dietary fat: part 3

Just to recap, in part 1 we discussed how to spot nutrition misinformation since that seems to be common when it comes to dietary fat. In part 2, we discussed the different types of fats and which are best to avoid.

Now for the fun part: how to actually add more good fats into your diet and make sure you’re keeping the bad ones to a minimum!

avocado[used with permission by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics]

In part 2, I mentioned that you should keep saturated fats should be less than about 20 grams per day (depending on your calorie needs) and trans fats should be eliminated from the diet. The following are some foods high in saturated fat:

ScreenHunter_74 Sep. 23 18.59Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and any foods containing these as an ingredients will also be higher in saturated fats. Processed foods like boxed meals and snack foods often contain palm kernel and/or hydrogenated oils. Desserts and processed meats like sausages also tend to be higher in saturated fats.

Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats like those found in olive or canola oil, nuts, flax, nuts, and avocado has been shown to decrease LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Olive oil starts to break down at high heats, so canola oil is better to use when cooking at high temperatures. Here are some ways you can increase the amount of unsaturated fats in your diet (I hope you’re prepared for some recipes!):




dietary fat: part 1

olive oil

Fat will probably always be a hot topic in the world of nutrition.

Fat is bad. Fat is good. Eat less saturated fat. Eat more saturated fat. Eggs are bad. Eggs are good. Margarine is healthier. Butter is healthier. Coconut oil is healthier.

All sounds pretty contradictory, right? There’s one thing I can promise you. All the dietitians don’t just get together and then go changing their mind every once in awhile on what people should eat. Several things cause the confusing messages you’ve no doubt heard. Two major ones are:

1) Research. Dietitians use evidence-based practice, meaning we look at what multiple well-designed studies are finding and use that to make nutrition recommendations. Sometimes there isn’t much research yet and we have to use what knowledge we have to make a recommendation. Research is also always changing. We’re always learning more, which is good and helps us improve our recommendations, but the updated recommendations sometimes confuse people.

2) Media. Lots of times, the media will grab on to one sentence or headline from a research article and that becomes the thing that everyone hangs on to regarding that food. What you must remember is that they probably don’t take the time to see if the study was well designed or if more than one study found similar results. If a study was completed in animals, a very specific population, had a small number of subjects, used a research environment that isn’t representative of what people actually experience in daily life, or the results weren’t replicated in other studies, the findingss aren’t really applicable to the population at large.

As you can see, this is part 1 on dietary fats. Because I’ve seen so much misinformation going around about dietary fats in particular, I felt like it was important to talk a little bit about why it’s best not to just jump on the latest bandwagon/diet craze without further information. Of course, that goes for really any part of your diet.

Check back Friday for part 2, which will talk more about specific types of fats and what they do. Next Monday will be part 3 on how to actually add more good fats into your diet and take out some of the bad!

nutrition for muscle building


I’ve had a request to do a post on nutrition for muscle building/maintenance, which I think is a great topic. It’s not just a topic for competitive athletes though! With a 3-5% loss of muscle mass per decade after the age of 30 and the incredibly important roles of protein in the body, eating right to maintain muscle mass is important for pretty much everyone.

Not only does greater muscle mass result in a greater resting metabolic rate (the amount of energy you burn at rest), but it also allows you to maintain function in daily activities as you age.

So, how much protein do you need? It varies from person to person based on your age, body weight, and any medical conditions you might have. For normal, healthy adults, the minimum amount of protein required is 0.8-1.0 grams per kilogram of body weight. Some scales allow you to convert to kilograms or you can just divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms. So, for a 150 lb (68.2 kg) person, that would be roughtly 54-68 grams of protein per day.


Regular exercise training increases your protein needs a bit. For endurance training, needs go up to about 1.2-1.6 grams per kilogram and 1.4-1.7 for strength training. These needs change depending on the volume/intensity of training and different periods of the training cycle (which is why it’s helpful to work with a dietitian), but these are some general guidelines. Active older adults have similar needs, requiring anywhere from about 1.0-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Over the age of 70,¬† your general protein needs are a bit higher at around 1.2-1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight.


Doing some resistance training (after checking with your doctor first of course) is also an important part of building and maintaining muscle. At least 2 days per week of resistance/muscle strengthening exercise focusing on all muscle groups is recommended for adults. For older adults, the addition of exercises focused on balance is recommended.

