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Farmers Market 101- How to Make the Most of Your Trip

By Anne Danahy MS RD

One of the simple pleasures of summer is visiting your local farmers market and coming home with a bag of super-fresh produce and unique foods made by local food artisans. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet your farmers and learn more about where your food comes from. Shopping at a farmers market isn’t anything like running out to the grocery store though. To make the most of your trip, it pays to learn a few rules so you come home with what you want or need, rather than an empty bag, or one that’s full of who-knows-what-this-is, that will sit in the refrigerator until it goes bad.

1. Know what’s in season. Remember, the farmers at the market are selling the food they picked this last night or this morning, so don’t plan on finding pumpkins in June, asparagus in August, or strawberries in September. Learn what’s in season and what’s coming up, and plan your recipes and meals accordingly.

2. Go with a plan, but be flexible. If you know you’ll be shopping at a farmers market, plan a few recipes ahead of time and make a list, so you’ll be sure to pick up what you need. Cooking magazines and Pinterest are both always full of seasonal inspiration. Pick up your main ingredients like produce, fresh eggs, cheese, meat or fish at the market, and plan on hitting a grocery store afterwards to supplement the other ingredients. Sometimes though, despite your best plans, you might spy a fabulous and fresh fruit or vegetable that you never thought of, so by all means, be flexible! Some produce has an incredibly short growing season, and if you don’t grab it, you may be out of luck until next year.

3. BYBO&C. That stands for bring your own bags and cash! Many farmers do supply small bags for their purchases, but rather than risk trying to balance several ears of corn and a bunch of tomatoes in your two hands, bring a sturdy reusable grocery bag with a strong handle. Many farmers also appreciate cash (small bills especially), since it costs them extra to accept a credit card.

4. Timing is everything. If you want the best selection and the freshest produce, plan to arrive as soon as the market opens. On the other hand, if you want the best deals (because who wants to tote wilted greens back to their farm), go shortly before the market closes, and you may end up getting some extra goodies added to your bag. Just remember, farmers make very little profit on what they produce, so haggling is generally not appreciated.

5. Step outside the box. It’s OK to like what you like, especially when it’s produce, but if you see something unusual, or even something you recognize but don’t usually eat, ask the farmer what they like to do with it, or how they prepare it. You’ll be surprised at what amazing and creative ideas you’ll get. Sure, farmers can grow things, but most are also pretty handy in the kitchen. Some farmers markets also sell community cookbooks with lots of creative ideas for using all types of produce. Proceeds often support the market or the farmers, so it’s a win-win solution to the “what would I do with this” question.

6. Take it all! The ultra-fresh produce at farmers markets is perfect for canning, preserving and pickling, so buy lots and preserve it for later. It’s important to follow the rules and recipes for preserving foods, but once you learn the technique, it’s not as difficult as it may seem, and it’s such a joy to open a jar of homemade tomato sauce or strawberry jam in the middle of winter The National Center for Home Food Preservation has some excellent information on canning, freezing, pickling and any other method of preserving foods.

7. Volunteer. Farmers markets run on a tight, lean budget, and usually rely on grants and donations, in addition to their profits, to be able to stay open, so they really appreciate volunteers. In addition to doing something good for your market and town, you’ll get the inside scoop on what’s freshest, who has the best selection, and what to do with it once you get home.

If you’re not sure where your closest farmers market is, use this directory that lets you search by zip code. See you at the market!

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FDA Proposed Changes to Nutrition Facts Label: But Is It Any Better?

By Alissa Rumsey RD, CDN, CNSC, CSCS

The Nutrition Facts label is getting a major overhaul for the first time since Congress mandated its inclusion on packaged foods in 1990. Half of Americans say they check the nutrition label on foods when they are shopping, however the majority of the label is often meaningless to them. Most people cannot relate grams of a nutrient or percentages of the daily value to the food that they are putting in their mouths.

In August 2014, the FDA released the proposed changes. Some of the changes will be helpful to consumers. The biggest changes:

  1. Serving sizes:
    1. Serving size requirement changed: The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act requires serving sizes to be based on amounts of food and drink that people typically eat, not on how much they should eat. People are eating more, so servings are getting larger – this will be reflected on the food labels. For example, the serving on a label for ice cream will now be 1 cup, instead of ½ a cup.
    2. Single serve labeling: Packaged foods and drinks that are typically consumed in one sitting will have their serving size changed to reflect the calorie and nutrient content for the whole package. For example, a 20-ounce bottle of soda would be labeled as one serving rather than more than one.
    3. Dual column: For certain packaged foods that are larger, the label will have to identify both “per serving” and “per package” calories and nutrient information. For example, a pint of ice cream, or a bag of chips. This way people will easily see how many calories they are getting if they eat or drink the whole package in one sitting.

