It seems that every day a new study comes out touting the magical health benefits of one food, while another piece of research scolds us for eating too much of something else. The ever-evolving world of nutrition is so tough to navigate that most of us struggle to build a healthy, balanced diet.
But if there’s one group of people who should be able to nail food choices, it’s nutritionists. They’re trained in the proven principles of a healthy diet and stay up to date on the latest research about what—and how much—we should eat.
Armed with all of that knowledge, nutritionists probably fill their fridges with organic produce, stick to the leanest cuts of protein, nosh on celery sticks for snacks, and never indulge in sweet desserts…right? What do nutritionists eat, anyway?
To find out, we asked Amy Goodson, a registered dietitian nutritionist from Dallas, to spill the secrets of what she really buys at the grocery store and eats on the go.
(Spoiler: Her kitchen’s not filled with organic foods, but it definitely has a bottle of red wine.)
Q: What inspired you to become a nutritionist? Tell us a bit about your background.
A: I became interested in nutrition through fitness. In college and grad school, I taught group exercise and was a personal trainer, which enhanced my interest in nutrition and inspired me to look at what becoming a registered dietitian actually involved.
While just about anyone who has learned about diet and nutrition can say they are a “nutritionist,” becoming a registered dietitian requires four years of college, participation in an accredited 9–12-month internship, and passing a credentialing exam. So while people might refer to me as a nutritionist, the registered dietitian credential is what truly makes the difference in my profession.
Q: Let’s cut to the chase: What do nutritionists eat? Give us the rundown of what a typical day looks like for you and how you choose the foods on your plate.
A: For breakfast every day, I eat oatmeal with a decent amount of peanut butter, half a small protein muffin, and coffee with milk. That never changes.
The rest of the day depends on my schedule. When I’m on the go or traveling to a speaking engagement, lots of my meals consist of healthy snack food. I end up eating lots of what I like to call “mini meals.” Lunch might be string cheese, turkey, whole grain crackers, and fruit, or I might eat some apples, grapes, and cheese, or a Kind protein bar or an RXBAR. I prefer these mini meals over heavier lunches, and I typically eat two of them between breakfast and dinner.
For dinner, I might have a salad with salmon, nuts, cheese, and fruit, or green beans with turkey, cheese, and crackers. There are always veggies and protein at dinner, but it can come in different varieties. And of course, a glass of red wine a few nights a week, as well.
Q: What about in between meals? What are some nutritionist-approved snacks?
A: Again, it goes back to my mini meals philosophy. I might do whole grain crackers with cheese, or fruit and cheese, or peanut butter and apples. In a pinch, I reach for a protein bar. The protein helps you feel full.
Q: How much do calories matter to nutritionists? How does that influence your food choices?
A: I have always had to watch what I eat to stay my size, so while I don’t count calories or track the numbers, I can do a quick estimate in my head. I am definitely aware of roughly how many calories are in my meals, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you an exact total at the end of the day.
Q: Tell us about a nutritionist’s grocery-shopping routine. Where do you buy your food? How often do you visit the grocery store?
A: I buy food wherever it’s convenient, often Walmart, Whole Foods, and Central Market. Sometimes I’ll go to Kroger. I typically go grocery shopping about once a week, unless I’m traveling.
Q: Some nutritionists swear by meal planning. Is that something you do as well, or do you tend to wait for inspiration to strike while you’re at the grocery store?
A: Sadly, I don’t love cooking! I’m single, live by myself, and my weeks are so busy with work, travel, and life stuff that meal planning isn’t a big thing for me. I’m a creature of habit, so eating the same variation of things is fine for me. I guess I don’t have the chef gene!
Q: Is everything you buy organic and/or genetically modified organism (GMO) free?
A: Actually, none of what I buy is organic or GMO free. Organic does not make food healthier—I just wash my fruit and veggies well. There’s also no need to spend more on organic dairy, either. In the world of agriculture, which is similar to technology, advancements in science (such as with GMO foods) are key to production. To feed a growing world, genetically engineered foods will be required. There are tons of studies that say GMOs are perfectly safe, so GMO or non-GMO, I eat it.
Q: Clean eating is a huge trend in the health world right now. What does clean eating mean to a nutritionist?
A: To me, it means focusing on trying to eat whole foods much more often than processed foods. It’s not that I never eat processed food, but I try to choose whole, fresh foods as often as I can.
Q: Care to share a nutritionist’s guilty pleasures?
A: I go by the 80/20 rule, which says that 80 percent of the time, you should choose healthy foods. The other 20 percent of the time is about living a little! That’s when I eat food I would not typically eat every day. My favorite appetizer dishes are cheese plates or spinach and artichoke dip with corn chips or pita. Saturday nights are when I tend to have dessert, but I’ll try and split it with someone if we’re eating out or limit myself to a few bites of something sweet if I’m at home.
Q: What do nutritionists eat when traveling?
A: Trays with combinations of cheese, fruit, nuts, and crackers are my go-to snack in an airport. I have eaten this meal in just about every form it comes in. If I’m looking for a restaurant in a new city, I’m hands down seeking out the best place for fish with roasted veggies and some of my favorite sides, like polenta and grits.
Q: As a nutritionist, you know a ton about what’s healthy and what’s not. Which ingredients and products do you avoid, and why?
A: There are thousands of products and ingredients on the market, so it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly which ones I avoid. I just try to stick to fresh, whole foods whenever I can. I focus on nutrient-rich meals and try to make the healthiest choice when whole foods are less available, such as at a fast food place.
Q: What’s the biggest health myth you hear as a nutritionist? Now’s your chance to bust it!
A: There are too many nutrition myths to count. The amount of misinformation in the health world is unreal. The one that really irks me, though, is the idea that you have to cut out one particular food or food group to lose weight. Everyone has their own opinion on what that particular food is. But the truth is that there’s no one food that makes you gain weight and there’s no one food that helps you lose weight. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight requires a balance of carbs, protein, fats, veggies, and fruit, and eating appropriate portion sizes.
Q: What are the top five foods you can’t live without as a nutritionist?
A: It would have to be peanut butter, oats, cheese, roasted veggies, and red wine. Oatmeal with peanut butter is the start to every day of my life—the fiber, protein, and healthy fat get me going after my morning workout. Cheese is one of my favorite easy proteins, and I love pairing it with roasted veggies. As for the red wine, it works for dinner, happy hour, and girls’ night out. Sharing a glass with a friend is good for my heart and my soul!