These days, nutrition advice is at the tip of our fingers; hundreds of “experts” claim their programs will slim you down in no time, promote “healthy” products Instagram posts, shove things like AdvoCare and juice cleanses down our throats and glorify a piece of pizza as a “cheat meal.”
YOU DO YOU, people, but after subjecting my body to many of these things, I decided to stop while I was ahead and consult my best friend who happens to be a dietitian and nutrition expert. She’s my go-to person for any diet questions, because she actually understands the science behind many of these “cleanses” and nutritional information as a whole.
With so many of us 20somethings becoming suckers for these “quick fix” diets, or just believing every health article we read, I wanted to get to the bottom of some of these health fads. So, who better to ask than my personal dietitian?
First, meet my girl Frankie:
20something: Tell us about yourself!
Frankie Maderia: I am a registered dietitian currently working as a clinical dietitian at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I provide nutrition coaching online (meal planning, macro counting, healthy eating, etc.). I also have a blog, along with every other millennial in the world right now. I went to the University of Connecticut (GO HUSKIES!) for five years, two of those years I was in the Coordinated Program for dietetics with 1200 hours of interning, basically free labor, along with full-time classes. At the end of all of this, I passed my certification exam to be qualified to be a nutrition expert. It was difficult to get to where I am today but I love being a dietitian!
What is your favorite part of being a dietitian?
FM: There are so many directions I can go in this field. Working in the clinical setting, most of my patients are really sick and I like that I can provide them with food that will help to heal them. Anyone who is a registered dietitian is a nutrition expert — there are so many other people out there who give out their nutrition advice and coach people on how to eat. Those people are not qualified to give out nutrition advice (as you can see, that is my pet peeve).
Naturally, one of my first questions involves alcohol: is red wine actually healthier for you?
FM: Ted wine contains phenolics and these phenolics help with your cholesterol by helping with oxidation of your bad cholesterol (aka helping to get rid of it). Red wine also contains resveratrol, which is an antioxidant that can protect your heart arteries against the saturated (bad) fat that you consume in your diet. This can help prevent cardiovascular disease.
There are still studies out there looking into the benefits of red wine and I never suggest anyone START drinking alcohol if they do not drink it already, but if you do already drink wine, continue on with that red (obviously in moderation). The health benefits come from red wine when one to two glasses per day are consumed.
As for you white wine lovers, you do get some antioxidants from white wine — tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol. White wine tends to be slightly higher in sugar. Red wine is a tad better overall because it has more nutrients and less sugar than its sweeter, fruitier friend white wine.
Coconut oil is a big trend (beauty and food wise), is it really healthier than other cooking oils we typically use?
FM: I personally use coconut oil on certain things. The most current research shows that it is not the worst oil for you, even though it is mostly saturated fat. In most cases you want to limit saturated fat because it is not a heart healthy fat (too much can lead to cardiovascular disease).
Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (TG) while other fatty acids are long chain TG. What does that mean? Well, the medium chain TG are metabolized differently. They go to the liver quickly from the digestive tract to be used as energy or turned into ketones. The longer chain TG have a little bit of a longer process. Therefore, coconut oil is utilized by the body in a more effective manner.
In your opinion, what is the most important thing you want to look for when reading nutritional labels? What do you want to avoid?
FM: When I look at a food label, I like to look at the saturated fat, fiber, and sodium. Sometimes a nutrition label can be overwhelming — I GET THAT…I usually start by looking at the amount of servings per container. If you were to eat the whole bag or container, how many servings will you be eating?
I NEVER EVER look at the percentages of daily value. That is based on someone having a 2,000-calorie diet (which is not a lot of people) so just bypass those percentages and pretend they don’t exist! I usually glance at total fat but focus more on saturated fat (that bad fat, again). I suggest to limit your saturated fat intake to less than 10 grams per day.
I then like to peek at the sodium content. Everyone should be on a low sodium diet. There is literally salt in everything that is processed. If one serving has less than 140mg of sodium, go ahead and eat it! Your total sodium intake should be less than 2,000mg/day.
The last thing I tend to look at is fiber. I love fiber — it is fabulous. It helps with digestion, it makes you feel full, and it can decrease your risk for colon cancer. FIBER IS YOUR FRIEND. Just be cautious- make sure if you eat fiber rich foods, that you drink plenty of water. Fiber will just sit in your stomach and cause distress if it doesn’t have water there to help move it along.
What are your go-to drinks at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts that may be a bit healthier than a caramel, frappe, whipped cream-filled unicorn drink?
FM: Obviously I had to try the unicorn drink when it came out. It was ok, I liked the sour parts of it. BUT I would definitely not recommend having that daily, or having a frappe every day. It is just milk and sugar. When I go to Starbucks I usually get just a black coffee (since I drink like 5 to 7 cups of coffee on the daily) or I get the Caffe Misto (coffee with steamed milk).
