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Restaurant Calorie Counts: Right to Know?

10 Dec

Restaurant Calorie Counts: Right to Know?

The FDA recently finalized their rule stating that calories will have to be posted “clearly and conspicuously” at:

  • Restaurants with 20 or more outlets
  • Vending machines with 20 or more machines
  • Retail outlets such as movie theaters with 20 or more theaters

While calories need to be posted up front on menu boards at fast food establishments and in menus at casual fast and sit down restaurants, additional information such as total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars and proteins have to be available (provided upon consumer request, usually done online or pamphlet).

Why Disclose Calories at Restaurants?

  • Studies show eating out more frequently is associated with obesity, higher body fatness, or higher BMI. (Example: women who eat out more often (5+ times/week) eat 290 more calories on average each day than those who eat out less often.
  • Americans eat and drink 1/3 of their calories away from home
  • More than 2/3 of Americans favor posting calories throughout ready prepared food outlets including movie theaters, vending machines, supermarkets

Does Calorie Shaming Work?

  • NYC study: 1 in 6 customers used the calorie information and purchased 106 fewer calories than customers who did not see or use the calorie information at chain restaurants
  • Subway chains in NYC: 1 out of 3 customers (37%) reported that nutrition information affected their purchases; they purchased 100 fewer calories per meal than those who saw the information and reported it had not effect
  • Parents of kids age 3-6 who were presented a McDonald’s menu with calorie labeling ordered an average of 100 fewer calories for their children than those who did not receive calorie info

What Will Be the Impact?

  • CSPI estimates that similar changes at chain restaurants could result in 30 calorie per person per day decrease in intake
  • Product reformulation resulting from calorie posting rules has already and will continue to result in further reduction in calories (Example: California Pizza Kitchen’s “Small Cravings” menu, Cheesecake Factory’s “SkinnyLicious” line, Denny’s “Fit Fare”)
  • Obesity epidemic can be explained by 100 calorie per day imbalance – so baby steps are important!

By the Numbers: Why Does This Matter?

  • Medium movie theater popcorn without butter topping: 1,200 calories (same as 4 McDonald’s Cheeseburgers or 5 slices Papa John’s pepperoni pizza)
  • Cheesecake Factory: Bruleed French Toast 2,780 calories (would have to swim laps for 7 hours to burn off) – meal also has 5 days saturated fat and 24 teaspoons sugar; Farfalle with Chicken and Roasted Garlic: 2,410 calories (five hour job to burn off)
  • Outback Steakhouse: Bloomin’ Onion 1,959 (in total onion, 6 servings)
  • Claim Jumper Chicken Pot Pie: 2,078 calories and Chocolate Motherlode Cake: 2,768 calories per slice

For more information on the new FDA rule, check out my segment on KPBS San Diego on the topic here.

Gluten Free Grains, Guilt Free

1 Jul

Gluten Free Grains, Guilt Free

I’ve only been gluten free for a week, but I’m already really annoying,” declares the cartoon caption from a recent New Yorker magazine.

Almost as trendy as eating gluten free is the trend of writing about how gluten free diets aren’t healthy. And the gluten free bandwagon certainly has been taking a beating lately in the mainstream media.

Just last week as part of its How We Eat series, even the Wall Street Journal featured an article on the gluten free craze, questioning whether it is healthy.

Well, for the 3 million Americans with celiac disease (about 1 in 100 citizens), a gluten free lifestyle is the only therapeutic option out there for beating this autoimmune disease.

But going gluten free doesn’t mean you have to ditch all of the great grains that make up a nutritious diet.

Here are 5 great grains that you might not have known are gluten free:

1.) Corn

Whole, dried corn is a whole grain and the most widely grown crop in the Americas. Research from Cornell shows that corn has the highest amount of antioxidants of any fruits or vegetable.

2.) Brown Rice

When it comes to rice, brown is better. One study from the Harvard School of Public Health showed that people who ate white rice had a higher risk of type 2 diabetes than people who ate brown rice.

3.) Oats

Oats are gluten free, but they are often contaminated with wheat during growing or processing. Look for oat products that contain pure, uncontaminated oats and that are in foods certified as gluten free.

4.) Quinoa

Technically a seed, this superfood is high in protein and fiber, and its flour makes a great base for gluten free pizzas, breads, and rolls.

5.) Buckwheat

This high fiber rain can be made into pancakes, waffles, and crepes. It has been shown to act as a prebiotic, meaning that it also has the potential to aid in digestion for certain people.

For more information on gluten free grains, check out my segment on Channel 7 NBC San Diego.

Starbucks’ New Stuff Roundup

27 May

Starbucks’ New Stuff Roundup

“It’s time to start thinking of Starbucks for great food”.

Or so says the promo material for the new La Boulange line of “artisanal pastries” being offered at the ubiquitous coffee shop.

La Boulange Bakery is a San Francisco institution that has been serving up “fantastic brunches and healthful lunches” in the Bay Area since the 1990s. You may have never been to La Boulange, but if you’ve been to a Starbucks in the past month, you’ve no doubt been bombarded with the advertising blitz featuring the new line of pastries.

