Be Well / Danielle Meyer
What should you eat? A nutrition professional tells you
photos by Stephen Gabris
Danielle Meyer, MS RD CSO CDN
Clinical Director, Dietetic Internship, Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, University at Buffalo
Nutrition advice seems to change week to week. The truth is, there is no one diet that’s perfect for everyone. If you’re looking for a diet (meaning the foods that you eat, not a weight loss plan) for optimum health, it’s best to visit a nutritionist or dietitian.
Danielle Meyer is a registered dietitian, board certified specialist in oncology nutrition, and the Clinical Director of the Dietetic Internship Program in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions. Meyer grew up in Cincinnati, completed her undergrad at Florida State, then went to Maine for her master’s degree and internship. When her husband joined the service, they moved around from South Dakota, Virginia, and Colorado before settling in Buffalo in July of 2018. “And I’m happy that we did,” she says. We spoke to Meyer to get the skinny on what we should be eating and why.
At the gym, I was told to eat a ton of protein. Then I hear vegan or keto is best. So what should we eat?
We can talk about broad topics, but then individualize to specific people’s needs. The big, broad umbrella is eat a variety of foods! Eat colorful foods. Don’t exclude entire food groups nor focus on one particular food group. A big variety in your diet is the best thing you can do.
However, then we look at a person and see that they need special considerations. That is the tricky part, where you run into all the noise on the internet. Oh, you’re gonna work out? Must have protein. We, as a Western diet, heavy meat-eating society, do not have a problem with our protein intake. If you’re not a vegetarian or a vegan, chances are you are perfectly fine and probably getting a little bit extra. If you’re a high endurance, high performing athlete, yeah, you’ll probably need a little bit more. For the casual gym goer, you don’t actually need any extra.
The target’s always changing; it’s always moving. I think one of the beautiful things about food science is that it’s an organic science. Shrimp and eggs used to be bad for you. They’re not bad for you. They’re high cholesterol, but that’s not a problem.
I trained in what I call the “moderation generation.” I think there are no “bad” foods. There are better foods than others. But there isn’t any that’s inherently terrible or bad. Life without ice cream is not worth living. At the same time, should you eat an entire pint of ice cream? Well, no. Everyone also knows that. That’s why sometimes people get a little disheartened talking to a dietician. I’m probably not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. So the problems with weight loss or changing your habits—maybe they’re coming from somewhere else, not actually the food that you’re eating. Maybe it’s the behaviors that we need to talk about.
What do we use food for? It’s such a core part of our society. How do we balance all of that?
For years, we were told not to eat fat. It’s hard to overcome that mindset.
I would say low fat is good, no fat is bad. The other thing that trips people up is if you choose a food that says on the package “fat free,” the way food science and chemistry and all that works is that if you’re going to take something out of a product, you have to put something back in. Fat and sugar make things taste good. If you take out fat or sugar, you end up replacing one with the other. Remember Snackwells? The green package? Those were great because they were low-fat cookies. But a cookie is still a cookie. A gluten-free cookie is still a cookie. It doesn’t make them inherently healthier.
Are there any fads that are worrisome to you?
We teach future dieticians, and I teach undergrad nutrition classes, and one thing I focus on are “red flags.” Which is any type of exclusion of a food group or any type of hyper focus on a food group. Keto is really big on high fat and high protein. Paleo was all protein and low to no carbs. Any time you have these kinds of extremes, that should make your radar go off.
Intermittent fasting is really popular right now. It’s interesting, because it doesn’t restrict calories, but it restricts time. And we don’t equate that as being equal, and I think they are. Any time something is going to put a big restriction on you, or any kind of rule, then maybe we should take it with a grain of salt.
I’ve seen ranges from 1,200 to 3,000 for daily recommended calories. That’s confusing for a lot of people.
It is. Especially if you look at a food label, you’ll see wording like “percentages based on a 2,000 calorie diet.” Not everyone should have 2,000 calories. They just need a nice, round number to make percentages look nice and round. [Caloric needs] are unique to everyone. Dietitians and nutrition professionals can help you figure out what range is best for you.
There’s also this technique—I call it the “dirty math”—where if you want to know about how many calories you need to maintain where you are, you take your weight and add a zero. So, if someone is 150 pounds, and you tack on a zero, you’ll need around 1,500 calories to maintain where you are. Then you add or subtract a little bit to lead to weight loss.
As our life and lifestyle changes, the things that worked for you when you were twenty-five are not going to work when you are fifty-five. We get really frustrated and say, “this worked before.” Well, yeah, but are you the you from before? Probably not. Having the right kind of professionals out there can help you navigate that.
What nutrition info do you wish everybody knew?
There isn’t one best thing for everybody, so you need to find what works for you. If you don’t know what that is, there are people out there to help you figure that out. And it’s not the person at the gym or the clerk at the GNC counter or the Instagram influencer. Your doctor can help you or point you in the right direction. The thing about Buffalo that is really awesome is you have three major institutions here—UB, D’Youville, and Buffalo State—that are pumping out dietitians like it’s their job, because it is.
Where can we find a dietitian?
You can go to eatright.org, which is the organization of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That’s how people find me really often. Or ask around; everybody here in Buffalo knows everybody. We’re in doctors’ offices, community health centers, at the Y—wherever there’s a health facility.