Flavor. We definitely consider it an essential part of the diet around here, but it’s not often that we talk about its direct relevance to nutrition. After reading a great article by Mark Schatzker last week, I was inspired to take a moment to highlight this underappreciated piece of the human nutrition puzzle.
Shatzker describes flavor as an “ancient chemical language,” which is such a beautifully fitting depiction of the science. “Flavor is the body’s way of identifying important nutrients and remembering what foods they come from.” We have evolved to seek out our favorite flavors, but we’re facing a problem because this synergy between us and our diet has been disrupted by our modern food supply. Factory farming and other questionable contemporary food production techniques yield lackluster products, in both nutrition and flavor. On top of that, a highly profitable industry of food scientists and flavor chemists have stepped in to fill the flavor void, adulterating products with enticing extracts and additives that tempt our senses but that provide none of the benefits that our bodies are craving. Shatzker’s new book, The Dorito Effect, is definitely going on my reading list. The message, which is very consistent with the way we do things around here, is to get your flavor from real food, because it’s what your body really wants.
So how can we put this theory into practice? Today, let’s remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated to craft big flavors from natural ingredients. Serving as a prime example: Chimichurri in a Hurry. Just a handful of the highly flavorful and nutritious compounds in this classic Argentine condiment include antioxidant myristicin from parsley, antimicrobial allicin from garlic, and anti-inflammatory capsaicin from chili peppers. And we get to enjoy all of those whole-food benefits in just a matter of moments thanks to my favorite blender-hack.
Continue reading “Chimichurri in a Hurry”
I think it’s safe to say that I don’t conform to the “Food Police” reputation that is often (usually unfairly) attributed to dietitians. For one thing, I support a total diet approach, and advocate for eating and loving good food. Secondly, I find that it’s more productive to talk about the positive aspects of nutrition: getting plenty of the good things that our bodies need. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not important to also talk about dietary patterns that have been recognized by researchers to be harmful and associated with specific health outcomes. Knowledge is power, and this stuff is real!
The reason why I’m finding myself on this soapbox today is because I’m inspired by the good work they’re doing at SugarScience.org. The site launched this week as a project by leading experts in the field, who are making an effort to publicize what we currently understand about the risks of eating too much added sugar. The content is exhaustively researched and simply communicated – public health gold, in my book. In addition to perusing the research, you can follow their blog, submit your own questions to their panel of experts, and access a wealth of resources for spreading awareness of the associations of excess sugar consumption with not only obesity and diabetes, but a whole range of inflammatory and hormonal disorders including cancer, heart disease, liver disease, aging, dementia and Alzheimer’s. Seriously, you’ll want to dig into this information. If you’re a dietitian who counsels patients, definitely incorporate some of these killer infographics into your handout repertoire!
Continue reading “The Unsweetened Truth from SugarScience”
Don’t stop reading yet! All I’ve said so far is “fiber” and I’ve already lost most of you. Most people think that fiber is just about regularity, but that’s a load of, well… you know what! It’s an important component of every diet, and most people don’t eat enough of it. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men and women eat 38 or 25 grams of fiber each day, respectively, and the latest survey data indicates that our average intake is less than half of this amount!
Even though it’s simply undigestible plant matter, fiber has a wide range of benefits – it helps keep you full and satisfied, it decreases risk of colon cancer and diverticular disease, helps lower cholesterol levels, and feeds the good bacteria in your gut. But in my experience, there’s one particular “fun fact” about fiber that tends to surprise and intrigue; one thing that gets people ACTUALLY EXCITED ABOUT EATING FIBER…
So what are the magic words?
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Any dietitian can confirm this: as a profession, we RDs tend to get involved in some pretty interesting conversations with the rest of the world about food, diet, and what people choose or choose not to eat. People have a LOT to say about food! Last weekend, for example, I found myself in a conversation about seedless watermelon. I was talking to a guy who had heard that seedless varieties should be avoided due to the genetic modification that they undergo, further condemning them as less nutritious and potentially dangerous. I presented a conflicting viewpoint (to say the least), but when I later googled the issue, I found this same idea mentioned on a number of websites… so obviously it’s not an uncommon perception!
I realized that I’m actually sort of uniquely positioned to clear up this issue… see, before focusing my career on nutrition I studied biology, and during that time I happened to work a part-time job in a laboratory investigating plant genetics. So after finding out what a common misconception this is, I thought why not post here to set the record straight?
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If you follow science news, you may have heard about the recent study suggesting that current public health guidelines on sodium intake are overly restrictive, and that consuming too little salt can be just as risky as consuming too much. If so, you probably also read retorts from the CDC, claiming that no credible evidence exists to indicate that low sodium intake is harmful.
Classic nutrition research, right? Teams of professionals and tomes of evidence, in direct opposition. And we’re left wondering who to believe.
Continue reading “Should we take sodium guidelines… with a grain of salt?”
In addition to caffeine, we love coffee for its deep, complex flavor. But it also has a deep, complex chemistry. It’s nearly as popular as a research topic as it is in our morning cups, and even with such constant attention from nutrition scientists, there is still plenty to discover.
Today I’m focusing on a tiny detail of coffee’s big picture: fat. People don’t often think of coffee in terms of its fats (after all, the label shows that it is fat free!), but there are trace amounts of oils derived from coffee beans. These oils are stripped away when dripped through a paper filter, but remain present in unfiltered coffee – think espresso, Turkish-style, or French press brewing methods. Although these fats are not enough to make a caloric contribution, they have some compelling physiological effects.
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As a Floridian, I consider quality orange juice to be a major breakfast luxury. It’s a sweet indulgence that you can feel good about – ample research has suggested that people who drink 100% juice tend to have positive health outcomes. In fact, I was surprised to discover a study claiming that a big glass of orange juice consumed along with a high-fat/high-carbohydrate meal (come on, we’ve all been there…) actually neutralized the meal’s inflammatory impact. That’s some genuine antioxidant power!
But before we grab the juice carton, we have to address the classic OJ debate: pulp or no pulp? Is one choice more nutritious than the other? Are there health benefits to be gained from orange juice pulp, or are the two options relatively equal?
Continue reading “Pulp Fiction”