Nutrition Expert Q&A
Susan Bowerman is the senior director of worldwide nutrition education and training at Herbalife Nutrition. As a registered dietitian and a board-certified specialist in both sports dietetics and obesity and weight management, she brings a wealth of wellness knowledge to share in her bi-weekly column, Dear Susan!
If you’ve ever had nutrition-related questions and searched your inquiry online, you know that it’s not always easy to find answers or sources you can trust. With all of the information and misinformation that’s out there regarding healthy eating, making sense of how it all applies to you can seem pretty daunting. Plus, as the saying goes, don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Get the answers to your nutrition-related questions from Susan Bowerman!* Whether you’re wondering about the timing of your meals, the portion sizes or anything in between, she’s got you covered and is providing expert insight and advice in her weekly column, Dear Susan. Simply drop her a line at the link below and keep an eye out for her answer!†
*Susan will select questions to answer here within the column every two weeks and regrets that she cannot answer every question received via email individually.
†The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Susan cannot provide advice for individual health issues and cannot directly answer product questions. All product-related questions should be directed to the Herbalife Nutrition Support Center.
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Doing Everything Right, but the Scale Won’t Move
November 17, 2020
I’m really frustrated. I’ve been following my diet and exercise plan faithfully for the last two months, but my weight on the scale has hardly moved at all! I feel great, I sleep better than ever, and my clothes are fitting better, too, but it’s really disappointing to see that my weight is about the same as when I started. What’s going on?
So glad you asked this question, as I get asked about this all the time. The short answer to your question is that while you’re likely losing weight in the form of body fat, you may also be gaining weight in the form of muscle – so your total weight loss isn’t as much as you think it should be.
A pound of muscle takes up less space in your body than a pound of fat, so as you become leaner and more toned, you lose inches and your body becomes more “compact.” You actually explained this yourself when you said that your clothes are fitting better. So often we rely on the scale to tell us that we’re doing everything right, but your body weight is only part of the story. Positive changes in your body composition (how much fat and how much lean mass you have) matters much more than your actual weight, and that’s where your efforts are paying off. Try to focus on the other great results you’re getting, too – feeling great, sleeping better and feeling more comfortable in your clothes are more important than simply a number on the scale.
Cousin Follows Alkaline Diet, but Can’t Explain Why
November 17, 2020
My cousin follows every diet fad, and lately he’s been on something he calls an alkaline diet. He says I should do it to keep my body from becoming too acidic, but he can’t really explain what that means. What is he talking about?
-Not a Fan of Fads
The alkaline diet has sometimes been called the “alkaline ash” diet and promotes the idea that you should eat foods that, once metabolized, leave behind an alkaline residue, or ash. This dietary ash is what’s left after you “burn up” everything in that food that can be broken down – primarily a mixture of minerals. And, depending upon which minerals are present in a food, the resulting ash is termed either “acid ash” or “alkaline ash.”
Processed foods, sugar, alcohol, many protein foods, dairy and grains are considered too acidic (and therefore shunned), whereas fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are favored for their alkaline properties.
Those who follow the alkaline diet believe that it helps the body maintain an optimal pH level.
If you’re not familiar with the term, pH is simply a scale that measures how acidic or how alkaline a liquid substance is. The lower the number, the more acidic the substance is and as the number rises, the substance is more alkaline (sometimes called “basic”).
Now, it is true that if the body becomes too acidic, your health will suffer. No argument there. But here’s what is also true: You can’t change the acidity of a healthy body simply by eating certain foods and avoiding others. Nor would you want to.
Your body maintains the pH of various body fluids in a very narrow range because the many chemical reactions in your body can only take place within this range. As long as you’re in good health, you can’t (nor should you hope to) change your blood pH through diet. Because, if the pH were to stray from these narrow confines, you’d be in serious trouble. And, by the way, there’s no evidence that an alkaline diet can affect the pH of the body in a healthy person.
That said, the alkaline diet does place an emphasis on healthy plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables, which isn’t a bad thing. On the other hand, there are a lot of healthy foods that are not permitted, including nuts, fish, poultry, eggs, lentils, beans, soybeans and avocado. So, simply finding enough protein on an alkaline diet could be challenging.
Curbing Cravings for Carbs
September 22, 2020
What can I do about my carb and sugar cravings? I manage OK for most of the day, but in the afternoon, I get really strong cravings for sugar and carbs. I keep pretzels and cookies around for my kids but I end up eating most of them! It just throws my whole day off and sometimes I eat so much, I’m not that hungry for a healthy dinner. What can I do?
-Taking my Sweet Time
Carb and sugar cravings can develop out of habit, and some people turn to them when they’re stressed. But I suspect that you may be eating the wrong types of carbohydrates at lunchtime.
Carbs are important, because they’re what your body relies on to provide the energy you need to get you through your day. But different carbohydrates have different effects on your blood sugar. When you eat sugary foods or highly refined carbohydrates – like soda or white bread – they’re digested relatively quickly, releasing a surge of sugar (in the form of glucose) into your bloodstream. But once your blood sugar shoots up, your body tends to “overcorrect” – sending your blood sugar plummeting. And that’s when you might start craving high-carb pretzels and cookies to bring blood sugar levels back up.
On the other hand, carbohydrates from unprocessed foods (like vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains) take longer to digest. Instead of causing a big spike in your blood sugar, they release their sugar more slowly into the bloodstream and help provide more sustained energy over a longer period of time.
I’d take a closer look at what you’re eating for lunch. Are you drinking sugary beverages or eating refined carbs like noodles, rice or white bread? Are you getting enough protein to help control hunger? Are you including some high-fiber, slow-digesting carbs like veggies? Try placing an emphasis on protein and the right carbs to see if it makes a difference. A salad topped with some canned tuna or a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread with some baby carrots on the side should do the trick.
And, afternoon snacking isn’t a bad thing if you do it properly. The pretzels and cookies aren’t doing anyone much good, so why even bring them into the house? The stretch between lunch and dinner can be long, and a balanced snack (like some yogurt with fruit or some hummus and raw veggies) can help keep you – and your kids – satisfied.
Bloated Belly Needs to Loosen Up
September 22, 2020
Why do I sometimes get so bloated after I eat? There are times at the end of a meal when I feel like my stomach is just growing and growing before my eyes. Sometimes I get so uncomfortable that I have to loosen my belt or even unzip my pants – which is OK if I'm home, but it happened to me in a restaurant not too long ago and I was miserable. Why does this happen, and why just once in a while?
– Belly Buster
Dear Belly Buster,
That “puffed up” feeling is often the result of air that gets trapped in your digestive tract, which can come from a surprising number of sources. You could be swallowing excess air while you’re eating, which can happen if you eat too quickly, drink liquids through a straw, or talk while you’re chewing. And if your meal includes carbonated beverages (even sparkling water) you’re not just chugging liquid, but air too.
Certain plant foods – like cabbage, broccoli or beans – are notorious gas producers, mainly because your body has a tough time breaking down some of the carbohydrates they contain during the digestive process. But when these undigested carbs reach your lower digestive tract, the bacteria that naturally reside there start to break them down, releasing plenty of gas in the process.
Some people find that certain non-calorie sweeteners give them trouble, especially if they take in a large amount at one time. And gumchewers should take note – you’re likely gulping down plenty of air while you’re chomping away.
Eating quickly can sometimes be traced back to a skipped meal – so don’t skip and make sure to take your time when you do sit down. Not using a straw is easy, and there are plenty of reasons not to eat with your mouth full. Instead of carbonated beverages, try switching to plain water or tea. You might be tempted to give up the veggies and beans that give you gas, but they’re such healthy foods, you don’t really want to ditch them. Instead, try small portions and eat them frequently – which often allows your system to adjust. And if you’re a gumchewer, try munching on healthy raw veggies instead.
Friend Loves Eating Ice
September 8, 2020
My friend chews on ice cubes all the time. She says she craves it. We were trying to watch a movie at her house the other night, and I could hardly hear it over the sound of her chewing. I keep telling her she’s going to break a tooth! Why is she craving ice and how can I get her to stop?
- Needs earplugs
It could be that your friend simply likes chewing ice – we often clench our jaw muscles when we’re stressed, so some people find that the act of chewing acts as a stress reliever. Another possibility is that she’s lacking iron. Iron deficiency sometimes brings on the urge to eat unusual things – not just ice, but also dirt, paper or chalk. It’s not really clear why this happens, but the cravings often go away when the iron deficiency is treated. Your friend might benefit from a visit to her doctor for an evaluation.
Busy Student Craves Bed over Breakfast
September 8, 2020
I’m a college student with a full-time job and I’m not much of a breakfast eater. I’m so busy with work and school that I’d rather sleep as late as I can in the morning rather than take the time to eat, and I'm just not that hungry. Coffee gets me through my morning classes and then I make up for my missed meal by eating a big lunch. I stay up late and study and eat another pretty big meal before I go to bed. Do I really need to eat breakfast?
-Bed or Breakfast
Dear B or B,
With such a busy schedule, I can see how you’d be tempted to give up breakfast for a little extra sleep in the morning. But they’re both equally important, so it’s best not to sacrifice one for the other.
I know you’ve heard all the reasons why you should try to break the breakfast-skipping habit, but here’s a quick review. Even when you’re sleeping, your body burns fuel all night long to keep your systems going. Without filling up with a balanced breakfast, it’s hard to have the mental and physical energy you need to get through your morning. Not only that, the breakfast habit is associated with a better diet overall. Breakfast skippers tend to eat more fat, cholesterol, calories, and sugar – and fewer fruits and vegetables – than those who routinely eat breakfast.
Figuring out why you’re not hungry in the morning can be tricky. As you mentioned, you rely on coffee to keep you going, but that’s just an alertness boost from the caffeine, and not the actual fuel your body is craving. It’s possible that you are hungry, but you’ve just adjusted to the habit of not eating and so you can ignore it. And, since you manage to get through your morning OK, you just tell yourself you don’t really need to eat. It’s also possible that your big dinner the night before is putting a damper on your appetite.
Start small and light and have something that you can carry with you – you can easily whip up a protein shake or grab a carton of yogurt or a hard-boiled egg and a piece of fruit on your way out the door. That way you can still get your sleep while giving your body the fuel it craves.
Loves Asparagus, But….
August 25, 2020
I love asparagus, but it makes my urine smell funny. Does that happen to everybody?
-Holding my nose
Asparagus contains several sulfur compounds that are responsible for the odor in urine. The veggie is so well known for this phenomenon that those who produce the aroma assume that everyone else does, too. But not everyone does. About 80% of Americans are “excreters” – (which means that their bodies dump these smelly compounds in the urine) while non-excreters don’t. There are some studies that suggest that the 80% figure might not be right – they argue that it’s possible that everyone produces pungent urine after they eat asparagus, but not everyone can detect the smell. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle; there are probably those who produce and those who don’t, just as there are those who can pick up the odor and those who can’t. And not everyone thinks it smells bad. Marcel Proust famously wrote that asparagus transforms “my humble chamber pot into a bower of aromatic perfume.”
Fast Eater Wants to Slow It Down
August 25, 2020
My family calls me “the vacuum” because I eat so fast. I am always the first one finished, so I usually go back and get a second helping before anyone has finished their meal. I don’t really notice how full I am until a little while later, and then I’m just stuffed and uncomfortable. Can you give me some tips that would help me slow down?
-Gone in 60 seconds
People eat too fast for a variety of reasons – sometimes it’s just habit, but it can also be that you get too hungry before meals so you just shovel it in. It does take your stomach about 20 minutes to send alerts to your brain that you’re getting full, which explains why you don’t feel full until after you’ve finished. Aside from making sure you’re not starving before you sit down, you can try eating in courses and deliberately swallowing each bite before you load up your fork again (and you can also practice putting your fork down between bites). And focus on high-fiber foods – they’re not only good for you, they also slow you down because they take longer to chew.
Too Many Milk Choices
August 11, 2020
I’m lactose intolerant, so I don’t drink cow’s milk. The good thing is that there are so many milk alternatives in the grocery store now, so there are a lot of choices. The bad thing is that the nutritional content seems to be all over the place when it comes to protein and calories. What should I be looking for on the label to help me make the best choice?
