Good For Business — Bad For Health: The McRib Sandwhich is on Cavuto

I was recently part of a panel that was on the Fox News show Cavuto discussing why the high fat, high salt McRib sandwich has become so popular. The “mystery meat” in the McRib is full of ingredients. I poked fun at the “fake bones” in the molded meat concoction. But it doesn’t seem to bother many Americans as the McRib flies off the shelf when it’s available and has been credited with improving McD’s bottom line.  You can watch the whole video here, but below are a few highlights from my more serious arguments:

Problem: people are short on time and money

I completely understand that people’s lives aren’t getting any less busy, anytime soon. Finding time to cook can seem daunting between work, school and extracurricular activities. There are times when convenience foods will win out and swinging through the drive through may seem like your only option.

Solution: choose smarter convenience foods

My philosophy has always been moderation, so if you are going to choose fast food, then limit the number of times you go in a week/month, and consider ways to balance it out. Maybe you opt for the sandwiches for your family and pair it with a bagged salad from the grocery store instead of springing for the extra-large fries. Make it a goal to keep other healthy convenient foods on hand, like canned beans and tuna fish which are inexpensive and high in nutrients.

Where Does Rebecca Recommend You Should Eat?

I was not about to fall into THAT trap and pick the “healthiest” of the fast food places — that’s not fair for a nutritionist to play “favorites” so I chose the fast food place I wish everyone visited a little more. It’s closer than any place else. Your own kitchen. Who is with me?

What are your healthy convenience foods you keep on hand?

Leave a comment and let me know what foods you keep on hand for last-minute, quick meals.

The Hospital is No Place for Fast Food Chains

 In a recent interview with Neil Cavuto from Fox News I shared my support for the removal of McDonald’s restaurants from a number of hospital cafeterias. Click here to see the full interview on Fox’s website. Here are a few of the thoughts I shared on air:

1. Hospitals are notorious for serving bad food in their cafeterias

It seems crazy to me that a place where people are sick and having serious, complicated procedures and transplants, is serving such unhealthy food. They should have an obligation not just to patients, but also to their visitors to provide a healthy environment that promotes wellness. This isn’t a mall food court, it’s a hospital.

2. Perception is reality

Having fast food available in hospitals is also praying on those who are vulnerable and are more likely to lean on comfort food to ease the emotional stress of being at the hospital. In the 2006 Pediatrics Study they even found that people perceived fast food as healthier if it’s inside a hospital.

3. Hospitals should offer balanced choices

They should look at their food environment and help people get their 1/2 plate of fruits and veggies with their meal. This means offering salad bars and serving hot foods with non-starchy veggies and fruits as sides — not french fries and white rice.

4. Change is possible — some hospitals are already on board

The Cleveland Clinic has been a model hospital in making positive changes to their food service systems. They don’t have any fryers, have eliminated trans fats, and the fast food they do offer has a limited menu promoting healthier choices.

So what’s the answer?

Ultimately no one is forcing someone to buy fast food — it’s a personal choice. I don’t mean to pick on McDonald’s alone, they just happen to be the “big fish” and are always targeted with these sorts of issues. Hospitals have the power to create a healthy, positive environment for patients and visitors alike if they can just take a step back, look at their food environment as a whole and make changes that promote wellness.

Ch-ch-ch-chia Packs a Nutrient Punch!

By Carlene Helble-Elite Nutrition Intern

Do you remember chia pets (ch-ch-ch-chia!)? Where you added small seeds to terracotta forms that eventually produced a plant? The same chia seeds are now carried in stores like Whole Foods…to eat.

Chia seeds have been grown in Mexico for thousands of years. They were even brought to the capital of the Aztec empire in several tons as a tribute to the gods. The seeds have impressive nutrition, containing lots of linolenic acid, dietary fiber, and protein. They are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants (specifically polyphenols)  which help to fight free radicals, or cell damagers, in the body. To add to the resume, chia contains ten times the omega-3 as salmon or other fatty fish (but no DHA for brain health which fish has) making it super heart healthy. Additionally, this little seed packs a punch of five times the calcium of milk, for strong teeth and bones. Talk about a power nutrient!

Chia, while usually consumed raw, is not limited to such a method of intake. The American Dietetics Association recently released a study in which chia was soaked in water, creating a gel like mass. Used as a thickening agent, but also an oil replacement, the chia was added to cake batter to reduce the overall fat content of sweet treats. Since it is a tasteless and odorless food, the taste is virtually unaltered but the nutrient content was improved.( I’ll be doing a test later to see how it turns out in a home setting. Be on the look out for a step by step blog post!)

