Why I Won’t Restrict Myself to Just the Calorie Amount

Original Image by Foodfacts pm via Flickr

Just like judging someone’s capabilities based on appearance is limiting, judging the quality and nutrient richness of food based off just calories should be removed from our society. While a movement that removes prejudices and first impressions is slowly, but surely occurring, I’m sure I’ll have better luck explaining why I won’t restrict myself to reading just calories on foods.

Yes, I admit it, I can’t help, but look at the nutrition fact label! I pride myself in inputting my food intake into MyFitnessPal app for the last 55 consecutive days and have learned a lot! When eating fresh, whole foods doesn’t necessarily always come with a nutrition fact label, by inputting my recipes into MyFitnessPal and portioning out my meals, I’m more aware of how much calories, fat, sugar, sodium, carbohydrates and fiber I’m allotted per day.

If we’re being frank here, one of my biggest pet peeves is when restaurants advertise offering 500 calorie or less meal options, but then forget to acknowledge their dishes have more than the recommended daily sodium intake or have an astronomical amount of sugar! Yes, considering the amount of calories in dishes  is important, especially when dining out should be part of the deciding factor, it shouldn’t be the deal breaker.

Original Image by Anders Sandberg via Flickr

All of us have certain nutrients we’re more mindful of, for me, since tracking my food with MyFitnessPal, I’ve learned I need to be aware of my fat intake, specifically because I love nuts! For example, 1 ounce of nuts has 160 calories and 7 g protein, great right? Based on my height and weight, I should be consuming 43 g of fat per day. With just one ounce of peanuts, I’ve already used up 14 g! I’ve learned the hard way that while nuts are yummy, moderation is extremely necessary for me as I could mindlessly eat any and all kinds. If I want to add some nuts to my homemade parfait, that’s fine, but I can’t be eating more than an ounce a day, as I like variety like any one else.

I don’t want to get too hung up on numbers, but to remind you to look at the full picture. 7 g of protein for one ounce of anything is phenomenal, but what are you trading for that? Like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to find creative ways to enjoy food while staying within recommended limits can be a fun challenge.

Thankfully, the FDA has revamped the nutrition fact label to make it easier to discern the quality of food, specifically:

  • Better highlighting servings and calories in products with an updated design
  • Declaration of percent daily value and grams of ‘added sugars.’ It’s recommended one does not consume more than 10% of daily calories from added sugars, with the new labeling taking the guess work out of how much a product is contributing to daily amount
  • ‘Per serving’ and ‘per package’ provided for foods that can include multiple servings   (e.g. pint of ice cream) in ‘dual column’ format, with consumers better able to understand how many nutrients will be consumed if entire package/unit is eaten at one time
  • Improved abbreviated footnote of %Daily Value
  • For products between 1-2 servings (e.g. 20 oz soda), calories and nutrients will be labeled as one serving as most people consume at one time
  • Updated values (e.g. fiber, vitamin D and sodium) to be consistent with Institute of Medicine recommendations and 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines
  • Inclusion of iron, calcium, vitamin D and potassium in g and %DV form, with vitamin A and C no longer required to be included as deficiencies are rare.
  • ‘Calories from Fat’ will be removed, yet type of fat (e.g. saturated fat, trans fat) will be provided and is more important for consumers to understand the breakdown

When should you be expecting these changes you ask? Most manufacturers will be required to comply by July 26, 2018. What are you most looking forward to with the new nutrition fact labels? When choosing foods what is the deciding factor if it’s a no or go? Sodium? Sugar? Fat?

Sources: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm


How Oranges Trump OJ

Original Image by Rego Korosi via Flickr
Original Image by Rego Korosi via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Growing up, I was lucky to have my mother make me breakfast every morning. Before I became accustomed to coffee, my mother would heavily encourage me to drink the orange juice she poured, as it would ‘wake me up’ and it’d be a way to get more fruit into my day. I can see why my mother pushed me to drink the orange juice instead of handing me an orange, as there may be misperceptions about ‘orange’ juice being just as healthy.  The USDA allows fruit juice companies to make statements such as ‘one serving is equal to one serving of fruit’, yet after further research, I can attest they’re not equal.  Now, the general advice is to opt for fruit, instead of the juice form, which is stripped of fiber, but added sugar has been included.

While fresh fruit and freshly squeezed orange juice contain approximately the same levels of carotenoids and vitamin C, the levels of flavonoids are lower and pasteurized orange juice contains more antioxidants.  In particular, the flavonoid, hesperidin, is concentrated in pulp and shows promise as an anti-inflammatory by lowering blood pressure and promoting healthy cholesterol.  In addition, studies have found  nutrients in some fruits and vegetables are more bioavailable when chopped, mashed, juiced or prepared with oils. However, I’m not promoting the switch to juices just yet.  Unless you’re making your own juice, the typical jug or bottle of juice purchased at the grocery store spikes blood sugar levels more and at a quicker rate than eating whole fruit.  A study from Harvard found a link between regular juice consumption and increased risk of type 2 diabetes, meaning the downsides of juice unfortunately far outweigh any potential boosts from carotenoids.

Furthermore, store bought fruit juice tends to have a bit less concentrated fructose than soda, with fructose surmised to be a riskier form of sugar than glucose due to the increased risk of chronic diseases (e.g. liver and cardiovascular disease). Deemed as ‘liquid sugar’, orange juice will leave the stomach much more quickly than whole oranges, due to the stripped fiber.

Nutrient Breakdown: An 8 oz glass of orange juice has approximately the same amount of energy as 2 oranges.

Amount per 100 g Orange Orange Juice
Calories 47 45
Total Fat  (g) 0.1 0.2
Saturated Fat (g) 0 0
Cholesterol (mg) 0 0
Sodium (mg) 0 1
Potassium (mg) 181 200
Carbohydrate (g) 12 10
Dietary Fiber (g) 2.4 0.2
Sugar (g) 9 8
Protein (g) 0.9 0.7
Vitamin A (IU) 225 220
Vitamin C (mg) 53.2 50
Calcium (mg) 40 11
Iron (mg) 0.1 0.2
Vitamin B6 (mg) 0.1 0
Vitamin B12 (µg) 0 0
Magnesium (mg) 10 11

As you can see, there’s more fiber and calcium in an orange fruit and the orange fruit contains natural sugar versus the added sugar that is put into orange juice.

I’m not sure why, but the calories one drinks doesn’t register as part of daily caloric intake. We have the tendency to gulp juice down in seconds, yet the healthier contrast of eating an orange requires more time, ‘feeding’ multiple senses while peeling.  Now that I’ve seen it for myself, next time I head to the grocery store, I’m stocking up on oranges!

Note: If you do opt for OJ, choose with pulp, then at least you’ll be getting some more fiber in!

Sources: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/01/22/378920980/for-more-nutrients-drink-oj-or-eat-an-orange-it-s-not-so-clear-cut






The New Tobacco Tax

Coke-and-CigaretteBy: Nikki Nies

With sugared beverages responsible for the No. 1 source of calories in the American diet or accounting for 7% the average American’s daily calorie intake.  For children and teenagers, the percentage of soda can reach 10% of a day’s calories.

These numbers are hard to ignore and provide evidence that the soda consumption in America is ever present in daily society.  While many admit the sugared beverage consumption is out of control,  the method of solving the situation is not as in accordance. sodas

Some parties fail to see the similarities between tobacco and sugar addiction.  Yet, the effective tax on tobacco has led to a curb in tobacco use and decreased health costs.  The big question is, can the same happen with soda?  Talks about soda taxes has been abuzz for a while and while nothing has come to fruition yet.

