As if the world of nutrition wasn’t confusing enough, throw in the terms registered dietitian (RD), registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), and nutritionist and you may need some help figuring out where to begin when it comes to health certifications.
Whether you have prediabetes, you’re thinking of having or have had a gastric bypass surgery or you have digestive problems, going to the right person can make all the difference. So, what is the difference and whom should you go to for expert nutrition advice?
The term nutritionist is unregulated, and is a self-designated term anyone, regardless of education, training, background or credentials can use. While some nutritionists have an undergraduate degree in nutrition, others have completed a quick online program and many simply just have a personal passion for food and weight loss. Be careful!The term nutritionist is unregulated and can be used by anyone Click To Tweet
What about a registered dietitian compared to a registered dietitian nutritionist? They’re exactly the same. In 2013, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics added the term and is giving each RD/RDN the option of deciding which title to use.
A dietitian is the only credentialed, licensed nutrition professional. They have a minimum undergraduate degree in nutrition from an accredited institution, have completed a supervised practice through an accredited internship, and passed a national board exam. Every step of their training is overseen by the Commission on Dietetic Registration and once becoming an RD/RDN, dietitians are required to undergo continuing education and work to renew their registration every five years.
What about other health and wellness areas? You always want to look for someone who has training and credentialing from a reputable organization. For example, does your personal trainer have a certification? Likely, but it isn’t required depending on where they work. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) is considered the top personal training certificate, while other reputable organizations include ACE, AFFA, and NASM.
In the health coaching arena, anyone can call themselves a wellness coach, but where did that title come from? Houston Methodist Wellness Services has certified health and wellness coaches (CHWC) that undergo training through Wellcoaches, a program accredited by the International Coach Federation and requires certain undergraduate degrees, classroom instruction, practical experience and exams before credentials are earned. Certified health and wellness coaches, like dietitians and certified personal trainers, are also required to do continuing education to maintain their credentials.
So, before you trust your health and wellness to just anyone, be sure to ask about his or her background so you can proceed confidently. At Houston Methodist, we have certified and licensed massage therapists and acupuncturists, registered dietitians, ACSM-certified personal trainers and certified health and wellness coaches ready to help you achieve your goals.
It’s been said that the best things in life are free. Many people think when they see fat-free foods that they have hit the jackpot. They can eat as much as they want because the item contains no fat.
Unfortunately, foods labeled fat free, reduced fat, low fat or sugar free do not equate with calorie-free and contain additives like salt, sugar and chemical fillers that make them less than healthy.
If you want to keep off unwanted pounds, you need to look beyond the claims on the front of the package and take a critical eye to the nutrition label and ingredients. Labeling a food item fat free is a classic bait-and-switch marketing strategy the food industry uses to try and get consumers to forget about the calories.Labeling a food as fat free is a tactic companies use to get consumers to forget about calories Click To Tweet
Kari Kooi, RD, LD, with Houston Methodist Wellness Services, says reduced-fat products often contain the exact number of calories per serving as full-fat versions.
Reduced-fat foods have a perceived healthy image that researchers have dubbed a “health halo.” Studies have shown that people tend to eat twice as much or more of these foods.
Manufacturers often set the serving size for packaged foods to be unrealistically small (a serving size of Oreos is three cookies, ha!), so it’s important to look at the number of servings per container.
For example, chips and drinks offered at the checkout lane in the grocery store appear to have one serving, but often times have two or more.
Instead of looking for products with health claims such a low fat, Kooi suggests concentrating on eating healthy fats from whole foods such as nuts, olive oil and avocados. Monounsaturated fats found in these foods have been shown to lower LDL or bad cholesterol and boost HDL or good cholesterol in the blood.
Omega-3 fats in oily fish such as salmon and anchovies also have been shown to lower LDL. She says that fat plays a strong role in feeling satisfied after eating, thereby helping with appetite control and should make up at least 30% of our daily calories.
She also recommends avoiding trans fats as much as possible as it promotes inflammation in the body. Products that contain partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients list have trans fat.
When it comes to sugar free, it’s extremely important for people with diabetes to be smart label readers. Sugar is a carbohydrate and foods such as sugar-free cookies or candy are not free of carbohydrates. A person with diabetes may be unintentionally consuming large amounts of carbohydrates, which could lead to increased blood glucose levels.
The best way for all of us to avoid being fooled by reduced fat and sugar-free labels and putting on those unwanted pounds is to shop for nutrient-dense foods that don’t come in a package and therefore require no labeling.
