UW’s dietitian answers your questions on dieting and weight loss

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Graphic by Caitlyn Yu

For Nutrition Month, Sandra Ace, UW’s registered dietitian, wants to debunk some popular nutrition myths. 

Ace is responsible for student nutrition education and health promotion activities on campus. Each year during Nutrition Month, she posts in UW’s Daily Bulletin, discussing various nutrition myths and correcting misinformation.

The theme for nutrition this March is “More than food: How you eat is important too!” and the purpose of this year’s campaign is to help people adopt healthy eating habits. 

In a conversation with Imprint, Ace offered advice to students on how to develop healthy eating habits and on other health-related topics.

On nutrition myths

“There is a great deal of misinformation about food and nutrition both on and off the internet, so I hear many things that aren’t backed up by science. 

Some of the myths that I commonly hear from students I counsel are that soy products aren’t good for you and should be avoided, that cow’s milk isn’t good for you, that you shouldn’t eat after a certain time, that carbohydrates make you gain weight, and that gluten-free foods are healthier for everyone.  

Often, part of the counselling I do is to help my clients unlearn commonly held beliefs about nutrition or food that aren’t true while teaching them what current evidence supports.”

On dieting 

“Dieting is never a good idea, eating balanced regular meals and being active always is.  The biggest misconception about dieting is that it is effective. While restrictive eating may result in short-term weight loss, it is rarely permanent. In fact, about 95 per cent of dieters eventually regain the weight they lost. Dieting can also distort one’s relationship with their body and with food, turning into an obsession that may lead to an eating disorder.”  

On weight loss

“There is no single magic bullet to losing weight, and more importantly, to help establish new habits that keep the weight from being regained. 

Fad diets provide only short term and temporary results. My advice is always to focus on making lifestyle changes, setting small, achievable goals and not just looking at a number on your scale.

People tend to think about what they have to give up, [but] a better way to look at things is what do I need to add?  Plan to include vegetables and fruits at every meal. Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit then add one quarter plate of grains and one quarter plate of protein meat, fish, beans, tofu, etc. Learning how to balance your meals like this makes it more likely that you will reach and maintain a healthy weight while getting all the nutrients needed.

Also, drink more water, and give up or limit sweet drinks and speciality coffees. If you eat in restaurants frequently, consider taking home half of your meal and refrigerate it for the next day’s lunch or split a meal with a friend. Restaurant meals are typically much larger portions than many people need. In addition, being active most days and getting enough sleep are other important goals which support a healthy weight.”

On supplements

“I don’t routinely recommend taking supplements. My job as a registered dietitian is to help students choose a balanced diet that provides all the nutrients needed for good health. 

A daily multivitamin is usually fine, but don’t take a large dose of a single nutrient without first getting advice about dosage and safety from a knowledgeable health professional. Vitamin D is hard to get from food alone or if you have limited sun exposure. Taking a daily multivitamin can help you get enough of this sunshine vitamin. Vegans may also need vitamin or mineral supplements and women who could become or who are pregnant need a daily multivitamin containing folic acid. If you choose to take a multivitamin, it doesn’t decrease the importance of building your meals and snacks around nutritious foods.”

On meal planning

“Meal planning is challenging for many students for many reasons: the time it takes to plan, shop for, and prepare food, limited cooking and storage space, challenges of getting to and from the grocery store, a lack of cooking experience, or limited finances. Students often feel that they don’t have time [to prepare] meals with all the other demands of student life academic workload, a job, volunteer work, sports and trying to make time to spend with friends or visit family.

My advice is to spend a few minutes each week planning what you’re going to eat for the week ahead, [and also] check your cupboards and refrigerator to see what food you have on hand that you can incorporate into the next week’s meals. If you shop at a certain grocery store you can check the online sale flyer to see what they have on sale, then make a list of the foods you will need. You’ll eat better if you have the ingredients to make healthy meals [and] may be less tempted to order in pizza because you don’t know what else to make. Look for easy recipes that don’t contain too many ingredients and that are made from wholesome foods rather than ultra-processed ingredients like instant noodles. 

Make sure you have a couple of options you can rotate for breakfast, then figure out two or three main meals that you can prepare ahead of time [like] a simple veggie omelette with whole-grain toast or a quick stir fry with tofu, veggies and brown rice.  For ideas on planning and preparing meals, check the Nutrition Services’ link on [UW’s] Campus Wellness website for a resource titled ‘Eating Well A Student Guide to Healthy Eating.’”  

On buying organic food vs. non-organic food

“Both organic and non-organic foods are nutritious and safe to eat and, like any food purchase, are a personal choice. Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean meats, poultry and fish, lower-fat dairy products, legumes, eggs, and nuts and seeds are all nutritious whether they are organically produced or not. 

Many factors affect a food’s nutritional value, such as where and how it was grown, stored, shipped and prepared.  Most organic foods have similar nutrients to non-organic, and although a few studies have shown slightly higher levels of certain nutrients such as vitamins C in some organic produce, the difference is not at a level that would benefit health. 

The most important goal is to eat more vegetables and fruit, which is associated with good physical and mental health.”

On snacking

“Snacks, and especially study snacks, should provide slow-released fuel, which is a combination of slowly-digested carbohydrates (not sugary, processed carbs) and protein. Some examples are an apple with almonds, Greek yogurt with berries, hummus or hard-boiled eggs with raw veggies, whole-grain crackers with peanut butter. 

That isn’t to say snacks can’t also be sweet or salty treats sometimes just be mindful of your portion and how often you eat them.” 

On the importance of a healthy diet

“A diet that is based on a variety of nutritious foods increases energy, strengthens the immune system, and may decrease the risk of many chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.  Eating well can improve not only physical wellness but also supports brain function, good mental health, focus and concentration. Students learn better when they fuel their bodies and brains well. 

In addition to eating well, (Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines )advise that people reduce alcohol-related health risks by drinking no more than 10 drinks a week for women, with no more than 2 drinks a day most days, [ and ]  no more than 15 drinks a week for men, with no more than 3 drinks a day most days.”

 Sandra Ace works for Health Services and provides one-on-one counselling to students by referral on a variety of nutrition or food-related health issues including disordered eating, gastrointestinal issues, diabetes, food allergies or intolerance, celiac disease, vitamin or mineral deficiencies and elevated cholesterol. 

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