Advocates of a soda tax argue it would reduce soda reduction, reduce annual per capita consumption of soda by more than eleven gallons, pay for anti obesity campaigns and most importantly decrease health care costs and increase overall health!  Dr. Brownell and Thomas Frieden, CDC Director and former NYC health commissioner stated implementation of a soda tax would raise $1.2 billion annually on a penny per ounce soda tax!  Potential suggestions for the $1.2 billion revenue include subsidizing fruits and vegetables, funding obesity prevention programs, home ec classes in schools, etc.

There’s a lot effective tools that can be taken from the tobacco tax model–similar addictive qualities and inexplainable causes .  Since the tobacco tax, smoking has been cut in half.  Yet, the odds of a successful ban are stacked against the ban.  The American Beverage Association has shelled out billions against the tax and an ineffective soda tax could lead to public health mistrust.  Moreover, some argue such taxes would hurt low income households that are already struggling to obtain affordable food choices.

So, for future success, health advocates need to team up with the food industry instead of against.  With soda as the largest source of added sugar in the American diet and offers no nutritional value as a source of empty calories. Yes, soda is not the only culprit for the rise in obesity, but it has done its fair share of damage.  Children, teenagers, and young adults would be most affected by a soda tax as they have less money than adults.  Presumably, this would decrease their consumption of sugar sweetened beverages (SSB), which will help prevent lifelong bad habits of added sugar.

Only time will tell how the food industry, government and public react to future soda taxes and/or bans.  What side are you on?


1. Watts, R., Heiss, S., Moser, M., Kolodinsky, J., & Johnson, R. (2014). Tobacco taxes vs soda taxes: A case study of a framing debate in vermont. Health Behavior and Policy Review, 1(3), 191-196. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.14485/HBPR.1.3.3

2. Cornelsen, L., Green, R., Dangour, A., & Smith, R. (2014). Why fat taxes won’t make us thin. J Public Health, doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdu032


How Sodas Impact your Body?


Will Banning or Taxing Soda Really Make Us Healthier?

Choosing Breakfast Cereals

Original Image by Ramnath Bhat via Flickr
Original Image by Ramnath Bhat via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

During my community rotation, I’ve spent more time with the younger than 18 year old population than I can say I’ve ever have. Although, I’m more comfortable with the geriatric population, I’ve walked away from this particular part of my dietetic internship with some notes! I’m pleased to say more and more children are walking out the door eating breakfast.  Next obstacle to tackle, making sure they are eating quality breakfasts.  I asked some my summer campers what they eat for breakfast.  Most common answers: pancakes, waffles, cereals, oatmeal, toasted strudel and a breakfast sandwich.

I don’t know all cereals, but some helpful tips on how to discern which cereals are better than others.

  • Disregard the health claims on the cereal box–head for the nutrition fact label
  • Remember the sugar from fruit is included in the amount of total sugar
  • If “whole grains” (i.e. whole grain oats) is listed as one of the top ingredients it’s a better option than cereals that list rice or rice flour.  If the word “whole” is not listed before a grain, one can assume it’s refined.  Rice or rice flour is a refined grain, which you want to limit.
  • Compare the amount of sugar and grains to the suggested serving size.  If the amount of whole grains and serving size are close in number, that means it’s almost whole grain
  • Assess what the first two ingredients are on the nutrition fact label.  Ingredient amounts are listed in descending order.
  • Not all fiber is created equally. Many cereals contain isolated fibers, which are fibers that are made into powders (i.e. oat flour, soy flour and/or corn flour).  Ignore the claims of “high in fiber” and assess the whole grain status
  • Stay away from advertised yogurt clusters.  While it sounds “healthy”, yogurt clusters=oil+sugar–>no health benefits
  • Opt for cereals that contain: No more than 250 calories/cup; no artificial sweeteners (i.e. aspartame)

Some recommended cereals with their nutrition breakdown:

