Ellie Krieger on healthful eating

Jan 29, 2015

Krieger is a nutritionist, registered dietitian and author. Krieger’s most recent cookbook is “Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). She blogs and offers a bi-weekly newsletter at www.elliekrieger.com. She also writes weekly Nourish recipes in The Washington Post’s Food section.
Please be advised that the contents of this chat is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice nor an individual nutrition prescription. Always seek the advice of a physician, dietitian or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. You should never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read here.

Thanks for joining us, everyone! We're glad it's Thursday (or at least I am!).


Here is Ellie's recent column on chewing (and why it's underrated) as well as a recipe for a winter salad.

I have made a concerted effort to be a more mindful eater - paying attention to what I am putting in my mouth, how much, how often. However, somewhere in the craziness of most days, I fall back on old ways. I am in a food rut. I am not a terrible eater but I am certainly not a terrific eater and I am a huge stress eater. I feel like a moodge right now. What I want is a plan, a day-to-day breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack plan that I can follow until it becomes second nature to eat the correct sorts and amounts of food. If I had a plan with a grocery list and do-ahead steps, all the better. Does such a thing exist? If I would need to work with a dietitian or nutritionist, how do I pick a good one. I quick look online gives very little guidance as to training and knowledge level. Your guidance is appreciated.

Good for you for your efforts toward wellness. It certainly is hard to maintain changes when the demands of life seems to always get in the way! I definitely recommend a visit with a professional nutritionist. That way you will get a personalized plan that will help you navigate some of the pitfalls you face. The best way to start is to look up the registered dietitians in your area. A registered dietitian will have met stringent educational requirements to get that certification. You can go to www.eatright.org to search for one. Then peruse their websites and see which one suits your food philosophy best. Finally, get on the phone and chat with them and get a sense of their personality and see if it feels like a good fit. I think finding the right person for individual attention is really worth it!

I often use a website that gives me detailed nutritional information on my own recipes, and I've been wondering about something. The site tends to have both cooked and raw forms of vegetables/grains/beans (e.g. carrots, raw vs. carrots, boiled). In the past, I've chosen the raw versions since it's the raw food that I'm measuring out and cooking can substantially change the volume, as well as the fact that I might be steaming instead of boiling or leave whatever a little undercooked. Of course, the ingredient does get cooked in the process, and now I'm wondering how badly my nutritional analyses are overstating things like vitamins. If you were analyzing a recipe, would you choose boiled carrots or raw? Does it change your answer if, say, it's a soup you're making and the liquid that the carrots are simmered in is eaten? I know this sounds like I'm going for razor precision, and I'm not - I'm just trying to figure out how to get closest.

When I analyze my recipes, I enter the food the way it is listed in the ingredient list, accounting for any amounts that are trimmed off and discarded or not used in the end, like flour left after dredging. 

It can be impossible to find out quantities of individual ingredients after cooking, especially if you are making a casserole, soup or stew where ingredients meld together. Nutritional analysis is always a bit of a rough estimate, as you note. It sounds like you are on the right track.

Based upon the advice from a physician and due to certain health issues, I've been actively reducing the amount of animal protein in my diet. I've upped the consumption of plant, legume and fish-based proteins as a result, but a friend has said that it wouldn't hurt to supplement with a plant-based protein powder. Not sure if this is a good idea or not. Thoughts?

You should not need protein powders to get the protein that you need. If you include beans, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy, and/or fish  at each meal you should be fine. Your friend says it "couldn't hurt," but while these powders are basically safe, many contain lots of additives and sweeteners, and they can be expensive. Also, a large amount of isolated soy protein has been linked with some negative health effects. I have a bias toward whole foods, which have all the nutrients we need plus benefits we have yet to discover. Stick with those, unless your doc tells you otherwise.

It's helpful to me to have groceries at work in the fridge, not just plan and bring a new lunch every day. I have a bag of salad greens, a couple avocados, some fruit, salad dressing, maybe cans of tuna, or cook a few chicken breasts, etc. When I'm tempted to go to the vending machine it helps if I have a bag of grapes. Herbal teas, even frozen goods. I think of work as needing to be stocked just like home, since I spend a lot of time there.

Thanks for chiming in!

