the amount
of information at
our fingertips can be
overwhelming, especially
on food and nutrition.
Every day a new headline
tells us what we thought
was right and suddenly
there is a laundry list of
‘new’ things we should
be concerned about in our
Even as a registered
dietitian, I feel like the
constant barrage of
contradictory information
is confusing and pulls
my attention away from
the key nutrition facts I
need to know. With so
much talk about what our
food doesn’t or shouldn’t
contain, we are losing sight
of the most important fact:
There are tons of great
nutrients and components
that food should and does
contain that aren’t being
I have whittled down
the long list of those great
nutrients and components
in food into five things you
should always look for.
The following five items
are ‘tried and true’, so
even though they may not
be the in the most recent
headlines, they still have
tons of science behind them
to back up their benefits.
1. Protein
Protein is an important
macronutrient that
comprises of amino acids,
which serve as building
blocks for forming protein
and other structures in our
body. When we eat protein,
we are consuming amino
acids that are important
for a variety of functions
building and maintaining
lean muscle, weight loss/
maintenance, bone health
and immunity.
So where should you look
for protein? There are a
variety of sources that can
fit any taste, preference or
budget. Good animal sources
include lean beef, chicken,
fish, eggs and dairy products
like milk and yogurt.
Plant sources are also an
important source of protein,
so look for sources with soy
such as tofu, soymilk and
other soy products, as well as
beans, seeds, nuts and some
grains and vegetables.
2. Whole and enriched
refined grains
Grains may get a bad rap
from some, but the truth is
that they play an important
role in our body and provide
plenty of health benefits.
Carbohydrates, like grains,
are the primary energy
source for your body. During
exercise, your body relies on
carbohydrates in the form of
glycogen. Now to get a bit
more granular: Whole grains
are found in carbohydrates
and refer to the entire grain
or seed of the plant.
There are a variety of wholegrain
sources found in foods
like oatmeal, brown rice or
popcorn, or incorporated
as an ingredient in food,
such as whole-wheat flour
in cereal, bread or crackers.
The benefits of whole grains
are numerous and include
cardiovascular health, gut
health and weight loss/
just to name
a few. Many
of these health
benefits can be
linked back to fiber,
a component of whole
grains, which could be
called the true whole-grain
The word ‘whole’, of
course, implies that anything
less is void of something,
but that is not necessarily
the case with non-whole
grains like enriched refined
grains. Refined grains differ
from whole grains in that
they have been processed
where the bran and the
germ are removed. Even
though refined grains have
gone through a few extra
processing steps, it doesn’t
mean they are without
nutritional value.
In contrast, most refined
grains, like flour, are enriched
with vitamins and minerals
before being added to foods.
Most refined grains are
enriched with vitamins such
as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin
and folate, critical for cellular
growth and metabolism, and
minerals like iron, which is
important for cardiovascular
3. Unsaturated fats.
We have gone from fat
phobic to fat fanatics,
but there is still some
confusion on what type of
fats we should be eating.
Unsaturated fats such as
mono-and polyunsaturated
fats should be the headline
here, as they support satiety,
boost cognitive function
and promote cardiovascular
health. Monounsaturated
fats, also known as MUFAs,
comprise of omega-9 fatty
acids. Polyunsaturated fats,
commonly referred to as
PUFAs, are further broken
down into omega-3 (alphalinolenic
acid) and omega-6
(linoleic acid) fatty acids.
When looking for
unsaturated fats in the diet,
you may hear them referred
to as any of the above
terms. The important thing
to remember is that they
are connected to important
health benefits and can be
found in a variety of foods.
Plant oils such as canola,
soybean and olive oils are
good sources of unsaturated
fats. Other great sources are
soy products like soy milk
and edamame, seafood like
canned salmon and tuna,
and nuts such as walnuts and
4. Vitamins, minerals and
trace elements.
Even though this sounds like
the miscellaneous category,
these micronutrients can
have macro effects on your
health. Depending on the
vitamin, mineral or trace
element, these nutrients can
be important for energy,
growth and repair. With
vitamins, look for fat soluble
(vitamins A, D, E and K) and
water soluble (vitamins B
and C).
Two important minerals
to keep your eye out for
are calcium and iron. Trace
elements such as iodine and
fluoride are needed in much
smaller amounts but still play
a crucial role in your body
functioning properly. Since
there are a lot of vitamins,
minerals and trace elements,
how are you supposed to
know what to look for in food
to make sure you are getting
all of the above?
The answer is simple: Eat
a variety of foods. Instead
of focusing on just one food,
choose a variety of types
of food so you ensure you
are getting all the different
vitamins, minerals and trace
elements. Aim to get lots of
fruits and vegetables in your
diet, as well as grains and
lean protein (see Nos. 1 and
2 above). The other option
is to look for foods that are
fortified with these important
nutrients, such as orange
juice fortified with vitamin D
and calcium or cereal fortified
with B vitamins and iron.
5. Healthful components
such as probiotics,
prebiotics and flavonoids
Finally, there is a whole
other category that I like to
call ‘healthful components’.
These are the components
in food that have associated
health benefits but can’t
be classified as a macro or
micro nutrient. These are
also the components that,
when in foods, some like to
call ‘superfoods’ although
there is no definition for
that term.
Depending on the
component, accompanying
health benefits can
be cognitive health,
developmental health and
gut and cardiovascular
health. Examples of
healthful components in
food are probiotics, which
are micro-organisms that
support gut health aka
themicrobiome and can
be found in yogurt and
fermented foods like
tempeh and sauerkraut.
Another example of
a healthful component
are prebiotics found in
bananas, honey, onions
and garlic that are basically
food for the microbiome.
Flavonoids are also a
great example of one of
these components since
they’re associated with
increased cognitive and
cardiovascular health and
found in a variety of foods
like fruits, vegetables, soy
products, tea, red wine
and dark chocolate.
So, whether it is in the
grocery aisle, at the dinner
table or at a restaurant,
keep your eye peeled for
these five important things
in food that can contribute
to overall health.
This piece was
contributed by Sarah
Romotsky, a registered
dietitian and the
Director of Nutrition
Communications at
the International Food
Information Council
Culled from www.

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