Got (hormone-free) milk?

By: Carlene Helble-Elite Nutrition Intern

There is much more to milk than meets the eye. Not only are there hundreds of different dairies that are producing, but there are also categories like hormone free milk to consider while you’re making your grocery list.

Around 2005, the price of milk spiked, something many of us tend to take in stride question free, but grumble about as we push our carts to the check out line. Between 2005-2006, states like California were eliminating the use of rBGH, a bovine growth hormone, in dairy cattle, making them hormone free, but also less productive (hence the price hike). The majority of milk produced within the United States are now hormone free.

But what’s the big deal? Studies have indicated that rBGH may increase your risk of producing a cancer-causing hormone. Canada and most European nations have already ban the hormone, something that raises red flags. Other studies show that the small amount of rBGH in milk gets destroyed in our GI system, or during pasteurization. More recently, Monsanto, the rBGH producer, and the FDA threatened to sue those who labeled milk rBGH free and state-by-state, the legality of the labeling changes.

Although rBGH is not illegal in the US at this point, it’s definitely something to keep an eye out for in the news. While we are unsure of the long-term outcome of rBGH consumption, we do know that grass fed cows, as opposed to corn fed cows, produce milk that is healthier for your heart. A Harvard study showed that Grass-fed cows deliver milk with more heart healthy benefits (test subjects had up to a 36% lower risk of heart attack), a very cool new finding! Remember, low fat milk and other dairy is a great source of protein and calcium, and now heart healthy.

Whole Foods: A Hyper-Local Grocery Store!

Short Pump Virginia was in the news this past week when Whole Foods Market announced they took over an acre in  for a community garden that will help supply its local store. This is the first on-site field-to-store garden in the country and was exiting news to proponents of the Local Food Movement. The garden has separate areas for composting, an orchard and space for individual gardens and for demonstration and educational programs. By producing food on site, it will be much more sustainable and energy effecient, since this food will have no “food miles“- a buzz word that indicates how far, and how much gas has to be burned for that food to reach your table from the field.

The goal of the community garden plot is not only to have items for sale, but to create a space for education. The company invites the public to an open house and there is the potential that a few of the plots will be rented to individual growers.

Visit the Whole Foods Short Pump Website here or they can be found on Twitter @WFM_Shortpump

What’s your take on Local Foods? Do you make a special effort to buy locally grown produce? What do you think about Whole Foods taking this extra step? Is it just a publicity gimmick or can this create positive change towards a more sustainable food system ?

Serving Sizes, Packaged Food Nutrition Labels May Get a Makeover per the FDA

If you have ever read a nutrition facts label, you have probably seen the “serving size” listed right at the top. But do you know where that number comes from? (Hint, not an independent third party.) It’s actually the manufacturers themselves. Buy a big packaged muffin in the store and chances are the serving size is half a muffin. Check the cookies. The serving size is probably one or two. It’s not just junky foods either. I checked my package of alfalfa sprouts. One serving is supposedly 2/3 of the entire package. Now, I love my sprouts, but I’m lucky to get a small handful on a sandwich or salad.

So why is this an issue? Well, if you haven’t heard there’s an obesity epidemic going on in the United States. We don’t get enough exercise. We don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables. We sit too much. We eat too much food we don’t bother to make ourselves. We eat a lot of stuff out of boxes and packages. Probably most important, many Americans don’t really know how to nourish ourselves and balance out our eating.

Weight management is multifaceted. But when it comes to the purpose of nutrition facts labels, it’s all about educating the consumer about how much food, calories, and nutrients are in a realistic serving. So recently, the FDA has said they need to look at what they can do to help people manage how much they eat and make sure they aren’t confused by the information provided.

Recently, Barbara O. Schneeman, director of the F.D.A. office that oversees nutrition labels was quoted in the New York Times on this topic as saying:

“We are actively looking at serving size and evaluating what steps we need to take. Ultimately, the purpose of nutrition labeling is to help consumers make healthier choices, make improvements in their diet, and we want to make sure we achieve that goal.”