Our favorite way to have a little chia on a regular basis is with a smoothie. In this recipe, the chia seeds are added directly into the blender along with your favorite fruit for an easy on the go breakfast. As chia seeds expand with the addition of liquid, this breakfast will also keep you full way past your commute!

  • 1 C Greek yogurt (high protein and low sugar compared to other yogurts!)
  • 1 C fruit (it could be fresh or frozen: strawberries, banana, raspberries…)
  • 2 T chia seeds

Blend all ingredients together and enjoy the multitude of nutritional benefits!

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 http://www.search.twitter.com 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:   http://www.tweetchat.com http://www.tweetgrid.com http://twubs.com 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!

Fruit Juice: Health or Hype?

Every time we turn on the TV, listen to the radio, drive down the road, we are bombarded with advertising from food marketers proclaiming that their product is the secret to weight loss, longevity, and pleasure. With over 200 food choices to make every day it is difficult to sort through claims produced by food manufacturers to make the best choice for your health. Today we’ll tackle the issue of fruit juices: health or hype

As part of its ongoing efforts to uncover over-hyped health claims in food advertising, the Federal Trade Commission has issued an administrative complaint charging the makers of POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice with making false and unsubstantiated claims that their products will prevent or treat heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction. David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said:

Any consumer who sees POM Wonderful products as a silver bullet against disease has been misled. When a company touts scientific research in its advertising, the research must squarely support the claims made. Contrary to POM Wonderful’s advertising, the available scientific information does not prove that POM Juice or POMx effectively treats or prevents these illnesses.

No one can argue that Pomegranates are a wonderful and healthy food, full of vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants, but a line must be draw as food marketers push their products to the extreme. According to Self Nutrition Data, pomegranates are a good source of dietary fiber (11 grams each), 5 grams of protein, folate (107 micrograms), calcium (28.2 mg), vitamin C (28.8 mg), and vitamin K (46.2 mcg). Since POM is made from 100% pomegranate juice, one would think it would have many of the same great nutrients.

Not so. A $3.99 16-oz bottle has 320 calories, 72 grams of sugar, no fiber, and no vitamin C, calcium, folate or vitamin K. Yes, the only ingredient many be pomegranates, but by stripping away the fiber and nutrients, you just have sugar-water. Nutritionally speaking, these aren’t much different from a soda. This isn’t unique to pomegranate juice. All fruit juice loses much of the original fruit’s nutritional value when the juice is extracted, but POM is going a bit overboard with their health claims. A glass of POM a day is not going to prevent heart disease if the rest of your diet is laden with trans and saturated fat. It is important to look at your diet in its entirety, rather than trying to gain benefits from a single serving of fruit juice.

So let’s get over this hype and get healthy! Swap out the juice and reach for a piece of fruit! Aim for 2-4 servings of fruit per day. If you enjoy fruit juice, try diluting it with sparkling water to make your own spritzer. Next time you are at a grocery store, take a closer look at the health claims the manufacturer proclaims. Turn the package over and take a look at the actual nutrition panel and judge the food for yourself. Knowledge is power, and make sure you are well-armed!

What are your thoughts on this Fruit Juice Debate? Do you have any other health claims that you are confused about?

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!

Is KFC’s Double Down Calorie Count Accurate?

The newest culinary celebrity to hit the red carpet is a cute little sandwich called the Double Down, courtesy of KFC. A fast-food chicken lover’s dream and a health foodie’s nightmare, (DIR actually called it “frightening”), the Double Down is cheese, sauce, and baconbetween two pieces of chicken, either fried or grilled.

The Original Recipe (read: fried) Double Down has 540 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat, 1,380 mg of sodium, and one gram of fiber. The grilled Double Down (for the health conscious, of course) is 460 calories, nine grams of saturated fat, 1,430 mg of sodium, and zero grams of fiber.

Not sure what those numbers mean? Well…  its over a half day’s worth of salt in a palm-sized sandwich (if we can call it that, considering the lack of a bun).

A blogger has recently disputed the above info, calling “bulls***” on KFC, claiming the fast food chain is not being truthful about the (ahem) nutrition facts. They came up with their own calorie counts, which pins the grub at upwards of 1,000 calories!

