Category: Nutrition

Curbing Food Waste in Schools

Perhaps one of the best-known pieces of legislation that the Obama administration passed was the Health Hunger-Free Kids Act [1]. This set of laws which increased the number of children who were eligible for free and reduced lunch also modified the nutrition standards for meals served by schools that receive federal reimbursement for school lunches. The food requirements include providing whole grains, fruit, vegetable, protein, and dairy at every meal. There are also restrictions on trans fat, sugar and calorie content.

While this act has reduced the risk of hunger among vulnerable children and provided children with healthier options, it is not without scrutiny. In recent years, both this legislation and the National School Lunch Program have been criticized for their association with food waste. Many say that when children are forced to take standard food items, they may simply throw the foods they don’t like away. Some believe that the required fruits and vegetables that school meals must now include could end up in the trash. This issue could highlight challenges in our efforts to make school lunches healthier, but they could also highlight a larger issue in this country surrounding food waste.

In the US, it is estimated that 31% of all food is wasted. This applies to school lunches, grocery stores, etc. Food items are found in the trash due to spoilage before consumption, dislike for the products among many other reasons. According to new research from Ohio State University, the secret to reducing food waste could be eating at home and choosing your own food items.

Researchers from Ohio State University found that individuals waste less food when they eat at home. This could be due to increased control over food choices and the amount of food that makes it to their plates. This is not the case in restaurants and school environments where many foods and amounts served come standardized for everyone regardless of age, need, or personal preference.

Perhaps the key to reducing food waste and helping children eat healthier at school involves allowing them more interaction with food production processes at an early age. Children might be more likely to select fruits and vegetables if they have opportunities to see where their foods come from and see the adults they look up to eating them. While serving healthier lunch might be part of the solution to increasing obesity rates in our country, we must also teach children to make healthy choices. Only then will they have learned the necessary tools that will last into adulthood.

SNAPFresh Without the Fresh

This week the Trump administration released their proposed change to the longstanding SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) which some would equate to delivery meal services such as HelloFresh, Blue Apron and Purple Carrot. These new delivery meal services have been tremendously popular and my first reaction was this might actually be a good idea. This type of service is more convenient and having groceries delivered without the hassle of going to a grocery store would be a nice perk for program shoppers. I further explored the details of this program and my mind quickly changed when I read about what was included in the boxes and more importantly what was not. These boxes would not contain fresh foods (milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables) and instead would provide canned fruits and vegetables and shelf milk. To be honest I had to do a quick web search to see what was actually shelf milk. Additionally, these Americans would have little to no say over what is included in the boxes versus the current program where they are issued a card and can purchase what they choose to at participating stores. While I could see benefit in this type of service as an OPTION for SNAP shoppers there is a lot of improvements that should be made before bringing this proposed idea into actual implementation particularly thinking about the foods included and would this truly be something that current SNAP shoppers find feasible and/or pragmatic.

References

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/02/12/585130274/trump-administration-wants-to-decide-what-food-snap-recipients-will-get?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social

Raw Water: from the wellspring of life or death?

While most people struggle to drink enough water, there is now the added challenge of knowing what water is safe to drink.  This is due to a growing raw water trend that is drenching the nation.  Unprocessed, “raw”, water refers to water that has not been filtered, sterilized or treated.  Drinking raw water is equivalent to drinking rainwater or water from creeks, rivers, and streams, but today you may also find it in your local grocery store.

Raw water, which fits right in with the larger natural food movement, is applauded by many as more healthy than traditional tap and bottled water. Many say that its health profile beats treated water because of its natural properties.

Let’s review a couple.

More Vitamins and Mineral

Lovers of raw water claim that it is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals because processing has not filtered out these beneficial components. While unfiltered water may contain more vitamins and minerals, more is not always better. People in our country generally consume all the vitamins and minerals that they need and it is possible to consume too much of a good thing. Excess iron for example can cause nausea, vomiting and death in extreme cases. Our government is required to remove harmful compounds from drinking water and to add beneficial elements that keep us healthy. This includes elements like fluoride, which keeps our teeth cavity free.

Essential Probiotics

Raw water is said to contain probiotics, gut bacteria that support intestinal health. These microorganisms are often found in fermented drinks and yogurt. While raw water could contain probiotics, in many places it also contains harmful bacteria like Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli, and Shigella dysenteriae. These bacteria can cause conditions like cholera and dysentery which result in extreme vomiting, diarrhea, and death. Proper hygiene and water sanitation are effective ways of preventing these conditions. In other words, drink treated water.

Final Thoughts

The damaging properties of raw water far outweigh the possibility of benefits. Unfiltered water retains many harmful elements. The U.S. Geological Survey found that in some parts of the United States unfiltered water contains mercury and dioxin. These compounds are toxic to humans and often accumulate in our bodies over time resulting in conditions like cancer and infertility [1]. When given the option of filtered or unfiltered, opt for filtered water and let’s hope this trend is on the way out.