Lattes are good as well, but it depends on what milk you are getting or if you get flavor shots. Those calories can add up if you are having multiple coffee drinks per day. A latte with whole milk and flavor shots can be close to 200-250 calories. Don’t get me wrong, I love a latte but I usually get almond milk (cutting some of the fat and sugar and my belly doesn’t tolerate high amount of milk) and the sugar free shots.
At Dunkin’ I will get a coffee with caramel swirl flavoring, hot or iced with some almond milk. It has some added sugar but it’s a nice treat. Usually I will make my coffee at home and drink it black, but I have been hooked lately on the Silk Almond Milk Caramel Coffee Creamer. I add a shot of that to one of my cups of coffee and it is excellent. (Saves you some money, too.)
What ingredients are a big no-no for you when you’re finding a good protein powder or pre-workout?
FM: Pre-workouts and protein powders are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so they get away with putting ingredients in the formulas that aren’t so healthy. There are some products out there that do not even list all of their ingredients. They get away with calling them “Blends” or “Proprietary Blends” meaning they will list like caffeine, green tea, whey protein, blah blah blah, proprietary blend… and then not even say what that blend is. Why take something when you don’t even know what you are taking?
For protein powder I suggest just a 100 percent whey protein or pea protein. These contain all of the essential amino acids and are easily digested.
What you don’t want in your protein powder:
- Gluten: this can cause increase inflammation.
- Fillers: fillers include coconut flour, psyllium (fiber) and are just cheap ways to add unnecessary ingredients to ‘bulk’ up your powder.
For pre-workout I would look for these ingredients:
- Beta-Alanine: this is used in pre-workouts to help improve your endurance and reduce your muscle fatigue. The recommend amount to have per day can range from 2-6grams/day. When you take a supplement and you feel all tingly, that is from the beta-alanine.
- Caffeine: obviously caffeine is fine. It can increase energy, focus, and anaerobic capacity.
- Citrulline Malate: this is citrulline and malic acid bound together. Your body can safely tolerate 4-10g/day. It can help enhance your performance, help with muscle soreness, and promote energy production.
But avoid these:
- Synephedrine (bitter orange) close to the stimulate ephedrine which is banned. There is no evidence that says that bitter orange is any better than ephedrine and ephedrine can lead to severe cardiovascular side effects.
- Yohimbe: it dilates the blood vessels and can lower blood pressure to unsafe levels.
Do you agree that dark chocolate is healthier, or can a girl live a little and eat the whole bag of dove milk chocolate?
FM: Dark chocolate is the healthier choice, but it is healthier in moderation. Dark chocolate does have more health benefits; it contains some healthy antioxidants such as polyphenols, flavanols and catechins. Consuming dark chocolate that is 70 to 85 percent dark contains fiber, iron, magnesium and copper — all good things.
But if you like milk chocolate, there is nothing wrong with choosing that. You should be able to enjoy the foods you like, just in the right amounts!
What sports drinks do you stay away from, or are they actually good when you’re active?
FM: Sports drinks are basically just sugar water with some electrolytes. I never suggest people drink sports drinks unless they are exercising (cardiovascular activity) for longer than two hours and losing a significant amount of fluid via sweat. Sports drinks are meant to rehydrate people who may be dehydrated or at a negative fluid balance. People who go to the gym for 45 minutes to an hour should just drink water. No need to replace the calories you just burned with a sugary beverage.
I do recommend the sports drinks if you have been ill (vomiting or diarrhea) because they can help when you are dehydrated.
Let’s talk vitamins, what do you suggest that your average 20something woman should take every day (Please say ALL OF THE GUMMMMMIES)?
FM: I take a multivitamin. I usually tell people to consult with their doctor before starting any regiment because I don’t know what their lab values say. Your blood work can be very telling and will let you know if you are deficient in anything.
The reason I take a multivitamin is because even on my healthiest day, I am not consuming 100 percent of everything I need. A multivitamin should be taken with food to help optimize digestion of the vitamins. ONLY take the recommended serving size of the vitamins. I know the gummies taste delicious, but they are not snacks or candy and overdosing on vitamins and minerals can lead to very harmful side effects.
What are better alternatives when going to a bar and ordering a drink?
FM: Haha! Great question…
Vodka is a lower calorie choice. Also, anything made with seltzer (no calories). So a vodka seltzer is good- add a lemon or lime for extra flavor, this is about 95-100 calories. Tonic water and seltzer are NOT the same. Tonic water contains sweetener, adding sugar and calories.
Champagne and red wine have lower calories — about 90-100 calories.
If you want a soda drink (I usually never recommend diet soda on the regular but its ok when mixing with alcohol) then I recommend a whisky and diet coke, again about 100 calories.
