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Nutrition At Your Fingertips

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Nutrition At Your Fingertips by Elisa Zied is an appropriately titled guidebook for all things nutrition. Alternating between text, bullets, useful tables, and diagrams, its easy-to-flip chapters are loaded with valuable information without a lot of fluff. This science-based book is part practical guide to eating well in any life stage, part reference. The first half introduces important nutrients and vitamins, while the second half provides practical information on healthy eating and food preparation. With chapters on topics like weight management, meal planning, food shopping, and food allergies, the intuitive organization of the book allows you to easily flip between sections that are linked with convenient cross-references.

After a few minutes with Nutrition At Your Fingertips you will be able to decipher food claims on a cereal box, read a nutrition label with ease, know when it’s finally time to throw out that carton of eggs, and navigate grocery store aisles like a whiz! This accessible book is an excellent find for nutrition newbies and professionals alike.

If a mom or dad was out shopping for children’s snacks and were only going to scan four items on a nutrition label, which should they look for?

When shopping for snacks, I think the “final four” things to look at on the label would be calories, servings per container/package, fat, and sugar–these can all be found on the Nutrition Facts Panel. Sodium is also important, as are ingredients found on the ingredient list. Choosing snacks with an eye on portions, limiting calories to about 100 per portion, and limiting things like fat and sugar (choosing snacks with no more than 3 grams of fat, or 10 grams of sugar) can help you make more healthful selections (that still taste good) when you shop for treat-type snack foods. Limiting sodium to no more than 150 milligrams per 100-calorie portion of a snack food is also a good rule of thumb, especially since kids often get a lot more sodium than what’s recommended in current dietary guidelines (less than 2,300 milligrams per day).  

Can you talk about what discretionary calories are? Do these apply to children as well as adults?

Discretionary calories don’t discriminate based on age, stage, and gender! We are all allotted some discretionary calories each day, but most kids (except for very athletic teens, or teen boys, for example) typically get fewer of these “extra” calories to play with each day since their calorie needs tend to be lower than adults. Discretionary calories are those extra calories (above and beyond those provided in the daily meal plan outlined in current Dietary Guidelines for Americans) that come from added fats and sugars and/or foods made with them such as candy, cookies, sugary soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and alcohol (none of that for kids, of course!). Discretionary calories can also be used to consume larger portions of foods already in the basic healthy food groups (fruits, veggies, lean meats/beans, oils, low fat dairy foods) The average child is allotted 150 to 250 discretionary calories each day—again, these can be spent on foods that don’t fall into the basic food groups or on extra portions of foods that fit neatly into the basic food groups.

The Food Storage section of your book was so useful! Knowing which foods can freeze and how long flour or fish actually keeps is great information. Do you have any tips for families who want to make sure to toss foods stored past their prime?

Invest in some Sharpies or labels that can be stuck on food packages or storage containers and safely removed! Keep track of when you buy perishables and non-perishables and definitely reassess what’s in your fridge every three or four days and what’s in your pantry every month or so to make sure foods are packaged/sealed tight, for example. When in doubt, throw it out! I always err on the side of caution when it comes to food safety. It’s also important to know that not all food will smell or look bad when it’s past its prime, so the food safety chapter in Nutrition At Your Fingertips can be used as a guide to help you maximize the freshness and taste of your food and, at the same time, keep it safe for consumption.

The Food Additive Sensitivities chapter sheds light on different ingredients that are added to foods. What additives should parents be aware of?

You really have to choose your battles when it comes to food additives. If you or your children have food additive sensitivities, definitely be a sleuth when you read food labels. If you notice your child acts a certain way or has a reaction when he eats certain foods, definitely go see a doctor/allergist to determine if he has a sensitivity or a true allergy. I think it’s a good rule of thumb to buy foods that are made with as few ingredients as possible, and ingredients that you recognize and can pronounce. That also means limiting processed, packaged foods and emphasizing whole and minimally processed foods and those that are packaged without any or minimal additives. Some people are sensitive to sulfites, FD & C Yellow #5, Aspartame, Caffeine, gluten, and other things (I outline these in my book). The Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has a great food additives cheat sheet with suggestions about what to avoid/limit and what is safe for consumption: http://www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm.

How do you encourage healthy eating among your own children?

