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Health & Wellness

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


Insights by Topic

Dietary Recommendations

Meal Ideas

Pregnancy & Nutrition

Sugar, Fats and Oils

Weight Loss


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Q: I heard that the Food Guide Pyramid has been replaced by MyPlate.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 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 RD: 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 RD: 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!