Ask the Expert: Registered dietitian Karie Quinn

Welcome to part two of our Ask the Expert series. To help you simplify your life, we’re asking experts to answer questions about eating well, staying healthy and achieving goals

Ask the Expert: Registered dietitian Karie Quinn

Source: Web exclusive, April 2011

We invited Karie Quinn, a registered dietitian in Grande Prairie, Alta., to tackle questions about healthy eating submitted by readers via Facebook and Twitter.

Q: Twitter friend @macherietfd and Facebook fan Kyasarin Shin want to know how to deal with cravings for not-so-healthy foods such as French fries and sweets.

A: Understanding the reasons behind cravings can help combat these intense feelings. Here are some reasons we cave to temptation:

‘ Skipping meals or snacks can lead to low blood sugar or a lack of other nutrients. Cravings may be a sign from your body that something’s missing. Try eating small meals and snacks every two to three hours to stay satisfied; look for options that include protein, which takes longer to digest and keeps you feeling satisfied. Great snacks that keep you fuelled up: fruit and yogurt; low-fat crackers and cheese; a high-fibre cereal bar; veggies and hummus; or hot chocolate made with skim milk.

‘ Depriving yourself of calories or favourite foods can create cravings that lead to bingeing. Work favourite foods into your day, even when trimming calories. If you love chips, throw a small handful into your low-fat popcorn, rather than eating from the bag. Or bring portioned-out favourite foods to work, leaving the larger bag at home to stop from sneaking more.

‘ Stress or boredom can lead to cravings; comfort foods, rather than hunger, are the driving force. In fact, cravings might be your body’s way of searching for serotonin (feel-good hormones), which are released when you eat junk food. Instead of reaching for a cookie, reduce stress by walking, doing crafts or reading a good book (avoid watching TV, especially if it triggers more cravings). Have healthy comfort snacks on hand; try low-fat ice cream, or baked nachos with salsa and low-fat cheese and tomatoes.

Q: On Twitter, @gwendolynjk asked for tips for eating a healthy diet on a budget.

A: There are many ways to save money on groceries. It’s true that the cost of fresh produce and other healthy foods can add up but, depending on how you look at it, eating an unhealthy diet can be just as costly, once you factor in the cost of convenience foods, take-out meals and problems you can’t put a sticker price on’such as a higher risk of disease. Here are tips to eat well for less:

‘ Make a grocery list and stick to it’and never shop on an empty stomach.

‘ Shop the store’s perimeter for items in the four food groups (grains, milk and alternatives, meat and alternatives, and fruits and vegetables). They’re less expensive than the convenience foods in the aisles.

‘ Buy produce in season. Mangos, for instance, cost less in the spring and summer, while apples are cheaper in the fall. Following the seasons will also allow for more variety, and food tastes better.

‘ Save by buying whole items’such as a head of broccoli or a large bar of cheese’rather than pre-washed, pre-chopped and pre-shredded versions.

‘ Frozen foods such as peas are healthy, low-priced options with an extended shelf life.

‘ Batch cooking is cheaper than buying individual servings. For instance, a fast-food hamburger can cost $1.50 to $7. Homemade burgers are cheaper, especially if you make several to be eaten over a few days or to freeze for later. You can also control the salt and fat content, making homemade a healthier option.

‘ Healthy choices often offer better value: A bag of fibre-rich apples might cost $3, whereas a $2.50 bag of chips isn’t healthy and will probably only last one evening. A box of mac ‘n’ cheese might cost $1, but for $3 you could buy a much larger box of pasta that produces several meals.

Q: Facebook friend Laura Dugal Crozier asks, “What carbs are considered ‘good’ and ‘bad’?

A: Carbohydrates have been under the microscope for a while now, and the advice has changed over time’just a decade ago, we were "carbing up" for health, but today many people are confused by mixed messages.

People often ask whether eating less (or zero) carbs is healthier. The truth is, we need carbohydrates as much as we need protein and fat. Many carb-containing foods provide nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help fight health problems such as cancer and heart disease; eliminating these foods could put you at risk.

Dietitians recommend increasing "good" carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products. In addition, high-fibre carbohydrate choices’often referred to as "complex carbs"’such as whole-grain breads, brown rice and oatmeal, are not only nourishing but can help you feel fuller while cutting back on calories. 

"Simple carbs," on the other hand, are digested quickly, which spikes your energy briefly but may leave you feeling sluggish later. They tend to be found in lower-nutrient, higher-calorie foods like donuts, chips and chocolate bars. Other examples are table sugar, juice, pop, molasses and honey. Enjoy these foods once in a while, but lean towards more nutritious choices in general.

In a nutshell, we have good carbs and less-healthy carbs, much like we have good protein and fat choices and not-so-healthy ones. The key is to choose the carbohydrate-rich foods that offer the most nutrition, and to avoid overeating overall.

Karie Quinn is a registered dietitian with over 18 years’ experience in many areas of health, including weight management, diabetes and sports nutrition.

Ask the Expert: Life coach Susan Biali
The truth about carbs
5 foods that will boost your mood

Don’t miss out! Sign up for our free weekly newsletters and get nutritious recipes, healthy weight-loss tips, easy ways to stay in shape and all the health news you need, delivered straight to your inbox.