The Culinary RD vs. The Culinary Chef… Can’t we All just get along?



The USDA 2010 guidelines advisebalancing calories, and increasing fruits and vegetables, while reducing fat and sodium (more details here). Registered Dietitians (RDs) are down in the trenches with the public, employing a variety of techniques to put the guidelines into action. Unfortunately, the food and restaurant industry has made limited contributions towards the battle of the bulge.

The culinary worlds of the nutrition expert (registered dietitians) and the cooking world of culinary chefs often collide. To prove my point, I am going to share two very different experiences with you, and I will let you decide what the best answer may be for adhering to the USDA guidelines.

My first experience occurred at the phenomenal Culinary Institute of America(CIA) at Greystone near San Francisco this past month. It was my first trip to Napa and as you can see from the picture above, the culinary institute was a sight to behold. It was my good fortune to be part of a small group of retail RDs from around the country invited by The National Pork Board to the CIA. A wine expert and one of the instructing chefs for the institute treated us to lectures and taste testing.

At the CIA, we put on our chefs hats and aprons, rolled up our sleeves and cooked shoulder to shoulder with the culinary students and chefs. The food was beautiful, but the taste was masked somewhat by the addition of too much salt! Many of you will roll your eyes when you read this, but honestly the food was too salty. There was salt added directly from the shaker and indirectly through a variety of sauces. I can honestly say that one of the best cooking schools in the country over salts.

Granted, we have been creating and sampling low sodium recipes for months now, so my taste buds have reset. This is good news for those of you who want to hold the salt. With 2300 mg being the maximum sodium intake recommended daily (1500 mg for ages 51 and over and high risk populations), you can see where having 1000 mg or more of sodium at one meal could be problematic. When you are the chef in charge of your family, putting away the saltshaker does not have to be difficult. Using herbs and spices to add flavor to your food makes your meals delicious and more nutritious. Over time, you and your family will desire less sodium on the food you love.

Our CIA instructing chef (Bill) was fun, full of great cooking tips and advice, but he was not having any part of my suggestion to train his chefs to use less sodium. In fact, according to him, seasoning means salt. I am no chef, and I do not claim to know more about cooking than our instructor. I do, however, know about cooking techniques to enhance flavor while meeting the USDA guidelines for disease prevention and weight loss.

Chef Bill’s solution to reducing sodium and calories was to cut back on portion size. My thought provoking response was, “really, are you kidding”? I told Bill that I have been working with clients for weight loss for over 23 years and requesting that they cut back on portion size has not worked well. I wish I could have taken Chef Bill with me on my next trip, The Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in Philadelphia (twitter #FNCE).

At FNCE, Bill could have listened to evidence based research showing what does work when it comes to reducing sodium and calories for both a healthy heart and a healthy body weight. He would have listened to Dr. Barbara Rolls discuss a Volumetrics eating plan. Dr. Rolls says, “water-rich foods like brothy soups, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meat, and fish — not only help control hunger by filling you up, but they also do it on fewer calories. Foods that are high in fat and/or sugar are just the opposite: They’re less filling, plus they have more calories per bite”. She backs up her claims with hard research! I demonstrated this concept for a Christi Myers segment on the Houston ABC news affiliate channel 13 by adding wonderful flavor and increasing portion sizes for fewer calories and more nutrition and on the CBS affiliate channel 11 Great Day Houston.

The CIA does bring together health professionals each year to discuss healthy cooking with a program called: Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives: Caring for Our Patients and Ourselves. The question is are any of those chefs listening? While at FNCE, I met a food editor who had attended the CIA healthy cooking program at Greystone. She said she was dismayed to see that during the presentation, the chefs grabbed salt and sprinkled it everywhere. The best chefs, in my humble opinion, are able to use their talents to bring wonderful flavor to food without adding salt and smothering foods with butter.

Until our culinary schools get on board with making meaningful recipe and menu changes, it is going to be very difficult to make significant headway with our obesity and high blood pressure epidemic. We need more meetings of the minds between our RDs, chefs, and health care professionals. Rather than saying we can cook healthy and it can stilltaste good, our new manta should be: delicious, sensational food is sooo good for you!

The good news is that The National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI) has a number of food and beverage companies that have volunteered to lower salt in many of their products. Click on this NSRI Initiative to see a list of food companies participating.

For great tips for modifying recipes and delicious information on some commonly used herbs and spices go on our blog: Modifying Recipes and Spice Things Up.

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