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Nutrition ’ Category
Friday, October 11th, 2013
The Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy organization, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), is smiling wide today. That’s because McDonald’s has decided to phase out listing soda on the Happy Meal section on menu boards.
As described in my recent Scoop on Food post, Will Fast Food Ever Be Health Food?, McDonald’s pledged to—among other things—offer a choice of water, milk, or juice instead of soda as the beverage of choice in kids’ Happy Meals. This pledge was the outgrowth of a partnership the fast food giant recently created with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation designed to help families make informed choices in the context of balanced lifestyles. Despite the promise, CSPI detectives noticed in the fine print of the agreement that soda could still be listed as an option on Happy Meal menu boards.
Known to not let such transgressions go unnoticed, a press release by CSPI’s Nutrition Policy Director Margo G. Wootan accused both McDonald’s and the Alliance of misleading the public and the media. In the press release, the CSPI also vowed to monitor the fast food chain’s practices. They’d even consider suing McDonald’s if it found soft drinks were mentioned in the Happy Meal section of menu boards or if employees offered soft drinks as an option with kids’ meals.
Fortunately, the CSPI won’t be calling a lawyer to sue McDonald’s anytime soon. In a new statement , CSPI explains that after discussing concerns with McDonald’s, its CEO agreed that listing soda on the Happy Meal section of menu boards wasn’t consistent with McDonald’s commitment.
We all know Americans guzzle down lots of soda and other sugary beverages. A new study published in American Journal of Preventive Health suggests that we may even consume more calories from added sugars in beverages than previously thought. The study estimated that Americans aged 2 and older consumed 171 calories (about 8% of total daily calories) per day from added sugars in sugar-sweetened beverages; soda, fruit drinks, tea, coffee, coffee, energy/sports drinks, and flavored milks were the top sources. Extra calories from soda can be a problem not only because they provide few nutrients, but because they leave less room in the diet for nutrient-rich foods and beverages that are needed in adequate supply to help kids grow.
To add insult to injury, a recent analysis of 32 studies—including 20 in children—published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (including soda) promotes weight gain in both children and adults.
Although soda will still be widely available, not having it promoted directly to kids and having other options at fast food restaurants will likely move us in a better direction when it comes to feeding kids. It may even help kids consume fewer calories and more nutrients depending on what beverage they choose in place of soda when they have fast food. If this initiative leads other fast food companies to follow suit—as encouraged by CSPI—this baby step may become a broad step to help kids improve their diet and reap the subsequent benefits.
Image of no soda zone via shutterstock.
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Friday, October 4th, 2013
In a recent “Ask Well” column in The New York Times, Anahad O’Connor was asked, “Is It Safe to Eat Soy?” The article suggests that despite concerns, soy is safe to eat—and may even protect against cancer and heart disease.
Whether you feed your children soy foods, or avoid it out of fear it will cause health problems, I queried three registered dietitians well versed on all things soy to clear up the confusion. Below you’ll find responses to some questions about soy from Sharon Palmer, author of The Plant Powered Diet; Vandana Sheth, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; and Reyna Franco, a New York City-based nutrition and exercise consultant.
EZ: With so many parents moving towards plant-based diets for their families, are you concerned about including soy in a child’s diet?
SP: Both the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) conclude that moderate soy consumption (up to two servings per day* of whole soy foods) is safe, even for breast cancer survivors. In fact, research indicates that if girls eat soy early on, it may even protect them against breast cancer. Despite some urban legends and myths surrounding soy, particularly about its phytoestrogens, scientists now know that soy does not increase estrogen levels in humans, nor does it feminize men.
VS: Soy, which can be an excellent source of plant-based protein and other nutrients, has been consumed in Asia for more than 1000 years. Current research suggests that it is safe to consume two to three servings of soy foods every day as part of a balanced and varied diet (with the exception of people who are allergic to soy or who have thyroid or other problems that might be affected by soy intake). Soy foods have even been shown to confer health benefits when introduced to kids. The key is to ensure that a child’s plant-based diet includes a wide variety of foods.
