What’s a Superfood Anyway

 

While most of us can agree that the idea of a “superfood” is supposed to be something that is good for our health, you might be surprised to find out there’s no real consensus about what defines a super food.

Superfood is a term that gets thrown around a lot. Sometimes it pertains to berries, other times you see it ascribed to grains or seeds, and there’s no shortage of packaged and processed snack foods that are touting the superfood label.

But a unique study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease sought to define what really is a superfood.

Now, these researchers steered clear of the somewhat controversial term “superfood” and decided instead to call their subject matters “powerhouse fruits and vegetables”. And what they did was to study the relative nutrient density of 47 different pieces of produce to analyze which ones were PFVs (powerhouse fruits and vegetables).

To qualify as a PFV, a fruit or vegetable had to have 10% or more daily value per 100 calories of 17 different qualifying nutrients. Based on the nutrient analysis, here are the top 10 “powerhouse fruits and vegetables”, ranked in order from highest nutrient density score:

  1. Watercress
  2. Chinese cabbage
  3. Chard
  4. Beet green
  5. Spinach
  6. Chicory
  7. Leaf lettuce
  8. Parsley
  9. Romaine lettuce
  10. Collard greens

You might have noticed a pattern here – that these are mostly dark green leafy vegetables. If you’re looking for an area where you can make an improvement in the nutrient density of your diet, try adding more greens to your meals. You can do so in salads, stews, sautéed or even ground up and mixed into patties to help cut meat when you’re enjoying burgers or meatloaf.

To see the rest of the PFV list of fruits and vegetables and their rankings, check out the CDC article here.

Tips for a Healthier Halloween

October 11, 2017 by  
Filed under Child nutrition, Holidays

Halloween is just around the corner – and it often comes with a SCARY amount of sugar in most households.

Did you know that the average American will eat just about 3 pounds of candy each Halloween season?

Nobody says you have to give up the sweet stuff, but here are a few tips for having a healthier Halloween!

 

Be Pro-Pumpkin..but without all the Sugar

The second it hits October you see pumpkin-flavored everything, everywhere. But most drinks and foods touting their pumpkin-flavors have just that, flavoring, and very minimal actual pumpkin.

Pumpkin is a great source of vitamin A and fiber – but only if you get the actual pumpkin! Try incorporating canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix which has added sugar) into favorite foods like waffles, oatmeal and home-made muffins.

Spiced pumpkin soup, homemade pumpkin raviolis made with won-ton wrappers and pumpkin smoothies with plain yogurt are other great ways to get a feeling for fall without all of that added sugar!

 

Scatter your Sugar – Use Nuts and Fruit

If you’re looking for something to nosh on this time of year, make sure to have fresh fruit and nuts on hand. You can make your own trail mix – even using a little candy if you want – but spread out the sugar by incorporating fruit and nuts.

Many dried fruits contain added sugar, so look for items that don’t – or incorporate fresh instead of dried fruit when you can.

When it comes to nuts, calories do add up quickly – but those calories also come with protein, fiber and healthy fats that will help keep you full when it comes time to go trick-or-treating

 

Out of Site…Out of Mind

Ever find yourself raiding your kids’ candy bag, just because it’s there? Same thing goes with the candy jar on the counter. You probably wouldn’t eat it if you hadn’t seen it! Studies show that a move as simple as moving tempting foods out of site can help cut down on overeating.

Sure, it’s fine to indulge your sweet tooth once in a while – but keeping your sweets stashed away (and in small portions) might help you cut back on the calories from sugar this holiday season!

 

Exercise: 1 Hour a Week Might Cut It?!

October 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Fitness

Although nutrition guidelines can be hard to follow and sometimes contradict each other…exercise guidelines aren’t always in any better shape!

Guidelines about how much we should exercise range from:

  • Children do 60 minutes or more of physical activity every day
  • Vigorous intensity aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for adults
  • Bone strengthening activity at least 3 days per week
  • …and don’t forget about cardio: for major health benefits adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week

It’s hard to know exactly how much we should move!

And the harsh reality is that most Americans aren’t doing anywhere close to that much. In fact, the CDC says that up to 80% of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of weekly exercise.

A new study shows that doing something is better than nothing, and as little as 1 hour of exercise per week may curb depression risk.

Researchers from a team of British, Australian, and Norwegian analysts looked at data gathered from nearly 34,000 adults. They found that people who exercise just one hour per week (regardless of the level of intensity of that exercise) had a 44 percent lower risk for developing depression over the course of a decade when compared to those who never exercised at all.

