37 Secrets Nutritionists Won’t Tell You for Free
Proven ways to eat a balanced diet, lose weight, prevent disease, and more, according to registered dietitians.
Sorry but there is no such thing as “healthy” sugar
“There is a misconception that switching from white sugar to honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar or agave is healthier. Sugar is sugar and eating too much of any of these alternative sweeteners will have the same effect on the body as white sugar. There may be a higher nutrient content in some ‘natural’ alternatives but these occur in very small quantities so in order to glean anything useful you would end up eating a lot of sugar. Natural alternatives tend to be richer in flavor so you may be likely to use less of them, but better to focus on healthier additions to the overall diet and limit all sources of sugar.” —Rob Hobson, nutritionist and head of Healthspan.
Find out how to tell if you’re eating too much sugar.
You should be adding more foods into your diet, not taking them out
“When it comes to diet, people tend to be much more concerned about which foods or food groups to eliminate since many are perceived as ‘bad.’ However, the focus should be on incorporating more of the foods often missing from the diet, such as fiber-rich fruits, healthy vegetables, and whole grains. Adding more healthy foods into the mix can often displace some of the less desirable choices and leave you feeling more satisfied.” —Andrew James Pierce, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, inventor of the SugarChecked app. Start by stocking up on the ten healthiest fruits for your body.
Take advantage of your bad memory
“Out of sight, out of mind works for junk food too. If you’re going to purchase tempting treats, don’t keep them visible and you’ll probably forget you even have them! In the meantime, keep good-for-you foods in the front of your fridge so the first thing you see when opening up your refrigerator is fruits, veggies, protein, and healthy snacks.” —Audrey Hasse, MS, RDN for Swiss Farms and owner of A.M. Fit. Check out these other kitchen organization tricks that make you eat healthier without realizing it.
The only thing that pricey juice cleanse will lighten is your wallet
“Don’t over-complicate things. You don’t need an expensive juice cleanse, because basic pantry staples like flaxseed, cans of tuna, oats, and fresh greens from the market can provide more nutrition and make your dollar go farther.” —Erinn Gregory, RDN, Phoenix, Arizona. Don’t fall for these other 13 “healthy” food habits that really aren’t good for you.
It’s fine you gained a little weight
“Don’t look to reach an unrealistic body weight. As they age, women should expect to weigh more than they did in their 20s and 30s. It is totally normal and studies show that it is beneficial for supporting bone strength and may even help you live longer. Trying to lose those last ten pounds is not only extremely frustrating, but the very low calorie diet required to achieve this can lead to poor nutrition and hurt your metabolism. Accept that our bodies change as we age and that’s fine.” —Pam Schoenfeld, MS, RD, featured speaker at the International Wise Traditions Conference. Use these 17 tricks to get over a weight-loss plateau instead.
You’re going to have to tell yourself no—and it will be hard
“It is quite easy for the eyes to be bigger than the stomach. We may seem ravenous but it’s a necessary habit to keep portions in check. Even though we may be completely satisfied and full halfway through a large French fry or large milkshake, we tend to eat the whole thing because we paid for it. That habit will really pack on pounds over the years. You have to learn to be satisfied with less, plain and simple.” —Rene Ficek. These genius portion control tricks will keep you in check.
All calories are not created equal
“Unfortunately, people still think of calories first over quality. They live on fat-free ‘foods’ or simple starches, like pretzels. They are not eating real food, which leaves them unsatisfied and causes them to eat more over the course of the day. If you choose foods that are high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats you may be consuming more calories in that serving, but it will help you eat less overall and be healthier.” —Beth Warren, MS, RDN, CDN, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living a Real Life With Real Food. Use these 35 tricks to eat more protein every day.
Alcoholic drinks don’t count as hydration
“If you drink wine or coffee you actually have to hydrate more. I suggest one six-ounce glass of water for every glass of wine or coffee you drink. Health guidelines for women recommend no more than one eight-ounce glass of wine per day. Use smaller glasses and mugs to limit how much you pour and focus on taking smaller sips.” —Melanie Young, certified nutrition coach, author, radio host. Plus, use these 13 tricks to make sure you drink enough water.
Want to detox? Skip the pills, buy more broccoli
“Detoxing with pills or juices is trendy, but our bodies already have a detoxification system to identify, convert, and process toxins for elimination. However, it needs specific nutrients to work, like glucoraphanin, which is found in greatest concentration in broccoli florets. Broccoli’s glucoraphanin works for about 72 hours, so while you should eat it daily. At a minimum, have some every three days.” —Ashley Koff, RD. Learn more about whether you should consider a detox diet.
