Dietitians' Top 10 Diet Tips

Dietitians share their own strategies for eating healthfully despite life's challenges.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

We all know it's a challenge to eat healthfully in our drive-through, junk-food world. But what about those people who make a living urging folks to improve their diets? How do they manage to pull it off themselves? I asked a sampling of dietitians from all over the country how they eat well despite life's challenges, and they shared some favorite diet tips that they use in their own lives.

Diet Tip No. 1: Enjoy Fast Food Weekly, but Make Smart Choices

This is one of my own favorite tips on how to live in the real world as a dietitian and mother and still aim for healthy eating most of the time. When my now 16-year-old was in kindergarten, I started bringing lunch to my two daughters on Fridays when I had volunteer duty at the school -- and "fast-food Friday" was born. My girls are now in high school, and believe it or not, I still do this. (Apparently, they're willing to brave the embarrassment of meeting their mom at the front of the school if it means getting a break from bag lunches.)

The way I see it, this is actually an exercise in moderation. By having it once a week, my girls are exposed to fast food, but it isn't standard fare. They've also learned how to make healthier fast-food choices -- fast-food Friday often consists of BBQ grilled chicken sandwiches on whole-grain buns, bean burritos, or vegetable-topped personal pizzas.

Diet Tip No. 2: Drink No More Than 1 Diet Soda a Day

You find soda everywhere in our culture, whether you're at a fast-food restaurant, gas station, vending machine, or a friend's house. Some people limit sugary drinks, but allow themselves boundless diet sodas. And considering that research has found that the number of calories we get from beverages has increased by more than 200 from 1965 to 2002, diet soda may seem like a great solution. But I would personally rather keep my intake of diet soda and its alternative sweeteners to about one per day. One benefit of that is more room for water and healthy green teas!

If you enjoy diet sodas, as I do, try limiting your intake to one can when you want it the most during the day (for me, that's right after lunch or midafternoon). So yes, you'll find diet sodas in this dietitian's refrigerator -- but you'll also find plenty of alternatives like mineral water, lots of tea options, freshly squeezed orange juice, and low-fat milk.

Diet Tip No. 3: Pizza Night!

Marcia Yamashiro, RD, a northern California dietitian who counsels people with eating disorders, participates in a weekly "pizza night" with her family of four.

Sound surprising? The truth is that pizza can definitely be a better choice if topped with vegetables instead of fatty meats, and especially if you ask for extra pizza sauce (it's rich in phytochemicals from the tomatoes). Serve the slices with a green salad and/or some fresh fruit for a more balanced, fiber- and nutrient-rich meal.

Diet Tip No. 4: Breakfast Cereals With Fewer Than 3 Grams of Fiber Need Not Apply

Carol Ann Brannon, MS, RD, a nutrition therapist and food coach in Georgia, makes sure all the breakfast cereals in her pantry have more than 3 grams of fiber per serving.

"This way I get my youngest daughter to seek out cereal with fiber, and these are usually the ones lower in sugar, too," says Brannon.

Diet Tip No. 5: Pump Up the Protein

Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, makes a point of eating protein at every meal and snack. In an email interview, she suggests trying whey powder or egg white as a protein source at some of your meals or snacks.

Diet Tip No. 6: Keep Score of Fruits and Vegetables

Barbara Quinn, MS, RD, CDE, clinical dietitian at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, keeps score of her fruit and vegetable servings during the day. "If I get to the end of the day and a piece of fruit or vegetable hasn't touched my lips, then guess what we're having for dinner!" says Quinn.

One of Brannon's favorite real-life diet tips also involves the produce aisle -- she tries to include a vegetable and fruit at every meal. Gerbstadt says she also tries to add veggies to meals and snacks every chance she gets.

Diet Tip No. 7: Have Alcohol Only on Weekends

"If you enjoy alcohol, be aware that the calories add up quickly -- and one way to control it is to limit consumption to the weekends," says Kathleen Zelman, MS, RD, director of nutrition for WebMD and the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic.

So try limiting your liquor to Friday and Saturday nights -- and keep it to a drink or two each night.

Diet Tip No. 8: Have an After-Dinner Drink

Following dinner with a nice, hot cup of tea or a decaf latte can help satisfy your dessert cravings and keep your hand out of the cookie jar, says Zelman. About an hour or two after dinner, many of us get the munchies -- and enjoying a no-calorie or low-calorie beverage can keep your hands and mouth busy during those times.

Diet Tip No. 9: Pre-Dinner Produce Munchies

"Before I start cooking dinner, I cut up veggies or fruit for everyone to snack on while I'm cooking," notes Bonnie Liebman, MS, director of nutrition for the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest.

This keeps her family from reaching for less healthy snack foods while they're waiting for dinner and encourages healthy eating in two other ways, Liebman says in an email interview: It gets a serving or two of produce into everyone before there's competition from other foods at dinner -- and people are more apt to like foods when they are really hungry.

Diet Tip No. 10: Count 4 Colors in Each Meal

Jennifer Reilly, RD, senior nutritionist for The Cancer Project in Washington, D.C., makes sure each meal her family eats naturally contains at least four different colors. "Skittles don't count!" Reilly jokes in an email interview.

"For example, dinner could be veggie chicken nuggets (GOLD), sweet potato fries (ORANGE), cucumber slices (GREEN) and cranberry juice (RED)," Reilly says.

Published January 8, 2008.

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

SOURCES: Marcia Yamashiro, RD, nutrition consultant, Concord, Calif. Barbara Quinn, MS, RD, CDE, clinical dietitian, Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, Monterey, Calif. Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association. Carol Ann Brannon, MS, RD, LD, nutrition therapist, food coach, Georgia. Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, director of nutrition, WebMD and the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, Atlanta. Bonnie Liebman, MS, director of nutrition, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington, D.C. Jennifer Reilly, RD, senior nutritionist, The Cancer Project, Washington, D.C. Duffey K.J. et al., Obesity 2007, 15: 2739-2747.

©2008 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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