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!

picking your peanut butter


I’ve heard many people say that they avoid peanut butter because it has so much fat in each serving. While this is true, the majority of this fat is healthy unsaturated fat, which you most certainly need in your diet! Not only will it help keep you full longer, but these healthy fats can improve heart health and help you absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K, among many other important functions.

However, like a majority of the foods lining the grocery store shelves these days, peanut butter has become a victim of excessive processing. As a result, the peanut butter you choose could actually contain some trans fats, which are harmful to your heart health. Let’s take a look at why.

Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature – think olive and canola oil. Saturated fats, like butter, shortening, or lard, are solid at room temperature. It may look confusing but I think the picture below helps you see what’s going on:

ScreenHunter_73 Jul. 30 19.15As you can see, a saturated fat is called such because all available spots are filled (saturated) with hydrogen. The unsaturated fats have some spots without hydrogen. In order to make these unsaturated fats more shelf-stable and solid at room temperature, companies often hydrogenate them, meaning they add hydrogens back so that the fat looks and behaves more like a saturated fat.

It is during this hydrogenation process that trans fats are formed. You may recall that the use of trans fats has largely been banned in restaurants and packaged foods because they have been found to increase bad (LDL) cholesterol and decrease good (HDL) cholesterol.

However, labeling laws allow products containing less than o.5 grams of trans fat per serving to list 0 grams trans fat on the label. It is recommended to keep trans fat intake to less than 2 grams per day, if not avoid it completely. As you can imagine, it would be easy to pass this limit while consuming foods labeled as containing 0 trans fat that actually do contain trans fats.

pb label[source]

For this reason, it is important to read the ingredients list on products, not just the nutrition facts panel. If you see hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, there are probably some trans fats lurking in that product and it would be best to choose another option.

Which brings me back to peanut butter! I know many people are put off by having to stir their peanut butter but that oil separation comes from a lack of hydrogenated oils. You should really only have to stir it on the first use, then keep it in the refrigerator to prevent further separation and spoilage. They even make little peanut butter stirring lids if you prefer ūüôā

Many peanut butters that claim to be “natural” still contain hydrogenated oils or palm oil, another saturated fat. Check the ingredients – it should only list peanuts and salt.

You shouldn’t have to spend a small fortune on good peanut butter either. Just check those ingredients! Some recommended brands:

  • Smuckers: delicious but sometimes it can be pricy and some people don’t like the “grittier” texture
  • Justin’s: comes in many flavors and even in individual packets
  • Make your own by tossing some dry roasted peanuts in a food processor!
  • Don’t forget about store brands! My favorite is actually the Kroger brand natural peanut butter and it’s usually less than $2.50/jar. Right now, it’s only $1.67….which would explain this:


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.

organic vs. conventional


Many people want to know if organic produce or other products are healthier than conventional. To really address this, I think some definitions need to be clarified:

Organic refers to the way a product (or its ingredients) were grown or processed. According to the EPA, “‘Organically grown’ food is food grown and processed using¬†no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Pesticides derived from natural sources (e.g., biological pesticides) may also be used in producing organically grown food.”

In order for a product to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic or made with organic ingredients, the producer must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent. This certification is costly and is the reason why¬†you may encounter many local farmers at farmers markets, for example, who use organic growing practices but who don’t advertise their products as such.

You can find more information about the requirements for organic food production here.

Natural is a term that¬†is not regulated. Meaning that¬†it could really be (and is) put on a variety of products because the consumer associates the term with health, however it doesn’t really mean anything. As I’ve heard before, snake venom is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. There are several products claiming to be “all-natural” that I wouldn’t buy after taking a look at the ingredient list. I think there is a possibility that we will see more regulation surrounding this term in the future.

veggies 2

Now, back to organic. Is it healthier? From a nutrient perspective, not really. An organic apple will have the same vitamins and minerals as a conventional apple. Same with organic snack foods – organic cookies are the same as regular cookies, just made with flour, sugar, etc. that was produced according to organic standards.

As with many of the additives you see in highly processed foods, we don’t really know the long-term health impacts of consuming pesticides on foods. It likely comes down to the amount of exposure and a variety of other factors, but more research is definitely needed.¬†For now, we recommend that the “dirty dozen”, or the top 12 most highly pesticide-contaminated foods, be purchased organic, if possible, to cut down on pesticide exposure.

The Environmental Working Group  just released their latest list of the 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue.

The top 12 have the greatest amounts of pesticides and, if you are concerned with pesticide exposure, these are the ones you would want to buy organic:

apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, sweet bell peppers, imported nectarines, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas, potatoes

The “clean fifteen” are the foods with the lowest amount of pesticide residues and can be found at the end of the Environmental Working Group’s list. These are:

sweet potatoes, cauliflower,cantaloupe, grapefruit, eggplant, kiwi, papaya, mangoes, asparagus, onions, frozen sweet peas, cabbage, pineapple, sweet corn, and avocado.

Other foods of low concern when considering which to purchase organic are ones that you peel before eating, like bananas or oranges.

The reality is that organic produce is often much pricier than conventional and, at the end of the day, the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables far outweigh any known risks of consuming conventional over organic. If cost is an issue, look for sales and consider purchasing some of the produce from the dirty dozen list when possible. However, don’t let these lists discourage you from eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whether conventional OR organic.