  • Post Shredded Wheat Original, 150 calories, 5.3 g of fiber, 0.4 g of sugar per 2 biscuits (46 g)
  • Barbara’s Bakery Shredded Wheat, 140 calories, 5 g of fiber, 0 g of sugar per 2 biscuits (40 g)
  • Kashi 7 Whole Grains Puffs, 70 calories, 1 g of fiber, 0 g of sugar per cup
  • Kashi Island Vanilla, 250 calories, 6 g of fiber, 2.5 tsp sugar per cup
  • Kellogg Unfrosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size, 200 calories, 6 g of fiber, 1 g of sugar per 30 biscuits (59 g)

It can be overwhelming to rummage through all the nutrition fact labels in the cereal aisle. Perhaps, head to the supermarket at 8PM or on Wednesdays, which are notoriously slower grocery days.  Take your time and I’m sure you’ll find the perfect fit!

Sources: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/10-best-new-healthy-breakfast-cereals


How to Choose a Healthy Breakfast Cereal




FDA Proposed Nutrition Fact Label

By: Nikki Nies new_vs_old_nutrition_facts_label.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scale

You may have heard murmurs about the FDA’s proposed nutrition fact label  later this year.  It seems appropriate for a revamp of the fact label, which was introduced to the food market in 1993.  Present day increased risk of chronic diseases, has caused question of what else can be done to decrease the risk of such said diseases.

The new proposed fact labels are intended to provide more attention to calories, serving size and to emphasize the amount of sugar derived from added sugar.With a larger font and less “clutter” on the new proposed fact label, will help people more quickly discern if a product should be purchased or not.

Now that we know the type of fat, not the amount, is more important for overall health, the new label would not list calories from fat, but list the amount of fat from trans and saturated fat.

Additionally, servings would better reflect what the average American eats, not a serving size of what the suggested serving should be.  For example, instead of listing it would list servings as a cup, etc. The amounts of potassium and vitamin D would also be required to be listed on the label as they are important for adequate bone growth and development.

With these proposed nutrition fact label changes, it is hoped it will help people make healthier choices.  Secondly, with high blood pressure, stroke and CVD risk a concern, by having cholesterol, trans fat, saturated fat potassium and sodium content available, it shall help in the decision process.

What’re your thoughts on the new proposed changes?  Do you already use nutrition facts labels when deciding to choose to purchase a food?

Sources: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm387114.htm



FDA’s new food label: much improved!


Fed Up

By: Nikki Nies

FEDUP-Poster2Fed Up is a movie created by producer Laurie David, director by  Stephanie Soechtig and advertised by Katie Couric.  This film promotes its unveiling of information regarding food and exercise and that all you’ve learned in the past 30 years is wrong.

Join in the Fed Up Challenge, which is a pledge to go 10 days sugar free. In addition to joining the challenge, it provides resources and the chance to win prizes.  By eliminating soda, artificial sweeteners, sugar subsititutes, sugared candy and sugar sweetened beverages, you can swap for fresh, whole fruit.  Be aware that hidden sources of sugar can be found in yogurt, canned foods, spaghetti sauce, ketchup and/or energy bars.

While this challenge may sound daunting, there’s a community of over 200,000 others committed to this pledge, so join in!

Check out where it’s playing near you.

I personally haven’t seen this movie yet, but it’s getting a lot of buzz and even if you don’t agree with what’s portrayed in this movie, it’s important to know what others are promoting and what is being advertised to the general public.  While I’m happy to see nutrition and a breakdown of the health crisis facing Americans, there’s one missing piece to this project.  Where’s the credible RD in this picture?  I don’t see one in the mix of Katie, Laurie and Stephanie.  I’m disappointed to not see the nation’s leading nutrition experts not in on this ground breaking challenge and movie.

Too bad, I’m not in NJ anymore, otherwise, I’d be at the theatre tonight.  For any one who plans to see or has seen it, what’re your thoughts on Fed Up?

