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    Healthy Vegetarian Living: Ask the Nutritionist

    WebMD Chief Medical Editor, Michael Smith, MD, answers your questions about healthy vegetarian living.


    When you look at the serving sizes for things like rice, oats, or anything you boil to cook, do their serving sizes refer to the uncooked product or the cooked product?
    The serving size on packages of dried products like rice refers to the uncooked product. For example, ¼ cup of dry, uncooked rice is equal to 3/4 cup of cooked rice.

    Can you take your vitamins in the morning with coffee?
    It’s possible that coffee, particularly regular coffee (not decaf), can reduce how much of the vitamins you absorb. Stimulants like caffeine may speed up the rate at which vitamins move through your digestive system, which could decrease the amount your body gets. There’s no hard scientific evidence that this is true, but to be on the safe side, take your vitamins with water or something else that doesn’t have caffeine in it.

    I want to maintain my weight. What is the skinny on eating whole grain bread and pasta? Should I limit these or can they be included in a balanced diet that isn't too high in calories?
    You hit the nail on the head – it’s really all about calories. However, the problem with bread and pasta is that they’re easy to overeat. For example, a serving size of pasta is 1/2 cup, but that’s a pretty small portion based on what most of us are used to eating. While whole grains are absolutely better for you than white carbs, they can still pack a lot of calories in big portions. Just remember, only 1/4 of your plate should contain carbs of any type (make up the rest of your plate with 1/4 lean meats and fish and 1/2 vegetables). That will help control your portion sizes and allow you to enjoy whole grains as part of a balanced diet.

    I would like to know about feverfew herb -- if it is safe to take. Are there any side effects?
    Feverfew has been used safely in medical studies lasting up to four months. However, like any supplements or medicine, side effects are possible. The most common side effect is stomach upset, including heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, and gas. Other side effects seen in people taking feverfew are nervousness, headache, insomnia, and dizziness. But most people tolerate it just fine without any side effects.

    When I try to diet, I get so hungry and then I overeat. What are foods that will eliminate my hunger -- ones with staying power? I am a borderline diabetic, currently on medication -- I take metformin once a day -- and I am hungry all the time.
    First, make sure you work closely with your doctor and a dietitian to make sure your diet helps keep your blood sugar under control. There are a few types of foods that can help keep you full. Healthy protein, such as lean meats, fish, and beans, are some of the best foods to help keep you full. Try to include a source of lean protein in each of your meals or snacks. High-fiber foods also help keep you full. Most vegetables are a wonderful source of fiber and good for your blood sugar, too. Some fruits, such as oranges and apples, are also good sources of fiber but may raise your blood sugar, so work closely with your doctor to determine how much fruit is right for you. Last, healthy fats help you feel full too. This includes nuts and avocados. But even healthy fats are high in calories, so keep your portion sizes small, so they don’t lead to weight gain. 

    Are dried fruits healthy in comparison to other foods? Should I incorporate them into my diet regularly, occasionally, or not at all?
    Dried fruits are healthy but I’d include them in your occasional foods. It’s better to eat the non-dried fruits because they are better at making you feel full. It’s easy to overeat dried fruit, which will pack on the calories and possibly the pounds. But dried fruit with a small portion of nuts is a great snack!

    Do microwave ovens kill nutrients?
    Actually, microwaving can help save nutrients. The primary issue is how long you cook the food and how much water you use. Let’s talk vegetables. The longer you cook vegetables, the lower the nutrients. In addition, if you boil vegetables, the nutrients can seep out of the veggies and into the water. Steaming is a great way to cook vegetables and preserve nutrients, and this can be done quite easily in the microwave.

    Why does hair turn gray? Can any vitamins help prevent it?
    If only it were that easy. The main cause of gray hair is your parents. It’s genetic. This is especially true for people who go gray at an early age. Most people get some gray hair at some point. There isn’t much we can do about those genetics – other than coloring your hair.

    Can you take prenatal vitamins without being pregnant?
    I wouldn’t recommend it unless your doctor has suggested it. The reason is that prenatal vitamins are high in iron, which women need when they’re pregnant. If you’re not pregnant, that may be too much iron for you. A regular multivitamin would be a better choice.

    My HDL is 39. How can I get it higher, around 60? 
    There are several things that may help raise your HDL “good” cholesterol. First, eat a healthy diet that includes healthy fats, such as nuts (especially walnuts) and avocados. Of course, even healthy fats are high in calories, so keep the portions small. Next, exercise regularly. Making physical activity a part of your routine is one of the best ways to increase HDL. Losing any excess weight may also raise your HDL (as well as lower your LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides). If you smoke, quit. Not only can it increase HDL, it’s one of the best things you can do to increase your lifespan.

    Why am I not losing more weight? Since Jan. 1, I have been eating under 1,200 calories per day and walking 3 miles per day. I haven't had alcohol since Dec. 31. I have only lost 5 pounds (and gained 1 back).
    It’s really tough to answer this question without knowing everything that is going on with your diet and your health. However, you said one thing that concerns me … eating under 1,200 calories per day. You may actually not be eating enough. This is not uncommon when people go on low-calorie diets to lose weight. This is especially true since you’re exercising (which is great!). If you don’t eat enough calories, your body goes into starvation mode. That means your body is going to hold onto every calorie it can, slowing or stopping any weight loss. Since I cannot tell exactly what’s going on, I’d recommend you speak to either your doctor or a dietitian who can examine your diet and better determine what might be going on.

    I follow a high-protein diet daily: eggs, protein shakes, low-sodium turkey, pork loin, or turkey with a vegetable, and 1/2 ounce of unsalted peanuts for snacks. I'm not eating enough fruit or vegetables. Is this harming my body?
    Carbs have received some undeserved (well, partially undeserved) attention in recent years. You’re right to keep carbs such as rice, potatoes, and pasta to a minimum. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these foods, the problem is it’s very easy to overeat them and pack on a lot of calories. Your go-to choice of carbs should be vegetables. In fact, vegetables should make up the majority of your plate (so says me and the government’s MyPlate guidelines). Vegetables are loaded with many healthy nutrients and should make up most of what you eat (and the high fiber helps keep you feeling full). You should also include a variety of fruits in your daily diet. If you’re concerned about not getting enough protein (even if you work out), don’t be. Most of us get plenty of protein in our diet and it doesn’t take much meat (or eggs) to get what we need in a whole day. Nuts are also a great source of protein.

    Is it true that eating healthy helps produce radiant skin and reduce blemishes such as dark spots?
    Well, it certainly won’t hurt, and there are plenty of other wonderful reasons to eat healthy. We don’t have the medical evidence to say that a healthy diet is going to produce beautiful skin. However, many dermatologists do recommend a diet rich in antioxidants to help minimize skin damage from the sun. This includes all kinds of berries and beans. Even green tea, red wine, and coffee (all in moderation) are rich sources of antioxidants. But keep in mind, your best bet for radiant skin and preventing dark spots is to avoid the sun. Sun damage is by far the most common cause of skin damage. But a healthy diet can only help.

    Can pregnant women eat any kind of soy?
    Sure. Soy is a great source of lean protein. Some people are concerned about eating soy because they’ve heard it acts like estrogen in the body. There is no evidence that you should worry about that. Many doctors recommend soy to their pregnant patients – or for anyone.






    February 13, 2013, Healthy Vegetarian Living: Ask the Nutritionist, Michael W. Smith, MD.


    WebMD Ask the Specialist Transcript

    Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on February 13, 2013

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