September 22, 2023

Eating for a Healthy Weight: Q&A With Carolyn Newberry, MD

By Carolyn Newberry, MD, as told to Alexandra Benisek

In the WebMD webinar “Eating for a Healthy Weight,”Carolyn Newberry, MD, of Weill Cornell Medicine of Cornell University and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, answered viewer questions about how to create a healthy diet for weight management.

A lot of this depends on your personal health history. For somebody who doesn’t have a history of heart disease or coronary artery disease, it’s OK or even possibly better to eat butter that’s less processed, even if it’s higher in fat. You just want to watch your portions. Eating a little bit of fresh, farm-made butter on a piece of whole-grain toast is completely fine. 

Some products may seem healthier if they have a “low fat” or “low sugar” label. But when you really dive into the food labels, these have a lot of additives, artificial sweeteners, or other ingredients that aren’t in the natural food product. These things could lead to other health issues. There’s also data that shows that more artificial sweeteners and other artificial ingredients can cause digestive health problems.

Overall, for the average person who doesn’t have specific health problems, it’s better to have more natural and less-processed food with fewer ingredients.

In general, if you don’t have very high cholesterol or some other reason you need to limit cholesterol in your diet, then I think eggs actually are a really good source of protein. 

You want to eat both the egg white and the yolk because it’s a little more of a complete food, with protein, too. If you eat a bowl of egg whites, it’s very hard to feel satisfied afterward. But with the yolk in it, even though it has more calories, you may eat a smaller portion of food, and you’re going to get more nutrients. 

Some more recent research says maybe it’s not dietary cholesterol that’s raising our cholesterol levels. Maybe it’s more of the saturated fat, like whole milk products, red meat, or processed meats. Those are probably more likely to cause rises in cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and heart disease than dietary cholesterol from an egg.

It’s common to have both because they go hand-in-hand. These diets don’t have to be entirely different. 

With diabetes, you have to watch your simple sugar intake. These are the sugars that are broken down really quickly and raise your blood sugar quickly. But carbohydrates are still an important part of the diet. So it’s important to eat carbohydrates that have a higher amount of fiber in them instead of sugar or added sugar. And a lower-processed sugar, higher-fiber diet also helps lower your heart disease risk. 

With heart disease, you’ll also want to watch your saturated fat intake. Somebody with diabetes is at a higher risk of heart disease. So they also should also watch their saturated fat intake. 

The diet that’s best for cardiovascular health is the Mediterranean-style diet. It has more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This diet is high in fiber, and a lot of its protein comes from plants, nuts, or legumes. There’s also some seafood in there for omega-3s.

They tend to be a lot more expensive, so I don’t know if the organic option is always better than the non-organic option. But it’s good to stick to less-processed foods that have fewer ingredients.

It’s not realistic for most people to buy all organic. You can also buy a bag of frozen fruits or vegetables. They are frozen at the time that they are fresh, so they still have a lot, if not all, of their nutrient content. That’s just a much cheaper way to consume food.

It depends on your medical history. If you have certain health conditions, alcohol should be avoided. But a modest amount of alcohol in your diet is usually fine for most people. 

The Mediterranean diet does contain a small amount of red wine. If you’re choosing alcoholic beverages, a glass of wine might be a better option than a mixed cocktail. Those often have a lot of added sugar. 

It’s not that you can never have a cocktail. But you need to find the right balance for making good decisions. Make sure you don’t have a sugary cocktail every day. But on a Saturday night, if you’re celebrating with your friends, it’s OK to have a cocktail. Then for the rest of the week, make sure to limit alcohol or choose a better option.

Fresh or frozen fruit – as long as it’s not in a syrup or in the form of a dessert – has a lot of good vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Plus, it tastes good.

When you eat fruit, you shouldn’t worry. Fruit isn’t added sugar, it’s natural sugar. What could be an issue is processed fruits like fruit juice. People may think it’s healthy, but if you think about the number of oranges you need to squeeze for a glass of orange juice, it’s a lot. When you use a juicer, you take out all the fiber from the fruit and you’re left with only the natural sugars. Then you drink those natural sugars at a really high level. You can still have fruit juice from time to time, but it’s not as good for you as a whole fruit. 

