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Check out some common questions our dietitians get from people all the time.

If you have a specific question, please see our Dietitian Page for all of their specialities so we can help you with the best answer!

Q: What’s the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?  

A: If I had a nickle for every time I get this question!  Registered dietitians are credentialed by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics.  Credentialing requires completion of a BS or MS degree in addition to completing an accredited dietetic internship and passing a registration exam.  In order to remain credentialed, registered dietitians are required to participate in continued education activities throughout the course of their career.  Credentialing is renewed every five years. The label ‘nutritionist’ is overused and can be misleading. Although a registered dietitian can use the term nutritionist to describe him/herself, there is no credentialing required to use the title, ‘nutritionist’. When seeking credible nutrition information, make sure to look for the “RD” after a nutrition professional’s name. Learn more about the qualifications of a registered dietitian here: American Dietetic Association definition of a registered dietitian.

Q: What should I eat? 

A: This is by far the most common question I get.  And, by far the most difficult to answer.  Set aside the fact that I’m usually being asked when at a party outside of work, it’s really hard to give a “catch-all” answer for this question.   Our nutrition needs are individual, based on our body size, unique make-up and health.  The most important thing to remember is to get a variety of whole foods, eat 3 meals and several snacks each day, limit sugar and for the most part, eat when you’re physically hungry – take notice of hunger and fullness cues. 

Q: Is coffee bad for you?

A: First of all, I don’t believe in labeling foods “good” or “bad”.  All foods have some redeeming quality and this is true for coffee as well.  While research on coffee is notoriously inconclusive with regard to protective effects vs. risks, overall it seems that moderate intake of coffee (just 1-2 cups per day) is generally safe. One thing you may want to consider is the interaction of caffeine with micronutrient absorption.  Iron tends to be poorly absorbed in the presence of coffee due to its polyphenol content.  Because iron status is a common health concern for many women, it would be wise to isolate coffee intake to at least an hour before meals to avoid any potential interactions.

Q: Should I take a multivitamin?  

A: It’s best to get nutrients from unprocessed food in your diet—vitamins and minerals included.  Whole foods can have many benefits beyond micronutrients alone, including things like fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.  However, a multivitamin can help fill nutrient gaps in your diet.  It can be a smart choice for those with poor nutritional status, low intake of certain food groups, restrictive diets (i.e. food allergies, vegetarian), 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 including a multivitamin.  There is risk of toxicity with high doses of certain vitamins so this is something you can talk with a dietitian about.

Q: Is organic food better? 

A: Tough one.  In this case, it depends.  Research is mixed.  While there is some evidence that organic produce may contain more nutrition and taste better, it totally depends on the farming practices, time of year and geographical location.  There is evidence that changing from conventional produce to organic reduced pesticides found in the body in a relatively short amount of time.  There’s more to this picture though.  The reality is, it takes a lot to get the USDA organic stamp of approval and some farmers just don’t bother.  If you want to be a conscious consumer, opt for locally grown foods and make a point to learn about the agricultural practices.   If you do opt for organic, it might not be realistic to switch over your entire grocery list without breaking the bank.  Some produce has a tendency to absorb produce more than others.  Reference the “dirty dozen” to see which fruits and vegetable you may want to opt for the organic version of.   

Q: Is fat good for you? What is the difference between saturated, unsaturated and trans fat?? 

A: YES, fat is good. Our bodies need it. Fat is a major source of energy for the body and aids in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K, and carotenoids. Both animal and plant-derived food products contain fat, and when eaten in moderation, fat is important for proper growth, development, and maintenance of good health. As a food ingredient, fat provides taste, consistency, and stability and helps us feel full. In addition, parents should be aware that fats are an especially important source of calories and nutrients for infants and toddlers (up to 2 years of age), who have the highest energy needs per unit of body weight of any age group. Saturated and trans fats have been observed in research to raise LDL (or "bad") cholesterol levels in the blood, thereby increasing the risk of heart disease. Dietary cholesterol also contributes to heart disease to some extent. Unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, do not raise LDL cholesterol and are beneficial when consumed in moderation. Therefore, it is advisable to choose foods high in mono- and poly-saturated fats and low in saturated and trans fat, and moderate cholesterol as part of a healthful diet.

Q: What is trans fat?

A: Vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other foods were historically made with or fried in partially hydrogenated oils. Unlike other fats, the majority of trans fat is formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats like shortening and hard margarine. However, a small amount of trans fat is found naturally, primarily in some animal-based foods. Essentially, trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil -- a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats. Trans fats were banned by the FDA in 2013 after determining that these fats are worse for health than saturated fats. On June 16, 2015, the FDA finalized its determination that trans fats are not “generally recognized as safe” and set a three-year time limit for their removal. Trans fat can easily be replaced using saturated fat alternatives such as lard or palm oil. It’s important to note, as long as the content of trans fats is under 1g/serving, a manufacturer can list it as “no trans fat” - some foods such as imitation whipped topping and processed baked goods may still contain trace amounts of it.

Q: How much fiber should I eat?

A: According to the DRIs, the recommended intake for total fiber for adults up to 50 years of age is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams for men. For those over 50, the recommended intake is 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men. You can add more fiber to your diet by increasing the amount of fruit, vegetables and whole grains you eat. When increasing fiber intake, make sure to do it slowly and increase water intake simultaneously to help your body adjust.

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