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How Fiber Fared in the New Food Label

24 May

After 9 arduous years of deliberations, the FDA finally rolled out the final rule on the new food label last week.

In a nutshell, the biggest changes you will notice by 2018 are outlined in the FDA’s infographic:

label2

Much of the food label media attention has centered on 3 of the most obvious changes:

  1. More realistic serving sizes (so long 1/2 cup of ice cream serving…)
  2. Addition of the added sugars line (bad news for the entire “fruited yogurt” industry…), and
  3. Changes in nutrients required (adding vitamin D and potassium and deleting vitamins A and C).

Most nutrition advocates are generally pleased with the direction of the food label change. First Lady Michelle Obama summarized the changes by saying, “Very soon you will no longer need a microscope, a calculator or a degree in nutrition to figure out whether the food that you’re buying is actually good for your kids, so that’s a phenomenal achievement.”

But how did fiber fare with this food label overhaul?

There are 2 changes with regards to fiber on the new food label:

  1. The FDA defined dietary fiber for the first time saying fiber, “includes naturally occurring fibers and only fibers added to foods that show a physiological health benefit”
  2. The Daily Value (DV) for fiber will be changing from 25 grams to 28 grams per day

With regards to the definition of fiber, the FDA determined that there is adequate scientific evidence to support the notion that the following added fibers may have beneficial health effects for humans:

  • Cellulose (improves bowel function)
  • Guar gum, pectin, locust bean gum and hydroxypropylmethylcellulose (lower blood total and/or LDL cholesterol values)
  • Psyllium husk (aka inulin and was added to the definition of fiber because of its role in bowel health)

This refined definition also means that all of the other functional (added or “fake”) fibers you find added to processed foods will not be able to count as dietary fiber since there is no evidence supporting their beneficial effect on health.

And what about the change in daily value from 25 to 28 grams? Well, let’s keep this in perspective: most Americans eat only 12-15 grams per day, so most of us would still benefit from eating more fiber. Whether that’s 25 or 28 grams probably doesn’t matter: we need to eat more plants and less processed foods with food labels on them.

Manufacturers will have to roll out the new food label by July 26, 2018. For companies with less than $10 million in annual food sales will be given an additional year to comply.

As renowned nutrition expert Marion Nestle so eloquently put it in her Scientific American blog post today, “But let’s keep this in perspective. Healthful diets are based on foods, not food products. We would all be healthier eating foods that do not come with Nutrition Facts panels, and saving most of those that do for once-in-a-while occasions.”

 

 

Falling Back in Love with Fiber

27 Jan

Falling Back in Love with Fiber

In a New Year filled with weight-related resolutions, fiber is finally gaining some fans.

A story published this week in the Washington Post touted “Fiber: The least sexy weight-loss tool“.

Fiber might not be sexy – and even “gross and gassy” as the article’s authors proclaim -  but it’s a key component of a well-balanced diet.

Why All the Fuss About Fiber?

As a Registered Dietitian, I often hear clients complain about all of the foods they “can’t” or “shouldn’t” eat. When asked why I focus on fiber, I always respond that in a world of “eat less” messages, fiber is the rare positive part of our diet since it’s the one thing we can all stand to eat MORE of.

In case you need a reminder to fall back in love with fiber, here’s a quick list of the benefits of maintaining a high fiber diet:

  • Fiber helps promote satiety – the feeling of fullness – and feeling full more frequently means less over-eating and better chances at reaching and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Fiber helps lower heart disease risk – fiber works full time to clear bad cholesterol from your bloodstream and even tells your liver to make less internal cholesterol
  • Fiber helps regulate blood sugar – high fiber foods take longer to digest than their refined counterparts, working to stabilize blood sugar levels – an important consideration for people with diabetes
  • Fiber is linked to better bowel health – a high fiber diet is tied to lower rates of certain types of cancer, including colon cancer, not to mention less digestive disorders such as constipation and hemorrhoids.

Finding Your Fiber Sweet Spot

If you are looking for a legitimate way to improve your diet, aim to get 30 grams of fiber per day. Keeping in mind that the average American eats only 12-15 grams per day, as a nation we have some serious fiber homework to do.

The best way to get your 30 grams per day? Aim for 5-6 grams of fiber each time you eat. If you can put down 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day, 5-6 grams per eating incident will get you to 30 in no time.

And which types of foods are the most fiber friendly? Well, considering that the only foods that naturally contain fiber are plant foods, try to eat more plant and less animal foods, focusing on:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

Putting more plants and 30 grams of fiber per day in your system is a great way to get your health up to speed here in 2016.