Sources: Fed Up

The Promotion Towards Real Food

By: Nikki Nies

The older adult population, geriatrics are still very alive, kicking and screaming.  Many use nutrition supplements, such as Ensure and Boost,  have become ubiquitous in the geriatric environment.  These supplements are a great resource for those losing weight and/or wanting to support current weight.

However, in the American Geriatric Society’s latest Choosing Wisely recommendations,  they advise against use of such products. The organization points out that these drinks are composed of mostly water, sugar–in the form of “liquid candy”, oils, proteins and flavorings.

1 8 oz. bottle of Rich Chocolate Boost contains 10 g of protein, 28 g of sugar and 0 g of fiber. While it can be a great source of needed calories and nutrition for: ensure-boost-400x400

  • Malnourished
  • Status post bariatric surgery
  • Those with head, neck or esophageal cancer
  • Very sick
  • Those in the hospital

many are using these nutrition supplements that aren’t in dire need. For example, if one is limiting his or her food intake due to impaired mobility, inability to use utensil, chewing or swallowing difficulty, having to be on a low salt diet, but finds it unappetizing, a nutrition drink is not the suggested route of nutrition.

I understand each situation is individualized, yet when possible, promoting nutrition through real, fresh food, that’s the route that should be touted, not Ensure or Boost.  Perhaps, a more liberalized diet is needed, providing a dietary aid to help with feeding and/or taking into consideration food preferences with specific dietary restrictions.

Also, please be mindful that these nutrition supplements were intended to be used as a meal replacement, not in addition to meals. If supplements+same amount of meals consumed prior to supplement continues with supplements=excess calories, protein and weight.

I’m a fan of nutrition supplements, having seen the positive impact first hand.  However, these drinks are designed for specific populations at risk, as stated above.  If you encounter weight loss yourself, make an appointment with your primary care physician.  Please don’t grab the Ensure or Boost on your next grocery run, you may not even need it!

Sources: http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/22/geriatricians-beware-liquid-candy/?partner=rss&emc=rss





Let’s Be Heart Healthy!

By: Nikki Nies

Maintaining one’s health requires a healthy heart.  While the concept is simple, achieving the goal is not always as easy.  With heart disease the #1 leading cause of death, review of healthy habits is never too repetitive.

While change can be hard, the key is to make small, gradual changes to ensure they become permanent, small changes. The following suggestions are geared towards healthier habits for everyone: Heart-Healthy1

  • Being aware of portion size: overloading and overeating can quickly cause one to eat more than intended, including fat and cholesterol; keep track of the number of servings consumed and realize restaurants often serve more than 1 serving
  • Replace high fat foods with more fruits and vegetables: they can be eaten as a snack as well as a major portion of your daily meals; be aware of fried, canned and processed fruits and  vegetables, which are often high in added sugars and sodium
  • Whole grains: Replace refined grains with whole grains; in addition to being fiber packed, they can regulate blood pressure; want to mix it up, try couscous, quinoa, barley and/or high fiber cereal
  • Limit saturated fat and trans fat: Will lower risk of coronary artery disease and keep cholesterol levels in check; can lead to artherosclerosis, which is the hardening of one’s arteries and can increase risk of a heart attack and/or stroke; recommended to limit saturated fat to less than 7% of daily diet/14 g per day of a 2000 calorie diet; limit trans fat to less than 1% of a 2000 calorie diet
  •  Choose low fat protein sources: Opt for lean meat, egg whites, egg substitutes,legumes, poultry and fish
  • Dept. of Agriculture recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2300 mg daily for healthy individuals:  Those 51 or older, African Americans and/or those with high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease or diabetes should limit intake to 1500 mg/day
  • Don’t completely eliminate: With elimination of certain foods, you’ll crave it more and end up overeating and feel bad about it; allow yourself the occasional indulgence and don’t feel guilty about it!
  • Plan ahead: If possible, plan menus of your meals ahead of time, which will decrease likelihood of succumbing to take out or last minute unhealthy food choices

Which of these tips are you most willing to add into your life?  What barriers aren’t allowing you to achieve your best self?  What tips have helped you in the past that you want to start again?