Right now they are considering doing two things: bringing the serving size more in line with what people actually eat and then moving key information to the front of the package. The front-of-package initiative is part of the bigger issue of all the “spots, checks, marks” and other labels that food manufacturers use to give packaged foods a “health halo.” I think this is an important step for the FDA to get involved. The manufacturers’ front-of-package labeling is nothing more than snazzy marketing designed to make people put the package in the cart. If the FDA can oversee a single system for front of package labels that brings some key information to the front (like 120 calories per serving, 2.5 servings per container) this may help bring awareness to how much they are actually taking in if they consume half or the entire container.

The FDA says the front of package label would be voluntary for companies, but what they are considering is regulations that would prevent companies from promoting “benefits” on the front, while downplaying any “downsides” to the foods. I think this step is crucial. The more messages you have, the more potential for confusion. There’s only so much space on the package.

It’s not like this is the first time the FDA has tried to step in and tell companies that they should accurately portray the amount in the package on the nutrition label. Here’s a warning letter they issued back in 2004 (yep, about six years ago):

FDA also recognizes that there is a growing trend in the marketplace for jumbo or super-sized servings. When such products are intended to be consumed by one individual in one eating occasion, the nutrition information should be based on the entire contents of food in the container. We recognize that the current serving size regulations allow for such products to be sold as either one, or more than one, serving even if they are usually consumed at one time. FDA intends to re-evaluate this aspect of the serving size regulations. In the meantime, we encourage manufacturers to provide the most accurate and useful nutrition information to consumers by taking advantage of the flexibility in current regulations on serving sizes and label food packages as containing a single-serving if the entire contents of the package can reasonably be consumed at a single-eating occasion.

If FDA has addressed this in 2004 and warning letters to companies have not inspired any positive change in nutrition labels, then maybe it is high time they set tougher regulations. It does not appear that self-regulation is working.

I’m not so sure how changing the serving size standards to reflect what people actually eat would work because we eat too much now. How do you determine the “real” size people eat? It’s better to show the real size people should eat, but the problem with that is it depends on age, gender, weight, and amount of exercise. It’s hard to give a “one size” serving to fit all Americans.

Let’s take cereal. Toasted oats serving size is usually one cup. Other sugary cereals usually have a serving size of 3/4 cup. I don’t think it should be permissible for companies to choose 3/4 cup to make their products look nutritionally comparable to other cereals (calories and sugar look lower because the serving size is smaller). But what do you choose as the new standard? Even if “two cups” is more like what people actually eat, is it more than they should eat? Maybe for a 50-year-old overweight female, but maybe not for a 17-year-old high school track star. I would love to hear your comments below with good suggestions for how this would pan out in a realistic way.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provides food and nutrition advice for anyone over age two, gives custom recommendations for servings of foods. Anyone can get a custom recommendation and track their intake for free online. So that’s a place to start. Educate yourself on what you should eat. Buy fewer packaged foods in general. Eat smaller portions. Only eat when you are hungry. All these things will help you in your “healthy weight” journey.

What do you think the FDA should do to educate consumers on food packages?

Read more: Serving Sizes, Packaged Food Nutrition Labels May Get a Makeover per the FDA

Mindless Eating: Are You Sabotaging Yourself?

One of my favorite presentations at Food for Your Whole Life Symposium was Dr. Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating. A leader in the field of food psychology, he has unveiled a lot of the hidden influences on how much we eat, and how consumers make food choices. Did you know that we make at least 250 food choices every day?

Rather than being the next fad diet which promises you can lose weight effortlessly without thought, he uses years of food psychology research to re-engineer your food environment so that you will eat less without even knowing. While it is easy to blame fast food, big food, and the government for the rising rates of obesity in America, this food fight begins in our own homes.

