Expert Offers Tips, Tricks for Eating Better

When your car needs a tune-up you should head to a trusted mechanic; when your body needs a tune-up you should be driven to seek health and wellness tinkering from an expert in food and nutrition.


Emily CallahanMeet Emily A. Callahan, a registered dietitian whose toolkit includes a Master of Public Health degree. Emily is an in-demand consultant who has worked for a number of national organizations including the American Heart Association and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.


She has graciously agreed to answer a few questions and, hopefully, to help you improve your health through the food you eat. The best news: Emily has agreed to provide regular advice for Meal Plan Map followers throughout the months ahead.


So, Emily, what do you feel is the best nutrition trend right now?

It’s nice to see plant-based foods getting the spotlight and being incorporated into so many popular snacks, like dry-roasted chickpeas. In general, Americans don’t eat the recommended amounts of fruits, veggies, whole grains, or legumes (black beans, chickpeas,) etc. These foods have so much to offer in terms of health promotion and disease prevention, and they also taste great. Sometimes it just takes a little know-how and creativity to learn how to prepare them to make their flavors shine.


OK, so what do you feel is the worst trend food-wise?

Hands down, it’s the bulletproof coffee/keto coffee fad. This is a drink that replaces breakfast with a couple cups of coffee mixed with a couple tablespoons of butter plus a particular type of oil. There isn’t anything wrong with a couple cups of coffee, or eating a little butter here and there (especially if you use it strategically, like adding a bit to veggies to help you eat more of them). But drinking this concoction for breakfast misses a major opportunity to get the foods and nutrients your body needs and provides around a whole day’s worth of saturated fat (a nutrient that should be limited in healthy diets).

There are so many better, nutrient-packed breakfast ideas to help boost your energy and start your day off right – for example, a cup of whole-grain cereal with low- or non-fat milk or plain yogurt, a small handful of nuts, and a piece of fruit provides complex carbs and fiber, high-quality protein and healthy fats, and takes hardly any time to prepare.


Why do you believe so many Americans are overweight?

There is no single factor that’s responsible for the epidemic of overweight and obesity in America. I had the privilege of working on a major report on obesity in America from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and that was a key message of the report. There have been several interconnected trends over the past few decades that have led to Americans eating more and moving less, and collectively these trends have promoted the rise in overweight and obesity.

Some examples are our modern lifestyles that are dependent on cars, the rise in sedentary entertainment (think screen time), and the wide availability and affordability of high-calorie foods and beverages – food is available everywhere, all the time, for a relatively cheap cost. Because there are so many factors contributing to the trend of excess weight, it has been challenging to halt, let alone reverse, that trend.


Can you list five great between-meal snacks that are healthy AND tasty?

A good rule of thumb for snacks is to combine healthy carbohydrates with protein or fat. Proteins and fats help keep you satisfied because they take longer to digest than carbohydrates. Try to include a fruit or vegetable in your snacks. Five examples:

  1. Yogurt (look for lower-fat and lower-sugar) plus fruit and a sprinkling of nuts (You can also blend this into a smoothie.)
  2. Veggies like cucumbers, carrots or bell pepper strips plus hummus
  3. 1-2 tablespoons of nut butter plus apple slices or carrot sticks
  4. Low-fat cottage cheese plus a drizzle of honey plus a half-cup of sliced fruit (I like grapes, berries, or peaches.)
  5. Half a turkey sandwich made with whole-wheat bread, deli turkey, some leafy greens and sliced avocado


When dining out and scanning a menu, what foods should I avoid – and what foods should I gravitate to?

In general, certain terms tend to correlate with healthier (roasted, broiled, baked, poached, seared, grilled, steamed, spiced) or less healthy (fried, battered, breaded, crispy, tempura, smothered, creamy) foods. One common restaurant item that may be higher in calories than many people expect is wraps. A lot of wraps have several hundred calories just for the wrap itself, and usually it’s all from refined grains (which have been stripped of certain nutrients and fiber and tend to be more quickly digested than whole grains).


What go-to foods would I find in your pantry or fridge?

Canned chickpeas, black beans, and cannellini beans; lentils; whole grain pasta; canned diced tomatoes; frozen veggies; lean proteins like skinless chicken and salmon; and flavored vinegars for cooking and homemade salad dressings, like balsamic and red wine.


What are a few diet hacks I can make to drop a few pounds without feeling hungry or deprived?

  • Don’t drink your calories – in general, calories from beverages aren’t satiating (i.e., they don’t do as much to help you feel full and satisfied like foods do). An exception worth making to the “don’t drink your calories” strategy is milk, which is one of the best common sources of calcium and vitamin D. Other than that, focus on good old H20. If plain water doesn’t do it for you, try seltzer or sparkling water or add a squeeze of lemon or lime to perk up plain water. We keep a pitcher of water in our fridge and refill its infuser tube a couple times a week with things like lemons, limes, mint and cucumber.
  • Chewing sugar-free gum or sipping a drink like seltzer or hot tea can help keep your mouth busy if you’re prone to snacking, and they don’t provide any calories.
  • Slim down your sandwich holders. Sliced bread, pita bread, and wraps vary widely in calorie content, and some have more than you’d expect – 100+ calories per slice for some breads and 300 calories for some wraps. Find lower-calorie options, like sandwich thins, and make sure you’re choosing one that lists a whole grain as the first ingredient and has at least a few grams of fiber per serving. You could also forget the bread entirely and do a lettuce wrap.


Emily A. Callahan, MPH, RDN
 has undergraduate and graduate degrees in nutrition and public health, and has been credentialed as a registered dietitian nutritionist for more than a decade. She currently consults with national organizations, specializing in health and nutrition research, communication, and policy, and as a science writer and editor. She lives in the Washington, DC metro area with her husband, two young children, and a black cat named Pickles.


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