On Your Health

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Your Nutrition Questions, Answered.

dr jennifer semore

As a part of our “Ask the Doctor” series, you asked Dr. Jennifer Semore, M.D. questions about healthy eating in honor of American National Nutrition Month. Here are her answers:

My doctor has advised me to go on a nutritious diet. What is a nutritious diet?

A “nutritious diet” is another term for a well-balanced diet. Adults should be eating 5 servings daily of vegetables and fruits. Each serving is approximately 1 cup, which means we should eat 5 cups of vegetables and fruits EVERY day.

Non-starch vegetables and fruits should make up the majority of our diet, along with whole grains, lean meats (protein), and low fat or nonfat dairy. Limiting processed foods, fried/fatty foods, carbohydrates, and red meat is important. More information on recommended portions and food types can be found at choosemyplate.gov.

I’ve heard some bad things about diet soda lately. Should I be worried?

First of all, NO soda is good for you. There are NO nutritional benefits from regular or diet soda. Period. AND, there is clear association between regular or diet soda use and obesity. There have been many scientific studies specifically evaluating if there is harm from artificial sweeteners. The European Food Safety authority reviewed all available scientific research and their standpoint remains “aspartame is safe at the levels in currently used food and drinks.” The National Cancer Institute also states there is no scientific evidence linking cancer to aspartame.

In short, I do not recommend regular OR diet soda use due to lack of nutritional benefit, though occasional use of artificial sweeteners is probably safe for most adults.

I feel like a “healthy” diet means an “expensive” diet. Are there ways to eat healthy without breaking the bank?

Absolutely! Meal preparation is essential for a healthy diet and is budget-friendly. I recommend finding recipes that incorporate in-season fresh vegetables (or use frozen vegetables) and lean meats. If you are unable to afford fresh or frozen vegetables, canned is an alternative. If you use canned vegetables, it is still important to strain and rinse well. Often, cooking and buying in bulk can help financially too. Creating a meal plan for the week, which includes lunches, will deter the urge to eat out (which is expensive and often unhealthy).

I’ve always struggled with keeping a healthy diet. What tips do you have for making healthy habits?

With all things in life, I firmly believe in intentional living. We MUST have a plan for what we eat, otherwise we are likely to make bad food choices. Meal planning is essential. Scheduling your exercise is important, and makes us more inclined to work out than if we only do it when we “feel” like it.

What we drink is just as important as what we eat. Most Americans need to drink more water. Recommended daily water intake is 64oz. A common misconception is that juice is a “healthy” alternative. In fact, most fruit juices are loaded with sugar. The fruit peel is often the main source of vitamins/fiber, and gets filtered out from the juice. Eating an apple is a much better choice than drinking a glass of apple juice. Alcohol is another culprit for empty calories as well. We must be mindful of our alcohol intake.

Is it better to snack throughout the day or eat three square meals?

Small, frequent meals are better. However, the content of what we are eating is still very important. For example, I will often bring small snacks with me to work. Examples include a banana/grapes, whole almonds, or carrots/celery. If I snack in the morning, I’m more likely to eat a modest lunch of salad and feel satisfied. By eating small, frequent meals, we will actually consume fewer calories.

Will eggs really raise my cholesterol and cause heart disease?

There has been controversy over the role of eggs and cardiovascular disease for decades. The most recent guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health Advisory Committee no longer links dietary cholesterol and dangerous blood cholesterol levels. As with every food choice, moderation and preparation is important. I generally recommend hard boiled or poached eggs in place of fried eggs.

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding wheat in a diet. Is whole-wheat healthy or should I avoid wheat and wheat products all together?

Most Americans need to eat whole wheat grains in their diet. A condition called Celiac disease, also known as gluten-enteropathy, can cause some people to have difficulty digesting gluten containing foods (such as wheat). It is estimated approximately 1.5 million Americans have Celiac disease, and the treatment is avoidance of ingesting gluten. For the rest of us, whole grain foods should be in our daily diet. I would also caution that some “whole wheat” breads are really white bread that is died brown. Whole grain breads are a healthier alternative.

Are there benefits to caffeine, and if so, what are they?

Based on observational studies and meta-analysis, there is perhaps some reduction in various cancer risks with low to moderate caffeine consumption, but evidence is still lacking. Most studies were done with the use of coffee or tea, and there are limited studies with other forms of caffeine, such as capsule form.

Safe amounts of caffeine for non-pregnant adults are up to 400mg daily, which translates as two 8oz servings of coffee per day. There are NO safe recommendations for children or adolescents. We do know that exceeding the recommended 400mg/day can have adverse health effects, and is not recommended.

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