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10 Topics In Nutrition We Weren’t Thinking About in 1999


Updated April 17, 2014

There are some interesting things that have emerged in nutrition in the past decade. I don't think may of us remember exactly what we were eating (or thinking about eating) in 1999, but here are ten things I bet weren't on our minds:

We've known for long time that vitamin D is important for absorption of calcium, so it's been added to milk and to calcium supplements for years. Now there is a growing body of research suggesting that vitamin D levels may be correlated with other health concerns. Your body makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight, but you can find it in a few foods too.

Many years ago, we ate butter. Then we realized all those saturated fats in the butter were bad for our arteries, so we switched to margarine made from polyunsaturated fats. The problem was that polyunsaturated fats are liquid and don't spread very well on toast, so food companies partially hydrogenated the oils to give them a semi-solid texture. Unfortunately, that process creates trans-fats that are probably worse than saturated fats. Organic foods devotees have been around for a very long time, but in the nineties, most organic foods were found in small health food stores and co-ops. Today, you'll find organic foods in almost every grocery store. Why are organic foods becoming more popular? Mostly to avoid pesticides and other chemicals that can be found in our foods. There are lots of foods that are nutritious, but some foods have a little something extra. These foods are called superfoods. While there is no single definition for superfoods, in general superfoods are naturally nutrient dense, high in antioxidants, may contain healthful fats, or be low in calories, and also have some scientific studies to explain how they may keep you healthy. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for good health, and you have to get them from your diet - your body can't make them. The American Heart Association suggests eating at least two servings of fish each week because fish oil is rich with two types of omega-3 fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Plants contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a third type of omega-3 fat. Red Bull became a popular new beverage in the 2000s, and many more brands soon followed. Today when you go to the grocery or convenience store, you'll see several brands of energy drinks. They're easily identified by their brightly colored labels and crazy names. Most energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine, some combination of B vitamins, herbs and amino acids, and of course, lots of sugar. These beverages are very popular among teens and young adults -- and kids are consuming large amounts of caffeine at an earlier age. GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, and the use of GMO foods, although common, has become somewhat controversial. GMO crops have had their genetic structure modified in some way, usually to make them more resistant to pests or more resistant to certain herbicides that farmers use on weeds. Potentially, plants could be modified to add nutritional benefits; however, some people are worried that these "Frankenfoods" might ultimately cause harm to humans and the environment. Yogurt has been well known as a health food for a long time because it's high in calcium and protein. But it also contains probiotic, or friendly, bacteria that are good for your health. Probiotics and prebiotics (substances that feed the friendly bacteria) are found in other foods too, such as kefir and sauerkraut. They're also available in dietary supplements. Some processed foods are formulated with nutritional ingredients in order to boost their nutritional value. You can find orange juice with calcium added, peanut butter made with omega-3 fats, and margarine that contains plant sterols. Most of these foods will bear some type of health claim on their labels, and usually a bigger price tag. So what's the difference between superfoods and functional foods? Usually functional foods have been enhanced with some extra ingredient, while superfoods are typically in their natural state. Combine the words nutrition and pharmaceuticals, and you have nutraceuticals. While some people consider functional foods to be nutraceuticals, usually the term refers to dietary supplements that carry some claim of health benefit. These supplements are typically made from extracts of foods, such as quercetin, lutein or lycopene. Research evidence indicates eating whole foods that contain these components is good for you, but the findings aren't as clear about what happens when you remove them from the foods and put them into pills.
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