Nutrition 101

By Emily Huntington

Horizon Editor

Hydrogenated oils. Polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats. Carbohydrates. They are on most nutrition labels, but most people don’t bother to look into what they mean – they typically just want to tear into whatever is constricted by the label.

Laurie Gill, nutrition instructor at Whatcom, explained, in general terms, what the labels mean, and what certain people look out for if they have food allergies or are just health conscious. For example, high blood pressure may be associated with sodium, Gill said.

“I would suggest eating a lot of food that doesn’t have a label,” she said.

There is “generally no marketing involved, no processing and packaging, more likely to be a ‘real’ food which has lots of nutrients,” she said.

Fruits and vegetables are a good example.

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. It is “literally ‘breaking the fast’ and providing nutrients for your brain. It helps get metabolism started for the day,” Gill said.

People who don’t eat breakfast in the morning make up for the calories they think they saved by over-consuming later (or before bed, when we don’t need the energy).

Saturated fats, such as butter, cheese, and other solid foods, have a negative effect on the body. They usually (not always) come from animals. The carbons are chemically saturated with hydrogen.

“Saturated fats tend to increase one’s risk for heart disease and high cholesterol,” Gill explained.

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are typically less solid or liquid at room temperature. They often come from plants, olives, nuts and seeds, peanuts, avocados, flax, etc. Unsaturated means that the carbons chemically have double bonds between them, and have the capability to accept other hydrogen. They are not associated with an increased risk for heart disease.

Carbohydrates, in small doses, can be good for us. The bulk of our calories come from them, and are primarily in whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Processed carbohydrates are most “white” foods: rice, sugar, flour, etc., and too much of them can do more harm than good.

Common misconceptions

Gill explained that one common misconception people seem to have about food is that low calorie/low fat foods are good for us. Our bodies need fat. Fat on food is part of what makes it smell and taste so good. When it is removed, chemicals are added to enhance taste, or mimic the palatable feel. Sometimes it is in the form of sugar, or artificial flavors.

Another misconception is that organic food is good for you and more nutritious. That is not always the case.

“With changes in regulations, some ‘organic’ food can be treated with approved chemicals and pesticides,” Gill said.

Pesticide use may be granted under certain conditions if other methods have failed. Sometimes, too, pesticides can find their way into “organic” foods because of what may be present in rain, ground water, or soil from previous soil treatments in or around the area, she explained.

“Organic doesn’t mean truly free from chemical residues, but it is a means by which to minimize pollutants from air, soil, and water,” she said.

However, organic food is more expensive for several reasons. Generally, organic farms are not as large as regular farms, and thus the farmers still have to make a living on selling a smaller volume, while still having the same expenses.

Another reason is that when someone has a regulatory agency, it costs money to support the agency, staff, etc. and they must meet more strict regulations, which leads to a higher price because of governing all of the ‘organic steps.’ The standards are continually changing, and will in some cases allow for organic food to be treated with a medication pesticide, which is something that you wouldn’t normally think of as being allowed to be considered “organic.”

Perhaps the most obvious reason is that the name itself implies a higher quality, and some are willing to pay for it, Gill said.

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