The benefits of exercise are widespread, from weight and appetite control, to bone health and balance. But it appears from this particular study, that even a small amount of exercise can help curb depression too!

When Vegetarian Diets go Bad

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the benefits – and drawbacks – of a primarily plant-based diet.

A recent article in the New York Times buy Jane E. Brody entitled “Good Vegan, Bad Vegan” brought some of these issues to light. Her article was based on opinions about and feedback from another popular publication, the documentary “What the Health“, a controversial movie with many questionable premises billing itself as “The Health Movie Health Organizations Don’t Want You to See”.

Brody points out in her article some of the same points that many dietitians and other nutrition and health advocates regularly repeat, that even vegetarian diets, if not properly planned and balanced can be unhealthy.

Take this sample vegetarian meal “plan” for example:

  • Sugary cereal with vanilla (sweetened) soy milk for breakfast
  • White pasta with pesto and high-sodium canned soup for lunch
  • Refined white carb crackers and salty soy cheese for snack
  • Grilled vegan cheese sandwich on white bread with canned green beans for dinner

Now of course this menu is a big exaggerated…but you get the point: there are no animal foods in that diet, but there is a ton of added sugar, salt, and refined white carbs that also aren’t so great for you either. Not enough fiber either…

While cutting back on your reliance on animal protein can be good for your health – and the environment – there are certainly ways to incorporate small amounts of animal foods responsibly in a diet that is well-balanced!

  • If you’re a heavy meat-eater, try making at least one day a week meatless. (Check out meatlessmonday.com for inspiration)
  • Focus on plants you can eat MORE of – aim for at least one serving of fruits and/or vegetables every time you sit down for a meal or snack
  • Be picky about processed food – don’t forget that even processed vegetarian foods can be devoid of important nutrients or have high amounts of added sugar and/or salt

What’s Up with the New Food Label?

September 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer awareness, Food Labels

Back in 2016, the FDA announced sweeping changes that would be coming to its Nutrition Facts Panel.

Nutrition professionals and health advocacy groups were excited about almost all of these changes, including:

  • Long-waited addition of the Added Sugars line under Carbohydrates that will help consumers differentiate between natural versus added sugar in their foods
  • More realistic portion sizes and bigger font call out of calories in a package
  • Updated list of nutrients (vitamin D and potassium) replacing ones we get enough of (vitamins A and C)

 

 

But if you’re still waiting for the roll out of the new label, don’t hold your breath. The FDA recently announced that it is proposing to extend the compliance dates for Nutrition Facts Label Final Rules from July 26, 2018 to January 1, 2020. The rationale is that this will give manufacturers additional time to comply.

In the meantime, consumers will have to continue relying on the current version of the food label, which hasn’t changed much since its original roll-out in 1992.

Is Lack of Sleep Making You Fat?

August 4, 2017 by  
Filed under Dietary Patterns, Obesity

If you’re feeling a little sluggish in these dog days of summer, here’s a pretty good reason to start getting more sleep: a new study suggests that skimping on sleep certainly adds pounds.

The study – published in the journal PLOS One – looked at over 1,600 adults in the United Kingdom and found that not getting enough sleep basically makes you gain a clothes size.

Those who got only 6 hours per night had waist measurements that were 1.2 inches greater than those who slept 9 hours per night.

Additionally, the light sleepers also had less favorable lipid profiles, suggesting a metabolic effect in addition to weight when not getting adequate sleep.

So how much sleep should we be getting? Experts don’t EXACTLY agree on a set number, but it’s certainly more than 6! The Mayo Clinic says healthy adults need somewhere between 7-9 hours per night.

Think about turning in early tonight – your gut and your heart will thank you!

World Breastfeeding Week

August 1, 2017 by  
Filed under baby food, Child nutrition

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and a new report out from The Global Breastfeeding Collective finds that as a planet, we’re not doing so well when it comes to exclusive breastfeeding goals.

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding (meaning nothing other than breastmilk given to baby) for the first 6 months of life.

Breastfeeding, which helps lower infant mortality rates and increases optimal development in infants, also brings huge economic benefits to families and the countries they reside in.

But currently none of the countries evaluated – rich or poor – are doing enough to help encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months.

A few sobering statistics from the report:

  • Only 40% of infants are exclusively breastfed for 6 months per the WHO recommendations
  • Increasing that to 50% by 2025 would save the lives of more than 500,000 young children
  • Highest exclusive BF rates at 6 months are in Rwanda and Burundi at 87 and 83%, respectively
  • Lowest exclusive BF rates at 6 months are in Chad and Djibouti at 0 and 1%, respectively

Here in the US, only 25% of babies are exclusively breastfed.