My take: I’m not a fan of the serving size changes. Just because someone eats one cup of ice cream in a sitting, doesn’t meant that they should! This method of labeling doesn’t help to teach what a reasonable serving should be.

  1. Remove “Calories from fat”. Total Fat, Saturated Fat and Trans Fat are still required to be labeled.

My take: I am in agreement with this change. We know now that type of fat is more important than amount of fat. Hopefully by removing “calories from fat” we can better teach people that this doesn’t matter as much as the type of fat they are consuming.

  1. Include “Added sugars”. Added sugars are considered empty calories, as they don’t provide any beneficial nutrients. The FDA proposes adding this as a separate line in addition to total sugar. This will make it easier for a consumer to know how much sugar occurs naturally in the product versus how much was added to make it sweeter.

My take: This is a great addition – Americans have a really tough time deciphering the difference between natural and added sugars in products. This one is a bit harder to implement, as it will depend on what the FDA decides the definition of “added sugar” will be. For example, manufactures could decide to add fruit puree to sweeten something, which is in effect doing the same thing – adding sugar.

  1. Addition of Potassium and Vitamin D. Potassium has an important role in blood pressure regulation, and Vitamin D in bone health. These are two nutrients that many American’s don’t get enough of. Calcium and Iron will still be required on the label; Vitamins A and C could be included on a voluntary basis. The update also recommends that actual amounts of the micronutrients be listed instead of percent daily value.

My take: I love that they are going to be putting grams or milligrams instead of percent daily value, this makes the number much more meaningful to consumers.

  1. Increased Font Size. Calories and serving sizes will be emphasized in a larger font in order to address obesity and the high rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease that go along with extra weight.

My take: Many people don’t pay attention to the serving size, and eat more servings (and therefore calories) than they realize. I like that these two items will be emphasized, as it is something that most Americans do need to be aware of.

Despite some positive changes, there are still a number of things the new nutrition label will not do:

  1. Measurements are still meaningless for most people. I’d love to see teaspoons of sugar in a serving, instead of grams. Fewer people might buy that fruit-flavored yogurt if they realized it contained 5 teaspoons of sugar.
  2. Percent daily value remains. While the footnote is apparently going to be updated to better describe what “%DV” means, I still find this measurement to be pretty useless. Majority of Americans need much less of much more than 2000 calories per day, in which case the percent daily value doesn’t do you much good.
  3. The ingredient list isn’t addressed. You can’t just judge a food by its nutrition facts. Many food companies try to get around the label by using not-so-great ingredients and then fortifying the product with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Or calories are reduced by adding artificial sweeteners.
  4. No front-of-package labeling. Consumers still have no fast and easy way to distinguish nutritional value among similar products. Front of package labeling could help to highlight the good, bad or neutral value of a product.

No matter what happens with the labeling updates, it will be awhile coming. All the public comments will have to be reviewed, the final rules issued, and then the food industry will be giving time to implement them. In the meantime, I’ll continue to emphasize whole, real foods and cutting back on foods high in sugar, salt and added fat.

Alyssa Rumsey RDAlissa is a nationally recognized Registered Dietitian and Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach based in New York City. After working for six years with critically ill adults, she started Alissa Rumsey Nutrition & Wellness Consulting to help others improve their health and wellbeing, helping people create a positive, sustainable relationship with food and exercise. She works with companies to craft nutrition messages and curate effective online content and her expertise is regularly featured on television, online, and in print. Alissa earned dual Bachelor’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science from the University of Delaware, and is completing a Master’s of Science degree in Health Communications from Boston University. In her spare time, Alissa can be found running in Central Park, traveling to far-off countries, and, as a self-proclaimed “foodie,” exploring the expansive New York City food and restaurant scene.

 

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Plant-Based Eating: The Path to a Healthy, Sustainable Diet

Sharon Palmer, RDN

Eat more plants.  That’s the simple advice coming from everyone’s lips, from best-selling authors like Michael Pollan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  For the first time, the nutrition establishment, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and registered dietitians, researchers, and academics in the field of nutrition are in agreement that the diet prescription for optimal health and well-being is one that focuses on whole plants.  Scientific research is accumulating on the health benefits of a plant-based eating style, which include the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and obesity.  Throw in the environmental benefits, such as fewer resources required to produce food, and a plant-based diet seems like the clear winner in the race for defining the optimal diet for today, as well as the future.

Plant-based Eating on the Rise

Plant-based diets, such as veganism, have grown in popularity, thanks to the attention from stars like Oprah, who requested her entire staff to go vegan for one week on her television show last year; Alicia Silverstone, actress, vegan and author of The Kind Diet; and Ellen Degeneres, the popular talk show host who enthusiastically supports a vegan diet.  Yet, plant-based diets are very personal and unique, covering a wide range of dietary preferences and observances.  The definition of a plant-based diet is one that focuses on plants, which leaves room for a spectrum of choices, including vegan (no animal foods), lacto-ovo vegetarian (no animal flesh, but allows for dairy and eggs), pescatarian (no animal flesh, except for fish and seafood), and semi-vegetarian (small amounts of animal foods).  Adding to the mix is today’s generation of plant-based omnivores—those that are not interested in giving up animal foods completely, but recognize the health and environmental advantages of reducing their animal food intake.

You can thank the Meatless Monday program for fueling the idea that everyone—not just vegetarians—should eat less meat and more plants.  Their message is sweet and simple:  You and the planet can benefit by eating less meat, so just shun it one day a week.  Why not Monday? Countless organizations, restaurants, schools, and hospitals have jumped onto the Meatless Monday bandwagon to celebrate this simple concept.  While the number of vegans and vegetarians is still relatively low—about 5% of U.S. adults are vegetarians, and about half of those are vegans—16% now report eating no animal flesh at more than half of their meals, according to a recent Vegetarian Resource Group poll.

Plants Provide Optimal Health for Humans

Getting back to our roots by eating more whole plants in their natural form has a multitude of benefits for humans.  Since the beginning of time, we’ve enjoyed a unique relationship with the plants that surrounded us.  From the first time our early ancestors plucked wild seeds, grasses, herbs, grains, and fruits and saved them in pouches for the future, they realized that these powerful plants had the ability to nourish and sustain them.  Just like humans evolved over time to better suit their environment and survive threats, so did plants.  These remarkable, living plants built up defenses against forms of pestilence, such as the harmful effects of UV radiation, disease, and predators.  Plants developed thousands of phytochemicals, such as flavonoids and phenols, often concentrating them in the colorful outer skins of their fruits.  These compounds provided a self-defense system that ensured the species survived the test of time.  Today, scientists know that we have a symbiotic relationship with the plants that nurtured us over the melenia. We plucked their fruits, feasted on their nourishing properties, and spit out their seeds, thus helping the plant to propagate and survive.  This simple act helped to ensure the survival of both humans and plants, but we got something else in the bargain besides sheer calories to fuel our bodies.  All of those defensive compounds in the plants seem to confer similar properties to humans when they eat them.

It’s only been in the last few decades that scientists have begun to understand how the thousands of bioactive compounds found in plants, from resveratrol in grape skins to anthocyanins in blueberries, protect health.  These compounds, which are often the pigment responsible for the plant’s brilliant color, offer a range of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and unique therapeutic benefits.   Both oxidative stress, the damaging effects of free radicals on body cells, and chronic inflammation, when the body’s natural defense mechanism is triggered and doesn’t “shut off”, are at the root of today’s modern day chronic disease killers, such as cancer and heart disease.  Indeed, study after study has linked consuming plant foods—rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties—with lower disease risk.  And beyond that, particular plants and plant compounds have special activities.  For example, lutein and zeaxanthin found in yellow and orange vegetables like corn and orange peppers protect against advanced macular degeneration, the number one cause of age-related blindness in older people.  And tomatoes, rich in the ruby red pigment lycopene, show promise in the prevention of prostate cancer.

It’s important to note that the benefits found in plant foods are related to eating the whole food in its unique, complex form—fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and all.  A synergy is found among all of these nutrients in plant foods; when the nutrients are isolated and consumed individually in the form of a supplement, we don’t gain the same benefits.  Something special happens when we eat the plant food in its whole form, whether we chew a kernel of whole grain with its bran coating, endosperm and germ, or bite into a fresh strawberry and savor its skin, flesh, juice and seeds.  Unfortunately, our diets have grown distant from the whole plant foods that sustained us; today we often feast on processed foods that are unrecognizable from their plant origins.  The health benefits found in a plant-based diet are not attached to a diet filled with such refined, carbohydrates such as sugars, oils, and white flour—all technically plant foods.