Additional References:

[1] http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs225/en/

Crash or DASH- choosing the right diet

February is heart month.  We’re often told that in order to keep our hearts healthy we should maintain a healthy weight.  Many people try to do this by dieting, but do diets really make us healthier?

New research has emerged that meal replacement crash diets (typically consuming only 600 to 800 calories each day) can temporarily worsen heart function [1].  This means that if you have heart problems, these diets could actually make your health worse instead of better.  If you’re looking for a healthy way to lose weight, you may want to check out the National Heart, Lung, and Blood institute’s DASH diet.  In January, U.S. News and World Report ranked the DASH diet as the best overall diet plan for the eighth year in a row [2].  The DASH diet also claimed first place in the healthy eating and heart disease prevention categories.

If you feel like dieting, stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it.  If you’re trying to get your heart in shape, you may want to rethink that overly restrictive diet.

 

References

[1]   European Society of Cardiology (ESC). “Crash diets can cause transient deterioration in heart function.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 February 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180202123836.htm

[2]  National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2018, January 3). DASH ranked Best Diet Overall for eighth year in a row by U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/2018/dash-ranked-best-diet-overall-eighth-year-row-us-news-and-world-report

 

Bare cupboards and full bellies: Food Purchasing patterns change over time

Food purchasing patterns are a pretty good indicator of what people eat on a regular basis.  If you purchase healthy food, it’s presumed that you eat healthy food.  Recently, research from the United States Department of Agriculture revealed that food purchasing habits are changing over time. The grocery carts of younger food shoppers’ look vastly different than previous generations’. According to one report, they may even be empty.

Millennials, anyone born between 1981 and 1996, tend to purchase more premade meals and eat away from home more than older generations [1].  Restaurants have become more popular among youth and time spent preparing meals at home is decreasing.  Overall, older generations consume food in restaurants and bars about 70 percent less than millennials. Millennials spend a large portion of their income on pasta, sugar/sweets, and prepared foods, and as they acquire more disposable income they purchase more vegetables to prepare at home.  These findings could indicate that although millennials are more likely to eat out as they move farther into their careers and acquire more household income, they could gravitate toward purchasing more fruits and vegetables.

While millennials gravitate toward healthier foods, we should pay attention to nutritious food options and the food available to lower-income millennials.  Foods prepared by restaurants and bars and premade foods are often high in sodium and sugar.  Fast food restaurants are notorious for these types of foods (think cheeseburgers, deep-fried French fries, milkshakes, and slushies) and found more often in lower-income communities.  These foods put people at risk for hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes.

Nutritionists could encourage eating and cooking at home more often because hello it’s cheaper, made just the way you like, and you know what’s going into your meals that’s not always feasible with busy schedules.  We can, however, consider the following tips for healthier meals away from home:

  1. Choose less processed foods. Foods that are less processed often have less sodium and sugar added. If you can choose between apple slices and an apple turnover, the apple is always a better option. Less sugar. More fiber.
  2. The more fruits and vegetables the better. Fruits and vegetables add a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to a diet. They also provide fiber, fill you up without so many calories and help you hydrate.
  3. Ask for nutrition facts. Nutrition labels which include sodium, calories, sugar, vitamins, etc let you know exactly what’s in your food.  If you need to cut back on sugar intake, you’ll know exactly how much you are getting.

References:

[1] https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/86401/eib-186.pdf?v=43097

Teaching Old Recipes New Tricks

As the weather makes some serious changes here in North Carolina, I’m always looking for rich, comfort food that incorporates nutrient-dense vegetables. This week I came across an amazing recipe that not only boasts low-calorie options; it’s packed with flavor! Registered Dietitian Andrea Mathis features a beautiful Kale, Tomato, & Mushroom Egg White Frittata. This new spin on a historically Italian dish is the way to go if you’re looking for a healthy option that makes meal prepping a breeze. Get the directions here.

 

Masters of Disguise: How artificial sweeteners make it past consumers

Viewed by consumers as a healthier alternative to sugary drinks, artificially sweetened beverages are becoming increasingly popular. These drinks include most diet sodas and juices, energy drinks, and flavored water. The shift away from drinks sweetened with sugar came after research showed the relationship between sugar intake and excess weight, obesity, and diabetes. Artificially sweetened beverages have little-to-no calories; however, the medical community has not supported any of their proposed health benefits. In fact, many scientists believe that artificially sweetened drinks lead to overeating and encourage sweet cravings. They could be an alternative route to health problems. Researchers are still looking into these associations, but for now, water is always a safe choice. Check out this article for tasty ways of sprucing up your water.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17712114

Image: https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/is-diet-coke-bad-for-you-what-about-artificial-sweeteners/

 

What’s on tap for 2018?

