Nutrition FAQ

Below are some common questions regarding proper nutrition and what's best for your health. We've attempted to answer these questions below, but if you have questions that aren't addressed here, please feed free to contact us at or 217-788-3948.

Which is better, margarine or butter?

We currently recommend soft tubs of reduced-fat margarine, as butter has a lot of saturated fat and stick margarine contains trans fats.

Some examples include Promise Heart Smart, Reduced-fat Country Crock Shedd Spread and Reduced-fat I Can't Believe it's Not Butter. Your local supermarket may offer several other options.

What is the deal with artificial sweeteners? Which is the best one to use?

Artificial sweeteners have been tested and regulated by the FDA thoroughly. All artificial sweeteners have been deemed safe for consumer use. While there is a lot of gray area concerning artificial sweeteners and issues such as making one eat more sweets, or increasing insulin levels, the evidenced based research on humans has not shown any such direct relationships.

Remember that sweeteners, just like most other foods and beverages should be used in moderation. One word of caution, those with phenylketonuria or PKU should avoid phenylalanine.

Can you suggest some healthy snacks?

Snacks can work for you by choosing nutrient-rich foods from the grains, fruit, vegetable, dairy and protein groups. Some best guidelines to go by for snacking are:

  • Snack when you are hungry; skip the urge to nibble when you’re bored, frustrated or stressed.
  • Keep portion control in mind. Have a single-serve container of yogurt or put a small serving of nuts in a bowl.
  • Plan snacks ahead of time. Keep a variety of nutritious ready-to-eat supplies on hand, such as whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese.
  • Some ideas for snacks are: One tablespoon of peanut butter spread on apple slices, three cups air-popped popcorn sprinkled with 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, tri-color veggie snack of 6 baby carrots, 10 sugar snap peas or green pepper strips, 6 cherry tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons reduced-fat ranch dressing for dipping, six whole-wheat crackers and one slice low-fat Colby cheese, and a fruit smoothie: blend 1 cup fat-free milk, ½ cup frozen strawberries and ½ banana.
I hear a lot about coconut oil, should I be using this type of oil?

Coconut oil, just like any other type of oil contains fat and calories. For the most part one tablespoon of any fat will provide about 45 calories. What makes a fat good or bad is the saturated part. From a health standpoint, fats that are less saturated are better for you.

As a rule of thumb animal fats, like butter and lard, are more saturated than fats that come from plant sources. There are some vegetable oils that are naturally more saturated, like coconut oil, and some that are artificially saturated by adding hydrogen. This process is known as hydrogenation and is how margarines and vegetable shortening are made.

The healthiest type of fats have a higher amount of monounsaturated fat, as these have been clearly linked with lower rates of heart disease, stroke and some cancers. Good examples are canola oil, safflower oil, flaxseed oil, sunflower oil. Coconut oil has 91% of the fat from saturated fat; this is too high of concentration to recommend at this time.

Is sea salt better than regular salt? What about salt substitutes?

Sea salt contains sodium; the sodium content is very similar. It is popular for celebrity chefs to use because sea salt has is coarser and usually has a stronger flavor mix than typical table salt. Some people may use less at a time for this reason.

Salt substitutes typically use potassium in place of the sodium. This type of product is an alternative to table salt that provides no sodium. A word of caution regarding the use of salt substitutes is if you have kidney problems or are taking a medication that affects your potassium level in the blood, you should avoid salt substitutes containing potassium. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you need further clarification.

There are a number of herbs and seasonings available that do not contain any sodium, such as using pepper, garlic powder, onion powder or prepared herb-seasoning mixes from the grocery store.

How much water should I be drinking each day?

While a good rule of thumb is to consume eight 8oz glasses of water each day, or 64oz, there really isn’t any scientific research to back this up. Two key indicators of good hydration are first, that you don’t feel thirsty and secondly, that your urine is pale yellow and clear, not concentrated and strong smelling.

How do I calculate body mass index or BMI?

Body mass index is a equation that is used to classify disease risk. It is the ratio of weight to height. A normal BMI for adults is between 18.5-24.9, Overweight is between 25-29.9, obese is greater than 30.

The equation for this calculation is: weight (kg)/Height (m)² or an online calculator can be found at:

I hear a lot about fish oil, should I be taking this supplement?

It is well known that fish oil can help with heart health. Some things to keep in mind regarding fish oil supplements are:

1) if you already have heart disease, make sure that you take at least 1 gram of fish oil/day, healthy people who want to reduce their risk of developing heart disease should take 500mg per day.

2) make sure that the oil is really from fish, containing both EPA and DHA, with EPA being in the highest concentration.

3) Consuming two three-ounce servings of fatty fish each week has the same benefits as any supplement, some good choices are mackerel, herring, trout, herring, and tuna.

What is the difference between lean and extra lean ground beef?

Food standards permit up to 30% fat in raw ground beef. This type of produce (70% lean to 30% fat) is a popular and inexpensive form of ground beef most often labeled in the grocery store as “ground beef” or “regular ground beef.

Ground chuck is 85% lean and 15% fat, ground round is 90% lean and 10% fat; ground sirloin is 95% lean and 5% fat. In other words, a 4oz portion of pan fried 90% lean beef has 199 calories and 11g fat, 49.7% of the calories are from fat; the same portion of 95% lean beef has 155 calories and 5.6g fat, or 33.3% of total calories are from fat.

How is commonly ordered blood work affected by what I eat?

Laboratory tests based on blood and urine can be important indicators of nutritional status, but they are influenced by non-nutritional factors as well. Lab results can be altered by medications, hydration status, and disease states or other metabolic processes, such as stress. As with the other areas of nutrition assessment, biochemical data need to be viewed as a part of the whole.

Typically, a physician will order a basic metabolic panel or complete metabolic panel, a complete blood count, and a lipid panel. The most commonly addressed lab work outside of any acute illnesses is: glucose, hemoglobin A1C, total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides and TSH level.

If you have blood work done, you may request a copy of the results from your provider or view via an online health management program that your physician’s office utilizes. It is your right to have access to these numbers. Ask your physician for an explanation of any lab that is out of the normal range.