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Nutrient Series: Getting to Know Your Nutrients
There's nothing like parenthood to cause adults to reevaluate their diets. We all want what's best for our children, and we want to start them off right. But with all the research that's published, it's not always easy to figure out just what is right. Nutritional research is published at such a fast pace that as soon as we're told to do something, another study comes out telling us not to do it anymore—or at least it seems that way. Although the research is welcomed, it can be hard to digest, if you'll excuse the expression.

With that in mind, this series of articles will present basic nutrition concepts to help families understand the definition of healthy eating.

The Nutrient Series will discuss topics that are important to your whole family, with an emphasis on the young child. You'll come to learn why certain foods and vitamins are recommended, and how to fit them into your lifestyle. I'll also discuss obesity prevention and offer some child-friendly recipes that your older toddler can help prepare.

Understanding the Basics

As a pediatric nutritionist, it is my experience that many parents don't understand the function of basic nutrients. Countless new diet schemes add to the problem by eliminating whole food groups and declaring them unhealthy. What we lack in today's society is a trend toward moderation, which is actually the only answer for a healthy lifestyle.

The American Dietetics Association, backed up by countless research studies, recommends a balance of 20 percent protein, 30 percent fat and 50 percent carbohydrates for a healthy diet. This doesn't mean that you should have more fatty foods than proteins; it's actually based on energy per gram. That means that in a 2,000-calorie diet, 400 calories should come from protein, 600 should be from fat and 1,000 from carbohydrates.

You see, protein and carbohydrates yield four calories per gram whereas fat yields nine calories per gram. This makes a big difference when you are putting together a daily menu. Obviously, you are going to be more careful about how many grams of fat you are eating instead of how many servings of buttered microwave popcorn you ate for lunch! After all, you don't want to use up your whole fat allowance on just popcorn, do you?

Calorie counting is not necessary if you read labels. Knowing the nutrient content of foods can help you manage your choices. This is especially important when you have small children, because we don't want to restrict their calories. By simply choosing a nutritious food that works for the adults in the house, and adding a little something extra for the kids, you can plan a meal for the whole family without having to become a short order cook.

Understanding serving sizes is also critical and is best learned by keeping measuring cups available to learn portion sizes while you're serving meals. The serving size is always listed at the top of the food label. Learning how to read labels will also be a part of this series. By the end, you should be a pro at putting it all together.

Finally, let us not forget the importance of daily physical activity for every member of the family. Raising and lowering the remote control does not count! But you may be surprised to know that housework can be included in your 30 minutes of exercise each day, so making time to exercise may not be as difficult as you thought.

A healthy lifestyle is really just a way of thinking. Using moderation you never have to give anything up but rather adjust to fit your needs. You'll find that when you apply this method you will easily make healthy eating a part of daily living.

Susan M. Leisner RD, IBCLC, RLC Nutritionist & Lactation Consultant