Go to a mainstream grocery store today and you’ll see an expanded section specifically for organic food. Perhaps you’re looking for the latest nutrition bar you saw at a coffee shop; you’ll likely be directed to the “health” foods section filled with organic, extra virgin expeller-pressed coconut oil, gluten-free rice flour pasta and Annie’s organic children’s snacks.
Though organic foods have been available for over three decades, lately they have been taking the market by storm. Organic grocery sales continue to grow faster than conventional sales and the 2014 Farm Act has mandated $160 million be put toward organic farming production. Interestingly, despite growing demand, the number of farms seeking organic certification has leveled off.
Consumers often associate organic with healthy, but organic certification focuses solely on how crops are grown and animals are raised. While some organic products are more nutritious, others aren’t. Organic cookies typically have just as much fat and sugar as regular cookies, and those organic potato chips are still deep-fried. Let’s take a look at what organic really means.
Organic labeling standards vary by item, but the general goals of organic farming are to conserve natural resources, promote biodiversity and use only approved substances in production. If you see the USDA organic seal on an item, this means it was produced by a certified organic farm shown to follow organic guidelines such as banning synthetic pesticides, participating in crop rotation and using responsible irrigation. Each year, the USDA requires at least 5% of all farms with organic status be audited for compliance. The USDA organic seal means the following for each item:
Organic crops like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains
Farmers did not use synthetic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, irradiation, genetically modified organisms or sewage sludge.
Organic beef, pork, and poultry
Animals have access to outdoors and raised on 100% organic feed free of animal byproducts like skin and dried blood; no growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs; no irradiation.Organic certification focuses solely on how crops are grown and animals are raised Click To Tweet
Hens have 100% organic feed and are free of growth hormones, antibiotics or other drugs. Hens do not have to be cage-free or free-range.
Cows have access to outside at least 120 days of the year and have at least 30% pasture diet; no growth hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs.
There are several reasons why organically-grown crops may be more nutritious for us. Without the aid of synthetic chemicals, plants must build up their own strength to fight off pests. These healthy, natural plant defenses are then passed to humans when consumed.
Organic fruits and vegetables also tend to stay on the vine longer, ripening naturally and building up nutrient stores. They are typically grown in more nutrient-dense soil, which also helps the plants to soak up more nutrition. Think about how much better a homegrown tomato tastes compared to one from the supermarket. Some of the same factors making that garden tomato so delicious also make it more nutritious!
Not ready to pay the premium for organic? Look for U.S.-grown produce and avoid imports. Since the Food Quality Protection Act was passed in 1996, risk from American produce has dropped dramatically. You can also buy organic on selected items that are more likely to be contaminated. Skip organic bananas since the thick peel protects the fruit, but strawberries carry a higher risk.
F or many households of Mexican descent in the United States, the weeks following Thanksgiving aren’t only about wrapping gifts but also about wrapping tamales. The savory treats – traditionally prepared with generous amounts of lard and lots of salt – don’t have to be unhealthy.
For those unfamiliar with the delicacy, a tamale is made with seasoned, cooked pork surrounded by cornmeal, or masa, encased in a corn husk (or banana leaf). It is then steam cooked. Tamale recipes can vary greatly with the only mainstays being the masa shell and the husk. Unfortunately for those who enjoy tamales, they are often not very healthy.
“My grandmother would use an entire carton of lard when preparing the masa. The amount of salt is also extensive as salt is often added to the meat as well as the masa,” said Jennifer Pascoe, a registered nurse in the Houston Methodist Hospital Weight Management Center, who educates patients on how to eat healthier and maintain special diets. “Salt should be limited in all diets especially those with diabetes, hypertension, and congestive heart failure. The recommendation is to not exceed 2 grams per day.”
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans. Latino populations face even higher risks of heart disease as a result of their preponderance for obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
There are many substitutions that can be made to make the traditional tamale healthier, according to Pascoe. In addition, you can use a healthier recipe for tamales.
“For starters you can buy a leaner cut of pork or at the very least trim the fat off the meat before cooking, and then make sure you drain the fat off the meat before preparing the mixture,” Pascoe said.
Here are more tips for healthier tamales:
- Replace the pork with a healthier alternative such as ground or shredded white chicken or turkey meat, beans or vegetables. Popular vegetarian tamale recipes call for cooked vegetables such as serrano peppers or spinach, black or pinto beans, and low-fat cheeses.
- Replace lard or vegetable shortening with vegetable oil.
- Replace the pork drippings some people use to flavor the masa with chili powder since it’s the chili powder that gives the pork drippings some of its flavor.