 

Bad Diet Trickle Down: 1 in 5 US Kids has High Cholesterol

10 Dec

Bad Diet Trickle Down: 1 in 5 US Kids has High Cholesterol

A new report released today by the CDC shows that 21% of children and adolescents have at least one abnormal cholesterol reading, putting them at increased risk for heart disease development down the road.

“Abnormal” cholesterol values captured in the data included either:

  • Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol
  • High total cholesterol, or
  • High non-HDL cholesterol (namely LDL “bad” cholesterol)

There were only slight differences in rates between male and females and values did not differ significantly by race.

The report summarizes data from 2011-2014, and does not delve into exactly how much of that elevated cholesterol can be attributable to diet or lifestyle (vs. genetics).

But there is no doubt that overweight and obesity are certainly contributors driving these rates of what historically was an “adult” disease, now being seen in children.

As I commented in today’s Healthline article on the report, “We’re seeing the effects of poor lifestyle choices trickle down into the younger generation.”

A diet high in the wrong types of fats (saturated and trans fats) and low in dietary fiber contributes to cholesterol abnormalities.

Depending upon what data you are looking at, the typical American only eats about 16 grams of fiber per day. This is roughly half of the recommended amount of dietary fiber that individuals needs to help support optimal health.

For more information on the report, check out the CDC’s report here and the Healthline article here.

Fiber Report Card: A Big Fat “F”

8 Apr

Fiber Report Card: A Big Fat “F”

Americans are failing when it comes to fiber intake.

The USDA’s “What We Eat in America” survey data shows that the national average daily fiber intake is just 16 grams per day.

The problem is, we need closer to 30 grams of fiber per day (or to be specific: 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day if you follow the Dietary Reference Intake Adequate Intake recommended levels.)

When you get right down to it, most of us are eating just about half of one of the most beneficial nutrients known to man.

A diet high in fiber has been shown to:

  • Help control hunger by promoting satiety and preventing overeating, which aids in weight management
  • Slow down digestion which helps taper blood sugar elevations, a useful benefit in diabetes management
  • Aid in the increased excretion of bile acids which can lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, ideal for heart disease management
  • Decrease the risk of GI problems like constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticular disease
  • Play a role in the prevention of certain type of cancer

And despite all of these fiber-friendly health benefits, there’s no reason NOT to eat more fiber.

One of the easiest ways to bump yourself closer to the 30 gram per day level is to eat more fruit. Aim for 3 servings of fresh fruit per day and make fruit your go-to in between meal snack.

An average serving of fruit has 4-5 grams of fiber. Do that 3 times per day, and you’re halfway there. Combine your fruit fiber with other whole grains, legumes, and vegetables, and you’ll quickly see your fiber grade go from failing to flawless!

2015 Dietary Guidelines: Piling it On

24 Feb

2015 Dietary Guidelines: Piling it On

Every 5 years, a panel of US nutrition experts convenes to produce a blueprint for how Americans should eat. This monstrous document – called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) – is set to publish later this year.

The 2015 DGA Advisory Committee has been busy poring over research conducted since the last DGAs were published in 2010. This research sets the stage for what will become simple and straightforward (yet evidence-based) suggestions for improving the diet of an alarmingly overweight and obese population.

The 2010 DGAs were memorable in that they accompanied the introduction of MyPlate and ushered out the era of pyramid-based food guides.

Although it does not appear that the 2015 DGAs will feature any dietary bombshells, the committee did raise a few eyebrows with its preliminary advisory report released last week.

Among the recommendations are:

Cholesterol

  • The committee recommends lifting the 300 mg per day cholesterol limit citing a lack of evidence to support this approach to reducing heart disease risk.
  • This is an interesting, yet not-all-that-important development since most practitioners have long known that research supports focusing on the type of fat – and not cholesterol or total fat numbers – when providing instruction a heart healthy diet.

Caffeine

  • The committee asserts that drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day is not linked to any long-term health risks, and, in fact, has been associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  • This is unusual in that questioning the safety of caffeine was never part of the larger discussion on chronic disease risk, and a focus on caffeine draws attention away from the real issues at hand which are excess calories from added sugars and fats that promote overweight and obesity.

Sustainability

  • For the first time, the DGAs may ask Americans to consider sustainability and environmental concerns when selecting foods.
  • While it is no surprise that a diet heavily reliant on animal products uses more non-renewable resources than a plant-based one, this recommendation seems to have really irked some lawmakers and animal food interest groups who claim the committee has no place recommending factors that are “extraneous” to the diet.

While it remains to be seen what exactly will make it to the final report, most health professionals agree that one move in the right direction with these DGAs appears to be the trend away from nutrient-specific recommendations (i.e., eat less saturated fat, eat more potassium) to more food-based recommendations  like eat more plants.

To provide public comment on the proposed 2015 DGAs until March 9, 2015 check out http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2015/comments/.