A Christian Dietitian's Easy Rule for Ideal Nutrition
Do you want the whole scoop on nutrition in only 10 minutes? Read this article.
How about the whole scoop on nutrition in only 10 words? Registered Dietitian, and my Christian friend, Andrea Drew sums up nutrition in this short sentence: Eat foods in their most whole form and in moderation.
“Nutrition is not as hard as people try so hard for it to be,” she says. “It really is as simple as you don’t want it to be.”
Andrea has helped many clients whose individual needs and goals have ranged wide, but she recommends everyone start with small steps to obtain the best results. What are some changes that can be made in everyday life?
Below are Andrea’s insights and recommendations for producing a healthy, stress-free eating routine. Reshape your perspective on nutrition and make some easy changes today. Your future self will thank you!
If someone wants to follow a specific diet, Andrea will help make sure they do it correctly. However, she says that dietitians usually try to deter people from the latest fad diets. The only diet that Andrea might recommend is the Mediterranean diet, which is high in omega 3’s and involves eating foods in their most whole forms. The Mediterranean diet has long been acclaimed for its healthfulness. Is it a coincidence that this is the diet for the area of the Holy Land?
Do you remember the Food Pyramid? It still exists, but it looks different today. It’s called MyPlate. Contrary to typical thought, it’s not just for kids.
“The Food Pyramid has changed over the years because nutrition always changes,” says Andrea.
For example, the fats and oils category has been removed since Americans now consume enough of this from the other food groups.
Andrea recommends MyPlate for basic nutrition advice for everyone. MyPlate reveals the recommended daily servings of each food group based on age ranges. The Start Simple with MyPlate mobile app helps people choose daily food goals and watch their progress. The colorful, straightforward website (www.choosemyplate.gov) helps answer questions. It is packed with resources, tips, videos and printable materials. Do you want to know how to quickly visualize your serving size? MyPlate says that your palm is about 3 ounces; your fist is 1 cup; your cupped hand is ½ cup; and your thumb is one tablespoon. See? If you want it simple, choose MyPlate!
According to Andrea, the best way to prepare meals at home in a more healthful fashion is to use methods that do not involve a lot of fats. Instead, try grilling, baking or broiling. You can also try using a more healthful fat for searing and frying, such as olive oil. If you are not ready to give up butter, try switching to soft margarine first, which is better than butter in that it is a vegetable fat. Other oils and fats are fine to use, but remember Andrea’s rule of moderation.
The healthiest cooking oil that Andrea recommends is virgin olive oil because of its omega 3’s. It also has a high smoke point. It will not burn as easy, unlike oils with a lower smoke point, like unrefined coconut oil.
Is it any coincidence that olive oil was the top commodity of ancient Israel? It was used for everything from food to medicine.
There is a misconception that if you use a sweetener other than white sugar, it is a healthier choice. While it is true that we should try to eat foods with less processing, other sweeteners (brown sugar, sugar in the raw, agave, honey, etc.) are all the same to the body.
“Your body recognizes all of it as glucose and metabolizes it all the same way,” says Andrea. “Agave and honey may have minute amounts of nutrients, and they are less processed. But the difference is not as drastic as people think it is.”
Sugar has certainly become popular and overused in the US. In fact, you may discover that standards for sugar amounts allowed in soda pop are different when you travel abroad. Dietary guidelines suggest limiting calories from added sugar to less than 10 percent per day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Yet just one 16-ounce can of soda pop in the US contains 52 grams of sugar, which is more than the 10 percent.
Experts believe sugar consumption is a major cause of obesity, chronic diseases and even cancer. High-sugar diets can lead to inflammation and high levels of triglycerides, blood sugar and blood pressure, which are all risk factors for heart disease. Blood sugar swings, inflammation and neurotransmitter dysregulation also impact mental health. Furthermore, consuming a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates (see next section) leads to the production of AGE’s (Advanced glycation end products), which cause the skin to age prematurely.
Since it is up to individuals to watch their own sugar intake, it is important to know that substituting an equal amount of slightly healthier honey does not reduce it.
The moral of the story?
“If you want to eat a ring pop, eat a ring pop,” says Andrea. “Just remember, moderation.”
