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Q&A with nutrition expert Joy Bauer

NBC's Today show's resident nutrition expert Joy Bauer

NBC's Today show's resident nutrition expert Joy Bauer answers Newsday readers' questions. You can find more expert tips on JoyBauer.com. Photo Credit: Handout

The start of 2012 is right around the corner, with many people making New Year's resolutions to lose weight, eat healthfully and cook more nutritious foods. In fact, more than 186 million American adults – or 8  out of 10 men and women – say they have been "weight conscious" this year, according to a national survey conducted by the Calorie Control Council. So why not make 2012 the year you and your family eat nutritiously?

To help you get started, Joy Bauer, RD, resident nutrition expert for NBC's Today show and author of "Joy Bauer's Food Cures" (Rodale; $21.99) offered to answer Newsday's Facebook fans' most pressing nutrition questions. Here's what she had to say:

1. I'm trying to add more vegetables into my day, especially the "power" foods like broccoli. Can you tell me if the stalk of the broccoli is as nutritious as the top, or do I have to eat the whole thing to get the benefits?
-Mindy Joy Rose

The florets and stalks are actually very similar in terms of nutritional content. "The one big difference is beta carotene — the deeply colored florets have about eight times as much beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) as the pale stalks," said Bauer. The stems are still packed with other vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin K and potassium, so if you much prefer eating the stalks solo, there’s no reason to make a change.

2. Soy/tofu, yes or no? The information is so confusing on this.
-Jenna Kern-Rugile

"Many people avoid soy because of fears that it increases risk of certain types of cancer, particularly breast cancer," said Bauer. Soy contains weak estrogen-like compounds called isoflavones, and some preliminary laboratory studies years ago sparked concern that these estrogen-like compounds might activate tumor growth in breast tissue.

However, recent long-term studies in humans have not shown a link between soy foods and an increased risk of breast cancer or breast cancer recurrence. In fact, new research suggests the total opposite — that eating whole soy foods may actually reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. "By 'whole soy foods,' I mean tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, and soy nuts," said Bauer. "My personal advice is to avoid packaged foods with 'soy protein isolates' or 'soy protein concentrate.' These ingredients are highly processed and, most importantly, you don’t get all of the health benefits found in whole soy foods like fiber and healthy fats."

If you don’t currently eat soy there’s no reason to start adding it to your diet … but if you do enjoy soy, feel free to continue eating it without concern. Just be sure to stick with whole soy foods.

3. Because we all have "those" mornings, what is a fast, prepackaged healthy grab-and-go breakfast for a toddler or young child that won't make a mess in the car?
-Jean Auro Thomas

Here are several ideas that travel well (make sure they’re age-appropriate for your child), suggested Bauer:
- Homemade trail mix (combine ¾ cup whole grain cereal with a sprinkling each of nuts and dried fruit, like raisins or cranberries)
- String cheese and a baggie filled with apple slices or grapes
- Peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread, cut into quarters
- Fruit/yogurt smoothie in spill-proof cup with straw (you can call it a “Breakfast Milkshake”)
- 1-2 Toasted whole grain waffles (if you don’t have time to make them yourself from scratch, pick up a healthy frozen brand) + low-fat milk in a sippy cup

4. I would love to know how to get my kids to eat more veggies and not be so picky. I make healthy dinners and my kids won't eat anything I make, unless it's plain pasta, ramen noodle soup, grilled cheese, chicken nuggets or pizza.
-Melissa Panzarella Grim

"Try working veggies into the foods that they will eat," said Bauer. Top pizza with sliced mushrooms, spinach, chopped tomato, or broccoli. Add sliced tomato to a grilled cheese sandwich. "If they like chicken noodle soup, beef it up with extra sliced carrots," she said. "Most kids like fries — try making a healthier, baked version using sweet potatoes, which offer more nutrition." Added grated zucchini or carrot or finely chopped spinach to marinara sauce, turkey chili, or other casseroles or stews. Try serving sweet veggies like baby carrots, sugar snap peas and red bell pepper strips with a tasty dip, like hummus or low-fat ranch dressing.

At the same time, continue offering a side vegetable every night with dinner and make it a policy for your kids to take at least one bite every night. "If you encourage them to sample new foods regularly, as they grow older and their taste buds evolve, they’ll be more likely to enjoy a healthy variety," said Bauer.

5. My 3-year-old will only eat frozen peas. Do they offer the same nutritional value as when cooked?
-Beth Bambach

The nutritional content is very similar for the frozen and cooked peas. "In fact, your toddler may be getting slightly more of some nutrients by eating them straight from the freezer," said Bauer. For example, vitamin C is readily destroyed when the peas are heated during cooking, so your son actually gets more of this nutrient by eating the peas frozen. "Not to worry … he’s still getting plenty of the good stuff!"

Get more nutrition tips from Joy Bauer at joybauer.com and "Like" her on Facebook.

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