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To celebrate National Nutrition Month, Healthline Nutrition is kicking off a monthly Nutrition Talk column. You send us your nutrition questions, and our registered dietitian (that’s me!) answers them. In this special first edition, we’re featuring our dietitian friends at PlateJoy.
I’ll do my best to share science-based answers to your questions while taking into account real-life factors like busy schedules, varying grocery budgets, different cultural preferences, and the fact that sometimes you’re going to want to eat a cookie (or a few).
Thanks for tuning in, and make sure to send your nutrition questions to nutritiontalk@healthline.com. I’ll do my best to answer them in an upcoming column. Without further ado, here are the answers to your questions from me and the PlateJoy team.
Lisa Valente, MS, RD, Healthline Senior Nutrition Editor
A: Most nutrition experts agree that adding more plants to your diet is beneficial, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat a fully vegan diet or that there’s one best way of eating for everyone.
Some of the confusion around plant-based diets comes from not really knowing how to define them.
There’s a vegan diet, which doesn’t include any animal products. There’s also a plant-forward diet or flexitarian diet, which includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds but doesn’t cut out animal products.
Adding more fruits and vegetables would likely give you health benefits, but it doesn’t mean you have to cut out meat, seafood, eggs, or dairy if you don’t want to.
Research has found that eating more fruits and vegetables is linked with longevity and reduced risk of chronic conditions, such as cancer and heart disease, and may also improve mental health (1).
However, a lot of plant-based foods can be highly processed. If you walk through the grocery store, you’ll see plenty of potato chips and cookies that are technically vegan but are not necessarily what you’d want to eat as the bulk of your diet.
Finally, animal products are high in some nutrients that are harder to get in a plant-based diet. Think omega-3s, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron. If you are eating a vegan diet, you may want to speak with a healthcare professional about supplements.
Whether you’re trying to eat plant-based or not, to build a more balanced meal, think about filling half your plate with vegetables or fruits, a quarter of your plate with whole grains, and the other quarter with protein.
Natalie Holzhauer, MS, RDN, LDN, PlateJoy Health Coach
A: You may have heard that if you’re craving chocolate, you might be lacking your daily requirement of magnesium. However, the science behind this theory simply doesn’t add up (2).
Magnesium is found in many other foods besides chocolate. Eating 1 cup (180 grams) of cooked spinach will give you almost 40% of the magnesium you need in a day. But a cup of spinach would most likely not get rid of your chocolate craving (3).
Typically, cravings are related to foods that are high in salt, sugar, or fat. Our brains — and our taste buds — love sweet and savory foods.
If you feel intense food cravings at night, ask yourself what might be triggering them. Most clients I’ve worked with can connect their cravings to one of the following questions:
Did you get enough calories throughout the day? This is the number one contributor I see to cravings. You might spend the entire day restricting yourself to meet a specific diet goal.
While you may be able to limit yourself throughout the day, when night hits, your body will feel so deprived that you feel intense cravings for salt, sugar, and fat. Research on food cravings supports this (4).
Your body may be so hungry that you’re unable to make a rational food choice or feel satisfied without a very large portion. Your brain also might start justifying the need for a food reward since you were so “good” all day.
If this sounds like you, I recommend allowing yourself to incorporate gentle nutrition, meaning that nourishment is your goal instead of deprivation. If you constantly restrict a food, you are more likely to crave it, which could lead to a binge.
Are you getting enough sleep? People who don’t get enough quality sleep tend to eat more the next day and experience cravings. Starting a bedtime and a morning routine may help you see a difference in those late night temptations (5).
Are you stressed? Developing tools to cope with stress is fundamental for your health. If you cope by always turning to a brownie or potato chips, you might want to find another way to de-stress. You may want to try going for a walk or meditating.
Are you avoiding something? Have you ever cleaned your entire house because you didn’t want to complete a difficult work task? We can also use food to avoid processing emotions or to delay a specific task (6).
Spend time sitting with your emotions or set a timer to initiate that difficult task instead of grabbing for the ice cream.
Jennifer Husson, RDN, LD, PlateJoy Health Coach
A: I have some healthy, quick breakfast ideas to get your body fueled for the busy day ahead without spending lots of time in the kitchen.
The key to a quick breakfast is a little prep work, whether that means prepping meals in advance or purchasing what you need at the store. Spending a little time preparing helps you set your morning up for success.
So, what exactly are the components of a healthy breakfast? Breakfasts, like other meals of the day, should focus on:
Try to limit sugary, processed breakfast items. Keep those foods for once-in-awhile occasions instead of your everyday quick breakfasts (sorry, doughnut fans!).
Here are a few ideas for what to eat for a quick breakfast:
If you aren’t a fan of typical breakfast foods, it’s also perfectly acceptable to break the societal normal and eat other foods you enjoy. Last night’s dinner leftovers work great in a pinch.
Brittany Cardwell, RDN, LD, PlateJoy Health Coach
A: If you feel like you’re addicted to sugar, you’re not alone! It’s estimated that American adults consume anywhere between 17-22 teaspoons of added sugar per day on average (9, 10).
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day for men and 6 teaspoons (25 grams) per day for women (11).
More than 70% of foods and drinks in the U.S. food supply contain sugar and/or low calorie sweeteners, so it’s easy to see how we’re commonly consuming more than the recommended amount. The more sugar you eat, the more you tend to crave (12).
When you consume sugar, your body releases dopamine, which is known as the “happy hormone” because it lights up your brain’s reward system. The release of dopamine makes you feel good. The more sugar you eat, the higher your tolerance for sugar becomes (13).
Low calorie and artificial sweeteners may seem like good alternatives to sugar. However, research on them is mixed, and we’re still learning more. Artificial sweeteners may negatively impact the gut microbiota, affecting brain health and hormone regulation (14, 15).
The good news is that there are things you can do to help manage sugar cravings and cut back. Here are a few of my recommendations:
Pairing small amounts of sugar with a minimally processed diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help promote overall health. A good starting point to eating less sugar is to limit the food products you buy with added sugar.
Start cooking at home more so you know what’s in your food. And if preparing nutritious meals at home seems overwhelming, PlateJoy can help with that.
Last medically reviewed on March 17, 2022
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.
Our team of licensed nutritionists and dietitians strive to be objective, unbiased, honest and to present both sides of the argument.
This article contains scientific references. The numbers in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.









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