Nutrition Experts Answer the Most Common Questions About Diets and Eating Healthy
If you’re like most, sometimes figuring out what a healthy diet actually consists of might seem as confusing as trying to figure out how to put together a piece of Ikea furniture.
For the most part, basic nutrition is pretty straightforward, but the fact that we’re constantly bombarded with different diet theories and varying research results quickly and constantly clouds what we think we know and often makes us second guess our choices.
When it comes down to it, though, the answer to many of our most common diet questions is an unsatisfying one: it depends. This is because—and maybe you’ve heard this before—what works for one person might not be the best option for another.
Of course, like we just said, this answer is entirely unsatisfying and mostly just leaves us wondering how exactly we can go about finding what does work best for us.
Part of figuring out what your best diet will consist of includes educating yourself. This is where the experts come in. We recruited six nutrition experts to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about diets and eating healthy.
Here’s what they had to say.
Q: What's the best diet?
“Almost every nutrition expert will agree on certain points,” explained Dr. Caroline Cederquist M.D., creator of bistroMD and author of The MD Factor Diet. “The best diet is one that is low in processed food, added sugars and is high in vegetables, fiber and has enough lean protein to prevent muscle breakdown and loss. From there, there is huge discussion and divergence of ideas with diets high in grains verses low-carb diets, diets low in fat verses diets with fat as the majority of calories. Some recommend animal protein as the preferred protein and on the other spectrum are those who feel a vegan diet is best.” At the end of the day, though, Cederquist emphasized the fact that the “best” diet will be the one that you find easiest to follow.
“When I am working with a patient it comes down to, ‘does your diet work for you?’” she explained. “A diet that works for you will have you at or close to your ideal weight, and you will have energy and strength. It is also important to note that your ideal diet will change with regards to your life situation. If you are very active you will be able to have more extras and treats in your diet than if you are sedentary. Sometimes our lives become sedentary for a time and our ideal diet needs to reflect that”
She continued, “If you have gained weight, the priority is to lose weight while maintaining your muscle by ensuring you have lean protein spread throughout the day. Calories also matter for weight loss and your carbs will need to be from vegetables, legumes and fruit primarily with less grains and, of course, less sweets.
“Despite recent talk about the ‘fat controversy,’ we still need to pay attention to fat. Saturated fat from meats still should be limited while healthy fats from avocados, nuts and olive oil should be enjoyed but we should still watch the portions.
"Again, it all comes down to finding a diet that works for you. If you’re on a diet you don’t like, you won’t stick with it. You need to find something that fits within your lifestyle. You can eat healthy food without feeling like you’re on a restricted diet.”
Q: Can a low-carb diet help me lose weight?
Carbs are generally looked down upon, but they’re not as detrimental as you may think. Many still want to know, though, can a low-carb diet actually help you lose weight?
“The short answer is yes—but as with most things, a simple yes or no won’t suffice,” said Katie Goldberg, M.C.N., R.D.N., L.D.N., a Chicago-based registered dietician specializing in weight management, diabetes, postpartum nutrition and wellness.
“Many studies have tried to address the question of whether a low-carb or a low-fat diet is better for weight loss. In 2003, a randomized control trial published by the New England Journal of Medicine gave the edge to the low-carb in the short-term (six months). In 2014, a meta-analysis (i.e. compiling data from many studies) published in the Journal of the American Medical Association also gave a slight edge to low-carb diets in the short-term, but over the long-term the differences became negligible.”
So, once again, as Goldberg explained, “the answer is truly about which of the diets patients adhere to over the long-term.” In other words, it’s about determining which is more manageable for you.
Goldberg went on to explain the pros and cons of low-carb diets.
The good of low-carb diets: “For the typical American, cutting out carbohydrates really boils down to cutting out a lot of low nutrient foods like sugar-sweetened beverages and desserts,” she explained. “There is always a benefit to cutting these foods out of your diet—or at least limiting them. Low-carbohydrate diets focus on protein and fat, which provide satiety. In short, you feel satisfied. When it comes to hunger, almost no one feels deprived on a low-carb diet.
The bad of low-carb diets: “Carbohydrates are often cut out unilaterally, without taking stock of what nutrients are involved. For many people, low-carb diets end up meaning high-meat diets.” Goldberg said. “When I see patients cutting out entire food groups, I start to get nervous. Whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and dairy all provide key nutrients that meat cannot provide. Also, food cravings often take over and make the low-carb diet unsustainable in the long-term."
Goldberg continued, “One very significant thing to keep in mind is that your body requires carbohydrates to function. Specifically, carbs are your brain’s preferred source of fuel. Sometimes a low-carb diet can leave you feeling fuzzy-headed. Carbohydrates are also the first source of fuel that your muscles use when you are active. You could be sabotaging your weight loss efforts if your low-carb diet keeps you feeling a little sluggish, makes you cut out of the gym early, or if your form suffers while you work out. Athletes should be especially cautious in cutting out carbohydrates without talking to a dietitian.”
Ultimately, Goldberg explained, you can't go wrong when you’re choosing high-quality, real foods that are minimally processed. “The exact ratio of each of those foods is customizable. A registered dietitian can help you find that balance to optimize weight loss without sacrificing enjoyment of food.”