Digesting the Latest in Nutrition

Digesting the Latest in Nutrition

esearch shows proper nutrition is critical not only for maintaining weight but also for reducing the risk of diseases from cancer to depression. With the USDA’s move last year abolishing the old food pyramid and adopting MyPlate (half of which is fruits and vegetables), now is the perfect time to reevaluate everything you know about nutrition.

“People talk less today about food and more about nutrients,” says Deborah Roussos, a registered dietitian with Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin. “That makes it a lot harder for people to know how to eat because we don’t eat nutrients, we eat food.”

Roussos says most people care a great deal about health but they’re also living busy, fast-paced lives. Nutritional needs are based on things like age, gender, genetics and lifestyle factors, but most of us can benefit from an emphasis on real foods. A protein bar may be convenient, but if you don’t recognize the ingredients, you’re better off with peanut butter on toast.

“We want nutrients, but we want quick,” she says. “So if you tell me I have Omega 3 in my granola bar I’m more likely to buy that even if I don’t know what it is or why I need it.”

As we age, our nutrition needs change. Pregnant and nursing moms, picky toddlers, teenagers, menopausal woman and the elderly all have different needs. Newly diagnosed diseases bring serious shifts in diet. Gluten intolerance and diabetes have risen sharply in recent years. What you eat really matters, but it’s different for each of us. Better to check in with a nutrition expert as part of your annual physical (many are covered by HMOs under preventive care) than to jump on the latest bandwagon or, worse, ignore it altogether.

“Just a couple of small changes can make a very big difference,” says Roussos.

Nutrition affects every single one of our body systems, and eyes are a classic example. Dr. C.J. Anderson of Anderson & Shapiro Eyecare advises his patients to pay close attention to nutrition when it comes to eye health, and he walks the walk himself—right through the Ironman Wisconsin finish line this year.

“Studies suggest that for many eye diseases you need certain vitamins,” says Anderson. “Most critical for the eye are vitamins C, E, A, as well as zinc and beta-carotene, and through my Ironman training I’ve learned the importance of getting them through whole, natural foods as much as possible.”

According to the American Diabetes Association, diet reduces the risk of developing type II and pre-diabetes by two thirds, and diabetic eye disease is one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness. It also increases the risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma and may result in heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.

In addition, DHA and EPA, found in fish and fish oil, help prevent dry eyes. Beta-carotenes, found in sweet potatoes, carrots and leafy greens, protect our retinas from UV radiation and blue light. Zinc (in red meat, poultry and oysters) keeps enzymes in the eye working properly, affecting macular and retinal disease and cataracts. Luteins and vitamins such as C, E and A (in oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, bananas) are important antioxidants and have also been linked by the National Eye Institute to decreasing the progression of macular degeneration by twenty-five percent.

Eye health is just one example; the connection between what we eat and how we function is undeniable. But who’s got time to shop and cook all day?

“We have so many opportunities in and around Madison to get delicious, fresh, unprocessed, farm-grown food,” says Nancy Johnson, owner of Natural Food of Madison. “A lot of us want to be healthy but don’t have the time to eat the way we want to. I try to make that as easy
as possible.”

Johnson, a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City, drew from her own experience of years of cooking as a single mom—as well as three years living off the freshest foods in Costa Rica—to create a business that equally indulges her passion for food and her penchant for caretaking.

“I make comfort food as nutritious as possible,” says Johnson. “I’ll do everything I can to get food into my clients’ homes, into their bodies and into their lives.”

Johnson offers cooking lessons and nutritional consultation and recently added a personal chef service called “Soup and Cookies.” After a lengthy getting-to-know-you consultation, Johnson will plan a menu, shop, then come into your home and prepare a week’s worth of meals for your family. When you get home from work, soccer, the gym and meetings, the kitchen will be clean and smelling delicious and
a nutritious dinner will be ready to pop in the oven.

“It takes a lot of time to prepare healthy foods for yourself and your family,” says Johnson. “I’m there to support you and
cut you some slack. Getting healthy can taste good.”