We’ve all been out at parties, social occasions or family functions where someone asks what you’re studying at uni. There’s always the mandatory conversation going something like this: ‘I study dietetics’ ‘diya… diya-tet-rics? What’s that?’ Once they discover it’s a fancy word for nutrition they start to pick your brains with those curly questions that they’ve heard either in passing at the hairdressers, from their neighbour, on page 2, insert any other fitting places – the list goes on! The problem is you don’t exactly know the answer to these! You only began the course 6 months ago – you don’t even know how to pronounce quinoa [keen-wah] yet! Why couldn’t people be more interested in the Kreb’s cycle– that’s what the lecture/exam content covers. Worry no more! Below is a starting point to some of those common questions people expect to be your bread and butter….
Are organic fruit and vegetables better than conventionally grown?
In short – no. A meta analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that there was little difference in nutrient content between organic and conventionally grown (meta analyses are very high quality evidence and the Annals of Internal Medicine is a highly regarded journal). The one exception was phosphorous was higher in organic foods, however since few people are deficient in phosphorous this does not justify spending 3 times more on ‘organic’ when conventionally grown is just as nutritious! This review also showed organic foods were not necessarily safer than conventional. Although organically grown vegetables had a lower risk of pesticide contamination (yet they weren’t immune from pesticides altogether), both conventional and organic pesticide levels fell within safe levels.
What nutrient am I deficient in if I have white spots on my fingers?
Weird question – I don’t know if anyone else has encountered it, but I’ve had it a few times! The most likely answer is probably none. Spots on the nails could be caused by a number of things – most common is jamming your finger in the door. But, in some cases it may be a nutrient deficiency, most likely inadequate zinc. If someone is deficient in zinc there will probably be other indicators pointing to this, so don’t panic everyone!Morgan Z, Wickett H. Leukonychia on finger nails as a marker of calcium and/or zinc deficiency. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, June, 2011, Vol.24(3), p.294(2)
Butter or margarine?
This was one of the first questions I was asked by my family/family-friends and always fumbled my way through an answer. I asked lecturers and other students this question, but the answer always seemed to differ. The Heart Foundation Australia offers some valuable insight into the debate. Saturated fat comes from animal products, and butter is made from milk fat, so contains some saturated fat. On the other hand Australia’s margarine has less saturated fat. Some common concerns revolve around hydrogenated fats in margarine, which are chemically synthesised fats made by turning oil into solid/semi-solid fats, creating trans fats. Trans fat acts like saturated fats and lower our HDLs (H for healthy!) and raises our LDLs (L for lousy). In Australia most of the trans fat has been removed from margarine to the point where it has less than butter.
Another consideration to bear in mind is the fortification of spreads, with plant sterols amongst other nutrients. Although we always try to encourage people to take in foods that will benefit their health, be mindful of the amount of spread a person needs to consume to reap the benefit of the claim – sometimes it’s more than one would normally eat and butter and margarine are still quite energy dense!
Is dried fruit healthy for you?
This one is a catch-22. Dried fruit has lost some of its nutrients through the dehydration process, but still provides us with some vitamins, minerals and fibre just like fresh fruit, so it’s a great snack, but it’s the portion sizes we need to watch out for. After dehydration the majority of moisture is gone, leaving the sugar in a bite size apricot/apple/’insert fruit here’ form. These can be very easy to overindulge in, and their energy is stored in carbohydrates, each bite-sized dried morsel has nearly as much energy as a whole piece of fruit. I always remind myself of this, even though I can perhaps eat 4-5 dried apricots at once, I would never eat 4-5 whole apricots in one sitting! The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating* describes 30g of dried fruit as 1 serve, which is two dried apricots.
*If you’re not on top of of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating head to the website! It’s a great go-to resource to show your friends how much they should be eating from the food groups every day. It shows their recommended number of serves and what actually constitutes a serve of food (you may be surprised!)
Are fresh vegetables better than frozen?
