By Lisa Golden Schroeder
I’m a bit of a nutrition obsessive. We’re bombarded daily with conflicting information in the media, both conventional and social, telling us what we need to buy and eat for optimum health. But the nutrition landscape shifts on a weekly basis. Over the years I’ve hitched my healthy foods wagon to a select handful of experts who shun the sensational, concentrating on real science and common sense. My educational background is grounded in nutrition and food science, so the basics are engrained in my head. But over the years, ongoing research has revealed more and better ways to regard our diets. So who to listen to?
I want to share some my favorite nutrition “gurus”—look them up on the web to see their latest advice on current issues. Since my first baby arrived, I’ve paid close attention to Ellen Satter, an expert in feeding children (her finest words: Provide kids with healthful food in a timely manner and leave it up to the kids to eat. No food battles allowed.). Marion Nestle, the oft-quoted expert on the politics of food, is a reliable source of science-based info. Andrew Weil, Harvard-educated physician and founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona (my alma mater), is an authority on less mainstream and more holistic ways of approaching health. And Mehmet Oz, the opinionated television doctor who revels in explaining, in a Hollywood setting, how our bodies work, is fun and deliciously practical. They talk in a no-nonsense way, cutting through the media hype.
Dr. Oz recently wrote a feature article about how we think about food in the U.S., suggesting that we rethink some of our somewhat elitist attitudes. His message: as food lovers we embrace the availability of unique, organic, and local fresh foods. But we often view mainstream frozen and canned foods negatively, dismissing their place in healthy diets. He clearly states there’s plenty to steer clear of in the realm of processed foods, but items like flash-frozen vegetables and many canned foods can be powerhouses of nutrition—at a fraction of the price of their fresh or “fancy” counterparts. If you over buy at the farmers market and allow produce to sit for a long time in the crisper, you may end up with veggies with extremely diminished vitamin content compared to that bag of frozen broccoli florets waiting for you at a moment’s notice. And canned corn, beans, tomatoes are available year ‘round, at an amazing cost-per-serving, high in nutrients and with little waste. Many processors are using organic produce and significantly reducing the amount of sodium they use. I always have a stash of cooked beans on my pantry shelf—high in protein and fiber. Ready to rinse and toss into chili, salads, or grainy pilafs. In a price-versus-nutritive value comparison of commonly purchased foods, like peanut butter, honey, mustard, olive oil, eggs, milk, and canned tuna, the less expensive version of nearly all (with fancy imported mustards and fresh tuna running even with the basic and canned versions) give the biggest payoff.
On a different food front, Dr. Andrew Weil is dabbling as a restaurateur, recently writing a book called True Food about his food philosophy of seasonal, sustainable, simple, and pure food. Supported by unique recipes that bring that precious time in the kitchen to life. His approach is much less mainstream, even edgy by some standards. We’re not all going to seek out ingredients like yuzu or sea buckthorn juice—sort of like orange juice that’s rich in antioxidants. But we can and will introduce flavors from many kinds of cuisines (white balsamic vinegar, tamari soy sauce, Sriracha hot sauce, Marcona almonds, flax meal, tahini) that boost the flavor of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. His message is aligned with Dr. Oz, with an emphasis on eating wholesome, minimally processed foods. And spending time in the kitchen to ensure that what you feed your family will be first and foremost delicious, but will also provide the biggest bang for your spending and cooking buck. I hope I’m not sounding bossy or preachy, but take a few important minutes in 2013 to consider the food you buy and how you make it for your family.