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The other day I was reading an article in a magazine at my dentist’s office which recommended always eating fruit with some sort of protein. Does that make nutritional sense?
— Rob (Last name withheld)
New York, NY
Yes and no.
Nutrition is an evolving science. Although the basic tenants are unlikely to change (i.e.: fruits and vegetables undoubtedly contain healthful components, omega-3 is a fatty acid we must get from food, etc.), new research helps shed light on previously misunderstood concepts.
Unfortunately, much of the mainstream media (as well as a good number of nutrition professionals in the public eye!) continues to regurgitate outdated information that is inaccurate and does the general public no favors.
I was looking at different protein powders the other day, and saw a lot of terms that went over my head. Can you help me out and at least tell me if I should even bother paying attention to some of these?
Here are ones I wrote down: “ion-exchanged”, “microfiltered”, “hydrolized”.
Thank you. Not only for answering this question, but for your blog. I have learned a lot just by visiting your site!
— Richard (last name withheld)
San Jose, CA
As if the cereal and bread aisles weren’t bad enough, protein powder shopping also involves sorting through a variety of fancy-sounding claims. Let’s break them down:
Americans consumed a total of 403 million pounds of corn oil in 1970. By 2002, that figure reached _____ million pounds.
FYI: Corn oil has an omega 6:omega 3 ratio of 46:1. Yikes!
Leave your guess and come back on Monday, September 20 for the answer.
I have seen some articles that mention foods’ protein percentages. For example, I recently read that watercress is almost 80 percent protein, while eggs are about 30 percent protein.
Is the idea to choose foods with the highest protein percentages because they are the most filling?
— George (Last name withheld)
(City withheld), CO
I know you are a huge proponent of everyone decreasing their omega-6 intake. You usually point to soybean oil, corn oil, and cottonseed oil as ingredients to try to eat less of.
What about nuts, though? Aren’t some of them very high in omega 6?
— Melissa Cengille
New York, NY
Some nuts and seeds (i.e.: almonds, sesame seeds, pecans, and cashews) contain more omega-6 fatty acids than they do omega-3 fatty acids (to read why I recommend everyone decrease their omega-6 intake, please read this post).
One of the components about working one-on-one with clients I am most passionate about is being able to empower them. When the majority of my clients reach out to me, they are in rather terrible relationships with food (or, in Facebook terms, “it’s complicated”).
Most of the time, this is due to that “cute human trick” known as self-sabotage. Many of us build ourselves a road with a shiny goal at the end, and then, before we even take the first step, litter it with hurdles, potholes, and confusing roadsigns.
Here are three common healthy-eating sabotages I often spot, and suggestions on how to get out of the rut.
Want to turn an amicable dinner into the epicenter of indigestion? Bring up politics or religion. And, I would add, nutrition.
Some of the most supportive and vitriolic e-mails in my inbox have been in response to something I wrote where I extolled the virtues of plant-based eating. Some people have thanked me for giving scientific legitimacy to their way of eating. Others — who identify as “Paleo” or “low-carb” — have blasted me for “promoting disease” because I advocate for brown rice and tempeh.
I can’t say such polarized responses came as a surprise. When it comes to eating habits, we tend to only see the differences in people. And, yet, in all our “no, but I have THIS mountain of research to back me up”, we overlook one critical unifying point — we all are seeking out the same goal: health.
Regardless of our views on dietary cholesterol or sugar from whole fruits, none of us entrenched in nutrition and wellness want processed foods to be the norm. We don’t want “kid food” pumped with artificial dyes. We can’t believe it takes more than thirty ingredients to make a Dunkin’ Donuts blueberry cake donut. We are appalled at what the average elementary school student is fed in the cafeteria. We are terrified of Monsanto’s ever-growing power and presence.
Of course we are going to have different opinions. I certainly don’t agree with the school of thought that considers fiber meaningless, that thinks fruit should only be eaten on its own prior to noon, that argues humans must eat meat, or that thinks whole grains and beans should be avoided. As a nutrition educator, I have a need to set the record straight if a bestselling book horribly distorts basic nutrition information, or if a food company attempts to pass off highly processed junk as a “better for you” product simply because sugar is replaced with aspartame.
Sometimes, though, when I read the back-and-forth mud-slinging between members of different “dietary tribes”, I imagine all the power that could be harnessed if we stopped and joined forces on some key issues: getting food dyes and trans fat out of our food supply, demanding that the presence of genetically modified organisms and artificial hormones be at the very least strictly labeled on food items, reducing the presence of nutritionally-empty foods in schools, facilitating access to healthy foods in “food deserts”, constructing a healthier food system (from farmworker to “end consumer”).
Coalition politics are often times the key to paradigm shifts. It is possible to disagree with someone on nutrition issues and still have some common goals. Who, after all, can claim to be against a better food system?
This post is more a “Dear Diary” entry, but I want need to share it, as I think it may bring about conversation and further thoughts.