No! Frozen veggies aren’t just more convenient and lead to less food wastage, but they are equally nutritious – how good is that? Fresh vegetables are good, but sometimes if the vegetables are picked and then have to travel long distances to supermarkets, their nutrient content inevitably decreases. On the contrary, frozen vegetables are picked and have their nutrients ‘locked in’ after freezing, meaning you might even get more nutrients from frozen. A review was done in 2006 that shows specific nutrient amounts in fresh and frozen, whilst also looking at the effects of cooking and canning on nutrients.Rickman J, Barrett D, Bruhn C. Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and phenolic compounds. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2007, Vol.87(6), pp.930-944 Rickman J, Bruhn C, Barrett D. Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables II. Vitamin A and carotenoids, vitamin E, minerals and fiber. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2007, Vol.87(7), pp.1185-1196
Is gluten really bad for you?
Gluten has had the finger pointed at it as the culprit for weight gain and I’ve heard people remove gluten from their diet to help them lose weight. People should be able to digest gluten like any other protein or nutrient, unless a person has been diagnosed with coeliac disease – where eating gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the villi in the small intestine. This is a medical condition whereby a lifetime of gluten avoidance is necessary to preserve villi function and in some cases prevent unpleasant and painful symptoms. Coeliacs aside, there has not been any overwhelming evidence indicating people should avoid gluten or that gluten has detrimental effects on weight. Marcason W. Is There Evidence to Support the Claim that a Gluten-Free Diet Should Be Used for Weight Loss? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2011, Vol.111(11), pp.1786-1786 Furthermore, removing gluten from the diet eliminates many options from the grain and cereal food group, which can really restrict someone’s intake of iron, fibre, B vitamins and zinc to name just a few.Marcason W. Is There Evidence to Support the Claim that a Gluten-Free Diet Should Be Used for Weight Loss? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2011, Vol.111(11), pp.1786-1786 I also hear the texture and taste of gluten free options leaves a lot to be desired! Hopefully food scientists can get onto that one ASAP for people with coeliac disease! Coeliac Australia also recognises many people may be eliminating gluten from their diet to alleviate the symptoms of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.
Since eggs have cholesterol should I limit my intake?
A lot of people believe that eggs contain cholesterol, so should be limited to avoid raising blood cholesterol levels, however dietary cholesterol plays a minimal role in increasing cholesterol levels compared to saturated fat intake. Many systematic literature reviews show strong evidence that consuming more than 1 egg/day, or less than 1 egg/week, does not impact on heart health for the healthy population. The National Heart Foundation suggests 6 eggs per week will act to protect heart health, and can be included in the 2-3 recommended number of serves of meat, eggs, nuts/seeds and legumes.
Finally, the most frequently asked question of all (drum roll please!)
If you’re a dietitian why are you eating that piece of cake?!
Don’t you love that as soon as people find out you’re a dietitian they watch your every move! Everything in moderation is the answer. Foods should not be labelled as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ when really it is portion size and the frequency of consumption that is a greater factor to the detrimental effects it may be having on people’s overall health. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating has a base allowance of up to 3 extra foods each day. So in reply: yes I’m a dietitian, I love my food and yes! I would love a slice of cake!
References [ + ]
|1.||⇪||Morgan Z, Wickett H. Leukonychia on finger nails as a marker of calcium and/or zinc deficiency. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, June, 2011, Vol.24(3), p.294(2)|
|2.||⇪||Rickman J, Barrett D, Bruhn C. Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. Part 1. Vitamins C and B and phenolic compounds. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2007, Vol.87(6), pp.930-944|
|3.||⇪||Rickman J, Bruhn C, Barrett D. Nutritional comparison of fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables II. Vitamin A and carotenoids, vitamin E, minerals and fiber. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2007, Vol.87(7), pp.1185-1196|
|4.||⇪ab||Marcason W. Is There Evidence to Support the Claim that a Gluten-Free Diet Should Be Used for Weight Loss? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2011, Vol.111(11), pp.1786-1786|