Balancing Act of Great Food and Good Nutrition

Nobody’s perfect, and that’s especially true when it comes to eating a healthy well balanced diet. “All these years and we still know that balance, variety and moderation are the keys to good nutrition and that includes enjoying occasional splurges,” says dietitian Jill Melton, editor of Relish Magazine. Melton and more than eight thousand nutrition expert colleagues meeting at The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2012 Food & Nutrition Conference in Philadelphia gathered to learn the latest research and sample the best new healthy food products.

How to find a happy balance between healthy living and enjoying great foods was the focus of a series of lively panel discussions held in the spacious and welcoming Nestlé́ exhibit booth designed to look and feel like a home.  Dietitians gathered around an oversized dining room table and spilled into the aisles to listen to leading nutrition experts and expert observers talk about the challenges of promoting nutrition through the lifecycle from infancy to the elderly.  Invited by Nestlé́, I served as the moderator for four fast-paced 20-minute chats and – woah – did I learn a lot!  First off – Nestlé́ is the world’s largest food company with a commitment to nutrition, health and wellness. 

Good Food, Good Life

Nestlé́’s headquarters is in Switzerland and is most associated worldwide with their wonderful chocolate. But did you know that Nestlé́ USA develops and distributes so many other popular leading brands including Lean Cuisine, Stouffers, Buitoni, Libby’s Pumpkin, Juicy Juice and Carnation Breakfast Essentials? Nestlé́ Waters hydrates and quenches the thirst of millions with such iconic brands as Perrier, Acqua Panna and S. Pellegrino, as well as Nestlé́ Pure Life purified bottled waters in the U.S. 

Nutrition Numero Uno

I learned more about the broad reach and respect for the Nestlé́ Nutrition Institute (NNI), too. NNI shares state-of-the-art science-based information and education with nutrition and health experts all over the world. And while most of us are familiar with their consumer brands – including childhood faves Ovaltine and Nesquik – Nestlé́ Health Science works with nutrition professionals to offer products for people with special health needs such as Boost, the nutritional supplement beverage for seniors who need a boost of protein, vitamins and minerals. 

Nestlé́ Professional, serving healthcare institutions, restaurants and schools, offers unique services, balanced products and valuable resources for the food pros specializing in away from home eating experiences.

Start Healthy – Stay Healthy

Now that you’ve glimpsed the scope of the company’s core mission to help people start healthy and stay healthy throughout life – here are some highlights from the hot topics of Nestlé́’s nutrition panels held during the 2012 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference and Exposition held in Philadelphia.

Healthy Hydration

Officially titled “Nourishing Healthy Living: Nutrition Throughout the lifecycle, including healthy aging, super foods and balanced eating,” this panel discussion got right to the heart of the matter – how nutrition can make a difference in the support of good health throughout the lifespan – from infancy to the elderly to support wellness and when we’re not that well to help nurture us back to health.  

Each of the dietitians on the panel are experts in working with the elderly and in medical care settings so have been on the front lines of seeing health declines in patients that could have been prevented. One of the simplest yet most important observations is that many elderly patients are dehydrated.

“Some elderly people don’t know they’re thirsty and can end up in the emergency room by not being hydrated, which affects brain function,” says Carol Siegel, MS, RD, Head of Medical Affairs, Nestlé́ Healthcare Nutrition. Another challenge – the elderly are more at risk of dehydration because their mobility problems may discourage them from drinking water (they might not be able to run to the restroom!) and due to physiological changes.  

“The body becomes dryer as you get older,” says Val Wendel, MS, RD, LDN, Healthcare Channel Sales Manager, Nestlé́ Professional. Adding more nutrition to hydration – as with Boost beverages and Trio soups – can offer a solution. Wendel says, “Fortified soups and beverages provide an excellent source of nutrients and hydration.” 

Easy To Swallow Solutions

Simply sipping soup and enjoying a cool glass of water is a big challenge for folks with swallowing problems that may be caused by stroke or as a side effect of radiation. “Swallowing difficulties can increase the risk for malnutrition,” says Maureen Huhmann, DCN, RD, CSO Manager, Clinical Sciences, Nestlé́ Nutrition.

Huhmann, a specialist in oncology nutrition, described how the odorless starch-based thickener called Resource Thicken Up Clear is used to thicken liquids to help patients with dysphagia (swallowing problems).

Drink Up Before School Kids!

Kids are vulnerable to dehydration too. In fact, “64% of kids go to school dehydrated,” says Carol Savage, MS, RD, Manager, Beverages Division, Nutrition, Health & Wellness, Nestlé́ USA. So when you send the kids off to school, whether on the school bus or when helping them put on the seat belt in the car, hand them a bottle of water or a container of Juicy Juice. By the way, milk hydrates, too – even chocolate milk.

Think About Your Drink

The take home from this panel of nutrition experts: dietitians care about keeping folks healthy and hydrated and a lot of the solutions are pretty simple – and tasty! You just have to know the power of proper hydration to think about your drink.

Nestlé́ products like Nestlé́ Pure Life help address a hydration deficit occurring in the elderly and in kids,” says Chavanne Hanson, MPH, RD, LD, Nestlé́ USA Wellness Champion.