- Why Buy the Cow
A lot depends on how you’re using your “milk alternative.” If you’re trying to replace the nutrients found in dairy milk, you’ll want to focus on protein and calcium. Most, but not all, soy and pea milks will give you a similar amount of protein (about 8 grams per cup) and calcium (around 300 mg per cup). If you don’t need the extra protein or calcium and you’re watching your calories, some – but, again, not all – nut milks might work for you. Most nut milks have very little protein, but calories can vary tremendously. Almond milk can be as low as 30 calories a cup, but pecan milk can run closer to 150 calories. Calcium content of nut milk is all over the place, too, ranging from none to as much as 450 mg per cup.
Grain-based and seed-based milks (rice, oat, hemp) also have widely varying nutrition content. Rice milk is usually very low in protein, but some brands of flax milk have an amount that rivals that of cow’s milk. And, as with the others, the amount of calcium and calorie count varies a lot. Lastly, in addition to reading the nutrition facts, look at the ingredient list, too, because some alternative milks have added sugars, which you may not want.
Boyfriend Won’t Use Soy
August 11, 2020
My boyfriend won’t drink our Formula 1 shakes because he says soy contains estrogen and he’s convinced he will get “man boobs.” I’ve tried to tell him that lots of people eat soy foods on a regular basis with no problem, but he won’t budge. Is there anything I can say to convince him?
- Shake Lover
Dear Shake Lover,
This is one of the most common misconceptions about soy, so let’s clear this up. Soy (and many other foods, by the way) contains natural plant compounds called isoflavones, which are classified as “phytoestrogens” (meaning, “plant estrogens”). So, when people like your boyfriend hear that, they assume that soy foods will expose them to too much estrogen. The reason they are called phytoestrogens is because they have a chemical structure that is similar – but not identical – to the estrogen hormone that is made by the body (in both men and women, by the way). But the main thing to know is that phytoestrogens are not the same as estrogen made by the body, and they don’t exert the same effects on the body, either.
Soy protein intake does not affect levels of reproductive hormones in men when consumed at levels that are considered equal to, or even higher, than are typical for Asian males. Of course, if your boyfriend still isn’t convinced, we also have other shake options. Formula 1 Sport is formulated with whey protein, and Formula 1 Select derives its protein from a blend of pea, rice and quinoa.
New Year’s Resolutions Are Fizzling Out
July 27, 2020
Like most people, I promised myself at the start of the new year that I was going to eat better and get more exercise. I did well for a couple of weeks, but now I’ve totally lost my motivation. This happens to me every year and it makes me feel like such a failure. How can I get back on my plan and stay on it?
- Lost My Mojo
First of all, give yourself a pat on the back for making the effort! Making change is hard (as you’ve discovered). Maybe you gave up because you tried to make too many changes at once, or your resolutions weren’t realistic. Try to prioritize the changes you want to make, then commit to them in writing and work on tackling the easiest things first. This will help you gain confidence that you can achieve what you set out to do, and you can then build on your successes. You also need to figure out why you failed and have a plan to put your new habits in place. Promising yourself that you’re going to pack your lunch every day might not work if you don’t have storage containers, ice packs, or a bag to pack it in.
Setbacks happen to everybody, so try to learn from them. Figure out what led you to slip up and figure out how you can prevent it from happening next time. For instance, if you plan to work out every morning but you’re hitting the snooze button instead, place your alarm across the room so you’ll have to get out of bed to turn it off. And don’t forget to ask for support. Friends, family members and online communities can be tremendous sources of support, as can your Herbalife Nutrition Independent Distributor. It helps to have someone to turn to, so let those around you know what you are trying to achieve.
Can Diet Promote Better Sleep?
July 27, 2020
Are there any dietary remedies that would help me sleep better? I know that alcohol and caffeine can disrupt sleep, but is there anything I could be doing diet-wise that would help me fall asleep and stay asleep?
