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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Numb to Nutrition Numbers?

The Lady of the Refrigerator on Good Eats is numb from the cold, not nutrition numbers. 


Have you noticed that most nutrition advice ends up with a number you have to remember? OK, we get the four food groups and three meals a day but when it comes to recounting the number of milligrams of sodium you’re limited to per day (2400 mg) or number of times a week you’re supposed to eat fish (two 3.5 ounce servings) – the memory can be a bit foggy.  That’s why the USDA’s replaced the Food Pyramid with its easier to digest nutrition icon called MyPlate. The image shows a round plate with colored partitions to help consumers better visualize what to put on their plates. Half is filled with fruits and vegetables and the remaining two quarters are for protein and grains respectively. A cup of milk off to the side represents a serving of dairy per meal. Dig deeper and you find that dairy should be fat free or 1% low fat milk, yogurt or cheese. Further direction in grains suggests half be whole grain varieties. In the protein group lean cuts of meat are advised. If you want to substitute nuts remember that 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is the protein equivalent to one ounce of meat, fish or poultry. No wonder consumers complain of nutrition number numbness. “We are in number denial. Too many, too often and too confusing,” agrees dietitian Leslie Bonci who is co-author of “Run Your Butt Off” and Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh, “It has to be relevant, so instead of numbers, I say to my athletes, never eat anything larger than your head. And it is MyPlate, not my trough. People understand that.”

Meals not Milligrams: “I think people should focus on the food, not the nutrients,” says author of “Nutrition Unplugged” dietitian Janet Helm, “The numbers should be all about servings, not grams and milligrams. To me, one of the best numbers is ‘half’. Fill half your plate with fruit and vegetables. If we can get people to do that, it would be a huge improvement.”

Mind Over Math: Nutrition advice today focuses on being more mindful. Are you too full to finish what’s on your plate? “Number madness leads us to what we “should do” instead of what feels right,” says dietitian and weight management expert Marsha Hudnall of Green Mountain at Fox Run, “Instead of eating in a way that feels good, we try to manage our food intake intellectually. Be mindful and tune into hunger cues.”

Grades without Numbers: “Telling a mom that her child should have x number of fruits, veggies, and whole grains per day seems okay, but if the child has not met that goal they may get discouraged, ” notes co-author of “No Whine with Dinner” dietitian Janice Bissex. “As long as they are improving and moving towards the goal of increasing consumption of these healthful foods they can feel good about their progress.”


Meals Together Add Up: “Research shows that teens who eat family meals at least five times a week have better grades, are less likely to engage in risky behaviors and have better overall nutrition,” shares Mary Martin Nordness dietitian with the Southeast United Dairy Association. “Unfortunately, only a third of American families are eating together on a regular basis.”

You’re Number One: Toby Amidor, nutrition expert for FoodNetwork.com says, “The most important thing to remember is that your health and well-being come first. With a little guidance, education, and practice, the numbers turn into routine and don’t get as confusing.”