Nutrition Q & A
From 2013 to 2016 I wrote the Nutrition Q&A for The Washington Post. In each column I provided research-based answers blended with practical pointers. Below you'll find the topics I covered and links to the complete articles on The Post's website. Enjoy the reliable reads!
Q: I love cheese. How can I continue to enjoy it as I strive to eat better? Are there cheeses that are healthier than others?
A: I’m a cheese lover, too. I eat a small amount nearly every day: feta or blue cheese to top a salad, Swiss cheese in an omelet, or a chunk of cheddar with an apple as an on-the-run snack. I must admit that my allotment crept higher recently when I had the irresistible opportunity to choose from an array of cheeses served at room temperature at a breakfast buffet in Munich.
Where does the advice on cheese stand now that the nutrition guidance on fat is focused more on quality vs. quantity? Has cheese eased its way off the verboten list? Here’s the current science and nutrition advice.
Q: I’m hearing so much these days about the need to eat more protein and distribute it evenly throughout the day. How much protein do I really need to eat and when?
A: You may be increasingly spotting the words “high in protein” or boasts of protein counts on the fronts of packaged foods. Or you may see articles or advertisements encouraging you to eat more of the “high-quality protein foods” — seafood, meats, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy foods and soy products, which contain most or all of the 20 amino acids that are the building blocks of protein.
With the current push on protein, you’d think we were sorely lacking in this important nutrient. Hardly!
Q: I’ve recently lost weight and kept it off for a while. Now a few of those pounds have crept back on. What are the best ways to keep lost pounds off?
A: If you are disheartened by the recent headlines about the weight regained by a handful of “Biggest Loser” participants due to metabolic slowdown, you shouldn’t be. Their experience is not applicable to you if you want to lose, and keep off, 10, 20 or even 40 pounds.
“Obesity experts estimate that the metabolic adaptation, or handicap, from weight loss is roughly about 15 calories for every percent of weight loss,” says Donna Ryan, a physician and obesity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.
The heated debate surrounding the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines is over, and we’ve had time to explore them (and maybe even shift our food choices based on them). So how are they looking, nearly three months in? We asked some leading experts what they think: what’s missing, what they like and a pointer they think we should take to heart. Here’s what they said by email about portion control, eating meat, sustainability and much more.
Q: Which matters more when it comes to weight loss: food and calorie intake or exercise?
A: Oh, yes, it’s that time of year again: time to kick those New Year’s resolutions into high gear, dust off the weight and food scales, hit the gym, and ask critical questions about losing weight. (However, I wish more people asked, “What does it take to keep lost pounds off?” Just sayin’!)
For starters, let’s define what is meant by exercise.
Q: Can we eat carbohydrates at every meal?
A: In brief, absolutely yes, but questioning this notion is understandable in our current era of fearmongering about foods — processed meats one week, potatoes and corn the next.
Let’s get straight to the facts. Think of foods as packages of nutrients with varying amounts of the three calorie-containing nutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Q: I’m trying to eat more salads because I’ve been told they’re filling and nutritious. Which salad greens are most nutritious?
A: Good job! Eating more salads is an easy way to achieve one nutrition goal that doesn’t stir the nutrition cauldron: eating more vegetables. Although dark green leafy lettuces are your best bet for a base, any greens tossed with raw vegetables and topped with a low-calorie dressing can be healthful. But it’s these toppings — rather than the right shade of greens — that matter most.
Q: I’ve heard I should eat more nuts, but I’m confused about which nuts are most healthful. And how often I should eat them?
A: Yes, the noise about nuts’ nutritional attributes is louder than ever, and they’re available in a growing array of flavors, portions and locations. Spot them in single on-the-go servings in convenience stores or occupying an ever-growing berth of supermarket shelf space. Find them in flavors we’re used to seeing on bags of snack foods – salt and vinegar, chili lime and today’s “in” flavor, sriracha. So do nuts’ nutritional assets live up to the industry hype?
Q: When eating out, how can we gently nudge our children away from “kids’ meals” so they will eat healthier and expand their food horizons?
A: This is a question that, while pertinent year-round, is particularly relevant in the summer because of more restaurant meals eaten over long weekends or vacations...
Q: I’m trying to cut down on sugar (including low-calorie sweeteners), but I’m getting bored with plain water, which leads to me to not drinking enough. Any suggestions?
A: Cutting down on sugar. Drinking more water. Two wise and commendable health goals!
The commonly cited mantra promoting eight ounces of fluids eight times a day no longer (sorry) holds water. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine, a government health advisory organization, offered an update in its Dietary Reference Intakes report, saying that fluid needs (not just water) vary widely from person to person and should be based on the climate one lives in and one’s food choices.