Category: Nutrition

The New Food Labels: Why Should I Care?


Nutrition labelsA couple of weeks ago, Michelle Obama presented the new FDA food label at the Partnership for a Healthier America conference, on behalf of the Let’s Move! program. The food label was first introduced in 1991, and other than the addition of trans fat in 2006, the label really hasn’t changed in the last 25 years. Needless to say, it was ready for a facelift. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the old vs new labels.

What Changed? Why Should I Care?

  • More emphasis on serving size and the number of servings in each package. I give this two thumbs up! However, the serving size also has to reflect what someone will actually eat and I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think this is good because most of us don’t drink half a bottle of a beverage, despite labels that often list “2 servings/bottle.” Now, the calories will more closely reflect what we actually consume.
    On the other hand, what is listed on a package does not necessarily correspond to how the USDA defines serving sizes of given food groups (most packaged foods will list larger serving sizes). What these changes mean is that 12 oz. and 20 oz. bottles of soda will both equal one serving size because people will drink the entire bottle, no matter the size. It also seems to validate the idea that an enormous serving of candy, soda, or chips is a reasonable amount to consume.
  • Calories are listed in BIG, BOLD FONT. Because, calories matter! Critics argue that we shouldn’t be focusing so much on the calorie content of foods, and instead on the quality of those calories (i.e. eating nuts instead of low-fat crackers, despite the nuts being more energy dense). But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Calories can play a more prominent role on the label AND the quality of the food can be considered. The new label fosters the ability to do both.
  • “Calories from fat” are no longer listed. This is due to the large body of evidence demonstrating that total dietary fat intake does not a bad diet make.
  • New line to show the amount of added sugars. Before now, you weren’t able to tell how much sugar was added by the manufacturer versus how much sugar naturally occurred in the food (mostly from fruit and dairy). Now, you’ll know both grams and the percent daily value of added sugar (the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10% of total calories come from added sugar). Like the serving size issue, this is a double-edged sword. While it is likely very good that people will have this information and will make demands on the food industry to reduce the amount of sugar they unnecessarily add to foods, it is also true that your body doesn’t metabolize natural sugars from fruit any differently than from sugarcane. And food companies will exploit this, to be sure. They may add apple juice or fruit nectar to foods in order to sweeten them “naturally” in order circumvent this rule. So that’s something new you’ll have to check for on the ingredients’ list. But this didn’t stop food companies from getting all in a tizzy about the new sugar rules, because now they have to do additional work to reformulate their products to either make them healthier (unfortunately, not likely) or to just look healthier (more likely).
  • Quantities and not just percentages of micronutrients will now be listed. This probably matters most to nutrition nerds, but it also means that you can see the actual value of the micronutrients, much like with the macronutrients (fat, carbs, protein).

When Will My Food Be Covered in It?Food manufacturers will have to use the new food labels by July 26, 2018. Hopefully most will start incorporating them on food products much sooner than that.

Does Any of This Matter?
Not sure. Cynics argue that this only matters for the affluent and nutrition conscious groups, people whose diets don’t need as much attention, while not really changing anything for lower-income folks. And this new label probably won’t change anything for the millions of people who already ignore them. We don’t have evidence that points one way or the other, but this is likely a step in the right direction as it will likely lead to reformulation of some products and may make people more cognizant of certain facets of the food they eat. Transparency is also important and the new label is easier to read and understand than the old one. Plain and simple.

Marion Nestle, PhD, Professor at NYU and nutrition and public health extraordinaire, said it best, so I’ll leave you with some food for thought from her:

“I see the new label as a political win for public health and Let’s Move! But let’s keep this in perspective. Healthful diets are based on foods, not food products. We would all be healthier eating foods that do not come with Nutrition Facts panels, and saving most of those that do for once-in-a-while occasions.”

Healthy Recipes for Your Next Cookout


brussels-sproutsAs the weather warms up, many of us will be inviting friends and family over and firing up our grills for a fun-filled cookout. That doesn’t mean you have to spend all summer eating greasy hamburgers or boring hot dogs. There are a lot of healthy recipes perfect for the grill! Here are some ideas to get you started.

Spiedini of Chicken and Zucchini with Almond Salsa Verde

This recipe from Cooking Light is so simple to prepare!  Cut up some chicken and zucchini, alternate them on the skewers and grill them up. Plus, the Almond Salsa Verde gives it a flavorful punch that’s sure to please your guests.

Grilled Brussels Sprouts

The Food Network has all kinds of great ideas for recipes on the grill, especially when it comes to Brussels sprouts. Remember, your plate needs some green on it! This is a great way to add veggies to any cookout.

Grilled Fish Tacos with Chipotle-Lime Dressing

The grill is not just for burgers and chicken. This fish taco recipe comes from All Recipes. If you’ll recall, the FDA recently updated their food recommendations and one recommendation was to cut back on the protein, particularly for men. Many people say they don’t like fish, but I think you’ll find this recipe to be quite satisfying, especially the Chipotle-Lime Dressing!

Rosemary Shrimp Skewers with Arugula-White Bean Salad

If fish isn’t your thing, how about shrimp? Plus, every good cookout needs a salad! This recipe comes Fitness magazine. It has a lot of flavor and little fat. It’s perfect for a hot summer day.

Pork Chops with Quick Rhubarb Sauce

The Rhubarb Sauce certainly makes this dish a little different, but it’s sure to please. According to Eating Well, this recipe is low calorie, low sodium and a great option for those with diabetes.

Grilled Herb Scallops with Balsamic Syrup

Want to get fancy? This scallops recipe from Better Homes and Gardens is sure to impress your crowd. While the dish may look complicated, the marinade is actually pretty simple.

Grilled Eggplant With Ricotta Salata

You don’t just want meat and greens on your plate. You want lots of color on your plate! This recipe from Delish is a great way to round out your plate. Interesting tidbit, did you know that eggplant is actually a fruit, not a vegetable. Just like the tomato.

If you try these recipes, make sure you share photos with us on Facebook using the hashtag #9HealthFairEats. Also, if you have ideas for healthy swaps for those staple summer cookout recipes, we want to know! Share those with us on Facebook too.

Why Your Diet Should be as Unique as You Are

00Nutrition, Prevention

Exercise andwhat your diet should be diets are not one size fits all. We all have our own distinctive health issues, our family histories, and our own bodies. Just because your best friend is on the Paleo diet and doing CrossFit doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for you too. The same goes for your family member who is taking calcium supplements. That doesn’t mean you need calcium supplements as well. Here’s a deeper look into just how unique we all are when it comes to our healthcare needs.

Family History

Everyone’s family history is unique. “If our parents or grandparents have a history of obesity, cardiac disease, diabetes or high blood pressure – that does put us a higher risk of developing that disease,” says Stacey Brake, 9Health Fair Health and Wellness RN, BSN. She says knowing our family history is important because our diet can play a key role in reducing the risk of developing those diseases. Plus, if we know certain diseases run in the family, it just might be the motivation we need to eat healthy and exercise.

If you know that certain diseases run in your family, you may want to consider taking a close look at them and what you can do to prevent them. The SurgeonGeneral has a great site to help you with this. It even allows you to print your family history so you can share it with others in your family.


While some supplements are beneficial for some people, the same supplements or dosage may not be good for others. For instance, Brake explains that “some supplements for weight loss may cause a racing heart in one person while others aren’t affected. It’s important to know that just like other medications – supplements aren’t one size fits all. Pharmacists can look up interactions between supplements and other medications.

“I also worry about the supplements that claim to help you lose X amount of weight in a month without dieting or exercising….I find those to be misleading and can have ingredients that raise heart rates or blood pressure which can be very detrimental.”

TheNational Institutes of Health (NIH) has several examples of how supplements react differently with different people and their individual health. For instance, if you take Vitamin K and are on blood thinners, that supplement will reduce the effectiveness of the blood thinner. They also remind you that just because a supplement is considered “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe. The herb comfrey may be natural, but it can cause liver danger. You really should talk with your doctor before taking supplements, according to Brake.

