National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education campaign celebrated annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and its members. The campaign focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating habits. As March celebrates and highlights my nutrition profession, I couldn’t help but think about the years I have invested in nutrition education and debunking food myths. It is frustrating that these same myths persist and have changed little; in some cases new myths have arisen. It motivated me to put fingers to keyboard and create this blog to counter the over-simplified dialogue about food and nutrition. Let’s start with two basic questions, which are so fundamental to the dietetics profession:
(1) What IS nutrition and what IS NOT nutrition and
(2) What is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and what does that credential mean (to be discussed in my next post)?
To answer the first question, I will separate the definition into three categories:
- The dictionary defines nutrition simply as: the process for providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth; another simple definition, nourishment.
- Many dietitians define nutrition in a more comprehensive or holistic way. Taking a excerpt from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Position Paper Total Diet Approach to Health Eating, “all foods can fit if consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size and combined with physical activity. The Academy also supports dietitians to “communicate healthy eating messages that emphasize a balance of food and beverages within energy needs, rather than any one food or meal.”
- But consumers receive nutrition information via simplified and/or hyped headlines, as illustrated below:
10 Superfoods You Need to Know to Eat Healthy – AARP
Is Organic Food Worth the Expense? – The New York Times
Chipotle Proves Sustainable Food Sourcing Is Profitable – ECO Watch
Gluten-Free: Health Benefits for Non-Celiacs — KSAT San Antonio
How Eating Clean Can Change Your Skin — Yahoo News
Current nutrition information can be so single-nutrient focused (fat, cholesterol, salt, etc.), that we are conditioned to only look at foods in terms of one component. For example, let’s look at potatoes. Potatoes are often touted for being “bad” because the public has been told that they are high in carbohydrates, which then lead to accelerated weight gain. Potatoes were once so vilified that they were restricted from the USDA-funded Women, Infants and Children program. WIC is one of the most successful nutrition and education programs for low-income, pregnant, and breastfeeding women and their children. Potatoes are one of the highest sources of potassium in the diet; even higher than bananas and orange juice. Yes, you read that correctly! They are naturally low in fat and calories, contain no cholesterol, a good source of vitamin C, iron, and fiber. As with the potato, I could name many more foods with the same well-rounded nutrient profile, which are thought of as foods to avoid; some of these are: Avocados, Bananas, Nuts, Red Meat, Grains, and Eggs.
On the opposite end of this discussion are foods that are touted as being miracle foods: blueberries, acai, kale, quinoa, Greek yogurt, and ancient grains are just a few examples that come to mind. We are bombarded constantly by messages and phrases of what these miracle foods promise. Registered Dietitians would certainly recommend including these regularly in the diet, but will they magically aid in weight loss, anti-aging or direct disease prevention? I think we know the answer. Food can certainly be like medicine but food is not meant to be as prescriptive as medicine. There is still so much we do not know about components in our foods and the adequate amounts needed to bring about true disease prevention.
The purpose of why I created my blog “Katic’s Korner” is that I want to visually show people the types of recipes using everyday foods that can be included in a healthy diet. They do not have to be reduced in fat, calories, sodium or sugar. They also do not have to be gluten-free, cage-free, hormone-free or free of flavor. Foods labeled as organic, local or sustainable are all certainly your choice, but these agricultural practices do not make the food more nutritious.
Are you ready for a different conversation and approach to eating? One that focuses more on taste and enjoyment as one of the drivers for health versus an over-simplified single-nutrient approach.