Check out a summary of the Environmental Working Group’s findings here.

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

what is gluten anyway?

Perhaps you’ve already seen this hilarious clip from Jimmy Kimmel but, if not, you should take a couple of minutes to watch it right now:

Funny, right? Mostly because it’s true. People like to jump on a bandwagon, even if they have no idea why. Which I thought provided a perfect opportunity to answer that question here and hopefully clear up some of the confusion.

So, what is gluten? Prepare for a mini food science lesson. In wheat, there are two proteins called glutenin and gliadin that, when combined with a liquid (and yeast, such as in the making of bread), forms gluten. Gluten gives the bread dough its stretchy quality, allowing it to rise and leaving you with a delicously chewy pizza crust or loaf of bread. Which is precisely why you don’t want to over mix muffins, cookie dough, pancakes, etc. The more you mix these, the more you develop gluten and a tougher, chewier final product. Not exactly what you want in a muffin.

Now, you might be thinking “where on earth did this bad reputation come from then?” Well, some people have what is called Celiac disease, where the body mounts an immune response when there is gluten present in the GI tract. This leads to inflammation in the lining of the GI tract and a variety of symptoms that are not necessarily GI-related, such as fatigue, signs of vitamin/mineral deficiencies, and other inflammatory conditions like joint pain and skin issues. The only treatment for Celiac disease? Lifelong avoidance of gluten – IN EVERYTHING. Gluten is also in some cosmetics, other non-food products, and even in normally gluten-free foods (oats, for example) that have been prepared or packaged in the same facility as gluten-containing foods. Even the smallest exposure can trigger the inflammatory response and cause damage to the intestines and damaged intestines affect the body’s ability to absorb and utilize nutrients, which can cause malnutrition. There is another group of people who may have gluten intolerance or a gluten insensitivity. While avoiding gluten may help these people avoid unpleasant GI side-effects, no damage to the GI tract occurs when they consume gluten.

As you can imagine, avoiding all sources of gluten places a huge burden on someone who must be entirely gluten free. It makes it extremely difficult to eat anything that you didn’t prepare yourself, including packaged foods or foods prepared at a restaurant or by a friend.

Somewhere along the line, this therapeutic diet got turned into the latest fad diet. As one lady in the video stated, many think gluten “makes you fat”. Not so much. I don’t think we need to go into an excessive review of how energy balance works, but there is no single food or food component that will make you fat. An excess of calories and inadequate physical activity will make you fat.

Some people find success with a gluten free diet because gluten is mostly found in things like bread, pasta, cereal, desserts, and packaged foods all of which pack a decent amount of calories. Cut those out and you’re left with fruits, vegetables, dairy, and proteins.

Replace your pasta with spaghetti squash and you’ve easily cut out a couple hundred calories from one meal alone. Opt for fresh fruit after dinner instead of 5 Oreos and, boom, another couple hundred calories saved. And guess what? You also feel a whole lot better when you aren’t eating loads of packaged, nutrient-poor foods. It may seem like the gluten is what was causing all of your problems before, but it was probably just the types of gluten-containing foods you were choosing.

I could go on, but let’s sum things up.:

  • Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
  • It does not make you fat.
  • Cutting out gluten-containing foods sometimes forces people to pay closer attention to what they eat and leads them to make healthier choices, resulting in more energy and possibly weight loss. You could get the same effect with a balanced, healthy diet that does contain gluten.
  • People with Celiac disease should most definitely avoid gluten in food AND non-food products.
  • Also, let’s not forget that cutting out an entire food group also cuts out important nutrients that may be hard to get in appropriate amounts from other food groups.
  • Only trust a registered dietitian for your nutrition information.¬†We go through countless hours of schooling and practical experience and are trained to provide recommendations based on research – not what our cousin Sally did that worked well for her. Everyone is different and that requires an individual approach to nutrition, which only a registered dietitian is qualified to provide.

If you ever suspect that you have Celiac disease, DO NOT cut out gluten from your diet before seeing a doctor and getting tested for Celiac. Removing gluten before the test can affect the test results and could lead to an improper diagnosis.

One final little side-note: gluten free cookies (and other packaged foods) have the same nutritional value as any other cookies. They are not a health food because they’re gluten free. The eating plan, in any case, is one centered around minimally processed whole foods.


This week’s spotlight includes both recipes and some great articles I’ve come across this week. Enjoy!

I made this sun-dried tomato hummus last week and it was spectacular. Now that I’ve invested in tahini, you can bet this cilantro hummus will be happening very soon.

the cilantro hummus would also be great on this copycat version of my favorite Panera cilantro lime hummus chicken power salad

can’t say no to peanut butter & jelly snack cookies

you get two meals in one with this roasted eggplant and farro salad, which uses the extra farro for another favorite meal – falafel!

Now, for some articles!

did you know that some honey is not actually 100% honey?

another registered dietitian busts 6 very common nutrition-related myths

a good summary on the new “clean eating” craze, which is really just a new way to emphasize eating minimally processed foods like fruits and vegetables

everyone is on a diet (simply defined as the foods you eat) but several special diets are advertised in the media – here are 9 ways to tell if the diet you’re eating is right for you (hint: you should NOT feel deprived or miserable!)

speaking of diets, here is an article on some interesting research regarding making foods “off limits”