Salt Air Exchange

What Does a Dietitian Really Eat?

To honor National Nutrition Month, here is a guest post by beautiful friend, Debbie Petitpain, MS, RDN, LDN.

Debbie Petitpain

Whenever someone learns I’m a registered dietitian, the first thing they say is “don’t look at what I’m eating”. There is an assumption that RDs never indulge and that we are always in the kitchen whipping up something fabulous out of sticks and twigs. On the contrary. I love indulgences as much as the next person which means most of the time, I make better choices so I can enjoy those indulgences guilt free. And with my busy life, I don’t have the time or energy to prepare complicated or trendy recipes but I do know how to cook a few things well and I put those into regular rotation.


Here are some of the staples of my diet.

  • Coffee, with artificial sweetener. I literally cannot start my day without a cup, especially if my day is starting at 5 AM and I’m trying to motivate myself to the gym in the cold and dark. In fact, when I go through a spell of really struggling to wake up, I set up my coffee pot in my bedroom where the percolating sounds and rich aroma entices me to get up. But I like my coffee sweet and at 15 calorie per teaspoon, sugar adds too many calories. After all, I’m up at 5 AM to go to the gym to burn them off. Also, the link between sugar and cardiovascular disease is strong and getting stronger. Heart disease runs in my family which is another reason I’m trying to caffeinate my way through a work out. On the other hand, the safety data on artificial sweeteners is solid and has a long history. I find most people who are nervous about using them just aren’t up on the latest scientific evidence but instead are swayed by historical horror stories and marketing claims by “natural” alternatives. I encourage them to learn more, use a variety of products, or drink their coffee black. (For more information, visit the FDA’s website at: FDA: Food Additives & Ingredients)
  • An organic apple. I just like apples. They are portable, not too sweet, not too messy and consistently tasty throughout the year. In fact, we have an “any amount, any time” policy around apples in our house and there is a giant bowl on our back table that my girls can reach without asking. Since I eat one every day, I pay more for the organic variety.  The Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” list singles out produce with the highest pesticide loads and apples are listed at number one because at least 99% of the samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue. Since I can’t afford to eat an all organic diet, I use this list coupled with the foods I eat most frequently to prioritize which organic selections to make. And, I hope by “voting with my dollars”, the cost of these products will decrease over time. (Learn more about the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” at
 bananas and apples
  • Sunflower seed butter on a banana. Nut butters, when portion controlled, are really good for you and more than that, are very satisfying to me. But peanut butter sits heavy on my stomach and almond butter can be too gritty. I’ve found sunflower seed butter floats my boat! It’s easy to store in the cabinet by my desk and pairs well with a banana for a mid-morning snack that really satisfies. When the banana is gone, I know I’ve had enough and not too much.
  • Sautéed and sauced tofu, with broccoli and rice. I heat a non-stick skillet on the stove, add a package of already cubed and drained tofu, stir it occasionally and cook until the cubes are brown on most sides (about 7 minutes). In the meantime, I steam some fresh broccoli florets and nuke a bag of quinoa and brown rice by Seeds of Change for 90 seconds. I dump the tofu in a bowl and sprinkle with ¼ cup soy sauce and 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (not to be confused with baker’s yeast) to create a salty, savory, nutty flavored sauce rich in B vitamins and minerals.  This dinner is on the table within 15 minutes and it’s one of my girls’ favorites. Tofu is not as scary to work with as you might think and it’s almost impossible to mess it up. It simply tastes like whatever flavor you put on it which is what makes this sauce perfect for it. Nutritional yeast is a powder that you store in the fridge and it lasts a long time (also try it sprinkled on popcorn). You can find both of those ‘exotic’ ingredients at Harris Teeter or Earth Fare.
  • An adult beverage. I work full time, have two young children and a generally crazy schedule. When the end of my day comes, I enjoy celebrating it with a drink! Whether it’s a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at happy hour with my friends, having an adult beverage is part of my lifestyle. But I set limits and go without some days. While there may be some cardiovascular health benefits for “moderate” alcohol consumption by those who already drink (meaning, don’t start drinking for this “benefit” if you’re a teetotaler), too much is clearly unhealthy. Regular consumption increases the risk of certain breast cancers and dementia. And they have calories – 150 per bottle of beer, 6 oz glass of wine or 1 hard liquor drink. And having too many drinks not only contributes too many calories to my diet, it makes it hard for me to get up at 5 AM to go burn them off!