Pascoe said the biggest challenge to removing the lard or vegetable shortening in the mixture will be spreading the masa on the corn leafs, which will take more time and patience but will be worth the fat and calories saved.There are many substitutions that can be made to make the traditional tamale healthier Click To Tweet
“If you know you have high blood pressure or diabetes, you probably shouldn’t eat traditional tamales,” Pascoe said. “For these people I would recommend preparing a dozen or so healthy tamales, which use all of our healthy substitutions.”
And everyone should limit the amount of tamales they eat regardless of how they’re prepared.
- 2.5 pounds chicken breasts
- 3.5 cups water (or enough to cover chicken in pot)
- 1 teaspoon canola oil
- 1 medium onion
- 1 medium bell pepper
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 tomato
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons dried chili peppers, crushed
- 1 teaspoon low-sodium salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup tomato paste
- 4 cups masa corn flour
- 4 teaspoons canola oil
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon low-sodium salt
- 2 cups chicken broth (reserved from cooking the chicken)
- 18 to 20 dried corn husks
- Place the chicken breasts in a pot and add enough water to cover them. Bring pot to a low boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the meat is cooked.
- Remove chicken from the broth (set broth aside) and let it cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it and chop. You may add a little broth to keep it moist.
- Heat the canola oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion, garlic and peppers until tender. Add the tomato, chili peppers, pepper, cumin, and low-sodium salt. Add tomato paste and 1/2 cup of the chicken broth and simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir the mixture as needed.
- Puree the sauce in a food processor or blender and return it to the pan. Add the shredded chicken, stir and let the mixture simmer for 10 to 15 minutes on low heat. Allow to cool.
- Soak the corn husks in a large bowl of hot water for about 20 minutes. Make sure they are pliable.
- Prepare the masa mixture by combining all ingredients and mixing until the mixture clumps together. Add broth as necessary to make the masa pliable. Turn on to a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a minute. Divide the masa mixture into 16 equal balls.
- Drain and rinse the corn husks. Pat dry and keep covered with a warm damp towel. Tear two or three corn husks into 1/4 inch strips to use for ties. You will need 16 corn husks for the tamales.
- Flatten the corn husk on a flat surface. With a spoon or spatula spread one ball of dough over the husk leaving about a 1-inch margin on all sides. You may add a few tablespoons of warm chicken broth to the masa to make it more pliable and easier to spread. Add about 2 or 3 tablespoons of filling to the center. Roll up lengthwise into a cylinder and wrap with the corn husk. Secure the ends by tying with a strip of husk. Repeat with remaining dough, filling the remaining husks. You may freeze the tamales to cook at a later date or steam cook immediately.
- Place the tamales in a steamer basket and set over one inch of boiling water. Cover tightly and reduce heat. Steam the tamales between 30 to 45 minutes until cooked. Check frequently and replenish water as needed. Frozen tamales should be thawed for at least one hour and will require a longer cook time.
While exercise and lifestyle factors are important to overall health, so is diet, and that’s why it’s important to make your food choices count.
Superfoods are foods that are nutrient dense, meaning they pack many healthy benefits into every bite. Want to test your superfood knowledge? Take the quiz below.
Color is a key element of the full sensory experience of eating and plays a big role in making food attractive and desirable. That’s why it makes perfect sense that nature’s most nutrient-dense foods are designed to be colorful.
Food has the amazing power to influence everything from your mood to overall health. You can maximize your body’s potential for radiantly-good health by fueling your body with a rainbow of plants. You will feel light and energized from eating this way instead of having that sleepy, sluggish feeling a “beige” diet of processed, refined foods leaves you with.
Think of your plate as a canvas; add splashes of vibrant, vivid colors to optimize nutrient density and to shower your body with the entire phytochemical spectrum.
What are phytochemicals, you ask? Phytochemicals are plant compounds that provide cell-protective antioxidant power and impart different colors to plant foods. That’s why it’s so important to think in terms of eating from the rainbow. More than 10,000 phytochemicals have been found and scientists speculate there are several thousand more yet to be discovered.
Plants produce phytochemicals to protect themselves from environmental threats such as the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When we eat plant foods, they impart these protective properties to our bodies and offer disease prevention in a number of complex ways.
For example, lycopene is responsible for the red coloring of watermelon and tomatoes and offers skin protection from the sun, while anthocyanins give blueberries their deep-blue hue and can help slow age-related memory loss by protecting the brain from oxidative stress. Lutein and zeaxanthin provide emerald green coloring to broccoli, kale and spinach and play a key role in maintaining healthy vision.
