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 ?

Agave Nectar No Healthier Than Othan Sweeteners

Have you turned your love of sugar in to a love of agave in an effort to be healthier? Maybe you should rethink much “love” you give it. If you are unfamiliar, agave nectar (ah gav ee) is a sweetener that ranges in color from light to dark, depending on the processing time and amount of minerals in the product. It is less thick than honey or maple syrup and has a sweeter taste. The agave sweetener comes from various species of the agave plant. After the juice has been extracted, it is heated to create simple sugars. The final product is some percentage of the sugars glucose and fructose.

So far agave should remind you of typical sugar sweeteners – including high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). However, the reality is that in recent years agave has been given a “health halo.” Since agave is vegan and can be processed at lower heat temperatures to satisfy raw food enthusiasts, it is an obvious desirable sweetener for some. But people have been flocking to use agave more and more because of its “low glycemic index” (low immediate effect on blood sugar). Since agave is mostly fructose the glycemic index is lowest of all the sugars. This has led some people to believe that agave is a healthier option. However, low glycemic index does not mean healthy. In fact, fructose is metabolized directly by the liver, which is different from other sugars, and can lead to fatty liver deposits. High fructose intake has also been linked to weight gain, insulin resistance, and heart disease risk in animal studies.

At best, agave is no healthier for you than other sweeteners. The fructose in agave (even if they call it natural) is not the same fructose in a piece of natural fruit. It is processed. Like all processed food products with added sugars, you should have them rarely and in limited quantities. There is no reason to select agave before other sweeteners when it comes to nutrition.

However, there may be culinary benefits. For example, the light agave is neutral in flavor and might be a good choice to sweeten sauces or beverages. The darker agave has a more caramel flavor and might be preferred for more robust dishes.

Agave is not the “angel” it’s been made out to be and certainly is not deserving of the “health halo” it has been given. That said, it’s not a “devil” ingredient either if you are health conscious. Like all sugars, it’s up to you to decide how much you will have and how often. Avoiding foods with added sugars altogether is not entirely realistic, but don’t think of agave as a free pass to eat a pan of cookies or brownies made with the nectar, either.

Healthy Menu Creation: An interview with Mollie Katzen

Recently, I scored an interview with cookbook author, Mollie Katzen. She shared her thoughts on recipe trends and healthy eating. Find out what she thinks you should eat!


1.    What trends or patterns do you see towards healthier menu options or healthier recipes?

M.K.: I am happy to see that main portions of meat or fish are becoming smaller, and vegetable dishes are taking up more space on the plate. Also, I’ve been seeing a very encouraging trend toward more than one vegetable dish on the same plate – with complementary colors and flavors.  Should menu options state that they’re healthy or smart choices? I don’t think so. I think this is a turn-off to customers, even those who intend to eat well.  There is still an association with “healthy” and underseasoned, uninteresting, prescriptive.  I think we should all just let the customers fall in love with the healthy food on its own merits.

2.    What are some techniques you follow when creating “Smart” menu options?

M.K.: I make sure to keep the flavors potent (upping the seasoning, if necessary) and I use vegetables (and sometimes fruit) to fill out the volume (as in the tuna salad recipe). I make things taste richer through the addition of good oils (olive oil, avocado, walnuts).

3.    Walnuts offer a range of nutritional benefits, and are known for their 2.5g of omega-3s per serving, but it’s their versatility which makes them a unique ingredient to cook with.  Will you share some of your favorite ways to use walnuts?

M.K.: I use them most frequently as a topping for various dishes – both savory and sweet.  I always toast them at a low temperature (about 250°F for 10 minutes or so) ahead of time to maximize their great flavor.  I like to combine ground walnuts with whole grains for pilafs, with low fat cheeses for dips, with roasted puréed vegetables for toppings, and with bread crumbs for superb crusts.  These are just a few approaches – there are many!

4.    Many experts simply tell consumers what NOT to eat, but what is really needed now is what are we replacing that with?  What are your thoughts on this? As we move those things (sugars, saturated fats) off the plate, what do we replace them with and what do we move on the plate?

