“so what do you eat?”
I get asked this question as a dietitian often enough that I figured I would write out the answer. But I want to start out by saying that as real humans, we have different bodies, needs, preferences, beliefs and values about food. So consider this more of a post to satisfy curiosity than any recommendation.
And not to sound like a broken record (but this is important) this is not a prescription or a recommendation. This is a description. This is just what I eat.
The good news of nutrition is there are lots of ways to eat healthy. So while this is how I eat, (and I consider it healthy) it will not be the right solution for everyone. You might have different dietary needs due to a medical condition, or a family member’s medical condition. You might have different dietary preferences – or a different lifestyle that make these choices impractical. That’s ok.
That’s the beauty of Nutrition for Real Humans, and that’s why I work with each client to design a plan that will make healthy eating work for them.
Now, onto what you clicked on this title for: What does a dietitian eat? (Or more accurately, what does this dietitian eat?)
I thought about it and wrote down some patterns that I tend to follow when I’m deciding what to eat. I don’t really have strict rules; in the words of Captain Barbosa:
A fruit or vegetable with each meal.
At least one, sometimes more. This could look like a banana with breakfast, eating a carrot alongside my sandwich, or adding a bunch of vegetables to the soup I’ve made for dinner.
Benefits of fruits and vegetables
- High water content (good for hydration)
- Generally high in fiber
- Source of a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C
- Source of phytonutrients and antioxidants that we don’t even fully comprehend the benefits of yet
- Often add beautiful color, flavor, and texture to the meal!
Most grains whole grains.
I try to make whole grains the default grain that I eat. If I make rice, it’s brown rice. When I make bread or muffins or waffles, I make sure at least half the flour I use (if not more) is whole wheat flour. When I buy grain products (tortillas, cereals, pasta), I usually choose products where the first ingredient listed is whole grain or whole wheat.
Benefits of whole grains
- Higher fiber content (more filling, digest more slowly)
- Slightly higher protein content
- Naturally contain more vitamins and minerals than refined grains (although most products made with refined grains have vitamins and minerals added back to make up for this loss)
This doesn’t mean I don’t eat refined grains. When I bake, usually at least part of the recipe is made with white flour because the texture is better, and if I’m making a dessert, I just use white flour.
It’s hard to pass up a good sourdough if it’s white bread, and our favorite instant mac and cheese is made with white pasta.
Protein source with each meal.
Benefits of protein with each meal
- Personally, I feel full longer and have better energy between meals if I eat some protein.
- Helps ensure I get enough protein during the day.
- Spreading protein through the day has been shown to be helpful in building and maintaining muscle mass
- Many foods that are sources of protein are also important sources of other essential nutrients, like iron, calcium, or B-vitamins.
Vary sources of protein, and include plant-based proteins frequently.
Benefits of varying protein
- Gain the different benefits of different types of protein (e.g. omega-3 fatty acids in fish)
- Spreads out the drawbacks of different types of protein (e.g. high sodium content of cheese)
- Keep it interesting
- Eating more plant proteins generally reduces cost of meals and environmental impact
Keep nutrient-dense snacks around.
So when I’m hungry between meals I have something available to eat that will help provide me with more nutrients and energy as well as satisfy my hunger.
Some snacks that I like to have around:
- Roasted salted almonds
- Roasted salted mixed nuts
- Dark chocolate
- Mandarin oranges/tangerines
- Whole grain muffins
- Dried fruit
- Lara Bars (snack bar made with dried fruit and nuts)
- Cottage cheese
- Sugar snap peas
- Peanut butter
- Seaweed snacks
I don’t always have all of these around, but these are examples of what might be laying around our house.
Use healthy fats when cooking
I embrace fats in general when cooking, especially olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, to help make a meal more satisfying and tasty. I also really like dairy fats: cheese, butter, full fat yogurt. There is evidence showing that intake of fats from dairy, especially from yogurt and cheese is not associated with increased heart disease or diabetes risk or death. We also personally don’t have any health conditions that would make it especially risky for us to eat saturated fat.
Benefits of fats
- Take longer to digest, and help promote satiety (satisfaction)
- Help your body absorb certain vitamins
- Important carriers of flavor
Drink mostly water, milk, coffee and tea (unsweetened or lightly sweetened)
These are the drinks I have at home. It doesn’t mean we never have soda or juice or alcohol, but we mostly only buy these if we are hosting guests, or if we are out to dinner or as a special treat
(No pictures because I don’t often take pictures of just glasses of water or milk haha).
Mostly cook and eat at home
This is mainly because of how I grew up and how I ate when I was first on my own and didn’t have lots of money. But it also lets me be in charge of what’s in my food.
Probably more sweets than you expect
We both have sweet tooths (sweet teeth?). We probably have dessert at least half of the nights of the week (more if I’ve baked something). This could be ice cream, a handful of chocolate chips, kettlecorn, or a microwave brownie.
This is one thing that I am tempted to feel guilty about. But most of the time I don’t, and my husband really helps me be a balanced, reasonable human here. Dessert is something we both enjoy (and often a way to share celebration or just spend time with other people), and the way we eat it does not cause us health problems.
Benefits of sweets/desserts
- Often a way to spend time with people
- I like baking
- Sometimes an opportunity to get extra nutrients in: dark chocolate contains iron, kettlecorn is a whole grain, milk-based desserts contain calcium, fruit-based desserts provide extra fruit! Don’t think something is immediately of no value just because it has sugar!
Just in cased you missed that excellent GIF in the beginning, these are general descriptions of what I eat. I don’t follow them like strict rules. Sometimes I just don’t have a vegetable or fruit with a meal, or don’t have a protein with a meal. And again, this is not THE RIGHT way to eat. There is no one right way.
If you really want to know what I eat, just follow @nutritionforrealhumans on Instagram, or Facebook. That’s where all of these pictures are from 🙂
If you feel you must take a recommendation away from this post:
Make most of your guidelines and nutrition goals positive or additive
Notice, that most of these guidelines are things I DO, not things I don’t.
There is some evidence that adding foods, or having positive goals (vs. don’t eat that or eat less this) are easier to maintain. Positive goals are awesome. You get to feel accomplished when you do them!