Featured Food & nutrition

Registered dietitians answer some of the top questions about food and nutrition

Bowl with vegetables, chicken, beans and quinoa

There is no shortage of headlines and opinions when it comes to the best diets and meal plans. Do you go high protein or fat free? Low carb or keto? The list is seemingly endless. To add to this, Canada’s Food Guide has recently received a major update. It can be hard to figure out what’s best for you and your family, so at the latest Speaker Series event, Sunnybrook’s leading registered dietitians hosted a discussion on nutrition advice everyone can use. Here are some of the top questions from the audience, and advice from Marsha Feldt, Annie Hoang and Jill Zwieg.

If you are following a low-cholesterol diet, is it better to choose butter or margarine?

JZ: You have to look at your overall diet. We know butter is about 68% saturated fat, while margarine is about 8%, and reducing saturated fat is an important step in reducing LDL, or bad cholesterol. When making the choice, it’s important to consider other sources of saturated fat in your diet. For example, if you eat a lot of red meat, skin on chicken, high fat dairy or processed foods, you may want to choose margarine. If you really prefer butter, opt for small amounts and look at other ways to cut back on saturated fat in your diet.

Are genetically modified (GMO) foods safe to eat?

AH: There are only a handful of GMOs produced in Canada, including canola, sugar beet, corn, soy bean and the new arctic apple, which has been approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. From a nutritional perspective, GMO and organic foods are pretty much equivalent.

When it comes to cancer risk, is it safe to eat foods containing soy?

JZ: When we talk about soy, tofu and plant-based proteins here, we’re directing the answer to the person who is generally healthy and doesn’t have other chronic disease. There may be some associations in people who have certain types of cancers.

AH: Yes, the cancers Jill is talking about are very specific cancers. In fact, some studies have suggested soy may actually have a protective effect against some cancers, and also for heart health. Generally, you don’t have to worry, but certainly talk to your doctor about your specific risk if you are concerned.

How much water do we need everyday?

MF: Canada’s New Food Guide emphasizes reducing sugary beverages and using water as your drink of choice. You can also get hydration from other water-containing items in your diet, like soup, tea, coffee and soy milk. Whatever your preference, choose options that are lower in added salt and sugar. There isn’t really an overall eight glass a day recommendation for everyone. Rather, the idea is to recognize thirst, stay hydrated in high temperatures and be aware that we do need fluids in our diet.

Are there any benefits to drinking water with electrolytes?

JZ: In general, we don’t need electrolytes for hydration. Plain water or carbonated water are best.

What about alkaline water?

AH: All scientific evidence indicates that we cannot change the pH balance of our body through ingestion of food or drink. Often, the purpose of alkaline water is to lower the acidity of our body, but the evidence suggests that physiologically, that simply isn’t possible.

Which oils are safest for cooking at high temperatures?

MF: There are guides available to let you know about the different smoke points for different oils. Generally, oil that is more monounsaturated – like olive oil – might smoke at higher temperatures. Oils that tolerate heat a bit better include canola oil or grape seed oil. But the important point is, we don’t want to be cooking foods at such high temperatures that it causes extra smoke and charring. Instead, cook slow and at lower, more moderate temperatures. Using a thermometer in foods like meats will help ensure they are cooked properly.

JZ: Most pan frying you do doesn’t get anywhere near the smoke point, so using things like olive oil is safe. Generally, we don’t recommend deep frying anything.

Is coconut oil recommended for cooking?

JZ: This oil is actually considered to be a saturated fat, at about 80%. Saturated fats have a direct link to LDL cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease. We haven’t seen any significant health benefits of using coconut oil, so be careful of it if you have elevated cholesterol, are taking cholesterol-lowering medications or have a risk of heart disease.

Are dried fruits and vegetables healthier?

AH: If they are simply dehydrated, not necessarily healthier. Just be aware of what else is in them. For example, some dried vegetables may be roasted in oil and coated in salt, definitely making them less healthy. And when it comes to dried fruit, the serving size should be smaller because the sugar is more concentrated.

Is dairy more important to consume in childhood or adulthood?

AH: I don’t think I can choose! I’ll answer this in the context of calcium, and that is often why dairy foods are consumed. Calcium is important at all ages for bone development, strength and overall bone density.

How often should we eat?

MF: You want to space food out throughout the day, such as eating three meals a day, to help maintain a healthy metabolism and ensure you have energy to get you through. Smaller, more frequent meals can also be better for overall digestion.

Is there a guideline for how many eggs are safe to eat per week?

AH: No, but if you have an elevated risk for heart disease or high cholesterol, I would recommend keeping it to two to three egg yolks per week. If you aren’t concerned, enjoy them as much as you like, as they are high in many nutrients, including vitamins and minerals.

Where can I find simple and nutritious recipes?

Cookspiration, UnlockFood and the site of Canada’s New Food Guide are three great resources. Recipes there are developed with the guidance and expertise of dietitians.

View the whole Speaker Series event here:

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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