Nutrition can be pretty confusing. It seems like today’s research is always contradicts yesterday’s, and tomorrow’s will likely do the same. Are eggs good for you or bad? How about coffee? And don’t get us started on the endless array of fad diets out there!
Because of all the confusion, registered dietitians can end up constantly fielding questions—and not just from clients. Strangers and acquaintances may pepper you with questions about what's really healthy, if they find out you're knowledgeable about nutrition.
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And our RDs are no different. Here are the questions they always get, and how they respond.
“What do I need to eat?”
“This is by far the most common question I get after people find out what I do,” says Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, and James Beard award-winning lead dietitian on the Cooking Light Diet. “it’s almost like they think I know an exact prescription of foods to tell them to eat.”
There’s no such thing as a perfect diet—although the Mediterranean Diet is pretty close!—and what we need to eat varies on our body’s preferences and what makes it feel best. We also have different motives for why we want to get healthy.
“I’ve found most of the time they’re asking for what they need to do to lose weight even though they won’t say that,” Williams says.
Luckily, whether you’re trying to achieve weight loss, improved heart health, or are just wanting to eat more vegetables, you can’t go wrong with a few guidelines. Swapping most of your refined grains for whole, opting for more unsaturated fats than saturated, and prioritizing whole foods over highly processed varieties are great steps towards cleaning up your diet.
“Am I eating enough protein?”
“I used to work in a gym so as you might imagine, I got asked a lot about protein,” says Lisa Valente, M.S., R.D., Digital Nutrition & News Editor for Cooking Light and EatingWell. “It is an important nutrient, especially for post-workout, but rest assured most of us—even athletes—are getting enough and there probably isn’t a need to carry around one of those shakers full of protein powder and water.”
Valente notes there are some people who may need to watch their protein intake: Vegans, vegetarians, athletes, seniors, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may all need a little extra. However, she notes protein requirements are lower than many people think, and eating a well-balanced, varied diet should give you more than enough. As long as you’re obtaining at least 10 percent of your daily calories from protein, you don’t need to worry.
“That said, I still think it’s helpful to add protein to meals and snacks,” Valente says. “It helps keep you full and satisfied, is important for strong muscles and helps your immune system. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a giant steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Valente advises thinking outside the box of your typical “protein foods” and mixing it up with nut butters, yogurt, whole grains, and even vegetables. She notes one cup of cooked broccoli has four grams, while one cup of cooked spaghetti has seven. These little protein boosters really add up throughout the day!
Looking to get more of your nutrition questions answered?
- Is Snacking Healthy?
- How to Eat Clean in 6 Simple Steps
- Are High Carb Foods Healthy?
“I need to eat more like you!”
Although this isn’t a question, Williams says she hears this statement often.
“People assume that I eat perfectly all the time, and this couldn't be farther from the truth. I want to eat healthy and try to make good choices each day, but just like everyone else, there's still life, work, kids, and deadlines to get in the way.”
Nor does Williams believe people should eat exactly like her even if she did. Following a registered dietitian on Instagram and trying to eat just like them isn’t necessarily going to give you the optimal health you’re hoping for. Different eating schedules, foods, and dietary habits work for different people and it’s important to find out what works best for you.
“Even though I may know more about nutrition and diet, this doesn't mean it's necessarily easier for me to do while balancing everything else,” Williams says.
Remember, registered dietitians are human too, with their own dietary preferences and cravings. Most RD’s follow a balanced diet, which includes room for indulgences, and you should feel the freedom to make room too!
“Is fruit bad for me? It’s so high in sugar.”
“That somehow fruit is bad for us seems ridiculous to me,” Valente says. “Study after study shows that diets high in produce—fruits and vegetables—are good for our health.”
Valente explains fruit doesn’t contain the same type of sugar as candy and soda—so stop comparing bananas to donuts ASAP. Natural sugars in fruit come packaged with fiber (meaning they are digested much more slowly), as well as antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, while baked goods and sugary beverages can cause glucose levels in the body to spike much more quickly, and generally have little nutritional value to offer.
Due to fruit’s higher nutrient density—especially its fiber content—it’s a lot harder to consume it in excess, whereas ice cream, candy, and baked goods are empty calories that don’t fill us up. When’s the last time you binged on watermelon or strawberries?
“I don’t think people need to stress about eating too much fruit. In fact, 88 percent of adults don’t eat the recommended one-and-a-half to two cups daily.” Valente says. “All fruits can and should be part of a healthy diet.”
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