Debbie Petitpain works for Sodexo as a registered dietitian where she communicates to people how food nourishes the body, gives us energy, helps us grow and connects us to our community. She believes the healthiest foods are those that come from as close to the ground as possible – and require a fork to be eaten!

All food images by Pixabay

4 thoughts on “What Does a Dietitian Really Eat?

  1. HollyK

    I’m a bit shocked Debbie advocates for artificial sweeteners but chooses organic apples. A chemical is ok in one format but not on an apple? And soy wrecks diets…I know from personal experience. Especially in men.

    1. Ni-cole Bernier Post author

      Hi Holly,
      Thanks for the feedback. I’ll reach out to Debbie and get her response. In the meantime, if you’d like to share your experience with soy, please do so. I think it would be great for others to read.
      Be well,

      1. HollyK

        Hi, Nicole….the soy….it had been a staple in my family’s diet for years as we were all vegan. A few years ago, though, I began to feel extremely run down and my body began to feel squishy despite running 20+ miles a week. I was seriously concerned as I thought my diet was stellar. Completely vegan, fruits, veggies, whole grains…enter blood work for the flagging energy and a run down of my food intake. TOO MUCH SOY!!!!! My husband had also started to look like he may need to get a training bra! Soy! Men’s bodies do not know what to do with the estrogen in soy so guess where it ends up? After switching to a paleo diet we all shed the squish and my body responded unbelievably. More muscle than ever, thicker hair, energy thru the roof, and no bloat. My husband lost quite a bit of weight as well but best of all no need for a trip to the bra shop!

        1. Ni-cole Bernier Post author

          Yikes, HollyK!! We definitely don’t need ‘man-boobies’ in our lives. And sorry to hear about your ordeal, but at least you were able to change it…for the better!! 😉
          PS: 20+ miles per week – that’s impressive!

          Ok, here’s the response from Debbie. I hope you and others find this helpful. Thanks for sharing your experience
          Hi Holly,

          Yes, I stand behind the safety of artificial sweeteners because I believe the science is there to back it up. I agree that for people who don’t want to use them, doing without is a great choice but using other sweeteners instead (agave, honey, sugar, etc) has its own risks and for me – after weighing both sides – I feel like this is a good choice for my first cup of joe each day. (You can read more about the science behind artificial sweeteners here:

          As for the purchase of the organic apple, I choose to buy those for several reasons. One is so I can “vote” with my dollars to support an industry that I feel not only provides better choices for my grocery cart but also more sustainable farming practices and better choices for the planet. Again, I cannot afford a 100% all organic diet and I have to consider what I can afford to buy organic which is why I use the “dirty dozen” to guide my choices. (you can read more about the dirty dozen and clean fifteen here:

          Finally, I believe the safety behind soy is well substantiated even, for both men and women. In fact, randomized control trials and a comprehensive analysis have shown that neither soy foods nor isoflavones affect testosterone or estrogen levels, unless men consume more than 20 servings of soy per day. (you can read more from this peer reviewed, register dietitian created handout: or, for a more in-depth look, here: “Soybean Isoflavone Exposure Does Not Have Feminizing Effects on Men: A Critical Examination of the Clinical Evidence,” M.Messina, Fertility and Sterilith 93 (2010): 2095-2104). That’s not to say soy didn’t work for you and your body or lifestyle but as a broad sweeping recommendation, consuming soy is beneficial.

          In the end, everyone has their own “food philosophy” (see the March 10th blog post on about this) and must weigh the pros and cons of individual choices plus dietary patterns over time. I think it’s wonderful you are giving your eating such consideration and seeking out the best info possible. Best of luck in your health journey!

Would love to hear your thoughts & exchange ideas.

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