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The Answers to Your Most Asked Nutrition Questions

If you are confused about the nutrition information you read or hear, you are not alone. Many people feel overwhelmed trying to understand what they can do to stay healthy. To help you, we’d like to share ten of the most asked nutrition questions our nutritionist has received. If you have a question that you would like answered, you can “Ask Beth” through our website or facebook!


Question: Which fish has the most health related benefits and how often should we eat fish? Leslie

Answer: You are right to assume that certain fish have more health benefits than others! Fish is a great source of protein that is also low in saturated fat. But, when considering the health benefits of fish you need to look not only at the nutritional profile but where the fish come from (wild vs. farmed), contaminants they may be exposed to and the sustainability of fish populations. All of this can be quite confusing.

People that consume the most fish also tend to have the lowest levels of chronic disease. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t fall into this category. Because of this, the newest recommendations are that we should eat fish twice per week.

While it’s good to eat a variety of fish, the one fish that you should include in your diet is Wild Alaskan Salmon. This particular fish provides many health benefits because it’s high in omega-3 fat. Omega-3s may help reduce the risk and symptoms of heart disease, cancer, macular degeneration, arthritis, and all inflammatory disorders. A 3-ounce serving contains about 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, which is much more than what is usually found in the standard supplement pill. So aim to eat two servings of fish each week and make sure one of them is Wild Alaskan Salmon.

- Beth Avery, RD

Question: How can I control my cholesterol through diet? It is on the borderline of high and I don't want to go on medication. – Gail

Answer: Diet can play an important role in lowering your cholesterol. Many times it is all people need to do to stay off medications.

There are various ways foods can lower cholesterol. Some have soluble fiber, which binds to cholesterol and helps deliver it out of your body. Some give you polyunsaturated fats, which help lower LDL (bad cholesterol). And some contain plant sterols, which block the body from absorbing cholesterol.
Below is a list of the best foods to help lower your cholesterol. Try and include as many as possible in your diet each day.

• Oats, oat bran and barley
• Fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (wild salmon, herring, lake trout, mackerel)
• Walnuts, almonds and other nuts
• Beans
• Eggplant and okra
• Avocados and olive oil
• Citrus fruit, berries and apples

Equally as important to lowering cholesterol is avoiding foods high in saturated fat (red meat, butter, cheese, ice cream) and trans fats.

Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising are the other non-diet related ways to manage your cholesterol.
It is important to talk to your doctor if you are not able to manage your cholesterol through diet.

- Beth Avery, RD

Question: What's the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber? I see this distinction made on cartons of oatmeal. – Daniel

Answer: Fiber is a topic that confuses a lot of people. First of all, we all should be trying to eat more high fiber foods. The average American consumes between 11 and 15 grams of fiber each day, well below the 25 to 35 grams recommend for good health.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance. It can help lower cholesterol and glucose levels. It is mainly found in oats, peas, beans, barley, apples and citrus fruits.

Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and can help relieve constipation. Wheat bran, nuts and most vegetables are good sources of insoluble fiber.

To receive the greatest health benefits from fiber, eat a wide variety of high fiber foods. Also, increase fiber intake slowly and drink plenty of water to prevent problems with gas and stomach upset often associated with increased fiber intake.

- Beth Avery, RD

Question: Sugar...there is so much out on the market (Raw, Nutrasweet, Splenda), is there a difference? What is the healthiest?  Debbie

Answer: NutraSweet is the trademark name for the artificial sweetener aspartame. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar, so very little is required to sweeten food, and is used in a wide variety of products from soda to yogurt. It is not heat-stable and cannot be used in cooking or baked foods. Splenda is a common name for the artificial sweetener sucralose. It is not metabolized by the body, and therefore doesn’t contribute to digestible calories. It is heat-stable and can be used in cooking and baking. The Food and Drug Administration deem both safe. “Raw” sugar is simply sugar that has not been bleached to look white.

Excess sugar of any type may contribute weight gain or health issues, but there is no evidence that artificial sweeteners solve these problems. My suggestion for optimal health is to keep your sugar intake to a minimum. If you have a health problem, such as diabetes, and have been told to avoid sugar, ask your physician which artificial sweetener is best for you.

- Beth Avery, RD

Question: Are nuts healthy? Which are best? – Sandy

Answer: Many people still think of nuts as a salty snack, high in calories and fat – not something you should include in your diet. In fact, by choosing the right types and eating them in moderation you can reap many health benefits.

Nuts have protein, fiber, healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And many studies have shown that nuts have powerful cholesterol-lowering effects. Because of this research it is widely agreed that a diet that includes one ounce of nuts daily can be good for your heart. Just remember an ounce of nuts is about the size of a shot glass, and always choose the unsalted, raw variety, if you can.

Most all nuts are high in healthy fats and contain fiber and protein, but a few are known for other health benefits. Walnuts are great because they contain omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fat that is heart healthy and found in few foods. Almonds are known for their vitamin E, cashew for magnesium, and Brazil nuts for selenium, a mineral that might protect against prostate cancer.

You can be sure that enjoying a few unsalted nuts each day as snack will be satisfying and healthy. Thanks for your question!

