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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.


Organic: Good, Not Great

4 Sep

Organic: Good, Not Great

While there certainly remains a number of convincing arguments for buying organic produce – you  may be surprised to learn they don’t have to do with nutrition.

A review article to be published in the forthcoming issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine found that organic fruits and vegetables do not contain significantly higher contents of vitamins and minerals than do their conventionally grown counterparts.

The author-researchers from Stanford analyzed over 240 separate studies of nutrient content and pesticide residue. Their conclusion? That the published literature lacks strong evidence to support the notion that organic foods are significantly more nutrition than are conventional foods.

Despite what to many is a disappointing outcome on the nutrition front, the authors did note that organic produce is 30% less likely to be contaminated with pesticides than conventionally grown produce is.

Just 30%? Interesting, given that in order to participate in the USDA’s National Organic Program and carry the USDA Organic seal, a product has to be at least 95% free from pesticides (and genetic modification, irradiation, synthetic fertilizers and antibiotics).

The silver lining in the study was that although organic produce is less likely to be contaminated with pesticide residue, very little produce in the analyzed studies – whether organically or conventionally grown – were at risk for exceeding maximum pesticide residue limits.

If the higher cost of organic produce and the wash on their nutrient content still hasn’t put you off of purchasing organic, you’re not alone. According to the Organic Trade Association, U.S. sales of organic foods – which are sometimes double the price of their conventionally grown counterparts - increased from $1 billion in 1990 to almost $27 billion in 2010.

So don’t count organic foods out just yet, and to be fair, at least the study didn’t prove organics are less healthy! Organically grown fruits and vegetables are still better for our environment – and as a matter of personal opinion, they simply taste better.

If you find yourself on the fence when it comes to purchasing organic foods – check out the Environmental Working Group’s suggested shopping guide of which fruits and vegetables to buy organic and which ones you might not need to worry about.

How do you spell fat? M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I

14 Aug

How do you spell fat? M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I

The results are in: Mississippi keeps the crown as the country’s fattest state.

The Centers for Disease Control has just released its 2011 state-by-state obesity data statistics. Obesity is defined as a BMI of greater than or equal to 30 – or being roughly 30 pounds overweight for a 5’4″ tall person.

Mississippi comes in first with 34.9% of the state’s population packing a BMI of ≥ 30. The slimmest state is Colorado with “only” 20.7% of its residents being obese.

In this year’s tabulation, no state had an obesity prevalence of < 20%. Compare that to 20 years ago when no states reported more than 20% obesity rate.

Who’s next in line? The four most obese states after Mississippi are:

  • Louisiana (33.4%)
  • West Virginia (32.4%)
  • Alabama (32%)
  • Michigan (31.3%)

When it comes to keepin’ it tight, after Colorado, the least obese states are:

  • Hawaii (21.8%)
  • Massachusetts (22.7%)
  • Tie between D.C. and New Jersey (23.7%)
  • California (23.8%)

Regional weight disparities certainly do exist in the United States, as of the 12 states with 30% or more obesity, 11 of them were in the South.

If you want to figure out your BMI, all you need is your height and weight, and this handy online BMI calculator.

To see just how rapidly our country’s waistlines have expanded, check out the interactive slideshow on obesity prevalence in the US available here.

We Want Fiber!

30 May

We Want Fiber!

A new poll indicates that Americans are eating more – and willing to pay more – for nutritious, high fiber foods.

At the recent W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s 2012 Food & Community Conference, pollsters surveyed the 500 attendees, and found that the majority are now eating more whole grains and fresh produce than they did 5 years ago.

In addition to wanting more fiber for ourselves, turns out we might want to be helping others eat better too. Other findings from the poll include:

  • 93% said that it is “somewhat important” or “very important” that Americans have equal access to fresh produce
  • More than 80% said that Washington, DC should work to increase access to fresh, healthy food
  • Almost 90% said they would pay $1.50 more for produce per month to guarantee a fair wage for those who harvest fruits and vegetables
  • 75% said they would support doubling the value of SNAP (food stamp) benefits at Farmer’s Markets

While it is indeed impressive that the USDA has moved to incorporate farmer’s markets in the SNAP (food stamp) program benefits – benefits are not being fully realized. According to the USDA, in California, only 134 of the 687 farmer’s markets statewide – or just 20% – participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

To learn more about utilizing SNAP benefits at your farmer’s market, check out the USDA resource page at: