Frequently Asked Questions

What is lactose intolerance?
What can I do to lower my cholesterol?
Do I need to take a vitamin or mineral supplement?
Is fish safe to eat?
Are sugar substitutes safe?
What are prebiotics and probiotics?
How can I lose weight?


What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance happens when our bodies can’t digest foods that have lactose. This can cause nausea, cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and gas. You can find lactose in milk, and foods that use milk as an ingredient. Some people with lactose intolerance can still eat yogurt, small amounts of aged cheese, and sometimes small amounts of milk.

Milk products are a good source of calcium, which helps to keep our bones strong and prevent osteoporosis. If you cannot tolerate any milk products, you will need to get calcium from other foods. Other sources of calcium include:

  • Lactose-free milk products (like Lactaid)
  • Orange juice with added calcium
  • Soy milk or rice milk with added calcium
  • Tofu with added calcium
  • Green vegetables like broccoli, collard greens, kale and bok choy

If you think you are lactose intolerant, you should talk to your doctor. Your doctor can help determine your level of lactose intolerance, and may suggest a calcium supplement. You may also want to try taking Lactaid pills or chewable tablets, which help breakdown the lactose in milk products. Make sure you read and follow the directions carefully.

What can I do to lower my cholesterol?
High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. In our bodies, we have bad cholesterol (called LDL) and good cholesterol (called HDL). You can make dietary and lifestyle changes to help lower your “bad cholesterol”. Eating too much cholesterol, total fat, saturated fat and trans fat can affect your cholesterol level. To limit these in your diet, follow these guidelines:

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Choose low-fat dairy products, like skim or 1% milk and yogurt
  • Use egg whites or egg substitutes instead of whole eggs
  • Use “trans fat free” margarine, or use vegetable oil instead
  • Limit fried foods, like French fries and fried chicken
  • Limit meat, chicken and poultry. Choose lean types and remove skin
  • Replace some meat with fish, nuts and seeds

Being more physically active may help raise your “good cholesterol”. Raising your good cholesterol levels can help prevent heart disease. You could take a walk, ride your bike, or try water aerobics. Quitting smoking can also help improve your cholesterol levels.

If your doctor has told you to take medication to lower your cholesterol, diet and lifestyle changes should be used in addition to your medication. Do not stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor.

Do I need to take a vitamin or mineral supplement?
People who are healthy and are not pregnant should be able to get all the nutrition they need through food. You can do this by eating a variety of foods from all food groups:

  • Grains, especially whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Dairy
  • Protein foods (meat, beans, nuts and eggs)

Healthy foods provide us with nutrients that are not found in vitamin and mineral supplements. Some of these nutrients are fiber, phytochemicals, prebiotics and probiotics. These nutrients have special health benefits, and can be found in foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

People who might need a vitamin and mineral supplement are:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • People following a special diet, like vegetarians
  • Older adults
  • People with special health conditions like HIV/AIDS or cancer

If you think you need to take a supplement, talk to your doctor or registered dietitian about what type of vitamin or mineral supplement may be right for you. If you are healthy but still decide to start taking a vitamin or mineral supplement, read the label to make sure that none of the nutrients have more than 100% of the recommendation. Taking more than 100% of some vitamins and minerals can be harmful. Be sure to tell your doctor about any supplements you are taking because they may react with medications.

Is fish safe to eat?
The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week to reduce your risk of heart disease. Choose fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids (good fat), such as salmon, trout and herring.

Fish are naturally low in saturated fat, but you have to be careful not to add “bad” fat during cooking. You can keep the “bad” fat low by grilling, baking or poaching fish. Avoid fried fish, creamy sauces and butter. Instead, flavor your fish with lemon juice, spices and seasonings.

Some fish may not be safe to eat because they contain high levels of mercury or other toxins. Fish that might have high levels of toxic substances are shark, swordfish, king bass, tilefish or king mackerel. Everyone should limit their intake of these fish, but pregnant women and children should avoid them all together.

