Dietitian Ellie Krieger on eating better in 2016

Apr 07, 2016

Hoping to start the year off with a healthier lifestyle? Krieger, a healthful eating columnist for The Washington Post's Local Living section, is here to help. The registered dietitian, nutritionist and author shared her nutrition knowledge. Her most recent cookbook is “You Have It Made: Delicious, Healthy, Do-Ahead Meals,” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Check out recipes from her new book here.

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! Welcome to the chat today. Thanks for joining!

There are a lot of great questions on deck!

I have never fully understood food labels. Do the stated levels of fats, sugars, etc, include everything edible in the container or just what you are likely to eat. For example a can of peas lists sodium. I know there is sodium in the liquid in the can which normally I would dump after cooking - so I don't eat any of it. I think this is normal behavior but I could eat it by dumping the whole can in a stew. The same for a steak it has a layer of fat that I cut off and I assume most people do cut off but I could, in theory at least, eat it. So what does the label include the sodium in the water or not? Thanks for clearing this up.

The data on a food label does include everything you might eat in the container. So with the beans, the sodium content includes the liquid. If you drain the liquid and rinse the beans you reduce the sodium content by about 30%. If the food is in a brine as with olives or pickles--that you could technically consume but most likely would not (unless you are my husband who puts pickle juice in his bloody mary's)--the liquid is not included in the nutrient analysis.

When it comes to meat, the nutrient data includes the fat that is left on. If you cut the fat off, that would reduce the fat and calorie content you are consuming.

I just accidentally deleted a question I was eager to answer so I am paraphrasing it here: "Does food that is blended, as in a smoothie, contain the same fiber as if it is unblended?"

A: When you blend fiber rich foods like fruits, vegetables and nuts those foods retain the same quantity of fiber as the whole, un-blended food, but since the fiber is pulverized finely in a blender it may have a somewhat different effect in your body. 

Essentially, the blender is doing the chewing for you. Chewing can increase satiety, slow down consumption and have a positive impact on digestion, so you do miss out on that when you drink your food.  Also chances are your chewing will not pulverize the fiber as well as the blender, so you might get more nutrients out of those foods, but have less undigested fiber strands which also slow digestion and can help with satiety. mentioned red and white, will white wine vinegar work the same? It sure tastes better!

All vinegars ---red, white, champagne, cider---have acetic acid which is the active ingredient that, research shows,  aids in lowering the blood glucose response to starchy foods. So enjoy the one that tastes best to you!

I would love to know what the experts think about eating sandwich meats that are “uncured” with no nitrates, artificial preservatives or flavors, etc. according to the label. Are they o.k.?

Basically cured and uncured processed meats (bacon, sausages, cold-cuts) are more similar than people think - Cured means they  use a commercial method of preservation involving chemically derived nitrites and uncured means they use a natural source of nitrites like celery powder. It is still unknown if the “natural” nitrites are less harmful than those added to cured meats.  It would be best to limit intake of both. 

Hi Ellie - I heard someone say - insist - that as SOON as food (especially chicken) is no longer hot, it begins to spoil and starts collecting or generating bacteria. Wha? And some bacteria is good, after all - it's how our digestive systems process stuff, right? So is it true that as soon as chicken is no longer hot is always has bacteria?

Bacteria is all around us, and in us, all the time, but the kind that grows on chicken and other foods left at room temperature are not the "good" bacteria. They can make you very sick. Bacteria grows especially quickly in the temperature zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. The rule of thumb to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria is make sure food is not in this temperature "danger zone" for more than two hours. That means either refrigerating (at less than 40 degrees) or heating your food (at greater than 140) at or before that two hour point.  

I recently found out I have high cholesterol. It's not high enough to take statins, and was told I'd need to adjust my diet. However, I already eat healthy and there's nothing I can cut or reduce from my diet to help. So I'm trying to increase my intake of cholesterol lowering foods like avocado, salmon, red wine, etc. I've heard that red yeast rice extract can help lower bad cholesterol. Do you have any thoughts on insights on taking it? Do I need to talk to my doctor first?

Red yeast rice extract naturally contains active ingredients that have been shown to lower cholesterol. But although it is derived from food, it is a supplement that is taken like a drug and, I think, should be taken as seriously as one. Absolutely talk to your doctor before you take it.

Your article today mentioned that the portion sizes can help discipline some people. It's worth mentioning that the opposite can happen also - in a good way. We've found the Blue Apron portions to be about twice what we can eat in one sitting, so our cost per meal per person is $5 rather than $10.

Great point. Thanks for sharing!

Following up on the smoothie and fiber question, how does the change in the fruit's fiber after blending affect how the body processes the fruit's fructose?

More fructose will likely get into your system more quickly when the food is blended vs. chewed because more of the plant's cell walls will be broken down and the contents absorbed.

Hi Ellie, I love green and herbal teas, but I prefer iced tea to hot. Am I losing any health benefits by drinking it cold? Thanks (and can't wait for your new show!)

From what I understand, if you steep tea in hot water and then chill it it retains the same benefits of hot tea, but commercially bottled iced teas tend to have fewer health benefits.

Worth noting: herbal teas are not true teas, but tisanes, because they do not come from the Camilla Sinesis plant, like black, green and white teas do. Herbals teas offer different benefits than true teas do.

Settle an argument, please: Is it true that we all need 8 cups of water per day?

While 8 cups of water a day is a handy rule of thumb, it is not an accurate assessment of a person's water needs. Fluid needs are very individual. The amount you personally need depends upon your metabolism, your activity level, and the climate you are in. Plus, there are many beverages besides water (tea and coffee count as hydrating) and foods like broth based soups, smoothies and fruit and vegetables that count toward hydration. A good way to determine if you are drinking enough is to check your urine. Dark, scant urine generally indicates proper dehydration, while pale yellow or clear and frequent urine means you are on track. 

A few weeks ago you answered a question from someone following Weight Watchers about why smoothies have points when blended from 0-point fruits. You said that the fruits could still be counted a 0-points, even in smoothies. I wasn't able to catch that chat live to reply, but you hit the nail on the head with today's answer. The reason smoothies made from 0-point fruits have points is that your body doesn't get as full from all that chewing, and it's easier to take in many more calories from a smoothie.

Thank you for participating! 

All the best,


In This Chat
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
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