When Cynthia Lair hears people talk about eating right, she wants to tell them it isn’t complex. If you don’t have an illness related to food, this veteran nutrition and cooking teacher at Bastyr University, host of the hilarious online cooking show Cookus Interruptus (cookusinterruptus.com) and author of Feeding the Whole Family, says eating right means eating whole foods. More and more, science supports the notion that food without additives or processing builds health and decreases risks of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Nutritionist and registered dietitian Sandi Kaplan, a founding partner in Seattle’s NutritionWorks consulting service and also a former faculty member at Bastyr, echoes Lair’s minimalist advice and adds: Eat with joy. Eat until you are not quite full and (this, especially for women) stop looking for food advice from others; relearn how to listen to your body’s signals about fullness and hunger.
While this generic message works for most, some people—depending their activities or stage of life—want custom tailoring for their food. We asked Lair and Kaplan to weigh in with nourishing advice.
If you’re an athlete, what food is best for energy and endurance?
CYNTHIA LAIR: Timing is everything with eating in relation to exertion. Making sure an athlete has eaten a meal that consists mostly of whole grains and vegetables, with a small amount of protein, is crucial two to three hours before playing. This gives muscles the fuel to play. Equally key is the post-game snack—when the muscles are willing to replenish faster if something is eaten within 30 minutes after strenuous exercise. The best ratio is 4:1, carbohydrates to protein, and the amount can be small. Steer away from sugar—the energy will feel good but be short-lived.
What special needs do women have during menopause?
CL: Focus on dark, leafy greens and eat them every day. They have many good nutrients and few calories. Keep away from empty carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar. They will put on weight during a time when some gain is inevitable. Drink plenty of liquids and choose proteins with omega-3 fatty acids—such as salmon, tempeh and grass-fed meat—which are anti-inflammatory,. Sage tea can help with hot flashes. Avoid eating after dinner, so that sleep and digestion can work better.
If you are trying to get pregnant, what should you be eating?
SANDI KAPLAN: Overall good health is essential to a woman’s body feeling strong enough to release eggs and nourish any new life. Many women make the mistake of trying to lose weight before pregnancy because they fear weight gain during pregnancy. A diet heavy on fruits and vegetables applies here, but don’t avoid healthy fats and protein. One rule of thumb is that your plate should be half fruits and vegetables. That goes for your grocery cart, too.
How should one eat after a bout of the flu?
SK: When you have been sick and not eating much, it’s wise to come back to eating by beginning with things that are easy to digest. Soup, just like your mama said, is a good choice. Fruit smoothies are also a good choice. Comfort foods are fine if they come high in nutrition. (Not a chocolate milkshake.) Good comfort foods besides soup and smoothies include hot cereal and plain yogurt with honey. Don’t forget protein. People who have been sick are tired, and tired people don’t always make good choices.
How can I break out of the diet ruts?
SK: You may need coaching, ironically, to learn how to trust yourself and not look for answers everywhere else. Many women with disturbed eating habits come to a nutritionist asking for advice a