Category Archives: Nutrition

Ask The Expert #3: Nutrition

It’s been a little while since we’ve done an Ask the Expert post, so we thought it would be great to get back into it with a nutrition-focused post! We asked Elaine, a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator, a few common questions about food and nutrition. She has some great and informative answers!

Elaine W.

About Elaine Waldschmitt
Elaine A. Waldschmitt, RD, LD, CDE

Elaine is a registered and licensed dietitian as well as a Certified Diabetes Educator. She is the Cystic Fibrosis Coordinator and dietitian at the Blank CF  Center in Des Moines. Elaine has practiced clinic dietetics for nearly 35 years, with pediatrics as her practice specialty. Elaine is married, lives in Johnston, and with her husband, has raised three sons.

Elaine began her journey with FXB in June 2008 at the South Ankeny location, where she continues to attend and coach.

1. Which is better for you, fat-free or sugar-free?

This is sort of a trick question and one that cannot be answered with one choice or the other. Let me explain: You are perusing the kettle-cooked potato chips at your local grocer, and the label reports “sugar-free”. That should be a good choice, right, since we all know that “sugar-free” is a good nutrition goal? Well, it’s easy to boast that the chips are “sugar-free” since chips routinely don’t have sugar added anyway. The claim is true, but don’t’ be misled, as most potato chips are “sugar free” naturally. Or, how about the frozen dessert (think ice cream style) that boasts “fat-free”. This product has been made from low-fat milk as the base, but to compensate for the lack of dairy fat, the manufacturers’ added twice the sugar and other not-so-healthy ingredients in order to obtain a palatable product. Is this better for you, since it truly is “fat-free”? Of course not.

When it comes to good nutrition, we can’t make blanket statements. If you eat a baked pretzel chip instead of a fried potato chip, hence reducing the fat, calories, and trans fats, this is a huge step in the right direction to better nutrition and better health. Likewise, if you switch from your favorite sugar-sweetened breakfast cereal to a whole grain, low or no-sugar-added cereal, this choice also leads to better nutrition and ultimately, to better health.

According to USDA data, as a percent of caloric intake, total sugar consumption continues to decline while added fats and oil consumption continues to increase in America. Furthermore, sugar/sucrose or table sugar per capita consumption has declined 39% since 1980. In contrast, per capita consumption of total fats in 1970 was 145 grams and had increased dramatically to 190 grams in 2005. Saturated fat intake has gone from 50 grams to 59 grams per person per day over the same time period.

We know that over-consumption of both sugar and fat contributes to obesity and major health issues/diseases for Americans. However, both can have their place in a healthy diet. Sugar contributes to taste, texture, browning of foods, product stability, bulk and viscosity. Fats add flavor, texture, essential fatty acids and are uniquely satiating. A good rule is to avoid all added fat and sugar to products. Learn to read labels and be an informed consumer.

2. What are foods that you should always try to avoid and why?

I’ve got to begin with “moderation is the key”. No one food can be singled out and condemned to banishment. The nutrient composition of the overall diet plays a much larger role than any single food item, as long as foods are consumed in moderation.

However, “avoid” is the key word and so here are some that I’d recommend trying to stay clear of:

  • All sodas (regular and diet)
  • Trans fats (may see the wording “partially hydrogenated oil” on the label instead of “trans fat”)
  • Anything deep fat fried, especially from a restaurant, as the longer oils are heated at a high temp, the more “trans fats” are created and absorbed into the food.
  • Movie theatre popcorn and full fat microwave popcorn
  • Skin on chicken, turkey, other animal meats
  • Bacon and pork rinds, visible fat on all meats
  • Processed meats such as bologna, hot dogs, salami
  • High sugar foods such as desserts, syrups, sweetened breakfast cereals
  • Processed pastries such as breakfast pastries, packaged pies, treats and desserts
  • Whole fat dairy such as whole milk, whole fat cottage cheese, whole fat cheeses, whole fat yogurt (use the low-fat alternatives)

3. Are supplements good to take? Which ones should you take and which ones should you avoid and why?

Supplements are good to take when a deficiency is discovered. For example, most people in Iowa have a low Vitamin D level and can benefit from supplemental vitamin D3; but the physician needs to check the level and recheck once the supplements have been started. Taking vitamin D, for example, when you are not deficient can lead to vitamin toxicity.

As far as taking supplements without a known deficiency, it is not recommended. Nutrients from real foods are better absorbed and utilized by the body than those from a bottle.

Sometimes people ask about protein supplements. Once again, no real need. It is incredibly easy to obtain more than adequate protein amounts just by eating 3 meals per day. In fact, most Americans overeat on protein. Portions are getting larger and larger, and the body can only process protein at a certain rate. That 10-oz rib eye is protein overload and provides no benefit in terms of building more muscle (in fact, that 10-oz rib eye can put excessive stress on your kidneys, which have to deal with your large appetite!).

