Tuesday, March 02, 2010 11:19 am
AMERICA'S NUTRITIONAL IQ
Do we have the food smarts to make the smartest choice?
By Chan Tran; Illustrations by Michael Fink
Sure, we know that fat = bad and sugar = bad, and fruits, vegetables, fiber and protein are all good for the nutrition soul. But when it comes to the specifics, things get a little fuzzy. How much fiber do we need daily? How many calories are in a spoonful of peanut putter? Are all fats bad? What exactly are antioxidants and why do we need them? What we know about nutrition today is a lot, but how much expert knowledge makes its way to the public? That’s what we’re here to talk about….
JAMES BECKERMAN, MD
WebMD heart expert and cardiologist in clinical practice in Portland, Ore., with Columbia Cardiology Associates and the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute. Author of the upcoming The Flex Diet
RICHARD GEORGE, PHD
Food marketing expert, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University
JULIA ZUMPANO, RD
Registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic Department of Preventive Cardiology
BRIAN WANSINK, PHD
Former Executive Director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Professor and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, author of Mindless Eating
How has our nutrition knowledge evolved over the last 10–15 years?
BECKERMAN: There are two things that changed how we think about nutrition from 15 years ago—at least from the medical standpoint. First, the idea that not all fats are created equal has gained a lot press and attention within the last decade. We’ve previously thought the total amount of fat you eat was linked with disease, but now we really understand that some fats are actually good for you. Second is our understanding of how refined carbohydrates impact health. The idea of a low-carb-diet was not really something that people thought about before the whole Atkins revolution. [Though the Atkins Diet was introduced in the early ’70s, it was at its peak in 2003 and 2004.]
GEORGE: We tend to talk skinny and eat fat. The biggest thing we’ve learned over the past 10 years is that we have an obesity crisis and related to that is a diabetes problem. We’re simply not eating enough good foods. What’s also changed is that the percentage of calories away from home has increased tremendously.
Do most Americans know “enough” about nutrition? How can we tell?
WANSINK: The average American knows as much as they want to know and as much as they think they need to know. For some segments of the population, that’s quite a lot. These are the people who read the nutrition label and decide their purchases based on it. On the other end of the spectrum are people who know as much as they want to know and just don’t really care about knowing anything more. They know what foods taste good and what foods make them feel better.
ZUMPANO: My clients say they do look at the nutrition label, but they don’t always know what they are looking for. They see total calories and fat, but I don’t think they understand how to use that information and apply it to their daily food intake.