Carbs are not the devil
“Carbohydrates have gotten such a bad reputation recently with all the low-carb, crash diets out there but carbs are an important part of our daily nutrient intakes—they are what our brains run on! Carbs should provide about half of our daily calorie needs. Many people think that in order to lose weight they need to cut out carbohydrates completely. But if you’re trying to lose weight while you’re working out then you need to maintain a good supply of glycogen for your muscles and brain by eating healthy carbs.” —Rachel Zimmerman, RD, CNSC, CD at Indiana University Hospital at IU Health. Just stay away from these high-carb foods that could kill you.
Eat with your fingers
“I’ll often include finger foods in my clients’ meal plans, as it’s not just kids who love to eat with their hands. For instance a plate with in-shell pistachios, lightly salted edamame, hummus, whole-grain crackers, and sliced mushrooms and bell peppers provides lots of nutrients and also takes longer to eat, leading to a more satisfying experience. The summer is perfect timing to take your finger-food meal outside and have a picnic while enjoying the weather, scenery, and good food. Food should be fun, not boring!” —Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, New Jersey. Check out these other 42 tips that can help you lose weight.
Organic milk is not healthier than regular milk
“Often times there are very few real differences between ‘healthy’ foods and their ‘unhealthy’ counterparts. For instance, there is no biologically meaningful difference between organic milk and conventional milk. Worry less about these meaningless differences and focus more on choosing plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, poultry and fish.” —Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, sports dietitian. Read more about dairy myths you need to stop believing.
Eat protein in the morning to prevent sugar cravings at night
“Increasing protein intake early in the day can help reduce sugar cravings in the late afternoon. Make sure to have an excellent source of protein with every breakfast such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or two to three eggs. Protein in the morning helps stabilize blood sugar, which helps improve satiety along with mood and concentration.” —Sharon Collison, RD, sports dietitian and clinical instructor at the University of Delaware. Just don’t make these “healthy” breakfast mistakes that work against you.
Ignore the infomercials, there is no silver bullet
iStock/Maartje van Caspel
“Getting healthy is about taking tiny steps, sometimes so small that progress is not noticeable at first. Instead, getting healthy is about making the better choice most of the time. This tip is particularly helpful for those who are used to buying into the latest fad diet. They see the latest diet book and think, ‘This worked for X; it must be right for me.’ The truth: We are all unique and the only way to determine what nourishes us is to really pay attention to how we feel.” —Liza Baker, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach + Kitchen Coach. Try these 30 healthy eating tips to see what works for you.
Forget BMI, it’s meaningless
“Unfortunately, our society places a value on thinness that is not the norm for most healthy individuals. While a larger midsection can point to a need for lifestyle changes, having a fuller figure or stockier build is not necessarily an indication to lose weight. Don’t rely on BMI (body mass index) alone as an indicator of health.” —Pam Schoenfeld. Here are 23 tricks to lose belly fat without even exercising.
You can have too much of a good thing
“Just because snack foods like dark chocolate, nuts, nut butters, and avocado have earned nutritional kudos for being good sources of heart-healthy fats and other nutrients doesn’t mean you should eat a lot of them. People think they can eat as many ‘healthy’ snacks as they want, but they’re still high in calories. When snacking on such foods, portion control is key: Limit dark chocolate to 1 to 1½ ounces; avocado to two tablespoons (mashed into guacamole, say) or an eighth of a whole avocado; nuts to ¼ cup; and nut butter to a couple of tablespoons.” —Rachel Zimmerman. Watch out for these subtle signs you’re eating too many fats.
Sit the heck down already
“Sitting down while eating is a strategy used to learn intuitive and mindful eating. It is listening to the body’s natural hunger signs: Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied. We tend to eat for many other reasons besides hunger, including boredom, celebrations, food cravings, etc. When a person sits down while eating, he or she is more conscious and is better able to pay attention to the whole process. Although life can get busy and sometimes it is necessary to grab something quick, sitting down and mindfully engaging in the meal, such as paying attention to the flavor and texture of the food—as well as putting the fork down between bites and feeling the sensation of satiety—can be a helpful tip for anyone to try.” —McKenzie Flinchum, RD, LD/N, CPT, Founder of The Flexible Dietitian LLC. Learn more things mindful eaters do at every meal.
Throw out your scale
“Don’t get too attached to the number on the scale. It offers little or no indication of health status and does not account for fitness level, bone density, or muscle mass. Getting clients to take the blinders off and look around at their overall quality of life is my ultimate goal since it leans toward positive rather than negative reinforcement.” —James Pierce. Don’t miss these other 50 things doctors wish you knew about losing weight.
