Ever read page after page of nutrition advice, and at the end you’re scratching your head and wondering if any of it is true? Well, your arduous search has finally come to an end. Each month, Literally, Darling will gather up readers’ nutrition questions and hand them to me to answer. And, just so you know I’m not another quack (cough, Dr. Oz, cough), I have a Master of Science degree in nutrition, and am a practicing Registered Dietitian (R.D.), which requires accreditation through a national board. Now let’s get down to business, shall we?
Question 1: Everything we eat touts protein content, but I’ve heard Americans eat far more protein than we need. True?
Protein is the most important macronutrient—more important than carbs or fat. Protein is the building block for everything in our bodies. So, to some degree, the marketing companies have it right. But, the average American only needs about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To convert your weight in pounds to kilograms, divide by 2.2. For example, a person who weighs 145 pounds (65.9kg) only needs approximately 53 grams of protein per day. For example, there are about 7 grams of protein in 1 ounce of meat, a half-cup of beans, 6 ounces of yogurt, 1 whole egg, or 1 cup of cooked quinoa. Basically, it doesn’t take much to meet your daily quota.
But, people who are chronically ill, intensely exercise, or had an invasive surgery need slightly more protein for healing and maintaining lean body mass. So think of bumping up the protein from 0.8 grams to 1-1.2 grams per kilogram. Also, people who are trying to lose weight need to make sure to get enough protein to, again, maintain lean body mass. In addition, protein is the most satiating macronutrient, which will help people remain full for longer.
Question 2: Is it better to eat a salad covered in ranch or no salad at all? Is it better to eat a doughnut for breakfast or no breakfast at all?
I’m not going to lie, there’s not an easy answer to these types of questions. I think it comes down to what your health goals are. If your goal is to increase your fiber intake with vegetables, fruit, or whole grains, then eating the salad with ranch is still in line with that goal. Though, using low-fat ranch instead of full-fat ranch will still add flavor to an otherwise bland dish, and not add as many calories or saturated fat.
If your goal is to cut your calorie intake, then finding some lower-fat dressings and adding some lean protein (chicken, beans, fish, etc) will help create a healthier, more filling, dish. Find other ways to add flavor to the salad with vinegars, other veggies and fruits, or a teensy bit of strong-flavored cheese (goat, parmesan, sharp cheddar).
Now let’s talk breakfast. One of the primary reasons to eat breakfast is to avoid overeating later in the day. If you’re able to be conscientious about the amount of calories in a doughnut, and then can eyeball the rest of the day’s meals to make sure you don’t overindulge, then by all means have a doughnut. But, as I mentioned above, protein is an important component in feeling full, and the lack of protein combined with the high sugar-content in a doughnut means you’ll be hungry fairly quickly after—even if it was a 400 calorie doughnut. So maybe if the doughnut is the only breakfast option, pass it up, and then find a healthier mid-morning snack to tide you over until lunch. Looking for quick, healthy breakfast ideas? Look no further.
Question 3: How much soy is too much soy?
I’m not sure what prompted this question, but as of right now there is not necessarily an upper limit for soy intake. Soy products are an excellent plant-source for complete protein, while also being low in saturated fat. Veggie burgers, tofu, edamame, and soy milk are all excellent, tasty options.
There has been some speculation that eating soy products could lead to estrogen-related cancers, such as breast or ovarian cancers. But, this has yet to be proven. In fact, some studies show that eating a more plant-based diet (including soy) could help prevent cancer occurrence. If you’re still nervous about eating too much soy, MD Anderson recommends sticking with about 3 servings of soy per day. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, there are plenty of other legume-based products that can help you get all your protein.
Question 4: As a late-night snacker, is there a set time of night you should not eat/set number of hours you should keep between eating and sleeping?
As with so many things in the nutrition world, there is still not definitive research on the topic. There are some studies that show eating the majority of your calories in the evening can lead to weight gain. But, one thing that seems to be definitive is that people’s late night eating decisions tend to be less healthy. This is especially true if you haven’t eaten much during the other parts of the day and/or if you’re tired. So plan ahead a bit, and pay attention to your behavior patterns.
Also, if you have issues with acid reflux then definitely stop eating a couple of hours before going to bed and slightly prop your pillow up.
Question 5: Is there a nutritional difference between sauteing in olive oil vs butter? I’ve heard heating olive oil changes its structure to be unhealthy.
In general, olive or canola oils are going to be far better for you than butter or other animal-based fats (lard, tallow, etc). Animal-based fats tend to be higher in saturated fat, which in general aren’t too awesome for you. Vegetable oils have poly- and monounsaturated fats that have antioxidant and phytochemical goodness in them. But, still remember that a tablespoon of any pure fat will have the same amount of calories.
Heating olive oil under normal sauteing temperatures won’t break down the oil in any negative way. The only time that it can be an issue is when the temperature of some oils (and butter) reaches the oil’s smoke point, at which point it will break down, give off an acrid smoke and sometimes even catch on fire. There are also some toxic properties that emerge under these circumstances. If you’re going to fry something, use refined oils with higher smoke points, like vegetable oil or peanut oil.
Oh, and how could she forget? She has three cats which she loves to bits and pieces.
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