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March 19, 2008 > Good Nutrition Starts Simply

Good Nutrition Starts Simply

Dietitian Dispels Myths, Focuses on Building Blocks of a Healthy Diet

When it comes to nutrition and what we put into our bodies, there's a lot of information out there. Much of it is confusing, misleading, contradictory or flat out wrong.
If you are looking to improve your health, maintain a healthy weight or improve a chronic condition, there is no magic pill or potion, according to Anna Mazzei, R.D., a dietitian at Washington Hospital.
This is consistent with the theme of National Nutrition Month in March, "Nutrition: It Is a Matter of Fact." Therefore, it is a great time to take a closer look at eating habits and food choices for a healthier tomorrow.
A good place to start separating food myths from food facts, Mazzei says, is the Web sites any of a number of reputable organizations that could include the:
* American Heart Association
* American Dietetics Association
* American Diabetes Association
* National Institutes of Health
* Centers for Disease Control
* Center for Science in the Public Interest
* The USDA's Web site
By seeking information from a reliable source, you can make sure you're receiving sound advice on good dietary habits. Mazzei, who counsels patients at Washington Hospital on an outpatient basis, says she often dispels myths that people have heard from unreliable sources.
Examples of diet myths she encounters in talking to patients include:
* Vitamin and mineral supplements will magically provide energy
* Carbohydrates are "bad" for you"
* Excess protein is needed to build muscle
* Certain supplements will remove "toxins" from your body
These myths can potentially lead people to make unwise choices, such as taking too many supplements rather than seeking a well-rounded/balanced diet, eating too much protein to the exclusion of other food groups or skipping carbohydrate-filled foods altogether, thereby missing out on naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals, according to Mazzei.
The "trick" is moderation and variety
The source of the problem with many of these dietary misconceptions is that they focus on the elusory magic pill or "perfect" food. By focusing on one food group or avoiding another, it only serves to put a person's health at risk.
"Variety is needed for a well balanced diet to obtain required nutrients to sustain and improve quality of life and prevent disease," Mazzei says. "Having variety makes meal planning interesting and is necessary for long term compliance. Moderate intake of certain foods is needed to prevent weight gain, reduce disease risk and still enjoy a varied diet."
Moderation is especially important when it comes to high fat foods because they are calorie dense and can lead to weight gain, Mazzei explains. Likewise, high sodium foods may hamper blood pressure control and excessive alcohol intake can lead to liver disease.
"The principles of a healthy diet are the same for all except those without certain medical diagnoses," she says. "For example, whole grains are a healthy choice, even for those with diabetes. However, these patients usually must also control portions of even whole grain products, as they contain carbohydrates."
Another example is fruits and vegetables, which Mazzei says are usually encouraged for good health - except in the case of patients with kidney failure. Many fruits and veggies are high in potassium, which needs to be monitored when the kidneys malfunction.
If you do have a medical condition, it is always advisable to consult your health care provider before making any modifications to your diet.
Basic principles of healthy eating
Most of the patients Mazzei sees in the hospital are referred to nutrition counseling to help manage a medical condition. She and her fellow dietitians see patients with diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, as well as both adults and children needing weight management for weight loss or gain. They also counsel patients on drug-nutrient interaction, dietary needs for patients with gastrointestinal disorders, such as reflux, and nutrition support for those needing tube feedings or IV nutrition.
But barring a specific medical condition, most people will benefit from following a diet that includes appropriate portions of fruits and vegetables, low-fat proteins, carbohydrates that contain whole grains and low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
When making that grocery list, or just browsing the aisles, Mazzei advises avoiding common food choice pitfalls.
"Products that make claims of fat-free or sugar-free are not necessarily calorie free and should not be consumed in excess," she emphasizes. "People should not only look at fiber content, but also products carrying the 'Whole Grain Stamp' of approval. Also, foods claiming no trans fat could still provide excess total fat or saturated fat depending on the servings consumed."
By understanding product labeling, smart shoppers can make healthier choices and not be fooled by misleading claims. Similarly, it's important to remember that even items that contain "healthy" non-animal based fats, such as olive and canola oils, are healthy choices, but they are calorie dense, as they are all fat.
Overall, moderation and getting the facts on proper nutrition are the keys to better nutrition, according to Mazzei.

Try These Tasty Recipes

Healthy recipes don't need to be tasteless. Washington Hospital dietitian Anna Mazzei recommends finding healthy alternatives to high-in-fat ingredients. Check out two of her recipes below. They go great together!

Buttermilk Dressing

1/2 tsp. dried mustard
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. chopped onion
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp. chopped garlic
1 tbsp. chopped parsley
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tbsp. olive or canola oil
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk

Combine all ingredients in small bowl, whisking or beating with a fork until smooth. Refrigerate until serving time.

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8; Serving size: 2 tbsp.; Calories: 50; Fat: 4 grams; Sodium: 69 mg; Carbohydrate: 2 grams (Not a significant source of saturated fat or cholesterol)

Chicken Bites with a "Bite"

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chili sauce
1/4 cup hot pepper sauce
1 1/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken tenders cut into 1 inch cubes

Combine first three ingredients in a bowl; toss in the chicken. Cook in a non-stick pan for eight to 10 minutes until nicely browned on both sides. Serve chicken with toothpicks and dip in the Buttermilk Dressing!

Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6; Serving size: 3 oz.; Calories: 155; Fat: 5 grams; Saturated Fat: < 1 gram; Cholesterol: 50 mg; Sodium: 200 mg; Carbohydrate: 2 grams

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