Why I Care: My Passion for Nutrition

I care about nutrition.

Studying nutrition has led me to a passion that I never knew I had. I started my course of study with an interest, and the more I have learned, I have found that I care more about nutrition than I ever realized.

Between my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I am finishing up six years in school learning about this one topic. I have a wealth of scientific knowledge about nutrition, why nutrients matter and their roles in the human body. As I’m now nearing conclusion of my second degree and Dietetic Internship, it’s easy to get caught up in the scramble and rush to complete tasks. Feeling stressed and busy often trumps feeling passionate. But recently, I had a conversation that reminded me of my appetite for nutrition.

I realized this: Food matters. Health matters. And those are two things that are dear to people. Food is connected to so much more than simply fueling the body; it’s coupled with culture, memories, and feelings. Health is often taken for granted, even though it is tied to our ability to move throughout our lives easily. We don’t tend to worry much about our health when it’s good, but it is a big problem when it is not good. Our health affects not only us, but ripples through to affect the other people in our lives.

Even though the link between food and health is so well-known, using food to purposely contribute to health is so difficult to do. Food choices are made for so many other reasons, like taste, convenience, and emotions, so eating for health reasons is a challenge. While those are not always negative reasons, they are not necessarily conducive to health maintenance.

What I care so deeply about is how to help people use food to sustain their health with sensitivity to the less tangible roles food fills in their lives. I want to help people learn to make food work for them, in the context of their own lives, to support their health journey while maintaining the emotional connections people have with cultural and traditional foods.

The significance of food and health, and the interplay between the two, is where my passion lies and where I have found my spark.

How can I help you to use food in a way that supports your health?

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Food Sleuth: How to Read Front-of-Package Labels

Do you ever find yourself wondering how healthy certain items at the grocery store really are? When you see bright wording on the package like “cholesterol-free” or “natural,” those foods can seem pretty enticing in terms of health benefits. There is a lot more to it than just what those labels say.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the regulation of food labeling. This includes the Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list, but also that eye-catching, carefully designed front-of-package promotion that draws your attention so that the product will find its way into your shopping cart more easily than others. While the FDA requires that these claims must be true, sharp marketing minds may try to trick you into making an uninformed choice.

Front-of-package labeling, while true, may not reflect the most important aspects of the nutrition of the product. The claims may make the food sound more nutritious than it is, or may distract you from less-than-shining aspects of the product. Here are some examples that may trip you up:

  1. High, low, reduced, good source, free, etc. (i.e., high fiber, low sodium, reduced fat) – these claims must meet specific government definitions related to the amount of the nutrient in question. However, these levels are relative to comparable products. Check out the Nutrition Facts label and compare it to similar products to find out where it really stands.
  2. Cholesterol-free – watch out for this on foods that only contain plants. Plants don’t have cholesterol in them anyway, so even though it is true, this claim may be used to distract from less-desirable aspects of a food (for example, mixed nuts that have excessive amounts of salt added).
  3. Natural and organic – ‘natural’ means the product does not contain synthetic or artificial ingredients, while ‘organic’ refers to the methods used to grow or produce the food. These are often equated with ‘healthy,’ a term that is defined by the FDA using criteria that limits fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, as well as sets minimum amounts for vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients. While products may be ‘natural’ or ‘organic,’ they may not be ‘healthy.’
  4. Made with Whole Grain – this claim can be made even if all the grain in the product isn’t whole grain; the whole grain may only comprise a small percentage of the total grain. To reap the full benefit of whole grains, look for 100% Whole Grain products and check the ingredients list to make sure whole grain is one of the first ingredients.

Check out this video from Carlene Thomas, RD, for a great example of how to avoid the pitfalls of front-of-label marketing:

When it comes to front-of-label packaging, remember that the food producer has an entire marketing department whose job is to get you to buy their product. They will do everything they can to convince you their product is great so you don’t question it. But you’re not defenseless – if the front-of-package labeling is the devil on one shoulder, the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredient list are the angels on the other shoulder. These sources of obligatory honesty will tell you the truth about the foods you’re buying, so use them to your advantage to make the healthiest choices for yourself.

Have you ever been tricked by front-of-package labeling? Share your stories and what you found out in the comments!

 

Sources:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food label helps consumers make healthier choices. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm094536.htm. Published October 14, 2014. Accessed March 15, 2015.

National Nutrition Month: RD Day!

Happy RD Day!

Wait…what’s that?

March is National Nutrition Month! Each year during March, one day is designated to celebrate Registered Dietitians, or RDs.

Registered Dietitians (also called Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, or RDNs) are known as the nation’s food and nutrition experts. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which is the overseeing agency of Registered Dietitians, requires extensive training to earn the RD credential:

  • Completion of a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university of college in a program with course work approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)
  • Completion of an ACEND-accredited supervised practice program (commonly referred to as a dietetic internship) that includes rotations at health-care facilities, community agencies, and/or foodservice corporations. Dietetic internships can last anywhere from six to twelve months, or longer if combined with a master’s degree program.
  • Successful passage of the national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
  • Completion of continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration status.

With all the required training necessary to become a RD, RDs are passionate about using their knowledge and training to make a difference in the health of the nation using safe, evidence-based nutrition practice. This aspiration can be undermined by those who practice nutrition without proper training or knowledge. While earning the title of Registered Dietitian is intensive and time-consuming, the title of ‘nutritionist’ is one that anyone can use. Even people who have no experience with nutrition can call themselves a nutritionist and provide general nutrition advice. (It is important to note here that ‘Registered Dietitian Nutritionist’ is an accepted variation of ‘Registered Dietitian,’ and is not synonymous with ‘nutritionist.’) There are some very knowledgeable, reliable nutritionists out there, but it is important to consider training and credentials when seeking expert sources of nutrition information. Registered Dietitians exist to help you achieve better health.

Registered Dietitians work in many different capacities. These include hospitals and other healthcare facilities, sports nutrition and corporate wellness settings, food and nutrition-related businesses and industries, private practice, community and public health settings, universities and medical centers, and research areas. Registered Dietitians are often carving out new, unique niches in various fields.

Do you know any Registered Dietitians? Celebrate with them today!

 

Sources:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. What is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist? EatRight Pro. http://www.eatrightpro.org/resources/about-us/what-is-an-rdn-and-dtr/what-is-a-registered-dietitian-nutritionist. Published 2015. Accessed March 2015.