Back to nutrition! If you think about the process of building muscle, it makes sense that this requires energy or “building blocks”….a.k.a. food! As I’ve mentioned before, just eating mass amounts of protein will not do you any good in this regard. You also won’t see much progress if you aren’t consuming enough calories.

Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred fuel source and if your body doesn’t have enough, it will be forced to use protein for energy (a very “costly” process) instead of using that protein for muscle building. That’s why we recommend to eat a combination of protein and carbohydrate post-exercise and a small carbohydrate-containing snack before exercise if you work out first thing in the morning or a long time after your last meal.

balanced meals[source]

Don’t forget that the most beneficial way to consume protein is evenly spread throughout the day. More is not always better and consuming large amounts of protein at any one time does not result in greater benefits.

Above all, remember that everyone’s individual needs vary. The above are just general guidelines. Health conditions, age, and activity level all affect the amount of protein (and nutrients in general) that you need. A registered dietitian is the only nutrition professional with the specialized education and training to take all of these things into account and provide medical nutrition therapy based on your specific medical conditions.

deceptive labeling

grocery b+w[source]

Going to the store with the intention of eating healthy can be a huge challenge for so many reasons, not the least of which is the huge variety of products. When you’re trying to change your eating habits and make healthier choices, it can be hard enough to walk by those cookies or chips without them “jumping” into your cart. You shouldn’t also have to navigate the confusing packaging and labeling that companies use to make their products look healthier when, in fact, they are not. Although grocery store tours with people are my favorite way to answer these questions as we go aisle-by-aisle, I’ll try to clear up some of the most confusing packaging and labeling on the shelves in this post so it’s easier to make good choices.


As I’ve mentioned before, a gluten-free diet is a very necessary part of life for someone with Celiac disease. It is currently the only treatment and consuming even small traces of gluten can cause serious damage to the intestines that can lead to nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition. However, as I’m sure you’re aware, gluten-free has become something of a fad diet in recent years. While this has dramatically increased the number and availability of gluten-free products for those who do live with Celiac, others have become convinced that these products are automatically a healthier option. In reality, gluten-free products are often highly processed and have far more ingredients than their conventional counterparts in order to achieve a similar taste and texture. This doesn’t include naturally gluten-free foods like grains (quinoa, millet, etc.), meats, fruits, and veggies, all of which are certainly healthy and just happen to be gluten-free as well. A gluten-free cookie is still a cookie. Of course, all foods can fit into a healthy, balanced diet but if you don’t have Celiac and can safely consume gluten, you aren’t getting any kind of health benefit by eating a gluten-free cookie (or other item) over a regular one.

all natural

“All natural” seems to be slapped on just about every package these days. The major thing to keep in mind is that all natural is NOT a regulated term. It can be put on pretty much any product and is often found on foods that actually contain quite a few ingredients that many wouldn’t consider “natural”. If you want a product that is truly all natural, take a look at the ingredients panel for things that you could use in your very own kitchen to prepare the same product. If you don’t recognize an ingredient or couldn’t easily buy it to use in your own kitchen, it’s probably not natural. For things like meats and eggs, it’s best to research the farm or company to see what their individual practices are for producing a product that is “natural”.



I’ve covered organic before but the main takeaway here is similar to the above points – just because a product says it is organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Organic just refers to the growing or production practices of the product and it’s ingredients. Organic desserts are just like regular desserts, except with organic butter, sugar, flour, etc.

green packaging

Although not a labeling term, I think this point fits in well with the previous two. Many people associate the color green with a healthy choice and food companies take advantage of this. Don’t assume that just because your frozen pizza comes in a green, “healthy-looking” box that it is a healthy choice. Healthier, less processed products often do have green packaging, but check the nutrition facts panel and ingredients list for the full story before tossing it in your cart.[source]

low fat or fat free

These became a trend around the early 90s but these products are still around. There are a few reasons why these aren’t the best choice:

1) Fat is a huge part of the flavor and texture of many products and, when it is removed, something has to be put in it’s place or no one would want to eat it. This is often extra sugar, meaning these products are no healthier than the original version.

2) Fat is a necessary nutrient! Saturated fats should be limited and trans fats avoided due to their negative impact on heart health but unsaturated fats (found in nuts, fish, avocados, some oils) are a beneficial and necessary part of the diet. Salad dressings are a great example – salads often contain lots of vegetables with fat soluble vitamins, meaning they need fat to be absorbed. A low fat salad dressing isn’t really doing you any favors in this case!

3) Fat contributes to satiety, or feelings of fullness. When you eat a lower fat item, you’re likely to feel less satisfied afterwards and may then end up consuming more calories than you otherwise would have in an attempt to fill up.

