Take Five: Q&A with Sarah Romotsky, RD, International Food Information Council

sarah romotsky copyCan you eat pizza and still lose weight?  Is the Paleo diet what it’s crack up to be?  Is gluten really public enemy #1?

Sarah Romotsky, RD, the Director of Health & Wellness at the International Food Information Council (IFIC) in Washington DC., tackles these questions and more in  today’s “Take Five Q&A.”

What is your advice to someone such as myself who eats an extremely healthy diet, exercises, but can’t seem to get the dial on the scale to move?

I’d say start tracking and keeping a daily log — through an app or just on your own — of your calorie intake and exercise/burning. Oftentimes, what we think we’re taking in and burning off may not actually match up to our goals. For example, my quick, mindless snack every day at 3pm might be tipping my calorie budget even though I don’t think much about it. The key to weight loss is creating an ‘energy deficit’ meaning you burn off more calories than you’re eating.

New Yorkers tend to eat a lot of pizza and bagels because it’s fast, easy and not mention delicious.  Is there any nutritional value to either?  What’s the downside to these indulgences?

There’s nutritional value to both! As long as they are part of a balanced diet. Pizza and bagels for every meal of the day is not the best way to go.

For example, if you have a bagel, cream cheese, and locks, you’re getting important nutrients like carbs from the bagel, protein and healthful fats from the lox, and protein from the cream cheese. Same thing with pizza- you can get veggies and protein as toppings. The downside comes if you’re eating too much of these items.  Calories from these could contribute too much to your overall intake and stop you from losing or maintaining weight.

An easy way to still enjoy the delicious indulgences is to manage your portion size. Instead of having a whole bagel with lox, have a half of a bagel with lox and add a few eggs on the side for more protein and other vitamins. For pizza, don’t make it the centerpiece of the meal. Have just a slice and add a salad with grilled chicken breast.

The Paleo Diet has generated considerable buzz in recent years.  What are your thoughts on this diet?

Unless you’re a caveman without access to a variety of food, there’s no reason to go for the Paleo diet. The Paleo diet does highlight the importance of fruit, vegetables, and lean proteins, which are a great staple of a healthy diet. But, it leaves out important things too. The Paleo diet excludes key nutrients and food groups that are needed for a healthy life — particularly including whole grains and dairy.

The Paleo diet is fine for foraging for a few days, but it’s not good for long-term sustainable weight management and overall health.

Gluten has been pegged as “Public Enemy #1.”  Is there any truth to this?

I think Public Enemy #1 is this misinformation! For the 1% of the population that has celiac disease or those who have a gluten allergy, avoiding gluten is necessary. For the vast majority of us, there’s no reason to avoid gluten. Much like the Paleo diet, you’re cutting out some very healthful and beneficial foods like whole grains. And according to Jimmy Kimmel, nobody even really knows what gluten is!

Other than eating a piece of fruit, what’s the best way to satisfy a craving for sweets?

For me, fruit doesn’t cut it for sweets! For those really trying to steer clear of all desserts, yogurt is one great option that can do the trick. Sometimes, I’ll add some cinnamon, sugar, and granola to a peach cup for a mini-homemade peach cobbler. Also, sometimes those sweet, satisfying foods actually have other health benefits. I like to go with a small piece of dark chocolate, which has proven heart health benefits.

Truthfully, I’d rather have a little bit of the thing I really want than something that doesn’t satisfy me Sometimes, telling yourself you have to stick with fruit can make things harder. Watch your calorie balance, and have a taste of something satisfying.

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