Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Food Trends for 2012: Marketing Foods to 50+

Marketers have set their sites on those of us in the 50+ demographic for 2012. Retiring baby boomers want to stay healthy and fit and many new products will be introduced promising better brains, healthier joints, and happier hearts. Leatherhead Food Research notes that glucosamine-fortified foods and beverages for joint health will become increasing available in 2012. The food research group also says to expect more omega-3-fats in foods for cardiovascular and brain health. And, the popular trend of adding the word "natural" to foods and beverages will continue in the New Year.

Sounds great, doesn't it....but is it really? For years food processors have been adding needed nutrients to food to protect the public health; for example, adding (called fortifying in the food and nutrition world) vitamin D to milk makes sense because (1) milk does not naturally contain vitamin D (even breast feeding mothers have to give infants supplemental vitamin D), and (2) vitamin D is crucial for absorbing the calcium in milk. A more recent example of good, "makes sense" fortification is the addition of calcium to orange juice to increase dietary calcium intake.

However, when it comes to adding glucosamine and chondroitin or omega-3-fatty acids to foods, my response is why? Don't get me wrong...I think glucosamine is useful for some people with osteoarthritis and omega-3-fatty acids are important for good health, but when added to foods there is usually not enough of the good stuff in the food to justify the cost.

Glucosamine and chondroitin may help rebuild cartilage in damaged joints, especially in the early stages of the disease, and some people report it relieves pain. Here is the need a lot of the stuff to achieve therapeutic levels and it is very unlikely you will get it in a fortified food. When people ask me about glucosamine and chondroitin as dietary supplements, I suggest they take 1500 milligrams of glucosamine and 1200 milligrams of chondroitin in a divided dose (i.e., 750 milligrams of glucosamine and 600 milligrams of chondroitin twice a day) for about 3 months. If in 3 months there is no improvement of symptoms then it is unlikely that it will work for you.

Same thing goes for omega-3-fatty acids....1000 milligrams (1 gram) may lower heart disease risk but therapeutic doses for triglyceride lowering may be much higher, up to 6 grams per day. And, omega-3 is a general term for a type of fat. What you really want is DHA and EPA and not omega-3s from other sources, like flax seed.

And don't even get me started on the word "natural." What is natural is real food; a baked potato is natural, potato chips are not. And no hot dog is ever "natural." Did you know that the Food and Drug Administration does not approve of the claims natural, all-natural, or pure on a food label.

If you want to stay healthy and active, eating whole foods, cooking your own meals, and choosing a wide variety of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, lean protein, nuts and seeds is the best way to go. If you want to try glucosamine and chondroitin or omega-3-fats, look for high quality supplements (more on that topic in an upcoming article) or naturally occurring omega-3 foods, like salmon and tuna.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Athletes and the Beige Food Diet

Athletes, especially female athletes, eat what I call the "beige food diet." A typical recall from a female distance runner? Oatmeal, boneless skinless chicken breasts, soy milk, yogurt, bananas, granola bars, wheat bread, peanut butter, and maybe some beige sweets, like vanilla wafers. These athletes are not vegetarian but they fear red meat...specifically beef.

For those athletes who are not vegetarian (and I don't really see many who are), I encourage them to eat lean beef a couple of times a week. Many female distance runners have poor iron stores, and according to the Office of Dietary Supplements, female athletes and distance runners have the highest risk for iron depletion and iron deficiency. Athletes with iron depletion usually have normal hemoglobin and hematocrit levels but low levels of ferritn or storage iron. Often the first thing they ask me about is taking iron supplements but I take a "food first" approach and encourage iron-rich foods, like lean beef. 3-ounces of lean beef provides 14% of the daily value for iron or 2.5 milligrams of iron compared to only 1.7 milligrams in boneless chicken breast. Beef also provides quality protein, zinc and vitamin B12 needed by athletes. The iron in beef is in the heme form and 15-35% is absorbed and is unaffected by other food components; by comparison non-heme iron found in cereals, grains or beans is poorly absorbed and can be affected by food components like fiber and phytate.

I encourage female athletes to learn about the 29 lean cuts of beef (downloadable wallet card from the beef website makes it easy to choose lean meat when grocery shopping.

