The science of nutrition is constantly changing. One week, you might hear that eggs are good for you. The next week, you might hear they’re bad. Then, suddenly they’re good again. It can get confusing to make healthy decisions. In celebration of March’s National Nutrition Month, we’re tackling a few of the common questions we receive at the YMCA regarding the latest evidence and nutritional claims.
Question 1: Should I eat grains?
First off, to eliminate any confusion, know that grains are good for you. They improve heart health and gastrointestinal functioning and reduce risks associated with type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer.
The bad reputation grains get stems from whether they’re unrefined (whole grain) or refined.
Unrefined grain has all the beneficial components of the whole grain: The endosperm, germ and outer bran layer, which is loaded with fiber and b-vitamins that help fuel our bodies. The USDA recommends eating three to five servings a day of whole grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, brown rice and oats. One serving can be a slice of whole grain bread or a half-cup of cooked pasta.
The grains you should limit are the refined ones. These are grains that are stripped of the nutrient-dense outer bran layer and have only the starchy components. They are typically white in appearance and tend to be more processed. Refined grains are found in pastries, dinner rolls, white bread, all-purpose flour and white rice.
A rule of thumb is to always check the nutrition label. You want the first word to be “whole,” which means the product is indeed a whole grain.
Question 2: What is gluten and why does everything seem to be “gluten free”?
Whole grains are good for you. But some people shy away because certain grains such as wheat, barley and rye contain a protein called gluten. While some people (less than 1% of the population) have a medical diagnosis of celiac disease, which makes them allergic to gluten, many others simply believe they are “gluten intolerant.”
For people with celiac disease, consuming gluten can result in serious health consequences. For people who are gluten intolerant, gluten can lead to symptoms including bloating, gas, fatigue, and pain in the abdomen or joints.
If you suspect you have an issue with gluten, consider these questions before you rule out grains:
- How big are your portion sizes?
- How quickly are you eating?
- What other ingredients are in your grain dish?
Any of these factors can lead to bloating or stomach discomfort. Keep a food journal for a week and make notes on how you feel after eating grains each time. From there, a doctor can help further determine a diagnosis.
The bottom line: It’s important to not rule out grains as a powerful food group unless you know for sure!
Question 3 How much protein should I actually be eating?
It seems we always hear about how we’re not eating enough protein, or we need to eat a “protein-rich” diet. But, believe it or not, protein deficiency is rarely found in the United States. In fact, the average American consumes almost double the recommended amount of protein each day!
The average adult needs only 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.* That means if you weigh 145 pounds, for example, you should aim for about 53 grams of protein per day.
That may sound like a lot, but it quickly adds up.
One serving of meat is 3 ounces. If you order a 3-ounce sirloin, you’ll get 23 grams of protein. Keep in mind that most people tend to have a larger portion of meat, and the amount of protein increases with each ounce.
You can also get plenty of protein in non-meat options, such as:
- Edamame (1 cup = 17 grams)
- Low-fat cottage cheese (1 cup = 27 grams)
- Beans (1 cup = 14-16 grams)
- Brown rice (1 cup = 5 grams)
- Milk (1 cup = 8 grams)
- Nut butter (2 tablespoons = 5-8 grams)
- Quinoa (½ cup = 4 grams)
- Tofu (½ cup = 20 grams)
- Greek yogurt (1 cup = 12-15 grams)
With protein found in so many places, it can be simple to make sure you’re getting enough.
*To calculate your protein need, divide your weight by 2.2. Then multiply that number by 0.8.
145lbs/ 2.2kg = 65.9kg
65.9kg x 0.8g = 52.27g protein needed per day.
During National Nutrition Month and year-round, a well-balanced diet is key to living healthy and feeling your best. For more answers to your nutrition questions, ask the certified nutrition experts at the YMCA.
We’re here for you!
Amy Gray is a registered dietitian, coordinator for the YMCA’s Healthy Weight and Your Child program, and lifestyle coach for the Diabetes Prevention Program. An avid runner and “huge foodie,” Amy recently completed her dietetic internship through Utah State University, received her BS in nutrition and dietetics from Metro State University of Denver, and is currently working toward her Master’s degree in dietetic administration.