Mindful Eating

The second panel was packed with nutrition experts, including Dr. Barbara Rolls, Penn State University Nutritional Sciences Guthrie Chair, Dr. Wahida Karmally, dietitian and Director of Nutrition, Columbia University and Dr. Adam Drewnowski, Director of Nutritional Sciences Program at the University of Washington. Diving into the discussion about nutrition, cognition and mindful eating, Dr. Karmally, whose research focuses on pediatric nutrition, shared this important fact,

“Eating habits are established in the first 6 years of child’s life.”

And while most everyone agrees that nutrition is key to proper growth of body and mind, Dr. Karmally says the reality reveals big improvements are needed. “One in eight kids miss breakfast!”

In a hurry? I remember my mom giving me Carnation Instant Breakfast as I ran to catch the school bus. My favorite flavor is strawberry. I was always late because I couldn’t decide what to wear.

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and Carnation Breakfast Essentials offers a great breakfast substitute,” says Wendy Johnson-Askew, PhD, RD, MPH, Director, Public Policy, Nestlé́ Nutrition.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner – what family meals look like today is the research focus of Dr. Drewnowski, who says, “The family meal is evolving.”  That means the balancing act of sitting around the kitchen table versus running off to sports practices and all of the other dinner time distractions is shaping the family meal today. 

The good news is that Dr. Rolls, author of “The Ultimate VolumetricsDiet”, wants parents to know that the balancing act of good nutrition can include occasional splurges. “You can eat anything in moderation,” She says.  And snacking is AOK in her book, too. “Find your healthy snacking pattern.”

Foods for the Future

What’s really a lot of fun is when discussions about nutrition burst into enthusiasm about great tasting, healthy foods. Leading the surge in discussing Foods for the Future, Lucien Vendôme, Director of Culinary Operations for Nestlé́ Prepared Foods says “We must all be passionate about nutrition.”  Vendôme, who is the creative genius behind the recipe development for Lean Cuisine, Buitoni and Stouffer’s Frozen foods, shared that frozen foods offer a tasty, nutritious and convenient solution for busy folks and families. 

Registered dietitian Jill Melton, blogger and editor of Relish Magazine, notes, “We are a microwave generation.” So it’s good news when food companies such as Nestlé́ stock the grocer’s freezer with delicious and nutritious microwavable options.

Melton, who was one of the founding editors of Cooking Light Magazine, observed that the word ‘light’ used to have a stigma; folks just assumed light foods wouldn’t be as good. But today that’s changed, and light eating is appealing and sought after.

Have Some Fun

Teaching the next generation to balance lighter choices with fun ‘splurge foods’ is an important goal for foods for the future.  And the lessons begin very early.

“The hardest transition for babies is from baby food to table food. Eating patterns begin to form at 18 months, and are set at two years of age,” notes Wendy Johnson-Askew, PhD, RD, MPH, Director, Public Policy, Nestlé́ Nutrition. Johnson-Askew also noted that one-third of kids’ calories come from snacks, so those snack choices should count towards good nutrition.

Balanced Eating

In the final panel, we get closer to ‘wear the rubber meets the road’ so to speak and that of course is the power of portion control, taste, enjoyment and the pleasures of the table.

While one of the USDA’s current nutrition messages to combat obesity is “Enjoy your food, but eat less,” Dr. Barbara Rolls, professor of nutrition at Penn State University, argues that the message should be to eat more of certain foods to fill up the plate. “People tend to eat a consistent amount of food. If you tell them to just eat less they don’t like it because they don’t want a plate that’s half empty.” Dr. Rolls’ research shows that eating more foods – which are higher in water content such as fruits, vegetables and soups – adds volume to the plate and satiety to support weight management.  

Easy Veggies

Making it easier to get more vegetables into meals, frozen vegetables and frozen entrees that include veggies offer simple solutions for complicated modern days.

“I always recommend mixing prepared foods with fresh foods,” says Katherine Brooking, RD, blogger, author, media personality and founder of Appetite for Health.  Blogger Colleen Padilla, known as Classy Mommy, says “Moms are always looking for more convenience.”

And with taste and style in mind Kristen Colapinto, blogger at Social Vixen, suggests, “One trick I use is taking prepared food out of their packages and placing on a plate to make it seem more presentable.”  I love this idea! Especially because I have a passion for pretty plates and even collect them at yard sales. Treat yourself and set a pretty table even when you’re smart to save time by choosing delicious frozen entrees.

Write it if you bite it!

Helping people keep track of what they’re eating and how much was discussed, and Katherine Brooking emphasized the power of the pen and recommends her nutrition minded clients keep a daily food journal. After a week they get a snap shot of where those extra calories may be coming from.  I say “if you bite it, write it.”

Dietitian Chavanne Hanson, MPH, RD, LD, Nestlé́ USA Wellness Champion, sums it up very nicely, “Pleasures, balance and understanding are core pillars of what Nestlé́ wants to convey to the marketplace.”

So, the delicious lesson learned  (and echoed throughout the four nutrition expert panels for Nestlé́) is to find a happy balance in your food life – seeking healthier options for every day and enjoying occasional splurges. Oh, and don’t forget to drink some water!

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