I also explain that ground beef can be lean but the label information is tricky (fat is expressed as percent lean to fat so while 80% lean sounds good, it can have 13 grams of fat per serving). Choosing 95% lean gives all of the nutrient benefits of beef with only 6 grams of fat per serving. And, by comparison 85% ground turkey has 13 grams of fat with less iron than lean beef.

I suggest that when traveling and eating with the team, that they choose lean beef like a petite filet at a steak house or beef and broccoli at an Asian restaurant as healthy options to provide good quality protein for recovery while boosting intakes of iron and zinc.

When athletes ask about iron supplements I explain that iron is a pro-oxidant and should never be taken in high doses without a blood test to determine the need for supplements. It is important to be monitored when taking iron as it can be toxic in large doses without proper monitoring. Another plus for need for a blood test and monitoring when eating healthy foods that nourish the body and fuel muscles for sport.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Coconut Water, Homemade Sports Drinks and Other Thoughts on Hydration

As college students make their way to campus, college athletes are taking the field and hitting the gym for sports training and competition. Two questions that I'm being asked are, "is coconut water better than sports drinks?" and "should I make my own sports drink to cut down on sugar?"

First, coconut water...although being marketed as "super-hydrating," it isn't better than sports drinks and for some athletes sports drinks still have the greater advantage. Coconut water is the liquid inside green coconuts and it not the same thing as coconut milk (which is made from pressing coconut meat). In a few studies coconut water has been shown to be an effective rehydration beverage compared to water but isn't superior to sports drinks.

Here are the pros and cons of coconut water:


  • Similar in calories to sports drinks (46 calories vs. 50 calories per cup)
  • Slightly lower in sugar than sports drinks (about 2 teaspoons vs. 3 teaspoons of sugar per cup)
  • Contains some protein (about 2 grams per cup)
  • High in potassium...about the same as found in a large banana


  • Lower in sodium than most sports drinks and sodium is needed by athletes who sweat heavily and are "salty" sweaters
  • Can have a mild laxative effect when large amounts are consumed
  • Expensive...$1.75 to $2.50 per serving
  • Not all brands passed the Consumer Labs test to make sure that what is in the bottle is the same as what is stated on the label

Don't be fooled by the claims of high potassium in coconut water....although it is a good source of potassium, athletes lose about ten times more sodium in sweat than potassium, so athletes need the sodium found in sports drinks.

And, what about the homemade sports drinks? First, carbohydrate in sports drinks is a good thing...the 14 or so grams of carbohydrate per cup help to replace muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) and makes the drink palatable. I've never been a big fan of homemade sports drinks because of the quality control....when you buy a bottle of Gatorade or PowerAde you know what you are getting. When you make your own sports drink and the recipe calls for a "pinch" of salt, how much sodium are you really getting? And, research shows that a beverage that tastes good will lead to greater consumption...and I've yet to taste a "homemade" brew that tastes good. I encourage athletes to stick to the tried and true sports drinks when exercising at high intensity, for long duration, or during hot and humid practices (think football, soccer, tennis, or cross country practice in August).

Enjoy coconut water if you want a light tasting refreshing drink (and can afford it), but athletes will still get great benefits from drinking sports drinks.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nutrition 101 for Swimmers

My 3 great nephews joined a swim team for the first time...the Hartwell Hydros. They range in age from 6 to 9 years and it is fun to hear about their races and see the enjoyment they get from swimming. After watching a swim meet, here are some tips for parents whose kids are on swim teams; sort of a nutrition 101.

1. Just because kids are surrounded by water doesn't mean they don't need to drink water. After 30 minutes of swimming, kids can get dehydrated. Couple that with warm pool water, hot, humid air around the pool, and summertime high temperatures and kids can get dehydrated more quickly than adults. On swim meet days, keep your little ones hydrated by providing him or her with a water bottle and encourage drinking throughout the day. Ten to 20 minutes before the swim meet, have them drink 1 cup of water. Keep the water bottle near the pool so kids can sip water between heats. Sports drinks are useful for kids who sweat heavily and for those who don't like water. Skip the fruit juice and soft drinks as they are too high in sugar to be good fluid replacers.

