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To celebrate National Nutrition Month, Healthline Nutrition is kicking off a monthly Nutrition Talk column. You send us your nutrition questions, and our registered dietitian (that’s me!) answers them. In this special first edition, we’re featuring our dietitian friends at PlateJoy.
I’ll do my best to share science-based answers to your questions while taking into account real-life factors like busy schedules, varying grocery budgets, different cultural preferences, and the fact that sometimes you’re going to want to eat a cookie (or a few).
Thanks for tuning in, and make sure to send your nutrition questions to [email protected]. I’ll do my best to answer them in an upcoming column. Without further ado, here are the answers to your questions from me and the PlateJoy team.
Lisa Valente, MS, RD, Healthline Senior Nutrition Editor
A: Most nutrition experts agree that adding more plants to your diet is beneficial, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat a fully vegan diet or that there’s one best way of eating for everyone.
Some of the confusion around plant-based diets comes from not really knowing how to define them.
There’s a vegan diet, which doesn’t include any animal products. There’s also a plant-forward diet or flexitarian diet, which includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds but doesn’t cut out animal products.
Adding more fruits and vegetables would likely give you health benefits, but it doesn’t mean you have to cut out meat, seafood, eggs, or dairy if you don’t want to.
Research has found that eating more fruits and vegetables is linked with longevity and reduced risk of chronic conditions, such as cancer and heart disease, and may also improve mental health (1).
However, a lot of plant-based foods can be highly processed. If you walk through the grocery store, you’ll see plenty of potato chips and cookies that are technically vegan but are not necessarily what you’d want to eat as the bulk of your diet.
Finally, animal products are high in some nutrients that are harder to get in a plant-based diet. Think omega-3s, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron. If you are eating a vegan diet, you may want to speak with a healthcare professional about supplements.
Whether you’re trying to eat plant-based or not, to build a more balanced meal, think about filling half your plate with vegetables or fruits, a quarter of your plate with whole grains, and the other quarter with protein.
Natalie Holzhauer, MS, RDN, LDN, PlateJoy Health Coach
A: You may have heard that if you’re craving chocolate, you might be lacking your daily requirement of magnesium. However, the science behind this theory simply doesn’t add up (
Magnesium is found in many other foods besides chocolate. Eating 1 cup (180 grams) of cooked spinach will give you almost 40% of the magnesium you need in a day. But a cup of spinach would most likely not get rid of your chocolate craving (
Typically, cravings are related to foods that are high in salt, sugar, or fat. Our brains — and our taste buds — love sweet and savory foods.
If you feel intense food cravings at night, ask yourself what might be triggering them. Most clients I’ve worked with can connect their cravings to one of the following questions:
Did you get enough calories throughout the day? This is the number one contributor I see to cravings. You might spend the entire day restricting yourself to meet a specific diet goal.
While you may be able to limit yourself throughout the day, when night hits, your body will feel so deprived that you feel intense cravings for salt, sugar, and fat. Research on food cravings supports this (
Your body may be so hungry that you’re unable to make a rational food choice or feel satisfied without a very large portion. Your brain also might start justifying the need for a food reward since you were so “good” all day.
If this sounds like you, I recommend allowing yourself to incorporate gentle nutrition, meaning that nourishment is your goal instead of deprivation. If you constantly restrict a food, you are more likely to crave it, which could lead to a binge.
Are you getting enough sleep? People who don’t get enough quality sleep tend to eat more the next day and experience cravings. Starting a bedtime and a morning routine may help you see a difference in those late night temptations (
Are you stressed? Developing tools to cope with stress is fundamental for your health. If you cope by always turning to a brownie or potato chips, you might want to find another way to de-stress. You may want to try going for a walk or meditating.
Are you avoiding something? Have you ever cleaned your entire house because you didn’t want to complete a difficult work task? We can also use food to avoid processing emotions or to delay a specific task (
Spend time sitting with your emotions or set a timer to initiate that difficult task instead of grabbing for the ice cream.
Jennifer Husson, RDN, LD, PlateJoy Health Coach
A: I have some healthy, quick breakfast ideas to get your body fueled for the busy day ahead without spending lots of time in the kitchen.
The key to a quick breakfast is a little prep work, whether that means prepping meals in advance or purchasing what you need at the store. Spending a little time preparing helps you set your morning up for success.
