Nutritionist Answers Your Questions
By: Julie Mancuso, B.A., R.H.N., JM Nutrition
In this post:
Nutritionist answers questions from clients:
What’s the best diet?
Why should you eat healthy even if you’re not overweight
Is eating healthy more expensive?
Should I eat low-fat food?
How do I improve my eating habits?
Over the years as a practising nutritionist I have had clients ask just about anything related to nutrition, health and wellness. Here are just a sample of the most common questions that have been asked of me, followed by my answers.
What’s the best diet to follow?
Why do people diet?
Let’s get one thing straight: a diet implies something temporary, a phase or a fad.
Diets are quick-fixes for those who have trouble sacrificing the immediate for long-term gain. Many people who attempt diets want immediate results, with vanity often the main motivating factor.
An example of this would be a person looking to lose weight because he or she has an upcoming beach vacation and wants to look better in a bathing suit.
Furthermore, diets focus on food reduction or elimination, often excessive to a point of deprivation that is rarely sustainable and healthy for the body.
Diet vs. lifestyle
On the other hand, eating and being healthy is more permanent. While a diet centres around food, a lifestyle is a combination of a healthy mindset with planning, prioritizing, determination, resilience and adaptation.
The goal in the former is a quick result, whereas in the latter it’s long-term health and wellness.
So what is the best diet?
In short, there is no one best ‘diet’ to follow. Don’t believe the over-hyped diet fads, and more importantly, don’t follow them blindly.
Are there any benefits of dieting?
Without a doubt, I like some aspects of some diet programs. Here are some examples:
1. I like the fact that the keto diet calls for the elimination of sugar, which I feel should be a priority for everyone.
2. Low-carb diets lower insulin and blood sugar levels, and I feel this is important for many reasons.
3. Meanwhile, intermittent fasting has at least two important benefits: one, the resting of the digestive system, and two, taking a break from eating inflammatory foods.
Problems with diets
I also think that diets can and do work for some people, even long-term. But from my experience, most people have trouble adhering to strict dietary rules on a more permanent basis, making most diets unsustainable.
Another problem with dieting is that some popular diets are nutritionally unbalanced, leading to the denial and deprivation of some vital nutrients needed by the human body. Doing so for a prolonged period of time is unwise and can be dangerous.
Down the road, it can lead to the development of various ailments and health conditions that can be averted with proper, wholesome, balanced and sustainable eating habits.
Furthermore, our bodies are made differently, responding differently to certain foods. They have sensitivities and varying tendencies.
In addition, we all have different health goals. Where I may need to address certain digestive problems, you may want to lose a few pounds. How can we both adapt the same nutrition plan (a.k.a. ‘diet’) if our goals are different? It just makes no sense.
Seek the help of professionals
A qualified health practitioner such as a nutritionist or dietitian will determine the best course of action for each given scenario. After looking at your overall health concerns, your goals, your sensitivities, your food log, a customized nutrition plan will be developed to help you achieve your unique goals.
Diets: one size does not fit all
One plan does not and cannot fit all, pure and simple. Consequently, some people experience a great deal of frustration when they don’t achieve permanent results through dieting. They see others succeed, while they fail.
At times success can only be reached by working in conjunction with other medical practitioners because a person’s health and wellness goals can be sabotaged by underlying causes that are not so obvious.
I’m not overweight. Why should I eat healthy?
Body size is not an indicator of health
Many people assume that those who are larger are somehow less healthy than people who are thin.
Now I’m not going to get into the topic of body image and the media’s influence surrounding it. But I will say one thing: thinking along these lines is a mistake, from a health and wellness perspective.
A person may be thin for a number of reasons including genetic predisposition, high metabolism, overactive thyroid, and so on. For anyone of these reasons, or a combination of them, the food he or she consumes happens to be burned off quickly without visible weight gain, leading to a false belief that all is well and good. He or she must be healthy.
This mistaken belief often results in the thought pattern that “I can eat anything without having to worry about my health because I don’t gain weight.” But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Why is eating healthy important?
Ingesting unhealthy food takes its toll on the body whether or not it is outwardly visible.
The effects of unhealthy eating:
- suppression of the immune system
- negative effect on blood sugar level
- an unhealthy gut
- aggravated skin conditions
- mood and sleep disorders
- culmination in vitamin- and nutrient-deficiency
And that’s just scratching the surface. Any and all of the above can occur without that visible weight gain.
So remember, just because you can maintain your weight, it doesn’t mean the body is healthy. There are larger people whose bodies are much more healthy than those who are thinner.
A related and interesting read: Why Skinny Doesn’t Always Mean Healthy, from Food Matters.
Is eating healthy more expensive?
It can be, but not necessarily so. To answer this question I need to touch upon a few important points.
It’s important to note that additive-rich, nutrient-deficient, processed food is cheap and convenient, so many people buy it to save time and money.
If your financial situation only allows you to buy the most inexpensive foods found on the grocery store shelves, then so be it. We all have to learn to live within our means.
Many of us, however, are in a financial position to purchase foods of better quality, if we spend the money wisely and if we plan well.
Convenience over health
To illustrate this point, look at it this way.
How often do you go through the drive-through to pick up a coffee and a snack?
What about take-out lunch?
How frequently do you order pizza or use Uber Eats?
Do you eat out often on the weekends?
Clearly, we all know the answers to these questions. And what does all of this add up to? Money spent. Money that can be diverted to buying higher-quality, healthier foods at the grocery store and making it at home.
It takes sacrifice
Learning to sacrifice some of these conveniences and developing efficiency in preparing simple, quick meals, we can find ways to eat healthy without having to break the bank—something with which a nutritionist can no doubt help.
Sure, this reprogramming takes willpower, time and effort, but it can be achieved if your family’s health is a priority.
So is eating healthy expensive? For many of us it isn’t, especially when we look at the whole picture.
More on this from Washington Post.
I want to lose my excess fat. Should I eat low-fat food?
The answer to this question is multi-layered.
While you shouldn’t regularly consume mounds of food that are high in fat, namely fried food, fast food and so on, it is important to learn about good fats and bad fats, and in what proportions they should be consumed.
Let’s look at it in more detail.
Much of the excess fat that we tack on our bodies happens through the consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugar, or through ingesting too many carbohydrates in relation to protein and vegetables.
Bad fats vs. good fats
Surely, if your goal is to lose excess fat from your waistline, it is important to ditch the high-calorie, refined carbohydrate-rich foods. That is a given. But eliminating fat altogether is a mistake some people make.
The reason being, some foods contain good fats needed by our bodies to maintain daily functions. Foods such as eggs, avocados, fatty fish, nuts and seeds and extra-virgin olive oil, are all high in fat—but also high in nutrients needed by your body. For this reason they should be consumed in the right proportions, even if you’re trying to lose the excess fat.
While consuming these nutrient-rich fats, reduce the intake of the highly fattening, nutrient-poor, refined-carbs such as cookies, cake, ice-cream, pastries, candies, many breads and breaded foods, many pastas, sodas, and so on, which will cause excess fat, if eaten in large amounts.
Again, a nutritionist can help you determine the right proportions and put your mind at ease. Today, you can also find a great deal of information on this matter online. Simply make sure to consult credible sources from qualified professionals.
How can I improve my nutrition?
The easy answer is: stop eating unhealthy foods and eat the right foods in the right proportions.
Start with these few key pieces of advice:
How to eat healthy?
1. Avoid refined sugars
Foods such as sweets, sodas and juices contain too much sugar, which wreaks incredible havoc on our bodies.
At the same time, analyze food labels carefully for high sugar content because sugar is found in abundance in condiments, bottled salad dressings and even many sauces.
2. Watch your portion sizes of carbs
Equally important, however, is learning about the proper carbohydrates portions in proportion to the rest of the food that is consumed daily.
This being a slightly more complicated matter, it takes some time to understand how to recognize the correct portion sizes. Once again, a nutritionist can unravel the mystery for you. I often provide visual guidelines and reference charts to my clients. This information can also be found online.
As a quick example, one serving of pasta or rice is approximately equal to 1/2 cup or about 114 ml. From my experience many people consume 2-3 times this amount in one sitting.
3. Eat leafy greens and other vegetables in larger amounts
Foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, and others, contain an abundance of nutrients which will strengthen your immune system, ward off disease and provide you with nutrients and vital energy.
Read more on the importance of eating fruits and vegetables
If you have trouble finding ways to introduce vegetables into your meals, here are some unique ideas.
4. Drink water
Hydration is key for many reasons:
- prevention of dehydration
- the balancing of body fluids
- assistance in weight loss
- muscle aid and improved athletic performance
- clearer, younger-looking skin
- assistance to the kidneys and the liver
- elimination of toxins
- hangover help
- sharper brain
While drinking water throughout the day, limit your caffeine, alcohol and high-in-sugar juice intake, and you will no doubt feel better, while at the same time helping your body to flush out all the undesirable, burdensome toxins out of your body.
These are just several of the common questions that have been put to me by clients over my years as a nutritionist. Many more exist, naturally. In the meantime, if you have a nagging question that you’ve been dying to ask a nutritionist, feel free to message me, or contact me via my social media pages, and I will get back to you.
Julie Mancuso is a registered nutritionist and owner of JM Nutrition, who has been counselling clients for over 15 years. Julie’s personalized approach has helped thousands reach their health, wellness and nutrition goals.
Julie regularly lends her expertise to a variety of health publications such as Livestrong, Business Insider, Food Network, MyFitnessPal, Toronto Star, Elle Magazine and many more. For more information, see In The Press.
Julie’s blog has been named one of the Top 100 Nutrition Blogs, Websites and Newsletters to Follow in 2020 by Feedspot. So don’t miss out and subscribe to both her newsletter and blog.