(Yes, I just made those words up, and yes, I’m aware that they are completely stupid. Therefore, I will continue using them at every future opportunity, until people beg me in droves to STOP, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, JUST STOP.)
Just the other day, I received the following wonderful letter, and nearly broke my spine tripping over myself to thank the writer for writing it:
Dear Fat Nutritionist,
I am trying to improve my diet by adding things to it, in recognition of the fact that one’s diet is a vital source of vitamins and minerals. So far I have added a daily serving of orange peaches (about the only thing from the orange-vegetables list that I like) and a serving of green vegetables, and I have been eating fish at least twice a week. (I’m giving myself a gold star for that, because it’s progress even though I have far to go. Seriously, eight servings of vegetables every day?)
What I’d like to know is whether there is any truth to the idea that nutrition-free additions to nutritious foods make them less nutritious. Is there something about pouring caesar dressing on a bowl of romaine lettuce that makes the lettuce less nutritious? Are chocolate coated almonds less almondy than unsalted ones? Does cooking my zucchini in butter make it less zucchiniful?
I know these things raise the count of calories and calories-from-fat, but these are things that I am deliberately ignoring.
Thanks Fat Nutritionist,
Wow. I’m actually really impressed with how you’re stretching your food-related horizons, especially with more “challenging” foods like fish and vegetables. I’m not a huge vegetable fan myself, so I know that can be a rough one. And as far as the eight-a-day goes, eeeehhh — I treat all those rules as more of a suggestion from a super-paranoid health-freak friend. Which is to say, with salt.
Lots of it.
So, in response to your question, “What I’d like to know is whether there is any truth to the idea that nutrition-free additions to nutritious foods make them less nutritious. Is there something about pouring caesar dressing on a bowl of romaine lettuce that makes the lettuce less nutritious? Are chocolate coated almonds less almondy than unsalted ones? Does cooking my zucchini in butter make it less zucchiniful?”
Basically — no.
Stuff doesn’t magically become less nutritious because you add butter or dressing. There are always tons of crazy nutrient-nutrient interactions, but many of them are so miniscule, or there are so many of them going on at once, that you’d drive yourself crazy trying to account for them all.
You can also always point out to any random nutrition police that, for every nutrient interaction that actively interferes with absorption (like calcium interfering with iron), there’s another nutrient interaction that enhances absorption (like vitamin C with iron.)
So, basically, let’s assume it all evens out. Roughly speaking.
The wider the variety of food you learn to eat, the better your nutrient intake becomes. So, whatever gets the food up off your plate and into your mouth is effectively enhancing its nutritional value.
- You’ll eat it today, and
- You’ll like it enough that you might eat it again another time, and
- You’re going to be way more likely to stretch those food horizons even farther in the future, since you’ve had awesome experiences with, I don’t know, gravy on your broccoli.
And, going even further, a lot of flavour-enhancers (especially the fatty ones, like butter and oil and salad dressings) actually improve your ability to absorb nutrients in the food (fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.) What’s more, fat slows down food on its trip through your gut — meaning, your gut gets more time to absorb all the goodness.
Now, of course, it is true that cutting, mashing, and cooking vegetables (and other foods) can destroy certain sensitive vitamins, as does letting them sit in the fridge too long, blah-de-blah-de-blah-everything-you’ve-ever-read-in-a-dry-nutrition-advice-column-blah-de-blah.
But, honestly, it’s really freaking hard to come by food that is so totally bereft of nutritional value that this is going to make much of an impact — assuming you eat enough food to begin with, which most people living in rich countries do. If you’ve got a food-security problem, that’s a whole other ball of wax that needs to be addressed before you go around worrying whether your broccoli is is broccolicious as it can possibly be.
So, bottom line? If you’re eating actual food, and eating multiple food groups, and not starving or unduly restricting yourself, then yay. You’re doing well.
And anything you can do to make that food tastier, sexier, and more likely to end up in your mouth? Go for it.
Hope this helps,
Join the FOOD-FIGHT!!!! in comments.