Sources: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/GettingHealthy_UCM_001078_SubHomePage.jsp




“Unprocessed October”


By: Nikki Nies

So, I stumbled upon this 4th annual event on the cusp of the end of October, but if you’re reading about Unprocessed October for the first time as well, it could always follow into November as well?   Before you agree to commit to such an adjustment, let’s lay out the facts, specifically why you should go a month without processed foods. October-Unprocessed-Recipe-Guide

What’s the premise you ask? To go a month without eating adding foods that contain added sugars,salt, fat preservatives, artificial colors and instead eating more healthy. 

Not sure where to start? Let’s start with how Andrew Wilder, the creator and entrepreneur of the concept of Unprocessed October defines unprocessed.

Unprocessed food is any food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients.

Keep in mind, if you pick up an ingredient that doesn’t have an ingredient label, then more than likely it’s not processed.

There’s a free PDF on Andrew Wilder’s website that provides step by step directions on how to get through the month. The PDF provides lots of great information on how to help you get the most from the challenge, ways to avoid common “speed bumps,” advice for specific dietary restrictions,  and tons of other unprocessed goodness. Download at http://www.eatingrules.com/2013/09/official-guide-to-october-unprocessed/

If a month of unprocessed foods sounds too daunting of a task, take the pledge for a week! See how you fare and gradually add on a few days if you like the results! Wish I had known about this challenge at the beginning of October, but better late than never!

Sources: http://wallstcheatsheet.com/stocks/7-unhealthy-everyday-foods-processed-and-problematic.html/?ref=YF




Kick the Sugar Habit

Original Image by Moyan Brenn via Flickr
Original Image by Moyan Brenn via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

The average American consumes 23 teaspoons of sugar a day. I don’t drink soda, eat convenience foods or canned fruit in heavy syrup, but I know I consume my fair share of sugar.  I’ve cut down my sugar intake to only one sugar packet for my coffee in the morning, but I know I need to be more aware of the added sugar I consume on a daily basis.

Even if you’ve made some dietary changes, it’s never a bad idea to evaluate what you’re eating and consider where your biggest culprits of sugar intake are.

Ways to decrease sugar intake:

  • Gradually eliminate soda from diet–replace with diet soda to reduce calories while still having your sweetness fix. Then, after a week, make the switch to seltzer with a slice of citrus–save 10 teaspoons of sugar intake
  • Opt for nuts, vegetables and fiber rich foods–apples, pears, instead of cookies, crackers, candy and/or energy bars–save 2-10 teaspoons of sugar intake
  • With fruit juice accounting for 10% of many consumer’s added sugar content, by mixing 1/2 juice and 1/2 water the diluted drink can pay off–save 2-3 teaspoons of sugar intake
  • Choose steel cut oats instead of Frosted Flakes–save 2-4 teaspoons of sugar intake
  • Change it up and grill your peaches, grapefruit and watermelon–save 2-10 teaspoons of sugar intake
  • Switch to plain Greek yogurt–by naturally sweetening one’s yogurt, it can help limit sugar.  Skip “fruit on the bottom” yogurts as their often higher in calories and sugar.  For an added punch, sprinkle on some cinnamon–save 2-4 teaspoons of sugar intake
  • Buy sugar free and/or low calorie drinks and products
  • Instead of adding sugar to baking recipes–use extracts such as vanilla, almond, orange or lemon
  • Substitute unsweetened applesauce for sugar in applesauce
  • Enhance foods with ginger, cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg instead of sugar
  • Avoid canned fruit in syrup

So, how much sugar should you be consuming on a daily basis?  The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to no more than half of daily discretionary calories allowance.  In perspective, for most women, that’s no more than 6 teaspoons per day and for men no more than 150 kcal/6 teaspoons.

Source: http://www.menshealth.com/weight-loss/beat-your-sugar-habit