Interview with Nutrition Diva

2011-11-10 by . 11 comments

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As someone who is really into working out, eating well, and being healthy, I follow a lot of fitness and nutrition bloggers. One of my favorite podcast networks is Quick and Dirty Tips because they have an expert for almost anything, including a Get Fit Guy and a Nutrition Diva. Today, we’re going to hear from Nutrition Diva about common nutrition myths, the relationship between exercise and nutrition, and what she thinks of Stack Exchange. Read on!

1.  Welcome Nutrition Diva! Why don’t you introduce yourself to our users? What is your background and how did you get started writing about nutrition professionally?

I’m a licensed nutritionist and I’ve been writing about nutrition for over ten years. I created the Nutrition Diva podcast in 2008 as a way to provide quick, helpful tips for people who wanted to easy ways to improve their nutrition.  I get TONS of questions from listeners and readers and it made me realize just how much confusion and misinformation is out there.  I spend a lot of time debunking myths and sorting through fads and urban legends so that people can focus on the things that matter–and stop worrying about the rest.

2. Given that you’re a nutrition expert, what do you think of the quality of the nutrition questions and answers on our site? Do we get the same type of questions you get or is there a big difference between our communities?

There’s definitely an overlap between our communities–I see questions that I get frequently, like how often it’s safe to eat sushi and whether it’s safe to eat potatoes that have sprouted. Because the site is collaborative, and anyone can post answers, not all the nutrition information I see here is 100% accurate.  Some people, with the best of intentions but no formal training in biology or nutrition, repeat misinformation or misunderstandings that they’ve read elsewhere on the Internet–but one hopes that the crowd eventually moves toward the truth.

You [Cooking.SE] also get a lot of questions about cooking techniques and recipes that I wouldn’t be as likely to get. Although I have professional culinary training and many of my followers like to cook, for most of them the health aspect of foods is at least as important–or slightly more important–than the culinary aspects.   When I wrote recently about cooking cast-iron cookware, for example, I was focusing on things like whether any harmful compounds are created when you season a pan with oil at high heat, or how much iron cooking in cast iron adds to foods–and not so much about whether it’s the best way to sear a roast.

If you’d like to see the kinds of things my listeners wonder and chat about, check out my Facebook page: http://facebook.com/nutritiondiva.

3. This is kind of a blunt question, but why should we care about nutrition? Does it really matter that much what I put into my body if I exercise on a regular basis?

Exercise is great but it doesn’t completely replace the need to pay attention to nutrition (nor does it completely compensate for poor nutritional choices).  Good nutrition helps you manage you weight but also affect how you feel,  how much energy you have, and your risk of many diseases. It can even help you perform better mentally.

4. There seems to be a lot of misinformation about nutrition. For example, certain types of food are often thought to be “bad” while they are actually good and vice versa. As a result, we tend to get a lot of questions like “Is X bad for you” (e.g. “Is coffee good or bad for your health?”). Do you have any idea why so much misinformation exists? Do you have any good examples of this or other common nutrition myths?

As I said, I spend most of my time debunking nutrition myths and countering bad information.  There are a lot of self-taught nutrition “experts” out there that simply don’t have the training or tools to correctly analyze and interpret data on food and nutrients. They repeat things they hear and read without being able to evaluate the credibility of the sources. If they do their own research, they may reach the wrong conclusions, or simply not place the facts in the correct context.

There’s also the fact that even bona fide experts don’t always agree. Nutrition is an inexact science and there is lots of room for differences of opinion. It’s also not a case where one size fits all.  You mentioned coffee and whether it’s “bad” for you.  As a matter of fact, coffee has a number of impressive health benefits–People who drink coffee every day, for example, have a significantly lower risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s, colon cancer, gallstones, and Alzheimer’s disease.  However, people who are sensitive to stimulants should avoid it.

5. We all have a basic idea of what is “bad” for us, but some people continue to have bad eating habits. What are the issues regarding why people do not change their nutritional habits? What are the long-term effects of good and bad nutrition?

One of the most common consequences of poor eating habits is being overweight. But bad eating habits can also increase your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, infertility, and fatigue.  Good nutrition isn’t a magic bullet against aging and disease but the older you are, the harder it is to get away with a poor diet. As for why people do things they know are bad for them…well, that’s a long discussion! It’s hard to break habits and change behavior. Some foods that aren’t good for us are extremely tempting (some would even say addicting).  And a lot of people simply think they’re “getting away with it” because they don’t (yet) have any health problems.

We’ve assembled some questions from our site that we’d like your opinion about. Most of these questions have top-voted or accepted answers, and we’d love to hear what you think about those answers too!

