THE ANSWER RARELY IS A SIMPLE ONE. Our indi-vidual needs differ greatly for a variety of reasons,including age, gender, activity level, and health status.As more studies are conducted and the results areanalyzed, the media continue to report about miracleweight-loss diets and wonder cures that don’t neces-sarily lead to healthy eating patterns. At its simplest,diet means the foods we nor-mally eat and drink. The definition also encompassesthe notion of foods that are prescribed to an individ-ual for a specific reason. However, diets are popularlythought of as restricting the foods someone mightnormally eat. Most popular weight-loss diets fall intothis category. These diets are often described with anemphasis on the “delicious and bountiful” aspects ofthe foods the dieter is permitted to counteract theperception that diets are mainly about deprivation.Diets prescribed by a health-care professional mightalso include a number of restrictions, eliminatingor curtailing some foods, reducing portions, or evenchanging someone’s typical eating pattern. Some ofthese restrictions help control the number of caloriesconsumed, while others are meant to prevent dis-agreeable, or even harmful, consequences. A “poor” diet once meant a diet that did not sup-ply sufficient basic nutrients to prevent an individualfrom starving to death or developing deficiency dis-eases. There are still many places in the world wherethese issues are of vital concern. However, in mostindustrialized nations the reason a diet is describedas “poor” has more to do with excess: too many calo-ries, too much sodium, or too much fat. Ironically, anexcess in one area can also lead to a deficiency in an-other area; too many calories in the form of sugary orfatty foods may indicate a corresponding lack of fiberor vitamins. As an individual, you may want to know about di-ets in order to keep yourself healthy or to lose weight.As a professional, your motivation for knowing moreabout a healthy diet might be to develop entire menus or clients with specific dietary needs—for instance,clients with diabetes or hypertension, schoolchildren,or the residents of an assisted-living facility. If yourclientele is composed of a group that has a variety ofneeds or desires when it comes to eating, your chal-lenge is developing menu items that are good optionsfor those with a personal concern in healthier foods. The history of medical and culinary science islittered with dietary plans, special foods, and prod-ucts meant to control weight, build muscle, or treat ill-nesses. Graham crackers, for instance, were a healthfood when they first arrived on the market. Today,they are simply sweet crackers, not the cornerstoneof a dietary program. Part of the issue is that today’smedia climate is more frenetic. There are genuinealarms about the dangers of foods that should betaken seriously, like mercury in seafood or trans fatsin snack foods. However, many times the evidence for“alarming” issues is overturned almost before the inkis dry on the newspaper in which they are reported. Today, the public is becoming increasingly awarethat schoolchildren are more and more at risk forsome very “adult” diseases like diabetes and hyperten-sion. Also, baby boomers are nearly or well into theirretirements and are waking up to the fact that stayinghealthy means learning new dietary behaviors fromprofessionals. Chefs are not necessarily going to haveall the answers about what foods are best to eat. Butwe believe firmly that people need to learn as muchas they can about nutrition so that they can apply thatknowledge in the kitchen—not as a laboratory exer-cise, but in the pursuit of foods and flavors that feed ahunger for satisfying, sustaining, and healthful dishes. Chefs have a responsibility to offer foods thattheir patrons will want to eat that are also good forthem. No one has all the answers about which foodsare best, but in order to do a good job, today’s chefsare honor bound to learn about the basics of food andnutrition so they can apply that knowledge as part ofthe techniques of healthy cooking.

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