- Sleepless in Savannah
There are lots of reasons that your sleep can be disrupted, but let’s look at the dietary factors that might affect your sleep quality. Both alcohol and caffeine can disrupt normal sleep patterns which make it hard to stay asleep and reach the deepest (and most restful) stage. Alcohol also interferes with the release of an anti-diuretic hormone, which means you might be awakened for a bathroom break. If your full bladder isn’t caused by alcohol, it could be that you’re taking in too much fluid in the evening. Try to curb your intake after dinner and drink more liquids during the day. Keep your dinner meals moderate – if they’re too large, you might awaken from indigestion, but if they’re too skimpy, you might be awakened by hunger pangs. Omega-3 fatty acids help to regulate your body’s internal clock, in part through effects on the release of melatonin (a hormone that regulates the sleep cycle), so try having fish on the menu more often. Melatonin is also naturally found in kiwi, bananas, pineapple and oranges, so they might make a good bedtime snack.
He Eats Too Much After Exercise
July 7, 2020
I’ve been practicing HIIT (high-intensity interval training) for a while now, and I’m seeing pretty good results. But I get super hungry after my workouts which I think might be slowing down my progress. I don’t know if it’s a physical thing or a mental thing – what do you think?
In general, appetite tends to lessen after intense workouts, rather than increase – at least for the next hour or so. Exercise tends to lower levels of ghrelin (a hormone that makes you feel hungry) and increase levels of peptide YY (which signals that you’re full). And, these effects are more pronounced with increased intensity. It all makes sense, since blood is being diverted away from your digestive system and channeled to your heart and muscles which are doing the intense work. But, once you recover from the workout, it’s likely you will feel hungry.
The length of time you exercise does have an effect – the longer your workout, the longer it takes your body to recover. So, it’s possible that with a short, intense HIIT session, you will feel hungry sooner. But there could be some psychological factors at play, too. You might tell yourself that because the exercise is SO intense, you certainly must feel extra hungry after your workout. Pay attention to both pre- and post-workout fueling. For example, if you’re doing HIIT first thing in the morning and don’t eat something first, you’re likely to be quite hungry afterward since you haven’t eaten since the night before. So, try having something small and light like a banana or some yogurt. If you do HIIT after work and haven’t had an afternoon snack, you’re also likely to feel quite hungry. In this case, you can have something more substantial like an energy bar, a bowl of cereal with milk or a Formula 1 shake.
July 7, 2020
A lot of my friends are on this new diet plan to help them lose weight. They eat all their food within an 8-hour time frame. Most of them are skipping breakfast and then eating really big lunches and dinners. It seems to me they’re making up for a skipped breakfast by eating more the rest of the day, and they’re not losing any weight. Aside from that, we can’t meet for breakfast anymore! What do you think about this?
- Missing My Breakfast Pals
Your friends are following a form of intermittent fasting called time-restricted feeding (TRF). In TRF, all your eating episodes are compressed into a shortened time interval – usually about 8 hours as your friends are doing – so in a 24-hour day, all your food intake would take place between, say, 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. One advantage of TRF is that it generally leads to modest calorie control without the need to count calories, simply because there are fewer hours during which you can eat. This obviously would reduce, for example, late night snacking for many people – which could result in significant calorie savings.
But not everyone approaches intermittent fasting properly. When you cut meals and calories, you need to pack all the nutrients into fewer meals and calories, so every bite really counts. Your friends may be making a common mistake in assuming that since they are fasting part of the time, they can eat whatever they want (in whatever amount) the rest of the time. Since breakfast seems to be “off the table,” you might have to meet for brunch instead.
June 18, 2020
I hope you can settle an ongoing argument I’ve been having with my mom. She only uses “natural” sweeteners at her house, like honey, agave and maple syrup because she says they’re healthier. I say “sugar is sugar.” Who is right?
The short answer is that you’re right. The argument that many people make is that these natural sugars are better for you because they have more nutrients, such as iron in maple syrup or B vitamins in honey. While that’s technically true, most people use such small amounts of these natural sweeteners that they aren’t going to make major contributions to your nutritional intake of whatever vitamins or minerals they contain. Whether it’s unfiltered honey, maple syrup, agave or plain old table sugar, they are all sugar, and all have about 50–60 calories per tablespoon.
Are Daily Bowel Movements Necessary?
June 18, 2020
I heard that it’s bad if you don’t have a bowel movement every day, but that just doesn’t happen for me. I have regular bowel movements, but they’re every other day instead of daily. Is that bad?
