Advance with MUSC Health

Ask A Registered Dietician: Rhiannon Shelbourne, RD, Answers Your Questions About Nutrition

Advance With MUSC Health
March 21, 2024
A person eating a bowl of salad.

We recently asked what some of your questions were concerning nutrition. Rhiannon Shelbourne is one of Registered Outpatient Dieticians at MUSC Health. Below, she answers a few frequently asked questions about nutrition, eating a plant-based diet, and more.

What is a plant-based diet?

Being plant-based does not mean that you are necessarily a vegan or vegetarian, instead, it is a way of looking at your diet from a whole-foods, plant centered way. This means that you incorporate fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains into your diet. You do not have to swear off meats to have a plant-based diet, but plants need to be a priority in your diet.

What plant-based proteins compare to animal proteins?

Let's compare 3 ounce serving of chicken versus a 3-ounce serving of tofu. Tofu is made from soybeans, so it has a soy protein versus the more generic animal-based proteins that you get from chicken. The chicken has a whopping 20 grams of protein per three ounces versus 8 grams for the tofu. Although it seems the 20 ounces it's just out of this world, if you pair that tofu with a quinoa and bean dish, you're well on your way to 20 grams of protein.

I don't want to become a vegetarian, but I would like to be more plant based. Where should I start?

I love this question because it is simple! You can start as easily as your morning coffee or smoothie. If you typically opt for a 2% or whole milk addition to your coffee or smoothie, why not try something different like an almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, or even oat milk? These in part a very creamy flavor pack a lot of calcium but a lot less saturated fat than 2% or whole milk.

How can I get more fiber in my diet?

This can easily be done by just swapping out some of the foods that you have on a daily basis. Let's think about your snack bag every day. Rather than incorporating cookies, crackers, or chips, why not opt for some hummus with carrots or even some nuts and seeds and make into a trail mix. You can even include dried fruit or whole fruit. These are much better options that are going to give you tons of fiber to help control cholesterol and to just keep you fuller longer.

What are good fats I should be eating? Bad ones to avoid?

Bad fats are fats coming from saturated sources and trans sources such as cured meats, cheeses, butter, things of that nature. To limit those, we would like to try to keep that under 10% of our daily number of calories coming from fat sources that are saturated. That means a 2000 calorie per day diet would only have 20 grams of saturated fat or less per day. On the flip side, those mono and polyunsaturated fats found in such sources as avocado, salmon, seeds, and nuts are great sources that have cardioprotective qualities. These are the ones we want to incorporate in our diet more so than saturated fats.

Granola seems healthy but also sweet. Do you recommend a particular brand?

There are two specific brands that I really like! The KIND brand, they also make kind bars and different products which I like a lot. It's under 120 calories and 5 grams of sugar per serving, and they also have no saturated fat. The other one that I really like is one that's called Bear Naked, it's going to have a bear on the bag. It meets the same criteria per serving having less than 120 calories and under 5 grams of sugar. The more sugar, the more that you must be concerned about, and a lot of the times if they lack calories, they'll make up for it by adding sugar. These two brands are really great examples of being able to maintain low sugar but also low calorie.

Where can I find healthy recipes?

There are three websites that I absolutely swear by! The first is Cookie & Kate , next is Minimalist Baker , and then lastly is Skinny Taste. These all have great healthy options as well as ten ingredients or less, five ingredients or less, and 30 minute or less meals. These options also have the value of giving the nutrition labels or nutrition facts panel which is very helpful.

What should I look for in a healthy recipe?

What I look for is a combination of foods. I don't want to have all carbohydrates or starches and I don't want to have just a protein source. I want to make sure it is a combination of a vegetable, protein source, and then typically a starch that goes along with that. For example, if we were going to do a fish dish, look for maybe salmon, quinoa or brown rice, and then some steamed broccoli or cauliflower. We are looking to round out the plate, so compared to just a pasta dish where you're just having noodles and spaghetti sauce, you want to try to balance those out where you have a vegetable, a starch, and a protein.

What education do you have to have to be a registered dietician?

To be a registered dietician, you need an undergraduate degree, which is typically in the field of food or nutrition or food and nutrition. After that, you typically have a coordinated master's program that goes along with that undergraduate degree. There is also an internship option, such as one that is offered at MUSC. In 2024, you will be required to have your master's to be able to sit for the registered dietitian exam.

How do I get enough protein on a plant-based diet?

This question comes down to an equation; an average person only needs .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Let's just use, for example, a 150-pound woman, which is the equivalent is about 68 kilograms, so that ends up being 54 grams of protein per day. For example, tonight we're going to make a vegetarian chili using beans and a vegetable soy crumble. Instead, add ground beef and that gets us 23 grams of protein just in that one meal. If you combine that with other items throughout the day, such as a quinoa salad and a slice of peanut butter toast on whole wheat…there you go! Now you have the protein sources that you need from those snacks and meals.

What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?

When you start substituting fatty and processed meats for more plant-based options, you also are cutting out the amount of saturated fat in your diet and decreasing the amount of cholesterol coming into your diet as a whole. This also means that you have, not necessarily for everyone but as a blanket statement, less of a chance of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, certain types of cancers, and obesity. Replacing those very fatty meats with a reduced fat and reduced cholesterol plant-based options could be good for people that are trying to lower their cholesterol, lower their blood pressure, and decrease the risk of obesity.

What do you think of the popular collagen drinks and supplements?

Collagen is a protein that is responsible for elasticity in the joints and skin. As we age, obviously like most things that start to diminish, so we supplement them. All dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, meaning that they are not studied as closely as the food and drugs would be. Bearing that in mind, proceed with caution. Collagen has multiple sources, so the plant-based sources would be from natural yeast and bacteria, whereas in the animal-based versions collagen comes from the tissues of cows, chicken, fish, and pigs. More skin elasticity is very enticing, and I do take a vegan version.

Need nutritional counseling or sports nutrition services?

To get the diet information that you can trust, an individual appointment can be scheduled with an MUSC outpatient registered dietitian at Rutledge Tower with the appropriate Physician Referral (PDF). During the medical nutrition therapy session, you will learn the skills needed to take an active role in managing your health.

Learn more about MUSC Health's Nutrition Services.