UK Human Resources

Karen & Vanessa on Nutrition

What You Need to Know: 

​Our UK Health & Wellness nutrition experts are registered dietitians, Karen Bryla McNees and Vanessa Oliver, and they regularly share their knowledge and insights with the UK community through articles in Healthy You, programs, events and one-on-one consults. UK employees can schedule a free nutrition consult to learn more about how to meet individual health goals related to nutrition. Learn more about nutrition consults »


Karen Bryla McNees, Ed.D., R.D.
 UK Wellness Dietitian
 Karen's bio


Vanessa Oliver, M.S., R.D., L.D.
 UK Wellness Dietitian
 Vanessa's Bio


Featured Video: Herbs & Spices 101 with Vanessa

See more videos from UK Health & Wellness' Kitchen Skills series here.

Insights by Topic

Dietary Recommendations

Health Measures and Nutrition

Meal/Snack Ideas

Pregnancy & Nutrition

Sugar, Fats and Oils

Weight Loss

Ask the Dietitian: How to Make Dinner Faster, Easier, Healthier

by UK Health & Wellness Dietitian Vanessa Oliver M.S. R.D. L.D.

Q: I know that I should cook at home more, but it’s hard to find the time to cook dinner when I get home from work. Do you have any tips?

A: Thanks for contacting us! Increasing the amount of meals cooked at home can be a healthful and tasty way to improve nutrition, lose weight, and expose yourself (and family) to new foods. But if your busy schedule keeps you everywhere except behind the stove then batch cooking may be your new secret weapon. Not only can it be a lifesaver in increasing nutrition, meeting health goals, and saving time and money, but it can help take away the “burden” of figuring out dinner. It will also help you sharpen your skills in the kitchen and diversify your food choices through the week.

Batch cooking, also known as bulk cooking, is basically the practice of preparing components of many of your weekly meals and snacks on just one day out of the week. Simply make a date between you and your stove for 2-3 hours each week. That’s not a lot out of the 168 hours/week we do have - especially if you’re currently coming home from work every night cooking on the spot which could easily add up to 60 minutes/evening or about 7 hours a week!

You might feel a little overwhelmed at first with facing a whole week of foods, so I suggest starting out with the one meal a day you find the most challenging. Many of us eat the same things for breakfast and lunch and find dinner to be the big challenge, so try starting with batch cooking your dinners and build from there.

Before you start, check out these common supplies needed:

  • Tupperware or other storage containers. Glass is a good choice because it can go right in the microwave.
  • Zip-style quart, sandwich, and sandwich bags
  • Food! Tailor your grocery list to your recipe and food choices.

Here are some ideas for common meal components:

  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Large tossed salad (hold the dressing)
  • Carrot, celery, and red bell pepper strips
  • Mixed roasted vegetables
  • Homemade salad dressings
  • Homemade tomato sauce

We also have a cooking class coming up soon on this topic. Check out the event details for Cooking Class: "One Ingredient, Many Ways." This will give you some hands-on practice with batch cooking and even more meal ideas.

Ask the Expert: Dieting While Breasfeeding?

by UK Health & Wellness Dietitian Karen Bryla McNees, Ed.D., R.D., CHES

Q: I am breastfeeding, but want to lose weight. Can I diet while breastfeeding?
A: Congratulations on your decision to breastfeed! Yes, it is possible to safely lose weight while also providing enough breast milk for your little one. Here are some basic principles to get you started:

  • It's best to wait about two months after your baby is born to begin making conscious efforts to lose weight. This gives your body enough time to successfully establish a healthy milk supply that is less likely to be adversely affected if your caloric intake is restricted. Breastfeeding your baby burns 200-500 calories per day (above what you needed to maintain your pre-pregnancy weight) -- so keep in mind that even without a weight loss program you are burning extra calories. Read more »

Ask the Expert: Is High Fructose Corn Syrup the Same as Sugar?

by UK Health & Wellness Dietitian Karen Bryla McNees, Ed.D., R.D., CHES

Q: For years, I've heard that high fructose corn syrup is bad. Now I'm seeing commercials that say it's processed by the body just like table sugar. What is the truth?

A: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a calorie-providing sweetner used to sweeten foods and beverages, particularly processed and store-bought foods. HFCS is a desirably food ingredient for food manufacturers because it is equally as sweet as table sugar, blends well with other foods, helps foods to maintain a longer shelf life and is less expensive (due to government subsidies on corn) than other sweetners. Read more »

Ask the Expert: Big Loser vs. Little Loser

by UK Health & Wellness Dietitian Karen Bryla McNees, Ed.D., R.D., CHES

Q: I am determined to lose weight this year by eating more healthy foods and limiting my calorie intake. I also workout for at least 30 minutes every day. I'm discouraged that I'm only losing about one pound a week. Is that normal? I see people on television losing huge amounts every week. Am I doing something wrong? 

A: Congratulations on your determination to pursue a healthier lifestyle! It sounds like you have a sensible approach to weight loss -- eat more healthfully, cut back on calories, and make time for exercise! With the success of show s such as "The Biggest Loser," it is understandable that people trying to lose weight are discouraged w hen they see contestants losing those big numbers every w eek. This is the exception, not the rule! Read more »

Ask the Expert: Daily Sugar Intake

by UK Health & Wellness Dietitian Karen Bryla McNees, Ed.D., R.D., CHES

Q: I recently read that the American Heart Association recommends cutting sugar intake dramatically - no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily for women, and for men no more than 9 teaspoons. What does a teaspoon of sugar equal in calories or grams? What are some easy ways to cut back?
While not directly related to heart disease, added sugars do contribute to being over weight and obesity. Foods w ith added sugars tend to be high in calories and low in nutrients and often replace more nutrient rich foods (drinking soda instead of milk). Six teaspoons of sugar equals 100 calories and 25 grams (equal to ½ cup of ice cream) w hile 9 teaspoons equals 150 calories and 38 grams (equal to one can of soda). To put this in perspective, consider that the average American consumes 22 teaspoons, or 355 calories, of added sugars per day. Read more »

Ask the Expert: Smart Choices

by UK Health & Wellness Dietitian Karen Bryla McNees, Ed.D., R.D., CHES

Q: I’m seeing the Smart Choices label on more and more packaged foods these days. What does that label mean and am I really making a smart choice by choosing those foods that carry it?

A: The Smart Choices Program is a universal nutritional ranking system designed to help consumers identify the healthiest foods with a logo that appears on the front of food packaging. It is the first industry-wide front-of-packaging initiative to identify healthy food choices. Specific qualifying criteria are used across 19 product categories and attention is paid to both nutrients that should be limited, such as sugar, sodium, and saturated fat, as well as nutrients that should be encouraged, such as fiber and calcium. Read more »

Ask the Dietitian: Which Oil is the Most Healthful? Any Healthful Lunch Ideas?

by UK Health & Wellness Dietitian Vanessa Oliver M.S. R.D. L.D.

Q: I want to eat something healthy at lunch. I was looking the stir fry veggies at lunch in the KY Clinic. Which oils are the best to use in general and which oil does the KY Clinic use for their stir fry? Which spices are the best to use?

A: Figuring out how to eat healthfully at lunch (or at any meal, really) can certainly be a challenge! Congratulations on making steps toward a more nutritionally balanced day. You’ve got several questions that need answering here, so I’ll start with the least complicated.

  1. What oil was in the stir-fry? I went by the KY Clinic 3rd floor dining facility to check on your oil question. They weren’t serving veggie stir-fry that day, but the dining associate I spoke with confirmed that the main oil choice there is a manufacturer’s blend of olive and canola oils.  The facility staff is very kind and helpful, and I would encourage you to ask questions there with regard to food preparation – as long as it is not a dining “rush hour”, they will try to get you the answers you seek.
  2. Which oils are the best to use? It really depends what use you have in mind.  For sautéing and roasting, I recommend a pure olive oil. Don’t bother buying extra-virgin or cold-pressed, as heat will destroy many of the properties that this type of processing preserves. If you want to splurge a little and have a special olive oil just for salads or for drizzling on top of a finished product, that’s when you can spring for the extra-virgin, cold-pressed.  Either way, make sure that the product is 100% olive oil in order to be sure that the healthful properties are intact. However, it is not as important that it is from Italy, as many other countries make high-quality oil- you may find some from Spain, Greece, or Tunisia on your grocery shelves.
  3. Which spices are the best to use? Again, it really depends what you are looking for. If you are trying to re-create a stir-fry at home, try using sesame oil, soy sauce, fresh ginger and garlic for pops of flavor that can transform a dish from bland to make-more-often.  If you are not confident in your knife-skills, you can find pre-chopped garlic and pre-chopped ginger in jars in the produce department of your grocery. If you are fortunate enough to live near an Asian foods grocery, look for more unusual ingredients such as lemongrass, galangal, dried chili peppers, hoisin, miso, or fish sauce to add to your dish.  There are many resources online for ideas. If you are wondering about spices for other types of dishes, let me know and I would be happy to help you further.
  4. Check out our Pinterest page “At Work Wellness” for some fresh lunch ideas.  You can also make an appointment with UK Health and Wellness for a free nutrition consult to discuss this or any other nutrition topic. 

Ask the Dietitian: Helpful Tips for Eating Plant-Based Meals 

by UK Health & Wellness Dietitian Karen Bryla McNees, Ed.D., R.D., CHES

Q: I am trying to be vegetarian or vegan at lunch time to be healthier and lose 5 pounds. I am 46 years old, about 5 feet tall and I weigh 121 pounds. Any helpful tips? I want to stick with my goal but so far, I've only been able to do this on and off for the past month.

A: Thank for your question and congratulations on your efforts to improve your diet! Incorporating more plant-based meals into your diet can have many benefits. Research has linked a high intake of plant-based foods, especially fruits and vegetables, to lower risk of diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, macular degeneration, and obesity. Eating less meat and fewer animal products can also save money on your grocery bill. But it is important to remember that just because a meal is vegetarian or vegan, doesn’t make it healthful. Cheese pizza is vegetarian, but most people wouldn’t call it a health-promoting food! With that in mind, there are some basic principles to keep in mind when planning plant-based meals:

  • No matter what type of diet you follow, consuming minimally-processed foods is a fundamental strategy for a health-promoting diet. Doing so will help lower the amount of calories, sugar, sodium, and fat in your diet, as well as maximize the amount of nutrients and satiety you get from your food.

  • A balanced vegetarian or vegan meal places emphasis on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, plant-based sources of protein, and heart-healthy fats:

    • Choose whole grains for at least half of each day’s grain servings. Choices include whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, bulgur, quinoa, and millet.

    • Choose a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables every day, especially dark-green vegetables and red and orange vegetables. The saying “eat a rainbow” is actually great advice because different colored fruits and vegetables provide different nutrients.

    • For protein, choose beans, peas, and lentils, soy foods, nuts, and nut butters. Include eggs and dairy products such as cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, and milk if they fit the type of vegetarian diet you follow.

    • Choose heart-healthy fats, such as olive oil and canola oils, avocado, and seeds such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds.

  • Although all of the foods discussed above have a place in a healthful vegetarian or vegan diet, portion control should remain an important focus for anyone trying to manage their weight. Just because foods are “healthful” doesn’t mean we can eat as much of them as we want! To control calories, emphasize vegetables, which to be lower in calories, and consume modest amounts of fruits, grains, protein sources, and fats.  

  • To get you started, here are some vegetarian meal ideas from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Also, here are some vegetarian and vegan recipe resources from Cooking Light. I hope they give you some inspiration on how to fulfill your goal of consuming more plant-based meals.

  • The UK Health & Wellness Program offers free one-on-one consultations with a dietitian, so please keep that in mind if you would like more personalized advice!

Ask the Expert: Food Guide Pyramid replaced by MyPlate

by UK Health & Wellness Specialist Vanessa Oliver, M.S., R.D., L.D.

Q: I heard that the Food Guide Pyramid has been replaced by MyPlate. Can you tell me what it is and how I should use it?

A: In June of 2011, the US Department of Agriculture unveiled a new nutrition guide designed to help Americans eat a more healthful diet. It was designed to replace the MyPyramid tool, which was criticized for being overly confusing. 

What are the main messages you should take away from MyPlate? Read more »

Ask the Dietitian: How to lower total and LDL cholesterol

by UK Health & Wellness Dietitian Karen Bryla McNees, Ed.D., R.D., CHES

Q: I completed my LiveWell Check In today and I want to focus on nutrition since I do exercise quite a bit. My total cholesterol was high with my triglyceride level being borderline high and LDL cholesterol very high. Although this is likely hereditary (both of my parents and a sibling take medication for high cholesterol), what recommendations are there to reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol? And how many carbs are recommended per meal and per day? My fasting glucose was 96 and I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes with my last pregnancy. Thank you for any recommendations.

A: Thank you for your Ask the Dietitian question! Congratulations on attending the LiveWell Check In event to learn more about your health! Some general tips for lowering total and LDL cholesterol include the following:

  • Try to include two fish meals per week (salmon, mackerel, lake trout, tuna, herring, sardines). These fish are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help lower your cholesterol and risk for heart disease.
  • Consume fats that are primarily unsaturated fats such as olive and canola oils, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Some sources of saturated fat can have a negative impact on cholesterol, so consume limited portions of high fat cheeses and milk, butter, beef, and palm oils.
  • Aim for 5-10 grams of soluble fiber per day. You can refer to this table to see what foods are good sources of soluble fiber.
  • Avoid products made with partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated vegetable oils. They are sources of trans fatty acids, a form of fat that promotes inflammation and plaque formation in the arteries.
  • Minimize consumption of refined carbohydrates (such as white bread and pasta) and sugar (such as sodas, desserts, candy, and many processed foods). Many people might be surprised to learn that these carbohydrates can increase risk for heart disease. They also tend to be significant sources of calories in the American diet, which can lead to weight gain and, in turn, undesirable cholesterol levels. Focus on consuming high-fiber complex carbohydrates like potato, peas, corn, and legumes, as well as whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and quinoa. Consume fruits, milk, and yogurt in moderation as other healthful sources of carbohydrates in your diet.
  • Maintain a healthful body weight. If you are overweight, losing just 5-10% of your body weight can improve your cholesterol levels.
  • Engage in moderate activity most days of the week. The American Heart Association recommends physical activity up to 30 minutes per day, or 60 minutes if you are trying to lose weight.

The tips above generally also help control triglyceride levels. A special consideration with triglycerides, however, is alcohol consumption. Follow your doctor's advice regarding alcohol. Alcohol increases triglyceride levels for some individuals. If you have high triglycerides and do consume alcohol, it is recommended to limit intake to 5 ounces per day or limit it entirely.

Specific carbohydrate needs vary from person to person and depend on factors such as calorie needs, activity level, and health goals. In general, the best methods for controlling blood glucose are to maintain a healthy weight and engage in regular physical activity.

The UK Health & Wellness Program offers free one-on-one consultations with a dietitian, so please keep that in mind if you would like more personalized advice!

Ask the Dietitian: Tips on Fueling Up to Stay Full

by UK Health & Wellness Dietitian Karen Bryla McNees, Ed.D., R.D., CHES

Q: I just had my wellness consultation, and all of my measurements fell well within the optimal range. I don't have any need/desire to change my weight or cholesterol. My concern is that I have trouble choosing foods that keep me feeling full between meals and when I get hungry I get headaches that make it hard to concentrate on tasks. Do you have any resources that could help me with this?

A: Thank you for your Ask the Dietitian submission! Congratulations on completing your LiveWell Check In appointment and walking away with such an optimal health profile! Even with that, it is great that you want to continue to find ways to improve your eating habits. Each of us has a unique eating pattern and schedule that allows us to feel our best. For many people, this includes three meals and maybe one or two snacks per day. If you find that you get hungry between meals and experience physical effects, such as headaches, then you may want to consider adding a snack in-between those meals. Finding the right timing for your body’s needs is just as important as the specific types of food you eat. With that said, let’s look at the food choices that can help to give you the most satisfaction each time you eat.
A good basic principle is to try to include good carbohydrates and lean protein at each meal and snack. Examples of good carbohydrates include whole grains and fruits. These sources of carbohydrates are high in fiber, which help keep you feeling fuller longer. Examples of lean proteins include chicken, turkey, lean beef, seafood, eggs, cheese (including hard, cottage, and ricotta cheeses), nut butters (such as peanut butter), and tofu. Protein is important because, compared to carbohydrates and fats, it tends to be more satiating. Combining carbohydrates and protein also helps to maintain more stable blood sugar levels, which helps you maintain energy levels and control hunger and cravings. Milk, yogurt, and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) are naturally high in good carbohydrates and protein, so they are a great two-for-one deal! Some examples of how you can combine these foods include:

  • Apple with peanut butter
  • Breakfast sandwich made with whole grain English muffin, egg, and cheese
  • Greek yogurt with blueberries
  • Small sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Hard-boiled egg and fruit
  • Hummus (made from beans) with raw vegetables or whole grain crackers
  • String cheese and fruit
  • Turkey, apple, and spinach roll-up
  • Cottage cheese with pineapple or tomatoes
  • Canned light tuna on whole wheat crackers or pita pocket

I hope this is helpful! Please keep in mind that the UK Health and Wellness Program offers free consultations with our dietitians if you need more personalized advice.