Phytochemical foods exert their antioxidant power by shielding our cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Each phytochemical has a fancy scientific name, but all you have to remember is to eat the rainbow in plant foods every day and you will get the full spectrum of phytochemicals.Phytochemical foods exert their antioxidant power by shielding our cells from the damaging effects of free… Click To Tweet
Colorful ideas for painting your plate:
- Swap pale iceberg lettuce for dark-green arugula or spinach. The richer the color, the more phytochemicals present.
- Stir berries (fresh or frozen) into cereal, oatmeal or yogurt. For an even greater antioxidant boost, eat a mix of berries. Shopping tip: Frozen produce is often more nutrient-dense than fresh.
- Jazz up salads by adding orange or grapefruit segments, apple or nectarine slices, sliced beets, dried cherries or pomegranate seeds.
- Add grated carrots and zucchini to pasta sauce, turkey burgers or meatloaf for moisture and a pop of color.
- Stuff color into sandwiches with sliced apple, avocado, cucumber, spinach and/or sprouts.
- Spread creamy avocado onto whole-wheat toast and top with slices of juicy tomato for a plant-powered snack.
- Mix fresh herbs and chopped tomato or red bell pepper into your scrambled eggs.
“Eating five to six mini meals a day … keeps your metabolism humming 24/7,” proclaims a Redbook article. “Have a small meal or snack every 3 to 4 hours keeps your metabolism cranking,” notes a WebMD slideshow.
You’ve probably heard similar statements—all based on the assumption that food grazing increases your basal metabolic rate (BMR) or the number of calories used in a day, leading to more fat loss.
Is there any truth to this? Are six meals a day better than three? And what about fasting? Does skipping meals negatively impact your health?
Deconstructing the metabolic fire analogy
Advocates of increased meal frequency usually compare BMR to a fire. If you think of a fire, the fuel is wood and when wood is thrown on an existing fire, more fire is produced, throwing off heat.
If you apply this analogy to people, the wood is calories from food and the reaction that produces heat is the thermic effect of food (TEF), which is the amount of energy your body has to expend to process food for storage and use.
Take a look at the chart below the bulleted list. It compares TEF for three people who eat the same amount of calories and macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates and protein):
- One eats six meals a day (breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner and an evening snack)
- One eats the traditional three meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
- One eats only two meals a day (breakfast and dinner)
While the TEF spike duration and frequency is different, the total amount of TEF for all three individuals is identical. This means the amount of calories used in a day is the same, regardless of meal frequency.The amount of calories used in a day is the same, regardless of meal frequency Click To Tweet
Research confirms this: Studies in both 1997 and 2010 noted as long the total amount of food eaten is the same, you can gorge or nibble—neither approach promotes more or less weight loss than the other.
Returning to the fire analogy, eating less but more frequently is like continually throwing kindling on the fire all day long whereas eating more in a sitting (but less frequently) is like throwing a big log on the fire.
What about fasting?
This is oversimplified and inaccurate. It may be true that fasting decreases your BMR, but with one big caveat: It takes over three days of fasting to accomplish this.
In fact, researchers have found that short-term fasting actually increases the amount of calories you burn while at rest and doesn’t affect cognitive performance, activity, sleep or mood.
Could fewer meals be better for you?
A lot of recent research has come out in favor of eating less frequently. For example, a 2014 study found that frequent snacking might stress the liver, leading to a greater risk of fatty liver disease.
Fasting for short periods of time has been found to have the following health benefits:Numerous studies have shown that short-term fasting has health benefits and fewer meals may be better for you Click To Tweet
And lowers the risk of:
Eat the way that works for you
There’s no reason to stress out about meal frequency. If you find it easier to make healthy food choices by eating a couple of meals a day and a snack or two, then stick to that. If you like to spend more of the day fasting so you can enjoy larger meals and because it suits your schedule, then stay with that approach.
When it comes to weight loss, overall calories matter more than meal frequency, so always keep an eye on your portions. If you have issues with blood sugar control, work with your doctor to figure out a meal schedule that works for you.Reviewed by Kristen Kizer, R.D.
The energetic and radiant hue of emerald green makes it easy to become obsessed with the color. Green also happens to be the color of many in-season foods. So why not go ahead and add splashes of green to your plate?
Bright green is symbolic of in-season green-hued foods bursting with flavor and nutrients. You will be well on your way to “cleaning” your diet by incorporating these free-radical absorbing foods.
Kari Kooi, a registered dietician at Houston Methodist, says “eating clean is a buzzword for a wholesome, unprocessed diet that drastically limits ultra-processed foods made from inferior ingredients while embracing whole foods like fruits and vegetables.”
There’s no better time to start eating clean and green. Here are five green powerhouse foods to help brighten your plate.