RF: My only concern about including soy in a child’s diet is to make sure he or she gets sufficient calcium. Most kids get much of their calcium from dairy products. So if they cut out cow’s milk and replace it with soy milk, I recommend organic non-GMO** soy milk that is calcium fortified.
EZ: How much is too much when it comes to kids and soy?
SP: Soy experts usually suggest that kids have no more than two servings of whole soy foods per day. The important thing about a plant-based diet is that it should be based on variety. And there are plenty of other protein foods, such as nuts and seeds, nut butters, beans, lentils, peas. Whole grains and vegetables also contain protein, though at slightly lower levels.
VS: While soy foods offer many nutritional and health benefits, overdoing it will potentially lead a child to miss out on other key foods and nutrients. While there’s no specific limit on soy foods for kids, it’s key to ensure that soy foods are one part of the child’s varied diet.
RF: I think it’s very difficult for kids to consume too much soy, and I’m not aware of any specific upper limits. It’s a safe and healthy plant-based protein. The key is to consume a wide variety of plant proteins, including soy, to get a mix of nutrients to help kids grow optimally.
EZ: What are your favorite soy food recommendations?
SP: Personally, I prefer organic and non-GMO** soy foods. But I think parents need to decide for themselves whether supporting this form of agriculture is important to them. Nutritionally, they are pretty much the same. I recommend minimally processed soy foods, such as tofu, soy milk, edamame, soybeans, soy nuts. Prepared soy foods such as meatless chicken nuggets, hot dogs, tofu sausages or veggie burgers) can also offer quick easy solutions that taste good and are kid-friendly. Parents can also make a soy shake with fruit and almond butter, soy yogurt with fruit and granola. They can also cook with tofu—I grate it with mushrooms to make a tofu taco filling, stir it into Chinese stir-fry, and even puree it into a peanut butter pie.
VS: I recommend edamame as an easy, portable snack; soy milk in overnight oats or a smoothie; tofu (extra firm), cubed and sautéed with olive oil, garlic, spices, crumbled into tofu scramble (vegan version of scrambled eggs), or used to make vegan pancake batter.
RF: Kids love to snack on edamame. I also recommend soy nuts. Tempeh and tofu are great for making stir-fries, wraps and salads. Parents can also make soy burgers and tofu steaks.
EZ: Do you have any concerns about processed soy foods?
SP: Although I recommend mostly whole soy foods, processed soy foods can be included in a child’s diet in small amounts. But because many of these foods contain a lot of artificial ingredients and sodium, it’s important for parents to read food labels and look for the “cleanest” ingredients in ingredients lists.
VS: Processed foods are processed foods regardless of whether they contain soy foods.They can be included as part of a healthy diet in moderation. However, it is ideal to enjoy soy foods in their natural state to maximize benefits and minimize ingredients us as additives and sodium.
RF: My concern about soy foods, processed or not, are GMOs**. That is why I recommend organic soy products labeled as Non-GMO. I also suggest limiting processed foods altogether.
*According to the AICR, 1 cup of soy milk, ½ cup cooked soybeans, or 1/3 cup or 1 ounce soy nuts equals 1 serving of soy.
**GE foods is the term preferred by the U.S. FDA.
Image of soy products isolated on white via Shutterstock.
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Tuesday, October 1st, 2013
In a previous Scoop on Food post, I asked if you thought fast food was OK for kids. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I know that fast food is not health food. I also know that people don’t typically go to fast food restaurants when they want nutritious foods like healthfully prepared produce, whole grains, and lean protein foods—they go for burgers, fries, and fried chicken. Enjoyed by many, eating fast food contributes excess calories, fat, and sodium to the American diet. Of course one fast food meal won’t ruin an otherwise healthful diet and lifestyle. But eating it often can contribute to unhealthy weight gain and diet-related diseases. And that will inevitably take its toll on the health and quality of life of children, and possibly even set them up for a less-than-healthy futures.
