Our individual needs differ greatly for a variety of reasons, including age, gender, activity level, and health status. As more studies are conducted and the results are analyzed, the media continue to report about miracle weight-loss diets and wonder cures that don’t necessarily lead to healthy eating patterns.
At its simplest, diet means the foods we normally eat and drink. The definition also encompasses the notion of foods that are prescribed to an individual for a specific reason. However, diets are popularly thought of as restricting the foods someone might normally eat. Most popular weight-loss diets fall into this category.
These diets are often described with an emphasis on the “delicious and bountiful” aspects of the foods the dieter is permitted to counteract the perception that diets are mainly about deprivation. Diets prescribed by a health-care professional might also include a number of restrictions, eliminating or curtailing some foods, reducing portions, or even changing someone’s typical eating pattern.
Some of these restrictions help control the number of calories consumed, while others are meant to prevent disagreeable, or even harmful, consequences.
Not long ago, a Poor diet once meant: “diet that did not supply sufficient basic nutrients, to prevent an individual from starving to death or developing deficiency diseases”.
There are still many places in the world where these issues are of vital concern. However, in most industrialized nations the reason a diet is described as “poor” has more to do with excess: too many calories, too much sodium, or too much fat. Ironically, an excess in one area can also lead to a deficiency in another area; too many calories in the form of sugary or fatty foods may indicate a corresponding lack of fiber or vitamins.
As an individual, you may want to know about diets in order to keep yourself healthy or to lose weight. As a professional, your motivation for knowing more about a healthy diet might be to develop entire menus for clients with specific dietary needs—for instance, clients with diabetes or hypertension, school children, or the residents of an assisted-living facility.
If your clientele is composed of a group that has a variety of needs or desires when it comes to eating, your challenge is developing menu items that are good options for those who have a personal concern in healthier foods.
The history of medical and culinary science is littered with dietary plans, special foods, and products meant to control weight, build muscle, or treat illnesses. Graham crackers, for instance, were a health food when they first arrived on the market.
Today, they are simply sweet crackers, not the cornerstone of a dietary program. Part of the issue is that today’s media climate is more frenetic. There are genuine alarms about the dangers of foods that should be taken seriously, like mercury in seafood or trans fats in snack foods.
However, many times the evidence for “alarming” issues is overturned almost before the ink is dry on the newspaper in which they are reported. Today, the public is becoming increasingly aware that schoolchildren are more and more at risk for some very “adult” diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
Also, baby boomers are nearly or well into their retirement and are waking up to the fact that staying healthy means learning new dietary behaviors from professionals. Chefs are not necessarily going to have all the answers about what foods are best to eat.
But we firmly believe that people need to learn as much as they can about nutrition so that they can apply that knowledge in the kitchen—not as a laboratory exercise, but in the pursuit of foods and flavors that feed a hunger for satisfying, sustaining, and healthful dishes. Chefs have a responsibility to offer foods that their patrons will want to eat that are also good for them.
No one has all the answers about which foods are best, but in order to do a good job, today’s chefs are honor bound to learn about the basics of food and nutrition so they can apply that knowledge as part of the techniques of healthy cooking.
links: Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash