Tuesday, November 12, 2013

362 Exhibitors and So Little Time!

Every year I attend the Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and like a kid in a video game store, I love the exhibit hall. This year 362 exhibitors were doling out food and beverage samples in Houston and as I walked through the aisles of vendors I thought about what might appeal to the 50+ audience. So, here are some of my favorites that can help improve your health and taste great at the same time. (I have no financial interest nor have I done any consulting with these companies or products.)

The Mushroom Council, representing fresh mushroom producers or importers, was preparing samples of turkey-mushroom burgers. The smell drew me in but the taste made me a true believer. Paring mushrooms and meat to make healthier burgers, meatballs, tacos...or any recipe that calls for ground beef or turkey... can reduce the fat, sodium and calories of a dish while increasing vitamins, minerals and fiber. And, let's not forget the cost. One study showed a 27% reduction in cost when using mushrooms for part of the ground meat. Recently, research sponsored by the Mushroom Council was highlighted on NPR at http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/11/05/243218136/make-room-for-mushrooms-fungi-compete-with-meat-in-burgers. So, next time you are using ground meat in a favorite dish, finely chop mushrooms and mix into the meat and be prepared to be surprised at the flavor punch.

The Almond Board of California was handing out a dietitian's favorite snack...a tin filled with natural whole almonds. The tin holds the "perfect portion" of 1-ounce or 23 almonds. Almonds make a great a snack for those of us 50+ as a serving has 6 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fiber, and 35% of the daily value for vitamin E. A 2013 study from Purdue University with 137 participants who were given 1.5 ounces of almonds (about 35 whole almonds) every day for a snack showed that hunger levels were decreased, vitamin E and "good" fats were increased without weight gain. So, when the mid-morning or afternoon hunger hits, grab a handful of nutrient-rich almonds.

The Cherry Marketing Institute was serving refreshing tart cherry juice. While I don't like the term "super food," cherries are making a pitch for that title. Some studies using tart cherry juice (about 10-ounces a day) have shown anti-inflammatory effects in those with arthritis and gout. Athletes are getting in the cherry juice cheering section, too, as a recovery drink. Some college and professional athletes are drinking cherry juice after a hard workout or during injury rehab to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Cherry juice is a nutritious beverage that might be worth a try for active older adults who experience muscle soreness after a tough workout.

The Canola Info/Canola of Canada booth caught my eye because in Georgia I've noticed the beautiful fields of canola plants in the early spring. Fields of yellow flowering canola plants are quite a sight to see. Canola oil has the least saturated fat of all the oils (even olive oil) and it also contains alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3-fat, associated with fatty fish or flaxseed. It is about 60% oleic acid (the kind of fat in olive oil) and 21% polyunsaturated fat. All of those numbers give canola oil a heart healthy profile for those who want the lowest saturated fat oil and don't always like the taste of olive oil.

Last, I was happy to see Flatout at the expo. I've been using these flatbreads as a bread substitute for about a year because they are higher in protein and fiber with half the calories of sliced bread. This Chicago-based company was sampling a new product, a rosemary and olive oil "fold it" flatbread. Great taste for 100 calories and I bought a package when I got home (found in the deli/bakery section of most grocery stores) and it will be a staple in my house. The flatbreads are also great for quick pizzas on a busy night...top with mushrooms, of course!

Can't wait for next year's expo to see what else I can taste...and enjoy!

Monday, October 14, 2013

What is junk food?

Last week a study in Pediatrics (Athlete Endorsements in Food Marketing, October 7, 2013) made headlines. Almost without fail the headlines used the word "junk" food to describe athletes' endorsements and one headline went so far to say, "Yes, Peyton Manning is making you fat."