2. Keep quality carbs around the pool. Swimmers use muscles in the arms, legs and trunk and these muscles are fueled by carbohydrate. Choose carbs that provide nutrients to sneak in needed vitamins and minerals...fruit (bananas, orange or apple slices, or grapes are good choices...easy to pack and quick for snack). Fig bars or oatmeal cookies are better choices than chocolate cookies or candies (and fruit leather doesn't qualify as a fruit, despite marketing claims).

3. Recover for the next day's training. Swimmers train long and hard and need to refuel after a workout or a meet. Low-fat chocolate milk is a great recovery provides high quality protein and carbohydrate along with nutrients like calcium, potassium and Vitamin D needed by kids for growth and development. Peanut butter on whole grain bread or crackers, trail mix with nuts, or low-fat string cheese and turkey wrapped in a tortilla make great snacks for the ride home.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Celebrating 4th of July..Country Style

It is interesting living in rural Georgia...for one thing, in Hart County, Georgia they don't celebrate the 4th of July...they celebrate the "Pre-4th" complete with fireworks on the lake and festival on the town square the weekend before the 4th. At this year's festival there was the usual dogs, BBQ, snow cones, etc, but one booth went all out selling fried Oreos! So, when my family descended on our rural lake home for the real 4th of July (12 family members) I was determined to keep things a little bit healthier with no fried candy bars, fried chicken, or fried Oreos in sight.

We kept plenty of fruit on hand and I've learned that kids and adults will eat fruit (1) when it is cut into hand-size pieces and, (2) when there aren't other snacks around like potato chips. Watermelon makes not only a good snack but the kids have fun with the rinds making funny faces (see my nephew, Reiss, for proof). We also had plenty of grapes (although I think about half ended up in the lake as projectiles aimed at those lounging in the lake), fresh Georgia peaches, and apple slices. On the veggie side, the baby carrots are always a hit even if the kids drench them in Ranch dressing (the fat in the dressing does help in the absorption of the healthy compounds in the carrots!).

The other thing we do is lots of organized activities....we held the annual one-mile fun run (see above) and while not everyone got out of bed (you know who you are) we had a good turn-out complete with prizes for first, second, and last place finishers. We even had a baby stroller division this year. My brother-in-law also organized activities like a fishing tournament and a swimming competition to keep everyone active and engaged.

Posting the daily menu helps keep everyone interested in meal time, even if "Uncle Rob's famous BBQ Chicken" is just plain old grilled chicken with bottled BBQ is all in the name and the presentation! We didn't always eat healthy, but when we had pizza we stuck to cheese and mushroom (only one pepperoni pizza) and served a big green salad loaded with local tomatoes and cucumbers.

Having the 4th of July in the country is a different experience than city celebration...fireworks over the lake on the dock instead of driving to a crowded public display, but having family fun in the country can't be beat.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Athlete's Plate

MyPlate has generated a lot of buzz and I'm using it to show athletes how to eat for performance and good health. The USDA website contains loads of good tips on good nutrition but I've pulled out the tips that apply to athletes by showing them how eating by the plate method can deliver performance fuel.

In the fruit section of the plate, encourage potassium-rich fruits. I've found that many athletes don't get adequate potassium but they get plenty of sodium. Athletes who sweat heavily and lose sodium need more salt than most adults, but not much emphasis is put on potassium-rich foods. So I encourage bananas, melons, and dried fruit in trail mix to boost potassium. I also suggest they use a fruit-flavored yogurt as a dip for strawberries, bananas, melon wedges and apples...the dairy provides another boost of potassium. And, with the hot weather and outdoor practices, I suggest eating frozen fruit bars for a refreshing treat.

In the vegetable section, I suggest baked sweet potatoes in place of baked potatoes for a sweet change. Emphasize color (although one athlete asked me if a green apple was healthier than a red apple, so the color rule doesn't always work) like dark lettuce, spinach salad, broccoli, and tomatoes. Athletes like pasta so they are happy to know that the marinara sauce counts as a vegetable serving. Encourage a lot of veggie toppings for pizza...they all like pizza...but I ask them try mushrooms, green peppers, and onion toppings. Stir-fries are popular, as are veggie kabobs on the grill.

