Remember when I decided to partner with Registered Dietitian, Alisha Virani to break down the biggest myths when it comes to eating healthy? Well, Alisha is back with some amazing insight from what type of milk to drink, the real deal on organic foods, and even a list of twelve healthy snack options. I could seriously spend an entire day with Alisha learning about nutrition and eating well. Let’s dive in.
WHO’S ALISHA AGAIN?
Alisha Virani is a Registered Dietitian and owner of Wholesome Fuel, LLC. She also works full time in the outpatient Diabetes Center at Grady Memorial Hospital.
Her mission is to reframe what “healthy” actually means and wants to help her clients be smarter consumers of not only food products, but information about food and nutrition that is so widespread across social media and can become hard to navigate.
SETTLE THIS FOR ONCE AND FOR ALL: WHICH MEAL SHOULD BE THE BIGGEST OF THE DAY?
I have heard many people say that breakfast should be the largest meal of the day. The rationale is that it is the start of the day and you will burn off that energy throughout the rest of the day. However, this is variable based on the person. It is actually better to evenly distribute calories throughout the day as your body can only use so many calories at one time. Giving your body more than what it needs for a 4 hour period promotes fat storage (energy that can be used later), but if you are also eating later, the priority will be to use energy from what you just ate rather than tapping into the energy that was stored from the previous meal. Now of course if you are incorporating some kind of physical activity throughout the day, your largest meal should really be surrounding that activity to ensure you are either fueling your body appropriately or refueling to promote muscle mass.
WHAT FOOD IS COMMONLY MISTAKEN FOR BEING HEALTHY – BUT ISN’T?
Any packaged food that claims to be “low fat”, fat-free” are commonly mistaken as healthy. If you think about, fat gives us that nice mouth feel and makes our food more palatable. Once you take this out, there has to be something else added to make this food still taste good. If you compare “low fat” or “fat-free” labels to the original version you will see that the packaged food with the claim will have more sugar to compensate for the fat being removed which is not necessarily healthier, just a redistribution of nutrients that should also need to be limited.
Another popular one is coconut oil which is commonly mistaken for being healthy. If we look at the composition of coconut oil, it is made up of 90% saturated fat, which is a higher percentage than butter (about 64% saturated fat), beef fat (40%), or even lard (also 40%). We know that too much saturated fat in the diet is unhealthy because it raises “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart disease.
WHAT ARE YOU FAVORITE HEALTHY SNACKS?
If you are looking for some snack products that are available, I personally enjoy the 80-100 calorie kind bars, although depending on the flavor you do have to be careful about the amount of added sugar. I also love the berry flavored RX bar. Both options give me the protein and fiber I need to sustain my energy until my next main meal while satiating my mid-day sweet tooth. I usually look for a snack with less than 5% added sugar, at least 2g of fiber (although 4g is ideal), and a minimum of 5g of protein.
I do think preparing your own snacks is always better. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your snack covers at least two of the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein). Here are some of my favorites:
- Whole grain crackers with 1 oz low-fat cheese
- A small handful of unsalted or lightly salted dry roasted nuts (1 ounce)
- 1 slice whole wheat toast with avocado spread, a little salt, and pepper
- Individual unsweetened applesauce with dry roasted walnuts tossed in
- Small apple with single serve peanut butter
- Some fresh fruit with a few nuts or low-fat cheese
- Baby carrots, celery, grape tomatoes, sweet peppers or any portable veggies in a ziplock bag with hummus dip
- Low-fat Greek-style yogurt topped with berries
- Smoothie made with fruit, low-fat yogurt, and some type of greens
- A small bag of low-fat/light popcorn – popcorn is a whole grain
- Baked tortilla chips and salsa
- A cup of frozen grapes and a handful of lightly salted nuts
WHICH IS BETTER FOR YOU? WHOLE MILK, SKIM, OR 2%
According to the dietary guidelines of 2020-2025 set by the USDA, consuming fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages can help control calories and reduce the risk for chronic disease. Of course, this would be in combination with other components of healthy eating. These guidelines are based on extensive research from what we know about how certain eating patterns or foods relate to the prevalence of chronic disease. The fat in dairy is mostly saturated fat, which is why fat-free or low-fat versions are recommended as we know high amounts of saturated fat intake are what contribute to increased blood cholesterol levels.
WHICH FOODS ARE IMPORTANT TO EAT ORGANIC?
According to the USDA, organic products have “been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” The national organic standards forbid the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering to grow fruits, nuts, vegetables, and grains. Organic meat and poultry can’t be irradiated. The animals must have access to the outdoors, and they can’t be given any growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs. All feed must be 100% organic, with no animal by-products.
I think choosing to buy organic foods is a personal decision. Buying organic foods is a lot more expensive and you are buying food more frequently because the shelf life is a lot shorter. There’s no conclusive scientific evidence that shows organically produced foods are healthier. If you’re trying to limit exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones or if you have concerns about the environmental impact of food production, look for the organic labels.