Are you #RD to Chat?

By Carlene Helble

The ultimate Twitter chat is ready to launch this November and it’s something you won’t want to miss! Registered Dietitian Janet Helm (@JanetHelm on Twitter) created #RDChat to help dietitians, students, and others interested in nutrition and health connect on fresh, hot button topics.

#RDChat will occur as a moderated conversation on Twitter the first Wednesday of the month from 8-9 pm ET in an hour long session. Things like headlines from newspapers, as well as new studies, and controversial topics will be covered with the help of special guests.

New to Twitter chats? Janet provided these step by step instructions to get you ready to go!:

  • The chat happens live on Twitter and you can jump in at any time during the hour.  Simply log on to your Twitter account and you can use any of these options to help you manage the conversations.
    • One option,  go to and type in #RDchat.  Only the  tweets that include that hashtag (#) will appear.  You may have to refresh the page to get new results.
    • If you use Tweetdeck, start a column for #RDchat.  Only tweets that are tagged with #RDchat will appear in that column for you to respond to.
    • There are several other programs you can use that are specifically designed for chats on Twitter: All you have to do is log on to one of those programs.  When prompted, type in #RDchat and you’ll only see tweets that include that hashtag.  It allows you to see the fast-paced conversation happening in real time.  You use just like Twitter;  reply, comment, retweet, etc.  All of your tweets will automatically be tagged with #RDchat.

See you for a #healthy #nutritious and interesting @Twitter chat in November!

Washington Post Deconstructs Problems with Obesity in America

In today’s Washington Post – Health and Science section the topic of discussion is obesity in America. Our own Rebecca Scritchfield was called to contribute about various restaurant meals and how, as the journalist labeled it, “Chains offer doses of Gluttony.”

The Health and Science section has a few articles discussing such topics as:

    Michelle Obama’s healthy food initiative, How to “lose the fat, but keep the flavor” – which oils or spices you can use to flavor your foods while also keeping your food low in fat,
    How insurance company’s are slow to cover treatment programs for weight loss, and which restaurants menu items are the most gluttonus.
    How restaurants are serving up portions that lack balance, exceed portion sizes, and contribute calories for several people on a single plate.

Rebecca is mentioned on page E4, where she contributes by explaining why these various menu items are so bad. Many of the meals mentioned are either close to 2,000 calories or more, which is generally considered to be an entire days worth of food. And people still wonder why America is so over weight?

Another tricky tactic these restaurants are using is claiming that a particular meal is four servings, however the person ordering the meal generally sees it as a meal for one person. Rebecca states in the article that “people envision what they’re served as their portion” no matter the size.

There is a lot of great and interesting information throughout the entire section regarding health and obesity. So go out and pick up a paper today before it disappears!

Supplement Scandals

By Carlene Helble-Elite Nutrition Intern

More supplement issues in the news? I can’t say I’m surprised. With a lack of the tight restrictions that prescription drugs have, supplements can do things like:

  • make broad health claims as long as they don’t say they are a ‘cure’
  • avoid sending clinical trials to the FDA to prove the safety of a product

This week, a supplement scandal emerged involving an ethical question. Can pharmaceutical executives have personal side ventures in which they sell compound X as a supplement? What about while the pharmaceutical company is still running clinical trials on the same compound as a prescription cancer treatment?

British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline found itself in the news this past Thursday after telling two employees to ‘distance themselves’ from their side company Healthy Lifespan Institute (HLI).  Glaxo discovered through a business and technology website that HLI was selling supplements containing the compound resveratrol, found in red wine. In 2008 Glaxo spent over $700 million to buy the biotech company that developed the resveratrol formula, with the hope that it would be used in the future as a prescription drug.  They are now testing it for use as cancer and type 2 diabetes treatments ( a potential financial jackpot for the company).

Later news updates divulged that the two employees resigned from HLI and that the side venture no longer sells the supplement after censure demands from Glaxo. But that wasn’t what caught my attention. A scary piece of information also emerged; Glaxo clinical trials with the resveratrol resulted in kidney failure in some patients. While it seems that the supplement was not ‘identical to the drug compound’ and in a less concentrated form, it’s worrisome to think that the same compound appears in an unregulated supplement!

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?


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