Looking for a natural anti-ager? Emerging in the springtime, these green spears offer a bounty of nutrients. Asparagus is high in glutathione, an antioxidant that can help reduce skin damage from the sun. Additionally, asparagus contains the most folate of any vegetable. Folate plays a vital role in heart health and the prevention of birth defects.
Add some thin slices of smooth avocado to your sandwich or salad without feeling guilty. The monounsaturated fat in avocado is what’s mostly responsible for avocado’s super food status. This type of happy fat can help drive down levels of bad cholesterol.
These baby cabbages are loaded with antioxidants and filling fiber. A cruciferous vegetable, Brussels sprouts contain powerful, cancer-fighting sulfur compounds that are responsible for their pungent aroma. These green jewels take on a whole new flavor and crispy texture when roasted in the oven.Eating clean means eliminating ultra-processed foods and embracing whole foods like fruits and vegetables Click To Tweet
This beautiful ruffled green is being called “the queen of greens.” Kale is brimming with eye-nourishing carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, a pair of phytochemicals that has been shown to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts. Additionally, kale is a better source of calcium than spinach as it has lower levels of oxalic acid, a compound that interferes with calcium absorption.
Rich in vitamin C, potassium and fiber, kiwis make a perfectly portable snack. Just slice a kiwi in half and scoop out the emerald flesh with a spoon. You will dazzle your body with nutrients. This sweet and tart fruit has a unique taste, with flavors reminiscent of strawberry, banana, melon, pineapple, and citrus
Not a week goes by in the media without stories about potential health problems associated with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). From brands like Yoplait to Heinz and Hunt’s, consumers are asking for the removal of the ingredient from products and companies are responding.
However, what do you really know about HFCS? Is it the main culprit when it comes to weight gain and metabolic problems or is there more to the story? In order to tackle this subject, let’s first look at HFCS and sugar at the molecular level.
Up close and personal: HFCS and sugar
Time for a little biochemistry: The kind of HFCS used in packaged foods and soda goes by the names HFCS 55 and HFCS 42. In the 55 variant, 55% of molecules are fructose and 42% are glucose. For HFCS 42, the breakdown is 42% fructose and 53% glucose. Both fructose and glucose are basic, simple forms of carbohydrates.At the molecular level, high fructose corn syrup and sugar are nearly identical Click To Tweet
Why did I provide that molecular breakdown? Sucrose or sugar often replaces HFCS when brands swap ingredients and guess what? It has a 1:1 ratio of glucose to fructose, meaning that 50% of the molecules are fructose and 50% are glucose. At the molecular level, HFCS and sugar are nearly identical.
Research roundup: HFCS vs. sugar
Given that HFCS and sugar have a very similar glucose-to-fructose ratio, what does the nutritional literature have to say about the health effects of HFCS?
According to a 2008 study, “Sucrose and HFCS do not have substantially different short-term endocrine/metabolic effects.” Even when looking at other critical factors like appetite- and fat-related hormones, no difference has been found between sugar and HFCS.
A 2012 study that put subjects on a reduced-calorie diet noted that both the HFCS and sugar group lost similar amounts of weight and body fat, leading researchers to conclude the type of sugar in the diet was of no significance.
All these results are similar to a 2007 critical review in Food Science and Nutrition, which summed up its research saying, “The currently available evidence is insufficient to implicate HFCS per se as a causal factor in the overweight and obesity problem in the United States.”
The real nutritional culprit: excess carbohydrates
It may seem like I’m letting HFCS and sugar off the hook, but I’m not. What’s important to realize is that they’re both carbohydrates and because of their connection to “sweetness,” they shift the conversation away from something people need to be more aware of when it comes to their diet: too many carbohydrates elevates blood sugar.
A diet composed of too many insulin-spiking carbohydrates has been implicated in the following health problems:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Macular degeneration
- Female infertility
- Colorectal cancer
- Multiple chronic diseases
- Metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes
Making healthier choices
Elimination of foods containing HFCS is a great start to revamping one’s diet as HFCS is typically found in processed foods that contain artificial ingredients, little nutrient density, low fiber counts and hydrogenated vegetable oils.
But don’t be misled: eating the same amount of a food that uses sugar or a similar sweetener in the place of HFCS won’t lead to significant improvements in your health.
Instead, shop the perimeter of the grocery store, stocking up on fibrous fruits and vegetables like berries, avocados and broccoli, and protein sources like wild-caught salmon and grass-fed beef. It’s all about increasing the nutrient density of your food choices and being a more aware consumer.Reviewed by Kristen Kizer, R.D.