Dietitians answer nutrition questions

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and author of “Southern Living: The Slim Down South Cookbook.” Email her at

March is National Nutrition Month, and registered dietitians are especially enthusiastic about sharing what they know about nutrition with everyone hungry for food facts.

“People would like to get nutrition advice from the trained experts, not a neighbor,” says Cheryl Orlansky, a dietitian and diabetes educator with the Laureate Medical Group.

Orlansky, currently serving as the president of the Greater Atlanta Dietetic Association, says, “We know that a lot of people in Georgia who are diagnosed with diabetes or high blood pressure may have been sent out from their doctor’s office with only a handout sheet of diet instructions and wondered, ‘Where do I go from here?’”

Here’s a sampling of commonly asked diet questions answered by Orlansky and Atlanta registered dietitian Marie Spano with Spano Sports Nutrition Consulting.

Q: My daughter wants to become a vegan. Is this OK for a growing teenager, and what nutrients should we be concerned she may miss out on?

Spano: Diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains are associated with lower rates of some types of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Your daughter can definitely eat a healthy diet being a vegan, but, like any eating approach, she'll need to incorporate a wide variety of foods including vegetable sources of protein such as beans and nuts so she meets all of her nutrient needs.

Q: Should people with diabetes avoid eating fruit because it contains sugar?

Orlansky: Many people are surprised to hear that fruit juice and excessive dried and whole fruit intake may contribute too many carbohydrates and total sugar for those that have pre-diabetes or elevated blood sugar readings. Fruit is healthy overall, but if your body is insulin resistant, then you need to limit portions to one serving per meal. One small piece of fruit is a serving. A large bowl of fresh fruit may be as much as three servings.

Q: What should I eat to help lower my blood pressure and risk of heart disease?

Spano: Decreasing your intake of sodium is very important. And 80 percent of the sodium we consume is from packaged foods or eating out. Become a label reader and choose lower-sodium foods and learn to flavor without sodium (herbs, spices, lemon, etc.). Also, be sure to include potassium-rich foods in your diet. Potassium blunts the effects of sodium on blood pressure. Tasty sources of potassium include tomatoes, strawberries, citrus fruits and dairy products such as milk and yogurt.

Q: Should I be taking vitamin D?

Orlansky: I see many people that are supplementing with high doses of vitamin D without checking if they need to or not. Make sure you have your physician check your vitamin D status to see if you are deficient before supplementing with single doses of vitamin D.

To find a dietitian in your area, visit