, LDN
I should avoid fruit because it has sugar, right?
Fruits are powerhouse foods and should be a staple in your diet. Fruits contain an array of vitamins and other compounds that can protect you from diseases and help your body function better. They are also a great source of fiber, which can help you feel full longer, especially when trying to lose weight. Yes, fruits contain more natural sugar, called fructose, than other food groups. However, in combination with fiber, these sugars take longer to be absorbed than refined sugars, which means a better fuel source for you!
The health concern about sugar comes more from adding sugar to products, with ingredients like corn syrup, cane sugar, agave syrup, and honey. You still need to be aware of added sugar to certain fruits, too. For example, canned fruit can have added syrups and some dried fruit, like blueberries, have added sugar for extra sweetness. Take a second and check your ingredient label before buying. I recommend picking fresh or frozen fruits if you can. Of course, overeating fruit is possible and can add calories. Try to consume at least 2 servings of fruit per day. A serving of fresh fruit is the size of a baseball, 1-2 cups cubed, ½ cup canned, or ¼ cup dried. So, keep enjoying fruits and make sure to choose a variety of colors when picking your fruits for the week.
Robyn Beechuk, MPH, RD, LDN
There’s a lot of information on food labels – what should I pay most attention to?
There is a wide range of food items in grocery and convenience stores – cereals, yogurt, crackers, sauces, frozen foods, granola bars, and many other products. Any product in a box, bag, or package will have a nutrition label. Before purchasing a food product, try checking out the ingredient list and comparing it to other options. The shorter the ingredient list, the less processed the item often is. Limiting processed food intake, in general, is a fantastic way to improve eating habits and overall health, which is why purchasing products with shorter ingredients lists, can help. For example, instead of buying the peanut butter with extra sugar, hydrogenated oils, peanuts, and high fructose corn syrup, try buying the one with just peanuts or peanuts and salt.
Making sure to view the “serving size,” which is at the top of the nutrition label, is also key. No matter what the food product is, aiming to stick to the serving size is a smart way to avoid excess calories, sodium, and sugar. Even if it’s a bag of chips or ice cream – it’s not just about what you eat, but how you eat it. One healthy way to eat any food product is to practice portion control by sticking to a “serving,” as indicated on the nutrition label.
Depending on your health concerns/goals, you may also want to evaluate the sugar and sodium content on the nutrition label. A “low sodium” product will have less than 150 mg of sodium per serving and a high sodium product will have 450 mg of sodium per serving or higher.
Rachel Ann Hudes, MS, RD, LDN
Should I go on a juice cleanse?
First, it is important to acknowledge that drinking juice is not the same as eating fresh fruits or vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain fiber, which has mostly been removed during the juicing process. Half a cup of juice can count towards 1 serving of fruits or vegetables, but we recommend that most daily servings come from whole fruits and vegetables to obtain adequate fiber.
Juice cleanses (meaning consuming nothing but juice for several days) can result in weight loss but not in the healthiest way. An ‘all juice’ diet will usually be very low in calories, protein, fiber, and fat. We do not recommend that women consume less than 1,200 calories daily, and we don’t recommend for men to consume less than 1,600 calories daily. Protein is also very important during weight loss to preserve lean muscle mass; so, juice is not the best choice.
It’s fine to consume small amounts of juice, but I would not recommend a juice cleanse. Instead, focus on appropriate calories for your personal goals, drink lots of water, and eat plenty of fiber from whole fruits and vegetables!
Nicole Bergoine, RD, LDN, CPT