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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/.

Consuming for a Cause: National Non-GMO Month

15 Oct

Consuming for a Cause: National Non-GMO Month

October is National Non-GMO Month.

Did you know:

  • In the US, foods with genetically modified (GM) ingredients do not have to be labeled as containing GM ingredients
  • More than 80% of the packaged and processed foods in the US contain GM ingredients
  • 90% of the corn, canola & cotton in the US is GM

Think this doesn’t affect you? Think again…because it does!

GM corn becomes GM animal feed, high fructose corn syrup and corn oil. GM canola and cotton turn up in your foods as canola oil and cottonseed oil.

So unless you are eating 100% organic – it’s pretty safe to assume you are eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Genetic modification is the use of the experimental technology called gene splicing to add DNA from one organism into another, creating a potentially unstable end product.

Because these products have only been in our food supply for a few decades, the jury is still out on whether or not GM foods are safe; however, many health advocates maintain that as a consumer, you should have a right to know what is in your food.

Enter the Non-GMO Project. The Non-GMO Project is the only independent 3rd party verifier of GM-free foods in the US. Their mission is to:

  • Preserve and build sources of non-GMO products
  • Educate consumers about GM ingredients
  • Provide verified non-GMO choices

You can find a list of GM-free products, restaurants and retailers on their website here.

To learn more about National Non-GMO Month, visit www.nongmomonth.org or check out my recent TV segment on eating GM-free foods.

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.

Smart Snacking: Low-Sodium Style

3 Jan

Smart Snacking: Low-Sodium Style

Sodium and snacking are certain to be trending themes in 2013.

As consumers learn more about the ill-effects of sodium and the benefits of smart snacking – there’s no doubt going to be an increased interest in how to put the two together.

So what exactly is sodium and what does low-sodium mean?

Table salt (aka sodium chloride or NaCl) is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. So while the terms may be casually used interchangeably, sodium and salt are two different things. Sodium is the nutrient listed on food labels.

And while there are no shortage of contradicting government sodium guidelines about how much to aim for in a day, the most well-known ones are:

  • 2,400 mg per day – the daily value listed on the food label for a 2,000 calorie diet
  • 2,300 mg per day – the amount recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, unless you are:
  • African American, have diabetes, hypertension or kidney disease, and/or are 51 years or older…then stick to 1,500 mg sodium per day

To put these numbers in perspective: 1 teaspoon of salt has 2,300 mg sodium – roughly a whole day’s worth. And, according to the CDC, the average American consumes more than 3,400 mg sodium per day.

In short – we have to cut back on our sodium.

But you may be surprised to learn that the majority of sodium in our diet doesn’t come from the salt shaker. It comes from packaged, processed and fast foods. And the key to becoming a sodium sleuth, is to read your labels.

The FDA says that low salt food is one that has 140 mg sodium or less. Check out some of these smart snacking options with less than 140 mg sodium per serving:

  • Somersault Snacks – these tasty sunflower nuggets come in 5 delectable flavors, with Cinnamon Crunch and Dutch Cocoa making the low-sodium mark + 3 grams of fiber per serving
  • Kind Bars – packing a whallop of nuts, dried fruits, grains and some occasional chocolate, Kind Bars are surprisingly low in sodium, with some flavors clocking in at 15 or 20 mg + 3 grams of fiber or more to boot
  • Pirate’s Booty – if you crave a crunchy puffed rice and corn snack, all of the Pirate’s Booty flavors have 140 mg or less per serving (but they do fall short with fiber at 0-1 g per serving)
  • Air popped popcorn – popcorn doesn’t have to be a salty, saturated fat-laden snack, simply make your own – get an air popper, like this Stir Crazy popper from West Bend
  • Fresh fruits & vegetables – you knew it was coming :) Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium, not to mention high in potassium – and increasing the potassium in your diet may be just as effective at lowering blood pressure as is reducing sodium

So when the snack attack attacks – keep your salt in check. Look for 140 mg or sodium or less per serving – and watch those serving sizes too!

For an even smarter snacking tip – see if you can find 3 grams of fiber or more per serving.

Personalized Nutrient Needs

9 Sep

Personalized Nutrient Needs

You hear and read a lot these days about what you should and shouldn’t eat. The problem is, these recommendations are usually reflective of whatever you are being sold at that moment in time.

A muscle magazine is going to make you think you need more protein than you probably do, whereas a dietary supplement infomercial’s intent is to convince you that you’re close to death and need CoQ10 immediately!

Enter the DRIs: the Dietary Reference Intakes. The DRIs are a set of nutrient intake recommendations set for Americans and Canadians for given age and gender groups. They are established by the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine and are based on the best-available scientific data for specific nutrients.

You can use the DRIs to determine how much of each nutrient you need in a day – free from the influence of supplement or food product companies.

There are two ways you can access the DRI information to use in your own meal planning: you can download a pdf of the DRI Tables, or you can visit the Interactive DRI Tool page by clicking here.

All you need to get started is your gender and age, and the DRIs can take it from there. Providing your activity level in the interactive version gives a more specific outputs.

For fiber, the DRIs say that most adult males need 38 grams per day while females need 25. This value is what’s called an “Adequate Intake” level, meaning that there isn’t sufficient data to say that beyond a shadow of a doubt you absolutely need this much fiber. Despite not knowing EXACTLY how much fiber you need, scientists surmise that it is significantly higher than the average US fiber intake of 10-12 grams per day.

Knowing your baseline nutrient needs can help you make informed decisions about what foods and types of foods or supplements you should be including in your diet. The DRIs are a useful tool to help get you started planning your own individual nutrition road map.