From what’s on your plate and where you shop for foods to when you weigh yourself and eliminating so-called “bad” foods, registered dieticians and nutritionists have tons of opinions about what’s best for your healthy-eating success. Read on for some of their expert dietitian advice about what they’d rather not catch you doing when it comes to your diet.
Weighing Yourself Every Day
Do you step on your scale first thing in the a.m.? That could be a helpful habit to keep your eating on track. Or it could be totally misleading, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., creator of Better Than Dieting and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table. “You might have had a pickle the day before that left you bloated,” she explains. Sodium acts like a magnet to water. So if you had a serving of chips, a pickle, or soup, you could gain two pounds but not gain any fat. “Don’t rely on the scale to give you true information every single day. It’s hard to measure how much fluid in your body is related to bloat,” she says.
Same goes for how your clothes fit, says Taub-Dix. If your jeans are tight on your tummy several days or a couple weeks in a row, yes, you can probably draw some conclusions. But, just a day or two of snugness doesn’t mean much. “Even dried fruit can cause gas and bloat and make your clothes feel tight. That doesn’t mean [that] you’ve actually gained any weight.”
Sticking to the Perimeter of the Grocery Store
You’ve likely heard that the healthiest food options—fresh produce, lean meats, low-fat dairy—are along the edges of your grocery store. While it’s true to some extent, that doesn’t mean everything in the middle should be off limits. “It’s important to make the most of the middle,” says Taub-Dix. Down the middle aisles, you’ll find beans, whole grains, nuts, shelf-stable almond milk, sugar-free sparkling water, and frozen veggies (which are frozen at their peak and as nutritious as the fresh variety). Plus, she adds, it’s an easy way to make sure that you always have healthy go-tos ready to grab. “In the middle aisles, you’ll find foods that don’t perish, so they’re good to keep stocked in your kitchen. You’ll always have some healthy options on hand.”
Assuming That Vegan Food Is Healthy
Plant-based diets are getting super-popular, and there are several pros to this kind of eating plan. But, that doesn’t mean that any food labeled vegan is the way to go. (French fries and many kinds of candy are vegan, after all.) “Certain nutrients are more challenging to get from plant foods alone, including complete proteins, iron, calcium, and vitamin B12,” says Lauri Wright, Ph.D., R.D.N., assistant professor at the University of North Florida and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Instead, vegans need to be strategic with their food choices to [ensure that] they are getting a healthy diet.” To do so, she suggests working a whole grain, a vegan protein source, and plenty of produce into every meal.
Cutting Out Whole Food Groups
“Aside from a legit allergy or intolerance, avoiding foods and whole food groups because of some perceived health benefit tends to backfire on us,” says Jen Bruning, R.D.N., media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Of course, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, that’s a different situation (as long as you’re making sure to keep your diet balanced and protein-packed). But, says Bruning, “Most people do better when they are allowed to eat from all food groups, and find a balance of diverse foods that energize and nourish their individual body and mind.”
“No diet should really make you feel deprived. There’s a difference between feeling deprived and saying ‘no, thank you’ sometimes,” says Taub-Dix. “It really is important to include your favorite foods in your diet so [that] you don’t feel like you’re missing out.” Keep in mind, Bruning says, that having a diet where you’re allowed to eat whatever you want doesn’t mean that you should always eat as much as you want. It’s not free rein to gorge on pizza and doughnuts, she says. Plus, we often eat those things as a result of an impulse, not a true want. What about when you do truly want a food? “Start to find ways to make those more indulgent ‘wants’ line up with your health goals, like making a pizza at home out of wholesome ingredients,” she suggests.
Dousing Your Salad in Dressing
Taub-Dix cringes when she sees someone order dressing on the side of their salad, but then proceed to pour the entire container over their plate. You don’t have to skimp on dressing, she says. Instead, stretch it. “Order it on the side and also ask for plain balsamic or red wine vinegar. Use it to dilute your dressing. Just doing that, you can cut calories in half without cutting any flavor.”
Buying Gourmet Salts
Himalayan pink sea salt, Hawaiian black lava—the craggy chunks of these salts sold in gourmet shops (and many nice grocery stores too) look like they were plucked right from the earth. So, they must be a more natural, healthier option than good old Morton iodized table salt, right? Not so fast, says Wright. “From a health perspective, salt is salt. The average American consumes four times the amount of sodium they should, and the biggest culprit is salt. Bottom line, gourmet salts are no healthier. They have the same amount of sodium as table salt and should be used sparingly.” Instead, she advises seasoning your food with fresh herbs and spices.
Healthy eating isn’t always super straightforward but it doesn’t have to be too difficult to understand either. Stick to this dietitian advice about what not to do and focus on a balanced diet to find health success.