It’s not your imagination; nutrition do’s and don’ts are always changing. One day, fat is the enemy—and the next, it’s the new miracle weight loss food. That’s just one of many examples. Although it can be a bit challenging to keep up with ever-evolving dietary recommendations, new research is always shedding light on what’s best for health and longevity. And in this case, change is a good thing.
Because nutritionists are at the forefront of all of the latest nutrition knowledge, they’re constantly changing up their diets based on new findings. Since it can be hard to decipher which bits of nutrition intel are worth implementing, we went straight to the experts and asked them how their daily diets have changed over the past five years based on emerging science.
“Over the past five years, I’ve been intrigued by emerging research that suggests caloric restriction or intermittent fasting can promote longevity and reduce aging-related diseases,” Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN tells us. “Although I don’t subscribe to fasting or suggest going more than three or four waking hours without food, my diet has evolved into one in which I consume most of my calories during the day. I always start my morning with one large or two small breakfasts, and I almost always have a big lunch. And instead of a traditional dinner, I’ll choose one or two small snacks that include any combination of fruit, whole grains (like popcorn), nuts, or dairy. I find that I feel more energized when I eat this way and it also allows me to fit in more food groups and maintain a healthy weight.”
“Over the past five years, I’ve focused a lot on eating more whole foods and less processed ones,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN. “I used to rely heavily on snack or protein bars for fuel in between meals, especially on busy days. Now, I always make sure to have fresh fruit or nuts on me at all times so I am not tempted to buy something packaged off the shelf.”
Two other dietitians—Sarah Koszyk and Cassie Bjork—both agree. “I’ve gone from recommending low- and reduced-fat, processed products to suggesting real, whole foods that truly fuel and nourish us,” says Koszyk. “I’ve given up most processed foods that I used to be best friends with—like granola bars, cereal, cookies, chips, and crackers. I used to think these were healthy because they were low in fat, but now that we know they are at the root of our health problems and I strive to avoid them as much as possible,” adds Bjork.
Almond and other nut milk alternatives may have gained popularity in recent years, but the health community isn’t totally convinced it’s the better option. “I don’t drink almond milk nor do I recommend it,” says Jennifer Neily, MS, RDN. “In fact, I drink about a gallon of real cow’s milk a week. Years ago, I chose almond milk due to its low calorie count, but then as I started to pay more attention to the quality of ingredients, I realized the drink provided little protein and was laden with fillers. Since then, protein-filled dairy milk has been a major part of my diet.” For more info on the pros and cons of your favorite cereal mate, be sure to read our exclusive report, The Best and Worst Milks & Milk Alternatives.
While you may be skeptical of the suggestion to eat fat to lose fat, it’s time to get on board, because this is one diet mantra nutrition experts have embraced. “Recently, full-fat dairy has come back into my diet,” notes Moskovitz. “Not only does it taste much better than reduced-fat alternatives, but it keeps me far more satisfied and helps with vitamin D absorption.” Alissa Rumsey, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, has also changed her diet to include more healthy fats. “Five years ago, I was using skim milk in my coffee, eating 0% fat yogurts, and choosing low-fat cottage cheese. Now I use whole milk in my coffee and choose 2% or 4% Greek yogurt and cottage cheese. I also eat nuts, nut butter, and seeds at least once per day to add healthy unsaturated fats to my diet.” Registered dietitians Lauren Slayton and Torey Armul also incorporate things like olive oil, avocado, fish, butter, ghee, and coconut oil into their daily diets. “Fat is the only macronutrient that doesn’t raise your blood sugar. In a typical day I’ll have a good fat at every meal,” Slayton tells us. (Confused about all of the good and bad fats out there? Our Definitive Guide to All the Types of Fat in Food can help.)
Earlier this year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee said it was ok to enjoy aspartame (Equal) in moderation. Then there was news that sucralose (the generic name for Splenda) can cause sugar cravings and weight gain. And just this week, Philadelphia passed a tax on soda and other sweetened beverages—both regular and diet. With so many mixed messages floating around, it’s easy to see why people have no idea what’s safe to sip and what’s better left untouched. Ilyse Schapiro, RD, said sayonara to diet and sugary beverages. “I was a diet soda junkie for years. So when more and more research came out linking artificial sweeteners to sugar cravings and weight gain and higher BMI, I decided to ditch the stuff in the name of better health. And believe it or not, I actually lost five pounds—and that wasn’t even my intention,” adds Schapiro. “I now drink flavored seltzer or lemon detox water instead.” Michelle Dudash, RD, agrees. ” [In recent years], I have majorly cut down on diet soda and instead enjoy unsweetened iced tea, which is a potent source of antioxidants.”
“I focus more on protein these days,” says Marisa Moore, RDN. “Being a vegetarian for a significant part of my life, protein has always been a concern but not always top of mind. Today, I’m careful to consume quality protein sources at all of my meals. This not only helps with muscle synthesis and maintenance, but it also helps with satiety.” Moore eats plenty of beans and peas, along with foods like salmon, edamame, eggs, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese.