Just like with the misconception about white sugar, people have also heard to avoid other “whites.” White rice, white flour, white bread, etc. Andrea agrees this is one way to avoid foods that have been processed, but the real reason we should seek out whole grain foods is for their nutrients and fiber.
When grain products are “white,” the nutrition has been removed from the food. There is not much left except carbohydrates (“carbs”) and any nutrients that may have been added back in chemically. That’s what it means when a bag of white rice is labeled enriched. However, unaltered products are always more nutritious and better for you.
So, what exactly are whole grains?
You may have heard of cereals being made with wheat bran. You may have also heard the term wheat germ. Wheat bran is the outer part of the wheat kernel. The germ is the part inside the seed. Wheat germ is removed from most processed wheat products, such as white flour, so it can be stored for longer. Both wheat bran and wheat germ are rich in protein and contain plenty of other vitamins and nutrients, such as iron and zinc. They also have the fiber needed to help the digestive system work properly. However, they are not equal. For example, wheat germ contains three more grams of protein per serving than wheat bran. Therefore, going for whole grain products is the surest way to get the most nutrients and fiber from your food.
Grain products include rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, bread, pasta, cereal, grits, tortillas and popcorn. To make shopping more simple, look for the Whole Grain Stamp on packaging. It was developed by the Whole Grain Council. For whole grain recipes, resources, tips and education on whole grain, visit their website, www.wholegrainscouncil.org.
Tip: When whole grain taste and texture are an issue, Andrea suggests trying whole wheat. Most of the bran has been removed, but whole wheat is better than white. You can also purchase wheat bran and wheat germ separately to sprinkle over yogurt or add to smoothies and baked dishes.
What is Fiber?
There are two kinds of fiber, insoluble and soluble.
The body cannot digest insoluble fiber. Therefore, it provides indigestible bulk for healthy bowel movements.
Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol. Inside the body, it forms a gel mass. Bile, a fluid that helps digestion and is usually recycled in the body, cannot escape the gel. When bile is excreted, the body makes more - using bad cholesterol to do so.
“That is why people with high cholesterol are encouraged to eat soluble fiber,” says Andrea.
According to her, the fiber in a fiber food (such as whole grains and root vegetables) will not just be insoluble or soluble. It will be a mixture of both.
Meat - to Eat or Not to Eat?
You may have heard that individuals who are vegan or vegetarian are healthier than those who eat meat.
“People just read the titles of these studies,” says Andrea. “The reason vegans and vegetarians are usually healthier is because they are really paying attention to what they are putting into their bodies. They are being more health-conscious, which is what these studies actually say.”
It is not better or worse to switch to a meatless diet, it just should be done correctly.
“I want to make sure vegans and vegetarians are not needing protein or B12, things we get from animals that we need,” says Andrea. “But you can 100% live a vegan or vegetarian life and not be deficient in anything.”
Andrea recommends to vegans and vegetarians to become familiar with the amount of nutrients they need and to read labels to be sure they are getting them.
For those who consume meat, she recommends switching to leaner meats. Chicken and turkey are leaner, and this is a simple swap to make.
Is it okay to eat red meat? Yes, just remember moderation.
What is Protein?
Are you ready for a quick chemistry lesson? Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Proteins are the building blocks of our muscles.
“We absolutely need protein to have muscle,” says Andrea. She is not just talking about having big biceps.
“Your digestive system, your GI system, is one big, giant muscle. Your heart is a muscle. We need protein for everything, not just to bulk out.”
The body makes its own non-essential amino acids. But it cannot not make essential amino acids. These we need to get from our diet.
Andrea reminds us that dairy is on MyPlate. We need Calcium. We need Potassium. We need Vitamin D. Milk is the leading source of all three. Milk also contains six other essential nutrients including high quality protein.
“Nothing meets the standards like regular diary,” Andrea says. “You can get these things from other sources. It’s just that dairy is the easiest.”
According to the National Dairy Council, the nutrient profiles of milk alternatives vary from brand to brand. Additional ingredients must be added to alternatives so that the products contain similar nutrients. Many alternatives range between 8-14 added ingredients. Only vitamin A and vitamin D are added to cow’s milk. But even after ingredients are added to alternatives, cow’s milk is still found to be superior nutritionally.
Therefore, unless you are lactose intolerant or have another concern, consider fulfilling your diary requirement with cow’s milk. Low-fat and fat-free milk products are recommended for healthy eating patterns.
A little-known secret about Vitamin D is that it must be activated by the sun. However, it has to be in your body first. You do not get Vitamin D from the sun. You get Vitamin D by consuming dairy and then having sun time! (Don’t forget your SPF though.)
Brightly Colored Fruits and Vegetables
Some fruits and vegetables are more nutrient-dense than others. Andrea recommends seeking out the most brightly colored produce. (Think beets, spinach, red cabbage, broccoli, blueberries and raspberries.)
“The more brightly colored, the more phyto-nutrients there are,” she says.
Vitamins A, C and E are primarily found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, and these vitamins are also antioxidants.
Antioxidants help get rid of free radicals, which is beneficial for preventing cancer.
Andrea explains that we all have free radicals in our bodies. There are numerous causes, such as general genetics, what you eat, diseases, and physiological and pathological issues. Atoms like to have paired electrons, but free radicals are atoms with only one electron. Therefore, free radicals will steal from another atom. As free radicals go about stealing electrons, oxygen is depleted from organ tissues, and organs begin to die. Keep in mind that cancer means bad cells are growing out of control and crowding out normal cells. We want healthy cells.
Antioxidants come into play because they have an electron to give. When the extra electrons of antioxidants are stolen, antioxidants do not become free radicals themselves.
However, do not discount the other vegetables.
“You want a variety of vegetables,” says Andrea.
What Does Organic Mean?
Have you ever wondered if you are cleaning your produce well enough?
“That is where organic comes into play,” says Andrea.
Fruits and vegetables labeled organic are not going to have been exposed to as many pesticides, etc.
However, there is a lot of confusion over the word organic.
“People think it’s healthier,” says Andrea. “All that organic refers to is how something is processed, how it’s grown, how it’s butchered. It’s just talking about preservatives or the lack thereof.”
According to her, there are also different standards that exist for organic labels. Do not be fooled. A food product can be organic but may not have any nutritional value at all.
You may have heard that to calculate your water requirement for the day, take your weight divided by 2, and that number is how many ounces of water you should drink.
But is it true?
Andrea says that in general, she is okay with people following that formula since it is close enough. However, there is a more precise formula that a dietitian uses.
For example, if someone who is considered obese drinks half their body weight in ounces, it could be dangerous. It is possible to drink too much water and dilute the blood. A dietitian would calculate this individual’s fluid requirement using an adjusted body weight.
Andrea suggests that perhaps the “half your body weight in ounces” axiom was created because it was close enough and easier to remember.
However, below is Andrea’s fluid requirement formula for healthy individuals of average weight.
Infants & Children
1-10 kg 100-150 ml/kg
11-20 kg 1000 ml plus 50 ml/kg over 10 kg
≥ 21 kg 1500 ml plus 25 ml/kg over 20 kg
≥ 31 kg 1700 ml plus 30 ml/kg over 30 kg
Adolescents: 40-60 ml/kg
Young Adult (16-30 yrs.): 30-35 ml/kg
Average Adult: 30 ml/kg
Adult 55-65 yrs.: 30 ml/kg
Adult over 65: 25 ml/kg
To convert kilograms to pounds, divide pounds by 2.2. To convert milliliters to ounces, divide milliliters by 30.
So, an average 35-year-old adult would require 30 milliliters of water per kilogram. If this person was 125 pounds, they should drink 57 ounces of water each day.
According to Andrea, tea is high in oxalate, which is one of the factors that can cause kidney stones.
“I’ve had a lot of urologists say they would rather have someone drink soda pop everyday than tea every day,” she says. (Though soda pop comes with its own risks, like sugar.)
This is again where Andrea’s rule of moderation is important.
Black, green, white and oolong teas are all from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis. Therefore, they are all caffeinated to some extent and contain oxalate.
A 2002 study at Lincoln University in New Zealand revealed that black tea has a higher oxalate content than the other teas. Though the amount is modest when compared to the soluble oxalate in common foods, oxalate in black teas has the potential to bind to a significant portion calcium in the milk, which is often used in black teas. (Charrier)
The study also showed that the oxalate content in herbal teas ranged from not detected to higher than what was found in green and oolong teas. It depends on the plant used. For this and many other reasons, consumers should do research on any herbs they will be using regularly for tea. Herbal tea is considered herbal medicine. Herbs have a chemical effect on the body and should be treated with caution. (Recommended Resource: The Christian Herb Gardener’s Handbook by Meg Grimm)
Coffee and tea are both diuretics. Coffee can cause kidney stones, too, but for a different reason. According to Andrea, if a person excretes too much calcium, they will have a buildup in their kidneys that can cause calcium stones.
Remember, moderation. Are you catching this theme yet?
“When it comes to wine, red wine is the better option,” says Andrea. “Then you have more antioxidants.”
Wine recommendations are no more than one 6 ounce serving per day for women, two for men.
Since beer is a carbohydrate, Andrea recommends that it be treated the same when including it in a diet.
Alcohol recommendations are no more than one 12 ounce serving per day for women, two for men.
A standard drink in the United States is defined as any beverage containing 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol. For more information on standard drinks, check out National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/what-standard-drink
Acetate, or artificial sugar, can also cause issues with kidneys. However, the main danger with soda pop is its extremely high sugar content. Individuals should limit their sugar intake.
Most Important Meal of the Day = Breakfast
Andrea says the most important meal of the day is breakfast. She suggests carbohydrates for energy and protein for extended energy to get through the day.
“It jump starts your metabolism so your body is not in that fasting state anymore,” she says.
What Should be the Largest Meal of the Day?
When to eat your largest meal depends on your lifestyle. If you are more active during the day, lunch may be best as your largest meal. A big meal in the evening could digest more slowly. A rule of thumb is to eat more during periods that you will be burning calories and requiring protein and energy.
How Many Meals per Day?
It is most common to eat three meals through the day and maybe do some intermittent snacking. You may have also heard of grazing, or eating small meals spread out through the day. What is best?
“It’s different for each person and depends on how your body reacts,” says Andrea. “Typically, if you eat small meals throughout the day, your metabolism has to work throughout the day, so you will develop a quicker metabolism than if you’re just eating three large meals a day.”
However, there is not a one-size-fits-all rule.
Is Eating After Dinner Bad?
According to Andrea, Americans typically do their high calorie snacking in the evenings.
“I’ve had a lot of people lose weight by just stopping their after-dinner snacking,” she says. “The majority of people could do better by not snacking after dinner – including me! But there is not a hard and fast rule of when to stop eating.”
Andrea recommends consuming food and drink with live bacterial cultures for digestive health.
“We want to have both good and bad bacteria in our intestines. Having a good gut microbiome (microbes) can prevent sickness,” says Andrea.
She points out that there are also studies showing a gut-brain connection. Stomach or intestinal distress may be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress or depression. (The Gut Brain Connection)
You may have heard of probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are healthy bacteria, and prebiotics are food that feeds the bacteria. However, Andrea does not recommend taking these for general health.
“Try to get your healthy bacteria from foods. Anything fermented,” she says. “The only time I’ve really recommended probiotics and prebiotics is when people have digestive issues, like IBS. Otherwise, I suggest yogurt or kefir each day.”
Some yogurt is packed with sugar, but others are more healthful choices, such as Greek yogurt.
Andrea has some tips for how to eat out more healthily.
First, she recommends doing research on the menu before going to a restaurant. Is the restaurant a good choice?
“Don’t put yourself in a predicament where your options are limited,” she says.
Next, look for the healthier-sounding meals. When ordering, avoid words like smothered, loaded, rich and battered. You want roasted, baked, steamed and seasoned. Some menus also have symbols for “heart health” or “low calorie.”
Finally, when you are served your meal, ask for a take-out box. Put half of your meal in the box to take home. Portion sizes in the U.S. are often larger than what is recommended.
According to Andrea, energy drinks contain much that you do not need, especially the high sugar content. They are also not good for your kidneys.
“You are mostly paying for expensive urine,” she says.
How to Have Energy
Andrea reminds that carbohydrates are energy. However, stick to the best carbs, such as complex carbohydrates like whole grains. These produce long-lasting energy compared to a quick burst from a simple carbohydrate that just contains sugar.
Recall that amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and protein is needed to build muscle. According to Andrea, protein shakes serve a purpose by providing protein following a workout. At that time, muscles go into repair. Protein in the liquid form of a shake is digested quicker, and the body does not need to work as hard to break it down. However, the body will also excrete any excess, or it will be converted into fat. Therefore, it is not necessary to exceed recommendations for consumption.
“This is exceeded a lot,” says Andrea.
Meal Supplement Shakes
Andrea reminds us that dietitians recommend food first, but meal replacement shakes are not bad.
“You always want to do food first, but that takes more monitoring, time and effort,” she says. “Whereas when you drink a meal replacement shake, you know exactly how many calories are in it. I think people choose that because it’s simple and convenient. That’s fine, but I’d rather people try to make lifestyle changes first.”
Detoxing and Other Myths
“If you have a liver and at least one kidney, you do not have to detox your body,” says Andrea.
Detoxing has become a new trend. Other recent trends include attempting to make our bodies more alkaline and intermittent fasting.
Andrea reminds us that if these practices were necessary, no one would be alive today. People did not do these things all along.
“That’s why we have the organs that we do,” she says. “We don’t have to detox our body or eat several lemons in the morning to help our alkalinity. Only if something is not working is there a problem. Otherwise, our body is getting rid of toxins on its own.”
However, Andrea points out that your body may need to work harder if you are consuming something in excess.
“That’s how organ deterioration can happen, by using them way too much,” she says.
In other words, when God designed our bodies, He knew what He was doing. Sometimes when we try to help things along, we can make it worse.
God also already incorporated intermittent fasting into our lives.
“We already have this system in place,” says Andrea. “Sleep gives our body a break. So, if you decide to fast during the day, your body goes into starvation mode. If you do that for so long, then when you do eat, your body will hold on to those calories. It will slow down the digestion process. Whereas if you are eating throughout the day, your body is working. It will continue to do that during small periods when you don’t get to eat. It will still be burning calories like it’s used to doing.”
The moral of the story: Do not believe everything you hear! Trust that God did not hide secrets from you about how to function optimally. Everything is accounted for by our Designer, and nutrition is easy to understand.
“It’s literally just eat your fruits and vegetables. Follow MyPlate. It’s that simple,” says Andrea.
Finding a Dietitian
A registered dietitian can assess your individual needs. They may perform a head to toe Nutrition Focused Physical Exam to determine any diagnosis of malnutrition. They will provide a plan to reach your goals, and they can recommend appropriate vitamins, mineral and supplements if needed.
When seeking help with nutrition, it is important to know that a nutritionist is not the same as a dietitian. According to Andrea, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Efforts have been made to protect consumers from trusting false sources. Seek the advice of licensed, registered dietitians for comprehensive nutritional support.
To locate a dietitian, your primary care physician may recommend one.
To contact Andrea:
Andrew Drew MSRDN LDN
Love and blessings,
Meg Grimm writes biblical studies and research articles that help set women free from impractical standards of the world. She strives to unveil true beauty and sensible body care principles from a godly perspective.
Interview with Andrea Drew, January 26, 2020.
Kubala, Jillian. “11 Reasons Why Too Much Sugar is Bad for You.” Healthline, 3 June 2018. Accessed 13 Feb 2020 through https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/too-much-sugar#section7
“Getting to Know Wheat Bran and Wheat Germ.” Metabolic Research Center. Accessed 8 Feb 2020 through https://www.emetabolic.com/locations/centers/jacksonville/blog/healthy-living/getting-to-know-wheat-bran-and-wheat-germ--/
“How Wheat Germ Benefits Your Health.” Healthline. Accessed 8 Feb 2020 through https://www.healthline.com/health/wheat-germ-benefits#1
Charrier, Marina J.S., Geoffrey P. Savage and Leo Vanhanen Btech. “Oxalate content and calcium binding capacity of tea and herbal teas.” Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 14 Nov 2002. Accessed 8 Feb 2020 through https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1440-6047.2002.00294.x
“The Gut Brain Connection” Harvard Health Publishing. Accessed 8 Feb 2020 through https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection.