Ellie Krieger on healthful eating

Feb 12, 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.

Hi chatters, welcome! Here is Ellie's recent column on prebiotics in case you missed it.

Lets get started.

Can a person support a strenuous workout/sports lifestyle on a vegetarian diet? What are the essentials of that diet?

Yes! Absolutely. There are many successful athletes that eat a vegetarian diet.

In my expereince, many vegetarians rely on dairy for their protein, which is a great source and contributes B vitamins and calcium. But it is also critical to focus on beans, seeds, nuts and legumes and eggs  because these foods will not only give you protein, they will also provide essential minerals like iron and zinc, that dairy does not have. 

Also, it is just as easy for a vegetarian to have poor eating habits with lots of refined "junk" foods.  Try to eat minimally processed foods, including whole grains and vegetables as well.

Are artificial sweeteners (including Splenda), killing the probiotics in our guts?

There is some preliminary animal research indicating this might be the case, but it is far from conclusive. More research needs to be done.  I am staying tuned.

What is your opinion on probiotic supplements? My daughter's acupuncturist is selling her Metagenics "Ultraflora Balance". How safe are these supplements and are they necessary to health? My daughter feels she needs additional probiotics to maintain her digestive system; she eats fiber rich fresh foods, but in a limited quantity.

I think probiotic supplements can be helpful in many cases, but I don't think they are "essential" for good health in a generally healthy person. It's ideal to get probiotics from foods like yogurt, kefir, and tempeh and other fermented foods becasue these foods have a very diverse microbiome, whereas supplements generally focus on select probiotics. That said, probiotic supplements most likely would not cause harm. I cannot comment on any particular brands because I have not evaluated them carefully.

you said that some types of sauerkraut are good, but how do I know which kind to buy? Also, at a nutritionist's recommendation I tried a probiotic supplement and noticed no difference. Might that indicate that I have enough in my diet? Thanks for writing on this subject.

Probiotic activity is destroyed with heat, so any canned or shelf stable saurkraut would not likely have active cultures. Look in the refrigerator section for fresh saurkraut. Some brands might even have "live cultures" advertised.

I'm looking to start incorporating smoothies into my breakfast routine. I would of course like for my smoothies to taste good, but I am mostly concerned about making sure that what I am drinking is healthy (it seems like making a smoothie unhealthy is a fairly easy proposition) and will provide me with energy throughout the morning. Any advice?

Yum. I could use a smoothie right now! I like to make my smoothies with whole fruit (rather than juice),  use low-fat milk (fun fact, a cup of milk has as much protein as an egg) and/or yogurt, and then add a scoop of nut butter or even a handful of almonds into the blender for extra nutrition and staying power. Also I find that if you add a very ripe banana you don't need any added sweetener. I always cut up very ripe bananas and keep them in my freezer for smoothies.

When I was in high school (in the mid-90's) I learned that palm oil and coconut oil were the worst vegetable oils due to their high levels of saturated fat. But a number of recipes that I'm finding now (mostly on the internet) use coconut oil, and the bloggers are extolling its virtues. I'm sure it is tasty, just as butter is tasty. But no one says that we should replace olive oil with butter; they're all talking about coconut oil. What happened? How is coconut oil better than olive oil? Or am I misunderstanding something? Thanks!

Coconut oil is not better for us then olive oil. It is just likely not as bad for us as we once thought, and it seems to have a really good marketing force behind it.  

Although coconut oil contains saturated fat, one of the main types it contains is medium chain, which is processed differently by the body than other saturated fats, and is not thought to be harmful.  Still, it appears that coconut oil does raise cholesterol overall, and there is not enough evidence yet about coconut oil to confirm its purported benefits. Olive oil's protective benefits, on the other hand, are well documented. Until there is more information, I will continue to use virgin coconut oil sparingly, like I do butter, and focus on olive oil as my mainstay.

I can never seem to get the timing right. I either eat too early and am sort of hungry before I crawl into bed. Or I end up eating too late and am a bit full when I go to bed/have some acid reflux. Is there a recommended amount of time between dinner and sleep? Am I just not eating a big enough dinner?

There is no magic timing between dinner and bedtime---it depends on the size of the meal and the individual. It sounds to me like you could either eat a slightly larger dinner, or have your usual sized dinner and a SMALL snack, like a piece of fruit, about an hour before bed.

I need a jolt of caffeine every morning basically because my job involves reading large volumes of boring stuff. I love not only the energy but the sense of optimism I get from caffeine. Unfortunately, I have problems with acid indigestion. I cannot drink coffee so I usually have an iced latte or a tea. But even those tend to bother my stomach. Can you suggest any strategy to tolerate these drinks better? I have found the pills unhelpful or that they actually make things worse in the long run.

I really love the effects of (a moderate amount of) caffeine too. It sounds like it really doesn't agree with you though. From what you are saying, your body is trying to tell you that, so you should listen to it! One thing that might keep you energized in a healthier way is taking a break every so often and getting some fresh air. Also, chewing mint gum seems to have an energizing focussing effect. Try that!

I found this at a higher end grocery store and would like to try it myself. It has walnuts in it. It is just kale, olive oil and nuts in a food processor?

Yum! It might also have some parmesan cheese, and certainly some salt. And maybe some fresh basil leaves. Let me know how it turns out!

Recently, I saw a doctor (specialist) about gastrointestinal issues I am experiencing and they suggested a food elimination diet. Is it really easy to remove certain foods from your diet and add them back in one by one to find a problem source?

An elimination diet is indeed a good way to get at the source of a food intolerance. It does take a lot of focus to do it right. I would suggesting finding a registered dietitian in your area to work through it with you. Perhaps your GI doc can recommend one, or go to www.eatright.org for a listing.

There are lots of apps for tracking your diet, but I wonder if you know of any that help you track your nutritional intake to meet the specific needs of pregnancy? I'd love one that let me enter what I'd eaten and track it against the recommended servings of dairy, veggies, protein, etc. Thanks!

I don't know of any. Wondering if anyone else on the chat does.... Please chime in!

Can't afford to buy all organic fruits and veggies. So, could you tell me among veggies and fruits that have pesticides which would be safer, e.g., would non-organic bananas safer than non-organic apples since bananas have a protective peel. Thanks...

First and formost, the benefits of eating produce, whether it is organically or conventionally grown outweighs any pesticide considerations. So enjoy it either way.

If you are trying to go organic but need to buy some conventionally grown foods, you are right that those with a peel you  remove are your best bet--- oranges, bananas, avocados etc... 

Two questions about milk: I hear that skim milk is higher in sugar and processing than low fat or whole. And that it doesn't help keep you feeling full. So what is a better choice for a young women and middle-aged women? Also, I have also seen reports of studies suggesting that dairy isn't good for older people. Your take?

If a person does not have difficulty digesting dairy, I see no reason for them to avoid this nutrient rich food, regardless of their age. About skim v whole milk,  skim or low-fat is still better for you. I explain in a past chat. Here's the link to it. http://live.washingtonpost.com/wellness-healthful-eating0115.html


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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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