Editor’s note: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American workplaces have the potential to truly benefit the broader health of society by fostering a culture that promotes and encourages healthy lifestyles. As such, workplace wellness is something AKHIA strongly believes in.

Did you know that Americans spend more than $60 billion on weight loss products each year? Unfortunately, as with most things in life, there are no shortcuts—and most of those products don’t help people shed those unwanted pounds. For that reason, AKHIA was very excited to welcome Tanya Falcone, a registered dietician from Kent State University’s Center of Nutrition Outreach, who recently gave AKHIA a fantastic overview on how to prevent obesity the good old fashioned way—by eating right (which, as we all know, is just one component of living a healthy life).

As a follow-up to her presentation, Tanya and her intern, Alyssa, agreed to participate in a Q&A for The Brew. Read on and learn about the importance of meal timing, the real deal with those artificial sweeteners, the awesomeness of fiber and more.

Emily Nelman: People often come to you when they’re looking to change their eating habits. What is the first change you ask people to make that will have an immediate impact on their health? For these people, what are they usually most surprised to learn is a “bad habit” as you’re evaluating their current diet?

Tanya Falcone: This is typically very individually based, but most individuals tend to have difficulties with their meal timing. As dietitians, we not only look at quality and quantity of food, but also at the timing of food intake. For example: Most individuals do not see the importance of eating directly after workouts. Failing to eat post-workout will result in decreased muscle mass, decreased metabolism (causing weight gain) as well as decreased performance during the following workout session (known as “hitting the wall”).

EN: When someone is looking to get healthier through nutrition, there are SO many considerations. How do you help newly conscious dieters to prioritize what’s most important in a balanced diet?

TN: When trying to change dietary habits, it is important to set small achievable goals specific to that individual. Areas to focus on include reducing the consumption of added sugars and increasing whole grains, fruits and vegetables. All of these changes do not need to be made at once. It is best for that individual to choose a goal that they believe they can obtain. Once a goal is met, new goals addressing other issues can be set.

EN: There are so many choices on the market for alternative low-calorie sweeteners (Truvia, Splenda, Equal, etc.); which, if any, do you recommend, and why?

TF: Emerging research is showing that the use of artificial sweeteners is actually being linked to weight gain rather than weight loss. Artificial sweeteners may cause an increased risk of glucose intolerance which could then lead to diabetes. Aspartame (acesulfame potassium), found in Equal and in most protein supplements, should be avoided; some studies suggest that this sweetener increases hunger. Another concern related to the use of these sweeteners is that the products containing these may replace more nutrient rich food choices (for example, a diet soda contains no nutrients while a glass of 1% milk contains vitamin D, calcium and vitamin A). Due to the amount of inconclusive knowledge about these sweeteners, it is recommended that they are avoided or consumed in small quantities.

Other sweeteners such as Truvia or Stevia are deemed safer as they are derived from real sugar. These sweeteners are considered acceptable if used occasionally.

EN: In your presentation to AKHIA, you talked a lot about avoiding fad diets; why should someone avoid a fad diet, and are there any that you do recommend?

TF: A fad diet is a weight loss program or aid that quickly gains in popularity, then loses it. These diets often promise to produce weight loss in a very short amount of time, usually by restricting one or more food groups or items. They often suggest that a food can change the body’s chemistry. Examples of fad diets include the Paleo diet, Atkins diet, juicing, smoothies, Weight Watchers, and fasting diets. Oftentimes these are not feasible long-term diets and can actually cause more harm. The harmful effects of fad diets include: muscle breakdown due to the lack of available glucose, decreased metabolism, increased hunger, nutrient deficiencies, poor attention span, insulin spikes and weight gain. Weight Watchers is safer because it does not restrict food items or food groups. It supports long-term behavioral changes that can be maintained.

A safe and effective way to lose weight is the USDA MyPlate (MyPlate.gov). MyPlate emphasizes reducing the amount of food consumed while at the same time consuming nutrient-rich foods that would provide all the necessary vitamins and minerals. The recommendations also are to increase vegetable and fruit consumption, reduce foods high in salt and sugar and to switch to lower-fat dairy products. The MyPlate plan also encourages individuals to include foods from all food groups at each meal, and to choose a variety of fruits and vegetables of various colors to ensure they are getting the phytochemicals they need. Meeting with a Registered Dietitian can help you create a plan to apply these changes to your lifestyle.

EN: Tell us again: Why is fiber so magical?

TF: Fiber is very important to have in the diet. Fiber adds bulk to foods, creating a sense of fullness. It also slows digestion because the body is unable to metabolize it to energy. The longer digestion rate results in feeling full for an extended period of time and a slower absorption of other nutrients, such as sugar, into the blood. This results in a steady uptake of glucose which is important to prevent a spike in insulin levels, maintaining proper weight and a steady stream of energy.

Fiber also helps to decrease cholesterol levels. Fiber, specifically soluble fiber, acts similarly to cholesterol-reducing drugs in that it binds to cholesterol in the digestive tract. Since fiber is not digested by the body, the cholesterol is excreted with the fiber. If a fiber-rich meal was not consumed, then the cholesterol would be absorbed by the body instead.

***

Do you have more questions for Tanya? Of course you do! Contact her directly at tfalcon1@kent.edu.

Emily Nelman is Account Executive and Wellness Champ at AKHIA.