April 18, 2018 – Appetite For Life @ Johnson & Wales University-Charlotte

Nutrition information presented by
Steph Saullo, MS, RD, LDN

The science on food and nutrients and their relationship to health is complex. Individuals are unique and there are various factors that influence health outcomes. Researchers at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) are working to understand the intricacies of diet, nutrients, and their relationship to disease prevention and progression with the goal that general dietary guidance will one day be replaced with customized nutrition recommendations.

Current research suggests following an overall healthful diet, rich in plants, that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and unsaturated fats, and staying physically active may best support good health.

There are many choices when it comes to buying chicken. You can purchase chicken whole or in parts as breasts, thighs, or wings. Furthermore, you can choose boneless and skinless. All chicken meat is a good source of lean protein. Dark meat will have a bit more saturated fat compared to chicken breast. Chicken provides important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins B3 (niacin), B6, and B12, selenium, phosphorus, and choline.
It is important to take precautions when handling chicken to minimize the risk for foodborne illness. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests following four food safety steps:

  • Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate: Separate raw meats and poultry from other foods.
  • Cook: Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 °F (73.9 °C).
  • Chill: Refrigerate promptly.

There are various bacteria associated with chicken, like Salmonella, that may result in foodborne illness if not handled properly. Bacteria can be found on raw or undercooked chicken and can multiply rapidly out of refrigeration and before thorough cooking occurs at temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F (4.4 °C and 60 °C). To thaw chicken, it should be done in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave, but never on the counter or sitting out in other locations. Before cooking, it is recommended you do not rinse or wash chicken to avoid spreading bacteria.

Some terms used on chicken packages may be confusing. Below are some common labeling terms and what they mean when it comes to poultry products.

  • Free Range: The term can be used if producers demonstrate to USDA that poultry has been allowed access to the outside.
  • Natural: This term used on any chicken, meat, or egg product indicates that a product contains no artificial ingredient or added color and is minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a way that does not fundamentally alter it. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as “no artificial ingredients; minimally processed”).
  • No Hormones Added: Hormones are not allowed in raising poultry or pork and cannot be used on poultry or pork labels unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”
  • No Antibiotics Added: This term may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if a producer can provide sufficient documentation to USDA demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.

Eggs are an inexpensive source of high-quality protein (6 grams in 1 large egg). Additionally, eggs, along with foods that have fat like meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, nuts, and seeds, contain the nutrient choline. While the body can make choline in small amounts, humans must eat foods that have choline in order to obtain a sufficient amount.

While research in humans is limited, studies in animals have shown that choline is an important nutrient to optimize brain development and cognitive function.

In the Zeisel Lab, led by NRI director Steven H. Zeisel, MD, PhD, the focus of research is the nutrient choline. Scientists study the functions of choline and the factors that alter its dietary requirement in individuals. Much of this choline research focuses on brain and eye development and how choline and other nutrients influence generation of different types of neural cells that make up the brain and the light-sensing structure of the eye, the retina. The laboratory also studies the implications of choline in liver and muscle health.

“Eating the rainbow” or polychromatically can help give you a wide variety of nutrients. Each color family contains various antioxidants unique to that class. The typical color families and common foods include:

  • Red/Purple, like blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, and red pepper.
  • Red, like pink grapefruit, tomatoes, and watermelon.
  • Orange, like carrots, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes.
  • Orange/Yellow, like oranges, peaches, pineapple, and yellow grapefruit.
  • Yellow/Green, like avocado, green or yellow pepper, kiwi, and spinach.
  • Green, like Kale, broccoli, and Swiss chard.
  • White/Green, like garlic, chives, and artichokes.

Carrots come in more colors than the typical orange. They can also be found in purple, red, white and yellow varieties. Beta-carotene, an antioxidant, is one group of red, orange and yellow pigments called carotenoids. Beta-carotene along with other carotenoids provide roughly 50% of the vitamin A needed in the American diet.[1] Carrots are one of the best sources of beta-carotene. Pairing carrots with fat like olive oil, helps the body to absorb fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin A.

Dark leafy green vegetables tend to be considered powerhouses of nutrition. They are mostly water and therefore, when cooked, their nutrient content becomes more concentrated. Spinach and Swiss chard, along with other leafy greens, pack in a hefty amount of nutrients like fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, and magnesium. They also contain calcium, iron, and potassium. Lutein, a pigment and carotenoid antioxidant, is found in many leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard and has been found to support brain and eye health. General recommendations are for at least 1½ cups of dark green vegetables each week. For those taking blood thinners, it is recommended to consult with your physician or a registered dietitian, as a large amount of leafy greens may interfere with medications like Warfarin due to their high content of vitamin K.

A little goes a long way with garlic. Garlic lives in the onion family and enhances the flavor of many dishes. Garlic is a great way to add pizazz to food without adding a lot of salt or sodium. Garlic contains antioxidant compounds that may be anti-inflammatory. While there is no conclusive evidence, there is ongoing research investigating the effects and potentially protective benefits garlic may have on the heart and in the treatment and prevention of cancer.

A diet that includes many fruits and vegetables is important for overall health, and intake has been linked to protecting against various chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. While research looks at various fruits and vegetables, and their components (like individual phytochemicals), there is not one fruit or vegetable that can provide an adequate amount of all the nutrients required for health, so it is important to include a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. Most of the American population have intakes below recommended levels for fruits and vegetables (75 percent and 87 percent, respectively). So, we could all benefit from increasing our consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Similar to the benefits of eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, it can be important to also vary your intake of grains. In addition to commonly consumed wheat and rice, there are a whole host of other grains (ancient and modern) that can provide an assortment of nutrients and mix up the typical fare. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is gluten free and its nutrient content is similar to rice, but provides a bit more protein and fiber. Quinoa also provides important vitamins and minerals like folate, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and magnesium.

Other atypical grains you may try include amaranth, barley, bulgur, farro, millet, spelt, and teff.
[1] National Institutes of Health. National Library of Medicine. Beta-carotene. Available at https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/999.html.

Posted: April 18, 2018