Gut Bacteria

We all have bacteria in our gut. Brake says we are born with our own set of bacteria, much of which we inherit from our mothers and the environment. “We have common ones but even these can be different for each person and among different populations,” she says.

ThePhysicians Committee for Responsible Medicine describes the job of our gut bacteria:

  •  Helps digest and absorb nutrients
  • Synthesize certain vitamins
  • Protect against intruders, such as the flu
  • Boost our immune system
  •  Let the brain know how to regulate our metabolism

They state that the more diversity you have in gut bacteria, the better of you’ll be in the long run.

According to ScientificAmerican, your gut bacteria may also play a role in your weight – “New evidence indicates that gut bacteria alter the way we store fat, how we balance levels of glucose in the blood, and how we respond to hormones that make us feel hungry or full. The wrong mix of microbes, it seems, can help set the stage for obesity and diabetes from the moment of birth.” If you’re struggling with your weight, you may want to consider incorporating foods into your diet that will boost healthy gut bacteria, such as artichokes, polenta and blueberries.

Don’t Buy into the Blood Type Diet

There are people out there who say your blood type should influence your diet. Don’t fall for that. “I tend to be a person that believes in a well-rounded, healthy diet,” says Brake. “I just don’t think there is enough information out there to know how if effects our health or improves it. It seems that it would take a lot of work and diets that are a lot of work just aren’t successful in my opinion.  I think speaking with a registered dietician about dietary concerns or suggestions is the best bet.” She suggests talking with a registered dietician at one of our Spring or Fall Family 9HealthFairs if you want to learn more.

Bottom line – just because your friends are doing it doesn’t mean you should too. Remember, when it comes to nutrition, we all have our own “baggage.” It’s always good to talk to a medical professional before making changes in your diet.

Learning to Eat Mindfully and Waste Less


eating mindfullyMany people have a weight loss goal as their New Year’s Resolution, which can be good, but it can often be shortsighted and easy to throw in the towel. Consider lifestyle approaches that bring about other types of change that you can be proud of and may result in weight loss as a byproduct…

Eating Mindfully

The whole idea of mindfulness is rooted in being intentional with your thoughts and actions. Instead of moving through life on autopilot, take a moment to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and if it aligns with who you are/want to be. In short, it is about being present. A couple years ago, I embarked on a self-inflicted nutrition experiment wherein I tried a different popular diet each month and blogged about the experience. On one such month, I practiced eating mindfully and loved it. Here are some of my favorite tips for eating mindfully.

  • Focus on Food Production. One of the best ways to be environmentally conscious and potentially benefit your health is to think about where your food comes from. The best thing you can do is buy locally grown food, perhaps organic, in an effort to support small farms and your community economy, as well as minimize the environmental strain of your food consumption. Depending on where you live, this may mean that food is more expensive than buying from the supermarket, but if you know where it’s coming from and if you’re spending a little bit more on it, you’re less likely to waste it. Step up: grow your own food, even if it just means having an herb garden or container garden. You’re bound to appreciate that food more and waste less.
  • Slooooow it Down. Most people eat too fast. It’s usually because we overbook our lives with events and eating becomes something that we rush through. Instead, take your time to eat because it’s the most important thing that you do everyday. Drink a glass of water before each meal in order to tell your gastrointestinal system that food is on its way, which will allow it to start producing the enzymes for digestion. It takes about 20 minutes after you start eating for your brain to send out satiety cues. Most people eat a meal in less than 20 minutes, so they don’t realize how full they are until after they’ve finished eating. Chew each bite to completion before taking the next. Set your utensil down between bites. This will give your body and brain time to tell you when it feels full and to stop eating, which may result in eating fewer calories. But by and large, it will teach you how to truly enjoy and savor food.
  • Distraction Free Diet. Oh boy, this one is hard. The idea here is to eat your food without being distracted by your phone, your computer, or your TV. These items take us out of the present moment and often prevent us from enjoying our food. Have you ever eaten a meal while watching Netflix and then thought back a few minutes later and realized that you don’t even remember how your food tasted? This is common and often leads to overeating. Instead, sit down at the table by yourself or with friends and family (eating is a social experience and often keeps us present in the moment, so don’t get rid of that) and actually pay attention to your food. Notice flavors, textures, and colors. Thank yourself or whoever prepared the food for you, whether audibly or just as a thought, and enjoy that big bad beautiful meal.

Waste Not
In America, we waste roughly 1/3 of the food that we produce. A lot of that is wasted commercially, but much of it is in the home. Here are some tips for doing your part to waste less, which will also help you eat healthier and save money.

  • Share. Nearly all portions served at restaurants are at least twice as large as they should be. If you eat out, share your entree with a friend. If that doesn’t work, save half of it for your lunch or dinner the next day. Thus, you will be reducing waste and saving money. Two birds, meet one stone.
  • Plan. Before you go to the grocery store every week, plan what you want to buy. Look in your refrigerator and pantry and see what you have. Plan your meals based on that so that you buy and throw out less food.
    • For example (actual example of what often happens to me), let’s say you have some cilantro, two green onions, half a bell pepper, some tofu or chicken, and a can of black beans. You have the makings for both Asian and Mexican type dishes. Round those ingredients out with some tortillas, rice/noodles, more veggies, spices (if needed), and sauce (or make your own) to make tacos one night and a veggie and tofu stir fry the next.
    • Next, make a list of a few meals (consider what your week looks like and how many meals you will realistically cook at home) and their corresponding ingredients. Plan your shopping list based on the store layout so you don’t forget anything. Buy most things in bulk (particularly grains, produce, nuts/seeds, etc.) so you can buy only what you need, which will help to reduce waste.
    • Buy produce that is in season. This will save you money because in-season produce is cheaper than out-of-season and tastes way better when it’s fresh. It’s also better for the environment because strawberries bought in January had to travel from very far away, which costs a lot in fossil fuels. Save those summertime dishes or snacks you love for the summer and learn how to cook winter veggies in the winter. You know, the way you’re supposed to.
  • Prepare. This next step takes a little bit of time, but your week will be oh-so-much smoother if you do it. Meal prep. If this intimidates you, start small by just chopping up veggies and fruits so that they are ready for snacks or for cooking. Consider what the hardest part of cooking is for you when you’re tired and don’t want to do it and try to make that step easier by doing it ahead of time. Before I started doing meal prep, it seemed pretty impossible and daunting. Here are some of my tips to take away some of the question marks.
    • Veggies. These should be the foundation of your diet and can take some time. I either stir fry or roast A LOT of veggies for the week. Then, I can mix them with pasta/rice, some kind of protein or put them over greens to make a salad.
    • Protein. I usually eat tofu, beans, or chicken for my protein for the week. I typically do a combination of two so that I have options to combine with my veggies.
    • Grains. I’ll either make rice, quinoa, or pasta. It just depends on what other foods I’m cooking for the week.
    • Quiche/Casserole. Mix something together quickly that may have to bake for awhile. This means that there’s a lot of hands off time so that you can do other stuff while it is baking. I usually do quiche filled with veggies and cheese because that’s what I like best, but you could do a number of other casseroles or lasagna.
    • Soup. This is where the crockpot comes into play. Just search for recipes online if you don’t have any ideas. Throw it all in the crockpot and let it cook for a few hours.
    • How it works: I usually chop up the veggies and start roasting them first (~30-40 min, depending on what you’re roasting). If I’m cooking chicken, I’ll usually roast that at the same time. I’ll also chop up everything for a soup and throw that in the crockpot. Then, I’ll put quinoa/rice in the rice cooker to start cooking or I’ll boil pasta. While the veggies are roasting, I’ll put together the casserole/quiche and then put that in once the veggies are done. While the quiche is cooking, I put everything away in tupperware and clean up the kitchen. From start to cleanup, this usually takes me 1.5 hours.
    • Add-ons: In addition to what I buy for prep, I usually have greens and usually some cans of beans for salads, fruit for snacks, and avocados and salsa for garnishes. I just mix and match what I’ve made in order to make hearty meals, so you have to do some planning so that themes overlap…unless you want to eat Italian with Caribbean. You do you. Recognize that you may not get this right the first time. Be patient and try new things.

