I just recently passed the year one mark of being a Registered Dietitian! I honestly can’t believe that it’s been a year, but I have learned so much and I have also been asked A LOT of questions! Here are some answers to your most frequently asked questions about food and nutrition.
These are my answers to FAQ’s, but they are not a substitute for medical advice, medical nutrition therapy, or individualized nutritional counseling. Please make an appointment with a registered dietitian or other health professional if needed.
Question #1: What’s your opinion of xyz diet?
This is definitely the number one question that a dietitian gets asked. Depending which dietitian you ask, you might get different answers. Here’s mine:
Short answer: Diets don’t work.
There is a difference between a diet for weight loss and a diet prescribed for your health. A keto diet is often used to help treat epilepsy, however I wouldn’t recommend it for weight loss, as an example. I won’t get into each specific diet (that’s a whole other post), but what I will say is that I am not a fan of diets unless prescribed for medical necessity. Most, if not all, diets are extremely restrictive and cause way too much time and energy to be put into them. If food becomes something that you are constantly thinking and stressing about, then I would say that it’s time to take a look at what you are doing and why. Diet culture is real and it’s dangerous. So many people who are on diets are actually struggling with a disordered way of eating (or even an eating disorder) and don’t even know it.
I always recommend changes that can be sustained long-term, instead of fad diets that become difficult to manage after the first couple of weeks. If you are currently on a diet and it has been working for you long-term, great! But please don’t promote that diet to others because you never know what effect it will have on their bodies or their minds. As always, my recommendation is to make an appointment with a registered dietitian for individualized help with this topic. Also remember that not all dietitians are created equally. Just like there are some bad doctors, there are some bad dietitians. If someone tells you something that doesn’t sound right to you, move on and make an appointment with someone else.
Question #2: Should I stop eating carbohydrates?
Short answer: NO!
Please don’t stop eating carbohydrates. I am not sure how carbs became the enemy. They are our body’s number one source of energy. Our diet should consist of between 45-65% carbohydrates. Yes, if you have diabetes you can eat carbs, too. When you hear the word carbohydrates, you might think of potatoes, bread, pasta, and rice. But fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and sweets all have carbs as well.
If you decrease your carbohydrate intake to less than your body needs, you will start to feel lethargic, probably become constipated, get food cravings, and you might start to become deficient in important nutrients which can potentially cause a whole host of other issues. Before you start your low carb diet, ask yourself: is it worth it? And if you feel like it still is, consult with a dietitian first.
Question #3: Should I stop eating gluten?
Short answer: Depends.
Why do you feel like you need to stop eating gluten? Is it because Suzy stopped eating gluten and lost a bunch of weight or is it because every time you eat gluten, you experience unwanted symptoms? If your answer is the former, then let me ask you if you know what gluten is. Gluten is protein that is found in foods like pasta, bread, desserts made with flour, crackers and snacks, seasoning mixes, and more. A gluten-free diet has not been proven to be successful for sustainable weight loss and is not necessarily a “healthy” diet. Eating gluten-free should be restricted to those with gluten sensitivities or who have celiac disease. Suzy probably lost weight because of fluid loss and she is eating less than she usually does.
If your answer is the latter, then I would discuss this with an allergist, get tested, and consult with a dietitian. It would be a shame to have to cut gluten out of your diet when it was never the cause of your symptoms.
Question #4: What’s the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?
Short answer: Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist while a registered dietitian is a regulated term.
If you see someone calling themselves a nutritionist, they could be any Joe Shmoe from the street with absolutely no nutrition knowledge apart from what they read on Google or they could be someone with a masters in nutrition who hasn’t gone through the process of becoming a registered dietitian. When reading nutrition information written by anybody, (a nutritionist, dietitian, doctor, etc), it is important to do your research on that person and see if they are qualified to be giving you that information. If they have some type of nutrition certification, do your research on that as well. You can get some certifications over the weekend and suddenly you’re qualified to help people. Always be wary of who you are getting help from. Some nutritionists can cause a lot of damage from people listening to them while other nutritionists have more knowledge and education than I do.
In order to become a Registered Dietitian, you must get your bachelor’s degree (roughly 4 years of schooling), then apply to a dietetic internship (which can take years to get into a program), complete at least 1300 supervised practice hours in your program, then sit for and pass the registration exam for dietitians. Becoming a dietitian is not a walk in the park. The courses are difficult, but the whole process is even harder. Listen, I’m not going to yell at you if you call me by the wrong name, but really, I am a registered dietitian (not a nutritionist) spelled D-I-E-T-I-T-I-A-N, no C please. 🙂
Question #5: I saw someone selling a skinny tea and detox products. Should I buy them?
Short answer: No, probably not.
Let me start this by letting you know that detoxes don’t work, are a waste of money, and are completely unnecessary. Again, I don’t know who started this trend, but it was someone just trying to make a buck off of you. It is your liver’s job to detox your body for you. The only time the liver does not do this is if you are suffering from any type of liver disease or problem, in which case, you should go to your doctor for help, not a magic detox.
Most skinny coffees and teas are basically laxatives or diuretics, if not flavored water. When used in excess, they can cause a lot of damage to your body including damage of the gut lining, dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, malabsorption, and much more. No wonder you’re losing weight using these products. Please watch out for these products and those promoting them.
Question #6: Which foods are good/clean and bad foods?
