Expert Nutrition Answers

Here are some answers to Frequently Asked Questions about nutrition

Which is better, margarine or butter?

We recommend soft tubs of reduced-fat margarine, as butter has a lot of saturated fat and stick margarine contains trans fats. Some examples include Promise Heart Smart, Reduced Fat Country Crock Spread and Reduced Fat I Can't Believe it's Not Butter. Your local supermarket may offer several other options.

What is the deal with artificial sweeteners? Which is the best one to use?

Artificial sweeteners have been thoroughly tested and regulated by the FDA and are deemed safe for consumer use. While there is a lot of gray area concerning artificial sweeteners and issues such as making one crave more sweets or increasing insulin levels, the evidence-based research on humans has shown no direct relationships.

Remember that sweeteners, just like most other foods and beverages, should be used in moderation. However, avoid sweeteners that contain phenylketonuria or PKU.

Can you suggest some healthy snacks?

Choose nutrient-rich foods from groups like grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and protein.

Guidelines for snacking:

  • Snack when you are hungry; skip the urge to nibble when you’re bored, frustrated or stressed.
  • Keep portion control in mind. Have a single-serve container of yogurt or put a small serving of nuts in a bowl.
  • Plan snacks ahead of time. Keep a variety of nutritious, ready-to-eat supplies on hand, such as whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese.

Examples of healthy snacks:

  • One tablespoon of peanut butter spread on apple slices
  • Three cups of air-popped popcorn sprinkled with 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
  • Tri-color veggie snack consisting of 6 baby carrots, 10 sugar snap peas or green pepper strips, 6 cherry tomatoes and 2 tablespoons reduced-fat ranch dressing for dipping
  • Six whole-wheat crackers and one slice of low-fat Colby cheese
  • Fruit smoothie: Blend 1 cup fat-free milk, ½ cup frozen strawberries and ½ banana

I hear a lot about coconut oil. Should I be using this type of oil?

Coconut oil contains fat and calories just like any other type of oil. For the most part, one tablespoon of any fat will provide about 45 calories. What makes a fat good or bad is the saturated part. From a health standpoint, fats that are less saturated are better for you.

As a rule of thumb, animal fats, like butter and lard, are more saturated than fats that come from plant sources. There are some vegetable oils that are naturally more saturated, like coconut oil, and some that are artificially saturated by adding hydrogen. This process is known as hydrogenation and is how margarines and vegetable shortening are made.

The healthiest types of fats have a higher amount of monounsaturated fat, as these have been clearly linked with lower rates of heart disease, stroke and some cancers. Good examples are canola oil, safflower oil, flaxseed oil and sunflower oil. Coconut oil is 91-percent saturated, which is too high to recommend.

Is sea salt better than regular salt? What about salt substitutes?

Sea salt contains sodium; the sodium content is very similar. It is popular for celebrity chefs to use because sea salt is coarser and usually has a stronger flavor mix than typical table salt. Some people may use less at a time for this reason.

Salt substitutes typically use potassium in place of the sodium. This type of product is an alternative to table salt that provides no sodium. If you have kidney problems or are taking a medication that affects your potassium level in the blood, you should avoid salt substitutes containing potassium. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you need further clarification.

There are a number of herbs and seasonings that can be used instead of salt to add flavor, such as pepper, garlic powder, onion powder or prepared herb-seasoning mixes from the grocery store.

How much water should I drink each day?

While a good rule of thumb is to consume eight 8 oz glasses of water each day, there really isn’t any scientific research to back this up. Two key indicators of good hydration are not feeling thirsty and that your urine is pale yellow and clear, not concentrated and strong smelling.

How do I calculate body mass index (BMI)?

Body mass index is an equation used to classify disease risk. It is the ratio of weight to height. The equation for this calculation is: weight (kg)/Height (m)²

Calculate your BMI

A normal BMI for adults is between 18.5-24.9, overweight is between 25-29.9 and obese is a BMI greater than 30.

I hear a lot about fish oil. Should I take a supplement?

It is well known that fish oil can help with heart health. Some things to keep in mind regarding fish oil supplements are:

  1. If you already have heart disease, make sure that you take at least 1 gram of fish oil/day. Healthy people who want to reduce their risk of developing heart disease should take 500 mg per day.
  2. Make sure the oil is really from fish, containing both EPA and DHA, with EPA being in the highest concentration.
  3. Consuming two 3 oz servings of fatty fish each week has the same benefits as any supplement. Some good choices are mackerel, herring, trout and tuna.

What is the difference between lean and extra-lean ground beef?

Food standards permit up to 30 percent fat in raw ground beef. This type of produce (70 percent lean to 30 percent fat) is a popular and inexpensive form of ground beef most often labeled in the grocery store as “ground beef” or “regular ground beef.”

Ground chuck is 85 percent lean and 15 percent fat, ground round is 90 percent lean and 10 percent fat; ground sirloin is 95 percent lean and 5 percent fat. In other words, a 4 oz portion of pan-fried 90 percent lean beef has 199 calories and 11 g fat, 49.7 percent of the calories are from fat; the same portion of 95 percent lean beef has 155 calories and 5.6 g fat, or 33.3 percent of total calories are from fat.

How is commonly ordered blood work affected by what I eat?

Laboratory tests based on blood and urine can be important indicators of nutritional status, but they are influenced by non-nutritional factors as well. Lab results can be altered by medications, hydration status and disease states or other metabolic processes, such as stress. As with the other areas of nutrition assessment, biochemical data need to be viewed as a part of the whole.

Typically, a physician will order a basic metabolic panel or complete metabolic panel, a complete blood count and a lipid panel. The most commonly addressed lab work outside of any acute illnesses includes glucose, hemoglobin A1C, total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides and TSH level.

If you have blood work done, you may request a copy of the results from your provider or view via an online health management program that your physician’s office utilizes. It is your right to have access to these numbers. Ask your physician for an explanation of any lab that is out of the normal range.