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Restaurant Menu Labeling Complicated

carolynoneilmsrdnby Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RDN

The countdown to provide calorie counts and other nutrition information for menu items is in full swing for more than 250,000 restaurant locations nationwide.  Faced with a December deadline set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restaurant chains with more than 20 outlets are busily crunching the numbers to provide nutrition facts on their menus, websites and in-store signage.

“Menu labeling is the biggest advance in providing nutrition information to consumers since the law that required Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods was implemented 20 years ago,” said Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director for The Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In addition to calories, written information on total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, sugar, fiber and protein must be available upon consumer request. The intent of the new law is to guide diners toward healthier choices on the menu.

Joy Dubost, registered dietitian with the National Restaurant Association says, “Many restaurant patrons have stated that menu labeling is important to them when dining out, and we also know that based on trend data consumers are demanding more healthful options.”

Nutrition by the Numbers

Seeing the facts right up front can help diners avoid calorie bombs or at least be forewarned of the waistline busting cost of indulgent dishes and drinks.

“What I like about the new legislation is that it holds restaurants accountable,” says registered dietitian Nicole King of the website Healthy Dining Finder.com.

How do restaurants come up with the nutrition numbers? The FDA allows several methods including the use of software programs based on nutrient data bases designed to calculate nutritional analysis for recipes, using nutritional information already calculated for recipes in published cookbooks or the more costly but most accurate laboratory analysis of individual items. King says, “And restaurants have to show their work when they provide documentation to the FDA so it’s clear what method was used.”  From doing the math to making sense of ways to best present the nutrition numbers on menus, registered dietitians are finding opportunities to consult with restaurant companies. Some national restaurants groups employ full time dietitians for many services including marketing and menu planning.  Many others are enlisting the professional services of dietitians as part time and project based consultants to help them follow the new federal regulations for nutrition menu labeling. For the restaurant consumer it’s a win-win of taste and health.

It’s Complicated

Presenting the information to consumers is not always a simple task.  Take a pizza restaurant for example. How do they list the nutrition numbers for all of the combinations of toppings and different kinds of crusts? King says, “It’s complex and cumbersome.”

Staff training is part of the new labeling law too to ensure that cooks follow the recipes. A liberal hand with the salt or mayonnaise in the kitchen will mean the numbers on the menu won’t match the dish being served.

“We have to remember this is hand crafted food not made to specs such as an Oreo where every cookie is exactly the same size. There are going to be slight variations,” says King.

Other challenges behind the scenes are happening behind the bar. From pina coladas to cosmopolitans, alcoholic beverages are included in the menu labeling law even though they weren’t part of the packaged foods labeling laws.  That’s why you don’t see calorie counts on a bottle of vodka. “The alcohol piece was not regulated at all. But now cocktail menus have to list nutrition information,” says King.  So now when you say ‘make mine a double’ don’t forget to double the calories too.

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Witness the Evolution of a Nutrition Education Handout

Since the 1980’s, NCES has been creating leading nutrition education products. But, do you know how it all started? I’m sure many of you do because you’ve been right here with us through the entire journey. But, for others, we’re excited to take this opportunity to share with you the evolution of our flagship product, now titled the “Healthy START” series of handouts.

It all started back in the 80’s with the extremely ‘cool cat’, Nutri-Cat! Nutri-Cat had a great job. He was responsible for encouraging people of all ages to eat healthy and exercise, similar to the way a team mascot would cheer on his team. The first handouts, featuring Nutri-Cat, utilized the food pyramid that had carbs at the bottom and fats and oils at the top.

This handout was able to hold on strong for many, many years. However, in 2005, it was time for an update. Based on new research and standards, the USDA updated their base food pyramid to a side-by-side food pyramid with steps moving up the side. At this time, we decided that Nutri-Cat had done his job as we retired him from the series of handouts. We also added more information on exercise as nutrition standards were putting a larger emphasis on exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle.