Authors of the report recommend a number of ways to increase global breastfeeding rates. These include cracking down on advertising of infant formula which supplants breastfeeding and advocating for paid maternity leave for parents.

To learn more about the positive impact that breastfeeding can have on individual children, their larger families and communities and countries, check out the UNICEF page that promotes exclusive breastfeeding here.

Baby-Led Feeding, Fussiness and Weight

July 24, 2017 by  
Filed under baby food, Child nutrition

 

There are a lot of ways to feed a baby…and one of the more popular approaches is modeled on the philosophy called baby-led weaning. With baby-led weaning, you bypass spoon-feeding of pureed food and encourage babies to self-feed age appropriate foods.

Although the practice of allowing a baby to self-feed has been around for generations, the term was only recently coined by British feeding expert and author of the Baby-Led Weaning Book, Gill Rapley, PhD. Proponents of this approach say it encourages independence, helps babies respond to their hunger and fullness cues and decreases picky eating later in life.

But as with any claim you want to make in the health and wellbeing space…you better have some data to back it up!

A new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that a baby-led approach to complementary feeding resulted in children who had less food fussiness (i.e., picky eating) – a finding also replicated in previous studies. This new study also found that these self-fed babies also did not exhibit any signs of growth faltering – meaning that a baby-led approach to feeding can likely meet a healthy baby’s nutrition needs.

Some proponents of the baby-led approach to feeding maintain that it leads to healthier weight and can help prevent overweight and obesity down the line (compared to spoon-feeding). This particular study indicated that a baby-led approach to complementary feeding does not appear to reduce risk for overweight compared with traditional feeding practices (although it didn’t increase risk of underweight either!)

The study was part of the 2-year Baby-Led Introduction to Solids (BLISS) randomized clinical trial and it included 206 women followed from pregnancy in New Zealand. Although this particular study was small, it is an important contribution to the growing body of literature that supports a baby-led approach to feeding as a viable and safe alternative to spoon-feeding.

Kids Favor Fruit Over Veggies

There’s not always a ton of good news on the kids nutrition front. But here’s a little bright spot: according to the USDA, more kids are eating fruits and vegetables.

While the majority of kids still don’t meet the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables consumed per day, at least intake levels are on the rise.

Not surprisingly, on a daily basis, kids do eat more servings of fruit than they do vegetables. Based on a recent analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2009-2010), here’s what’s happening:

  • 77% of kids aged 2–19 years ate fruit on a given day
  • Almost 92% of those aged 2–19 years ate vegetables on a given day.
  • Nine out of 10 kids aged 2–5 years consumed fruit, while only 6 out of 10 adolescents ate fruit on a given day.
  • More children aged 2–5 years than adolescents consumed vegetables on a given day.

So if you have kids at home, be sure to include at least one fruit or vegetable at each meal…and more if possible!

Babies, toddlers and young children who are exposed to a greater variety of foods are more likely to continue those patterns into adolescence and adulthood.

Should You Be Gluten Free?

July 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Gluten Free

Seems like everywhere you turn these days, there’s more and more gluten free foods for sale.

In fact, Mintel estimates that the gluten free market was worth $10 billion in 2013. An interesting statistic when you consider that only about 1% of the population truly has celiac disease.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease characterized by the inability to tolerate gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

The only therapy for celiac disease is lifelong adherence to a gluten free diet. But many people choose to follow a gluten-free diet, even if they don’t have celiac disease.

Some claim going gluten-free helps increase energy, might promote weight loss or helps them deal with gluten sensitivity issues…although there is not a consistent body of research to support all claims.

But just because a food is gluten free does not necessarily make it a “health food”. Actually, according to Food Navigator and flour milling company Ardent Mills, about 43% of the new gluten free foods introduced in 2013 were for gluten free snack foods like crackers, cookies or chips.

These highly processed snack foods – gluten-free or not – are foods we shouldn’t be eating that much of to begin with. Eating more cookies, cakes, crackers or chips is not going to help improve your health – no matter what your individual situation is!

So if you’re considering going gluten-free, make sure you don’t replace unnecessary calories from processed snack foods with gluten-free versions of the same!

A better approach is to look for and include foods that are naturally gluten-free, like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and dairy. For some good resources about gluten-free gains, check out the Whole Grains Council page on the topic here.

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