Making Smart Nutrition Choices
Whatâ€™s the difference between 100-calorie servings of apple juice, applesauce and a regular apple? You would think they all have the same nutrition, but that might not be the case. Some food will keep you fuller for longer. Other times, processed food and its raw counterpart will have very different nutrition. So how can you make sense of the nutritional differences in the foods you buy?
Nutrition isnâ€™t just a number. In a whole food (namely fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds), nutrition is the sum of all the nutrients in the food that work together to provide health benefits. This â€śsynergyâ€ť is not necessarily the same in foods that have undergone chemical or mechanical processing, or when certain components of a food are extracted and used in other products. Oftentimes, whole foods have more â€śbioavailabilityâ€ť of nutrients, so your body can absorb them and use them more readily.
For example, if you take flax or fish oil supplements for omega-3 fatty acids, the oil you take in from flaxseeds or fish (many times anchovies, sardines or mackerel) is only the fat of the plant or animal, and not the protein, vitamins, minerals or other healthful compounds. Soybeans are another example. Most nutrition research about soy is based on tofu and soy milk, not extracted soy protein â€“ which actually changes soybean molecules!
So, what does this mean for someone sitting down to a meal? Well, letâ€™s take the earlier example of apple juice, applesauce and an apple. Each serving has 100 calories, but which one would be most fulfilling? If you guessed the apple, youâ€™re right! An apple takes longer to eat and may make you more mindful of its consumption, while delivering extra fiber. Juices or fruit-flavored foods and beverages donâ€™t capture the whole foodâ€™s full nutrient profile, in particular fiber and antioxidants.
If youâ€™re not sure where to start with nutrition, take a look at some ingredient statements. Itâ€™s likely your fruit bar contains added sugar and enriched flour rather than actual fruit or whole grains. And shopping smart can help, too â€“ looking for fresh, whole food thatâ€™s in-season, as well as smart frozen, canned and bulk choices can get you great nutrition without paying a bundle at the register.