When I read the study, it got me thinking about what is a "junk" food and who defines the parameters of what is and is not considered a "junk" food. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I am not so sure what a "junk" food is....is it a side of pork belly or a soft drink or cheese puffs?  Usually, a junk food describes one that is calorie-rich without providing nutrients. Does a sports drink fit that definition? Some would say yes, and athletes have been endorsing sports drinks for decades. While a sports drink might be a junk food to a sedentary person who never breaks a sweat, to an athlete a sports drink is a proven hydration beverage. The joint position paper of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine states that "beverages containing 6-8% carbohydrate are recommended for exercise events lasting longer than 1 hour." The Evidence Analysis Library of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics goes on to say that " current research supports the benefit of carbohydrate consumption in amounts typically found in sport drinks (6-8%) to endurance performance in events lasting 1 hour or more."  Anyone who watches Peyton Manning or Serena Williams or LeBron James (all called out in the media reports for endorsing "junk" foods) knows they perform at a high intensity and duration and can benefit from the carbs and electrolytes in sports drinks. So, to a competitive athlete a sports drink is not a "junk" food so why shouldn't football, basketball or tennis players endorse sports drinks?

Quick service restaurants were also on the hook for "junk" food and athletes' endorsements. McDonald's is often picked on as a provider of  "junk" food but did you know that 80% of McDonald's menu items are under 400 calories? And, that in 2012 the default in the new happy meal is a side of fruit, a kid's size fry, and a fat-free milk? McDonald's has served 530 million packs of apple slices to kids in a one year period from 2012-2013. Of course, there are high calorie and high fat and high sodium items in any restaurant, but we often forget that there are healthy choices in every restaurant if one chooses to look for them.

And, of course we mustn't forget the fry...a real junk food that is making us all fat, right? On average, Americans get about 1.5% of their calories from French fries. Potatoes are an excellent source of potassium, a nutrient identified by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee as a shortfall nutrient. Only 2-3% of Americans had adequate intakes of this important mineral. And, frying of potatoes does not destroy the potassium as some people believe.

A further look at the Pediatrics article showed that famous athletes endorse more sports goods and apparel than foods and beverages. Yet, I didn't hear anyone complain about sneakers made in less than desirable conditions in developing countries and sold for a tidy profit by U.S. companies.

I would like to see the media stop demonizing foods and instead help people enjoy their favorite foods in moderation (another word some people don't like), but I like it just fine.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Should you avoid white vegetables?

Last Saturday I was at a rural Georgia Farm Festival and I bought a bag of potatoes from a local farmer (photo of my purchase to the left). As I carried the 5-pound bag to my car, a stranger approached me wagging her finger at me. She said, "You shouldn't eat those. I stopped eating potatoes years ago because white vegetables are horrible and you might as well pour sugar down your throat."  I was stunned by her comment on many levels. First, when did it become acceptable for a stranger to give out nutrition advice? Second, she was just plain wrong.

A recent paper (executive summary available for free at http://advances.nutrition.org/content/4/3/318S.full.pdf) published a roundtable discussion convened on the campus of Purdue with leading nutrition experts. The topic of the roundtable and the summary was, "White vegetables: A forgotten sources of nutrients."  As nutritionists, we often tell our clients to choose a colorful diet but maybe we should have emphasized that white vegetables are healthy, too, and certainly are not devoid of nutrients. One of the experts cited in the paper reminded us that white vegetables contain important nutrients like vitamins C and D, potassium, calcium, and dietary fiber, and color is not an accurate indicator of these nutrients. In addition to potatoes, other white vegetables include onions, cauliflower, mushrooms, and turnips and if we only used color as a guide to choosing our veggies we would miss some key nutrients.

Only 2-3% of Americans get the recommended intake of potassium and potatoes are one of our best sources of this important mineral. Higher potassium intakes are associated with lower blood pressure and the DASH diet, a meal plan designed to lower blood pressure, contains many potassium-rich foods, including potatoes. Potatoes are naturally low in sodium and high in potassium; a healthy combination.

Potatoes are also a good source of dietary fiber and not just in the skin. The flesh of the potato has soluble fiber, the kind of fiber that helps to lower blood cholesterol levels.

As for the comment that potatoes=sugar, well, that is a reference to the glycemic index; a measure of how a fixed amount of a carbohydrate in a food affects blood sugar. Potatoes have a higher glycemic index than other vegetables but that doesn't mean they are the same as eating sugar. Most of use eat potatoes as part of a meal and the other foods in the meal can alter or lower the glycemic response of a single food.

I am going to prepare my potatoes by roasting them with a drizzle of olive oil and dried rosemary for a delicious side dish. Oh, and by the way, I saw the woman who admonished me later on at the festival eating hot dogs and, you guessed it, a bag of potato chips!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Spice it up

Lately, I've been in a food rut; going back to the same recipes time and time again. Then I read an article in the summer issue of the American Institute for Cancer Research (available at aicr.org under publications tab Science Now) called The Spices of Cancer Protection. Herbs and spices have long been known to have plant compounds called phytochemicals similar to those found in fruits and vegetables. Scientists have been trying to unlock the cancer protective effects of phytochemicals and they are discovering that certain spices have potent anti-cancer effects; well, at least in the lab. It is too early to swallow tablespoons of  the stuff out of your spice rack, but it is never too early to learn how to use these spices in cooking for many reasons. Using spices can help you replace sodium, impart flavor without fat, and wake up your palate to new flavors.

The spices being studied for cancer protection include allspice, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, and black pepper. Garlic, although not a spice, is also included as we tend to use garlic as a seasoning (unless you trying to ward off vampires and then it becomes costume jewelry.)  The ways in which spices fight cancer are many and range from repairing DNA, reducing inflammation, regulating hormones, and altering cancer cell metabolism. Not all spices have the same effects so for now it is a good idea to include a wide variety of spices in your diet.

But, getting back to my food rut...how to overcome it? That is where a cool online tool from McCormick comes in (I have no relationship with the company and learned about it at a presentation at The Culinary Institute of America). McCormick has launched "Flavor Print" (accessed from McCormick website at mccormick.com/flavor print) an online tool based on sensory science that "reads your palate" to discover your personal flavor print. I started by rating foods that I liked; a thumbs up or thumbs down task. I rated everything from my like or dislike of hoppy beer (dislike), arugula (like), and pfeffernuse cookies (dislike). After rating a bunch of foods, my flavor print appeared. Turns out, I'm cheesey, garlic and onionish, and coffee and chocolatey. Next, I rated by cooking preferences (I've never deep-fried but I love to grill) and went to the recipe section to find matches to my flavor print. Based on my palate, I found several mouth- watering recipes like Slow Cooker Italian Beef (89% match), Almond and Date Bulgar Salad with Sofrito (88% match), and Grilled Chicken and Blueberry Pasta Salad (88% match). Fair warning, this online exercise will make your hungry!

I think this tool could break me out of my food rut and help me include more cancer-fighting spices in my diet. My 80-something year old mother-in-law will be spending some time with me and as many seniors do, she complains she has little appetite. I think the first thing we'll do is her Flavor Print and then head to the grocery store!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Resvertrol: Longevity Miracle?

Last month a small study of 27 men in their 60s got national attention. The author of the study, a doctoral student, gave some of the men 250 milligrams of a resveratrol supplement and the other half got a placebo. The men were all healthy but not physically active. The men were put through a rigorous exercise program for 8 weeks. At the end of the study all the men showed improvements in physical fitness but the men not getting the resveratrol supplement showed greater improvement in fitness and blood lipid levels. The media reported that resveratrol "negated" exercise benefits and started the worried well wondering if they should toss their expensive resveratrol supplements in the trash and stop drinking red wine.

Resveratrol is a polyphenolic compound found in the skin of red grapes, berries, grape juice, pistachios and peanuts. The compound has antioxidant properties, reduces inflammation, initiates programmed cell death (a good thing in cancer prevention), improves nerve function and improves insulin sensitivity. All of these changes are good for human health but the problem is that most of the studies on resveratrol were done in animals or test tubes; very few studies were conducted in humans and no long term studies have been done for benefits or safety. For example, mice got anywhere from 22-400 milligrams of resveratrol per kilogram of body weight....far more than we would get in supplement form. And red wine, has about 1-2 milligrams PER BOTTLE of wine, according to ConsumerLab.com

So, even though evidence is slim for the benefits of resveratrol supplements on human health that hasn't stopped the flood of supplements marketed to seniors. Dr. Oz has even blessed resveratrol as one of the "4 supplements for a longer life." So, now, based on one small study, resveratrol is bad?