How important is keeping sugars and carbs in limited quantities? Also we know there are somewhat good and bad carbs (whole wheat vs processed flour), is the same true with sweetners? I'm not sure if you are also taking dessert recommendations, but I have been doing Chocolate Covered Katie's recipes for a while now and I love them. I feel it helps me have a happy medium.

I love that you aim for a happy medium. It seems to be a lost art these days! There is no need to go to extremes ---you should be able to have dessert here and there!  

When it comes to how much sugar is OK, the general consensus it that women should try to limit sugar intake to 6 teaspoons a day, and men 9 teaspoons. To put that in perspective, there is about 1 teaspoon of sugar in a small (2-inch) cookie, and about 10 teaspoons in a 12 ounce soda. So if you avoid sweet drinks and go easy on pre-sweetened foods (flavored yogurts, bars etc..) you should be able to fit in a small dessert each day, if you'd like.

As for good and bad sugars, all sugars should be eaten sparingly and count toward that 6-9 teaspoon limit. Better ones are only marginally better---but the less refined the more minerals and antioxidants there are and (generally) the more gentle it is on your blood sugar. So opt for honey, maple syrup, or molasses instead of the white stuff when you can.

HI Ellie, I'm a middle aged woman and wondering, because I've read articles that soy isn't as healthy as it is marketed, what your thoughts are? Tempeh seems to be able to take on the flavor of whatever it is cooked with, and has a meaty texture, but I'm just not sure. Are there "guidelines" (as there are for fish that are high in mercury)? Thank you!

The reported issues with soy are linked with excessive consumption of soy protein, so I recommend avoiding concentrated soy protein powders. But there is no reason to avoid soy altogether. Up to two servings a day of traditional soy foods like edamame, tofu, miso and tempeh is considered safe and healthy.

Just a quick note to say thanks for all the great healthy recipes that have appeared in the Post in the past few months, from you, Bonnie, Joe, and others. I have enjoyed many of them!

Hi Ellie, I received as a Christmas gift a 3 month CSA Grain Share, where I receive 2 grain items with each shipment. My new order came yesterday which contained flax seed, and I have no idea on how to use or prepare it! Do you add flax seed into other items to boost the nutrition value? Bake with it? Sprout it? Any help would be much appreciated!

Oooh! Lucky you! Sounds like a fun way to get turned on to some new varieties. As for your flax seed, it is best to grind it a bit using a coffee grinder, or in your food processor. Then you can sprinkle it on your morning oatmeal, cold cereal or yogurt bowl, stir it into muesli, or add a couple of tablespoons into your waffle, pancake, muffin or quick-bread batter. Store it in the refrigerator as it is sensitive to light and heat. Enjoy!

My husband is a diabetic and we're finding that the Paleo diet is helping to keep his blood sugar levels more stable. I'm trying to prep food on the weekend, so there's less temptation to go out for dinner during the week. Do you have any suggestions for casserole-type dishes? Shepherd's pie has worked (sweet potatoes or mashed cauliflower on top), Mexicali casserole (again, topped with grated sweet potatoes with parsnips, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, onion and burger inside) have been my go-to recipes, but I crave variety! Grain free, veggie heavy with low to moderate amount of protein works.....Thank you!

This is not a casserole, but one dish you might consider is a ratatouille--a stew of tomato, eggplant, zucchini and onion. It is great for making ahead and you can serve it as a main course with a fried egg or a grilled fish fillet on top. 

Any new suggestions besides hummus for an easy veggie sandwich?

One easy way to go is to stick with the bean puree concept but take it in a different flavor directions by using a black bean dip instead, and layering it with southwest style vegetables like avocado and jicama. 

In my quest to eat quick especially after a long day and steer clear of the white starches, I will sometimes opt for food like California rolls (brown rice), sweet potato fries or quinoa pasta. Are these substitutions even healthy?

Small changes really can add up to make a remarkable difference over time. So opting for brown rice or whole grain pasta over white, is a great idea. But certain foods sound healthier, but actually have a false health halo. Fried sweet potatoes are still fries--probably not substantially healthier than fried regular potatoes. Similarly fried "vegetable chips" are mostly not much better than potato chips.

Thanks for joining us, everyone. Check back in on Feb. 12 for our next chat.

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Ellie Krieger
Ellie Krieger is the Food section's Nourish columnist. Her most recent cookbook is "Weeknight Wonders: Delicious Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less." She blogs and offers a weekly newsletter at www.elliekrieger.com.
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