Expert opinion Yogurt is a nutrient dense food

The food matrix in dietetic practice, by Lauren Twigge

The food matrix in dietetic practice - YINI

During the latest online congress ASN Nutrition live 2022, we asked Lauren Twigge to follow and share with us the latest data on food matrix. Based on the conference “Next level health solutions: the magic of the matrix”, she accepted to answer some questions.

When did you first hear about the notion of the food matrix? Did it change your view on the links between nutrition and health?

I was introduced to the idea of the food matrix while attending my master’s degree. At the time the concept was quite new, and not yet popularized, but the idea made great sense: you consume foods, not nutrients, which implies you should have a food-level understanding of nutrition. Following traditional training as a nutrition expert, I got educated on the interactions that occur between nutrients, focused on individual nutrients needs: the so-called reductionist approach. But as of 2017-2019, It evolved to focus on a balanced diet as a whole to cover all nutrients needs and optimize their efficiency but taking into account the entire ‘content on the plate’.

Finally, I had the opportunity to further explore the notion of “food matrix” in 2019, at the National Dairy Council, where we could begin to talk about the importance of food as a whole. Dairy makes a great case for the food matrix, as it is both easy to narrow down dairy products to a ‘single nutrient’ approach and better characterize the benefits of dairy foods when taking into consideration the whole food and its specifics: milk, cheese, or yogurt, because they have different matrices, have different identified benefits.

The food matrix concept has changed the way I think about food! Clearly it leads to a ‘add rather than remove’ approach to dieting, which is the best way to personalize nutrition recommendations.

Food matrix is quite an expert’s concept: how do you take the notion of food matrix into account when counseling your patients? Do you let them know about it? If yes, is it a convincing element for them?

I always counsel using the ‘on the plate’ method: grains, dairy, protein, veggies… with all food groups on it. Explaining that there is more to food than nutrients is a ground rule of nutrition! This makes perfect sense with the food matrix. Over the last few months, I have started using the phrase so people get more familiar with it and deliver it with bite size pieces, for instance, by explaining that calcium and vitamin D collaborate to make each other better.

The key is to pass on to patients the reflex of thinking on a food level. This can be done by educating on reading food labels, understanding macronutrients… leading to two complementary visions of their nutrition:

  • one where they know where calories come from
  • another where they compensate and build the balance there needs to be between carbs and proteins

During the ASN session, what is the new element you heard about the dairy matrix? Do you think the notion of food matrix fits particularly well with dairy foods?

I do really love the concept of ‘food matrix’, which offers a powerful illustration of how dairy products make a great contribution to health, and help reduce risks of certain diseases…

I’ve found out a lot from a nutrient perspective and also from non-nutrient components, such as the method of cooking, pH, temperature, whether the food comes in a liquid, gel or solid form, and the overall approach of the food complexity.

We did a recent poll with our twitter community, which mainly gathers nutrition experts. Some reported they were not familiar with the food matrix concept. Where would you advise them to start?

I have found that including this concept allowed me as a nutrition expert to significantly reinforce the personalization of my counseling for each patient. During the ASN session, this was particularly well explained with the example of the common medical advice to remove saturated fats in order to prevent cardiovascular diseases. A lot of evidence based on the study of the dairy matrix now shows that not only these saturated fats do not represent a difficulty, thanks to the food and nutrient structures of certain dairy products, but consuming them actually brings many beneficial effects.

Understanding the food matrix is working on better personalization of nutrition instead of using umbrella recommendations.

The USDA and other such public institutions have lots of references and formal definitions about the food matrix. I would start by visiting government pages and their definitions. I personally learned a lot with dairy councils, where the food matrix, applied to dairy, is one of the most studied cases.

“We need to stop reducing foods down to nutrients” (video)

In her Reel that she published on Instagram, Lauren Twigge, aka, shares with her community the key takeaways from the ASN 2022 session about the dairy matrix. One point of focus: ‘We need to stop reducing our foods down to single nutrients’!

Lauren Twigge, RDN, LDLauren Twigge is a Dallas based registered and licensed Dietitian with a Master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition and a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science. Along with running her own nutrition company and working with private clients, Lauren works as social media dietitian, recipe developer, blogger, and brand ambassador. Lauren was born and raised in a family of farmers located in central California and is an outspoken supporter of the agricultural industry. Growing up on a dairy and being raised around farming her whole life has given Lauren a unique perspective on where our food comes from and her passion is to work at the crux of agriculture and human nutrition to fight misinformation and give consumers back their food confidence. Lauren is on Instagram and educates on a variety of health topics including the truth about the agricultural industry, education on where our food comes, and discussing the role that various agricultural products, like milk, can play in a healthy diet!

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