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Monday, March 10th, 2014
If you’re a parent, you know that many kids—perhaps even your own—overdo their sugar intake. Whether they slurp on a sugary drink, nosh on candy at the movie theater, enjoy a slice of cake or a cupcake at a party or enjoy some cookies after school, many sugary foods and beverages are nutrient poor and contribute calories—and not much else.
Because OD’ing on sugar can reduce intake of more nutritious foods, contribute to excess calorie intake and unhealthy weight gain and increase the risk of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like dental diseases (especially dental caries), the World Health Organization (WHO) recently drafted new revised guidelines for sugar intake.
Unlike current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association recommendations to limit “added sugars”—sugars added to foods during processing or preparation and at the table—the proposed WHO guidelines recommend a cap for “free sugars”. These “free sugars” are sugars added by manufacturers, cooks or consumers such as glucose, fructose and sucrose (table sugar) as well as sugars that naturally occur in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates. Although the new proposed guidelines by the WHO include its previous recommendation of less than 10% of total calories from sugar daily, they also include a suggestion to reduce “free sugar” intake to below 5% of total energy intake daily for additional benefits.
For a child who consumes 1,200 to 1,600 calories daily, 10% of “free sugars” is the equivalent of 120 to 160 calories (or 30 to 40 grams); 5% of “free sugars” equals 60 to 80 calories (or 15 to 20 grams). To put this in context, one can coca-cola has about 39 grams of sugar and one package (1.69 ounce) M&M plain chocolate candies has about 31 grams of sugar. To find out how much total sugar and added sugar many products contain, respectively, you can check out the United States Department of Agriculture Nutrient Database and Food-A-Pedia.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two, I applaud any effort parents make to help their kids reduce their intake of added sugars for the reasons cited above. Capping added sugar intake by keeping fewer sweet snacks and desserts in the home and encouraging smaller portions of sugary treats when eating and drinking on the run can allow more opportunities for kids to incorporate nutritious foods that help them develop and manage their weight as they grow.
Although achieving current recommendations for sugar intake (and current as well as proposed WHO recommendations) would require children to dramatically reduce their current sugar intake, doing simple things like replacing even a few sugary sodas with sparkling or plain water, having smaller portions of candy and baked goods and eating more naturally sweet foods like fresh fruits or even dried fruit (with no sugar added) can help.
But while I so support shrinking sugar intake, I also believe that sometimes sugar has a sweet side. Just like a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, sometimes, having a little sugar—white or brown sugar, honey, or even some maple or chocolate syrup or catsup—can help kids enjoy nutrient-rich foods like low fat or nonfat milk or yogurt, whole grain, high fiber cereals and fresh fruit. Dipping apple slices in some honey or chocolate sauce, sprinkling brown sugar or pouring some maple syrup on plain oatmeal, adding honey to plain yogurt or dipping grilled chicken slices in catsup can help kids enjoy the taste of the more nutritious foods and beverages. It’s all about context, and incorporating small amounts of sugar in otherwise nutritious meals that your kids eat is very different than allowing them to routinely drown in big boxes of candy or oversized cups of sugary sodas.
I also think there’s room in a child’s diet for small amounts of 100% fruit juice. Even though WHO considers fruit juice to be a source of “free sugars,” following American Academy of Pediatrics’ juice recommendations—up to 4 to 6 ounces daily for 1 to 6-year-olds and 8 to 12 ounces for 7 to 18-years-old—is prudent. Of course, fresh fruit is more fiber-rich and filling than juice, but many juices like orange, grape, apple and cranberry juice can deliver a good dose of key nutrients and other beneficial substances kids need.
Do you think there’s a sweet side to sugar?
Check out my previous Scoop on Food blog for tips to help kids satisfy a sweet tooth.
Image of strawberry on a spoon with sugar pouring over it via shutterstock.
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added sugars, diet, food, snacks, soda, sugar, sugars | Categories:
Diet, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition, Snacking
Sunday, March 2nd, 2014
In celebration of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ National Nutrition Month, I’m thrilled to share this wonderful guest post for The Scoop on Food by Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian™.