So, what exactly are the components of a healthy breakfast? Breakfasts, like other meals of the day, should focus on:
- Whole grains over refined grains. Choose whole grains, like whole wheat bread and oatmeal, over refined grains. Whole grains are rich in fiber, which helps promote fullness, stabilize blood sugar, and improve gut health (
- A source of protein. Add a protein-rich food such as eggs, nut butter, Greek yogurt, or unprocessed meat. Protein helps sustain your energy levels, slows your digestion, and reduces blood sugar spikes to keep you feeling satisfied longer (
- Fruit and veggies. Fruits and vegetables provide important nutrients and increase the nutritive value of your meal. Plus, starting your day with a serving or two helps you on your way to getting in your five a day!
Try to limit sugary, processed breakfast items. Keep those foods for once-in-awhile occasions instead of your everyday quick breakfasts (sorry, doughnut fans!).
Here are a few ideas for what to eat for a quick breakfast:
- Protein oats in a Mason jar. This is personal favorite, and I make up 3–4 at a time, so I’m set for a few days. I start by combining 1/2 cup of rolled oats, 1 scoop of protein powder, 1 scoop of collagen, half of a banana, and water or milk. I then refrigerate it until morning and heat it in the microwave (it’s ready before my coffee finishes brewing).
- Chocolate pecan breakfast bars. This PlateJoy recipe is incredibly delicious and very family-friendly.
- Toast with almond butter and banana. Pop a slice of whole grain bread in your toaster and top it with almond butter and banana slices. For extra protein, pair it with a hard-boiled egg (prepped ahead of time).
- Plum buckwheat muffins. This recipe is a PlateJoy team favorite. Make a couple batches and freeze some for later.
- Yogurt parfait. Top a cup of plain Greek yogurt with additions like nuts, fresh fruit, or chia seeds.
- Breakfast grits with peaches, brown sugar, and almonds. Though the recipe name sounds fancy, this dish is ready in just 10 minutes.
If you aren’t a fan of typical breakfast foods, it’s also perfectly acceptable to break the societal normal and eat other foods you enjoy. Last night’s dinner leftovers work great in a pinch.
Brittany Cardwell, RDN, LD, PlateJoy Health Coach
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day for men and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women (
More than 70% of foods and drinks in the U.S. food supply contain sugar and/or low calorie sweeteners, so it’s easy to see how we’re commonly consuming more than the recommended amount. The more sugar you eat, the more you tend to crave (
When you consume sugar, your body releases dopamine, which is known as the “happy hormone” because it lights up your brain’s reward system. The release of dopamine makes you feel good. The more sugar you eat, the higher your tolerance for sugar becomes (
Low calorie and artificial sweeteners may seem like good alternatives to sugar. However, research on them is mixed, and we’re still learning more. Artificial sweeteners may negatively impact the gut microbiota, affecting brain health and hormone regulation (14,
The good news is that there are things you can do to help manage sugar cravings and cut back. Here are a few of my recommendations:
- Note the major sources of added sugar in your diet. Check for added sugars on the labels of foods in your fridge and pantry. Do you add flavored creamer to your coffee? Try using less or replacing it with half-and-half. Does your peanut butter contain sugar? If so, switch to one made simply with peanuts and salt. These small changes add up!
- Own the sweetness! Instead of buying pre-sweetened foods and drinks, choose unsweetened varieties like plain yogurt, unflavored oatmeal, or unsweetened tea. From there, you can control how much sugar you add or, instead, naturally sweeten foods with fruit, cinnamon, or vanilla extract.
- Cut down on sugar-free and “diet” items. Although things like diet soda, sugar-free coffee creamer, and zero-sugar protein bars (just to name a few) don’t contain any added sugars, they tend to have lots of artificial sweeteners.
- Drink more water. Up your water intake to stay hydrated. Sugar-sweetened beverages are a major contributor of excess sugar in the diet. Replacing those beverages with water not only cuts back on your sugar intake but also may help regulate your hunger (
- Don’t eat carbs naked! Think bread, potato chips, cereal, or even fruit. These and other carb-rich foods break down into sugar in your body. Pairing them with a protein or healthy fat (e.g., a banana with peanut butter or toast with avocado and eggs) helps stabilize your blood sugar, making you feel full and ultimately decreasing sugar cravings (
Pairing small amounts of sugar with a minimally processed diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help promote overall health. A good starting point to eating less sugar is to limit the food products you buy with added sugar.
Start cooking at home more so you know what’s in your food. And if preparing nutritious meals at home seems overwhelming, PlateJoy can help with that.