Tag: nutrition

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.



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.



[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


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?



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

A Different Type of Stress Eating

Exercise has long been prescribed as a remedy to anxiety and stress. Are there certain nutrients that may help as well?

Vitamin B1: Prevents the production of excess lactic acid (often recognized as a biochemical factor in triggering anxiety).

Vitamin B6: Helps make mood-influencing neurotransmitters including serotonin, GABA, and norepinephrine.

Vitamin B9: Maintains homocysteine levels (high levels linked to anxiety) by converting into mood-stabilizing S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) and antioxidant glutathione.

Vitamin B12: Serves in production of methionine, precursor of SAMe, necessary for myelin sheath and nerve function.

Magnesium: Reduces lactic acid levels, binds to and stimulates GABA receptors, and can regulate the stress response by suppressing stress hormones.

Zinc: Stimulates enzymes necessary in the synthesis of serotonin and GABA.

Tryptophan: Acts as the amino acid precursor to serotonin.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Decreases proinflammatory cytokins, small proteins that interfere with the regulation of glutamate (a neurotransmitter that is associated with anxiety).

Vitamin C: Moderates the release of stress hormones like cortisol.

Check back next week for a post on what foods are a good source of these nutrients!

Source: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-strategies-to-ease-anxiety-201604139441

Coming Full Circle: Carmina Valle, PhD, MPH

It’s not every day we get the opportunity to hear from distinguished alumnae of our Interdisciplinary Health Communication Certificate program. But last week, we had the pleasure of welcoming back Carmina Valle, PhD, MPH to share her past, present, and future.

As a graduate student beginning to consider next steps, it is inspiring to see how Dr. Valle has connected, and applied, her past experiences in a way that has led to a well-rounded, meaningful portfolio of work.

Dr. Valle’s past experiences as a biology undergrad turned epidemiologic biostatistician master student led to a prestigious Presidential Management Fellowship with the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Her time at NCI and Livestrong opened her eyes to the need for more widespread sharing of proven solutions for helping the increasing numbers of cancer survivors, particularly young adults who are in critical, transitional life periods.

After completing pre- and post-doctoral training at the University of North Carolina, Dr. Valle is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and UNC Weight Research Program. Her resource portfolio focuses on accelerating research on technology-based behavioral interventions for cancer control, particularly novel strategies to improve lifestyle behaviors of cancer survivors.

Previous projects have included a Facebook-based physical activity intervention for young adult cancer survivors and use of a sophisticated study design (Multiphase Optimization Strategy) to identify the most effective messages for a tailored health assessment tool. Her ongoing projects include serving as a Co-Principal Investigator for a Gillings Innovation Lab that focuses on JITAIs. No this is not a Star Wars term, JITAIs are Just-In-Time Adaptive Interventions to identify optimal timing, content, and need for intervention messages to help people in the moment when they need it most.

Dr. Valle, your passion for what you do is evident, and we are proud to call you one of our own.


Key Publications:

Preventing weight gain in African American breast cancer survivors using smart scales and activity trackers: A randomized controlled pilot study. Valle C.G., Deal A.M., & Tate D.F (2017). Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 11(1), 133-148.

Engagement of young adult cancer survivors within a Facebook-based physical activity intervention. Valle CG & Tate DF (2017). Translational Behavioral Medicine.

Exploring mediators of physical activity in young adult cancer survivors: Evidence from a randomized trial of a Facebook-based physical activity intervention. Valle CG, Tate DF, Mayer DK, Allicock M, Cai J. (2015). Journal of Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology, 4(1), 26-33.


You’ve probably seen front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labeling systems.

From ASPE Policy Research for Front of Package Nutrition Labeling: Environmental Scan and Literature Review http://aspe.hhs.gov/sp/reports/2011/FOPNutritionLabelingLitRev/

Next time you stroll through the grocery store, count how many different labeling systems you see in a single aisle. To summarize, the different systems are:

  • Nutrient-specific – to display select nutrients from the Nutrition Facts Panel
  • Summary indicator – to offer a single symbol or score to summarize the nutritional value
  • Food group information – to offer symbols based on the presence of a food group or ingredient

In spite of the different looks, the modified labeling systems have similar intentions, which include:

  • Providing consumers select nutrition information for nutrients to limit (e.g., sodium or added sugars) or nutrients to increase (e.g., vitamin D or calcium)
  • Making it easier to compare similar foods
  • Giving an overall impression about the nutritional value or food group composition of a food

While each type of system has demonstrated success in altering purchase patterns, no system has been deemed superior to another. A major assumption about these systems is that consumers receive and understand the information they are receiving. Although data show this is not the case, there is evidence that simple labeling systems can be effective, including for consumers who have low literacy and may be at nutritional risk.