For grains, I encourage whole grains, but many athletes are confused about what is a whole grain. They still think that 100% wheat bread or mixed grains or 7-grain breads are whole grains. I suggest they try whole wheat pasta in macaroni and cheese, brown rice with a stir-fry, and snacking on whole grain crackers (like Triscuits) or whole grain breakfast cereals (Wheaties and Cheerios are popular). And, popcorn is a good study snack to increase whole grains. But, only half of grains need to be whole grains and refined grains contribute some iron to an athlete's diet. Iron is nutrient that is often in short supply in the diets of female athletes.

Protein is usually an easy sell to athletes but I encourage lean protein, like 90% lean ground beef or ground turkey or chicken breast. Athletes are often surprised to know that some beans and peas are high in protein, as are nuts and seeds. Fish and shellfish are also popular protein choices...unfortunately, often fried fish or shrimp is consumed instead of grilled or blackened fish or steamed shrimp. I encourage athletes to eat fish when they eat out as many don't know how to cook fish.

Dairy foods can be great recovery foods and many athletes know that low-fat chocolate or strawberry milk is a good post-workout food. Yogurt makes a good snack, fruit dip, smoothie base, and baked potato topping. I also encourage "skinny" lattes for the morning coffee run.
Using the plate to educate is an easy and smart way to reach athletes. For another good resource, check out the PowerPoint on MyPlate at www.extension.unl/edu/fnh

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Warning: Read Beyond the Headlines on AAP Clinical Report on Sports Drinks

Today the American Academy of Pediatrics released a clinical report (ahead of print in June issue of Pediatrics) on sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents. I read the report and was interviewed by NPR, however, it appears I only made the cut for the blog article.

The way this story is being reported reinforces the need to read beyond the headlines. The second sentence of the abstract clearly states, "sports drinks and energy drinks are significantly different products and the terms should not be used interchangeably." The report goes on to say that "these drinks (sports drinks) should be ingested when there is a need for more rapid replenishment of carbohydrates and/or electrolytes in combination with water during periods of vigorous sports participation or other intense physical activity."

In other words, athletic kids, especially those who exercise in hot, humid conditions, can benefit from using sports drinks as part of their hydration strategies. Fluids are critical to young athletes. Because of their size they have more surface area to body mass and they absorb the heat from the environment more readily than adults. Kids are at a high risk for heat illness when exercising in the heat and humidity of a summer day. My fear is that parents and coaches will read only the headlines that are reported for this story and not allow kids to drink sports drinks when they are needed for rapid re-hydration. August will be here before we know it and that means football practice...I hope the Gatorade coolers don't disappear from the sidelines in junior high or high school football!

Sugar has become the scapegoat for childhood obesity and all dietitians agree that we should all consume less sugar. But, a sports drink has less sugar than fruit juice so sports drinks have their place in the life of an active child or adolescent. Yes, I used to be on a board of advisors for Gatorade, but I was on the board because I believed in the science behind sports drinks and recommend them for use by athletes of all ages.

The report contains some good information about energy drinks and I agree that kids and adolescents don't need energy drinks...I think they can be dangerous for kids, especially kids who are active. Exercise raises heart rate so there is no need to go into exercise having consumed energy drinks with caffeine which can elevate heart rate, too.

So, read the report and gain some useful information, but please read beyond the headlines to make sensible, science-based recommendations for active kids.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What does "natural" mean on a food package?

Today's article in the New York Times on functional foods got me thinking about the word "natural" on so many food packages. Just yesterday a friend was snacking on a bag of pretzels flavored as "everything" bagels...they were shaped like tiny little bagels and did look like mini, mini-everything bagels. The package contained the word "natural" in several different places (including "naturally delicious" which of course is a matter of opinion). In reading the ingredient list there were many ingredients, including food additives used as preservatives, coloring, and flavor. What is "natural" about that?

In addition to many of the functional food health claims discussed in the NY Times article, consumers should be leery of the "natural" buzzword, too. One dictionary definition of natural is "present in or produced in nature; not artificial." Hardly describes pretzel bagels. Before the nutrition labeling act, such practices as calling an oil "light" because it was lighter in color, was widespread. The NLEA was supposed to make food labels truthful and easy to understand but health claim creep has overtaken food packaging. Marketing is often way ahead of science and it shouldn't take a PhD in nutrition to figure out the meaning of all of these claims (or a magnifying glass to read the fine, fine print).