Fast food is heavily advertised, widely available, and convenient—and it’s virtually impossible to ignore. Even my family and I succumb to it on occasion—while traveling or during a busy weekend. But while I’ll always recommend home-prepared foods over fast food to improve dietary intake and meet nutrient needs, there’s some proof that fast food chains are offering a few nutritious options or are otherwise slimming down their pickings.
Recently, McDonald’s vowed to offer a side salad, fruit or vegetable option in place of French fries in value meals; promote and market water, milk, and juice instead of soda as the beverage in Happy Meals; and to create Happy Meal and other packaging that excites kids to choose and consume fruits, vegetables, low/reduced-fat dairy, or water. They also promised to include fun messages about nutrition or well-being in all its advertising aimed at children. This effort aimed at increasing access to produce and to help families and children to make informed choices in the context of balanced lifestyles is the outgrowth of a new partnership between McDonald’s and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation on a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment.
The McDonald’s plan won’t affect all of its restaurants across the country (within the next three years, the plan will target up to ten of the chain’s largest markets, and by 2020, a total of 20 of McDonald’s largest markets will be targeted). Still, it’s a step in the right direction. Other recent steps as outlined in a 2013 progress report include the fact that McDonald’s Happy Meals now include apple slices, the most popular Happy Meal choices provide 20% fewer calories than previously, and McDonald’s customers and employees have more access than ever before to calorie and nutrition information.
In other fast food news, Wendy’s recently joined Kids LiveWell, a program launched by the National Restaurant Association in collaboration with Healthy Dining Finder to help parents and children select nutritious foods when eating out. Two meal options that meet the Kids LiveWell nutrition criteria include a Kids’ Meal that consists of a Grilled Chicken Wrap or Hamburger served with sliced apples and either Juicy Juice 100% apple juice, TruMoo 1% low fat white milk, or Nestle bottled water.
Burger King, also part of the Kids LiveWell program, offers a Kids’ Meal Hamburger or Breakfast Oatmeal served with fresh apple slices and nonfat milk that meet the program’s nutrition criteria. They also launched crinkle cut French fries called Satisfies. A small order has fewer calories, less fat, and less sodium than Burger King’s traditional French fries (270 calories, 11 grams total fat, and 300 milligrams sodium versus 340 calories, 15 grams total fat, and 480 milligrams sodium). No matter how you slice ‘em, Satisfies are still fried potatoes. But having a tasty option with less calories, fat, and sodium (the value size order has even less) can potentially help all fast food eaters eat less when they eat out.
Although many chains are taking small steps to offer more nutritious options, they’re also creating more and more unhealthy concoctions. Seems to me that the noise made by Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger and other heavily promoted nutrient-poor options are likely to drown out any positive steps companies take to improve the eating habits and health of America.
It’s up to parents to decide what role, if any, fast food should play in our lives. I say if you choose to have any fast food at all, teach your kids how to read menus, encourage them to order the smallest sizes available, and explain to them why fast food is, at best, once-in-a-while food. Because no matter what headway fast food restaurants make in the future, one thing is certain: eating more family meals at home with nutritious foods prepared in healthful ways will always be a great way to grow healthier children.
Photo of Kids’ Meal Grilled Chicken Wrap via The Wendy’s company.
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Tuesday, September 24th, 2013
In her New York Times article, “Dietary Report Card Disappoints,” Jane Brody discusses findings by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based advocacy group, that show we are making progress—but have a long way to go—when it comes to eating in America.
In their ‘report card’ on The Changing American Diet, referred to as ‘one you wouldn’t want to post on your fridge,’ CSPI analyzed food consumption data collected between 1970 and 2010. On the plus side, the report found that while intake of total fats and oils continue to climb, we’re successfully reducing intake of artery-clogging trans and saturated fats. We’re drinking less whole milk and eating less beef (although the report suggests we could afford to bump up our intake of nonfat and low-fat milk, white meat, and seafood). Despite the strides we’ve made, the report shows that on average we consume 450 more calories daily than we did in 1970—a trend that’s no doubt linked with the dramatic rise in incidence of both obesity and type 2 diabetes among adults and children alike. We continue to skimp on fruits and vegetables. We overdo grains—especially refined ones (made with white flour)—and under consume whole grains. And we love full-fat cheese and sugary foods like sodas and sugar-sweetened beverages and candy just a little too much, according to the report.