M.K.: Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and nuts, most particularly walnuts.  There are very few people who eat the requisite number of fruit and vegetable servings daily, so there is a lot of room to add these into people’s diets. And there is a volume pay-off involved, as most vegetables and many kinds of fruit can be “unlimiteds” or “freebies” on people’s healthy eating plans, so in many cases, you can “go for it” without counting servings or measuring serving size. (Of course this depends on how it’s prepared, but if the vegetable dish is as simple as we like to keep them in our smart recipes.)

Balancing Health with Culinary Arts: An interview with Chef Greg Higgins

All this week, I’m covering walnuts. From nutrition to culinary uses, I’m exploring what top fitness, nutrition, and culinary experts have to say about this “bumpy” nut. Up next is my interview with Chef Greg Higgins. If you’re into “green eating”, this is your guy.

1) As a restaurant chef, what is essential for creating healthier menu options?  Whether it is swapping out butter for a healthier oil, or lower fat dairy, etc., how do you keep high-taste in tact while still offering healthful options?

G.H.: We use olive oil as our primary cooking & flavoring oil. That in conjunction with a steady supply of local, seasonal & sustainable fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

2) In regards to restaurant health, taking healthy foods into the restaurants, what would be the essential first steps to going towards a healthier menu?

G.H.: Choosing to emphasize fresh, local, seasonal and minimally processed ingredients in menu planning.

3) How do you address portion control issues?  The usual American dinner plate is a foot across, which is often loaded disproportionately with meat.  What do you do to control portions?

G.H.: It’s part of an overall consideration of menu design. If the portion are appropriate the diners will want to order multi-course meals to experience the cuisine. Proteins tend to drive the menu so, it’s important to carefully control those portions especially.

4) In regards to ingredient choice, portion control and nutrition—relying on high-quality, great tasting ingredients such as seasonal produce, whole grains, lean meats and pantry staples such as walnuts and olive oil is important, what are some concepts applicable to the industry that are useful for foodservice and home cooks?

G.H.: Use meats and seafoods as adjuncts to the vegetables & grains – try to move veggies and grains to the center of the plates. Celebrate them in their seasons.

5) What would you consider the largest mistake consumers make when a) ordering food at a restaurant and b) cooking at home? What is one thing consumers can do to make eating and cooking choices healthier? What is one ingredient that can help?

G.H.: Ordering based on protein choices – “I’m having the steak”- Change the emphasis to your favorite seasonal vegetables. Creativity – explore different cuisines.

6) In regards to keeping ingredients seasonal and fresh, if consumers can not afford to buy ALL seasonal ingredients, what is the most important to have as seasonal/fresh (the meat, vegetable, etc)?

G.H.: Choose to plan the menu around whatever veggies are in peak season – that’s when they’re most affordable. Try growing some of your own food – even if it’s just a few herbs in a flower pot.

An Honest Tea Review: Organic, Fair Trade, and just plain good!

By: Carlene Helble- Elite Nutrition Intern

What better way to celebrate the end of National Iced Tea Month than with a glimpse into an awesome new tea product? Honest Tea Organic: half tea and half lemonade is the perfect refreshing drink with a conscience.

At first I was a little concerned when I decided to try the product since many pre-bottled teas can be sickeningly sweet. Not so with Honest Tea half and half! It was not overly sweet and the lemonade complemented and enhanced the tea rather than covering it. Besides the taste, I loved that the company was environmentally aware as well as globally aware of how they could help people and the planet as a whole. The product is USDA certified organic AND fair trade! The bottle is made from #1 plastic which is the most recyclable of the plastics. They even changed their bottle designs to be 22% lighter to save plastic and reduce their carbon footprint (bottles can be heavy to ship which uses more gas).

From a nutrition standpoint, I appreciated the notation of the number of calories in a single serving, as well as the number of calories in the entire bottle. Some products give only the calories in a single serving, while the package may contain 2.5 servings, leading some to think they are only eating the calories of one serving if they eat the indulge in the whole package. A huge diet breaker if done on a regular basis! Each serving of the tea had 48 kcal and 25 mg of caffeine ( about ¼ of a cup of coffee) while the entire bottle had 100 kcal.

