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Advice · A Dietitian Answers Your Top Nutrition Questions!
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A Dietitian Answers Your Top Nutrition Questions!

Proper diet and nutrition are an integral part of our overall health, but it sure can get confusing! There are so many diets, eating plans, and advice about food out there that it’s easy to feel lost when it comes to what you should be eating. Luckily for us, there are trained professionals out there that can take all the confusing health and nutrition information and distill it down for us into easy-to-understand, practical advice. These professionals are called dietitians, and we just happen to know a great one!

We often consult Jennifer North while doing research for health-related posts here on the blog, but we thought it would be fun to switch things up a bit and let YOU, our amazing readers, ask her some questions for a change! 😉 Jennifer graciously agreed, and she’s here today to answer some of your most burning diet and nutrition questions that you posted on Facebook. Take it away Jennifer!

Question #1

Stacy asks, “Are there really any benefits to taking a multivitamin? And are there any possible negative effects to taking one?”

This is a great question! First off, I would always recommend getting your nutrients—vitamins and minerals included—from unprocessed foods in your diet. These whole foods can have many benefits beyond micronutrients alone, including things like fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. However, many people choose to take a multivitamin to fill in potential nutrient gaps in their diet.

As for benefits, a multivitamin can be a smart choice for those with poor nutritional status as a result of advanced age, low intake of certain food groups, restrictive diets, or chronic illness. For best results, choose a multivitamin that is formulated specifically for your age, gender, and life stage. For example, specific multivitamin formulations are available for pregnant women, those over 50 years of age, etc. Particularly, the presence of iron, folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin D can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia, neural tube defects during pregnancy, neurological damage, and bone disease for those at risk. If you suffer from chronic illness, ask your doctor before taking any kind of dietary supplement, multivitamins included.

There could potentially be some risks in certain situations. Vitamins and minerals are essential for proper health, but they exist in balance. Taking too much of one kind of vitamin or mineral could cause decreased absorption of another kind, resulting in a deficiency! For that reason, always be sure that your supplement contains no more than 100% DV for any one component. And before beginning to take a multivitamin, first assess your diet as a whole. If you currently consume fortified foods and beverages regularly, adding a multivitamin on top could push you over the recommended amounts for certain nutrients.

I always recommend that individuals discuss any potential supplements with their healthcare provider or dietitian before beginning to use them. Although research has shown their efficacy in many areas, taking large amounts of some vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients can actually be harmful to your health. And most of all, realize that a multivitamin is not, and should not, be a substitute for a healthy diet.

Overall, there is low risk for taking a standard multivitamin, with the potential for modest benefits. For healthy individuals, however, maintaining a balanced diet is enough—no multivitamin necessary!

Question #2

Susan writes, “I am pretty addicted to treating myself to a (not-so-cheap!) latte on a daily basis. Financially—not a great idea. What effect does this have nutritionally on a monthly or even annual basis?”

Let’s take a look at the nutrition content of your latte. A “plain-jane” 16-oz. latte made with 2% milk from a certain popular coffee chain will set you back 190 calories, with 7 g fat, and 12 g protein. If you were to have a regular latte five days a week, that adds up to 950 extra calories per week, or 49,400 calories per year. Because of personal variations in metabolism, overall diet, activity level, and genetics, it’s difficult to say exactly what effect that might have on you—or your weight. However, those calories could certainly have a negative effect if not balanced out with increased activity.

Research on coffee itself is notoriously inconclusive with regard to protective effects vs. risks. However, overall it seems that moderate intake of coffee (just 1-2 cups per day) is generally safe. One other thing you might consider is the interaction of your latte with micronutrient absorption. Iron tends to be poorly absorbed in the presence of coffee due to its polyphenol content. On top of that, the calcium found in milk tends to decrease iron absorption as well! Because iron status is a common health concern for many women, it would be wise to isolate your latte to at least an hour before meals to avoid any potential interactions.

None of this is to say you can never have another latte. I’m a big advocate for finding a place for all of your favorite foods in your diet, but moderation is key! You could try limiting your indulgence to just once a week. Or consider swapping out the latte for a brewed coffee, Americano, or hot tea. Try your coffee or Americano with just a small dash of creamer and a sprinkle of cinnamon for subtle sweetness. These are all good options for still feeling like you’re having a daily treat while skipping out on those extra calories. Additionally, many restaurants and cafes are now posting nutrition info on their website or menu; sometimes being aware of the nutrition content of what you are eating or drinking is enough to encourage healthy changes.

Question #3

Norma writes, “I walk about 9 miles daily, but still cannot lose weight. I do not eat sweets, and carbs are very limited. I am 53. I run and lift weights. How can I give my metabolism a huge push?”

Norma, I applaud you for taking such great steps to stay active and healthy! That said, it can be frustrating when you’re doing all the right things and still having difficulty meeting your goals. You’re right on track with weight training, walking, and running; we tend to see increased metabolic rates in individuals with higher muscle mass.

Cutting out sweets is a great way to avoid excess calories, but carbohydrates in general are not a bad thing. In fact, carbohydrates are your body’s preferred form of energy, so making sure you have enough carbs in your diet can actually keep your metabolism going. Think of it like the fuel for your body’s metabolic fire. Just make sure that most of your carbohydrates come from whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.

Secondly, take a look at your protein sources. Your best bets will be lean proteins, such as seafood, chicken or turkey without skin, beans, lentils, and tofu. High-fat and fried meats could be sabotaging your weight loss goals. Generally, eating meals at regular times with healthy snacks (think fruit, nuts, healthy fats, and proteins) in between helps to keep your metabolism at an even rate throughout the day.

Finally, make sure to drink plenty of water. A recent study found that drinking half a liter of water increased metabolic rate by 30% in both men and women, with effects lasting for over an hour. Add that to the many benefits of remaining hydrated!

Don’t lose hope! As we age, it often becomes more difficult to lose weight, but it sounds like you’re well on your way. And regardless of how many pounds you lose, your healthy lifestyle and exercise choices are undoubtedly helping to protect you from chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Thanks Jennifer…and thank you to the readers who shared their questions! I know I learned a lot and have a renewed commitment to treat my one-and-only body a little bit better! 🙂

About Jennifer North, MS, RD, CD

Jennifer North is a Registered Dietitian based out of Salt Lake City.  She received her Master’s degree in Nutrition from the University of Utah, and believes in using evidence-based guidelines to promote health, an active lifestyle, and has a love of real foods.

If you have questions for future “Ask The Dietitian” posts…please leave them in the comments.


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