Some tips for preventing Mindless Eating in YOUR life:

  • We eat with our eyes not out stomachs- the first two things you put on your plate will take up over 60% of the space, so start with vegetables and whole grains first!
  • The size of your dish also matters. Your eyes will be tricked into thinking a drink in a narrow, vertical glass, than the same amount in a wide tumbler, and you will be satisfied with less.  Serve your drinks in narrow flutes, and your meals on smaller plates!

  • Change your food environment: Put healthy food front and center. Eat out of small bowls and narrow glasses. Only eat in the kitchen and living room, not in front of your computer, television or fridge.
  • Remove  it from your line of sight: Instead of leaving dishes on the table, which encourages going for 2nds and 3rds without even realizing it, put the extra food on the kitchen counter. The food will still be there if you are hungry, but you won’t be tempted to mindlessly serve yourself more.
  • Make 1 small change. Often this will create a ripple effect that leads to big differences. Create a check-list that you have to check off if you are completing this task each day.
  • Be accountable! Finding a friend and stating your challenge, plans, and goals, makes you more likely to succeed.

I highly recommend you read his book “Mindless Eating” A fascinating read on the hidden forces that act on our food choices, and how easy it is to eat without thinking!

Have you read “Mindless Eating?” Have there been times when you have eaten mindlessly? Any tips or tricks for preventing this?

Thinking of Acai for Weight Loss? Think Again.

So when acai was making the rounds as a super fruit, I needed to find out more. As it turns out, yep, it’s a berry! It is different from some of the other wonderful berries like raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and strawberries because it does not have natural sugars and it is higher in omega-9 fat (which unlike omega-3, it is not essential). As a result, pure acai berry (if you are in Brazil) or the pulp (if you’re at a store that sells it) tastes like dirt. In order to use it, you need to add sugar. So, sure, try the berry if you want, but mix it with other fruits that naturally contain sugar. If your acai is sweet, read the label… I bet there is added sugar.

What I don’t like about acai is that because of its excessive, over-rated hype, marketers have tried to pull the wool over your eyes and sell the acai mixed in to a supplement as a weight loss aid! Beware. If you have ever lost weight in your life, you know that it is not any ONE food or any ONE supplement that will help you. Since supplements aren’t regulated you really want to make sure you trust the company is making a pure product.

Bottom line: nobody is going to change for you. If you want to change, believe in yourself! You have the power to do this without an expensive supplement. Use this website, get support, and commit.

Here’s a segment I did on Fox 5 in Washington, D.C. on acai. Watch it. You’ll get my take and at least two other recipes. Also, find out what food is very high in antioxidants that if you are dieting you’re probably cutting out… but maybe you shouldn’t!

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2010 Dietary Guidelines Summary Released!

It’s big news for nutrition. We may have new advice for eating healthy… and you can give your 2 cents, if you feel so inclined. Every five years the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are updated to reflect the latest knowledge in science and research. The Guidelines are used for government nutrition initiatives, programs and education, as well as by dietitians and health professionals to help educate people about eating healthier.

Dietary Guidelines (DG) Advisory Committee released their Executive summary on Tuesday, June 15th, 2010. The full report can be found here and is currently open for public comments. (that’s you, the public…let your voice be heard and comment on the Executive Summary).

The Committee has used a state-of-the-art, web-based electronic system and methodology, known as the Nutrition Evidence Library, to answer the majority of the scientific questions it posed, about specific nutrients and foods.

What’s New in 2010?

The 2010 Guidelines are different from previous reports in that this one addresses an American public of whom the majority are overweight or obese and yet under-nourished in several key nutrients. (It may sound strange, but it is possible to be overweight and under nourished at the same time.)

This DG also focuses more on children because primary prevention of obesity must begin in childhood. They say this is the single most powerful public health approach to combating and reversing America’s obesity epidemic over the long term.
To reduce the incidence of overweight and obesity in our country they recommend that we:

  • Shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. In addition, increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products and consume only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, and eggs.
  • Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats because these dietary components contribute excess calories and few, if any, nutrients. In addition, reduce sodium intake and intake of refined grains.Daily sodium intake be 1,500 mg, (down from 2,300mg in the 2005 recommendations).
  • Eliminate Trans-fatty acids from the diet, and seeking to increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in diet.
  • Increase physical activity: adults should get at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking, or 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types. Kids and teens should do an hour or more of moderate-intensity to vigorous physical activity each day.

