Don’t Let the Upcoming Holidays Stop You from Achieving Your Health Goals

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Sponsored by Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center

Fall is a great time to look at how you’re fueling your body and the best ways to establish or achieve long-term nutrition goals. Here are the top five questions patients ask about nutrition and answers you might find helpful.

1. What is the best diet?

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Kristina Metzler

There’s no one diet that’s best for everyone. “The key is finding what works for you,” said Kristina Metzler, a registered dietitian at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center. “You want to find a plan that is realistic, sustainable and can fit into your lifestyle.”

Restrictive diets that eliminate whole food groups may be effective in the short term but are not sustainable or beneficial for long-term health. A healthy diet incorporates a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins, said Metzler.

2. Are carbs bad for me?

Carbohydrates are present in a wide range of foods — some healthy and others not so healthy. Carbs include grains like bread, pasta, and rice; starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas, and corn; and fruits, dairy, and beans.

“Our bodies prefer to use carbs as fuel, so it is recommended that you consume carbohydrates, but the source of carbohydrate can make a difference,” said Metzler. Processed or simple carbs are foods where all the good nutrition has been removed and you are just left with the sugar, like white bread, sweets, cereals, and sugar-sweetened beverages. Good or complex carb choices are those in which the natural fiber, vitamins, and minerals are left in the food, like fruits, whole grains, beans, and dairy.

“When incorporating carbohydrates into your diet, choose complex carbohydrates the majority of the time,” said Metzler. “Remember to be mindful of the portion or serving size of the carbohydrates you consume to maintain a healthy weight.”

3. Should I take a daily vitamin?

It’s best to get all the vitamins and minerals you need from food.

“You can do this by eating a varied diet including lots of fruits and vegetables,” said Metzler. “Each color of fruit and vegetable contains different nutrients, so it’s important to eat a rainbow.”

If you’re not able to eat a varied diet, it may be good to take a daily multi-vitamin. Vitamin D is often supplemented. It is best obtained from sun exposure and many of us are not able to get the appropriate exposure needed for adequate levels. You can ask your doctor to test your vitamin D level so you know if you should start a supplement, suggests Metzler.

4. Which foods raise my cholesterol?

There are different types of cholesterol: LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). “The goal is to raise your HDL and lower your LDL,” said Metzler.

Foods that raise your bad cholesterol are those with saturated fat, such as butter, high-fat meats like steak, and full-fat dairy. Foods that raise your good cholesterol are healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, and nuts. Foods packed with fiber, like beans and whole grains, also help lower your bad cholesterol.

“Contrary to popular belief, foods that contain cholesterol like eggs and shrimp don’t actually raise your cholesterol,” said Metzler.

5. How many calories should I eat to lose weight?

“This will vary from person to person,” said Metzler. “Calories are calculated based on your height, weight, age, and activity level.”

To lose one pound per week, you want to burn 500 more calories than you eat per day. That means you either want to consume 500 calories less than your body needs, burn 500 extra calories through exercise, or a combination of the two, according to Metzler.

“It’s important to remember that not all calories are created equally,” said Metzler. “You should focus more on the quality of your diet and make sure you’re eating from a variety of food groups and minimizing processed foods.”

If you’d like to discuss your personal nutritional goals or concerns with one of our registered dietitians, contact Sentara Diabetes and Nutrition Management at 703-523-0590 or through


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