Five years ago, when I began pursuing my graduate nutrition degree, I knew what I wanted “to do” (I wish we were more concerned with “being” rather than “doing”) — help others eat better. My naivete kept things simple. In my mind, clients would seek me out in their quest to live a healthier lifestyle, I would suggest changes and alternatives, and there would go one happy “customer” out the door. Food did not exist in a continuum, but a dichotomy — “these foods are good, these foods are bad.” Issues of sustainability, environmentally-friendly growing practices, and economically just labor were not given much thought.
And now here I am. I complete my graduate coursework last year, and I am about to begin a Dietetic Internship. In roughly ten months, my official “nutrition education” will come to an end, and I’ll have four initials after my name (MS, RD). And, yet, despite what those initials may represent from a professional standpoint, I find myself having more questions than answers, and more frustrations than solutions.
What part of the nutrition puzzle should I help make sense of? On the one hand, there’s a lot to be said for personal work with clients. I love it, get empowered by it, and truly love to educate people one-on-one. Then I see what major food companies and food lobbyists are doing. They have the gajillion-dollar advertising campaigns that have managed to convince an entire nation that Gatorade is the absolute best source of hydration. I have had people ask me, “Why do you knock Gatorade? If sports teams drink it, then it must be good!”. Comments like that are a forceful punch with a titanium glove in the stomach. It demonstrates what I — and other nutrition professionals — are against. A corporate machine that relies on flashy advertising campaigns and “studies” to get a message out (that message being: “buy our product so we can make the stockholders happy!”).
I flip through “Men’s Health” and, apart from maybe one interesting article that truly has something of value to say, the copy I read is the equivalent of Charlie Brown’ teacher going “womp womp womp”. Oh, look, advertisements for unnecessary “athletic supplements” right after an article that recommends them! Ah, and let’s see how many constant plugs for chicken and chocolate milk I can spot in this issue (God forbid you want to weight-train and eschew meat and dairy!). And, sure enough, here is the the token unnecessarily alarming “maybe this will get us some press!” article (ie: “Soy gives you BOOBS!”).
Let’s not leave out the made-for-TV gurus. Dr. Oz, Jorge Cruise, Bob Greene, Jillian Michaels. Are any of them armed with a solid academic nutrition background? No, but they are armed with one or more of the following: witty quips, scrubs, six-pack abs, industry connections, a good “Q” score (TV industry-speak for “likeability factor”), authoritarian manners of speech, and Oprah’s seal of approval. There advice is not always entirely accurate (and the products some of them recommend/sponsor are nutritionally average at best), but, well, they must know what they’re talking about if they’re on TV, right?
Then there are times when I see how people react to my recipes, and it inspires me to reach out to people through food. Whether it’s someone trying a raw vegan “chocolate” truffle for the first time, or a green smoothie, or a seitan dish, I constantly see that many people can’t believe the wide array of healthy cuisine that can be achieved by using simple ingredients like nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and fruits creatively.
But what about “food deserts” and the fact that the people with the most health problems are acutely disadvantaged by not having access to the foods they need most? Isn’t THAT the best way to make a difference? The state of most food pantries in the United States is pitiful. How can I possibly help someone with limited expendable income when the food the government provides them is, for the most part, ultra-processed and chock-full of sodium and added sugars?
The more I read, write, and discover about nutrition, the more that initial black-and-white dichotomy turns to grey. Not all saturated fats are bad, plant oils are not all “healthful”, the food pyramid is mainly a reflection of food lobbyists’ political influence, there is a huge difference between factory-produced milk and locally-sourced one from grass-fed cows, soy can either be a health food or a processed monstrosity, and there is no need for “concern” if someone’s diet is free of dairy, meat, or every grain known to man.
As much as this society has an issue with ambiguity and indecisiveness, the truth is that, as of right now, I don’t know. There, I said it. And it feels kind of liberating. I. DON’T. KNOW. I don’t know what the “best” path is. I don’t know where my talents are best suited. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the apex in my career that I am so focused on chasing after. I’m sure that eventually things will fall into place. In the meantime, I’ll explore. And discover. And test things out.
I can’t say it feels good. But, for now, it feels right.
Small Bites will take a brief hiatus until Tuesday, August 10 as I finalize preparations to move from New York City to Seattle — and spend a few days settling in and getting everything in order.
Fellow Pacific Northwesterners — very excited to be in your corner of the country!
Small Bites is taking a short summer break and will return on Thursday, July 22.
In the meantime, please follow me on Twitter to stay up-to-date on nutrition news and receive helpful tips and informative facts throughout the day.
I am out of the country with very limited access to a computer. Posts will resume on Wednesday, May 26th.
See you then!
Today marks the third anniversary of the Small Bites blog!
I’m elated to have a space where I am able to share nutrition information, engage in interesting discussions with readers from a variety of countries, conduct interviews, and truly write whatever is on my mind. Intellectual freedom is underrated.
I of course want to thank you for visiting, submitting comments, e-mailing questions, forwarding relevant news articles, and helping spread the word about this blog.
With Much Appreciation,
I’m taking a much-needed week off.
Come back on April 16 for more of the Small Bites you love!