Obesity rates among children aged 2 to 5 years old have reportedly plummeted by 43% over the past decade. This is huge news considering the efforts we’ve been taking as a nation in recent years to fight the obesity epidemic. There’s no denying there’s been an increased interest in food and nutrition, but as a registered dietitian who promotes the power of plant foods, I believe the improved health of our children may be linked to an increased emphasis on such foods. We can thank the growing list of best-selling vegetarian cookbook authors, vegetarian and vegan celebrities, and even our former president, Bill Clinton for giving the “veggie” lifestyle a whole new reputation. Even Jay Z and Beyonce adopted a vegan diet for 22 days this past winter.
While plant-based eating is slowly gaining momentum, many myths surrounding the “veggie” lifestyle still linger–especially when it comes to providing our children with optimal nutrition for their growing minds and bodies. Here are 5 misconceptions surrounding feeding our kids a vegetarian diet, debunked.
Myth: Children will not be satisfied with plant-based meals.
Truth: Your children will hardly miss the meat when you focus on all the whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes available in the plant world. Start with breakfast, for example: pile your child’s breakfast plate with fresh berries, whole grain cereal topped with toasted walnuts, homemade quick breads, or buckwheat pancakes with peaches or pears. The options to go “veggie” for the first meal of the day are endless.
Myth: It’s impossible to feed children vegetarian snacks throughout the day.
Truth: Store pre-cut veggies and fruit in your fridge, and chopped nuts and dried fruit (with no sugar added) in your pantry for snacks. Many plant foods are nature’s perfect finger foods and make for naturally delicious and convenient snacks. What’s not to love?
Myth: Children will not get enough protein if they don’t eat meat.
Truth: It’s a widespread misconception that it’s difficult to get enough protein from plant foods. We now know that it’s very simple to obtain all essential amino acids from plant-based sources such as legumes, soy, nuts and seeds. Incorporate a good quality protein at each meal or snack and your children will easily meet recommended protein intakes.
Myth: Children will not get enough calcium if they don’t eat dairy.
Truth: It’s important for growing bones to get adequate amounts of calcium–and two to three servings per day of green leafy vegetables, almonds and broccoli should help you and your children reach the daily recommended calcium goal. You can also add calcium-fortified foods such as tofu, orange juice, or plant-based milk alternatives to the mix.
Myth: Preparing plant-based meals is laborious, complicated and boring.
Truth: Plenty of kid-friendly and plant-friendly recipes are as simple as could be! And thankfully, gone are the days when vegetarian diets are considered to be about as hip and tasty as munching on alfalfa sprouts and chomping on seeds. Think: whole grain pitas filled with cucumbers, bell peppers and hummus, whole grain spaghetti with marinara sauce, and even a classic peanut butter and banana sandwich.
Image of girl cooking with vegetables via shutterstock.
Do your kids follow a vegetarian diet? If so, do you have concerns?
For vegetarian (and non-vegetarian) recipe inspiration, check out our Food & Recipes Guide!
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diet, food, health, plant foods, vegan, vegetables, vegetarian diet | Categories:
Diet, Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition
Saturday, February 8th, 2014
As any parent can attest, providing kids with healthful foods most of the time can be a real challenge. When it comes to family meals, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPh, RD, lead researcher of the ongoing Project EAT (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults) study at the University of Michigan, cites time barriers and conflicting activities of both parents and children as two of the biggest barriers to family meals. Yet the research, much of it from Project EAT, has demonstrated numerous benefits of family meals. As I’ve written about in The Scoop on Food, family meals have been linked with healthier body weights; higher quality diets; and less alcohol, tobacco and drug use, less disordered eating and less risk of depression among teens.
So how do parents who don’t see anything slowing down for them or their kids anytime soon find (and make) time to feed their growing children and entire family better?
I asked Self Magazine blogger Sarah-Jane Bedwell, author of the new book Schedule Me Skinny, to offer some tips to help time-strapped parents feed their families well. Below you’ll find five of her favorite time saving strategies.
1. Take 10 minutes to plan healthy dinners for the week. Half of each dinner plate should be filled with fruits/veggies, 1/4 of the plate should include lean protein foods, and the remaining 1/4 plate should be filled with healthy starch (like whole grains or starchy veggies prepared with healthy fats and herbs/spices). On two nights each week, make a double batch of any recipe so you have leftovers for lunches or dinners for other busier nights.
