It’s National Nutrition Month, so we decided to track down updated advice on healthy eating from someone who educates patients — and talks them out of crazy fad diets — daily. Kim Tirapelle, registered dietitian at Kaiser Permanente’s Clovis Medical Offices, said she tries to steer people away from an “all or nothing” approach to nutrition.
“People turn food into ‘good and bad,’ but food is not good or bad,” she explained. “If you eat a sweet, it does not mean you are a bad person or your diet is bad. You want a piece of chocolate? Eat a piece. It’s not the end of the world. Just be mindful that you’re not eating two bars.”
The key to good nutrition, Tirapelle says, is eating balanced and varied meals that incorporate fruits, vegetable, beans and whole grains. Even her three young children eat well.
“Get them protein in the morning. My kids like Greek yogurt, crunchy peanut butter on toast and berries,” she said. “For lunch it’s turkey, cheese, almonds, carrots and one or two Oreos — because, come on, you’ve got to give them something — and maybe strawberries.”
For meal and snack inspirations, Tirapelle looks to the Food For Health blog at www.kp.org, which offers recipes and resources.
“This is National Nutrition Month so we’re trying to get the word out and remind people to try new things,” she said. “The slogan this year is ‘put your best fork forward.’ ”
Tirapelle fed our curiosity with this expert advice:
Q: Should we all just go vegan?
A: There’s more and more research coming out supporting plant-based diets. Vegan diet is the most restrictive of all the plant-based diets because it eliminates all animal products including eggs, dairy and even honey. I think plant-based diets definitely have health benefits. Not only is research showing that it helps reduce chronic conditions like obesity, cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, but I also just read an article about plant-based diets helping reduce weight. Because of the higher fiber content, you feel full longer and … end up eating less. You don’t need to necessarily go vegan, but you should definitely incorporate more fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans in your diet.
Q: What’s your go-to snack?
A: I’ve got two. What I like personally is Greek yogurt with walnuts. (Skyr yogurt can also be found in many grocery stores now, which is similar to Greek yogurt but contains less sugar.)
Try to incorporate some type of fiber and some kind of protein, because that is what makes you feel full longer. Don’t eat something superficially high in sugar, which makes you feel great and have energy initially, because eventually you’re going to go down. Foods high in protein make you feel fuller longer and your blood sugar is more stable.
No. 2, I’m a hummus person. Hummus is made from garbanzo beans, which is plant-based protein, and you’re eating it with a vegetable, like carrots or celery, which gives you fiber and helps you feel fuller longer.
Q: Meal replacement shakes — do you recommend them, or are they a bunch of baloney?
A: I’m not a big fan, here’s why: they don’t make you feel very full because liquids generally empty out of your stomach more quickly than food. If they are concentrated proteins, you can become constipated, which is not pleasant. Although they have vitamins and minerals added, you’re not getting a wide variety of nutrition. If you’re relying on these shakes, you’re going to get hungrier later and you’re going to end up eating more.
Q: What are most people missing from their diet?
A: Fiber. Because we have a more meat-based, processed food diet and moving away from real, fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, the American diet is lacking in fiber. The downside of that diet is constipation, and other GI problems like diverticulitis.
The goal is 25 to 38 grams a day for both women and men. About a cup of vegetables will give you five to 8 grams of fiber, so if you’re eating vegetables at lunch and dinner and snacking on fruit, beans, nuts, it’s not that hard … to reach that daily goal.
Q: What’s the craziest fad that you’ve ever talked people out of?
A: Cleanses. It’s just not going to work in the long run. They’re too low in calories — most people are starving themselves and they don’t know why they’re so dizzy. They’re generally low in protein, because the cleanse usually consists of fruit or vegetable juices.
Cleanses also can be dangerous because some of them incorporate a stimulant and/or a diuretic, which makes you urinate and you can become dehydrated.
Cleanses are not nutritionally adequate. Maybe you’ve lost a few pounds, but then you eat like a normal human and have some food and you’re going to gain the weight back and that’s very discouraging.
With cleanses you’re eliminating alcohol and processed foods. Well, if you just did that, but ate real food, you could just be healthy and you’d feel better.
Q: What’s your go-to meal for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to cook?
A: If we’re trying to get people to incorporate more fruits and vegetables, salads are always great. Do food prep on the weekends to add in your protein — make a bunch of hard boiled eggs or ground turkey or shredded chicken. Even canned salmon or tuna can be thrown on top of a salad.
Do a bean salad; those are super easy. You can boil fresh beans on the weekend or use canned beans — get the low sodium beans and then put them in a strainer and rinse them; that gets rid of further sodium. You can throw that on top of a pile of greens with some corn. Throw fruit on top like strawberries or apple slices so you’re getting additional fiber. Put nuts and cheese on there. Quinoa can be eaten hot or cold and I throw it on salads all the time.
It sounds like a lot, but it’s really fast, it’s easy and you’re getting fiber and protein. Add some fat to make you feel more full with avocados. For dressing, vinaigrettes are easy. Keep it to a tablespoon or two. A spring salad recipe can be found on the Food for Health blog at kp.org, and a lot of fruits and vegetables are coming into season right now that you can pick up at local farmers markets.