With such an overload of nutritional information out there, Caroline Susie hears plenty of questions.
People ask the registered and licensed dietitian with Methodist Health System: What should they be eating — or not eating? What do they need to worry about — or not worry about? What needs to be in their diets, and what needs to be ditched?
We asked her to narrow the questions to six. Here they are. Along with her answers, of course.
What kind of oil should I use?
“Hands down, extra-virgin olive oil,” she says. Benefits include prevention of cardiovascular disease and other chronic health problems such as stroke, metabolic syndrome, inflammation and some cancers. Use it for dressings, sauces, marinades, sautéeing and grilling.”
But… At 120 per tablespoon, calories can add up quickly.
So… Buy an oil mister or measure by the teaspoon.
What about coconut oil?
Coconut oil is 92 percent saturated fat. For more than 70 years, research has shown a connection between saturated fat and heart-disease risk.
But… Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, has said this: “While coconut oil raises LDL, it boosts HDL cholesterol, the ‘good’ kind, better than other fats.”
So… Because we still don’t know how it affects heart disease, better to limit its use.
What’s the deal with gluten?
Gluten is a protein that naturally occurs in wheat, barley and rye and is what gives dough its elasticity, she says. Unless you have celiac disease (which only one percent of Americans do) or are gluten intolerant (six percent of Americans are), there is no reason to go gluten-free.
But… No, removing gluten from your diet will not help you lose weight. On the contrary, “Those who consume whole grains lose weight and/or gain less weight over time than those who eat little or no grains,” the dietitian says. Also, gluten-free products tend to be higher in fat and calories than foods containing gluten.
So… Even if you read that grains will trigger inflammation, to that Susie says: “False, my friends. Whole grains actually reduce inflammation, which in turn reduces the risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.”
My friend is selling X supplement. Is it safe?
“While I want your friend to succeed, is he or she a nutrition expert? Would you go to your car mechanic for open-heart surgery?” Susie says. “Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, but only dietitians can call themselves dietitians.”
Back to the question. Keep in mind that supplements are regulated under a different set of rules than conventional foods and drugs.
But… Will the supplement hurt you? Probably not, she says. Whether it will do what it promises is questionable, too. Be wary of studies your friend may cite, she says. Most are probably paid for by the company selling the product.
So… “Before you take anything, please check with your doctor or pharmacist. For best results, stick to a healthy diet and routine exercise,” she says. If you have questions, why, see a dietitian, of course.
Almond butter or peanut butter?
“Have you spent time in the nut butter aisle recently? … [T]here are tons of options!” While nut butters are high in fat, it tends to be the fat that’s beneficial to heart health. Go with either one.”
But… Some have unnecessarily high amounts of added sugar, sodium and artificial ingredients. “Ideally,” Susie says, “nut butters should contain as few ingredients as possible, just nuts and perhaps a little nut or seed oil for blending, and salt for flavor.”
They also tend to be high in calories, so don’t just ladle them into your mouth.
So… Susie recommends finding some with these qualifications per serving: fewer than 200 calories, no more than 3 grams of saturated fat, 100 milligrams of sodium, 3 grams of sugar and no artificial ingredients. Her choices? Jif Natural Creamy Peanut Butter Spread, as well as its almond butter.