What is nutrition?

Nutrition is the term we use to describe the different raw materials that our bodies need to survive; every piece of food we consume has some nutritional impact. Nutritional science is the study of these vital materials and their impact on our health. Nutrition has always been difficult to understand and is often a source of confusion. There are countless variables that confound nutritional studies, numerous interest groups that want to leverage and influence which studies are done, and endless marketing efforts to portray one set of food as more nutritional than the next. Recently, fats have gone from being considered a source of poor nutrition in western countries to being viewed favorably in a balanced diet. Why did fats go from being viewed as a harmful nutrient to now being thought of as beneficial?

In this series on nutrition, we aim to dig into the research and give you a fact based, ground-up approach to nutrition. Our goal is to equip you with the basic information and toolkit needed to survey nutritional science properly and empower you to become a proponent of a fact-based approach to nutrition. There is much to cover and we will continue to expand on these articles to provide readers with a source of fact-based information. We will start with a quick overview before we jump into the history of nutrition, an explanation of the common nutrition panel, the health connotations of macro-nutrients, the science of what makes food filling, a scientific look at diet trends, and, lastly, our research-based approach to nutrition.

As a teaser to our scientific, fact-based approach to nutrition, we want to start with some common misconceptions of terms on branded packaging

Natural – Many snack packages claim to be all natural. This is not an FDA defined term, so there are no defined criteria that a food needs to meet in order to have the term on its label. For example, many products that claim to be “natural” contain high fructose corn syrup - which is, as the logic goes, derived from corn and therefore natural. Added preservatives also tend to sneak in under the all-natural claim. Traditionally, the only things you can count on from an all-natural claim is that the product doesn’t contain artificial colors, artificial flavors, or loosely defined “synthetic substances."

Low saturated fats – We will go into much more detail in a later article but suffice it to say that the theory linking consumption of saturated fats to heart disease has been proven wrong [1].

Whole wheat – A few common terms we’ve all seen on bread products and packaging include: whole wheat, 100% whole wheat, multigrain, wheat bread, and white bread. A whole wheat label means that a flour containing all parts of the grain was used to produce the product. However, it does not mean that this whole wheat flour was the only flour used as an ingredient; sometimes, manufacturers will include additional non-whole wheat flours in the product. In contrast, 100% whole wheat implies that only whole wheat flours containing the whole grain were used. Multigrain is the most misleading of these terms. We often think of multigrain as a "healthier" bread option, but it simply means that more than one type of grain was used. These grains are often stripped down and, in the process, lose the most nutritious parts of the grain. Finally, wheat bread and white bread are not necessarily different - wheat bread only implies that the flour comes from wheat. Bread manufacturers will often add a caramel color to wheat bread to give it a, darker, more “wholesome” look. This bread has similar nutrition to white bread.

 

[1] Chowdhury, R.; Warnakula, S.; Kunutsor, S.; Crowe, F.; Ward, H.A.; Johnson, L.; Franco, O.H.; Butterworth, A.S.; Forouhi, N.G.; Thompson, S.G.; et al. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann. Intern. Med. 2014160, 398–406

 

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