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.

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.

What’s Up with Milk Substitutes?

Cruise the dairy aisle of your nearest grocery store and the “milk” aisle will blow you away.

Most likely because there’s a decreasing amount of conventional cow’s milk available for sale but a LOT of milk alternatives.

So what exactly is a milk alternative – and who might benefit from drinking one?

Milk alternatives are non-cow’s milk beverages that provide some (or in some cases, all) of the nutrient benefits of milk.

These includes foods like almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk and rice milk.

But you have to be careful when it comes to milk substitutes because not all of them are created the same.

Calcium

Cow’s milk is hands down the best source of dietary calcium. It is very well absorbed and found in higher quantities in dairy foods than in any other food category.

But some people can’t handle cow’s milk, either because of allergy, intolerance, or personal preference.

Most milk substitutes today do contain calcium – but always check your labels. There’s no point in drinking a milk substitute if it is not fortified with calcium.

Protein

Cow’s milk is a great source of protein, with about 8 grams per cup of cow’s milk. Many milk substitutes do contain protein, but some don’t have as much as you would think.

A good example of this is almond milk. Almond milk (even though it comes from high protein almonds) retains very little protein after processing.

You’re likely getting enough protein elsewhere in your diet, but especially for children you want to make sure that almond milk is a good fit (by checking with your primary care practitioner or dietitian) if you’re withholding cow’s milk for whatever reason.

Sugar

Cow’s milk contains 12 grams of sugar per cup – but it’s naturally occurring milk sugar, lactose.

Many milk substitutes have added sugar in the form of vanilla or other flavoring. Nobody needs to be getting added sugars from their milk substitutes, so look instead for plain or unsweetened versions if you’re looking at a substitutes.

The bottom line is: milk alternatives can be a good way for a person who doesn’t drink cow’s milk to get some important nutrients. You do have to be an educated consumer though, and read those labels, to make sure you’re really getting the best bet when it comes to an alternative.

Can Vitamins Help Your Hair, Skin and Nails?

Sounds pretty simple: take a “high potency” vitamin cocktail and your hair, skin and nails will magically start to shine.

But is there any truth to the claims that dietary supplements can help improve hair, skin and nail health?

In short: no.

You see, the B vitamin biotin is associated with nail (and even a bit of hair and skin) health. But that’s when a diet includes an ample amount of biotin.

Having a sub-par diet and then topping it off with a biotin pill chase, isn’t going to do the trick.

A diet that is inadequate in biotin will result in poor hair, skin and nail health (as will a diet that has inadequate dietary fat).

But bulking up on biotin supplements will not make your hair, skin and nail health better.

Your best bet is to round out your diet with foods that are natural sources of biotin like nuts, eggs, avocados, vegetables, meat and fish.

Let the food based source of biotin work its magic, and save your money from those supplements, which in this case don’t do any good!

Cutting Boards 101

Ask yourself:

How many cutting boards are in your kitchen right now? (Come on…be honest!)

And for about how long have they been there?

Cutting boards are one of those things we take for granted. You buy a few, keep them forever, and don’t really think about what they represent.

A great cutting board review article in USA Today recently summed it up best, saying, “If you think about it, cutting boards are kind of doomed from the start; they’re the crime scene for pretty much every meal you make in the kitchen.”

That’s right, you dissect meat, you carve up vegetables, you splatter food all over your cutting board…and they never fight you back.

But….do they?

Cutting Board Safety

You see…you have to be careful when it comes to cutting boards. Cross contamination of foods can lead to food borne illness, and cutting boards don’t keep forever.

Here are a few tips on cutting board cleanliness:

  • Use two cutting boards: one for raw meat, poultry and seafood and another for ready-to-eat foods such as fruits and vegetables
  • Wash all cutting boards thoroughly in hot, soapy water
  • Throw out cutting boards that have visible cracks, crevices or knife scars since harmful bacteria can live here

If you’re looking for a reason to swap out some of your kitchen gear, cleaning up your cutting board game might be a good first place to start!

 

 

 

National Nutrition Month: Put Your Best Fork Forward

March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is Put Your Best Fork Forward.

So how exactly can you go about leading with your best fork?

Small shifts in your food choices add up over time. So don’t stress if you don’t have a “perfect” diet – just work to make small changes that move you in the right direction!

Here are the key messages for this year’s month-long celebration of nutrition:

  1. Create an eating style that includes a variety of your favorite, healthful foods.
  2. Practice cooking more at home and experiment with healthier ingredients.
  3. How much we eat is as important as what we eat. Eat and drink the right amount for you, as MyPlate encourages us to do.
  4. Find activities that you enjoy and be physically active most days of the week.
  5. Manage your weight or lower your health risks by consulting a registered dietitian nutritionist. RDNs can provide sound, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle, preferences and health-related needs.