While I strongly support these recommendations, there are several things that must be changed about our  Food environment so that eating healthy is easy, accessible and affordable. Hopefully our government will launch initiatives that seek to improve the following points:

  • Improve nutrition literacy and cooking skills, including safe food handling skills, and empower and motivate the population, especially families with children, to prepare and consume healthy foods at home.
  • Increase comprehensive health, nutrition, and physical education programs and curricula in US schools and preschools, including food preparation, food safety, cooking, and physical education classes and improved quality of recess.
  • For all Americans, especially those with low income, create greater financial incentives to purchase, prepare, and consume vegetables and fruit, whole grains, seafood, fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, and other healthy foods.
  • Improve the availability of affordable fresh produce through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks, and farmers’ markets.
  • Increase environmentally sustainable production of vegetables, fruits, and fiber-rich whole grains.
  • Encourage restaurants and the food industry to offer health-promoting foods that are low in sodium; limited in added sugars, refined grains, and solid fats; and served in smaller portions.

With over two thirds of our population either overweight or obese, this has a huge impact on the healthcare system, and our entire nation. On average, Americans of all ages consume too few vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, low-fat milk and milk products, and seafood and they eat too much added sugars, solid fats, refined grains, and sodium. Added Sugar and Fat contribute approximately 35 percent of calories to the American diet. (these are just empty calories) The current US Food environment is loaded with excess sodium, sugar, fat and refined grains, making it harder for the average consumer to eat healthy. We have to seek out healthy foods and do some detective work when eating out.

This summary is now open for public comments-so what do you have to say? Tell me here or submit your comment to the committee here! You can also read what others are saying here. Will changing the recommendations help make American healthier or do we first need to change the entire food environment?

USDA and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree Want Healthier School Lunches

By: Carlene Helble-Elite Nutrition Intern

Even if you can’t remember the last time you ate in a school cafeteria or what you had, you’ve probably heard a heaping portion about what’s going on with the Child Nutrition Act.  USDA Under Secretary Concannon and Congresswoman Chellie Pingee met recently to discuss what needs to change.

The Child Nutrition Act is comprised of the national School Lunch, School Breakfast, and Summer Food Service Programs which works to provide around 32 million children with a meal each day. Schools enrolled in the programs must meet certain nutritional requirements, such as meeting 1/3 of the RDIs for certain nutrients while staying under less than 30% of calories from fat, for the meals served in order to be reimbursed by the state and federal governments. But when a french-fry is considered a vegetable, how much nutrition are our kids really getting? While it is of the utmost importance to give children calories whose families may not be able to afford other meals during the day, are we not setting them up for some major nutrition related health battles later in life? USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon says “The time is now to pass a bill that will strengthen our child nutrition programs, make them more accessible, and improve the quality of our school meals so that they meet the highest nutrition standards.”

The goal of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill will aim to fight hunger, but also obesity while improving the nutrition of children. And while many school systems agree that what they serve is nutritionally lacking, each school lunch line has to be run like a business. The school systems are self-supporting, and to make money, they are forced to serve things that will sell, and those ‘things’ like pizza with a roll and fries, are the problem. As much as the schools want to buy local produce or healthier whole grain options, money is an issue. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign will set its sights on improving the Child Nutrition Act to help change funding legislation. Within this coming year, the USDA and Congress will work to make this happen. The Food pyramid will be updated, and more grocery and healthy food retailers will be brought to underserved areas. In the passage of the reauthorization legislation, as well as the $1 billion annual increase that the Obama administration requested, this can be a reality.

Concannon outlined USDA’s priorities for the Child Nutrition Act which include:

Improve nutrition standards

Increase access to meal programs.

Increase education about healthy eating

Establish standards for competitive foods sold in schools.

Serve more healthy food.

Increase physical activity.

Train people who prepare school meals.

Provide schools with better equipment

Enhance food safety.

Strengthen the link between local farmers and school cafeterias.

Now we’re talking. Let’s Move! And make these changes  a reality in our schools!

Meatless Monday Catches on, Meat Industry Sizzles

Carlene Helble, Elite Nutrition Intern

Guest Blog Post

The Washington Post ran an interesting article by Jane Black recently on Meatless Monday and the trouble it’s stirring up for the meat industry. Chef Mario Batali, most often known for his orange Crocs, has recently unveiled himself as the latest supporter, a surprising move considering at least 3 of his 14 restaurants are named for meat. All of his restaurants will now offer two vegetarian entrees every Monday.  However, Batali is by no means on the forefronts of this movement. The Post article also cited that Baltimore City Public Schools launched Meatless Mondays for its 82,000 students in October of 2009 and 32 US hospitals have also signed on to the ‘Balanced Menu Challenge’ which aims to reduce meat purchases by 20 percent. Another hospital movement called ‘Healthcare without Harm’, is aiming to reduce meat purchases by 20 percent in twelve months. The program says that the four hospitals participating in the pilot program have reported a successful average drop of 28 percent. Meatless Monday is spreading faster than the latest fad diet plan.

The meat industry is not happy, to say the least. Over the past few months lobbyists for the American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the National Pork Board have begun to fight back against Meatless Mondays. Among other things, talking points for meat producers have been posted online, YouTube videos on meat portion size are up, and letters have been sent to those who promote M.M. asking them to stop. But really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It all comes down to the month of August, when the new dietary guidelines will be released. To guarantee the government’s recommendation of two meat servings per day will stay on the new guidelines, the American Meat Institute (AMI) sent letters to the committee in charge of protein. Black’s article ran the following quote of a letter from the AMI regarding the ‘overemphasizing of plant based foods’:

“AMI strongly recommends that the committee evaluate its data based on sound science and a scientifically based risk assessment, not nutrition publication bias”

What sound science you ask? The meat industry’s current battle cry is that meat is a complete protein but plant foods are not. True. A complete protein means it provides both essential (body can’t make them) and non-essential (body can make them) amino acids (protein building blocks). But a great concept was introduced years ago called complementary proteins, a vegan’s best friend. A complete protein can be made when two plant based sources of protein, like a grain and a bean, are eaten together. Many foods like red beans and rice, or peanut butter and whole grain bread, fit the bill and make a complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids of animal proteins. Tempeh is another one. It is made from fermented soybeans. Tempeh’s nutty taste and nougat-like texture, is increasing in popularity in the U.S. It easily absorbs the flavors of the other foods with which it is cooked making it adaptable to many types of dishes.Just four ounces of tempeh provides 41% of the daily protein requirements.

The good news is people have choices. You don’t have to be vegetarian or vegan, but you can if you want. You can eat less meat if you want, by participating in “meatless Mondays” or going “flexitarian”. Meatless Mondays could also be a great excuse to try new vegetarian dishes you’ve been thinking about making. Different animal meat have different nutrition values. There’s also cost, environmental impacts, and animal treatment to consider in your personal decision. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what will come in the August release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans — and whether or not people will continue to be motivated to eat less meat.

Let’s Move Keeps on Movin’ to Reverse Childhood Obesity

In a live press conference First Lady Michelle Obama discussed an exciting announcement in regards to the ‘Let’s Move‘ campaign and the ‘Partnership for a Healthier America’ who have begun to seek out a solution to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, comprised of sixteen food product companies, have ‘pledged to cut 1 trillion calories from the food they sell’ as well as change products to reduce calories, fat, sugar, sodium and portion size.

The four main pillars of the Let’s Move program are to make schools healthier, increase the amount of physical activity children get at school and at home, give parents the information to make healthy decisions, and increase access to food for all families.