The beauty of doing all of this is that you will definitely waste less food since most of it is already cooked. You’ll also have the time to do other things you want to do instead of cooking (i.e. working out, spending time with your family, doing your favorite hobby). It will also help you to stick with your nutrition goals and eat less junk since it’s already ready for you to enjoy.

Do you have any questions or comments regarding living (and eating) more simply? And for those of you who already do meal prep, how does your process compare to mine? I’d love to know!

The Good, The Bad, and The “Meh” of New Dietary Guidelines


new dietary guidelinesAs you may have heard, the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) were recently released. The DGA were first created in 1980 and are updated every 5 years, based on new science. (By the way, we still follow the Food Pyramid, it’s time to check out MyPlate.)

Here’s my take on the wins and losses regarding what changed (and didn’t) this year.

The Good
Focus on Dietary Patterns, Less on Individual Nutrients – The meal patterns they recommend are a healthy American, vegetarian, or Mediterranean diet. All of these patterns have ample evidence to support them and the DGA point out that you don’t have to pick just one. You can switch them up based on what you feel like. They characterize a healthy eating pattern by lots of vegetables, whole fruits, grains (mostly whole grains), low-fat or fat-free dairy, a variety of types of protein, and oils.

The Bad
Meat – There is brief mention of men and boys reducing their intake of red meat, poultry, and eggs while increasing their intake of other protein sources including beans, nuts, seeds, and seafood. But 1) nobody actually needs meat, though it can be included in moderation. Yes, men and boys eat more meat than women, but based on the advisory committee’s report, just make the recommendation for everyone to eat less meat; and 2) there is no mention of processed meats, which are more of an issue than meat in general.

Portion Sizes – This is one of the biggest issues in the American diet. We simply eat too much. People need to learn what a portion size of a given food looks like. The DGA would be the perfect resource for that, but they don’t go into it (not that I could find, at least).

Wordplay – This is by far the worst part of the DGA, as it always has been. Recommendations are vague and indirect. When it’s recommended you should eat more of something, the report mention “foods.” When it’s recommended you should eat less of something, the report mentions “nutrients” (i.e. salt, saturated fat, sugar; see below: The Meh). While the general focus is on overall patterns, this back and forth between “foods” and “nutrients” is confusing for consumers. Should we be following a pattern or do we need to be tracking our nutrient intake? People want to know how to improve their health, so be direct and tell them how: eat fewer processed foods, less meat, fewer sodas/sweetened beverages/sweetened yogurt/cake/cookies…sweet stuff.  

The Meh
Physical activity – The 2015-2020 DGA now have recommendations on physical activity…a bit suspect since physical activity is not diet. However, I’m not that bent out of shape about there being physical activity recommendations in the DGA because perhaps having them in the same space as the dietary rec’s could lead to people actually reading them. But we do already have a document for this exact purpose, and it’s called the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

The Three S’s – The recommendations for salt (2,300 mg/day) and saturated fat (no more than 10% of total calories) remain the same, while a recommendation for added sugar (no more than 10% of total calories) was added.
Since the other two didn’t change, let’s focus on the sugar recommendation. I absolutely don’t support eating a lot of added sugar, but I’m also slow to vilify individual foods/nutrients, which is what has been happening with sugar. We should consider the whole low-fat fad of the 1980’s and the subsequent obesity epidemic as a cautionary tale of what happens when we let out a war cry against a single nutrient.

So, there it is. The good, the bad, and the meh of the 2015-2020 DGA. What did you think of the new recommendations?

Is Caffeine Good or Bad? That is the Question!



Some love it, some hate it. There are many people who smell the strong aroma throughout the day and are in heaven, but for others, the idea of drinking a cup of joe makes them sick. While popular opinion may never agree on good vs. bad, scientific studies do have their fair share to say on the matter.

Some studies say caffeine decreases the risk of skin and prostate cancers. Some say it lowers depression risks in women. Also, findings show that it may protect you from Type 2 diabetes, and fight off Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. According to an article by AARP, the National Institutes of Health suggests coffee reduces the risk of Parkinson’s and dementia, and boosts concentration and memory, partially because coffee beans are seeds, which are loaded with protective compounds.

However, other reports suggest that caffeine should be avoided or limited during pregnancy. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (USNews article), coffee consumption has been linked to lower birth weight and increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, although there is no proof at this point that caffeine can be a cause of miscarriages. Another reported downfall to drinking coffee that is being studied is that it may act as a trigger for heart attacks with some people who don’t drink coffee often, though the report says more research is needed to determine if this is a serious issue.

Wow, that is a lot of information! So how do you know which reports hold more value? Which one do you pay the most attention to? Well, to start, the information above provides support about how caffeine can be both good and bad for you depending on who you are. And they all may be worth paying attention to in order to determine the significance.

That’s why it is important to look for a “conclusion” at the end of every article. In every reputable study where the author(s) give their summary of results, there is a statement about the strength of the findings. This is worth paying attention to, as it shows how strong the study is (or isn’t). And if you aren’t sure you are viewing a credible medical source, talk it over with a health professional.

If that information overload leaves you feeling overwhelmed, just let your body do the talking. If caffeine makes you feel sick, then it may not be good for you. However, if it gives you a boost without making you feel bad, then caffeine may be your friend. There is real value in paying attention to how your own body responds to what you put in it.

We want to know! Tell us – do you love coffee, or hate it??

Evaluating the Sugar Situation


sugarThere’s regular sugar, then Sweet-n-Low, Splenda and Equal. Oh, and don’t forget cane sugar and brown sugar and powdered sugar. Maybe you should be substituting sugar with honey…or Stevia…or applesauce? It seems these days everyone has something to say about your choice of sweetener. Let’s break it all down and take a look.

Sugar: A Raw Deal

As the American Heart Association points out, there are really only two types of sugars in our diet – naturally occurring sugar and added sugar. Naturally occurring sugar is fairly self-explanatory. It’s what you find in fruit. Added sugar is also just how it sounds. It’s anything you add to your food – think sweet tea, lattes or soda (Sugar 101).

While white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar and honey are considered natural sugars, they are still added sugars when you add them into your food. According to the American Heart Association, “You can use sugars to help enhance your diet. Adding a limited amount of sugar to improve the taste of foods (especially for children) that provide important nutrients, such as whole-grain cereal, low-fat milk or yogurt, is better than eating nutrient-poor, highly sweetened foods.”

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners can actually be much sweeter than regular sugar. That, along with the fact that they often have no calories, are why many people prefer them. The Mayo Clinic says artificial sweeteners have a bad reputation due to a study that came out in the ‘70’s linking saccharin, a sweet-tasting synthetic compound used as a substitute for sugar in many artificial sweeteners, to bladder cancer. However, they say there’s no sound evidence that artificial sweeteners approved in the U.S. cause cancer or any other serious health problems (Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes). So it’s okay to swap out real sugar for artificial sugar and save yourself some calories.

Limiting Sugar in Your Diet

No matter what type of sugar you prefer, the bottom line is that with the exception of fruit, most Americans need to limit the amount of sugar in their diets. The World Health Organization is calling on adults and children to decrease their free sugar intake by 10% (10 Easy Ways to Slash Sugar from Your Diet). Most of us should be eating 1 ½ to 2 ½ cups of fruit per day. That should be primarily where our sugar comes from. If you’re not already eating fruit on a daily basis, try swapping out your morning or afternoon snack for some fresh, in-season fruit instead.

Another place to watch out for sugar is in processed foods. Make sure you’re checking the nutritional label to see how much sugar there is. You may be surprised, but processed foods can be high in sugar, even with products like catsup or pasta sauce.

What is your sweetener of choice?