Your Healthy Eating Questions Answered!

by Cristin Dillon

Here are some questions for healthy eating answered by Dr. Cristin:

Q: I am currently training for a few triathlons this summer (first one next weekend!) and I have had to up my daily calorie intake by about 300-500 calories/day. I am wondering if you had any trouble convincing your stomach/body to “need” less calories after your marathon last year. I am concerned that I will gain weight once I lower my activity level again.

A: I was so much more hungry when I was training for the marathon, a grumbling stomach was what really dictated my eating — I could feel myself getting hungry more quickly between meals and it was taking more food to leave me feeling energized, refueled. Once I cut back on my miles post-race I was not as hungry so I didn’t eat as much. If you can’t follow hunger cues than I would suggest just cutting back on a snack or two that you added while training and see what happens with your weight and energy levels. If you gain a lot of lean muscle while you train your metabolism is going to be slightly higher afterward so you’ll actually be able to afford more calories without gaining weight.

Q: I have a question that I hope you can answer and will be helpful for others… I know the best way to get protein is from food, but its not always the most easiest. I know I do not get enough protein and was wondering if you could suggest any protein powders or protein bars. Right now I use Muscle Milk Light mixed with skim milk. How do you feel about that product and or others?

A: I have to take the opposite stance and claim that protein is in fact easier to get from food than it is from supplements. The body doesn’t need as much protein as you may think (0.8-1.0 grams per kilogram body weight) and our food sources are a rich source that adds up quickly. One 4 ounce boneless chicken breast alone provides 26 grams. One 8-ounce glass of milk provides another 8 grams (and if you have three a day that’s 24 grams). Eating protein in food form rather than powdered supplement is going to have a better satiating effect and you will get a nice mix of other nutrients (vitamins/minerals) by doing so. I strongly suggest finding ways to work milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, hummus, beans, meats, fish, shellfish, nuts and seeds into your diet rather than rely on a powdered supplement. If you really can’t find ways to get it in from food next try a nutrition bar and lastly a whey protein powder.

Q: Is there a reasonable amount of sugar I could shoot for if I’m trying to cut back? Zero grams is too strict but I just don’t know where else to draw the line. I haven’t found any suggestions and it helps me to have a limit rather than just try to eat less sugar in general. Thanks!

A: Your body needs sugar to function so zero is not ever going to be a reasonable number. I always tell people to just cut out the added sources of sugar (juices, sweets, coffee drinks, candy, sweetened yogurts, sweetened cereals, sports drinks, etc.) and don’t worry too much about the natural forms (found in milk, fruit, grains). Try to identify where there are added sugars in your diet and substitute an artificial sweetener like Equal or Splenda or try the plain version and see if you can adjust to that taste. Writing your food intake down is helpful in identifying the sources as is reading labels. Good luck!

Q: When reading an ingredient list to double check for trans fats, is anything with partially hydrogenated a trans fat, regardless of what type of oil? For example, partially hydrogenated peanut oil.

A: Yes, if you see “partially hydrogenated” that means trans fat, no matter the type of oil that follows. Also remember that if you see 0 grams trans fat on the nutrition facts panel but see “partially hydrogenated in the ingredients than there is some trans fat in that product…likely 0.4 grams per serving.

Q: While I am sure that you went over this information when you first started the blog, I was wondering if you could review how you determine your food choices. I have gone on to the My Pyramid site, but find it confusing. How many servings of each food group are you ideally supposed to get in a day? When you eat meals are you supposed to incorporate all of the food groups? Are there guidelines for snacks?

A: The MyPyramid site will determine the calories you need in a day – based on your age, height, weight, gender and activity level – then it breaks this calorie range down into food groups so that you get a well balanced intake of macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins & minerals). On their website they have sample menus to help you learn how to distribute your food groups throughout the day. You can choose to distribute your food over three large meals or you could do 5 small meals / snacks — whichever you prefer. You don’t need to get every food group in at each meal / snack but it is a good idea to aim for 2-3 food groups at each meal to maximize satiety and nutrition. At least aim for one source of fiber (whole grain, fruit, vegetable, beans) and one source of protein (dairy, meat, beans, nuts, seeds) at each meal to start and you can enhance from there. There are many, many links on the website with lots of helpful information. You can’t learn it all in just one trip there but I would encourage you to continue referring to it for guidance since it is a well planned out and well researched site.