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Which Nutritional Trade-Offs Are Worth It?

When a food has both good and bad points, how do you decide which are more important?

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
September 13, 2016
Episode #399

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When you're trying to make good choices about food and nutrition, you sometimes find yourself in a situation where you feel that you have to choose between competing benefits and risks. But often these nutritional dilemmas that we tie ourselves into knots over are really not that big of a dilemma at all.

For example, I got an email this week from a woman who was in a quandary over vegetable juice. On the one hand, she had read that nutrients are better absorbed from juice than they are from whole foods. On the other hand, because juicing removes most of the fiber from the vegetables, the natural sugars in vegetable juice are much more quickly absorbed, and this could potentially cause a blood sugar spike.

See also: Juicing: Healthy Habit or Blood Sugar Bomb?

What a pickle! Actually, not really. Let's look a little more closely at the details.

Let's say you’ve got a glass of fresh carrot juice. That’s a whopping 45,000 International Units of vitamin A, which is a nine-day supply. However, the sugars in carrot juice are absorbed into your bloodstream very quickly. And when it comes to blood sugar, slower is usually better.

In my episode on juicing, I suggested consuming juice together with higher fiber foods as a way to slow down the absorption of those sugars. Now it’s true that the fiber might reduce your absorption of the vitamin A by as much as 40%. But because there is so much in there to begin with, you’d still be absorbing five day’s worth of vitamin A in a single shot. Even 60% of that much beta-carotene is still a heck of a lot of beta-carotene. And when I think of all the other benefits of fiber, everything from promoting digestive health to feeding the beneficial bacteria in my gut, that’s a trade off I’m happy to make.

Here’s another example of a nutrition trade off that’s worth making.. A couple of years ago, I was invited to speak about nutrition to a parent's group at a local school. At one point, I asked if there were questions and an attractive young mom raised her hand.

She told us that she'd started making homemade kale chips and, to her surprise and delight, her kids absolutely loved them. Baked kale chips had become their favorite after school snack. They begged for them.

But then she'd read that heat destroys nutrients, so now she was worried that she wasn't doing her kids any favors because she was cooking all of the nutrition out of the kale.

Now let’s just back up the lens for a moment. This woman’s children were coming home after school and begging for kale chips. Is there really a problem here?

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