Dietitian and healthful eating columnist Ellie Krieger answered questions recently. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: Do “naturally occurring” sugars (100 percent fruit juice, honey, pure maple syrup) have the same dietary/health effect as “added” sugars in processed foods? Some foods have pretty high grams per serving of naturally occurring sugar, much to my shock!
A: First, let me present working definitions of “added sugars” and “naturally occurring sugars.” Added sugars are sugars added to foods to make them sweeter. White sugar, turbinado sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, brown sugar, evaporated cane juice and concentrated grape juice are all natural, but they are added sweeteners that are made up nearly entirely of sugars. Some of the less-refined options, such as honey and maple syrup, offer some minerals and antioxidants, but are still added sugars and should be used sparingly. Aim for less than 10 teaspoons a day.
Naturally occurring sugars are those that are inherent in foods, such as fruit and dairy products. Because these whole foods offer a “total package,” including fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, they may be enjoyed regularly, and liberally, but in balance, of course, with other foods in your healthful diet.
The bottom line: Keep added sugars to a minimum, but don’t worry about the sugar in whole fruit and dairy.
Q: I use my smoothie blender almost every day and add ingredients such as pineapple and ground turmeric to decrease inflammation. Are there any other things you would recommend adding? Also, what is your opinion of the Paleo diet?
A: It sounds like you are making some really creative and delicious smoothies. For the record, smoothies are a better option than juices because with smoothies you retain the fiber in the food.
I would suggest adding some kind of protein to your smoothie, so it keeps you satisfied longer and is more nutritionally balanced. Milk and yogurt are protein-rich and make for delicious smoothie bases. Nuts and nut butters are also a great way to add protein. For your pineapple-turmeric smoothie, for example, cashews would be a delicious addition.
About the Paleo diet, if you know me, you know I do not like extreme diets, and Paleo eliminates whole grains, beans and dairy, which are nutritious foods that can make healthful eating a joy.
That said, I think it is possible to have a very good diet following Paleo because it is rich in vegetables, nuts and seeds, and gets you away from ultra-processed foods.
Q: I’ve been gradually losing weight for almost two years now and have lost 70 pounds. I still have about 50 more to go until I reach my goal. I’ve cut down my alcohol intake, but I like grains, especially when the weather gets cooler. Any suggestions for making grain dishes more filling but fewer calories?
A: First of all, bravo on your progress and the meaningful effort you are putting into your well-being. That’s great!
Less beer and rice sounds like a good strategy to keep up your progress. One way to amp up the portion of grain dishes and keep the dish filling while reducing calories is by adding vegetables. One method I especially love is to grate cauliflower florets either on a box grater or by using the grater attachment of the food processor. This will cut the florets into little grain-like pieces that can be eaten raw as in a salad, or cooked in a pan to soften and then eaten on their own.
Q: What are some cheeses that are naturally lower in saturated fat than others?
A: Soft cheeses, such as goat cheese (chevre) and feta, are naturally lower in total fat, saturated fat and calories than hard cheeses, such as cheddar. Regardless, eat cheese sparingly if you have high cholesterol.
Q: Does it make sense to eliminate gluten for the entire family, including kids? Would they be missing out on important nutrients?
A: If you serve highly nutritious gluten-free alternatives, such as quinoa, whole-grain rice, corn, potatoes, buckwheat, etc., as opposed to highly refined gluten-free products, there is no nutrient anyone would be missing out on. It’s a plus to have the whole family eat the same food together.