It seems one major component the plan lacks, is nutrition education for the children. You can teach a parent, a school, or a food company how to help backtrack the obesity epidemic but shouldn’t the ‘victims’ be targeted for education too? If children are given a choice in the foods they eat, and explained to why things are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ rather than just that they are simply labeled, they will have the necessary information to make informed decisions.  Throughout much of life, people are told what to do and how to do it but without an explanation. Why do something? How will it benefit you and make you healthier? With this information it seems one would have the motivation to follow through with health suggestions.

Additionally, there is the myth, constantly perpetuated, that a healthy lifestyle is time consuming. In the address, the First Lady said the following:

“Now, we all know how important it is to eat less sugar and fat and more fruits and  vegetables and whole grains. But we also know that sometimes it’s just easier to grab  something quick and easy at the market.”

The comment that it’s easier to grab something from the market is only partially true. The many misconceptions about time and health are tossed about. Eating healthy is not time consuming and if it isn’t instantaneous in terms of preparation, you are saving time, money, and effort in the long run by providing yourself and your family with a healthy diet and solid nutrition to keep illness at bay. While microwaving a frozen meal is easy, it’s equally easy to toss lettuce into a dish and sprinkle with leftover chicken from last night. If cooking is truly evasive, opt for the multitude of salad bars found in most grocery stores and pick nutritious options like a bed of lettuce with chopped fruits and a balsamic dressing.

Cost is another issue. How do we make healthy food more affordable? How can we drive down the cost of highly nutritious healthy food so it can compete with less healthy foods and foods with little nutrition for the calories? Dr. Oz recently showed on TV how several healthy foods were under $1 per serving (quinoa, Greek yogurt, sugar snap peas, and fruit). One of his “wellness warriors” blogged about it too.

This recent announcement, that certain food companies have pledged to cut calories, sugar, and sodium is long overdue, but only a small step.  The pledge will cut the one trillion calories from food products by 2012 and 1.5 trillion calories by the year 2015. Creating healthier processed foods is a good move as inevitably, people will opt for them. But a true solution would be to have people move away from processed foods towards fresh produce.

New Chefs Council Cooks Up “Healthy” and “Delicious” Foods

We know eating healthy is of the utmost importance, but have you ever wondered just how important? Statistically, two thirds of American adults are ‘obese or overweight and a third of American children are currently overweight. According to the United States department of Health and Human Services, unhealthy eating and inactivity contributes to 310,000 to 508,000 deaths per year.’

Esteemed chefs have joined California Walnut Board’s Chefs Council to provide diners with healthy and ‘delicious menu options while illustrating the benefits from eating healthy’.  The group has the admirable goal of ‘helping to change the American menu’s nutritional profile’ by showing how walnuts, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids, can help in a diet. By getting Americans excited and passionate about food, they “care more about where their food is coming from (and) automatically start to eat healthier” says member Chef Jim Perko of Cleveland, OH.

“Trying to scare people away from food by calling it unhealthy so that you have unhealthy choices and healthy choices, I find it to be quite counterproductive.  I think we need to inspire consumers with food that happens to be good for you and also easy to prepare and quite tasty” notes Chef Ken Frank.

Chef Frank is right! Many people are overwhelmed by the choices and preparation of cooking from fresh produce but these chefs are determined to assist.  By helping Americans learn that seasonal produce mixed with ‘pantry staples such as walnuts and olive oil’ can create an effortless, nutritious, and delicious meal, the Chefs Council thinks they can turn America’s health around.

“I think you can define two kinds of people; those of us that eat to live and those of us that live to eat.  It’s a lot more fun when we show that living to eat can be very sustainable and a very pleasurable and very healthy and very good and very positive” says Chef Charlie Ayers, former Executive Chef for Google. California Walnut Board’s council of chefs fits into a perfect niche: professional chefs with great advice about using healthy ingredients, like walnuts, and advice on how everyday people can change the way America eats.


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