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


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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.

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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

http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm502182.htm

Trans Fat


By: Nikki Nies DeepFat141Cafe

There are two types of trans fat, the naturally occurring and synthetically made trans fat.  Naturally occurring trans fat can derive from the gut of animals, such as milk and meat products.  The second type of trans fat, artificial trans fat or trans fatty acids are made by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make more solid.  The industry gravitate to use of trans fats in their foods as their inexpensive to use, provide more texture and taste and contain a longer shelf life, which means rancidity decreases and profit increases for food companies.

The good news: changes are coming with trans fat! Recently, the FDA announced complete elimination of trans fat.  Until those changes are implemented and permeates the system, it’s still important to be aware of how bad tarns fat really are and why reading nutrition food labels is more imperative than ever!Until the 1990’s, we didn’t know how bad trans fats are for the public.  However, with increased research and awareness of the impact, more and more products are providing consumers easy access to information on the fat content and a breakdown of the ingredients.

The caveat: Products are allowed to advertise themselves  if they contain 0 grams to less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving!

Why are trans fat so bad you ask?

  • Raises “bad” LDL cholesterol
  • Reduces “good” HDL cholesterol, which adds to the clogging of arteries
  • Increase lipoprotein and triglyceride levels
  • Increases risk for heart attack, stroke and/or diabetes

I’m glad to see the government is recognizing the harm of trans fat trumps any potential “benefits.” On a label, you may recognize the artificially made trans fats as “partially hydrogenated oils.”  Thankfully, as of November 2013, the Food and Drug Administration no longer recognizes partially hydrogenated oils as listed as generally recognized as safe (GRAS)! Additionally, several nations, such as Denmark, Sweden and Canada and jurisdictions, California, New York City, Baltimore, and Montgomery County, MD, have taken measures that have either reduced or restricted the use of trans fats in food service establishments.

Until the new trans fat regulations are put into effect, how are you curbing your trans fat intake? What products have you been surprised to find contain artificially made trans fat?

Photo Credit: Stalking the wild breaded pork tenderloin in Iowa

Sources: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Trans-Fats_UCM_301120_Article.jsp

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/trans-fat/art-20046114

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/understanding-trans-fats

http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/fat/transfat.html

http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm079609.htm

‘Smart’ Frozen Meals


By: Nikki Nies

I’m a self-proclaimed realist.  I recognize that TV dinners aka frozen meals are a mainstay in grocery aisles and family households.  Instead of stating one should avoid such meals, I’ll join in on the fun and try to provide some healthier alternatives and guidance on what to parts of the food label one should discern when opting between two choices.

Prepackaged frozen meals take up more shelf space than any other type of food in the frozen aisle!  There’s no way to bypass reading the nutrition fact label to ensure you’re choosing the healthiest option! In other words, please give yourself a few extra minutes to compare meals and perhaps bring a pair of gloves down that aisle if you’re like me and get cold easily!

There are two types of frozen meals one should stick to: esq-iNWyfh-frozen-large

  1. Light Frozen Meals: Less than 300 calories and no more than 8 g of fat
  2. Regular Frozen Meals: 360-400 calories per meal and a maximum of 25 g of fat

Additional Tips:

  • When possible, go for the light frozen meal.
    Make sure to note the frozen meal portion size and grab the meal with veggies, as they tend to be lower in calories and contain more fiber and vitamins and minerals
  • Choose entrees that contain brown rice
  • Opt for lean meats–chicken, poultry and/or pork
  • Stick with lighter brand versions: Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Weight Watchers, and/or Amy’s
  • Hungry Man, Marie Callendar’s and Stouffer’s brand tend to be very rich in calories and fat and less nutrient dense than the lighter brands!
  • If you’re watching your sodium intake, it’s recommended to limit intake to less than 600-800 mg per meal, which is 1/3 of recommended sodium intake for average American
  • Don’t get wrapped up in the health claims the packages toot, this includes “natural” and “organic.”
  • Select meals with at least 3-5 g of fiber
  • Limit fat intake to less than 3 g of saturated fat or less per serving

I recognize these tips may seem overwhelming.  If needed, slowly start incorporating these suggested tips into your daily frozen meal choices one at a time.  Grocery shopping is one of my favorite past times and I hope it becomes and/or stays one of yours as well!

Sources: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/top-12-healthy-frozen-dinners

http://www.thedailymeal.com/15-healthiest-frozen-dinners

http://www.esquire.com/blogs/food-for-men/microwave-meals-lyfe-kitchen-1013

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/best-frozen-dinners

http://www.diabetes.org/mfa-recipes/tips/2012-04/on.html

Healthy Eating in College


eating_healthy_in_college1By: Nikki Nies

With the impending semester upon us, it’s never too early to talk about healthy dining on campus.  While freshmen are often times required to buy a meal plan with tuition, those living in nearby apartments or are juggling school and home responsibilities, the stress of school can quickly get to students.  Unfortunately, the first habit to go is eating healthy.  Yet, it doesn’t make sense to opt for cheesy fries that don’t have as much energy producing qualities as a strawberry banana smoothie when the time crunch is really being felt!

I admit, I find myself eating on the go more often than not, but that doesn’t mean I’m going through McDonald’s drive thru or grabbing a Hot Pocket out of the microwave on my way out! With careful planning before the work load gets into the “meat” of things, you can set up your semester with some healthier options.

Planning ahead for upcoming semester, trimester or quarter, use the following suggestions for long term use:

  • Have a mini fridge in your dorm and/or access to fridge in apartment or suite for on the go breakfast items, such as a piece of fruit, yogurt,string cheese and/or pb&j  to store leftovers and to have produce on hand!
  • Opt for “healthier” options at fast food chains.  Order salads with dressings on the side, pizza with half the cheese, roast beef sandwich, sweet potato and/or fruit cup.  Limit the high fat, greasier options, such as French fries, fish sandwiches and/or fried chicken.
  • Monitor your sugar intake, which tend to quickly add up quickly.  Often times, coffee creamers, cookies, cocktails, cereals are packed with sugar.  Not sure how to check the sugar content? Here’s how to read a nutrition fact label.
  • Keep your room or apartment stocked with healthier snacks so you’re not tempted to head for the vending machines or order late night pizza.  Next time you’re at the grocery store, grab some pretzels, unbuttered popcorn, rice cakes, whole wheat crackers, hummus and/or granola.
  • Keep a reusable water bottle on hand!  It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day.  It’s common for people to mistake thirst for hunger, plus drinking regular bouts of water can keep you focused.
  • Take advantage of the dining hall’s salad bar! Fill up on fresh fruits and veggies, but go easy on the salad dressing!  Vegetables are very filling for few calories!cafeteria
  • Attempt to eat meals on a consistent basis.  Yes, college is known to be hectic and one may not always a have a set schedule, but eat when you’re hungry and avoid skipping meals as much as possible.
  • Recognize your body’s cues.  I understand it’s a lot easier said than done, but listen to your body as it tells you when it’s hungry and when it’s full.  No need to overeat, that’s what leftovers are for!
  • Recognize portion sizes and stick to them.  You often need less food than you think or may like to fill you up! You’ll let meals stretch longer, while sticking to the recommended portion sizes.
  • Limit alcohol intake.  Alcohol is packed with calories, but provides few nutrients.
  • If you’re going grocery shopping.  Mix it up! It’s easy to get bored eating the same meals day after day and to opt for late night pizza, but don’t give in!
  • Fill up on calcium. Just because you’ve graduated high school, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done growing.  Make sure to eat enough calcium rich foods to continue to prevent osteoporosis. You don’t have to be entirely dependent on milk for your calcium, so keep on hand low fat yogurt, green leafy vegetables and/or low fat cheese
  • If you’re out and your stomach’s growling, don’t feel guilty about grabbing fast food.  Sometimes you have to eat what’s available, eating fast food once in a while isn’t going to kill you.  It’s when such habits become a weekly and then daily habit one should worry.

Yes, this is a lot of information to remember, but you don’t have to add all these suggestions tomorrow.  People tend to be more successful long term with small, gradual changes.

Photo Crdit: Diets in Review and Healthy eating in College

Sources:https://www.med.umich.edu/pfans/docs/tip-2012/budget-0812.pdf

http://www.clarke.edu/page.aspx?id=6510

http://jdrf.org/life-with-t1d/college/top-10-tips-for-eating-healthy-in-college/

http://bestfoodsforyourhealthfrieda.blogspot.com/2013/10/shrink-your-belly-in-14-days-routine.html

Food for thought: The challenge of healthy eating on campus

http://www.healthline.com/health/fast-food-effects-on-body

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

http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/06/health/time-healthy-breakfast-cereal/

How to Choose a Healthy Breakfast Cereal

http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/food/nutrition/food_shop_prep/food_shop/hgic4224.html

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/nutrition/breakfast-cereal

http://www.cookinglight.com/eating-smart/smart-choices/best-healthy-cereals

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

http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm387418.htm

http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/27/health/nutrition-labels-changes/

FDA’s new food label: much improved!

http://www.treehugger.com/health/new-nutrition-labels-force-packaged-food-makers-be-honest-about-portion-sizes.html