Q: My 3-year-old granddaughter refuses to eat vegetables. My daughter says she remembers your column taking the position that while the child may be missing some good eating, she is not at any nutritional risk. Is that true?
A: Yes. Vegetables do contain generous amounts of many essential nutrients, but they are not the only sources.
For example, carrots and many other vegetables are rich in carotene, which the body changes to vitamin A. But a number of fruits -- among them yellow peaches, apricots and cantaloupe -- also provide hefty amounts. And only strict vegetarians, who consume no animal products, depend solely on fruits and vegetables for vitamin A. For the rest of us, vitamin A is available in such foods as whole or vitamin-A-fortified low-fat milk, hard cheese, liver and eggs.
We generally think of citrus fruits as synonymous with vitamin C or ascorbic acid. A number of others, including melons and most berries, are also important sources. So although broccoli, cabbage, green peppers and cauliflower are important potential contributors of vitamin C, they are not essential.
Similarly, vegetables are just one of many sources of iron. Meat, fish and poultry are rich suppliers. Dried fruits as well as whole grain and enriched breads and cereals provide some, too.
As for calcium, it is true that several vegetables -- among them kale, turnip greens and broccoli -- provide appreciable amounts in a form the body can use. Fruit apparently contains little. But vegetables are usually a secondary source of that nutrient anyway. Dairy products take first place, with some assistance from canned salmon and sardines, if eaten with the bones, and tofu prepared with calcium carbonate.
Vegetables do contain a lot of fiber. But fiber can also be supplied by fruits, whole grains and legumes.
If your granddaughter is eating an otherwise varied diet, she is probably not being nutritionally shortchanged. You can continue to offer her, without comment, some of the vegetables that children tend to like. These include carrot sticks, pepper rings, cucumber slices and tomato wedges. Chances are that as she sees you and others enjoying them, she will begin to try them herself.
Q: I enjoy something called miso soup when I eat in Japanese restaurants. What is miso? How is it related to tempeh? It seems I always hear them mentioned together.
A: The link between miso and tempeh is that they are both fermented soybean products. Beyond that, they differ significantly. Miso, known in China as chiang, has been used as a seasoning in the Orient for centuries. It is produced in a manner similar to that used to make soy sauce, which explains why both the flavor and aroma of the two resemble each other. Soybeans, salt, and sometimes a cereal grain are fermented with a mixture of microorganisms. Unlike soy sauce, which is liquid, miso has a texture like that of peanut butter, and varies in color from yellowish-brown to almost black.
Tempeh, which originated in Indonesia, is produced by adding the spores of a microorganism called Rhizopus oligosporus to soybeans, which have been soaked, boiled, dehulled, drained and dehydrated. The mixture is then wrapped in banana leaves or placed in perforated containers and held at a warm temperature for about 24 hours. During that time the spores put forth a network of branching filaments, called mycellia, which holds the soybeans together in cake-like form. The tempeh thus produced is usually sliced and fried.
Q: Do the new fruit spreads that are made without sugar have any nutritional advantage over standard jams and jellies? The packaging implies that they do.
A: No. The only real basis for choosing them is if you prefer the taste. In these newer products, juice concentrate rather than sugar is used as the sweetener. But they contain almost the same number of calories as traditional spreads. An average teaspoon of jelly contains 16 calories; of jam, 18 calories; and the new spread, 14 calories. And, as the nutrition label clearly demonstrates, they provide insignificant amounts of vitamins and minerals.