In preparation for the third annual Food Day—a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food and grassroots campaign to for better food policies—organizers of the event as well as CSPI created a simple online 14-question quiz. Designed to help Americans move closer towards a more healthful diet that can benefit individuals—and the planet—the quiz grades the health, animal welfare, and environmental impact of your diet based on typical weekly servings of various foods. Those who take the quiz are given a number and letter grade and are encouraged to share their score on Twitter and Facebook to raise awareness about one’s diet and its impact on the environment and to excite others to do the same.
If you and your family take the quiz and realize your diets fall short, you’re not alone. Only a fraction of Americans meet current Dietary Guidelines for Americans daily food group recommendations. The good news is that you and your kids can improve your intake over time and inch closer to meet—and not exceed—daily quotas for key food groups at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack time by following these five simple food rules:
1. Have fruits or veggies each time you eat. Including even a few slices of tomato or lettuce on a sandwich, throwing a handful of berries on low fat yogurt, dipping a few slices of sweet peppers into hummus or guacamole, or noshing on a few baby carrots or some cucumber slices before dinner really add up. Take your kids to farmers markets and buy produce in season when possible. If you choose to opt for organic options, you can refer to the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to see which purchases make the most sense for your family.
2. Start with whole grains. Have a simple breakfast that includes 1/2 to 1 cup oatmeal or whole grain ready-to-eat cereal, a toasted slice or two of whole wheat bread or a whole wheat English muffin, or 1-2 whole grain waffles or pancakes (you can make these ahead of time, freeze, and pop in the microwave for a quick and easy breakfast). For a snack, pop some popcorn in a touch of canola oil, top whole grain crackers with one slice of cheese or 1 Tablespoon natural peanut or almond butter, or mix 1-2 tablespoons each whole grain, low sugar cereal, dried fruit, and nuts or seeds for a hearty snack. For dinner, choose small portions of brown or wild rice (both whole grains) over white rice (or combine whole grain and refined grain options if taste is an issue), or have whole wheat pasta. Think of these as accompaniments rather than the focal point of the meal.
3. Do dairy right. Opt for low fat and nonfat milk, yogurt, and cheese often (organic if you choose). If your child is used to or prefers the taste of whole or reduced fat milk, combining either with nonfat milk can ease the transition. If you don’t like the taste or texture of low fat or nonfat cheese (I know I don’t), use small amounts of shredded cheddar (a little goes a long way) to add taste and flavor to whole wheat pasta dishes, fajitas or quesadillas (made with whole wheat flour tortillas). Make your own pizza with less shredded mozzarella and more fresh vegetables (lightly sautéed if preferred) and skinless white meat poultry.
4. Go fish. We all skimp on fish, so let’s up our intake by replacing one to two red meat or poultry meals weekly with fish. Find options that are deemed good for you and good for the oceans according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Prepare fish in a way kids will enjoy (how about tacos, fajitas or quesadillas, or a casserole or pasta dish made with tuna or salmon)? You can also use whole grain cereal flakes or even some panko (a refined grain, yes, but you don’t need to use very much) to coat the fish to make delicious baked dishes.
5. Save your sweets. If you really want a sweet treat, make sure to plan for it at the end of a meal or snack. You’ll be less likely to overdo it if you don’t have it in-between meals or when you’re starved. You may even find you have little or no room for it—or may even desire it less—at the end of the meal if you save it for then. You can, of course, choose your usual candy or other treats, or try options made with 100% real ingredients like Unreal Candy.** Be sure to keep portions very small to leave enough room for wholesome, nutrient-packed foods. And whatever you do, don’t forget that fresh or unsweetened frozen fruit is one of the most naturally sweet and satisfying treats, so be sure to have them on hand and grab them first!