I suggested to my friend a really natural snack...nuts, natural, unsalted, delicious nuts. A handful of walnuts, almonds or pistachios will satisfy hunger, provide some protein, and lots of other good-for-you nutrients like fiber and Vitamin E. So next time you get the urge to snack, watch out for the "natural" claims and go for something really natural.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I have reviewed a lot of cookbooks over the years, but this one is really special..a must have for all families (and it is free!) Moms, dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles all want to see kids eat well. Many kids (and, some parents) don't know what do to in the kitchen besides open the Styrofoam box from the drive-through fast food or reheat leftovers in the microwave. I grew up in a time when mom and dad cooked and kids learned basic cooking skills in home ec. It is no surprise that many parents' favorite kitchen appliance is the phone to call for delivery pizza.

This book can bring back those lost culinary skills. As part of the "Keep the Beat" program from US Department of Health and Human Services (NIH) and National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, this colorful, kid-friendly book is more than a cookbook (although all of recipes will appeal to the whole family) is part nutrition primer and learning-t0-cook helper. I especially love the photos in the appendix that show what the various cooking terms those of you who cook, dice, chop, mince, slice mean something, but to the cooking challenged, decoding a recipe can be a frightening experience.

Recipes are easy to make, delicious to eat, and good for you. Symbols ("Healthier Classics, Leftover Friendly, Chefs in Training, and Healthy Eating Two Ways") steer the cook to making mealtime fun and functional.

Last week, I gave college athletes the recipe for Bowtie Pasta with Chicken, Broccoli, and Feta and even the most skeptical among them took the recipe back to the dorm for a tryout.

Check it out at the website for recipes and information on ordering one free will be glad you did! This is one government publication that is steering kids down the healthy lane...with tasty kid-friendly recipes that everyone will love.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Chicken Myths

At the 2011 Food Media Seminar, sponsored by the National Chicken Council and US Poultry and Egg Association, I got the chance to eat a lot of great chicken dishes (see picture of Charlotte Jenkins Gullah Jerk Chicken--a Lowcountry Cuisine classic). I also thought about some of the myths about chicken so let's set the record straight.

Myth 1: Always buy chicken labeled as "hormone free" or "natural" to get the healthiest bird for your family.

The truth is that the word "natural" means nothing on a food package and no hormones are used in any chicken products. So, saying a package of chicken breasts is hormone-free is like saying that bag of potato chips has no cholesterol--no potato chips contain cholesterol (cholesterol is found only in animal foods) and no chicken sold in the US is fed hormones to fatten it up. You may prefer to buy organic poultry but you don't have to spend extra money to get hormone-free chicken.

Myth 2: All chicken is pumped full of sodium-containing liquids.

Some chicken does contain liquid that can increase the sodium content, but not all. If you are reducing sodium look at the label to find out if the product is "enhanced" or "marinated" which might indicate there is added sodium. Choices abound in the meat counter of the grocery store so read labels to find sodium content (make sure to take your reading glasses as all food labels can be hard to read for those of us over a certain age!)

Myth 3: Boneless, skinless chicken breast is the healthiest of all chicken parts.

It might be the lowest in total fat, but, to steal line from presenter and registered dietitian, Colleen Pierre, "don't be afraid of the dark." Chicken thighs are popular with chefs as they are more flavorful than white meat; nutritionists like dark meat because it has 24% more iron and 3 times the zinc as white meat. Iron and zinc are two nutrients that are often low in the diets of children and adolescent girls so break out of the white meat chicken rut and try boneless chicken thighs or drumsticks. Kids love drumsticks--they come with their own handle.

Myth 4: Chicken skin should always be removed before cooking.

Cooking chicken with the skin on helps seal the juices and makes the chicken meat more tender and flavorful. More than half of the fat in chicken skin is monounsaturated fat--the healthy kind of fat. So, leave the skin on when cooking and remove the skin at the table to cut extra calories while saving flavor.

Myth 5: Wings are always a high-fat choice in restaurants.

