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Are Our Diet Plans Reflecting Accurate Nutrient Levels?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010
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Are Our Diet Plans Reflecting Accurate Nutrient Levels?
Are dietitians diet plan calculations reflecting the true values of the food given to individuals concerned? Are the nutritive values they arrive at after calculating as accurate as they should be?

In some countries nutritive values of cooked foods are calculated on the basis of the nutritive value of its raw ingredients. Even if a dietitian takes precautions to carefully record all food eaten and accurately calculate the nutrient values, are the numbers reflecting what is actually consumed? Can this calculation be taken fait accompli when they are using raw food numbers for calculating cooked foods?

It is a well-known fact among nutritionists that rapid nutrient loss starts right from harvesting. Losses also occur during transporting, storing, while cleaning and even more so during the cooking process. Loss or gain of both macro and micro-nutrients occurs when food is cooked with water, dry roasted, shallow & deep-fried, micro waved, baked or even cooked in solar heat.

How do we know the correct nutritional value of a food just before it’s consumed?

Several countries including India still use raw nutritive values of the edible portion of fresh foods for calculating nutrient values. Are we actually taking into account the considerable nutrient loss, while planning a diet for an individual - be it a healthy person or someone who is recuperating from a health challenge? Since the values are not precise, will it not be misleading in giving the exact picture of a person’s nutrient intake? Will this not be vital, especially if diet is critical to recovery?

Q1. Is there a realistic and practical method we can adopt to give more accurate nutritive values?

Q2. Alternately should we not work on getting the nutritive value of all cooked foods for calculation just like the USDA or devise a formula that can be used to calculate losses?



User Comments

27 October, 2010 | Snigdha Sharma | Reply

Snigdha Sharma We can have endless permutation and combination of losses. Nutrients are lost at every stage, harvesting, processing, storing and not just cooking, but we cannot take into account all the losses. Still atleast by taking into account cooking losses we would get better estimate than raw food values.

27 October, 2010 | Meetu Sehgal | Reply

Meetu Sehgal Dear Rashmi,
Dear Rashmi,
Cooked food nutritive values would give better estimate but how can we rule out that we all have different ways of cooking a particular dish? Authorities have to make exhaustive list of all the cooking methods used to cook a particular dish.

27 October, 2010 | Rashmi Singhal | Reply

Rashmi Singhal By using raw food values, we do get rough idea about nutrients but when it comes to clinical nutrition and therapeutic diets I think nutrtitive values of cooked foods would give better and realistic estimate.

20 October, 2010 | Poonam Vaswani | Reply

Poonam Vaswani The USDA has a "Table of Nutrient Retention Factors" which provides the % of nutrient retention for different methods of cooking for a particular food. The table has data for a range of vitamins and minerals for almost 300 food items.
We need to develop a similar system for cooked foods in India as well.

19 October, 2010 | Lucy Fernandez | Reply

Lucy Fernandez My sister is a kidney patient and is on a Sodium & potassium restricted diet.Even the amount of water she needs is monitored and given. After reading this I am not sure if the calculation the dietitian is arriving at is correct? I am worried so what do I do now?

20 October, 2010 | Poonam | Reply

Poonam Hello Lucy,
We understand your concern for your sister, at the same time these are practical problems which we face today. Usually cooking results in losses of potassium and sodium and the losses vary with different methods of cooking. Your sister's dietitian should advise her on choosing low sodium and potassium foods and also guide her on the best cooking methods to ensure that the total level of these electrolytes does not go beyond the prescribed level.
As Mrinal has rightly advised, if her parameters are in the acceptable range, you need not make any major changes in her intake.

20 October, 2010 | Vijayalakshmi Iyengar | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Iyengar Dear Lucy kindly do not worry about the dietary calculations as I am sure your dietitian is well aware of the shortcomings and making the necessary allowances.
Nevertheless to alleviate your anxiety I would like to reassure you that we often get less nutrition than what we calculate. There is more loss of nutrition than gain, while cooking.

As a rule for a kidney patient we reduce or avoid salt altogether to lower sodium intake. Similarly for potassium intake I am sure your dietitian would have given you a list of foods to avoid (potassium rich), to eat in moderation or eat liberally.
I am sure she would have also taught you to leach out potassium salts while cooking to ensure she gets only sufficient potassium to keep her healthy.
You can always discuss this matter with your dietitian to ensure that you both are on the same page.
Thank you

19 October, 2010 | Mrinal | Reply

Mrinal Dear Lucy,
The first question I have is - Are your sisters current parameters stable and is the diet she was assigned by her dietitian working for her. If the answer is yes - then please dont make any changes in a rush without her doctors approval.

Our dietitians will respond to your query separately and will guide you as needed - but now that you are aware of these shortcomings in calculations you could also bring this to her dietitians attention and let her take a call on your sisters diet.

09 October, 2010 | Sangeetha Narayana Swamy | Reply

Sangeetha Narayana Swamy The dietitians, food scientists, Food researchers - everybody know that there are varying proportions of nutrient loss occuring in every stage from harvesting to cooking, but what is being done about the problem?

The nutrient values of foods cooked in different methods should be found out and made available for dietitians for them to calculate the exact nutritive values.

Some countries, have the nutritive value of cooked foods, but would like to know if they have the cooked values for all the foods including the less familiar ones too.

07 October, 2010 | Poonam Vaswani | Reply

Poonam Vaswani It is extremely important for health professionals and individuals to know the real values of nutrients in the diet.The actual total intake of nutrients (due to losses at different levels),is most likely to be far less than the recommended allowances for nutrients, although theoretical calculations may not reflect this. It thus defeats the whole purpose of setting RDA’s.Dietitians are constantly using the standard raw food values for planning diets for patients with specific needs and the whole process is based on the premise that raw food values are the same as cooked food values.
It would be good to know from food scientists and dietitians in other countries about the procedure followed there.

07 October, 2010 | Vijayalakshmi Iyengar | Reply

Vijayalakshmi Iyengar I agree completely that we need to do something about this. Maybe some formula can be used, till such time we get data on cooked foods after analysis.

There is so much ambiguity due to soil variation, pesticide use, methods of harvesting, lengths of storing till it reaches homes and then on, in each home again the unaccounted loss is humungous, added to inadvertent loss of nutrition till it reaches the kitchen counter.

Loss due to each process right from pre-preparation onward till consumption - washing and cutting (size, shape, type and sharpness of knife) also affect amount of loss. Process like boiling, baking, blanching and microwaving all account for yet another percentage loss of vitamins, especially the water-soluble vitamins like the B – vitamins and C. If the food is cooked for a little longer or exposed to heat for a longer time then the loss is even greater.

To that extent, precise and shorter cooking times account for only a loss of 30% of nutrients, as against using processed foods and overcooking etc which destroys about 50 – 80% of essential nutrients.

Careful selection of method of cooking, amount of water added, the time for which the food is exposed to heat determines for about 5-15% of nutrient loss which is acceptable because it brings about changes in the food that facilitate good health, nevertheless should reflect in the calculations.
Since each household has a unique way of handling food, that there is no standardisation. When there is so much variation can we ever be precise?

What is the modus operandi used in other countries for calculation of nutrients in a diet, especially if they also do not have cooked values? Can somebody throw light on this?

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