I advise people to make a smoothie instead. This way, you grind up the whole fruit and still have all the fiber to make it more filling, And it’s much more nutritious that way. 

If your diabetes is very poorly controlled, your hemoglobin A1c is really high, or your blood sugars are really high, you may have to cut back on certain fruits that have higher natural sugars like watermelon or berries. But most people do totally fine with fruit.

Most liquid calories are not going to have a lot of health benefits. There are a lot of products on the market now that have a lot of added sugar or artificial sweeteners. In a perfect world, everyone would drink water to hydrate. But coffee is fine in reasonable amounts. Sometimes having fruit juice – like a glass of fresh orange juice with your breakfast – is totally fine. But just understand that most liquid calories are not really doing a lot for your health, even though it’s safe to drink them. Just think of it as a dessert.

In general, it’s best to keep your diet balanced and realistic. It’s unlikely that somebody will sit down and just eat kale all day. It’s a great source of fiber, but you’re not getting a lot of protein, you’re not getting fat, and all these things are also important parts of the diet. 

This is also why I’m hesitant to suggest fad diets, very low fat diets, or really low carbohydrate diets. They’re very restrictive. Some people with certain health problems may need to go that route. But the vast majority of people should look for diets with balanced macronutrients. 

So there’s no food that you can just eat all day, every day, as much as you want. That’s not the way we should think about food.

Usually, if you’re cutting your calories, a once-a-day multivitamin can be a good idea, but it may not be necessary. Hopefully, you’re getting the nutrition you need as part of your diet. 

Some groups of people may benefit from other supplements. For example, people who are postmenopausal may need calcium and vitamin D supplements. A lack of iron is also common, especially if you’re on a plant-based diet. So you may need an iron supplement. But there are a lot of good plant sources of iron as well like spinach, green beans, or legumes. Just make sure you eat enough to get the right amount of iron.

If you’re vegan, you need a B12 supplement because B12 is only in animal products.

Honestly, there isn’t a lot of information that supports anything to naturally slow down or suppress your appetite. No supplement is FDA regulated, so you never really know what you’re getting.

It’s not that supplements don’t work; most just haven’t been researched enough.

I can’t suggest a supplement that’s been shown to lower appetite. But you can do things to feel more full: eat balanced meals; have snacks that have carbs, fat, and protein to feel full all day; eat a lot of fiber; and drink a glass of water before every meal.

I would definitely urge people to talk to their doctors when they start any supplements, since none of them are regulated.

There are many national programs like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. These may help with accountability, help regulate what you eat, and also give you a support system. 

There are also medically supervised weight-management programs if you qualify for them. Usually you need to have a certain amount of extra weight to lose to be in a program like that. A BMI greater than 30 usually can make you eligible for things like medications and procedures to use with diet and exercise changes. 

I definitely urge people to get professional help because obesity is a chronic disease and can be treated just like any other long-term disease.

Many people do well with small meals eaten often during the day. Intermittent fasting is a different approach, where you eat during a very short time window, and then you fast, or don’t eat. There are certainly health benefits for some people. You may find it easier, or it might help you eat fewer calories during the day if you need a lower-calorie diet.

Some studies show that it could help people who are insulin resistant, have elevated blood sugar level problems, or have other metabolic syndrome history. I think it totally depends on you. The best diet plan is the one you can follow.

Macronutrients are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Those are the basic things that foods are made out of. Then micronutrients are all your vitamins and minerals. There are a number of trace metals as well, like copper, selenium, zinc, and iron.

Hydration is really important. Eight glasses of water a day is roughly a good number. 

Yes, sparkling water is just as hydrating. It’s water, it just has bubbles in it. But what you have to watch for with sparkling water is the extra bloat. If you’re somebody who’s sensitive to that, adding a lot of gas bubbles to your digestive system can be uncomfortable. If it doesn’t cause symptoms, you’re fine to drink it. But just be aware that a lot of sparkling waters do add sweeteners or flavorings, which can add calories or sugars.

For tap water, it depends on where you live. Some tap water also has fluoride, which can be very good for your teeth. There are some places where the water isn’t safe to drink or isn’t as processed. But you would probably know if you’re in an area like that.

Watch a replay of the WebMD webinar “Eating for a Healthy Weight.” 

Watch other free WebMD webinars by leading experts on a variety of health topics. 

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