The New Food Labels: Why Should I Care?

04Nutrition

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

02Nutrition

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.

Supplements

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

00Nutrition

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!