• In my interaction with people, I hear a lot of things that tell me that there is a LOT of confusion when it comes to nutrition.

    Shocking, I know.

    This is partly because not everyone understands how the science of nutrition works, how to interpret that science, or what it all means.

    But that is okay. I trust the scientists who study outer space know what Pluto is. For now. I don’t even pretend to understand why they can’t make up their minds. I don’t know how an engine works or why I can put lower octane gas into my car when I am a mile above sea level. I just accept that someone who knows what they are talking about know and I take their word for it. I know my boundaries of understanding. You can try to explain Pluto’s status to me or why there are different octanes of gas, but let me just say, I don’t care.

    There are many people who have a superficial knowledge of nutrition but speak as if they are an encyclopedia of nutrition. Usually, a very short conversation with them reveals that they have no true understanding of how the nutrients in food interact with the human body or that we must consider differences between men and women, age, activity level, type of physical activity, disease state, and so much more when considering how nutrients work on that person’s body.

    Here is an example: once it passes from the mouth and heads south, the body does not know the difference between maple syrup and white sugar, even if you think it does. It does not. People want to tell you how much healthier maple syrup is (and I LOVE real maple syrup) but any differences between white sugar and maple syrup are slight when we are talking teaspoons or tablespoons of it.

    Then there are people who are just wrong. I prefer to think people are confused, but just speak as if they know what they are talking about when they really don’t. But some people are just making stuff up. It would be entertaining if people didn’t take them so seriously. Really? Drinking water is like wearing sunscreen? Um, no. No, it is not.

    One of the on-going things I see and hear is people using food groups and nutrients as if they are interchangeable. They aren’t really.

    Like the time my friend said she wasn’t going to have any carbs for lunch then had a salad and a glass of wine… Yup. That was a HIGH carb lunch. I would estimate that 80% of the meal was carbohydrates. Could be more. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

    Food Groups

    There are five food groups

    Let me show the difference between the food groups and the nutrients.

    These are food groups:

    • Grains
    • Fruits
    • Vegetables
    • Dairy
    • Protein (formerly the meat and egg group)

    These are the six essential nutrients, which means we MUST have them for the human body to function properly:

    • Carbohydrates
    • Fat
    • Protein
    • Vitamins
    • Minerals
    • Water

    Now, let’s break this down a bit more because here is where some of the confusion comes in. The various food groups have nearly all the six essential nutrients. Mostly. Some are better sources than others, but they all overlap.

    What food groups have carbohydrates in them?

    Not just the grains, but the fruits, the vegetables, the dairy, and the protein foods such as nuts, seeds, beans, legumes. If the food came from a plant it has carbohydrate. If the animal ate the plants, then the milk that comes from it has carbohydrates. It is impossible to avoid carbohydrates completely unless someone is ONLY eating meats (including fish and poultry). To which I always wonder…when was your last bowel movement?

    What food groups have fat?

    Many of them do. Some have lots. Some have very little. Most fruits, vegetables, and beans have such a small amount that we don’t really count it. But then there are avocados. And the nuts and seeds have fat. Grains tend to be low in fat too. They have some, but small amounts.

    Now with the dairy products, whether it has fat really depends on the kind you choose. Cheese has a lot of fat. And if you choose whole milk and yogurt made with whole milk – there is fat. Non-fat? Well, I will let you guess.

    The protein food group – a lot of fat: nuts and seeds – yep. Eggs – of course. Fish, chicken, turkey – yes. Beef and pork – of course. Tofu – um, yes. Fat is in a lot of the food groups. (Not breaking down the types of fats here but noting that some fats are healthier than others.)

    What food groups have protein?

    ALL OF THEM! Totally, one-hundred percent. Argue with me if you want… Grains have protein. (Have you heard of gluten? That’s a protein.) Fruits have protein. Vegetables have protein. Dairy products have protein and complete proteins at that.

    And of course, the protein group has protein. The meats and the seeds and everything in-between – eggs, beans, tofu, fish, and everything. Did I say everything? All the food groups are a source of protein.

    Heck, the only things that do not have protein are sugar and oil. But those aren’t food groups. You knew that. I hope. Sugar is not a food group. Oil is not a food group.

    What food groups have the vitamins and minerals?

    Yes, these are two categories of nutrients and not interchangeable, but for brevity, I will bundle these together for now.

    You know the answer: ALL the food groups have vitamins and minerals. But no ONE food group has ALL the vitamins and minerals that the human body needs. None.

    If you have a variety of foods and include all the food groups, then getting the vitamins and mineral you need isn’t usually a problem. Really. It isn’t.

    Water – an essential nutrient, and THE MOST essential. What food groups contain water?

    All of them. Yes. They do.

    Grains need water to make them edible. No one eats rice, quinoa, or even oats without adding water (or liquid, which is water) to it. Even toast, dehydrated bread, has water in it. If it doesn’t? Call it a crouton.

    Of course, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products have water. That is pretty obvious. If it isn’t…let’s talk.

    Meats? Yes. Hello? If it didn’t we would call it jerky.

    Beans? Yes, unless you are eating uncooked beans. Don’t do that. Lectins…

    Nuts and seeds? Yes. Not a lot, but there is water in there.

    What doesn’t have water? Sugar and oils. Haven’t I covered this already? Oh, yes, and no protein either. But again, not food groups.

    So, in the big picture – people who worry about vegans not getting enough protein? Not a problem if they are eating a varied diet with all the food groups. Even when no animals are in the mix. Trust me. That broccoli tofu stir-fry is loaded with protein. And carbs.

    While we did not help the cause by giving the former “meat and egg” group the name “protein” but what is a better name: the meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, egg, tofu, nut, seed, legumes and bean group?

    Yes, that is what I thought.

    Keep food groups as food groups.

    Keep nutrients as nutrients.