Please stop making nutrition complicated

Good nutrition does not need to be complicated. Seriously. (Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer)

Below is the first blog entry from Beth Wallace, a registered dietitian at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who will be blogging regularly for us on kids and nutrition.

When people meet me for the first time in a social setting and find out I am a dietitian, things generally go one of three ways:

  • They say, “Oh, great!  You can put me on a diet,” then check my plate to see what I am eating.
  • They immediately hide their food and say, “Please don’t look at what I’m eating; I generally eat really well,” then check my plate to see what I am eating.
  • They immediately ask me four to seven rapid-fire questions about the latest and greatest diet  or new nutrition study, then check my plate to see what I am eating.

The consistent message is that everyone has questions about food — and no one wants to be judged. What people don’t realize is that the last thing my colleagues and I want to do when we walk out of the hospital is evaluate what other people are eating (unless it looks really delicious), and then make a judgment about their weight, their health, or what they must feed their children. 

What I would like you to do is to continue to look at my plate. Why? Because I want you to see how simple I make nutrition for myself. 

I am constantly surprised by the answers I get when I ask a child: “What does eating healthy mean to you?”  I frequently hear “not too many carbs” and “not eating trans-fats.”  These complex nutrition ideas are far beyond the cognitive ability of a 10-year-old to understand, let alone put into healthy practice. Yet that is what I hear time after time. As a society, we’ve flooded ourselves with nutrition misinformation and forgotten the simple fundamentals. 

What I would really like to hear from someone, someday, is, “Eating to give your body what it needs to do its best.”  It is that simple. The good news is that I honestly believe that most people, including kids and teens, inherently know what things our bodies need to function at their best. Just in case, let me help:

  • Water. Your body is about 60 percent water and that number is higher in young children. The water in your body sustains life’s functions in your brain, blood, lungs and kidneys. Your body is not made up of fruit punch, energy drinks or soda. It actually needs water.
  • Energy. This comes from, believe it or not, carbohydrates.  Low carbohydrate = low energy. Try to make them healthy whole grains.
  • Fruits and vegetables. In their whole form.  Eating them in their natural form maximizes their source of vitamins, fiber and minerals. Please step away from the apple juice, and grab the actual apple.
  • Protein. Lean meat, fish, dairy, beans and nuts. You’ve got this one. I know it.
  • Dairy (or non-animal substitute). For bone health and an additional source of protein.

If you stop and think, “Does my body need this today?” — and suggest your kids do the same — you can start to simplify the eating patterns for your family without the calorie-counting stress, and second-guessing of ingredients. (And, yes, sometimes your body does need a red velvet cupcake.  Sometimes.)