To read guidelines for eating fish caught in Georgia waters, please visit the Georgia Department of Natural Resources website.

Are sugar substitutes safe?
Sugar substitutes make foods or beverages taste sweet, and add fewer calories than sugar. One type of sugar substitute is sugar alcohols, and they provide about half of the calories of sugar. Examples of sugar alcohols are sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, isomalt, lacitol, maltitol, mannitol, tagatose, and hydrolysates. They do not contain the same alcohol you would find in beer, wine or liquor.

Another type of sugar substitutes are “nonnutritive sweeteners”, which means they do not provide any calories. Because they do not contain calories or carbohydrates, they do not raise blood sugar for people with diabetes. There are five kinds of nonnutritive sweeteners in the U.S.:

  • Sucralose: Splenda
  • Aspartame: Nutrasweet, Equal, Sugar Twin (blue box)
  • Saccharin: Sweet and Low, Sweet ‘N Low Brown, Sweet Twin, Necta Sweet
  • Acesulfame-K: Sunett, Sweet & Safe, Sweet One
  • Neotame: Not sold as a tabletop sweetener, but available for food companies

Both of these types of sugar substitutes are considered safe, but some sugar alcohols may have a laxative effect if eaten in very large amounts. Sugar substitutes can help you manage your weight, and they do not cause cavities. You can find sugar substitutes in foods like diet soda pop and products labeled as “sugar-free” or “less sugar.”

What are prebiotics and probiotics?
Prebiotics and probiotics help to maintain the good, healthy bacteria in our digestive system. The helpful bacteria make vitamins, help with digestion, improve our immune system, prevent diarrhea, and stop harmful toxins from entering our bodies. Prebiotics help the good bacteria grow, while probiotics put new healthy bacteria into the digestive system. You can find these nutrients in foods like:

  • Vegetables: tomatoes, artichoke hearts, onion, garlic, asparagus
  • Fruits: bananas
  • Whole grains: wheat, oats
  • Legumes: beans
  • Fermented dairy products: yogurt, cheese

You may see “live, active cultures” or “contains lactobacilli and bifidobacteria” on a food package, which means it contains probiotics. There is no set amount of these nutrients you should get every day. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products every day to keep your good bacteria healthy.

How can I lose weight?
Weight loss happens when we burn more calories than we eat. The ideal weight loss is 1-2 pounds each week. Fad diets that promise a faster weight loss do not provide your body with all the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and fight disease.

We can eat fewer calories by making healthier choices and eating smaller portions. Try to only eat when you are hungry, and not when you are just feeling bored. Eat slowly to give your body time to tell you when it’s full.

Here are some tips for eating fewer calories:

  • Fill up on fresh fruits and veggies. Skip the butter or fat back when cooking vegetables
  • Eat more fiber from foods like whole grains and beans
  • Choose low-fat dairy products like 1% or skim milk and yogurt
  • Buy lean cuts of beef that say “lean, loin or round” on the package
  • Remove the skin from chicken and turkey
  • Drink water instead of soda pop, juice or sweet tea
  • If you drink coffee, skip cream and sugar, or use skim milk and a sugar substitute instead

We can burn calories by being more physically active. Any activity that gets your heart pumping a little faster is a form of physical activity. This can be as simple as playing with your children or grandchildren, or more formal like following a fitness video. Remember to be creative, and try to do some type of activity on most days. Here are some ways to be more active:

  • Take a walk or roll your wheelchair through your neighborhood or local park
  • Lift light weights. If you don’t have weights, use cans of food or empty milk jugs
  • Spend time gardening or doing light yard work
  • Try swimming or water aerobics at a community center
  • Ride a bike
  • Wash your car
  • Spend time stretching or doing yoga

If you decide to get individual nutrition counseling, make sure you go to a “registered dietitian.” Registered dietitians are nutrition experts and they are a reliable source for weight loss advice.