2. Make a strategic shopping list: The Food Marketing Institute reports that for every minute we spend in a grocery store we spend $2. That’s why it’s important to take five minutes each week to make a strategic grocery list that is organized by area of the store. If all the produce you need is listed together, all the meat is listed together, etc, not only will this get you in and out of the store faster, but you’ll also be more likely to stick to your list and therefore spend less money on impulse buys.
3. Prep for success. Part of the Schedule Me Skinny 30 Minute Power-Planning Session is to spend 15 minutes at the beginning of the week prepping food so that meals can be put together in just minutes all throughout the week. To prep, cook one large batch of whole grain or starchy vegetables (such as quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta or potatoes). Next, wash and chop hearty veggies like peppers, cucumbers, broccoli and carrots. On a weeknight, you can throw together the items you’ve already prepped along with an easy protein source such as canned salmon or tuna or beans to make a quick, healthy dinner.
4. Pre-portion your food. Portion control is extremely important to help children enjoy foods in moderation and to grow into healthy weights. However, it can be hard to take the time to measure items during a busy week when you’re trying to feed your kids a snack before soccer practice or get dinner on the table in a timely fashion. If you simply take five minutes or less at the beginning of the week to measure commonly used items like fatty foods (like cheeses, nuts and salad dressings) and favorite treats (like chips, candy and snack mixes) and portion them into baggies or small containers for instant portion control later on, you’ll save a lot of time when you’re time-crunched.
5. Keep a snack stash on hand. To help kids keep their energy levels up, their metabolisms going strong and to meet (and not exceed) their nutrient needs to help them grow, it is important for kids to eat every few hours. Snacks can be a great way to go when time is short in-between meals. To help you stay armed when the munchies strike, it’s smart to take five minutes each week to make a stash of snacks that don’t have to be refrigerated in your car/purse/desk. Options include: dried fruit and nuts, apples, bananas and single serve peanut butter packets. A good rule of thumb is to keep snack options at around 200 calories and include a whole grain or fruit/veggie AND a lean protein or healthy fat for staying power. Examples include one small apple, sliced and a string cheese or 1/2 banana topped with one tablespoon almond or peanut butter and rolled in 2 tablespoons crushed whole-grain cereal. Keeping your own snacks on hand will prevent you from spending money on over-priced junk food from a vending machine or drive through and save you the time of trying to find or fix a snack!
How do you save time feeding your family?
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Image of vegetables on the wooden background and paper for shopping list via shutterstock.
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Wednesday, December 25th, 2013
There has been a lot of chatter about chicken lately—and for good reason. How safe it is for consumption has recently been questioned, no doubt due to two recent outbreaks of food poisoning linked with chicken products produced at Foster Farms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the outbreaks have left 416 people from 23 states and Puerto Rico ill. Although no deaths have been reported, 39% of those who fell ill have been hospitalized.
What makes these outbreaks of foodborne illness especially troubling is the fact that they derived from seven strains of Salmonella Heidelberg—bacterial strains resistant to several antibiotics commonly prescribed to treat such illnesses.
A new Consumer Reports analysis of 316 raw chicken breasts obtained from U.S. retailers last July reveals that while almost all the samples contained potentially harmful bacteria, about half carried bacteria that is resistant to three or more antibiotics. Another 11% of the samples harbored two types of bacteria resistant to multiple drugs.
Fortunately, just this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) released a Salmonella Action Plan. The plan is designed to make meat and poultry products safer and includes modernizing the poultry slaughter inspection system and enhancing salmonella sampling and testing programs.
But in light of the recent outbreaks—and the FSIS response to them—a new report by The Pew Charitable Trusts questions the government’s ability to adequately regulate Salmonella and protect public health. According to the report, “The two recent outbreaks of Salmonella Heidelberg bring into sharp focus the ineffectiveness of the FSIS approach to minimizing Salmonella contamination in poultry products.” It also states, “The agency’s response to the evidence collected by the states, the CDC, and its own investigation efforts was inadequate to protect public health.” The report concludes with seven recommendations to the FSIS to improve the control of Salmonella in poultry and to strengthen its response to outbreaks caused by bacteria.
Also, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced new voluntary guidelines to phase down the non-medical use of antibiotics (such as to enhance animal growth) in livestock over three years. This came on the heels of a joint statement on antibiotics released by 25 national health organizations and the CDC that, among other things, called for “limiting the use of medically important human antibiotics in food animals” and “supporting the use of such antibiotics in animals only for those uses that are considered necessary for assuring animal health.” The FDA also urged the FSIS to set levels for how much bacteria poultry can have and to give its inspectors power to prevent sale of poultry meat that contains Salmonella bacteria that’s resistant to multiple antibiotics.
Chicken, the most popular meat in the U.S., is a source of high-quality protein and other vital nutrients such as selenium, niacin, vitamin B6 and phosphorus. If you and your children enjoy it and don’t want to give it up, you don’t have to! But it’s wise to consider following steps when purchasing, handling and cooking it to reduce the likelihood of getting sick from it:
Buyer be aware. Organic poultry a good bet. That’s because it comes from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. When buying poultry products, look for the USDA organic seal— that indicates the product is certified organic and has 95 percent or more organic content. According to notinmyfood.org, labels that say “no antibiotics administered” and similar labels—especially if they’re accompanied by a “USDA process Verified” shield are also a good bet. And according to an article in the New York Times, there are even some so-called healthier chicken options to choose from. One example is Bell & Evans chicken that’s infused with oregano oil and cinnamon instead of antibiotics.
Handle with care. To minimize your risk of getting sick from poultry, assume every piece you handle is contaminated. I say this not to reinforce food-fear, but to remind you to practice safe food-handling practices. Keep raw chicken separated from other foods, and don’t use cutting boards or utensils used to handle raw chicken with other foods. Cook chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and be sure to wash the thermometer in warm soapy water in-between temperature readings. For more information about handling and cooking chicken, check out the USDA FSIS’s Chicken from Farm to Table.
Mix it up. Any food can be a source of, or become contaminated with, potentially harmful bacteria or viruses. Varying what you eat and choosing different options from different food groups including grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy foods and lean protein foods is a wise move—not only because it helps you get an array of nutrients, but because it could limit exposure to any potentially harmful substances found in individual foods.
For more general home food safety tips, check out the Holiday Home Food Safety and Storage by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Plus: Our Roasting Guide will help ensure you don’t undercook your meat.
Image of chicken fillet and knife on kitchen board via shutterstock.com.
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Monday, December 16th, 2013
If you’re still looking for that little something to gift a parent you love (or even yourself) to feed kids well and promote a healthy lifestyle during the holidays and beyond, look no further. The 12 items below are likely to fit the bill. They are registered dietitian-approved, and they’re just the kind of gifts that—you guessed—keep on giving! Enjoy!
A favorite new gadget that Sharon Palmer, RD loves is a mandolin vegetable slicer. She says, “I use an OXO® Handheld Flat Slicer and love it. It doesn’t take up much room in the kitchen, it’s under $15, and you can easily slice vegetables, and even create ribbon salads with it. It’s also great for when you want a large amount of vegetables thinly sliced for something like stir-fry, but you don’t feel like getting out the food processor and cleaning it again.”
Wok this way
Dana Magee, RD loves the T-fal Nonstick Jumbo Wok to make stir frys. According to Magee, “You may think this is a one-trick product, but by varying ingredients, sauces and protein-rich foods in your stir-fry you could easily use the wok once a week! Stir-frys are a great meal staple to use up any produce in your fridge that is remaining from meals throughout the week or are nearing the end of their shelf life. You can easily use the wok to stir fry use chicken, lean beef, tofu, or shrimp. Other uses include making scrambled eggs and omelets or sautéed pasta dishes.”
Go for a spin
According to McGee, “When you get a salad spinner like the Zyliss Smart Touch Salad Spinner (my favorite), you’ll wonder how you ever lived without a salad spinner! A salad spinner gives you the ease of rinsing lettuce and drying it efficiently. No more soggy salads! Drying lettuce can be a lot of work and may be deterring you from creating a host of leafy green salads that can be used for simple pairings with lunch or dinner or stand-alone entrees with some lean protein foods. I like to wash a head of lettuce in the beginning of the week and store in a gallon sized Ziploc® bag in the fridge for easy access (eg to add to salads). Other uses for the salad spinner include drying kale or fresh basil leaves, or using the spinner as a colander to rinse grapes to name a few!”
Do a freeze dance
Registered dietitian nutritionist Kate Myerson recommends re-purposing ice cube trays to freeze a batch of rice, quinoa, beans, or lentils. “When you need to throw a quick meal together, grab a few cubes and add to any meal. You can even microwave individual portions as a quick side so everyone gets what they want,” she says. Myerson’s trays of choice are the No-Spill Ice Cube Trays by OXO® that have tops for freezing and storing multiple batches.
Get the dish
Registered dietitian nutritionist Catherine Hains loves Fresh Baby My Plate Dinnerware Sets for kids. Each colorful plate contains 4 divided sections that are appropriately sized for fruit, vegetables, protein foods and grains. According to Haines, “The plates make learning how to eat nutritiously educational and fun! And they’re not just for toddlers…even my 11-year-old likes them.”
Julie Swift, MPH, RDN, CDE loves the Thermos Foogo Phases Leak Proof Stainless Steel Straw Bottle (10-ounce). She says, “This straw cup is great because it keeps beverages cold for about 8 hours. It also won’t leak while closed, which is a big plus.”
Read ‘em (without weeping)
To help parents raise healthy eaters and help their kids develop a healthy relationship with food, registered dietitian Michaela Ballmann recommends an all-time RD-favorite book, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook by Ellyn Satter. As noted in the book’s description, “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family demonstrates Satter’s dictum that “your positive feelings about food and eating will do more for your health than adhering to a set of rules about what to eat and what not to eat.” Amen to that!
Registered dietitian Melinda Hemmelgarn highly recommends Sylvia’s Spinach by Katherine Pryor. According to Hemmelgarn, “Sylvia’s Spinach is about a little girl who doesn’t like to eat spinach until (of course) she plants her own in a school garden. The book made me both laugh and cry, and this is a book for kids! And the illustrations really make the story come to life.” Hemmelgarm also recommends several books by registered dietitian Connie Evers including Nutrition Fun with Broc & Roll. “It’s great for parents and teachers alike,” she says. (I personally love all of Evers’ work and recommend checking out her fantastic website, Nutrition for Kids.)
Feel the pressure
Last year, registered dietitian Hope Warshaw received a Fagor Pressure Cooker as a holiday gift to help her realize her healthy eating goal of both eating/feeding more beans and using all dry beans as our source of beans. She stays inspired and motivated to use it (as does another dietitian, Tammy Sakanashi) by using a book by Jill Nussinow called The New Fast Food: The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Book. According to Sakanashi, “This book introduced me to pressure cooking…and I love it! Our family has been eating so many more legumes now that I can make them so quickly. I’ve even mastered using the pressure cooker on our electric stove. I especially love the white bean soup recipe—and have already made it twice!”
Use a kit to get fit
I’d be remiss to not mention at least one item for your holiday gift list to keep your family fit! FitKit is a great fitness find for families. This all-in-one fitness solution is portable and easily fits into your overnight bag or suitcase for your family’s weekend getaway or extended vacation. Each FitKit includes exercise bands, a jump rope and a pedometer—all the tools needed for a complete full-body workout parents and their older kids (aged 5 and up) can enjoy. The website also provides a 250+ exercise library for strength, cardio and flexibility.
Download our guide for Baby’s first solid foods and finger food recipes. Then, learn how to make homemade baby food!
Image of many colorful gift boxes with ribbon bows via shutterstock.
Full disclosure: I received a FitKit from its co-creator, Amie Hoff, several months ago with no promise of a review or mention. I received no other products or goods or financial compensation for mentioning any of the products in this post. Happy holidays!
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children, diet, eating, fitness, food, gifts, health, holidays, parents | Categories:
Diet, Fitness, Health, Meals, Must Read, Nutrition