6. Do you think it’s effective to lose weight by just going on a diet? If not, what would you recommend to people who want to lose weight? For example, is it necessary to eat fewer carbohydrates?

While most diets are effective at first, they stop working as soon as you stop dieting. Most people eventually regain the weight they lose on diets. Instead of going on the latest fad diet, I recommend that people make small, permanent changes in their eating habits and lifestyle…things like cutting out sweetened beverages, choosing foods that fill you up for fewer calories, avoiding junk and fast food most of the time, eating more whole foods, and so on. The results may not be as dramatic as a crash diet but they are much more likely to lead to permanent sustainable weight loss.

Although I don’t think that a low carb diet is necessary to lose weight, I do think that most of us could stand to cut back on carbs…especially refined carbohydrates. These foods tend to pack a lot of calories into a small space and stoke the appetite for more of the same. In other words, when you’re looking to cut calories, carbs are probably the best place to start.

7. Where did the idea that we should eat three meals a day come from? Do you know of any evidence that supports this notion?

It’s a cultural construction, nothing more, nothing less.

8. We saw that you did a podcast on Sweet vs. White Potatoes. What do you think about the accepted answer to this question about potatoes?

Good answer.  I might have suggested winter squash as a substitute for sweet potatoes.

9. What is your opinion on the intermittent fasting diet? Do you agree with the top answer to our questionabout it?

Actually, I think the answers here sort of missed the point. The questioner was asking for references on intermittent fasting. One answer focuses mostly on anecdotal (i.e., non-scientific) evidence. The other answer doesn’t seem to understand the difference between intermittent fasting and fasting (BIG difference).I did a podcast on fasting and intermittent fasting and included links to some of the reserach I think this guy is looking for: http://nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com/benefits-of-fasting.aspx

10. Any good suggestions for getting enough protein as a vegetarian?

Good vegetarian sources of protein include soy, beans, legumes, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and whole grains (also eggs and dairy for non-vegans). But the idea that vegetarians have difficulty getting enough protein is one of those myths! As long as you’re eating enough calories to maintain a healthy weight, you’re most likely getting enough protein.

On behalf of the Stack Exchange Fitness & Nutrition community, I’d like to say thanks to Nutrition Diva for answering our questions. Everyone should go check out her podcasts and blog posts – she gives really useful tips!

11 Comments

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  • says:

    Nice interview! I really like the idea of taking community questions and running them past an expert in this format.

    • Lauren says:

      Glad you like it! I think it’s a good idea. Gets the word out about us a little bit, and also gives the community an opportunity to get reliable feedback about our content. Let me know if you have ideas for other experts we should try think about interviewing.

  • Jedidja says:

    I think one of the myths about protein is that soy is a good source of it (for vegetarians, or anyone else). We (men, for sure) do not need another source of phytoestrogens in our system.

  • @Jedidja, that’s a common concern but one that the research doesn’t seem to bear out. In fact, it appears that the phytoestrogens in soy may even help protect against prostate cancer. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15351581

    Frankly, I think both the purported benefits AND the purported dangers of soy have been blown out of proportion. But for reasons I outline in this article, I think 2-3 servings of soy (preferably in a form reasonably close to a soybean) is plenty. A little soy may be good; but no need to go bonkers. http://nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com/soy-pros-and-cons.aspx

  • [...] also known as “Get Fit Guy” of the Quick and Dirty Tips network that includes Nutrition Diva and Grammar Girl. Ben has been on the fitness and exercise track ever since playing tennis in [...]

  • [...] for the upcoming Nutrition Diva podcast sponsorship – her interview went up yesterday on the Fitness blog. Hopefully it will have the same kind of [...]

  • I agree with Steve, I like this style for relaying information. On the topic of soy. I think Monica is right that the benefits and dangers may be blown out of proportion. But I wouldn’t being overdoing soy in adolescent boys and I would think twice about using soy in formula as I don’t think we know the long term consequences of high levels of phytoestrogens in infants.

  • [...] for the upcoming Nutrition Diva podcast sponsorship – her interview went up yesterday on the Fitness blog. Hopefully it will have the same kind of [...]

  • shery says:

    dear lauren, a very nice interview.. but i am want some more detailed answer that how to lose weight. simply cuuting on the carbohydrates is enough or we should go for fats also????? because in our ASIAN society we use to eat three big meals and two snacks including tea and some fast food. and our traditional meals are also high in fat content. so can you please share a low caloric menu, which help me to lose weight or what other specific measures i have to apply with low caloric diet???

  • Debra says:

    I agree. This is indeed an informative and interesting post. Thanks for sharing this to us and keep posting.

  • Martha says:

    Such a great and informative post. Thanks for sharing this to us and keep posting.

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