Many people believe that anything other than a daily bowel movement is abnormal, and that if you go less often, it means you’re constipated. But defining constipation isn’t just about how often you go (or not), it also factors in how difficult it is for you to get the job done. For healthy people, constipation is usually suspected if you’ve gone three days or more without a bowel movement. By that time, a lot of water has been absorbed from the waste material in your gut, so it’s going to be difficult to pass. But some people might have difficulty after only two days, and others – like you – might go regularly and without any trouble after the same period of time. Of course, if you have any concerns, be sure to check with your doctor.
She’s on a Diet, He Isn’t
June 5, 2020
I’m trying to lose weight, but it’s really hard because my husband isn’t on a diet. It’s really frustrating for me because he likes to eat out a lot, and he’s constantly snacking, but he never puts on weight! It’s hard for me to stick with my plan when we go to restaurants, and even harder to watch him eat all those snacks when I can’t have any. What can I do?
- Venus vs. Mars
This is a common problem among couples because it can affect both parties. Try to approach your weight loss as a long-term effort toward healthier eating – something that will benefit you both. Have an honest talk about the issues that are hard for you and try to compromise on a solution. Yes, dining out may be hard for you – but it’s also something you’ll need to learn how to do in the long run, so maybe you can identify a few restaurants that serve foods that work with your plan. Another thing that can really help when you eat out is to order before your husband does. That way, it’s easier to stick to your plan and you won’t be swayed by his choices. You don’t need a high-calorie meal in order to enjoy a night out – focus on how much you’re enjoying this special time with your partner. Learn how to ask for support – which isn’t the same as asking your partner to go on a diet with you. Maybe he can help with meal prep or watch the kids while you go to the gym. And try to avoid being angry with your husband because of his ability to eat what he wants to without gaining – that’s never productive.
She Worries about Nutrient Losses in Frozen Foods
June 5, 2020
I like to use frozen fruits and veggies in my Formula 1 shakes, and I see that you do that sometimes in your videos. But I’ve heard that some nutrition gets lost when foods are frozen. Is that true?
Dear Chill Girl,
It’s fine to use frozen fruits and veggies! When foods are processed for the freezer, they’re usually picked at peak ripeness and then processed quickly, which means they retain their nutrients. I also like the convenience factor, and frozen fruits and veggies (like spinach, winter squash and carrots) make my Formula 1 shakes so thick I can eat them with a spoon. Just be sure that you’re buying plain, whole fruits and veggies and not paying for extra sugar on your fruit or salty sauces on your veggies.
Vegetarian Worries about Getting Enough Protein
May 18, 2020
I’ve been trying to eat more vegetarian meals lately. I feel great, but I’m wondering if I’m getting enough protein. How can I get enough protein without eating meat?
Dear Animal Lover,
A vegetarian diet can provide enough protein, as long as it’s well-balanced and you eat a variety of plant proteins. You need to consume plenty of the nine essential amino acids (these are the ones your body can’t make) – they’re used to assemble and maintain the various proteins in your body, like your muscles. Animal and animal-derived proteins contain all nine essential amino acids, so if you’re eating dairy foods and eggs (in other words, you’re not vegan), you should have no problem meeting your needs. Most plant proteins (with the exception of soy) lack one or more essential amino acids. But if you mix up your plant proteins from beans (including soy), lentils and whole grains, and include some nuts and seeds, you should be able to meet your needs. Protein powders can be a big help – for those who consume dairy, our Personalized Protein Powder is a blend of soy and whey proteins; our Select Products provide protein from a blend of three plant sources – pea, rice and quinoa.
Coffee Lover Hates PLAIN Water, Seeks Hydration
May 18, 2020
Do I really need to drink eight glasses of water a day? I don’t really like plain water, but I try to force it down in between my cups of coffee and tea that I have during the day. Can I count coffee and tea as part of my daily fluids?
Good news! Tea and coffee count toward your eight cups of fluid per day. While it’s true that caffeine is considered a diuretic, many people take that to mean that caffeinated beverages cause excessive water loss – but that’s not the case. People who are habitual coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to the effect, which means that caffeinated beverages are indeed hydrating. Plain coffee and tea are calorie-free and fine for hydration purposes. To make plain water more appealing, add a bit of flavor with a few chunks of fresh fruit or cucumber, or a few capfuls of Herbalife Nutrition Herbal Aloe Concentrate.