“In the past five years, I’ve increased my consumption of seafood to the recommended two to three servings per week,” says Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN. “Prior to that, I was probably only having about one or two servings per week, which is too low for optimal health. When I’m at a restaurant, I’ll often order grilled salmon or fish tacos. At home, I often have canned tuna for lunch in a whole-wheat wrap or on a salad. Fish and shellfish are both low in calories and saturated fat, an important source of protein, and offer a wealth of vitamins and minerals.”
Healthy eating principles like eating your fruits and veggies have been around for decades, but it seems diet experts are taking the advice to eat their greens more seriously as of late; some even replace animal proteins with plant proteins throughout the week. Both Dudash and Willow Jarosh MS, RD, for example, both regularly replace animal proteins with beans, peas and lentils. “Eating more plant-based foods is associated with better weight control and a decreased risk of several diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” explains Jarosh. Dudash favorite way to incorporate more plant-based proteins into her diet? Mexican food. “I cook dry beans in my slow cooker and enjoy them for the week in burritos and bowls.” Isabel Smith, RD, concurs. “My diet has always been pretty clean, however in the past five years I’ve really become much more conscious and vigilant with both including more plants in my diet. At least half or three-quarters of every meal I eat is plants.”
Recent research shows that our gut microbes play a significant role in regulating our health and weight. So it’s no surprise diet experts are making a concerted effort to add more probiotics (bacterial cultures found in fermented foods) to their diets. “Five years ago my cultured food repertoire consisted solely of yogurt. Now, I have a kombucha a day, add fermented veggies to all my lunches, and even use probiotic hot sauce,” says Slayton. Stephanie Clarke, MS, RD has also made a point to eat more probiotics. “I eat a variety of fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, miso, and pickled veggies. The probiotics in fermented foods are bacteria that may improve digestion, immunity, and overall health. There’s a lot of research going on in this area, and given that these foods also have other quality attributes to health, eating them seems like a no-brainer.” For even more probiotic-rich foods, check out these 18 Probiotic Foods for a Healthy Gut.
A recent report found a link between consuming processed, cured, salted, and smoked meats and an increased risk of colon cancer, so we had a hunch that diet experts are laying off the stuff to keep themselves safe—and we were right. “While I used to splurge on bacon or sausage when I went out for breakfast, now I say no to the cured meat and focus on just veggies and eggs, and add avocado for creaminess and good fats. That’s not to say I eat cured meats, though. When I do, I save it for the good stuff, like prosciutto.”
Get this: The more added sugar that sneaks its way into your diet, the less healthy food you’ll eat the rest of the day. That’s the finding of a 2015 article in , which looked at dozens of studies conducted between 1972 and 2012. The researchers found that a higher intake of added sugar was associated with poorer diet and a lower intake of micronutrients. For that reason, Bjork has tried to cut back. “In the past five years, I have conquered my sugar addiction by giving up a lot of the less healthy carbs I was eating and replacing them with healthy fat. Processed carbs like white bread, pasta, rice, cereal, and granola bars turn into sugar in the bloodstream and this sugar fuels the addictive cycle.”
“The new dietary guidelines recommend limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day, so I’ve been paying much more attention to the sodium content in foods recently,” registered dietitian and personal trainer Jim White says. Considering 75 percent of the sodium we’re consuming is coming from processed foods—not the salt shaker—it’s extra important to follow White’s lead and scan your food labels. Believe it or not, things like bread, frozen meals, salad dressing, and ever restaurant desserts are filled with the salty stuff.
While low-carb diets aren’t totally forgotten, many diet experts have shied away from them. “I used to keep my carb intake low as a method of weight control, but now I know that is not ideal long term strategy as it spikes my cravings for sugar over time,” explains Moskovitz. “That said, I’ve more recently started eating more healthy whole grains like whole wheat bread, oatmeal, and quinoa. Incorporating whole grains again in my diet has helped with sugar craving control a great deal.”
Earlier this year, the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans dropped their longstanding recommendation that we should limit dietary cholesterol. Decades of research have shown that it has little effect on blood cholesterol levels, after all, so yolks get the green light. “Even though I always knew that egg yolks were nutritious I just didn’t seem to eat them as much. Five years ago I was probably more of an egg white person and today I’ll go with poached,” says NYC-based nutritionist Keri Gans of the recent change. Due to the new recommendation, White says he finds himself reaching for more eggs. “Since the new recommendations came out, I definitely eat eggs more often for breakfast. In years past, I would limit myself to eating them two or three days per week. But now I eat them regularly without worry.”
Sure, getting enough protein is important, but not just any source will do. Just ask Smith, who is quite choosy with the quality of her meats. “Because of all of the hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals that end up in the processing of livestock industry, I think it’s really important for us to be mindful and aware of the quality of the animal protein that we consume. In the past few years, I also have become much more rigid with my own guidelines for buying meat, and often opt for organic, grass-fed, and wild proteins in lieu of conventional options.”