Taking Food out of the Context of the Diet

I work in University dining, so for National Nutrition Month (March, in case you missed it), I had an “Ask the Dietitian” table for students. Most questions had to do with the sustainability of the foods served or how to navigate the dining halls with a particular allergy. But one question really stuck with me. A boy (holding a greasy plate of pizza, might I add) asked “What are pineapples good for?”

These are the kinds of questions that really irk me as a Dietitian, because they miss the point of nutrition. Sure, pineapples are filled with antioxidants such as Vitamin C and caroteniods (which give them their beautiful yellow color). And sure, these antioxidants are great at preventing cancer and allowing us to live healthy lives. But in order to get the cancer fighting benefits of fruits and vegetables (such as pineapple), you have to eat a diet rich in these foods. Eating a few pineapple slices now and then isn’t going to save you from cancer if you eat a diet rich in greasy, processed foods.

To quote one of my favorite nutrition professionals, Marion Nestle, “The problem with nutrient-by-nutrient nutrition science… is that it takes the nutrient out of the context of the food, the food out of the context of the diet, and the diet out of the context of the lifestyle.”

Indeed, many food system activists such as Michael Pollan and Julie Guthman have critiqued the reductionist tendencies of nutrition science. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As a Dietitian, I find it very important to help clients place their food choices in the context of their overall diet, and I hope that other nutrition professionals do the same.

In my opinion, trying to figure out which fruits and vegetables are the healthiest is a waste of time. Here is a secret: they are all healthy! Instead, let’s focus on how to get more servings of fruits and vegetables. Let’s focus on how to make produce the star of our plates. And let’s work on getting a variety of healthy foods, rather than supplementing our diets with one or two “superfoods”.

– Kelly

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