If you’re looking for a refreshing treat, Honest Tea gets my seal of approval for a great taste and good conscience! With one last hurrah for tea month, here are some cool fun facts:

  • Almost 85% of tea served in the US is iced tea.
  • You can brew upwards of 200 cups of tea from a single pound of loose tea leaves.
  • The Tea Association of America says tea is almost 5000 years old!

Balancing Health with Culinary Arts: An interview with Chef Charlie Ayers

I scored an interview with Chef Charlie Ayers of Calafia. Find out what he thinks about cooking healthy and eating delicious food.

1. As a restaurant chef, what is essential for creating healthier menu options?  Whether it is swapping out butter for a healthier oil, or lower fat dairy, etc., how do you keep high-taste in tact while still offering healthful options?

C.A: It is important to give your guests compelling flavor profiles, so that they are satisfied and not missing the added fats that are normally associated with restaurant foods.  We tend to use a lot of ingredients that are versatile and can be either applied to Latin American or Asian cuisines.   We make all of our own dressings, our ketchup is made in house with no high fructose corn syrup, and instead use an organic brown sugar in small amounts as a sweetener. I try not to use added fats when working with product that already has a naturally high fat content, and I try and bring out the flavors of the foods with the combination of using fruit and vegetable juices instead of adding additional fats.

2.In regards to restaurant health, taking healthy foods into the restaurants, what would be the essential first steps to going towards a healthier menu?

C.A: By using more grains, legumes, leafy greens and nuts, versus always getting proteins from animals.

3.In regards to ingredient choice, portion control and nutrition—relying on high-quality, great tasting ingredients such as seasonal produce, whole grains, lean meats and pantry staples such as walnuts and olive oil is important, what are some concepts applicable to the industry that are useful for food service and home cooks?

C.A: Using flavorful spices that you might not normally pick up and use, for example curries, celery root, saffron, creating your own peppercorn blend and/or herbed salts. Using proteins such as nuts, legumes and quinoa.

4.What would you consider the largest mistake consumers make when a) ordering food at a restaurant,

C.A: Not reading the menu properly and realizing that spicy really is spicy, or that tempura is fried.

and b) cooking at home?

C.A: Not seasoning their food properly, you can do wonders with a little salt and pepper.

5. What is one thing consumers can do to make eating and cooking choices healthier?

C.A.: By being a little bit more adventurous when it comes to trying different flavor profiles, you can have flavor with out having to add fat.

6. What is one ingredient that can help?

C.A.: A little salt.

7.  From the institutional perspective, how are healthy menu options offered, and which are the most well received?

C.A.: When I was at Google, two of the most popular healthful dishes were the mahogany salmon and tofu lentil loaf which we serve at Calafia today.

8.What are some of the flavor profiles which people are most attracted to?

C.A.: At Google the most popular flavors were the east Asian and Asian flavors, this is true at Calafia as well.

9.  What’s worked the most and what have your clients/customers asked for more of, and really wanted, and responded well to?

C.A.: Latin Asian flavor dishes are our most popular, as well as our vegan and vegetarian dishes.

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 http://www.dietsinreview.com/diet_column/02/serving-sizes-packaged-food-nutrition-labels-may-get-a-makeover-per-the-fda/#more-17235#ixzz0rPyNzMaz

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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Food Label Glossary Decodes Package Marketing

If you’ve ever felt like understanding food labels would require foreign language certification, you’re not alone. Most people are confused about the meaning behind the words they see on packages. Believe it or not, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the food industry’s vocabulary.

Unfortunately, marketers are in stiff competition to make their product stand out in your eyes. This food label glossary will help you translate the marketing fluff into meaningful information. You’ll see that just because something is labeled “free,” “reduced,” “low” or “light” that it doesn’t always mean a healthier food item.

View Food Label Glossary Slideshow

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