In 2011, we introduced the Healthy START handouts you know and love today! In response to the USDA’s updated 2010 Dietary Guidelines and the introduction of MyPlate to replace MyPyramid, we went back to the drawing board and crafted an entirely new educational handout to fit the needs of our health and nutrition education customers. We also thought it was important to provide an acronym that would help readers live a healthy lifestyle, which is where the START concept was born. This simple acronym provides everyday instructions to help reader’s jumpSTART their healthy lifestyle. Coming up with the components of the START concept were easy too. The USDA had just released five topics they intended to emphasize over the next five years. These became the pillars of our START concept.

And that’s how a star is born! These Healthy START handouts continue to be one of our best selling products here at NCES. For almost 30 years, these handouts have brought nutrition education to the masses. With solid information reflecting the most up-to-date research and science behind health, wellness and fitness, these handouts are a great fit in every nutrition education setting. To learn more or place your order today, visit NCEScatalog.com. You can also always contact us. Our on-staff dietitian is here to answer your questions! Before you go, take a second to connect with us on Facebook and Twitter, and sign up for our newsletter!

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Celebrate MyPlate B-Day with Us – Plus a Bonus Coupon Code

MyPlate BirthdayWell, another birthday has come and gone! For MyPlate that is! It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since the USDA rocked our world by introducing the new MyPlate icon along with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. At that very moment, we scrapped everything we knew in the MyPyramid; everything that was familiar. Here at NCES, we threw out any products that depicted the ‘dated’ MyPyramid image and began recreating our awesome educational handouts to include the all-new MyPlate. Since then, we’ve added many new products to the line, including the NCES MyPlate Food Model Kit, NCES Right-Sized plates for portion control and much more.

So, even though MyPlate’s actual birthday has come and gone (June 2nd), we’re going to continue celebrating all week! How can you join the celebration? It’s simple! Head on over to Facebook and be sure to like NCES and MyPlate. As many of you know, NCES was among the first to release a brand new line of MyPlate products. You can always count on us to provide you with the most up-to-date information. Our Facebook page is the best way to stay on top of everything health and nutrition! Plus, just because we really want you to join us on Facebook, there’s an exciting savings code waiting for you on our Facebook page! So, be sure to like the page while you’re there so you’re always the first to receive our money-saving offers!

As with everything, the nutrition industry is constantly changing. With our highly skilled staff, including our favorite on-staff dietitian Carrie, we make sure to stay on top of nutrition trends and work to provide you with the most up-to-date, trusted information and resources. Be sure to join us Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to be the first to know of breaking nutrition news!

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Get Your Portions in Control

Portions, Portions, Portions! If you are plugged in to nutrition at all, you probably read a different article about portions every day. But, do you pay attention? Or, for you dietitians, do you struggle to get your clients to pay attention? Portions are a very important part of any diet. However, for most of the fad diets that exist today, it’s the element that is given the least amount of attention. Or, for many, the expectations on portions are so completely unrealistic that it’s impossible to continue to practice what you’ve learned once you’ve reached your goal weight and stop ‘dieting’ in the literal sense of the word.

Between the common plate sizes in America growing as fast as our waistlines and restaurant portion sizes increasing in size to try to get ahead in their competitive market, we’re paying the price with rising obesity and diabetes rates. Did you know that the average household dinner plate has grown to 12 inches? Yet the appropriate size is 9 inches. So, here’s a tip that can make bringing your portions back under control very simple: instead of serving dinner on your dinner plates, serve them on your smaller salad plates. These plates present a much more realistic size for serving up correct portions for your family. You’ll be amazed at how satisfied you can be when you eat your dinner on these smaller plates. You’ll still get the satisfaction of cleaning your plate. However, you most likely won’t have eaten larger portions than you should.