4. Is organic better? What should I buy organic and what doesn’t matter?

First off, organic means the food did not have pesticides or chemical fertilizers applied, does not contain genetically modified organisms, and was not irradiated or had chemicals added. It used to be that produce from organic farms measured almost as much pesticide and chemicals as the non-organic produce from the farm next door, due to water run-off, over-spray, and wind transport of the chemicals from the neighboring farmer. Over the last couple decades, that has changed and most organic produce is measuring lower levels of dangerous chemicals than those grown with chemicals. Organic farming is now better regulated and consumers can trust that the food was truly produced the way the farmer claims.

But, in spite of lower chemical levels, the research doesn’t show that organic foods are superior in terms of safety, taste or nutritional value. In fairness, there really hasn’t been a lot of research conducted, and what we do have isn’t enough to warrant recommending for or against organic foods.

My sister swears the flavor of organic carrots is 10 times that of non-organic carrots and I can taste a flavor difference, too. She feels the increased cost for organic carrots is worth it. But when it comes to other produce, she can’t tell the difference in taste, and she usually buys off the shelf since she’s feeding a family of 6.

There can be a couple of down sides to organic:

  • Organic foods can cost much more than their non-organic counterparts.
  • Organic farmers don’t use synthetic chemicals, but they use “organic” pesticides which have not been studied. Some fear these organic chemicals might be just as harmful to our environment and humans as the non-organic counterparts.

However, if you feel compelled to go “organic” certain foods will give you a better bang for your buck. Here is a list of the foods that registered the most pesticides when tested:

Apples, celery, lettuce, spinach, grapes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini, peaches, strawberries, peppers, blueberries, milk and meats.

[1] Dangour AD, Lock K., Hayter A, et al. Nutrition-related health effects of organic foods. Am. J. Clin. Nutrition. 2010; 92:203.

[2] Smith-Spangler, et al. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2012:157:348-366.

5. Meal-planning is great, but can take a lot of time. Do you have suggestions for making meal-planning easier and budget-friendly?

Pick up any women’s magazine, and you’ll see something about how to plan meals, get organized in the kitchen, or quick meal ideas. Everyone seems to be searching for the secret to eat better. The bottom line is that meal planning is essential and just has to be completed. Like the Nike saying “Just Do It”. If you don’t meal plan, you will be caught hungry, tired and possibly make poor choices.

So, what tips do I have? Well, let’s see…

  • Develop a system to be sure you think about your food for the week and go to the store once per week. I only plan for about 3 full meals per week, as it seems I have leftovers, I decide to eat out, or something comes up. I do my meal planning/shopping on the weekend.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t try to make complicated recipes that will mean lots of time in the kitchen or grocery store. Simple is good.
  • Rely on the old favorites. I have some favorite recipes that I have been cooking since I got married.   I know how to make them by heart and everyone in the family loves them. It’s fun to make a new recipe, but most days, after working, I don’t have the energy. One new recipe per week works for me.
  • Have back-up meals in the ready. I always have sliced deli turkey, whole wheat bread, and some lettuce, tomato and onion. If nothing else, I can always make a quick turkey sandwich loaded with veggies. ( And so can anyone else who is starving and can’t wait; or has a scheduling conflict.) I also always have water-packed canned tuna, so we can make an open-faced tuna melt on whole wheat; combined with carrots and celery stix. I always have a pound of frozen lean ground beef and turkey, a jar of my homemade spaghetti sauce, and whole wheat pasta to whip up spaghetti (or my husband has it ready when I get home). I also love homemade clam chowder and this is a food that I always have all the ingredients for on hand (canned clams, potatoes, celery, onion, carrots, skim milk).
  • Have the freezer stocked with frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables are always ready, don’t spoil and I can use any quantity. I never want to be caught without these to round out my meals. I always have frozen asparagus, green beans, broccoli, corn, spinach, chopped onions and some sort of mixed vegetables in the freezer. I also use them to mix into some of my other foods. For example, I love French style green beans cooked into my spaghetti sauce. I add asparagus and/or spinach to my pasta dishes. Leftover chicken, brown rice and vegetables make a great chicken fried rice.
  • Have healthy starches handy. Always have a sweet or red potato to zap in the microwave. Always have brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, and whole wheat tortilla’s. They can be the base for any quick meal with leftover meats and added vegetables.
  • Lastly, I think it’s important to have a strategy in mind in case you don’t want to be in the kitchen, or are on the run. My back-up plan is Subway or Quizno’s. I love the deli sandwich with all the veggies and I can always find one of these close by. That way I’m not tempted to go thru a drive-thru.


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