Ever see "boneless" chicken wings on the menu? Turns out the "boneless chicken wings" are not really wings--boneless chicken breast is used and just called wings. So, if you really want wings...look for boneless wings (preferably baked, not deep-fat fried!)

For more information on chicken and some great recipes, visit

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April Fool's Day Fun with Food

The Evidence Analysis Library of the American Dietetic Association has a section on pediatric overweight and recently I was give the opportunity to translate the science into section for the consumer side of the ADA website (

One thing that struck me was the behavioral science of raising a child to have a healthy weight and a positive body image. Family function can have many positive effects on a child's eating behaviors and weight. Some of the patterns most related to healthy body weight include family closeness, support, and mind-stimulating activities.

My niece, Angela, has all that (and more!) covered in raising her 2 daughters. This April 1 she surprised her oldest daughter with some fun (definitely mind-stimulating!) creative lunch choices. The pictures show Cheez-Its replaced with marshmallows (re-sealed with double sided tape to make it authentic), "Sushi" made with rice krispies, fruit rolls, jelly beans, and black sprinkles, "grilled cheese" from toasted pound cake and yellow icing, and of course, an apple complete with a gummy worm. How much fun is that? What a wonderful way to have fun with a child...OK, the actual substitutions were not as healthy as the original foods, but can you image how the April Fool's surprise from mom's April Foods delighted her elementary school-age daughter??!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Food coma? What I've learned about eating from my dogs.

I'm a dog lover and I've learned a lot about eating from observing my dogs. Bella, a 10-year old shepherd-collie mix, eats like an intuitive eater, not like a dog. Her good eating habits include:

Eating slowly

Chewing every bite before swallowing

Eating to hunger and leaving food in her bowl when full

Drinking plenty of water

Samson, a 2-year old German shepherd (pictured here asleep with his head still inside the food bowl) has also taught me some lessons about how not to eat. His bad eating habits include:

Gulping down his food

Seemingly swallowing food whole without chewing (I know this because sometimes he has to stop eating and clear the food that gets stuck in his huge jaws.)

Licking the bowl clean (he even picks up his bowl and drops it at my feet when he is finished eating as if saying, "more, please.")

And, sneaking over to Bella's food bowl to finish off her food

So, try to model Bella's food habits even though many of us eat like Samson!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Diet Books...They are Everywhere!

On a recent trip to Ireland I was browsing in a gift shop when my friend and fellow dietitian said, "check out the diet book section." Sure enough, just like in the U.S., diet books are big sellers. A quote attributed to Andy Ronney is one of my favorites, "The biggest seller is cookbooks and the second is diet books--how not to eat what you've just learned to cook."
All diet books are basically the same--low calorie meals, encouragement to be physically active, and some secret gimmick that all authors throw in to make you think that their diet is superior to all of the others.
Losing weight isn't that hard--it is the keeping it off that is the real challenge. Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating says we make about 250 food decisions a day. Most of those decisions have little to do with hunger. We eat because we are with others who are eating, we eat for recreation, we eat because we smell freshly baked cookies in the mall, and we eat because it tastes good. By trying to cue into why we eat and pay more attention to hunger and portion control we may have a fighting chance against weight gain, or as I like to call it, weight creep. Face it, no one gains 20 pounds overnight but we do gain a few pounds a year as we age and that can end up as an extra 20 pounds over the years.
Evelyn Tribole, author of Intuitive Eating suggests we make peace with food and honor health. Don't label foods as good or bad, think about food in terms of health and nourishment. A handful of almonds and a orange for an afternoon snack provides more nourishment than vending machine candy bar--and the almonds and orange taste pretty good, too.
Another strategy is to stop multitasking when eating--don't text and drive? Well, don't eat and drive. Distracted dining is a sure fire way to increase calories without enjoying food.
Lastly, we all know weekends are "special." Dawn Jackson Blatner, Chicago-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association told me about a 2003 Obesity Research study that showed that we eat 115 more calories each day Friday through Sunday...that is an extra 350 calories each weekend that can result in a 5 pound weight gain a year. So, watch those weekends and don't go on the Monday diet....that is, don't eat whatever is in sight all week and they say, "I'll start my diet on Monday." Brian Wansink says the "best diet is the one you don't know you're on." Couldn't agree more!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A New Seven Countries Study

Move over Ancel Keys, there is a new seven countries study that could have a global impact on the way we eat when we eat out. Unilever Food Solutions, the food service arm of Unilever, today released the "World Menu Report." They randomly selected 3500 people (500 from each country) who eat out at least once a week. The seven countries were:

  • USA

  • UK

  • China

  • Germany

  • Russia

  • Brazil

  • Turkey

What they found was that consumers all over the world want information about what they eat when they eat out. The top three things that consumers want?

