Ask the Dietitian...About Their Favorite Nutrients!

What do carbohydrates, iron and vitamin C have in common? They are among the favorite nutrients identified by the panel of school nutrition dietitians who offered reflections in School Nutrition’s “Ask the Dietitian” feature in the March 2019 issue. Discover why—as well as several other identified choices.

Laura Duba’s love of vitamin D has special bona fides. “My research for my master’s degree is how vitamin D impacts the progression of multiple sclerosis,” says the director of Child Nutrition for Brookings (S.D.) School District. “Here in the Midwest, our exposure to sunlight varies in the winter months, but the need for vitamin D in our bodies does not change,” Duba, RD, LN, points out. “Geographical location and vitamin levels may influence one another. Who knew?!”

“My favorite, at the moment, is calcium,” says Margaret DiBlasi, RD, SNS, director of Food and Nutrition for Franklin Township (N.J.) School District. “Calcium is especially important for growing children and for women.” DiBlasi enumerates the many foods that contain calcium, including: milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts/seeds, beans, broccoli, spinach, figs, tofu, fish with bones, fortified cereals—and even seaweed! And “yes,” she says, “I did put seaweed salad on the menu.”

Some conventional nutrients have fans among school dietitians. “Carbs and fat are the most misunderstood,” explains Joseph Dibble, RD, school nutrition supervisor, Nevada Department of Agriculture. Garrett Berdan, RDN, Nutrition Services Supervisor, Spokane (Wash.) Public Schools, also confesses that he’s a “sucker” for carbohydrates, especially in the form of baked goods like breads, pies, cookies and pastries. Lauren Marlow, MS, RD, supervisor of Nutrition, Commodities and Summer Program, Cincinnati (Ohio) Public Schools, also admits to a love of carbs, “because they are so good!” But she goes on to identify iron as “an interesting nutrient, due to the obvious symptoms that occur when someone is deficient, such as feeling cold or being tired. I have witnessed this multiple times with people around me.”

Meanwhile, Karen Hallford, MS, RD, LD, director, School Nutrition Program, Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Schools, identifies most closely with protein, of course, she says. “It aids in building lean muscle, maintaining a healthy eight, recovery and curbing hunger.

For Shannon Gleave, RDN, SNS, Director of Food & Nutrition, Glendale (Ariz.) Elementary School District, it’s all about vitamin C! “I love all the benefits! It is a powerful antioxidant and helps destroy free radicals,” she explains. “I think of it as the ‘superhero nutrient,’ zapping away all the bad things: smoke, environmental pollution, germs, poor diet. It helps keep you healthy.”

And Gleave couldn’t leave it at just one. “I also love the amino acid tryptophan. I love explaining that turkey is high in tryptophan, which is converted to niacin, which is needed to create serotonin, which helps you sleep,” she notes, adding, “But it’s not the turkey on Thanksgiving making you tired! It’s all the other food and beverages that we have over-consumed that makes us sleepy.” Meanwhile, Robyn Douglas, MPP, RDN, nutrition coordinator, Alexandria City (Va.) Public Schools, loves all 20 amino acids! “They’re the building blocks of proteins. There are nine that the body can’t make on its own, so they are essential to consume in the diet,” she notes. “They play a role in everything the body needs, from cell growth to supplying energy to protecting us from injury.

“Sodium is naturally occurring in nutrient-dense, kid-friendly USDA Foods, such as cheese, milk and ham!” says Ashley Harris, MS, RD, SNS, director of Child Nutrition, Jackson County (Miss.) School District. “Can you tell I’m an RD who is a fan of the Target 1 sodium restriction?!”

Toni Bowman won’t commit to a favorite nutrient, per se. This registered dietitian at Pomptonian Food Service in Edison, N.J., says she has favorite “substances,” aka prebiotics and probiotics. She’s fascinated by their symbiotic relationships. “We are finding out how much gut health plays a role in our well-being,” she notes, explaining that prebiotics are “good bacteria,” while probiotics “support or feed the good bacteria.”

The last word on the subject goes to Karen Olsen, RDN, LD, SNS, dietitian, Food and Nutrition Services, Harford County (Md.) Public Schools. “I love them all,” she says. “But I recently saw a t-shirt with the element ‘Um’ on the front that was described as ‘the element of confusion.’ Creative science geeks unite!”


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