The committee assembled by the Institute of Medicine was charged with reviewing evidence and providing recommendations for a system redesign that will encourage healthier food choices and purchase behaviors. Highlights include:

  • Develop a single, standardized system that translates information from the Nutrition Facts label
  • Display calories in common household measure serving sizes and 0-3 “points” for nutrients to limit
  • Appear on all grocery products and in consistent locations across products
  • Providing a nonproprietary, transparent translation of nutrition information into health meaning

More information is not always better, and the committee references the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy’s Energy Star® program as a successful model that has altered consumer purchase patterns for household appliances and electronics.

What are your thoughts about FOP labeling systems? Are they helpful? Confusing? What do you want to know from looking at the front of a package?

front-of-package labeling for-the-win (FOP-FTW)


Institute of Medicine. 2012. Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols: Promoting Healthier Choices. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/13221.

Superfood Spotlight: Chia Seeds

A member of the mint family, chia seeds are a nutrition-packed superfood. These tiny black seeds are a great source of fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids that help to support digestion and blood sugar management. In just 1 ounce of chia seeds you can find a hefty 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids! Not to mention, chia seeds are also rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium.

Chia seeds can be eaten raw or they can be added to other dishes, such as soups, salads, and even baked goods. They can also be soaked in water where they form a gel-like texture that resembles that of tapioca. Because of this, one of my favorite uses for chia seeds is making chia pudding. While both nutritious and delicious, chia pudding is also super easy to make! I often prepare it at night so that I have it ready to eat for breakfast in the morning. Here is a delicious recipe for chia pudding (courtesy of MinimalistBaker.com).

Check out the following resources for more information about chia seeds:

Healthy Food Trends – Chia Seeds | MedlinePlus

National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference | USDA


Basic Report: 12006, Seeds, chia seeds, dried. (2016, May). Retrieved from https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3610

Gunnars, K. 11 Proven Health Benefits of Chia Seeds. (2017, May 30). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds#section7

Healthy Food Trends – Chia Seeds. (2017, September 5). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000727.htm

Lewin, J. (2017, April 27). The health benefits of chia seeds. Retrieved from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/health-benefits-chia-seeds

Weil, A. What is Chia? (2006, May 15). Retrieved from https://www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/nutrition/what-is-chia/

Wolfram, T. (2017, June 1). What are Chia Seeds? Retrieved fromhttp://www.eatright.org/resource/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/what-are-chia-seeds

Improving the Nutrition Profile of Food Donations

Hunger impacts one in seven people in the United States. Children, older adults, and those who are homeless are particularly susceptible to the impact of stress and inadequate nutrition for healthy growth and development and/or disease management that accompanies hunger.

The Feeding America Network includes 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs that aim to get nourishing food to people in need. In fact, they serve more than 46 million people each year. To serve all of these individuals, Feeding America relies on donations from individuals and corporations. The great news is that donating food is easy. In fact, more people donate to food drives each year than watch the Super Bowl.

The less than great news is that many of the items donated are high in sodium and/or sugar, which could be particularly harmful for growing children and adults managing chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. Fortunately, this trend is starting to change. NPR’s WNYC provides a positive example of how Washington D.C.’s Capital Area Food Bank has significantly reduced (by 84%) the amount of junk food it supplies by being more clear in their requests for the types of foods they want to be able to offer.

The #GiveHealthy Movement is also changing how and what people donate. The #GiveHealthy movement uses technology to allow hunger relief organizations to specify the types of healthy food items they desire. For example, this may include fresh fruit, vegetables, or other healthy food items. Food drive organizers can then connect with and share specific hunger organizations’ wish lists. Donors can purchase identified items and everything will be delivered, at no cost, to the organization.

What we eat matters. What we donate matters. And there is finally support to change the nutrition profile of what we offer to support those in need. I challenge you to #GiveHealthy and to support others to as well.



Feeding America. http://www.feedingamerica.org/research/hunger-in-america/facts-and-faces/

#GiveHealthy. Hunger is a Health Issue. http://givehealthy.org/index.php/givehealthy-food-drive-2017/hunger-is-a-health-issue/

WNYC. NPR. One of America’s Biggest Food Banks Just Cut Junk Food By 84 Percent in a Year. http://www.wnyc.org/story/one-of-americas-biggest-food-banks-just-cut-junk-food-by-84-percent-in-a-year/

Waste Not Want Not

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

Have you ever thought about how much food you throw away each day? Each week?

In general, America wastes about 40% of the food that is produced each year (Gunders, 2012). That amount of food weighs as much as 123 Empire State Buildings and has economic, environmental, and social costs. The image from the Food and Agriculture Organization details specific examples of those costs.


What exactly is food waste?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service, food is considered wasted when edible portions go unconsumed. This happens at all points along the food supply chain – think farms, manufacturing facilities, transportation, businesses, restaurants, and our own homes. If we could reduce food waste along the food supply chain by just a quarter, this would provide more than 25 million people nutritious, edible food (Gunders, 2012).

How can we reduce food waste?

Check out and support the @UglyFruitAndVeg Campaign.

Choose one or a few of the tips from the USDA’s infographic.


Every little bit we don’t waste can have a big impact on our wallets, the wellbeing of our community members, and the health of our environment!


Grace Communications Foundation. Food Waste. http://www.sustainabletable.org/5664/food-waste

Gunders, D. (2012). Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40 of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill. National Resources Defense Council. http://www.nrdc.org/food/files/wasted-food-ip.pdf

Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign. http://www.endfoodwaste.org/ugly-fruit—veg.html

USDA. Let’s Talk Trash. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/lets-talk-trash

Fearful of Food?

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

I started following the Conscienhealth blog years ago. The organization aims to “advance sound approaches to health and obesity…(and) advocate evidence-based prevention and treatment”. Part of their approach is to provide a daily reflection about how a hot topic might influence our view of obesity or health policy.

A recent post got me thinking about whether fear-based messages are an effective or appropriate way to speak to consumers about food and nutrition. A meta-analysis published last year pooled 127 articles to look at the effect of fear appeals on attitudes, intentions, and behaviors. [Notes: Meta-analysis is a technique that aims to provide a conclusion based on statistical evidence about a large number of studies. Fear appeals are messages designed to persuade people to take action by sparking fear.]

Interestingly enough, fear appeals were found to have generally positive effects but less so for repeated behaviors. We eat multiple times each day, definitely a repetitive behavior, so perhaps fear-based messages are not the best way to communicate food-related lifestyle messages.


So how should talk about food? Headlines often pose negative or sensational statements to entice us to read. An example of this: Why Sitting is Killing You. But evidence suggests it might be more useful to share gain-framed messages. That is, focus on action people can take and what the positive outcome would be.An example of this: Review suggests eating oats can lower cholesterol as measured by a variety of markers.

Two decades ago, a study reported that Americans perceived food to be mostly associated with health and least associated with ple
asure. Americans reported more action to change diet to support health, yet they were also less likely to consider themselves healthy eaters. What would it look like if we talked in a more positive, less fearful or restrictive manner about food?



Rozin P, Fischler C, Imada S, Sarubin A, Wrzesniewski A. Attitudes to food and the role of food in life in the U.S.A., Japan, Flemish Belgium and France: possible implications for the diet-health debate. Appetite, 1999 Oct; 33(2): 163-180.

Tannenbaum MB, Hepler J, Zimmerman RS, Saul L, Jacobs S, Wilson K, Albarracin D. Appealing to fear: a meta-analysis of fear appeal effectiveness and theories. Psychol Bull, 2015 Nov; 141(6): 1178-204.

Wansink B, Pope L. When do gain-framed health messages work better than fear appeals? Nutr Rev, 2015 Jan; 73(1): 4-11.