Most traditional diets around the world, from the Mediterranean to Asia to South America, are based on plants.  In many less developed countries, where people still eat their traditional, plant-based diets, chronic disease rates are very low.  But when people move away from these countries to the U.S. and switch to a Western diet, characterized with the inclusion of large amounts of meat, saturated fat, processed foods, and salt and low amounts of whole plant foods, they begin to experience a surge in chronic disease rates.  This has been observed in many populations; probably never as famously as in the Pima Indians of Mexico, who enjoy very low rates of obesity and diabetes in their native environment, but once the Pimas leave their homeland for the U.S. and consume a Western diet, they are rewarded with obesity and one of the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the world.

Our Meat Lover’s Society

Americans love their meat; a large steak sizzling on the barbeque is practically a national icon.  The problem is the size of that steak has swelled over the years, according to surveys.  Many steakhouse menus proudly offer a 16-ounce cut—a full pound of meat—and call their 8-ounce portion the “petite” serving.  This oversized attitude toward meat also pervades American home-style cooking, where we plan our meals based on what animal protein will star at the center of the plate.  An 8-ounce steak may be an ordinary dinner in America, but it’s considered obscene in many parts of the world, where it would be the appropriate amount to feed an entire family for a meal or even a week.  According to the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. consumes meat at more than three times the global average.

Our meat obsession wasn’t always so grand—the last century was marked with periods of economic hardship and food scarcity during which meat was considered precious.  A small piece went into a pot of soup or beans for flavor and the best cut was reserved for Sunday dinners.  Meat consumption has most assuredly risen over the years—it’s doubled between 1909 and 2007.  Across the world, meat consumption is typically an indicator of economic wealth: As income levels rise, so does meat consumption.  Despite a current shift toward higher poultry consumption in the U.S., red meat—including beef, veal, pork, and lamb—is still the clear winner, representing 58% of the meat we consume.  Americans are eating on average eight ounces of meat per person every day.

So, what’s the big problem with eating so much meat?  Several well-designed studies indicate that a high-meat diet—especially red meat and processed meat, such as bacon and hot dogs—is likely to cause health problems down the road, such as the increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and metabolic syndrome—the clustering of several risk factors that put you at high risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease (Circulation, 2010; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009; PLoS Med, 2007).  The negative effects of this type of diet could be caused in part by the presence of carcinogenic compounds in cooked and processed meats and by the absence of health-protective plants in this style of eating.  In fact, researchers from the National Cancer Institute report that, given the plausible scientific evidence linking red and processed meats to cancer and chronic disease risk, it might be time for health experts to start working on bringing our levels of meat intake down.

At the same time, research supports a number of bonuses from taking on a vegetarian diet.  In a position paper published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, in which an independent and systematic review of all the research on vegetarian-based diets was evaluated, the organization concluded that well-planned vegetarian diets are completely healthful and nutritionally adequate for people throughout all stages of life and that they have a number of health advantages, including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels, and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes.  In addition, vegetarians tend to have a lower body weight and lower overall cancer rates, lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals.

A Healthier Diet for the Planet

There’s no doubt that our human ancestry withstood the test of time thanks to its hunter-gatherer traditions.  While we typically conjure up images of cavemen brandishing hand-crafted spears in pursuit of wild beasts, archaeologists like to remind us that early humans were probably prey more often than predator.  Plants were a much safer source of nourishment and early humans gathered an abundance of plant materials along their pursuit for survival.  Our early ancestors certainly relied upon animal foods such as game, fowl, and fish to supplement their plant food diets, but today’s world is vastly different.  The animal foods they consumed were wild, lean and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but today’s meat supply is based on a modern system of confined animal feeding operations.  In a CAFO, animals are pressed together so tightly they can barely move, where they will live short, miserable lives, caked in manure and fed a grain diet laced with antibiotics they were never meant to eat—all for the purpose of providing cheap meat to the masses.

Today, we consume billions of pounds of animal products, contributing to inhumane animal practices and the use of large amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers to produce animal feed, as well as large volumes of water and fuel to take animals to market.  Byproducts of animal food production include greenhouse gas emissions, toxic manure lagoons, deforestation, and pollution of groundwater, rivers, streams, and oceans.

