Nutrition Matters


Last PageMake your calories count.

By Melanie Rubery  MS RD LD CLT

 

“I ate the whole box of cookies for lunch, but they’re fat-free and low-calorie, so I didn’t do too bad, right?” The young woman at the park was just making conversation, and she didn’t know I was a nutritionist, so she probably wondered why I didn’t congratulate her or smile my implied approval. I said nothing, not only because I’m shy, but also because I had nothing good to say about her “lunch.” The damage was done. I didn’t want to be a fat-free buzzkill or bring her down from her low-calorie high. I could have said, “You’ve eaten some added sugar, added salt, and you’ve actually eaten some fat, too. The cookie company can label the box ‘fat free’ even when there’s a little bit of fat in each cookie, which adds up if you eat an entire box.” My actual mental conversation: “You ate an entire meal completely devoid of any nutritional value.”

As patients in my nutrition practice quickly discover, I am not an unreasonable nutritionist; I do not demand the blandest, most Puritanical diet. (I even encourage them to eat a forbidden food in moderation now and then.) Unless there are acute medical issues at play, I advocate a middle-of-the-road approach to diet. But I tell my clients the simple truth: You have to eat food to be healthy, because food has the nutrients your body needs to work properly.

Focusing on calories alone does not equate with a healthy, wholesome diet, and that message is rapidly spreading across the country. There has never been a more exciting time to be a nutritionist. I might go so far as saying 2014 will be the Year of Good Nutrition. (Calorie Obsession is so 2013.) The tide is turning from “count every calorie” to “make every calorie count.”

The FDA will upgrade the required food labels this year, which will be helpful for a great many people, but the key reason nutrition is becoming such an important part of the national conversation is because we need a wellness solution. Healthcare costs continue to rise. Wellness has finally become a priority for our society. And the road to wellness begins and ends at good nutrition. People and companies are connecting smart eating with being healthier, and it’s not a moment too soon. That’s because wellness is serious business and becoming serious to businesses. Six of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. can be linked to poor nutrition. Studies suggest as many as three-fourths of American workers have a chronic illness, with almost 50 percent having at least two. And the majority of these conditions can be managed or prevented by smart eating.

As a society, we first learned the importance of getting up off the couch, moving more and more often, along with limiting caloric intake, so millions of Americans are already tracking their steps and counting their calories. People like me (nutritionists) think it’s overdue, but the important thing now is that nutrition is taking its rightful place in the fitness mix.

Over the past few years, thousands of movement trackers and calorie counters have been introduced to the public. Finally, in only the past few months have there been a few dozens apps, programs, and physical devices introduced that go beyond the primitive trackers to offer meaningful health information, including nutrition, my own Nutripilot among them.

Yet it’s important not to confuse calorie tracking with nutrition tracking. Calories are simply energy, expended or stored, with no nutritional value. You can’t get any Vitamin A from a calorie. You won’t meet your requirement of Vitamin D if you burn 3,000 calories today.

All of us need to know more about what we are putting into our bodies. We should all be doing more real nutrition tracking. A diabetic with high blood pressure needs to find carb-friendly, high-fiber, low-sodium choices; a celiac patient needs to be directed to gluten-free foods. And anyone who wants to eat a balanced, nutritious diet needs help. In the past, it’s been difficult to individualize a program, and the promotional language permitted on food packaging has many of my clients saying they don’t know what to believe anymore. That was the reason I developed Nutripilot, so my clients, and everyone else, too, could find healthier food choices specific to their food goals.

There’s never been a more important time to learn about nutrition. Smart eating can help manage the chronic illnesses of the majority of Americans and help just about everyone get their weight where they want it to be.

That’s just how powerful smart eating is. It’s better than any diet. It isn’t eating to lose, it’s eating to gain a healthy new life.

Melanie Rubery is a registered nutritionist and the developer of the Nutripilot nutrition app. You can learn more about the app (and get a 14-day free trial) at nutripilot.com.

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