Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Where Can You Find Useful Nutrition Information?

This blog post appears on Talking About Men's Health, a blog by the Men's Health Network, this month as the first of my monthly Men's Nutrition blog. Enjoy! - Nutrition Nerd

I always think that Mondays are the perfect day to start or learn something new. We've hit the reset button while out of the office over the weekend and Monday presents a chance to start fresh. Not only that, but researchers suggest that changes you make on a Monday are more likely to be repeated throughout the week. This blog post begins the first in a series of monthly Monday Fresh Starts where I will explore positive and meaningful ways in which you can learn more about your nutrition and health and take small, active steps towards the best possible you!

One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome in your road to a more nutritious diet and healthier you is knowing which sources to believe and where to look for them. In this Monday Fresh Start, I will be highlighting some important information to know and sources to help you make your fresh start.

Which Food Pyramid should you use?

The Food Guide Pyramid most of us have heard about was created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and modified in 2005 to be more flexible for each individual. Additionally, there are multiple versions of this food pyramid that incorporate the needs of different cultures or food preferences. If you would like to learn about and use one of these pyramids, make sure to check out Healthy Living Nutrition Information for Men which gives handy tips on understanding portion sizes. It has very useful analogies!

As a Registered Dietician student, we are taught about this food pyramid and how to help individuals meet its daily requirements. My public health, cancer research, and nutrition experience leaves some doubts in my mind when I think about what seems “healthy” based on common sense, research, and what this pyramid recommends. I personally recommend taking a look at the Healthy Eating Pyramid which combines research from multiple disciplines and recommends a drastically modified food pyramid. I try to use this guide in my own life and have found that my mental attitude has become more positive and I feel healthier. It is wonderful to be encouraged to eat healthy, exercise, and feel healthy without having to worry about specific calories or amounts of food.

What is a Portion Size? A Serving Size?

I have always been confused by portion sizes and serving sizes. Recently, I have discovered why they are so different. The portion size (found on the Food Guide Pyramids) are created by the USDA and serving sizes (found on nutrition labels on food products) are created and monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). No wonder they're so different! So if you were wondering, like I was, why the portion sizes of the food pyramid don't match the serving sizes on your food labels – it's because they are regulated differently and by different government agencies.

Where can I find accurate and easy to understand nutrition information?

There are countless websites touting nutrition information relating to the products they sell. It's important to seek nutrition information from independent sources that are not biased by the possibility of selling you a product. There are two main independent resources that I consult regularly:

Center for Science in the Public Interest has the largest circulation health newsletter, Nutrition Action Healthletter, that focuses on nutrition, health, food safety, and a variety of related topics. Each month's newsletter focuses on a specific health topic and thoroughly uncovers the truth about nutrition and health research, what we have already learned, and which areas are still left to be further researched. The back page also includes Food Stars and Food Porn, which highlight the best and worst processed foods. Although it costs a small yearly fee to subscribe to the monthly newsletter, their website is a wonderful source for independent nutrition information and includes many helpful guides, PDFs, and the latest nutrition and health news. They even have an e-Book on Six Arguments for a Greener Diet for those of us who are environmentally conscious and want to incorporate that into our eating habits.

Nutrition Data is my ultimate source for nutrition information. They have many easy to use resources and extensive nutrition information. As I learn more about individual nutrients in different fresh foods, I check what I'm eating in this database. Check it out!

Future blogs will be more focused on specific nutrition and health topics, but as part of National Fruit & Vegetable Month I wanted to make sure all the men who read this blog post have a place to start.

I hope all your Mondays this month are full of fresh starts!

  • The Nutrition Nerd

Nutrition Nerd

Feedback, Suggestions, Questions

Each month I will be exploring nutrition resources, specific foods, recipes, and how nutrition can easily and simply be incorporated into your way of thinking to improve you and your family's health. If there is a specific nutrition topic that is important to you, please send suggestions for future Monday Fresh Starts to nutritionnerdalerts@gmail.com

For more information between blog posts on this site, please direct your web browser to:

Nutrition Nerd on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Los-Angeles-CA/Nutrition-Nerd/100885132783?ref=ts

Nutrition Nerd on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/NutriNerd

Check out these links:

Food Guide Pyramid - http://www.mypyramid.gov/

Healthy Living Nutrition Information for Men - http://www.hap.org/healthy_living/mens/nutrition.php

Healthy Eating Pyramid - http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/pyramid/

Center for Science in the Public Interest - http://www.cspinet.org/

Nutrition Data - http://www.nutritiondata.com/

National Fruit and Vegetable Month - http://www.ageducate.org/news/fruit-veg_month.html


  1. Thanks for the great post and good references. I have at least one issue with the healthy pyramid which you recommend. Dr. Walter Willett thinks that white potatoes (maybe he likes the purple or red ones better) are not good. I've spoken with the Jenkins group in Toronto and they say that eating potatoes with other food does not spike GI, especially if the potatoes aren't mashed. But no pyramid is perfect. We need more people like you to act as a guide.

  2. Thank you for your wonderful comment! I completely agree with you. Each pyramid is not perfect because it takes into account only the particular focus that each group includes - whether it is in the interest of the agriculture industry (USDA's Food Guide Pyramid) or in the interest in being as comprehensive as possible (Harvard's Healthy Eating Pyramid).

    In terms of potatoes, I think that was mostly included because we as Americans abuse our right to eat potatoes on a regular basis. They are often considered a "vegetable serving" but are really a serving more akin to the starches (whole grains in the Healthy Eating Pyramid). This is because of the higher Glycemic Index (GI) value you mentioned.

    In terms of GI, you are right. Eating potatoes with a source of lean protein, for example, can slow down the spike in blood glucose. In my personal opinion, GI can be a wonderful guide for portion sizes - but they are rather impersonal. GI is measured when no other foods or physical conditions (such as exercise or food preparation) are considered. In fact, potatoes are among a group of foods that can have resistant starches. If you heat them up but let them cool down before eating them, they will become about 5% resistant starch.

    I think that if you eat a lot of leafy green and colorful vegetables throughout the day, there is no reason to not have potatoes right along with them. In fact, I often include a few small potatoes in my vegetable dishes to help with satiety (feeling more full).

    - The Nutrition Nerd