You can make a serious impact on your carbon footprint by eating fewer animal foods, according to several studies.  Italian researchers performed a life-cycle assessment to evaluate the cradle-to-grave environmental impact of several dietary patterns (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006.)  They discovered that an organic vegan diet had the smallest environmental impact, while a conventionally farmed diet that included meat had the greatest impact on the environment—and the more meat consumed, the greater the eco-impact.  Additionally, beef was the food with the single greatest impact on the environment; other high-impacting foods included cheese, fish and milk.  In essence, animals make inefficient “food production machines,” using up lots of feed, water, and fossil fuels to turn plants into protein, said the scientists.  To produce 1 calorie from beef requires 40 calories of fossil fuels, whereas producing 1 calorie from grains requires only 2.2 calories of fuel.  Thus, plant-based diets can play an important role in preserving environmental resources and in reducing hunger in poor nations.

According to a recent analysis conducted by CleanMetrics for the public advocacy organization Environmental Working Group, greenhouse gas emissions generated by conventionally raising lamb, beef, cheese, pork, and farmed salmon—from growing the animals’ food to disposing of the unused food—far exceed those from other food choices like lentils and beans.  EWG found that eating less meat can significantly reduce your carbon footprint.  If you ate one less burger a week for a year; it would be the equivalent of driving 320 miles less.  And if your four-person family took steak off the menu one day a week for a year, it’s like taking your car off the road for almost three months.  If everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be like taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

Sure, our country is facing runaway obesity rates, but keep in mind that one billion people around the world don’t even have enough food to eat—a fact that will become even tougher to deal with in 2050, when nine billion people will fill the planet.  Let’s face it:  Our current agricultural practices and diet patterns are unsustainable.  But environmental experts agree on one important principal that could increase the world sustainability of food for the long haul: Growing animal feed on prime croplands, no matter how efficiently, is a drain on the human food supply.  Dedicating croplands to direct human food production could boost calories produced per person by nearly 50%, according to a recent report from researchers from Canada, the United States, Sweden, and Germany (Nature, 2011).

When you put the evidence altogether, the argument is quite compelling.  While our dietary past focused on balancing a plate with animal protein at its center, today’s plate should be focused on a variety of whole plant foods—whole grains, beans, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits.  This diet paradigm should help ensure the health of both humans and the planet for years to come.

Sharon Palmer, RDN, NCESSharon is an award-winning nutrition expert and author of The Plant-Powered Diet and Plant-Powered for Life (The Experiment). She also serves as editor of Environmental Nutrition, writes for her blog The Plant-Powered Blog, and is a judge for the James Beard Awards. Living in the chaparral hills overlooking Los Angeles with her family, she speaks on plant-based nutrition frequently.

Author: Sharon Palmer

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Visit the Updated NCEScatalog.com for Nutrition Education Resources

Browsing for the most relevant nutrition education resources has never been so easy!

With almost 500 products to choose from, it isn’t always easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. To make it easier, we’ve reorganized our website to better suit your professional needs. Whether you need professional resources for heart health or patient education handouts for diabetes, it’s all easy to find!

Below is a guide for navigating the main elements of the website. If you see anything that would make the site easier to browse, please Contact Us to pass that information along.

NCES Nutrition Education Resources

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New York Times Featured Article: What Does 2000 Calories Look Like?

We stumbled across this article on the NY Times today and HAD to share it with you all! Take a minute to share it with all of your clients, patients and anyone you know who’s interested in eating healthy and/or losing weight!

You’ll be amazed at how many ‘everyday’ meals your patients are eating that are over their entire calorie allowance for the day! Even as restaurants talk about smaller portions, they continue to serve a full day’s worth of calories in a single meal… or even a single dish. Keep reading…

What does 2000 Calories look like

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December 20th NCES Holi-Daily Deal: 50% Off Patient Education Handouts for Clean Eating

NCES Daily Deals Newsletter Header

NCES RAW Clean Eating Patient Education HandoutsNCES R.A.W. Handout Set with Tips for Reducing America’s Waistline

Help your patients get back to the basics with this new R.A.W. concept aimed at Reducing America’s Waistlines by providing healthy tips for an active lifestyle and nutritious eating. Plus, encourage clean eating with a section on replacing highly processed foods with more natural choices for the body.

Regular Price: $19.90
Todays Holi-Daily Deal Price: $9.95

Click here to order now!

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December 19th NCES Holi-Daily Deal: More Nutrition Education DVD’s on Sale

NCES Daily Deals Newsletter Header

NCES Nutrition Education DVD set3 New Nutrition Education DVD’s

With 3 new topics to choose from, participants will learn various aspects of nutrition education and healthy lifestyle habits. These DVD’s are great for patient education in classroom settings, as well as continuous play in lobbies and waiting areas. Titles to choose from include:

Regular Price: $89.95
Todays Holi-Daily Deal Price: $44.98

Click the titles above to order now!