A Moscow mule with a twist is excellent if you skip the simple syrup and ask for lots of ice- 120 calories (180 with the simple syrup).
A glass of white wine or an ice cold beer both run you about 100 calories.
Also, taking shots can add up. Each shot can be about 70 to 110 calories just for the shot, depending on the alcohol. Vodka is a lower calorie shot to take.
What do you think about someone going gluten free (replacing their foods with gluten free foods) to get skinny/healthier?
FM: People should only follow a gluten free diet if they have gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease — BOTH diagnosed by a doctor. Celiac disease is a legitimate allergy to gluten and a strict gluten free diet needs to be followed. Many people out there (I won’t name names- let’s just say the people who “claim” be nutrition experts but are NOT registered dietitians) believe that cutting out gluten will help you lose weight. This is NOT true.
Consuming the correct amount of whole grains per day can help protect your body against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity. Wheat also promotes a healthy gut because it is an excellent source of fiber. An appropriate amount of whole wheat products can also decrease your risk of colon cancer. It is a myth that gluten free products are ‘better for you’ (unless you have an allergy to gluten, of course).
Gluten free products are the same as regular packaged products when it comes to additives- anything in a package that is shelf stable will be processed and will contain additives that you won’t find in fresh products. If you want to get healthy, eat FRESH, non-processed foods. Any diet that is rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats is going to be better for you.
You used to be a pescatarian, and now since you’ve crossed over to the dark side with us meat eaters, what is your advice for someone who wants to become vegan (or pescatarian/vegetarian) to lose weight or to be healthier?
FM: I was a pescatarian for about 10 years because I watched all of those videos on how the meat was made and how the animals were not treated well. I still think about that and I try my best to get humanly raised and organic animal products now that I am eating more meat.
First, what is the difference between a vegetarian, pescatarian, and vegan?
- Vegetarian- avoids all poultry, fish, and meat. Eats dairy and eggs.
- Pescatarian- avoids poultry and meat. Eats fish, dairy, eggs. (This was me)
- Vegan- doesn’t eat anything. Just kidding…avoids poultry, meat, fish, eggs, and all dairy. Avoids anything from an animal basically.
Becoming a vegan can be dangerous, because many people do it to get “skinny” and end up becoming protein deficient and are unhealthy. There is a right way and wrong way to do it.
Many people who become vegetarian to be “skinny” end up accidentally changing their diet from a decent and adequate diet to a high carbohydrate diet. Carbohydrates are amazing, I love ALL THE CARBS, but if you don’t find sources of plant-based proteins the carbohydrates can lead to extra inflammation and bloating- masking any weight loss that you might be looking for. Many people lean on processed and packaged foods out of convenience and all of these foods have unhealthy additives that are not good for you. I always preach that fresh is best! If you can eat healthy by eating fresh, go for it!
I don’t suggest you stop eating meat just to lose weight. You can alter your diet in other ways to achieve HEALTHY weight loss. You need a healthy balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. You can eat healthy meats — lean meats are best.
If you really do want to become a vegetarian or a vegan, DO YOUR RESEARCH! You need to do a little more meal planning and prepping because you need to make sure there are options for you to eat everywhere you go. Coming from my experience, if there wasn’t a good fish option on the menu for protein, I would end up getting pasta and eating bread and just being overloaded on carbs without any good protein. Also, you need to like beans to be a vegetarian because most of your protein will come from beans and eggs.
Shout out to all my vegetarians/vegans out there killing it!
Juice cleanse, is it worth spending $150+ on a juice cleanse from a nutritional stand point?
FM: ABSOLUTELY NOT. Often times juice cleanses are for ‘detox’ or getting ‘healthy’ and you drink these special and expensive juices for 2-10 days. I am ALL ABOUT a good juicer drink, don’t get me wrong, but I introduce that into my healthy diet. I will have a juice after breakfast for example, not as my breakfast.
Here is how a juice cleanse works: all you do is drink juice for an extended amount of time to help you “burn fat” and “debloat” and “lose weight.” Here is what actually happens: you deplete your body of all vital nutrition.
During a juice cleanse you are not detoxing your liver or shedding extra fat, but actually starving yourself and it appears that you are losing weight because you have no water on board. All the weight is just water weight. If you do the cleanse for too long, you are losing your muscle. Your body is in shock from the low caloric and low protein intake that it HOLDS ONTO the fat in your body. Your body freaks out because you did not eat real food for however long and your metabolism has slowed down too.
You will gain the weight back because if you just go back to eating normally and now with your newly found SLOW METABOLISM your body will cling onto everything. You may even gain some extra fat. YES just what you wanted right?
Try cutting out overly processed foods and eating healthy. Don’t look for the easy way out. It looks easy but it is horrendous for your body- and doesn’t even work. Also you basically are just throwing away your money.
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