  • the source of the food

  • how the food was prepared

  • the nutritional value of the food

People in developing countries were more concerned with food sourcing and food safety issues than those in developed countries, In the U.S., about two-thirds of diners responded that nutrition information would be welcomed when eating out and what they most wanted was information on calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar. Consumers say they want a gentle push--not a sledgehammer approach--to nutrition information. And, taste is still king so innovation by chefs, restaurant operators and the food service industry is needed.

In the past the notion of "stealth health" was pervasive, especially in the U.S. In other words, make meals healthy but don't tell anyone that it is healthy or they might not eat it. (How many of us have used that approach with our spouses or children? I'm guilty as charged.) But, today transparency is the new watchword. Diners want health, transparency and innovation. They want food to taste good and be good for them and they want to know about it. Reformulation is top of mind for chefs and the food service industry to give consumers what they want--good taste and good health.

Consumers around the world are responding to foods that are local, sustainable, authentic, and artisan. But, the challenge is to make sure that those words are meaningful and not just a marketing gimmick. Diners also want to know about food allergens or ingredients they might be sensitive to, including MSG and gluten.

With this report, Unilever Food Solutions hopes to raise awareness within the food service industry about ensuring transparency about what is in our food when we dine out. That is something we can all applaud.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How do you choose your vitamin/mineral supplements? posted survey results about popular supplements. While not a "scientific" study in that the respondents were self-selecting (that always introduces bias into a study) it did show some interesting trends about supplement use. The five most popular supplements were fish oil, multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and CoQ10. The first four didn't surprise me given the media attention to fish oil and vitamin D, but the CoQ10 did...until I thought about the role of CoQ10 in protecting the heart muscle in those older adults who have congestive heart failure. There is also some support for using it when taking a statin to lower cholesterol, although the evidence for that is not as clear.

But, what I really thought about when I saw the survey is how does one choose among the hundreds of supplements on the shelves of grocery stores, pharmacies, and retail stores (there are even whole stores devoted to selling supplements anddon't even get me started on the Internet sales!)

I offer these tips in choosing supplements:

1)Know what supplements you really need. Ask your doctor or qualified health professional (like a registered dietitian) about what supplements might be best for you. I often find that people supplement with nutrients that are plentiful in their diets yet not taking nutrients that they are lacking. A quick way to evaluate your dietary intake is to go to and analyze your usual dietary intake. You might find that you get plenty of vitamin C because you drink orange juice, eat broccoli, and snack on tangerines, yet your intake of omega-3-fats are low because you don't like to eat fatty fish.

2)Look for third-party verification that you are getting a quality supplement. Ever noticed the "USP" symbol on your supplement? That stands for United States Pharmacopeia and it means that the supplement meets strict criteria for quality ingredients and quality manufacturing processes. is another group that tests supplements to make sure that the supplement contains what it says it contains on its label. Third party verification doesn't mean that the product will work for you, but it does insure that you are getting what you are paying for and getting a quality product.

3)Take supplements according the dosing instructions and make sure to check sources like WebMD for any nutrient-drug interactions. For example, if you take a blood thinner you don't want to take a vitamin supplement that has a lot of Vitamin K as it can block the effectiveness of the drug. Also remember that supplements are a supplement to a healthy diet--eating a poor diet and expecting a supplement to keep you healthy is wishful thinking. Supplements take time to work;they are not like an antibiotic that can cure an infection in a few days. For example, glucosamine and chondrotin may help those with osteoarthritis but it can take months to know if it is working.