*Young or less active kids may require 1.5 to 2 whole grains daily depending on individual food patterns—see Appendix 7 in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
**I received samples of Unreal Candy by the manufacturer.
Image of take the quiz message on keyboard via Shutterstock.
How do you teach your kids to eat better for their health—and that of the planet?
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Thursday, September 12th, 2013
In a new campaign called “Drink Up,” Michelle Obama and Partnership for a Healthier America are encouraging people to take a simple action to improve health—to drink water. With help from celebrity endorsers, talk shows including The View and Katie, and bottled water and other companies like Evian, Nestle Waters, and Brita, the new campaign is likely to make a real splash (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
What I like most about the campaign is that its message is simple and doable. It takes a positive—rather than a punishing—approach to behavior change by telling Americans what we can do rather than what we should not do to live more healthful lives.
In short videos done in both English and Spanish and promoted on the campaign web site, the First Lady explains that the body is about 70% water. She also says that when you’re running low, a glass of water will recharge your body.
As I discussed in a recent Scoop on Food post on hydration, water is a vital nutrient. Found in so many body parts including the brain, heart, lungs, skin, and even bones, water helps control body temperature, supports healthy digestion, brings wastes out of the body, and even helps prevent constipation. Although water is an essential part of the daily diet and something kids—and all of us—need to get more of, a recent study published in Nutrition Journal found that at least 75% of children between the age of 4 and 13 failed to meet the Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intake values for daily water intake (about 7 to 10 cups water from all fluids and beverages). Researchers also found that, on the two days surveyed, 28% of children failed to consume any plain water (tap or bottled).
Although ‘Drink Up’ doesn’t mention other beverages, it implies that while it’s up to us to choose our beverages, drinking water is a better option. I concur! But I also think it’s important to include nutrient-rich beverages such as low- and nonfat milk, fortified soy beverages, and 100 percent fruit juice to hydrate and meet needs for protein, calcium, vitamin D, and other key nutrients.
If you want to help your child ‘drink up,’ here are four Stressipes* that can help:
1. Start ‘em young. According to Bridget Swinney, RD, author of Eating Expectantly and Baby Bites, “Healthy kids under the age of four need about five cups of total fluid a day—at least one cup of that will come from food in the diet, depending on how many fruits and veggies a child eats. Kids who spend time in warm, humid weather will need more fluid.” She recommends encouraging kids from late infancy on to learn to love plain water by teaching them that when you’re thirsty, you drink water. “For babies one year and up, milk is a given, but be sure to give additional fluids—mostly plain water,” Swinney says. She also supports recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics that call for limiting fruit juice to no more than 4 to 6 ounces a day for children aged one to six.
2. Spruce it up. If the thought of plain water makes your child gag, Swinney recommends adding some fun by letting him or her pick out a special cup or silly straw reserved for drinking water. “Adding ‘floaties’ like cucumber, kiwi orange, lemon, or lime slices, or making ice cubes with water and bits of orange, apple, kiwi, strawberry, raspberry or blueberry and using them to put in plain water can also help,” Swinney adds.
3. Drink before you eat. Because emerging studies suggest that consuming water may prevent weight gain in children, offering even small amounts before or with meals or snacks is a good rule of thumb. Instilling such a simple habit in children will likely help them continue to ‘drink up’–and reap the many benefits of staying hydrated—well into their teen and adult years.
4. Think before you drink. According to registered dietitian Kate Geagen, author of Go Green, Get Lean, “I love that the ‘Drink Up’ campaign promotes zero-calorie beverages, but parents can take it one step further to make it zero-impact for the environment as well.” She urges parents to fill and refill BPA-free water bottles with tap water, which is more regulated than bottled water. She adds, “In an economy where every food dollar counts, I rather parents use the money they’d spend on bottled water to invest in more water-rich fruits and vegetables and other nutritious foods they can feed to their families.”
*’Stressipes’ are tips or solutions to help you eat and live in a more healthful way.
How do you help your family drink more water?
Image of child with glass pitcher water via Shutterstock.
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