- Beth Avery, RD

Question: Sea salt vs. table salt, which is the healthier salt option? – Bonnie

Answer: It seems like every day I notice a new product claiming to be made with sea salt. It is no wonder many people are asking if it’s healthier than table salt. While sea salt may sound more natural, chemically it contains the same two minerals as table salt, sodium and chloride. The main differences between the two are their taste, texture, and how they are made.

Sea salt is produced through the evaporation of seawater, usually with little processing. Table salt is mined from underground salt deposits and processed to eliminate trace minerals. Chemical agents are also added to prevent it from clumping.

Both contain about the same amount of sodium chloride, and should be used sparingly in a healthy diet. Most people get far more than the amount of salt their body needs to function properly – mostly from the sodium in processed foods. Whatever type of salt you choose, aim to keep your sodium consumption between 1,500 and 2,300 mg per day if you are a healthy adult.

- Beth Avery, RD

Question: What's the story on eggs? Inexpensive source of high-quality protein or evil source of cholesterol?  Jan

Eggs are a great source of protein AND a source of cholesterol. Here’s the story:

One egg has about 70-80 calories and is relatively low in fat; a single egg contains only about 1.5 grams of saturated fat. Egg whites are an excellent source of protein, and the yolks contain a wealth of nutrients including iron, lutein, choline, and vitamins A,D,E and K. Some eggs contain omega-3 fatty acids. So, in general, eggs can be pretty good for you, when eaten in moderation.

One large egg has about 213 mg of cholesterol, all of which is found in the yolk. While most research suggests that cholesterol intake from eating eggs has less impact on your cholesterol levels than eating foods high in saturated fat (like butter and red meat), it’s still important to watch your cholesterol intake, particularly if you have cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

If you are healthy, try to keep cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day. If you have cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or high LDL cholesterol levels, you should limit your intake to 200 mg per day. If it’s protein you need, egg whites will do just fine.

- Beth Avery, RD

Question: Are there specific foods that will help those of us suffering from high blood pressure keep our numbers within a healthy range? – Addie

Answer: High blood pressure (hypertension) is a problem for millions of Americans. Fortunately there is a lot we can do to lower our blood pressure including managing our stress levels, exercising regularly, losing weight and eating the right foods.

The DASH diet (which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has been very helpful in treating and preventing high blood pressure. The DASH diet encourages you to reduce the sodium in your diet and eat a variety of foods rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium, three nutrients that help lower blood pressure.

Specifically you should consume no more than 2300 mg sodium (about a teaspoon) per day if your blood pressure is within the normal range, and only 1500 mg if you already have high blood pressure. Your diet should be based on whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, barley), fresh fruits and vegetables (4-5 servings per day of each), low fat dairy, poultry, fish, nuts and seeds and healthy fats (from extra virgin olive oil, avocados, and wild salmon).
You should also limit the amount sweets, sugary drinks, alcohol and caffeine in your diet. Controlling your blood pressure should be a top health priority for all of us, so I encourage everyone to think about how the DASH diet can fit into his or her life.

- Beth Avery, RD

Question: What are the health benefits of green tea versus black tea?
– Mandy

Answer: Studies of humans and animals show that the antioxidants in both black and green teas are highly beneficial to our health. Both types of tea have been estimated to contain up to 10 times the amount of antioxidants found in many fruits and veggies.

Whether you drink green tea, black tea or oolong tea -- they all come from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. The leaves are simply processed differently. Green tea leaves are not fermented; they are withered and steamed. Black tea and oolong teas undergo a crushing and fermenting process.

All teas from the camellia tea plant are rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that scavenge for cell-damaging free radicals in the body and detoxify them. Some people believe that because white tea is the least processed, it provides the most antioxidants, but research varies.

What we do know is the worlds biggest tea-drinking countries, like Japan and China, have less heart disease and fewer incidences of certain types of cancers than other non tea-drinking countries. So, adding a cup of a quality tea to your diet (black, white or green!) is a good idea if you want to increase your antioxidant intake.

- Beth Avery, RD

Question: How do I lower my triglycerides with diet? – Patty

Answer: If you have recently had a fasting blood test to measure your cholesterol levels, your triglycerides were most likely also measured. Normal triglycerides should be below 150 milligrams per deciliter. The American Heart Association recommends that a triglyceride level of 100 milligrams per deciliter is optimal.

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. You body converts the food you eat that isn’t needed right away into triglycerides. Therefore eating excess calories is a major contributor to high triglycerides. Alcohol, sugar, and fats are also readily converted into triglycerides.

Luckily, triglycerides usually respond well to dietary and lifestyle changes. Limiting sugar, alcohol and fat in your diet is most helpful. You should also practice portion control, to keep the excess calories in your diet in check. Here are 5 specific things you can do to lower your cholesterol through diet:

  1. Read labels: Limit foods with simple sugars. To identify the sugar look for the words sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, corn syrup, honey, molasses and high fructose corn syrup.
  2. Replace refined breads and crackers with whole grains. Beware of the terms “enriched” or “bleached” and instead look for 100% whole wheat or whole grains.
  3. Avoid alcohol and fats from butter, cheese, margarine, fried foods, and red meat.
  4. Eat small frequent meals.
  5. Eat omega-3 fats found in wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, flax seeds and walnuts.

- Beth Avery, RD