4)If claims for supplements sound too good to be true then they probably are. Think about how many people say that vitamin C is the cure for the common cold...if that was true, wouldn't we all just take vitamin C and never suffer through another cold again? So, be realistic about your expectations for supplements.

5)Lastly, look at the various options for supplements. I don't eat enough fatty fish (the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 suggest eating 2 fatty fish meals a week) so I take fish oil. The first supplement I tried made me taste fish oil all day so I take one that controls that problem.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nasty Green Drink

On a recent trip to Austin my friend introduced us to her latest culinary obsession, "the nasty green drink." She had recently had an infection and took a strong course of antibiotics and said her body was crying out for a large dose of healthy fruit and veggies. Since it is hard to eat a large amount of F&V, she tried the blender.

She used 2 cups of raw spinach, 2 cups of red Swiss chard, 1 cup broccoli, 1 grapefruit (quartered), 1/2 cup of blueberries and 1 bottle of Propel fitness water for the liquid and a touch of sweetness.
The result? Three glasses of the nasty green drink that smelled like freshly mowed grass. While one friend described it as "earthy," we all agreed that it she was wise to drink it through a straw.
I analyzed the drink and it contains about 215 calories, mostly from carbohydrate (50 grams) with some protein (7 grams or about what is in 1-ounce of meat) with a trace of fat (1 grams). It is low in sodium (270 milligrams) and very high in potassium (1,000 milligrams). It is also rich in vitamin C (230 milligrams or about what is found in 3 servings of orange juice) and folate (200 micrograms or half of the recommended amount).
Where the drink really soars is in phytonutrients or plant chemicals known to keep us healthy and fight disease. With 4.5 milligrams of beta-carotene (about the amount that you would get if you ate 6 to 8 servings of F&V) it is rich in the compounds that are thought to be the active ingredients in F&V. It also is loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin (9 milligrams) two compounds that protect our eyes. Researchers think these compounds act as a natural sunblock and fight free radicals that can damage the eye.
And, the nasty green drink is loaded with vitamin K which is thought to help keep our bones strong. If you are on a blood-thinning drug (like coumadin) the amount of vitamin K in this drink would prevent the drug from working.
While this drink is not for everyone (me included), dig out your blender (mine is hiding in the cupboard above the fridge; the one that no one can reach) and come up with your own healthy drink. My friend has the ability to listen to her body but most of us don't listen, unless our body is calling for chocolate and then we hear it loud and clear!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

No Magic Foods but Maybe a Magic Diet for Longevity

People always ask me what is the "best" food to eat or supplement to take for healthy aging. Despite the hype surrounding the latest and greatest magical food or pill (acai, pomegranate juice, glucoasamine, etc.) the better question might be what is the best dietary pattern for long life? A recent research paper published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (January, 2011)looked at dietary patterns of over 2,500 adults over a ten-year period. The men and women were between the ages of 70 and 79 when the study was started.

Researchers identified dietary pattern clusters and labeled them as:
1) healthy food cluster
2) high fat dairy products cluster
3) meat, fried food and alcohol cluster
4) breakfast cereal cluster
5) refined grains cluster
6) sweets and desserts cluster

Researchers found that that the 374 people who were in the healthy food cluster had a significantly lower risk of mortality (death)than the other clusters. The healthy food cluster included low-fat dairy foods (low fat yogurt or frozen yogurt, skim or 1% milk) fruit (fresh, canned or frozen), vegetables (not French fries, though), whole grains, poultry (not fried chicken) and fish and seafood (again, not the fried variety). They also found that those in the healthy food cluster got more exercise and had more non-smokers.

Two other interesting findings in this study; one of them unexpected. The unexpected finding was that eating red meat was not associated with higher mortality. That is good news because many older adults shun red meat thinking that all red meat is high in bad fats. Choosing lean cuts of red meat and keeping portions in check is a good way to get needed nutrients (zinc, iron and vitamin B12) that may be lacking in an older person's diet.

Another finding was that those who ate foods from the healthy cluster had higher blood levels of 2 B-vitamins (folate and B12) that help to lower a blood protein, homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to poor cognitive function, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease.

So, this new year,take a look at your whole diet instead of focusing on a single food or nutrient for good health and long life. And, don't forget to exercise like this older couple I spotted walking in Budapest.