Not so fast, resveratrol is found in many healthy foods and we should all be consuming berries, grapes, and nuts as part of a healthy diet. Red wine, in moderation, and consumed with a meal, has heart health benefits beyond resveratrol. But, that small study did remind us that supplements are not thoroughly evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration for effectiveness or safety....let the buyer beware! Don't believe the Internet supplement sales hype and stay healthy the old fashioned way....exercise and eat well. And, enjoy a glass of red wine if you drink alcohol without worry that you will get "too much" resveratrol.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Peanuts and Baseball

"Take me out to the ballgame....buy me some peanuts...."

Baseball and peanuts are a natural combination and with baseball season right around the corner it got me thinking about peanuts (that, and the fact that I live in Georgia!) But, peanuts don't seem to get the love like the tree nuts almonds, walnuts, pecans and pistachios. I love all of the tree nuts, but the humble legume, the peanut, should also be celebrated for its nutritional content and health benefits. So, here are all the reasons you should eat peanuts:
  • Peanuts are a protein powerhouse with 7 grams of protein per 1-ounce serving (that is about 40 pieces from a jar of peanuts) and that is the same amount of protein found in one egg. Peanuts are rich in the amino acid arginine which is a precursor to a potent compound that relaxes blood vessels to help keep the blood flowing and lower blood pressure.
  • Peanuts are not high in sodium contrary to what you might think. Roasted unsalted peanuts have only 5 milligrams of sodium per ounce and roasted salted nuts have 230 mg so a serving of salted nuts can easily fit into a diet with a heart healthy 2300 mg of sodium per day.
  • Research has shown that frequent nut eaters have lower lipid levels than those who don't eat nuts. Eating peanuts lowers your risk of heart disease. Peanuts also reduce inflammation; a condition that can set the stage for heart disease and other chronic diseases.
  • Peanuts are high in the mineral magnesium; a nutrient in short supply for many Americans.
  • Peanuts are also high in two plant nutrients (phytonutrients) beta-sitosterol and resveratrol and both are tied to reducing cancer risk.
  • Lastly, peanuts have a low glycemic index (GI) helping to keep your blood sugar level in a healthy range.
Peanuts, like all nuts, are high in calories and fat. The fats in peanuts are "good" kinds of fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) but all fats have 9 calories/gram so keep your portion sizes in check. Share your bag of peanuts at the baseball with your family and friends!

Enjoy baseball and enjoy peanuts this season.

Monday, February 11, 2013

National Almond Day

Happy National Almond Day! Active people are always asking me about healthy snacking options and with February 16 as National Almond Day it is the perfect time to talk about the benefits of one of my favorite foods. I am proud to be teaming up with the Almond Board of California to host a giveaway celebrating the healthfulness of almonds to one of my readers.

Just post a comment on the ways you enjoy almonds and a winner will be selected to receive an almond cookbook and almonds in several forms for snacking or making heart healthy almond appetizers, entrees, salads and desserts.

I've had the good fortune to visit almond orchards during the harvest and you can see from my photo that not only do almonds look heart healthy, they are! The American Heart Association recommends eating nuts, legumes and seeds at least four times a week as part of a heart healthy diet. Almonds pack a nutrition punch with nutrients that are good for your heart. One serving (1 ounce or about 23 whole almonds) contains 35% of the antioxidant vitamin E and that is more than any other tree nut. Almonds are also a rich source of fiber and monounsaturated fats; all recommended for reducing your risk of heart disease.

For active people, almonds have other great benefits. One serving contains 6 grams of protein and 75 milligrams of calcium to support muscle and bone health. Many of you are exercising to lose or maintain your weight but don't fear the calories in almonds. Research from the USDA shows that almonds contain about 20% fewer calories than what is stated on the label. So, your 100-calorie snack pack of almonds only provides 80 calories. When we eat nuts, especially hard nuts like almonds, the cell walls are not completely broken down and the fat contained inside the cells does not get absorbed so you get fewer calories but will all the great taste and nutrition.

If you are looking for satisfying snack that is:
  • a good source of protein
  • rich in vitamin E
  • high in fiver
  • calcium-rich
  • gluten-free
  • tasty
  • crunchy
  • and, delicious, almonds check all the boxes.
For more information and great recipes visit the Almond Board of California at www.almondboard.com. Tell me your favorite way to snack on almonds before February 16 to be eligible for a cool giveaway. (Disclaimer: I was not paid to write this post but the Almond Board sent me the almond bundle to enjoy and that you can also enjoy!)