I try to show my kids how to eat healthfully by my example; I take a very positive approach to healthy eating and encourage them to try to consume foods from all the food groups (healthfully prepared, of course) each day. Of course I let them choose their sweets and treats of choice, but I’ve taught them what an appropriate portion for such things are (e.g. two small cookies, 4 oz cup of ice cream, 4 Hershey Kisses, etc.). I’ve taught my kids about all the food groups using MyPyramid (and my own books, of course!) and hopefully I’ve empowered them to make healthful decisions when they’re at school, at a friends’ house, at camp, or otherwise eating away from home (and away from my husband and me). When we eat out, I always let them choose their food, but I will make suggestions or offer reminders such as “Remember you already had juice this morning” or “Would you rather have skim milk?” I try not to overemphasize food or discuss it too much (it is admittedly hard to keep the reigns on this as a dietitian, though!). I also always try to talk about food in terms of all the wonderful things it gives your brain and body. Kids don’t really care about health–they care about looking good, feeling energized, playing sports well, and doing well at school. I talk about food in terms the kids can relate to and understand and help them care about what they eat and show them from my own example that you can eat some “unhealthy foods” in small portions, but that loading up on nutrient dense foods not only tastes good, but provides your body and brain with what it needs to not just get through the day, but to thrive! Use the SuperCrew characters to teach your kids about healthy eating and living!

Most of us know that we should eat our veggies.  Your Vegetable chapter put an interesting spin on this with a discussion of sample weekly recommended servings of different colors of vegetables. Can you talk a bit about why we should look for these different colors on a weekly basis?

Choosing different colored veggies each week gives your body different sets of key nutrients as well as plant chemicals that keep us healthy and prevent disease and protect our bodies from anything and everything that try to rob us of our health. Current dietary guidelines emphasize different colors and types of vegetables to incorporate over the course of the week—this is key since so many kids today (and oftentimes their parents too!) limit the types of veggies they consume—the potato, in it’s fried and French form, is the most popular veggie consumed in America. Varying veggies also helps perk up meals and prevent boredom when we eat. Mixing up veggies in the diet is win-win!

In your years of practice, what have you seen as the most common misconceptions about eating well for diabetes?

The most obvious misconception is that too much sugar causes diabetes and that when you have diabetes, you need to avoid sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods (especially refined carbs). Sugar is not the enemy, and while I agree too much can be a problem in terms of calories and crowding out calories that can be derived from other sources, a little can add taste, texture, and fun to some meals and snacks. As long as you move towards meeting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and try to eat a healthful, well balanced diet, small amounts of sugar and even refined carbs can fit into the diet without having ill effects for most.

With so many important vitamins and minerals to keep track of, do you have any ideas for quick family meals that pack a nutritional punch?

  • Whole wheat pasta made with no sugar added tomato sauce or lightly sautéed eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and onions, fresh mozzarella, and chicken meatballs (made with ground chicken breast).
  • Whole wheat flour tortillas and lentils topped with shredded cheddar cheese; broccoli and carrots on the side (steamed or lightly sautéed in olive oil)
  • Chicken fajitas made with chicken breast, whole wheat flour tortillas, salsa, shredded cheddar cheese; salad with romaine, peppers, etc. on the side.

Lots of delicious recipes that have been tested with families and enjoyed by many (including my family and friends) can be found in my two other books, Feed Your Family Right! and So What Can I Eat?!

For even more awesome book ideas, check out our Recommended Reads!

A leading national nutrition expert, Elisa Zied has helped thousands of people enjoy healthier lives through her work as a consultant, writer, author, and speaker. By making nutrition and fitness accessible, practical, and fun, Elisa helps people find pleasure, satisfaction, and balance in their lives by showing them how to prepare, cook, choose and eat more nutritious, delicious food (and still fit in the treats), and incorporate more enjoyable physical activity and exercise into their lives. Elisa graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, and from New York University with a Master of Science degree in clinical nutrition. She is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com and Galtime.com, as well as a guest blogger for Caloriecount.com. From 2004-2010, she was a national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, and is a recipient of the New York State Dietetic Association media excellence award. Elisa is also certified as a personal trainer by the American Council on Exercise. You can learn more about Elisa or sign up for her free newsletter at elisazied.com.



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