Q: What are your thoughts on soy milk, almond milk and other nut milks as an alternative to dairy milk? While I know those with lactose intolerance and allergy issues see them as a great alternative, I am wondering whether other health benefits (beyond calorie comparisons) outweigh the use of skim milk.
A: Certainly nut and soy milks offer a great alternative for vegans and those with lactose intolerance. I also find them fun to use in recipes when I want subtle flavor variations. (I like to make my own nut milks.)
But there is no reason to swap them for regular low-fat milk from a nutritional perspective. Dairy milk has a significant amount of protein (eight ounces of milk has as much protein as an egg; nut milks have very little), plus it is an excellent source of several nutrients and has no added sugars or preservatives, which many packaged alternative milks often have. I stick with low-fat milk as the main staple in my home.
Q: Do you ever make smoothies for breakfast and, if you do, do you have a recommendation for a nutritionally sound protein powder or one you can make on your own?
A: I don't generally use protein powders as they are - to me - the very definition of a processed food. They may be helpful in special cases where a person's diet is highly restrictive or they have special medical needs, but these powders are not necessary for the average person. Whole foods are always my first choice. Why not just use a scoop of nut butter in your smoothie? That along with the protein from chia seeds would be plenty. Have a hard-boiled egg with it if you want to boost protein further.
Q: I cannot stop snacking when I'm at work, and when I'm home, all bets are off. I will go for whatever sweet or salty snack is hanging around. What are "safe" things to eat in terms of snacking, and is there any advice you have to combat mindless snacking?
A: One way to keep snacking under control is to make sure you are eating regular, well-balanced meals. Beyond that, build in two or three strategic, planned snacking occasions (maybe one mid-morning, one mid-afternoon and one in the evening) and set some ground rules for them, such as never snack out of a bag or container (put a portion of the food on a plate or in a bowl), make sure you sit down and take a little time out to eat your snack rather than munch mindlessly, and sit at a table away from the TV and away from the computer. Those strategies should help get you on the right track.
Q: Feb. 7 is right around the corner. Do you have any tips for yummy and healthy Super Bowl snacks?
A: For fun and healthy snacks for game day, I would try whole-grain flatbread pizzas and mini turkey meatballs. You can also serve veggies and whole-grain pita chips with dips, such as hummus, guacamole or my Chipotle Black Bean Dip (elliekrieger.com).
Q: What is the best whole grain to use - brown rice, whole grain bread, pasta or quinoa?
A: Sometimes pinpointing the "best" of a category (best vegetable, best exercise, etc.) serves only to limit all the wonderful options that are available to us. The best whole grain is the one you enjoy most and will actually eat. But as a rule, the more you can go for intact grains rather than grains made into fine flours, the better. Farro and wheat berries are better for you than a soft whole-wheat bread, for example, and brown rice is better for you than baked goods made with brown rice flour. Don't get too hung up on the differences between, say, quinoa and sorghum, nutritionally. Different grains each have different advantages, so it is best (and most fun) to get a variety.
Q: I have a healthy lunch (usually soup or salad) and then crave a sweet treat, such as almonds and semisweet morsels. Can you suggest some other healthy options?
A: I like a little something sweet after lunch, too. I usually go for a square of dark chocolate, but I also find a couple of dried figs, or dates, with a clementine or tangerine is a nice, sweet ending. I also enjoy sliced apple or pear sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled with a little honey. It's amazing how just fanning them on a plate and garnishing them like that turns the plain fruit into a lovely dessert.
Q: I've recently started putting a teaspoon of coconut oil in my green smoothies. Is it safe for me to be doing this?
A: Adding some fat to your green smoothie can be a good idea to help you to absorb the fat-soluble nutrients and to help temper the rise in blood sugar it gives you. But coconut oil would not be my first choice, unless you are specifically seeking the coconut flavor.
Although the saturated fat in coconut is probably not as bad for you as once thought, the verdict is not in yet on how it affects your health, so it may not be any better for you than butter. Some coconut oil is fine once in a while, but as an everyday thing, why not use a tablespoon of nut butter instead, which would offer healthy fat, plus protein, minerals and other nutrients?
Q: I want to have a healthy diet, but I'm allergic to fish and shellfish. What do you suggest I eat in place of fish and shellfish to get the nutritional benefits?
A: As long as you eat other healthy sources of protein, the only real concern is making sure you get omega-3 fatty acids, which you can get through plant-based sources such as ground flaxseed, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and dark leafy greens. You can also take a plant-based omega-3 supplement.