Ditch diet foods
“Research suggests that when something is labeled as diet food, we just tend to eat more of it (regardless of what it tastes like). I suggest focusing on quality and flavor first. Once you get into the habit of allowing yourself pleasure, guilt-free, you will find yourself becoming satisfied on eating less overall because you will never feel deprived.” —Abbey Sharp, RD, food blogger at Abbey’s Kitchen. These are some of the 50 healthiest foods you can find in a supermarket.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees
“Clients trying to lose weight often tell me they are counting ‘macros’—tracking grams of protein, carbohydrate, and fat—or calories, on web or phone applications. Yet when we review all the data generated by these apps, their micronutrient intakes often fall well below the recommended values for important vitamins and minerals. They are often surprised to learn that these shortfalls can compromise their health and stall weight loss in some instances. Animal foods like beef, shellfish, liver, and whole eggs supply zinc and vitamins A and B6, and should not be avoided in the misguided belief that they are ‘fattening’ or somehow bad for you.” —Pam Schoenfeld. These are silent signs you’re not getting enough vitamins.
Bring back brinner (that’s breakfast for dinner)
“There’s no rule stating that breakfast foods must only be eaten at breakfast! If you love eggs, which are a great high-quality protein source, have a couple for dinner. I’ll often make a dinner veggie omelet with a side of whole-grain toast and avocado slices. And if you want chicken breast with grilled veggies and brown rice for breakfast, that works too.” —Amy Gorin
So tell me what you want, what you really, really want
“I encourage my clients to really think about what’s important to them because this drives their goals and behaviors and serves as a valuable guide for determining what changes they can commit to in the short-term and beyond. It may look very different than what they initially think they want, especially for clients interested in weight loss. Most realize that what they want is not necessarily a lower number on the scale, but the benefit of more energy to spend time with their family, better physical fitness to do what they enjoy, or overall better health to live a balanced life.” —Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD of Street Smart Nutrition
Outsource the boring parts of meal prep
“Convenience foods are great—as long as they’re the right ones. The cornerstone of healthy nutrition is fresh produce. But who has time to do all the prep work in takes to prepare a healthy meal? Not me! If peeling, cutting, and chopping aren’t your thing, let someone else do the work. Grocers offer an ever-expanding selection of chopped, diced, or minced produce. They can cut dinner preparation time in half! Plus, keeping sliced veggies and prepared dips like hummus are great to have on hand at all time.” —Rene Ficek, RD, lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating
Swap, don’t restrict, foods
“Instead of margarine use butter. Margarine is laden with heart-damaging trans fats. Swap corn oil and soybean oil for palm fruit oil. It’s an excellent source of vitamin E, which supports heart and brain health. Trade out corn-fed proteins for the grass-fed proteins. Smart consumers are choosing grass-fed options because those tend to have more nutrients and fewer added hormones. Lastly, out with the artificial egg whites, in with the fresh eggs. Some brands have naturally higher levels of ALA omega-3 fatty acids due to what the chickens are fed.” —Felicia Stoler, RD, exercise physiologist, author of Living Skinny in Fat Genes™: The Healthy Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great, and host of TLC’s series, Honey We’re Killing the Kids!!. Try these healthy food swaps you never thought of.
Bring back the 3-course meal
“Serve vegetables first, at the beginning of the meal. This not only priorities these nutrient-dense foods and ensures their consumption but it can also take the edge of off hunger and tempers appetite before moving on to the rest of the meal.” —James Pierce
Quit with the multitasking
“How many times have you found yourself multitasking while eating and then reached into that empty bag of chips to find that you’ve eaten the whole thing? Distracted eating accounts for countless extra calories consumed, but no calories enjoyed. How sad is that? I encourage my clients to eat mindfully, to pay attention to the flavors, textures, and sensations while eating food. This allows you to enjoy delicious food, or realize that something just isn’t good and stop eating it.” —Rebecca Clyde MS, RDN, CD, blogger at Be Truly Nourished
Go to bed, sleepyhead
“We’re so rushed that we squeeze in the bare minimum of hours of sleep and exist in a permanently fatigued state. This is challenging when it comes to managing our weight and our health because we’re denying our bodies the chance to recover and repair. I often see clients struggling with plateaus and we talk about how they manage their sleep and stress. I advise at least seven hours per night; preferably eight or more if possible.” —Cara Harbstreet
Don’t de-stress with food
“A healthy diet is managing not only what you eat but also managing what is eating at you. A steady diet of stress is counterproductive to good health. Part of eating healthy is making sure your mind is healthy.” —Melanie Young. These are silent signs stress is making you sick.
Make sure your diet gets an “F” (for fiber)
“Consuming a minimum of 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day will help you feel full longer and naturally curb your appetite. Dietary fiber also helps stabilize your blood sugar, protects against colorectal cancer, and reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Fiber also significantly influences the types of microbes that live in our gut, which in turn exert an enormous influence on our health. So when planning meals, it is critical to include healthy, high-fiber foods such as raspberries, blackberries, avocado, artichokes, broccoli, green peas, lentils, black beans, and whole grains.” —Joanne L. Mumola Williams, PhD, holistic nutritionist and author of Health Begins in the Kitchen. Find out what happens to your body when you eat more fiber.
Baby your gut bacteria
“There is impressive research emerging about the gut microbiome, or the trillions of bacteria that live within our gut. We’re learning more about the integral role of these bacteria in our health, and what we eat can shape which kinds of bugs live inside us. I give my patients three to remember in order to help prevent chronic disease and optimize the gut microbiome: Eat fiber, eat fermented foods, and eat unprocessed foods. Adding these foods to your diet probably provides the biggest health return for the investment compared to any dietary change out there.” —Shilpa Ravella, MD, gastroenterologist with expertise in nutrition and an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center
Take a page from your preschooler and pack a snack
“I find that people often make poor food choices because they get so hungry they just grab whatever is close. If you have something healthy already tucked in your bag or briefcase, you’ll save yourself the extra calories and eater’s remorse. Pack healthy snacks that are a nice balance of carbs, protein, and healthy fat to keep your energy level up and hunger at bay, but nothing too perishable or fragile. Think a hardboiled egg and some dried fruit, a single serving packet of dry roasted nuts and carrot sticks, or an apple and single serving packet of nut butter.” —Lara Felton, RDN, head of the dietary team at mobile nutrition app ShopWell. Try these 30 healthy snack ideas.
Fill your bowl with… your phone
“Many folks tend to eat while on their electronic devices and don’t pay attention to what and how much they are eating. Create an ‘electronics bowl’ where you place your cell phone and other devices before you eat so you can enjoy your food and the art of conversation during a meal.” —Toby Amidor, MS, RD, author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day. Check out these other eating mistakes even healthy people make.
Think beyond the barn
“Proteins are not created equally. Your body needs 22 amino acids but can only make 14 of these on its own. This requires you to get the other eight, called essential amino acids, from food. We all know that meats, cheeses, and eggs are complete proteins but so are quinoa, hempseed, chia, buckwheat, and the combo of brown rice and beans.” —Sara Doll, NASM certified personal trainer and nutrition specialist, author of Gluten Free Daily. These are red flags you’re not eating enough protein.
Hunger may not mean you’re hungry
“When you begin a clean eating program, you’re most likely going to have hunger pains or food cravings at the beginning. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not getting enough food. Rather your body is balancing to proper nutrition. As your blood sugar adjusts these food cravings will stop. A need for water can also be disguised as hunger so stay hydrated.” —Sara Doll. Check out these other sneaky reasons you can’t stop eating.
Cook at home
“Cooking at home instead of ordering out is a great way to save calories (and money!). This way you control what is going into your meal, and it allows you to avoid the extra salt and fat we tend to get at restaurant meals. It is also a great way to start introducing new foods into your diet that you might not usually try. Think you can’t cook? There are plenty of videos online, or even a fun local cooking class to get get you started. It is not nearly as intimidating or hard as many people think.” —Jen Flachbart, MS, RDN, owner of Plant Roots Nutrition
Eating fat won’t make you fat
“The traditional mantra of eating a low-fat diet has been questioned as over consuming foods high in processed carbohydrates appears to be a significant factor in weight gain. Opting for foods in their most natural state such as those that are rich in good fats, including extra virgin olive oil, avocados, oily fish and nuts, typical of the Mediterranean way of eating, appears to be a healthier way to approach your diet.” —Rob Hobson
Don’t go it alone
“Many of my clients are highly successfully because, well, they’re my clients. They have me as a support system to turn to when they feel like giving up or aren’t sure of where they are going. You need to build a support system back at home too. There is no shame in asking your friends for help to keep you more accountable. By making them part of your journey, you encourage them to not only be considerate of your lifestyle change and habits but also help them make better decisions as well. If you live at home with family or your partner, try to get them involved in your goals. Maybe you can share healthy meals or exercise together.” —Elisabeth Almekinder RN, BA, CDE, The Diabetes Council