For more great information about National Nutrition Month, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ NNM website.

 

Are Gluten Free Foods Just Glorified Junk Food?

There’s no doubt that the gluten free market is blowing up.

The size of the gluten free food market may be worth more than $7.5 billion by 2020.

But what sort of quality have we come to expect when we see a gluten free label?

What is Gluten?

Gluten is simply the protein found in rye, wheat and barley. So,theoretically, gluten free foods would be those that are just devoid of those ingredients.

But the gluten free market has become so much more…instead of focusing on foods that are naturally gluten free, many people with a celiac diagnosis (which requires lifelong adherence to the gluten free diet) instead look to gluten free versions of junk foods that they shouldn’t be eating that much of anyway.

What Gluten Free Foods are Popular?

Take a gander down your local grocer’s gluten free aisle, and here’s what you’ll see:

  • Gluten free cakes
  • Gluten free cookies
  • Gluten free refined breads
  • Gluten free crackers
  • Gluten free pretzels

…and the list goes on.

Anyone trying to eat well should avoid foods like cakes, cookies, refined breads, crackers and pretzels – regardless of whether they are gluten free or not.

Don’t Bulk Up on Gluten Free Junk Food

A new study showed that nearly half of all gluten free product sales come from snack foods.

And guess what: nobody needs that many snacks!

A good approach if you do need to eat gluten free is to focus on eating more of the foods that are naturally gluten free, like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, reduced- or low-fat dairy foods, and grains such as quinoa, corn and gluten free oats.

Don’t waste your money on refined, packaged and processed gluten free junk foods!

To learn more, here’s a great article on Gluten Free Whole Grains from the Whole Grains Council.

Magic Mushrooms…with Vitamin D

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If you know anything about vitamin D, it’s that most foods don’t contain much of it. Sure, you can sop it up from the sun, when it comes to food, outside of fortified dairy foods, most things we eat are vitamin D duds.

But if you’re not big on dairy to get your vitamin D, you might give mushrooms a second shot. Mushrooms you ask? Yes, mushrooms!

According to the Mushroom Council, all mushrooms contain some vitamin D, but certain growing techniques have the potential to increase vitamin D levels by exposing the mushrooms to ultraviolet light.

The light-exposed mushrooms that you are most likely to find at your market will likely have about 400 International Units (IUs) vitamin D per serving (adults need 600 IUs per day according to the US Dietary Reference Intakes). For 400 IUs of vitamin D, that’s 4-5 white button mushrooms or one portabella, and a vitamin D level that is comparable to 4 cups of milk!

So if you don’t dig on dairy – check out light-treated mushrooms as a great way to get close to your daily dose of vitamin D!

Is the Cook-it-Yourself Craze Right for You?

December 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer awareness, Cooking

cookathome

There’s no doubt that preparing food at home makes good sense. Studies have shown that people who make more of their own food have lower body mass index (BMI) levels and are generally healthier than those who eat food prepared outside of the home.

We all know we should cook more – but most people don’t do it! According to data from the Washington Post, less than 60% of dinners eaten in the US in 2014 were actually made at home.

To solve the problem, a bevy of businesses have cropped up to get Americans to make more meals at home. Companies like Blue Apron and HelloFresh are in a full-on marketing blitz to get their meals into our kitchens. These services offer fresh ingredients, colorful recipes and the promise of easy-to-make meals created right in your kitchen.

So is the cook-it-yourself craze right for you? Here are some pros and cons.

Pros

  • Fresh ingredients – most of these companies specialize in providing really fresh ingredients that you can cook up quickly
  • Food waste minimization – with all of the focus on food waste, these services are great in that they only provide enough ingredients to make food for the specific number of servings
  • Portion control – you are unlikely to consume as many calories in a made-at-home meal than you would in a restaurant

Cons

  • Price – there’s no doubt it’s more expensive to have a specially curated delivery package of ingredients sent to your house than it is to grocery shop yourself
  • Availability – not all of the services are available in all markets, so if you don’t live in a major metropolitan area, you might not be an eligible recipient
  • One-and-done – one of the best things about home cooking is the potential for batch cooking and leftovers; of course with these services you get a meal for tonight, but it ends there.

If you’re interested in trying out a cook-it-at-home services, there are lots of online promo codes and free trials you can take advantage of. And whatever you decide, at the end of the day, the more food you can prepare at home, the better off you are. How you decide to make that food at home – that is up to you!

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