Ask Lisa

I get so many nutrition- and health-related questions through my Facebook page (Lisa Tillinger Johansen) and from my web site ( Thank you for sending them and I’m happy to answer them. As many of you already know, I’m making the effort to streamline the question/answer process. I now have a formal form on the main page where you can type in your questions, comments, etc. and send them my way. Some of these questions and comments will be featured in my blog. Rest assured they will remain anonymous.

Please keep in mind that when I answer your questions and discuss topics, I’m speaking from a general sense, not necessarily tailored to your specific needs. No worries though, I’m quite confident that you’ll find it helpful. We have a lot we can talk about.

Typically the questions that I receive don’t include details about the individual asking them. So, it’s not like I’m at the hospital where I work with your chart in front of me and all of your diagnoses, past history, medications, weight, height, age and even gender available to me. So my responses and discussions aren’t specific to a certain person. It’s important to keep this in mind, because, for example, if you’ve been told by your doctor not to eat a certain food or ingredient, to limit/avoid or load up on a certain vitamin or mineral, not engage in some forms of physical activity, or anything else, please continue to do that until your doctor tells you otherwise. You may not have told me this, which means I’m operating in a vacuum, so please “marry” in what I tell you with what your doctor, nurses, etc. have told you. Your own healthcare providers are the experts in your particular care.

Given all that, there’s a lot of great information and tidbits I can offer you. And I’ll do just that. Of the all the fantastic queries that I’ve received, here are a few of the topics that I’ll be discussing in the weeks ahead: diabetes, carb counting, difference between prediabetes and diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, weight management, portion control, lightening recipes and more. I plan to discuss all of these.

Today I want to touch on a topic that was recently posed to me. What are my thoughts on having a dessert item in place of a meal like lunch or dinner? This could be any type of sweet treat, from half a cup of ice cream, to a small sundae with toppings, even lighter ones like low fat whipped cream, to a piece of pie or cake, etc. It could be something done once or twice a month to a more frequent occurrence. Here’s my response:

I’m a firm believer in eating healthy, balanced meals every day. I recommend three meals per day, spread out about 4 to 5 hours apart. Some people enjoy having smaller, more frequent meals and that’s fine. I don’t recommend skipping meals though.

The healthy plate is a great guideline for creating a balanced meal. Half the plate is non-starchy veggies, one-quarter of the plate is starch and one-quarter of the plate is protein, prepared in a healthy manner. Fruit and low-fat dairy are outside the plate. This is the gold standard.

A dessert for a meal doesn’t conform to the healthy plate concept. I wouldn’t recommend having just a sweet treat for a meal. Does that mean we can never have dessert? No. This is what I suggest. A dessert from time-to-time shouldn’t be a problem for a lot of us, but add it on to all your healthy meals of the day. Don’t skip a meal because of it. Just cut back a bit on calories, not food groups, in your main meal to accommodate the extra ones from the dessert. Another idea is to increase your exercise a bit that day to burn more calories. It’s a given, of course, to be moderate in the quantity of the dessert you choose. Small servings are best.

As a caveat, remember that disease states don’t take a holiday. So, for example, if you have diabetes and you eat too much carb, your blood sugar will be affected. Keep that in mind. I hope that helps!

Visit Lisa Tillinger Johansen at, on Facebook at Lisa Tillinger Johansen and on Twitter @LisaTJohansen

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