As the calendar year winds down, we naturally find ourselves both reflecting on the year that was and looking forward to what is to come. I always love to hear what trend analysts suggest will be popular for food and drink in the upcoming year. According to Unilever Food Solutions, health-conscious trends will continue in to 2018. Keep an eye out for:

Poke bowls

Poh-keh – cubed raw fish – is a Hawaiian staple. Poke bowls are essentially deconstructed sushi and may include rice or quinoa and vegetables.

Hybrid food

Although these may not be the healthiest of options, the flavor combinations of two or more foods are an experience to be had. Some popular examples include: cronuts (croissant meets donut), waffogato (ice-cream waffle soaked in espresso, and bruffins (brioche meets muffin).

Plant-based options

Vegan, vegetarian, pescaterian, flexitarian – the bottom line is restaurants are and will continue to offer more plant-based meals to meet diners’ demands.

Fermented food

Known for their probiotics and ability to positively influence digestive health, fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, pickles, kefir, and yogurt pack a punch of flavor and health.

Natural colors and floral flavors

Consumers are demanding more ‘natural’ ingredients, and the food industry is responding with more ‘natural’ ways of coloring food (think beets). Edible flowers are also making a bigger splash on the scene as part of baked goods and cocktails.

Since these are just predictions, it will be interesting to see one year from now which trends caught on and which trends flopped. Cheers to a happy, healthy 2018.

 

Sources:

Unilever Food Solutions. 2018 Food Trend Predictions. https://www.unileverfoodsolutions.com.my/en/chef-inspiration/latest-trends/2018-food-trend-predictions.html

Food talk: The words that influence what we eat

This past Friday I had the pleasure of jumping in for the back half of a webinar led by Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND of Famer’s Daughter® Consulting about how we, as consumers, talk about food. While a short blog post cannot do justice for the variety and depth of topics she covered, it really got me thinking about my own conversations about food.

Local. Seasonal. Sustainable. Organic. Natural. Clean. Artisan. Genetically modified. Fresh. Processed. Irradiation. What do these terms mean to you? Which terms conjure a positive image about the health or environmental effects of a food? Which terms conjure more negative images?

You may be surprised to learn that not all of these terms are regulated, and some don’t even have an agreed upon definition. If you buy something labeled as ‘organic’, you can rest assured that the United States Department of Agriculture is overseeing the production to ensure the food meets defined criteria. But when it comes to the terms local or sustainable, there is no universally accepted definition. Even ‘natural’ has yet to be defined.

The way we talk about and market food may be one obstacle to improving our health. According to the 2017 Food & Health Survey, the health value of foods and beverages is a major point of discussion. However, despite reporting taking steps to be healthy, Americans have varying definitions for what is healthy and have seen minimal improvements in the quality of what they eat or drink.

The words we use to describe foods can create a health halo – meaning that a food may be perceived as healthier than it actually is, either because of the way it is labeled or because some aspect of it may have health benefits. But if we think about it, soda made from ‘real’ or ‘natural’ sugar is still soda, and an organic cookie is still a cookie.

Definitions or not, the way we describe food can influence our purchasing and consumption behaviors. Ultimately we need to take a closer look at the food and determine how it fits in to the healthy lifestyle we have defined for ourselves. What terms or phrases do you look for? Do you find your own biases for buying or eating foods with particular labels?

 

Sources:                     

International Food Information Council Foundation. 2017 Food and Health Survey. 9/22/2017. http://www.foodinsight.org/2017-food-and-health-survey

Wang DD, Leung CW, Li Y. Trends in dietary quality among adults in the United States, 1999 through 2010. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(10):1587-1595. Doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.3422

Get out that grocery list

Last week, we dove into nutrients that may help the body reduce stress and anxiety. Many of those nutrients were B vitamins! Now let’s take a look at some of the food sources naturally high in vitamins B1, 6, 9, and 12.

Vitamin B1

Vegetables: green peas, asparagus, spinach, acorn squash

Nuts: macadamia, pistachio

Seeds: sunflower, flax, sesame

Fish: trout, salmon, tuna

Pork: lean cuts (loin, tenderloin, chops)

Beans: edamame, navy, pink, black, mung

Vitamin B6

Fruit: dried prunes, dried apricots, raisins, bananas, avocados (I know—technically a fruit!)

Nuts: pistachio

Seeds: sunflower

Fish: tuna, salmon, halibut, swordfish, herring

Meat: lean pork, lean beef, turkey, chicken

Vitamin B9

Legumes: lentils, black eyed peas, mung, pinto, chickpeas, pink, lima, black, navy, kidney

Vegetables: spinach, turnip greens, asparagus, romaine lettuce, broccoli

Fruit: avocado, mango, pomegranate, papaya, oranges

Vitamin B12

Shellfish: clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, crab, lobster, crayfish, shrimp

Fish: salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, trout, striped bass

Meat: liver, beef steak

Dairy: milk, yogurt, swiss cheese

With finals coming up, do what you can for your body to not “B” stressed!

Sources:

https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefits-vitamins-b1-b6-b12-7897.html

https://nuts.com/healthy-snacks/sources-of-b-vitamins