Why did Starbucks partner with La Boulange? Well, it certainly wasn’t to improve your health! According to the company’s FAQs, somehow, “Through this great partnership, we are able to make your Starbucks experience more welcoming and satisfying than ever.”

Provided that you consider white flour, butter, and copious amounts of sugar and salt welcoming and satisfying ingredients, you’ll be stoked on these new options clogging your coffee wait pastry case.

To be fair – Starbucks isn’t claiming any of these products are even remotely healthy; but it is somewhat distressing to see that not-a-one is even on the cusp of being a nutritious pick:

  • The average La Boulange pastry at Starbucks contains 7 grams of saturated fat, roughly 1/3 of your daily max. If a pastry represents 1/3 of your daily food intake, that’s fine, but let’s be honest – it doesn’t.
  • The only offering with 3 g fiber or more per serving is the Wheat Spinach Savory Square (4 g fiber/square), but it tops out at 13 g saturated fat and almost 600 mg sodium, which kind of negates the fiber factor here.
  • When taken to task on the high fat/high calorie nature of French pastries, the Starbucks site cites a, “Variety of options – from more indulgent treats to lighter bites with as few as 170 calories”. Problem is, there’s only ONE sub-200 calorie pastry (out of 28 items), and that’s the notoriously light Flourless Chewy Chocolate Cookie. The rest of the treats set you back an average of 330 calories, roughly double the “lighter bite” line.

If you’re looking for a better bet at Starbucks, stick to the old standbys:

The bottom line: if you’re REALLY wondering why French women don’t get fat, it’s because they probably don’t eat at Starbucks.

Whole Grain Food Fight

23 May

Whole Grain Food Fight

How hard is it to cook whole grain pasta?

Well for some school districts, implementation of the new school lunch nutrition standards has proven to be a “significant challenge”.

With their cleverly worded euphemism “School Meal Flexibility”, the USDA this week announced they will allow some schools to delay adding whole grain pastas.

Currently the USDA requirement is that 50% of grain foods be whole-grain rich, with that number rising to 100% by next year. Schools cite difficulty obtaining compliant foodstuffs, declining revenues, and low acceptability by kids as primary barriers.

Adding fuel to the whole grain fire, the USDA announcement comes on the heels of this week’s Republican-led House chastisement of the Obama administration’s efforts to improve school lunch.

Who knew whole grains could feed this much political pushback?!

In a public statement, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) Nutrition Policy Director Margo Wootan laments, “I miss the days when school lunch nutrition used to be a bipartisan issue, as it was for decades after the school lunch program was established under President Truman.”

But this the only starch-fueled fight going down in government. The potato processors are feuding with Congress to keep their spuds in the WIC program. More on that next week.

What’s the Story with Sprouted Grains?

11 Mar

What’s the Story with Sprouted Grains?

March is National Nutrition Month…where Super Foods take the stage.

And this year, it seems, sprouted grains are all the rage.

But what exactly is a sprouted grain? And why are they considered more healthful than traditional grains?

Shoots & Sprouts

Sprouting the seed of grains, nuts, and beans, can help unlock valuable nutrition. When the sprout takes shape, it deactivates certain enzymes that block nutrient absorption. Reducing these “anti-nutrients” (compounds like phytates and lectins) helps make more micronutrients and fiber available.

Other nutritional benefits of sprouted grains include:

  • Increased micronutrients such as B vitamins including folate, and vitamin C, plus fiber, and essential fatty acids
  • Improved digestibility – some people find sprouted grain easier to tolerate if traditional grains cause bloating or GI discomfort
  • Sprouted grains may also be less allergenic for those who have certain grain-based sensitivities
  • Higher content of certain antioxidants than non-sprouted grains

To learn more about sprouted whole grain nutrition, check out this article from the Whole Grains Council.

How to Sprout

If you’re looking to get more sprouted grains in your diet, here’s some tips:

At Home

You can sprout grains at home easily with some mason jars, water, and a few days’ worth of patience. Here is a great article from Vegetarian Times about sprouting and estimated soaking and sprouting times.

In Snacks

Way Better Snacks has an array of sprouted grains snack foods that include unique ingredients such as sprouted quinoa, and broccoli and daikon radish seeds.

Thanks to samples provided by Way Better, I recently sampled their Simply Sunny Multi-Grain Tortilla Chips. Not only are these chips packed full of flavor, they are GMO-free, gluten free and contain an impressive 3 grams of fiber per serving. If you’re looking for a convenient way to get your sprouted grains, Way Better is the way to go!

Bake With Sprouted Flour

Sprouted grain flour can be purchased or made from your own sprouted grains. Whole Foods Market carries a number of sprouted whole grain flours, and most can be substituted one-to-one for all-purpose flour in recipes.

If you’re not a baker but like bread, try out some of the commercially available sprouted grain bagels, whole grain breads, and tortillas available at certain health food stores. Look for sprouted grain bread products in the refrigerated aisle.

Safety First

Incorporating sprouted grains into your diet can enhance health and expand your whole grain horizons; however, raw sprouts and raw sprouted grains should be avoided by high risk populations such as pregnant women, infants, and people with compromised immune systems. To learn more about sprouts & sprouted grain food safety, click here.

And for a little more sprouted grain love – check out my segment on the topic from yesterday here.