I actually have to respectfully disagree with that blog critic, however. This “double down” is pretty small and I bet that the blogger overestimated its portion size. The only way to really test if KFC is being truthful would be to burn it up in an incinerator and measure the kilojoules of energy burned. Not very practical. I guess you could also buy a sandwich, weigh and measure the ingredients and look up the info in a database, but that’s a lot of work!

Some eateries have, in fact, been off with their calorie counts. The sad truth is restaurants don’t have to be accurate with their nutrition facts, unlike food you buy off the shelf. But if you take a look at a video of the Double Down, you’ll see that the pieces of meat are barely larger than your hand.

So big deal, a fried chicken, bacon, and cheese sandwich may have errors in their nutrition info. Would you really think you are eating healthy if that palm-sized fast food sandwich took up a half day’s worth of saturated fat and sodium?

If your goal is to eat healthy, then this sandwich, regardless of any potential for errors, is not exactly the way to go about it. Not a health food. There is a serious lack of veggies, no carbs, and no fiber.

But far be it for me to tell you what you should put into your body. If you have a burning desire to try it, split it with a friend and pair it with a salad. You’ll get to taste a “double down” without doubling over.

Pepsi’s New Designer Salt: Healthy or Health Hazard?

You may have heard in the news recently that PepsiCo created a salt for its Lay’s potato chips (and other Frito products) that will reduce salt content. At first glance, it seems like a gimmick. You might even think they are trying to make people think that their snack products are healthier. But, there’s actually more to it than that.

I talked with the Director of Public Relations and Marketing, Aurora Gonzalez, about the new salt and got some interesting health-related information.

Frito-Lay cares about making a good product. They were the first company to remove trans fats in favor of sunflower oil. They are thinking about sodium in terms of “if there is something we can do, we should do it.” They know people are concerned about salt intake. They also know that people like seasonings, and products with seasonings tend to have higher salt. So they’ve been looking into sodium and playing with the structure to reduce the total sodium content. They’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do. Frito-Lay realizes consumers struggle with salt intake. Basically, they are trying to make a small dent, while keeping up the integrity of the quality ingredients.

They already have a line with 50 percent less sodium – the “lightly salted” line of Lay’s, Ruffles, Fritos, and the soon-to-come Rold Gold pretzels. These are just made with less salt. Nothing new.

As a dietitian, this is what I would recommend to people who are actively trying to reduce salt, but still want to enjoy chips or pretzels in moderation: It’s up to you to make sure you get your fruits and veggies. And, if you like chips, it’s also up to you to eat and enjoy a small portion. I will often tell chip eaters to avoid eating them alone. Make a sandwich with whole grain bread, lean protein, and veggies. Add a side of crunchy veggies, such as sugar snap peas, and then a handful of chips.

Savor the bites. If you’re the kind who eats chips out of the bag in front of the TV, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not the chips, it’s how you are choosing to eat them.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the original version of the potato chip actually doesn’t have much salt. If you turn the bag around and read it, the salt is not that high (compare it to a cup of tomato soup, which can have 5 to 10 times the salt). Read the ingredients. Not a lot there. The best thing you can do is control the portion.

As far as the designer salt goes, don’t expect it to make a serious dent in your sodium intake. Instead, cut back on eating out at restaurants. Or, when you go, ask for your meals to be prepared without salt. There are many examples of meals that have 1-2 days worth of salt in one serving. No amount of “low salt” product can reverse those abnormally high numbers.

Next time you go out, start with a garden salad and share an entree of whatever you want with someone else. Eat slowly and mindfully and stop when you feel full, regardless if there is food left. Skip the alcohol, bread, appetizers, and desserts, and even the “worst” meal won’t be a bad. Make that small change and you should see some great results.

Add Avocados to Your Balanced Diet

As a dietitian, people always want to know what they can do to eat well. Healthful eating is easy if you focus on choosing foods that have good nutrition for the calories. By filling your shopping cart with a variety of vegetables and fruits, you can be sure you are getting a good nutritional “bang for your buck.”

I love avocados, with nearly 20 vitamins and minerals in a one-ounce (3 slice) serving, and I’m excited to be working with Avocados from Mexico. Watch this video to learn why avocados are tops on my “nutrition list” and get a few ideas for including avocados in easy-to-make meals and snacks.

There are endless possibilities to include avocados in your eating plan. Avocados from Mexico are available year round too!

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.

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