I’ve actually seen low fat brownie mixes with far more sugar and calories than the original version! Some products are naturally low in fat or fat free and the pacakge will often claim this since people view it as a benefit. The ones you need to look out for are low fat versions of other products. I can’t think of many situations in which the lower fat version would be a better/healthier choice (except dairy!).

low calorie

Similar to above, your best bet if you’re looking for a low calorie option is to stick with foods that are naturally low in calories, like fruits and vegetables. Other products are probably highly processed and less satisfying.

hormone free

Finally, hormone free is seen on many meat and dairy products these days. While useful in some circumstances, the USDA does not allow administration of hormones to any poultry or hogs so the designation of “hormone free” on these products doesn’t really mean anything special. If you are looking for a farm or company that humanely treats their animals, it is best to check out their website and do a little homework on their practices.

the best diet ever.

Considering some of the latest diet trends and the title of this post, you’re probably expecting me to give you 3 easy steps to [fill in the blank]….lose 10 pounds in 1 week, get six pack abs, etc.

Well, that’s not what I’m going to do. Why? Because none of those things work. There is no easy solution or magic pill for health or weight loss. Let’s also keep in mind that weight loss does not always equal health. Yes, we have an obesity problem in this country. However, I’ve also noticed a frustrating trend, especially on Pinterest, where perfectly healthy people seem to think they have to look like a model from a catelog and undergo the latest cleanse or strict diet to get there.

If your goal is truly to be healthy, have more energy, and look your best, cutting out meat/dairy/gluten/sugar or going on a restrictive cleanse is not the answer. Here’s why:

1. Many restrictive diets may cause an initial weight loss, but this is only temporary. While some people may find that this initial “success” motivates them to continue down the path to a healthy lifestyle and continued weight loss, the majority of people quickly gain back any weight that was lost and more. Carbohydrate is your body’s main energy source and it is stored in the body in the form of glycogen. When you go on a restrictive diet/cleanse, your body must use its glycogen stores to provide the fuel necessary for normal functioning. Glycogen is stored with water and glycogen use = water loss, which¬† makes up a large portion of the weight lost on these diets.

2. Your body does not need your help to “cleanse” itself. If you have a normally functioning liver, kidneys, and GI tract, your body is taking care of all the cleansing that it needs.

3. Deprivation is not maintainable. Health is a lifestyle. You can’t eat only fruits and vegetables for a day and expect it to make you a healthy person or result in lasting weight loss. That’s just not how the body works. And the same is true for the opposite! Having a day filled with less than healthy choices, which frequently happens on holidays or other large celebrations/gatherings, doesn’t completely derail an otherwise healthy lifestyle. You don’t have to shun desserts or your favorite macaroni and cheese to lose weight or improve your health. Eat a healthy diet 90% of the time and there is plenty of room for indulgences the other 10% of the time.

4. Too much restriction can also lead to a weight loss plateau as your body tries to hang on to every bit of energy it can get in order to maintain normal function. More is not always better when it comes to the amount of calories you cut from your diet or attempt to burn during exercise. A registered dietitian can help you determine your individualized calorie needs to reach your goals.

5. Supplements, powders, and pills simply cannot provide you with the energy and nutrients found in real foods. Even if the package says the product is packed with “15 servings of fruits and vegetables” or “2000% of your daily value for vitamin ____”. I could probably compile a book on this topic but, in a nutshell, you can’t isolate individual nutrients and expect them to have the same beneficial effects as they had when they were part of a whole food made up of thousands of compounds, some of which we haven’t even identified yet. There are also limitations to the amount of certain nutrients that can be absorbed at a time, so consuming 100+% of a nutrient at once usually does not equate to 100+% of that nutrient getting absorbed into your body and doing any good.

healthy foods

So, what is the best diet ever? One that includes all things in moderation and provides enough energy for your body to function properly.

Let’s face it. Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are healthy and that eating Twinkies all day probably isn’t the best choice. So what keeps people from putting it into practice? It’s usually making the long-term commitment to investing in one’s health & taking the time to develop new habits that stand in the way. Guess what? That’s what registered dietitians are here for! We’re not here to be the food police but to help you set and achieve your goals in a way that is maintainable for the long-term.

I hope to start a post called Monday Meals that will show you a little bit of what this looks like by documenting the days meals to demonstrate that everything can fit into a balanced diet. Stay tuned!

[image used with permission from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics]