Nutrition Services | "Ask the Dietitian"

Below we answer questions submitted by members of the campus community through our ‘Ask the Dietitian’ survey. 

If we answer your question, you win a prize!


Question of the Month

  • Besides caffeine, are there foods I should or shouldn’t have to get a better rest at night? Does diet play an important role in sleep quality?
  • You are right that caffeine can impact your sleep! Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate. It is suggested to stop having caffeine at least six hours before bed, as it can stay in your system and impact your sleep. While it’s more common to talk about the effect of caffeine on sleep, there are other ways in which your diet can affect sleep quality.

    Alcohol and large meals may make you drowsy at first, but they both have a negative impact on your quality of sleep. Alcohol disrupts the deep and REM stages of sleep, resulting in a less restful night, drowsiness, and difficulty concentrating throughout the day. Large meals, or meals with high protein and high fat, take long to digest. This may be problematic since digestion slows by up to 50% during sleep. Consider having your last drink or last large meal at least four hours before going to bed to allow your body to process these foods. 

    Certain foods have been shown to improve your sleep quality. Complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat toast or oatmeal induce the production of serotonin, a sleepy hormone. Fatty fish contains omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, which may also help regulate serotonin in your body. Melatonin is another beneficial sleep hormone that can be found in tart cherry juice and milk. Kiwis have also shown to help people fall asleep faster, sleep for longer, and have higher sleep quality. Finally, nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios support sleep as they are rich in minerals such as magnesium and zinc. Timing your alcohol and caffeine intake while consuming a balanced diet rich in whole foods may support a restful night’s sleep. 

    Alcohol and Sleep
    Better Sleep
    The Best Foods to Help You Sleep

  • What is nutritional yeast and why is it so popular?
  • Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of Saccharomyces yeast. You often see it sold as bright yellow flakes or powder, and it tastes a little savory and cheesy. You might hear about this product a lot because vegetarian and vegan diets have risen in popularity and these diets often lack B12. Nutritional yeast just happens to be jam-packed with Vitamin B12, is vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, and is easy to incorporate into many dishes. 

    But if you're not vegetarian and vegan, don't be afraid to give it a try. It can make a delicious topping for your popcorn and add some kick to your mack and cheese!

Weight Loss

  • How can I lose weight by eating healthy?
  • There are several ways to lose weight and still enjoying what you eat without depriving yourself and feeling hungry. To lose weight, it’s recommended to reduce the number of calories that you consume (food and beverages) and to increase physical activity. However, instead of focusing in calories, focusing in the quality of your diet may be more beneficial to achieve and maintain a heathy weight. Whole grains, variety of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins are some of the components of a healthy diet in addition to lowering added sugars and refined carbs. You can also use MyPlate, which is a very useful tool to learn about portion control and wellness!
  • How many calories do I need to maintain my weight after weight loss?
  • Every person requires a baseline of calories each day in order to maintain their weight. When you are initially trying to lose weight, you want to be eating a caloric deficit, meaning less calories a day than your body requires. There are many websites you can use ( to calculate your caloric needs based on your height, weight, and physical activity level. For example, to lose 1 pound a week, you would want to decrease your caloric intake by 500 calories a day. Once your ideal weight is achieved, you will re-calculate your daily caloric needs based on your NEW body weight and physical activity level. As long as you stay within this range, and don't eat above or below it too often, you will have no problem maintaining your new weight! If you would like individual help setting up a plan, give a holler – 

Vegetarian Diet

  • I’m a vegetarian and have always heard that I need to combine foods in correct combinations to get enough protein.  Is this true?
  • Yes and no.  Proteins are made up of amino acids.  Some of these your body can make from other amino acids, some are essential, meaning you must consume sufficient quantities in the food you eat.  Many plant proteins don’t contain all nine essential amino acids but animal proteins do.  Including a dairy product or egg with each plant protein meal will ensure you’re complete. 

    Different plant proteins lack different essential amino acids so combining them will give you all of them.  Examples include pinto beans with rice.  The two plants (beans and rice) complement each other and give you all of the amino acids you need.  We used to think that each meal had to be balanced correctly.  We now know that we simply need sufficient amounts of each essential amino acid throughout each day, or even week. 

    Bottom line, make sure you’re getting a variety of foods.  Most of us get much more protein than we need.  It is then either used for energy or stored for later as adipose (fat) tissue.

  • If you were told to cut down on carbs to help prevent developing diabetes later in life, is choosing a plant-based diet at odds with this advice? I tend to get a majority of my protein from beans, nuts, and plain yogurt which are all technically carb-containing. Am I doing myself a disservice by forgoing meat? 
  • Type II diabetes is caused by both lifestyle factors and genetics. A healthy plant-based diet emphasizes the consumption of healthy plant foods (including carbs), such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and healthy oils. On the other hand, an unhealthy plant- based diet is high in refined grains (pasta, white/processed breads), juices, and sugary beverages (soda). While both reduce the intake of animal foods, the health results will be totally different! Healthy plant-based diets are rich in fiber, protein, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, all of which contribute to lower blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and decreased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

    Beans, nuts, seeds and plain yogurt are great sources of plant protein.  Giving up meat is up to you, but as long as you’re eating healthy (reduced amount of refined carbs, sugar and soda, and increased whole grains, veggies, fruits and healthy oils), exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight, you are less likely to develop diabetes in the future.

    You can find out more about diabetes here:
  • Is meat the only real source of protein?
  • There are many other potential sources of protein than just meat!

    First, some background. Protein is extremely important to have, because it helps make up nearly every part of your body, including muscle, bone, skin, hair, and even the enzymes that drive many of the chemical reactions in your body. This macronutrient is comprised of many building blocks called amino acids, and out of the twenty amino acids that we require, nine of them must be acquired through food, because we cannot synthesize them ourselves.

    Animal protein is not the only type of food that can offer you the amino acids you need. In fact, you can fulfill this nutritional requirement with eggs, beans, peas, soy products, nuts, and seeds. Comparing one ounce of meat, one egg, ¼ cup of cooked beans, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds, they all can offer you roughly the same amount of protein!

    So, feel free to experiment and diversify your protein intake!
  • Are there any foods that can help lower blood pressure?
  • Absolutely! The right combination of foods can have a powerful effect on helping to lower blood pressure. It’s best to focus on an overall healthy diet that includes foods like: fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy foods, beans, nuts, whole-grain carbohydrates and unsaturated fats. Most people know that controlling salt intake is important when trying to lower blood pressure, but did you know that it is also key to consume foods that are rich in potassium, fiber and magnesium? To keep blood pressure in check, you’ll want to aim for keeping salt intake to <2,300 mg per day and consume at least 4,700 mg of potassium, 25-30 g of fiber and 360-400 mg of magnesium per day.
  • What are some nutritional benefits to drinking non-dairy milks that dairy milks do not have? Could they be enough to win someone over who might not need to drink them? 
  • It depends!  The nutrients found in plant-based milks differ widely.  While one brand of almond milk may contain high amounts of calcium and vitamin D, the other may not provide those key nutrients.  For individuals seeking to follow a plant-based diet, plant-based milks are a great alternative.  Although most plant milks are lower in saturated fat and calories, they aren’t necessarily more beneficial compared to cow’s milk.  Most non-dairy milks contain low amounts of protein and nutrients, while regular cow’s milk offers the most variety of nutrients and protein.  As mentioned, plant-based milks differ widely in terms of nutrition.  Aside from being a good option for those with a dairy allergy or who are lactose intolerant, plant milks are not necessarily nutritionally superior. Soy milk is probably the most comparable nutritionally to cow’s milk.


  • What is your take on daily multi-vitamin pills?
  • Most healthy people consuming a varied diet do not need to take supplements.  The body utilizes nutrients from foods better than those isolated in a pill and there are likely nutrient interactions, as they naturally occur in foods that we don’t even know about and cannot replicate!  That said, worst case scenario is that they are a waste of money; if your body is not in need of the nutrient, or it is in an unusable form, it will be excreted.  Best case, there are a few nutrients you may want check with your doctor about supplementing:
    > Vitamin B-12 – if you are vegan, you will need to either include a B-12 supplement or utilize nutritional yeast (use it like parmesan cheese) to get adequate B-12.  Some research suggests that older adults may not get the proper amount of B-12 and may benefit from supplementation. 
    > Vitamin D supplements can be beneficial for older adults and people who don’t get much sunlight.
    > Folic acid is important for women of child bearing age.  If you’re expecting to become pregnant, eat plenty of folic acid rich foods (dry-soak beans, peas, spinach, Brussels sprouts, oranges and enriched cereals) and/or take a supplement to lower the risk of certain birth defects. 



  • Is a Keto lifestyle maintainable? I need to lose weight and keep it off but I have a sweet tooth. How can keto help me stay on track?
  • The keto (short for ketogenic) diet is a low-carbohydrate, high fat eating plan that has gained a lot of attention as a potential weight-loss strategy. When the body is deprived of glucose, an alternative fuel called ketones is utilized instead, putting the body in “ketosis”.

    Research so far suggests that the ketogenic diet produces beneficial metabolic changes, such as weight loss, changes in insulin resistance, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. The keto diet may help to increase satiation and decrease food cravings due to its high-fat content. Thus, a keto diet can help you lose weight, and potentially help to decrease your sweet tooth.

    However, following a ketogenic diet is challenging to maintain long term. Extreme carbohydrate restriction can cause increased hunger, fatigue, low mood, irritability, constipation, headaches, and brain fog. These feelings may subside over time, but following the restrictive diet necessary to stay in ketosis is generally not sustainable long-term. There are also potential negative side effects of long-term ketogenic diets such as increased risk of kidney stones, osteoporosis and nutrient deficiencies. A keto diet may help you stay on track and lose weight, but is not realistic to maintain long-term.


  • What are the different kinds of fats and should I cut them completely to lose weight?
  • Fat is macronutrient essential for our bodies that provides energy, helps to build cell membranes, aids in vitamin absorption, among other functions. However, some fats are better than others. Trans fats, which are created when unsaturated fats are hydrogenated, increase the bad LDL cholesterol and decrease the good HDL cholesterol. Trans fat are also known for increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases; therefore, we should avoid them completely. On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which come from nuts, seeds, fish and vegetables are beneficial fats that decrease inflammation, triglycerides, the risk of chronic diseases and improves the cholesterol profile. Lastly, saturated fats, which are solid at room temperature, contribute to an increase in LDL cholesterol if consumed in excess, so it’s recommended to limit saturated fat to less than 10% of our daily calories. Fats shouldn’t be avoided completely in order to lose weight because they are very important for vital functions of the body. However, it’s recommended to avoid trans fat, reduce saturated fat and replace them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. If you would like to see a dietitian on campus, contact the Staff and Faculty Health and Well-being Program at
  • If I’m trying to reduce saturated fat in my diet due to high cholesterol, what is an ideal daily average that I can assume? What is too high?
  • While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises to keep saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your daily calories, the American Heart Association recommends that for people who need to lower their cholesterol, saturated fat should contribute no more than 5 to 6 percent of your total daily calories. For a 2,000 calorie diet, that is about 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat per day. Aim to reduce your intake of foods high in saturated fat, primarily meat and dairy products, while increasing your intake of unsaturated fats found in fish, avocados, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.
  • What’s the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats?
  • The main difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is their structure. Unlike saturated fat molecules, unsaturated fat molecules have a bend in them, giving them an awkward shape that is more difficult to line up and “pack” together tightly. This means it’s harder for unsaturated fats to “clog” up your arteries when they enter your bloodstream, and in turn, can help decrease “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and risks of cardiovascular disease.

    Generally, unsaturated fats are much better for you than saturated fats for this reason!


  • Are proteins in protein-rich drinks as nutritious for you as the ones you might get in real foods? Are there any differences?
  • Protein drinks can be a very convenient and palatable way to help with weight management, nutrient supplementation, and muscle building, but they don’t always offer all nine of the “essential” amino acids and often are accompanied by much more added sugar and preservatives.
    On the other hand, obtaining protein from real foods in a diverse and balanced diet can not only offer all nine of the “essential” amino acids, but they can also offer a bunch of other nutrients that your body needs (without additional preservatives). This also encourages a healthier eating pattern with more variety in fresh foods.
    With that, obtaining protein from real food may be more beneficial because you can get the protein you need, while avoiding extra added sugar or preservatives!
  • How much protein should I eat a day and what foods should I eat to consume the recommended amounts?
  • Protein is a macronutrient that allows the body to perform functions such as transportation of nutrients, repairing damaged cells and functions as a building block. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, protein intake should be 10- 30% of our total calories in a day and the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Other factors to consider, include age, activity level and current health state. The majority of us can meet our body’s protein needs by simply selecting high quality proteins, such as fish, poultry, and dairy products. There are also plenty of plant-based foods that are great sources of proteins, such as legumes, nuts, seeds and soy. Adding protein to your diet will help you to feel full longer and may help you to maintain a healthy weight.

Cooking and Snacking

  • I want to start eating healthier, but my kids are picky eaters and don’t like many vegetables or trying new recipes. It’s exhausting making two separate meals to please everyone, so I often find myself giving up and going back to our old routine. Any advice on how to get my family on board?
  • Getting your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables can be difficult, especially when they are new and unfamiliar to them. Children may need to try new fruits and veggies up to 10 times before they accept them, so try serving them in new and creative ways. You can spiralize zucchini and carrots and mix them in to spaghetti, add riced cauliflower to a stir fry, and have sliced fruits and vegetables ready-to-go for snacks. Involving your kids in grocery shopping and meal preparation can also increase their willingness to try new recipes. Keep introducing new foods in different and creative ways and their taste buds will adjust!
  • I love cheese!  Is there a way for me to enjoy it frequently but still meet my goal of eating a healthy diet?
  • The good news is yes!  Although cheese is a high fat food, and much of the fat is saturated, you can balance out the fat by combining it with other foods.  For instance, a veggie salad with wild rice topped with bleu cheese – you are combining a small amount of a rich and flavorful cheese with a bunch of vegetables and a whole grain.  The cheese in this meal supplies protein and flavor!

    A good serving size for cheese is about 1 ounce, which is a piece about the size of your thumb or about ¼ cup shredded.  Make it count!  Use a strong flavored cheese so that you consume less of it.  Surround your serving of cheese with grains and/or fruits/vegetables.  Grab a chunk of cheddar to eat with your apple on the go.
  • I’d like to eat based on an anti-inflammatory diet, but I like beans and legumes and don’t eat red meat or pork.  Is it critical not to eat beans if you’re working towards reducing inflammation?
  • Whole nutrient-dense plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and beans/legumes, are actually great for reducing inflammation because they contain antioxidants. Beans, such as black, kidney, and red beans are all excellent sources of antioxidants. Foods that promote inflammation include refined carbohydrates, fried foods, sugary drinks, certain oils, and red meat/processed meat. To help reduce inflammation, focus on eating whole plant foods, including beans and legumes, and avoid eating processed foods and red meat. Here and another, web resource for reference.
  • I’ve heard there is a specific kind of fiber that is particularly good for helping to lower my cholesterol level.  What is it and which foods contain it?
  • There are two kinds of dietary fiber, insoluble and soluble fibers.  Soluble fiber is that special fiber that is particularly good at helping to decrease serum total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.  Good sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, beans (dry soak – kidney, garbanzo, etc. – canned o.k.), nuts and seeds, barley and some fruits and vegetables.  Soluble fiber absorbs water and becomes like a gel.  This slows down digestion and can be helpful in binding to cholesterol, carrying it out of the body.  The other type of fiber is insoluble fiber.  This is what you may think of as ‘roughage’ and doesn’t absorb water.  Rather it adds bulk to the material moving through your digestive tract helping keep stool large, soft and easy to pass.  Some foods contain both types of dietary fibers.  To increase your intake:

    Shoot for 2 ½ cups of veggies and 1 ½ cups fruits each day.  Items with edible skins and seeds provide the most fiber as do those that are fibrous – like Brussels sprouts. 

    Eat beans!  Try and have at least one vegetarian meal with beans each week for dinner.  Find some great recipes here.

    Include nuts and seeds, regularly.  These are great for snacks. Here are some great ideas for a perfect portion of almonds!  Most nuts have a very similar portion size.

    As mentioned in our discussion of whole grains, be sure to check your bread and cereal.  Select cereal with 5 grams or more fiber per ounce and bread with at least 2 – 3 grams fiber per 15 grams carbohydrate. 
  • Sometimes I get hungry between meals or when hiking and need a snack, but many prepackaged snacks, even protein bars, are high in sugar. What are some healthier, filling snacks that I can leave in my desk or backpack?
  • You’re right to be wary, as many pre-packaged snacks, such as granola or protein bars, can be loaded with sugar as well as additives such as partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat), high-fructose corn syrup, and colorings! If you’re going to purchase a pre-packaged bar, go for a brand with simple ingredients you can recognize, such as CLIF, KIND, Perfect Bar, or RXBar. Even some of these bars are still fairly high in sugar, so check the nutrition label and pick one with less sugar and more fiber and protein! If you’re looking for lower sugar, whole food snacks, here are some ideas for when you’re at home or on the go: Non-perishables to leave in your backpack or desk: • Trail mix (avoid high sodium or high sugar varieties) • A piece of fruit (apples, bananas…) • Chia squeeze packets (Mamma Chia) • Popcorn • Mary’s Gone Crackers Perishables to be taken out of the fridge day-of: • Baby carrots and hummus • Greek yogurt • Hard-boiled egg • Edamame (steamed soybeans) • Chia seed pudding • Apple slices with peanut butter Investing in some small containers can make packing these snacks extra convenient and portable!
  • What is "probiotic" and what is the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?
  • Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that have health benefits when consumed or applied to the body. They are found in some fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, tempeh, buttermilk, and dietary supplements

    WHO definition: probiotics are live microorganisms (bacteria or yeasts) which when administered in adequate amounts, are considered to confer a health benefit on the host organism.

    Prebiotics are some elements in foods that are non-digestible by the body, but they are fermentable by the bacteria.  These substances promote the growth and activity of beneficial microbiota of the large intestine. In fact, prebiotics provide food for the good bacteria in our body. Some of fermentable fibers are inulin, galactooligosaccharides, fructooligosaccharides, resistant starch, soluble fiber, and oligosaccharides in breast milk. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of fermentable fibers and adding them to the diet protects the gut microbiota.

  • Why choose seasonal and locally sourced food?

  • Food that is purchased and consumed closer to the time of harvest means fresher and more nutritious food! Seasonal food sourced locally travels less distance to reach your plate. Preserving its flavor and nutrition content, produce does not have to be harvested early to account for shipping and distribution time and can ripen naturally. This not only benefits your health, but it supports local growers and is more environmentally sustainable!

  • What are electrolytes and why are they important?

  • Electrolytes are a set of electrically charged minerals that are important for many bodily processes, including muscle contraction, nervous impulses, pH maintenance, and body hydration. Electrolytes may be found dissolved in all bodily fluids and may be lost in urine and sweat. You can replenish your electrolyte stores with a variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, dairy products, and even table salt!

Myths vs. Facts

  • How do I know if nutrition information I find on the internet is reliable?
  • It can be tough to know what to believe and what not to believe. The United States National Library of Medicine has some resources to help: 
    MedlinePlus Guide to Healthy Web Surfing offers suggestions for evaluating the quality of health information on Websites. 
    MedlinePlus Evaluating Internet Health Information Tutorial is a 16 minute presentation that also teaches you how to evaluate health information found on the Web.
  • Do we need more calories when it gets colder? 
  • The cold weather itself does not increase caloric needs, however, the body compensating to a drop in body temperature can. Since the body requires more energy to stay warm, particularly when shivering, you may require slightly more energy to increase body temperature. However, these increases are most likely negligible within the context of length of exposure to cold temperatures and overall caloric intake. Your level of physical activity has a much more substantial effect on caloric needs!
  • There are rumors that turkey is responsible for making you feel sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner. Is this true?
  • Turkey certainly plays a role in the onset of fatigue following Thanksgiving dinner, but is not the main contributing factor. The likely culprit to the feeling of needing a nap following Thanksgiving dinner is high blood glucose levels. Glucose is the broken down form of carbohydrates that the body is able to absorb and use as energy. Many favorite side dishes, desserts, and even favorite vegetables served during Thanksgiving dinner are high carbohydrate containing foods and contribute to high blood glucose following the meal. Additionally, the indulgent portions of carbohydrate containing foods contribute to maximized blood glucose levels once the meal is complete.

    Turkey’s role is a minor role in that it contains an amino acid called tryptophan; a precursor to serotonin which is a hormone that plays a role in relaxation and signaling the body to sleep. Therefore, turkey may help produce the hormone needed for your brain to initiate sleep; but your blood glucose likely is what initiates the onset of fatigue and laziness following holidays feasts!
  • I’ve heard that the limonene in lemon peel is good for overall health.  Is this true? 
  • Limonene serves as a natural predator deterrent when the fruit is still on the tree, but once it’s in our bodies, it is thought to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-stress, and maybe even disease-preventing properties. It’s important to keep in mind that most studies so far have been done on animals. So even though so far the research points towards positive results, more research needs to be done to confirm these health benefits in humans. Limonene is commonly used in insect repellants and some pesticides as well as perfumes, essential oils, soaps, and air fresheners because of its pleasant aroma.
  • I heard that soy milk contains estrogen and can affect estrogen levels in the body. Is this true and does this have any health repercussions?
  • Soy contains a lot of “phytoestrogen,” a plant estrogen that is similar to human estrogen but has much weaker effects on the body! Its effects can also vary depending on your genetics, hormone levels, and the type of soy you obtain the phytoestrogen from.

    There are misconceptions that because soy contains phytoestrogen, consuming soy products may increase risks for hormonal cancers, like breast or prostate cancers, but there is no conducive human research supporting this thus far. Soy is rich in B vitamins, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and protein, so enjoy your soy because it is really good for you! Source:

  • If I eat too much pumpkin, will my skin turn orange? 
  • Carotenemia is a condition when the skin turns yellow-orange due to increased beta-carotene levels in the blood. Eating carotene-rich foods such as pumpkins and carrots elevate beta-blood carotene levels. Beta-carotene is a precursor to Vitamin A, but only so much converts to vitamin A in our body. Excessive consumption (more than 30mg of beta-carotene) for an extended period can cause carotenemia on the thick areas of skins such as palms and soles. It is a benign condition that is most common in infants and young children whose diets are mainly pureed green and orange vegetables. Source: