Nutrition and Diet

Whether eating to lose, gain or maintain weight, we’ve all heard about—or tried—our fair share of diets. Johns Hopkins research dietitians Diane Vizthum, Melissa Moser, Bobbie Henry and Nga Hong Brereton have answered some commonly asked questions about eating styles, recent trends and other diet-associated habits. Read what they have to say and submit your own questions to be answered in today’s Ask the Expert on nutrition and diet.

What are some recommendations for eating to lose weight?

This is a great question! While there are many ways to lose weight, the key to maintaining weight loss is developing a healthy way of eating you can stick to. Follow these steps to get started.

  1. Keep a food log. Record not only what you eat, but when you ate, where you were, if you were doing other things, how you were feeling, how hungry you were before eating and how full you were after. This can be done with an app, website, or paper and pencil.
  2. Use the information you gathered from your food log to make some changes. Are you snacking in front of the TV at night? Eating large portions and feeling stuffed? Eating emotionally? Pick one thing you can change and get started!
  3. Follow the plate method: Make one-half of your plate vegetables, one-quarter lean protein and one-quarter whole grains. Use a small portion of healthy fat, such as a spoonful of olive oil. Eat slowly, listen to your body and stop eating when satisfied but not stuffed. This may take practice!
  4. Limit the junk food. There’s always room for favorite treats, but these can be saved for occasional indulgences, not made part of a daily diet.
  5. Eat mindfully. Eat slowly and without distractions like your phone or TV to get the most satisfaction from your meals.

Some consider eating styles like Paleo, gluten-free and the Whole30 Program to be fads or trends. Is there a benefit to eliminating certain foods or food groups from your diet?

Elimination diets are definitely trendy right now. These diets advocate eliminating foods or food groups from your diet. Common foods that may be eliminated include grains (wheat, rice, oats, quinoa, barley, rye and corn are some examples), gluten (this is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), dairy, beans, peanuts, sugar, food additives, artificial sweeteners, alcohol or caffeine.

Although each of these diets is slightly different, if you follow an elimination diet, you will likely wind up cutting out highly processed foods that have excess sugar, fat, salt and calories. This is good for almost everyone!

Additionally, many of the foods commonly eliminated, such as dairy, beans or whole wheat, can cause digestive discomfort and may be poorly tolerated. If you suspect a certain food is giving you trouble, see your doctor to rule out a more serious medical condition, and visit a dietitian to make sure your diet is balanced after eliminating the poorly tolerated food.

Of course, for those with celiac disease or food allergies, eliminating the trigger food is essential. But for otherwise healthy adults, there is no need to eliminate whole foods from the diet.

How do pre- or post-exercise powders, tablets and gels enhance performance or benefit the body?

Good nutrition is essential for both the performance athlete and the casual gymgoer to get the most out of their workouts and reach their fitness goals. In most cases, a well-rounded and carefully planned diet is exactly what’s needed. Beyond following a healthy diet, some nutritional supplements can be useful because of their convenience or to give competitive athletes an edge in their training regimen.

Although most people meet their protein needs through their regular diet, protein shakes and powders can be a good tool for those who don’t get enough or want a convenient, portable protein source. Most recreational athletes need 0.5 to 0.7 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. It’s not necessary to take protein shakes during or immediately before a workout, because the body is primarily utilizing carbohydrates as an energy source during that time. Your body can use about 20 to 25 grams of protein after exercise to help rebuild muscles, but this should be paired with carbs for refueling.

Endurance athletes, such as long-distance runners or cyclists, may benefit from nutritional products that help maintain electrolyte levels and blood sugar during prolonged exercise. To maximize performance in cardio exercise lasting more than an hour, athletes may use sports gels, chews, drinks or tablets that contain easily digestible carbohydrates and electrolytes like sodium and potassium. These can prevent athletes from “hitting the wall” and help avoid electrolyte imbalances that can occur with very strenuous and prolonged activity.

Is a full-body cleanse ever necessary? How does it work?

A full-body cleanse may sound perfect now that bathing suit season has started. Well, did you know that your body has its own way of detoxifying or filtering the multitude of toxins we are exposed to every day? Instead of “cleansing” with over-the-counter products or high-sugar juices, aim to enhance your body's natural detox process by cleaning up your diet. Try this for seven to 14 days.

  • Focus on eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Follow the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” guides (found here: to help in your organic produce selections.
  • Eat fish two to three times per week and choose lean meats the rest of the time.
  • Eliminate processed and fried foods. Minimize refined carbohydrates like bread, bagels and pancakes, and choose whole grains like quinoa, amaranth and teff instead. Avoid alcohol.
  • Get healthy fats from avocados, olives, nuts and coconut (oil or unsweetened flakes).
  • Flavor foods with herbs and spices like cilantro, basil, rosemary, turmeric and cumin.

Be sure to drink plenty of water and engage in a sweat-producing activity a few times a week. The most important part of the process is to evaluate how you feel at the end of the seven- to 14-day period and how you feel after going back to your old way of eating. This can help you find an eating style that makes you feel the best and makes your body work the best!

What are some health benefits to adopting a Mediterranean diet?

This popular diet is based on traditional foods from many of the Mediterranean countries. The diet is high in vegetables, fruit, olive oil, nuts and whole grains; moderate in beans, fish, poultry, unsweetened dairy and alcohol, especially red wine; and limited in red meat, butter, cream and sweets.

Studies show that following this diet pattern is associated with decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers and cognitive decline. In one large study, people advised to follow a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts had a 30 percent reduction in risk for cardiovascular events compared to a control group advised to follow a low-fat diet. Researchers think the diet may work by improving blood pressure or reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. The diet is high in many beneficial nutrients, and it’s possible that the overall combination of nutrients provided by a variety of foods is the most important factor. Remember, the Mediterranean lifestyle also includes physical activity and less stress!

Need more help with your diet? The nutrition clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital offers outpatient appointments. Call 410-955-6716 for more information.



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Pauletta June 3, 2015 at 8:55 am

I will try some of the recommendations for a body detox. Thanks,


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