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

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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!

Slim State Showdown: Best and Worst States for Diabetes

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How slim your state is may also say something about its diabetes rates. According to the American Diabetes Association, across the US in 2012, 29.1 million Americans or roughly 9.3% of the population had diabetes. But not all diabetes is evenly distributed throughout the country.

New research, published as part of the Gallup-Healthways State of American Well-being series recently examined the new cases of diabetes across the US.

The states with the lowest incidence of diabetes in the United States (with less than 8% of the population with diabetes) are:

  • Utah
  • Rhode Island
  • Colorado

The states reporting the highest number of people with diabetes (with more than 16% of the population with diabetes) are:

  • Alabama
  • West Virginia

What’s not surprising is that diabetes rates correlate with obesity rates. As weight increases, the body’s ability to use the insulin it produces diminishes. Losing weight causes fat cells to shrink, which in turn improve the body’s ability to utilize insulin and lowers diabetes risk.

For more information about diabetes and minimizing risk, visit the American Diabetes Association. And for some cool interactive tools that track diabetes on different devices, check out the US Diabetes Surveillance System.

Parental Produce Sneak Attack?

October 25, 2016 by  
Filed under Child nutrition, Consumer awareness

An interesting article in today’s New York Times questioned whether or not the food industry should sneak fruits and vegetable into kids foods.

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Oh Yes Foods, a California company recently debuted a pizza that contains 12 different types of dehydrated fruits and vegetables: kale, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, tomatoes, green peppers, onion, butternut squash, artichoke, papaya and guava. One serving of this pizza boasts over 5 servings of fruits and vegetables – certainly more than most kids eat in a day…but in pizza?

What kind of message is this sending to kids? To be fair – most packaged and processed kids foods are laden with sodium, sugar and unhealthy fats. But to take a traditionally unhealthy food like pizza and then pack it full of fruits and vegetables, is that the right approach?

The Oh Yes Foods founders are both physicians and claimed they were inspired by an overly picky child who wouldn’t touch traditional forms of fruits or vegetables. But were they aware that it can take more than 15 times of introducing a new food to a kid before he or she accepts it?

Child nutrition experts caution against hiding or sneaking healthy foods into unhealthy packages like pizza and brownies. Oftentimes the added ingredients needed to “mask” the flavor of foods that don’t naturally belong there can do more harm than good.

If your kid doesn’t like fruits and veggies – don’t despair. Here are a few simple tips for boosting nutrition in a more natural way before resorting to powered up pizza!

  • Get down with dips – kids LOVE to dip. Try yogurt-based dressings for dipping fruit and veggie slices
  • Fortify your favorite foods – got a kid who loves pasta? Why not add cooked zucchini and carrots to the sauce?
  • Relentlessly return to less-than-favorite foods – don’t forget some kids may need to see and try a certain food over and over and over before they accept it. Mix up your mode of delivery, add additional flavors and sauces, try fixing it a different way – but don’t give up after one shot!

Early Introduction of Eggs & Peanuts May Reduce Allergy

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For years the medical community maintained that delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods might help prevent food allergy. But a new body of literature indicates that the opposite might actually be true: early introduction (at less than one year of life) might actually be protective against later food allergy.

A meta-analysis published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at 146 previously conducted studies that analyzed over 200,000 children. The researchers found that compared to later introduction of the respective foods:

  • Introduction of peanuts between 4-11 months resulted in a 30% reduced risk of peanut allergy
  • Introduction of eggs between 4-6 months resulted in a 70% reduced risk of egg allergy

Of course some precautions still need to be taken:

  • Parents and caregivers of a baby who already has a food allergy or food-related eczema should take additional precautions
  • Parents and caregivers of a baby who is at high risk for developing food allergy (usually because of established food allergy in other family members) should seek additional advice from their primary caregiver

For more information on food allergy visit the Food Allergy Resource and Education (FARE) website.

Diet and Maternal Death Rate

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When it comes to global statistics, there are many metrics where the US shines. Our life expectancy is exceptional, literacy rates are laudable and relatively few people die from communicable disease.

But the US maternal death rate is on the rise, and that’s a concern when you consider it is occurring in the wealthiest nation in the world.

A new analysis published in the August 8 online edition of Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that between 2000-2014, the nation’s maternal death rate rose by almost 27%. In 2000, 19 women for every 100,000 live births died during or within 42 days following pregnancy. By 2014, this number increased to 24 deaths in every 100,000 live births.

For comparison, with the 2014 numbers, the US ranks 30th on a list of 31 countries who report this type of data to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Mexico is 31st.

Researchers didn’t speculate on the cause for the increase in this particular analysis. But the increasing age of women at time of childbirth coupled with higher rates of obesity and co-morbid conditions such as diabetes and heart disease certainly doesn’t help.

Health professionals agree that obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight is important prior to conception. Consuming a well-balanced diet, a daily prenatal vitamin and staying physically active within individual limits is key to a healthy pregnancy. Avoiding harmful agents such as tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs are also imperative.

For more information about having a healthy pregnancy, check out this page from healthfinder.gov

Bugs for Breakfast?

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Bugs probably aren’t big when it comes to your favorite foods. While the typical Western diet typically eschews anything bug-related in our diet, many parts of the world actually embrace eating insects.

Entomophagy is the name given to the practice of eating insects. And it’s a common occurrence in other cultures. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people and more than 1,900 species have reportedly been used as food.

Now why would anyone want to eat bugs? Well for one, they are a great source of protein in areas where other animal products are not as readily available. Bugs contain other micronutrients and because they themselves are lean, bugs are low in fat and saturated fat.

Insects have a “high feed conversion efficiency” meaning they require relatively little feed compared to their body weight. They emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs and of course they take up less land than the grazing animals we typically eat.

In 2013 the FAO published Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. The authors state that, “insects offer a significant opportunity to merge traditional knowledge and modern science to improve human food security worldwide.”

The most commonly consumed insects are:

  • Beetles (31%)
  • Caterpillars (18%)
  • Bees, wasps and ants (14%)

Other bugs that become food include grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, termites, dragonflies and flies.

In the US, this niche-market is gaining steam. You can buy cricket-flour infused energy bars (in 3 flavors!) from Chapul. Or, for an extra dollar, add insect protein to your Mama Bird’s Granola order.

If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge on eating bugs, maybe a beautiful book of eating insects is more for you. Noted food and photojournalists Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio published Man Eating Bugs: the art and science of eating insects – a conversation starter for any coffee table collection!

Regardless of your inklings about insects, don’t count them out as a valuable source of affordable nutrients, that may be a beneficial food shift for our planet.

Eating a la Mediterranean? No need to hold the fat!

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A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine has found that a healthy diet is one that can contain a lot of fat.

This large systematic review looked at the Mediterranean diet and selected adherents who had no restrictions on their fat intake. It turns out that an eating pattern of this type can reduce risk for breast cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease when compared to other diets.

There’s no clear definition of exactly what constitutes a Mediterranean diet. The diet is plant-forward with minimal amounts of animal foods, an emphasis on fish, whole foods, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats from olive oil, nuts and avocados. There is moderate amount of red wine and importance placed on enjoying foods with others.

For more information about the Mediterranean diet and its potential health benefits, check out the Oldways Mediterranean Diet page available here.

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