There are no such thing as good/clean or bad foods. All foods, yes including desserts, can be part of your diet. It is a myth that some foods are better for you than others. It is okay to drink your calories, it is okay to eat a doughnut, but it’s not okay to have food rules. Ditch your food rules (I know, easier said than done.) and enjoy food again.
Question #7: Should I keep dairy in my diet?
Short answer: Yes, if you’re not allergic to it. See my latest post So What’s the Deal with Dairy for the full answer.
Question #8: I’ve found health recipes that have high calories and high protein. Should I go for one or the other or both?
It depends what your goals are and what the recipe is for. For me, I don’t care about the calories in a recipe. I am making it because it sounds delicious and the calorie amount won’t stop me. I also don’t go for a recipe specifically because it’s high protein. It is a misconception that we need to eat large amounts of protein. About 20% of our diet should be protein, but a lot of us consume around 50 or even 70% protein. If you are making the recipe for after the gym, then it is good to have a mixture of protein and carbohydrates to help replenish your energy and repair your muscles. Otherwise, go with the recipe that looks good and don’t base your decision off of nutritional value. That said, always remember to eat your fruits and vegetables! 🙂
If there is a reason you need to be consuming more calories or protein due to a medical issue, consult with a dietitian to help you meet your goals.
Question #9: What do dietitians do?
Short answer: A lot.
I am so happy that I get to answer this question because I am sick of the comment “You’re just a dietitian.” basically saying that dietitians aren’t important. Ummm no… I am not JUST a dietitian. I am not the person who takes your food order in the hospital or “dietary”. Dietitians should be the source of all of your nutrition information. We studied hard and continue to study to provide you with evidence-based information and therapy.
Dietitians can work in a variety of settings including community, clinical, food service, consulting, media, school nutrition, government and policy, sports nutrition, geriatrics, pediatrics, oncology, eating disorders, and more. I have worked as a clinical and school nutrition dietitian and I am currently working as an eating disorder dietitian. Long story short, I help my patients overcome their food rules and help them love food again.
Question #10: I can ask my doctor, my friends, personal trainer, or influencers on social media for nutrition help, right?
Short answer: No
As mentioned before, even if these people are “nutritionists” they are probably not the right people to go to for nutrition information. A lot of, though not all of, personal trainers and doctors like to give you nutrition information that is just not accurate. I’m looking at you, Dr. Oz. Again, be wary of where you get your nutrition information from and always fact check it with a registered dietitian because 99% of the information on social media is false. (Okay, I made that number up. I don’t know what the actual statistics are, but the point is that a lot of info out there is woo.)
I have not watched every food documentary on Netflix, but be wary of those as well. A lot of them skew data or are funded by whatever the documentary is about. Even not everything in a documentary is true!
Question #11: Are you judging what I’m eating?
No. Unless I eat with you for every meal every day and I notice that you are not eating entire food groups, I don’t care what you eat. You do you.
Question #12: Wait. You’re a dietitian and you bake cakes?? How does that work? I thought dietitians are supposed to eat healthy. Is that your cheat meal?
Yes, I am a dietitian who bakes cakes and no, they aren’t “healthy” cakes. Nutrition is a science and baking is a science so it’s no wonder why I enjoy doing both. I will never have cake as a cheat meal because I don’t believe in cheat meals. Having a cheat meal is basically saying that there are good foods and bad foods and you are only allowed the bad foods on a specific day. Again, this is a very disordered way of eating and thinking. There’s no magic science to eating. If there’s a food you enjoy, eat it. Once you start eliminating necessary foods from your diet, you start to crave them, possibly leading to bingeing. I’m not saying to eat fried chicken for every meal every day, nor am I saying to eat salad for every meal every day. It’s all about balance. Listen to your body.
Question #13: There’s an ingredient on the label that I can’t pronounce. Should I still eat the food?
Short answer: If you want it, yes.
Questions like these show that there has been so much fear instilled into our minds about what we should and should not be eating. It shows that there is a lack of understanding about nutrition. There are always going to be ingredients that we can’t pronounce. Just because we can’t pronounce them doesn’t mean they’re bad. Thiamine mononitrate is vitamin B1. Menatetrenone is vitamin K. Cyanocobalamin is vitamin B12. Sodium carboxylmethyl cellulose is a thickener and stabilizer that is safe to be used as an additive.
And if you are worried about food ingredients being some of the same ingredients used in paint thinners, remember that every ingredient is approved by the FDA (who is not out to get us). These are food-grade chemicals that are diluted and purified and are safe to consume. The chemical in paint thinner is chemical grade.
Question #14: Should I hop on the newest superfood trend?
Short answer: If you want, but don’t expect any miracles.
The term “superfood” is just a marketing scheme, think celery juice, turmeric, and blueberries. Foods that are deemed as superfoods tend to be high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, however are not going to cure you from whatever illness you have just by eating them. Yes, superfoods have great nutritional value, but there are plenty of other foods that didn’t make superfood status that are equally as good. If you notice the price of a food going up because it became “super”, then talk to a dietitian to find another option that is just as good and cheaper!
Remember that it is possible to have too much of what you consider a good thing. If you want to try out the newest superfood, remember to maintain variety in your diet. You can make whatever choice you want, but remember sugar is sugar is sugar, no matter if it’s labeled as honey or corn syrup.
Well, those are all the questions I have for you today! Did I not answer one of your questions!? Make sure to leave me a comment about what you want me to answer next. The information above is not a substitute for medical advice from a medical professional. Have a specific question about how you’re eating? Make an appointment with a registered dietitian today.