Q&A with nutritionist Gail O’Brien


Dr. Gail O’Brien is a physician with expertise in nutrition. She is the founder and owner of Vineyard Vitality, a service dedicated to providing patients with information and resources to improve health through food and lifestyle choices.

Gwyn: What are some myths or misconceptions about nutrition?

Gail: The big one is diets that are low in a particular component — low fat or low carb. What you really need is a balanced diet with the best quality food that you can get.

Gwyn: What about the trend for eating seasonally?

Gail: If at all possible, eat seasonally. It’s beneficial because you’re going to get fresher food eaten closer to the time it’s produced, which mean you’re getting more nutrients.

Gwyn: What’s the ideal schedule for eating? Are a number of small meals the way to go?

Gail: It’s important to do what works for the individual. It’s very much an individual phenomenon. But eating very large meals or skipping meals is never a good thing. A lot of people skip breakfast, which is a really important meal.

Gwyn: What should you do if you’re one of those people who is not hungry in the morning?

Gail: It’s a good idea to try to find something. Sometimes it’s from force of habit that people don’t eat in the morning or some people feel nauseous when they wake up. Try to find something simple and small that you can eat to give you a little energy. A small piece of wheat toast or mini-bagel with peanut butter and a piece of fruit. A small balanced meal is best.

Gwyn: What are some good snacks for people who may not always have time to eat at mealtime?

Gail: Fruit, peanut butter with whole wheat crackers. Kashi bars are good, as are hard-boiled eggs. Nuts are good in small quantities but people tend to eat too many. They’re calorie dense. You should only eat the amount you can fit in your palm. One thing I can say is avoid any high-sugar snack. That is bad because it causes a peak in your blood sugar and you have a crash. It creates a vicious cycle.

Gwyn: What makes a balanced meal?

Gail: When you look at your plate, you should have one-fourth lean healthy protein, one-fourth high quality carbohydrates, and one-half fruits and vegetables with more vegetables than fruit.

Gwyn: What should you keep in mind when eating out?

Gail: Eating out is challenging. Don’t be afraid to ask what’s in the food you’re ordering. Is it made with butter or olive oil? Where did the food come from, if you’re concerned about chemicals and growth hormones. Also, most chefs use quite a bit of salt.

Gwyn: What are some hidden evils?

Gail: Smoothies and coffee drinks are packed with empty calories. They’re usually full of sugar syrup.

Gwyn: Is there a perfect food?

Gail: Fruits and vegetables.

Gwyn: What is the one message or tip you’d like to be common knowledge? The one thing people should know when it comes to nutrition?

Gail: You need to know what you’re eating. The old saying “You are what you eat” is really true.

The bottom line is, there are a lot of mixed messages out there in the food industry. It’s important for people to learn more about what they’re eating before they just throw it into the shopping cart.