From our Nutrition Experts: Healthy Eating FAQs

January 13, 2020

Harmons’ seven Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) work with customers and the community on a daily basis. We help people understand healthy eating principles, nutrition facts panels, and ingredients lists. Along the way we do a good bit of myth busting and answering questions. Here are brief answers to our most frequently asked questions. For more details or to ask a specific question, please email us at

Is honey (or agave, etc.) healthier than white sugar? What about stevia? Monk fruit?

No. They are less processed, but they are still primarily empty calories. While honey and agave may contain trace amounts of minerals, the amount is so small it is insignificant. I recommend using the type of sweetener you like the flavor of the most, and use as little as you can get away with. Using honey in your brownies doesn’t all of a sudden make them healthy.

Stevia and monk fruit extracts are plant sources of zero calorie sweetness. They are different than real sugars and artificial sweeteners. Thus far, research has not shown any negative consequences with consumption of these products. I still recommend limiting them to avoid creating a preference for sweet tastes.

Are artificial sweeteners bad for you? Do they really have zero calories?

In small amounts, no. That being said, research shows that replacing real sugar with artificial sweeteners generally does not help people become healthier even though they do in fact have zero calories. It’s important to distinguish artificial sweeteners from sugar alcohols (used in many keto and sugar-free products). Sugar alcohols such as erythritol, mannitol, and sorbitol contain 0–3 calories per gram.

What should I do to reduce sugar cravings?

The cause of sugar cravings varies which means the strategy to reduce them also varies. If you are at your daily added sugar limit (25–36 grams) and a craving strikes, ask yourself “why do I want sugar right now?”

  • Tired? Take a nap or sip on unsweetened coffee, tea, or kombucha (healthier sources of caffeine).
  • Bored? Call a friend, listen to a podcast, or go for a walk.
  • Stressed? Take a break to sit down, close your eyes, and breathe for one minute.
  • Restless? Chew on gum or suck on a mint.
  • Hungry? Grab a piece of fruit and dip it in yogurt or nut butter for a healthy snack.

The less you rely on added sugar, the less you will crave it when one of these moods hits.

Should I eat oranges, grapes, and bananas? I've heard they're too high in sugar.

Yes. While these fruits may be a little bit higher in naturally occurring sugar, in their whole form they do not contain any added sugar. Consuming these fruits is not associated with any negative health consequences. If you have pre-diabetes or diabetes, be sure to control your portion and know that they are a healthy source of sugar.

What food is highest in antioxidants?

I have no idea. All vibrant produce (including but not limited to spinach, berries, beets, purple cabbage, and turmeric) is a great source of antioxidants.

How many carbs do you need in a day?

This depends on your weight and physical activity level. Make an appointment with an RDN to help you calculate how much carbohydrate you should consume daily. Dietary fiber is a very important type of carbohydrate, for every 1000 calories you eat, you should get a minimum of 14 grams of dietary fiber.

Are potatoes healthy? Are potatoes healthier than crackers or bread?

Both white and sweet potatoes are considered a healthy choice as long as they are not deep-fat fried or loaded with butter and sour cream. Potatoes are healthier than bread and crackers made with white flour, but not healthier than 100% whole grain crackers and breads. Whole grains and potatoes are both considered healthy sources of starch.

Is diet soda a good drink choice?

It’s not better than water, unsweetened tea, unsweetened coffee, or a small amount of 100% fruit juice. It’s probably a little bit better than regular soda. It’s not something I recommend unless you’re trying to kick a regular soda habit.

Is it important to buy organic?

From a nutritional standpoint, no. Research shows no significant difference in nutritional content. From an environmental standpoint and if you can afford to, I would say yes. An apple is a healthy choice regardless if it’s organic or not. However, if you can spend the extra money, know that organic standards help support ecological balance and biodiversity.

What do you think about keto?

It remains a hot topic because people are enamored with the short term effect of rapid weight loss.

Three important points:

  1. Long-term effects of the keto diet are poorly understood.
  2. The keto diet is very restrictive and difficult for most people to maintain longer than a couple of months.
  3. A healthy keto diet chooses plant fats and proteins over animal fats and proteins and includes low carbohydrate vegetables. However, most people are loading up on bacon and processed keto snack foods.

For these reasons, I rarely (if ever) recommend the keto diet to the general public. Research is beginning to emerge regarding keto and type 2 diabetes. If you are considering the keto diet and have type 2 diabetes, only do so under medical supervision as there can be serious medication interactions. Be sure to make an appointment with an RDN to ensure you have a healthy plan.

Do I really need to buy only wild seafood?

No. First, know that research consistently shows that the benefits of eating fish (wild or farmed) outweigh any risks.

Nutritionally speaking, wild and farm-raised seafood are similar. If you’re worried about contaminants like mercury or PCBs, both wild and farmed products are affected. State government agencies usually report advisories for locally caught fish. Find Utah advisories here.

If you are (understandably) concerned about sustainability and the quality of farm fisheries, know that both wild and farm fisheries can either be well or poorly managed. There are poorly managed wild fisheries which destroy the ocean floor and dump unwanted, dead fish back into the ocean. On the other hand, there are poorly managed aquacultures which pollute the ocean.

Which supplements should I be taking?

This depends on many factors such as sex, age, physical fitness, dietary restrictions, diet quality, medical conditions, and more. Make an appointment with your physician and/or an RDN to get personalized recommendations. Most healthy adults who enjoy a nutritious, balanced diet do not need supplements.

What's the best way to lose weight?

There isn’t one. Every person is unique and has different food preferences, lifestyle factors, genetics, and medical histories. The “best way” is to create an individualized plan tailored to you which can be maintained for the rest of your life. Science shows that small, consistent changes and social support are essential. Work with an RDN to come up with your perfect plan.

Is excess protein stored as fat?

Fat storage happens anytime calorie intake exceeds output. The source of excess calories (fat, protein, alcohol, or carbohydrate) does not impact storage.

As a dietitian, what is the most common mistake/prevalent problem you see people making?

People trust marketing claims made on the front of packages and don’t look at the nutrition facts panel and ingredient lists. For example, people see “sugar-free” and think it’s healthier. Often times sugar-free products have added salt, fat, artificial sweeteners, and/or sugar alcohols which are not necessarily healthy.

Have you seen _______? (Insert most recent food/nutrition streaming documentary)

Yes, I have. I have to watch them all so that I can develop my professional opinion and address your questions and comments. Most recently it was The Game Changers.

Responses written by Ashley Quadros MS, RDN – our dietitian covering Harmons Holladay Market, Taylorsville, Traverse Mountain, and Orem locations.