So, we’ve made it easier to serve the correct portion sizes at home, now what are you supposed to do when you’re out to eat? I’m sure you’ve heard this tip before; cut your meal in half and put it in a take-out box before you even begin your meal. This is a great tip and can really help you control your portion sizes when eating out. But, it’s not always a great “across the board” kind of rule. There are some restaurants that serve appropriate portions. So, how are you supposed to gauge your portion size here? (BTW – This tip is great at any restaurant… whether you think the portion sizes are correct or not) Start by asking the server to bring an empty salad plate out with your meal. When you get the salad plate, visualize the MyPlate image sitting on your plate. Begin moving the meal from your dinner plate over to the salad plate, making sure to consider your portions in reference to MyPlate. By doing this, you’re fixing two big problems in restaurant servings; 1) the size of plate that your food is served on, and 2) the skewed proportions of grains and protein compared to fruits and vegetables served. Once your salad plate is full and closely reflects MyPlate, then you know you’ve got a correctly portioned meal while you’re out to eat. Take the rest and set it aside or put it in a to-go box to enjoy later.

Don’t feel like guessing? NCES has created Right-Size Portion Plates for Kids and Adults. So, whether you’re looking to take control of your own health or your entire family, we’ve got the plate for you! These plates are great for use at home. Or, they can be used as an easier tool than the salad plate while you’re out to eat. Use the links above to view each plate.

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MyPlate Food Bingo Wins Parents Choice Approved Seal

Congratulations to our friends at Smart Picks for receiving the “2012 Parents Choice Approved Seal” for MyPlate Food Bingo. Read their Press Release below for all the details!

Smart Picks
MyPlate Food Bingo wins
” 2012 Parents’ Choice Approved Seal”

What is The Parents Choice Approved Seal?

The Parents’ Choice Approved Seals are given on the basis of the production, entertainment and human values they exemplify.
A Parents’ Choice Approved Seal indicates a wholesome product that helps children enjoy developing physical, emotional, social or academic skills.

My Plate Food Bingo

Spring 2012 Games

Ages: 9 & Up

Manufacturer: Smart Picks, Inc.

Price: $39.95
Review:

MyPlate Food Bingo combines family game night and lesson in healthy eating habits. Based on the USDA’s new MyPlate food categories (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, protein and dairy) the game boards feature ninety-five different foods and their suggested serving sizes. It provides information and tips on healthy eating, exercise, food allergies and more. The game, which is ideal for the classroom or camps, includes 30 laminated cards, 114 picture squares, a checking card, 95 clue cards, 600 square markers, an instruction sheet and an information sheet. The game helps children learn information about healthy eating habits way while also encouraging family time, cooperative play and social interaction. Though the game may mention foods that kids may not recognize, such as kashi, seitan, and amaranth, there is an information sheet that explains what more obscure foods are. The sheet also provides enough nutritional information and additional resources to assist any teacher or home schooling parent to craft a healthy eating curriculum. The practical, tasty, and accessible healthy eating tips on each card (“try frozen grapes instead of popsicles” and “eat popcorn instead of candy or chips”, for example) add to the game’s health and educational value.

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5 Unique Fruits and Veggies to Intrigue You

With the USDA’s new MyPlate, there has been a surge of attention given to the importance of a balanced diet. As demonstrated on the plate, a balanced diet consists of a large amount of fruits and vegetables. The problem is, we get it in our heads that we don’t like certain foods. We remember brussel sprouts from our childhood, and can’t get past that memory of forcing them down so that Mom and Dad would let us have dessert. The truth is that there are a lot more options than just brussel sprouts and beets. We’ve decided to put together a list of the Top 5 Fruits and Vegetables you’ve probably never tried, and the health benefits of each one.

  1. Paw Paw (fruit) This fruit is easily digestible and aids in the digestion of other foods. It is rich in vitamin A and C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, and soluble vegetable fiber. It is enjoyed best when eaten fresh and ripe.
  2. Persimmons (fruit) This delicate oriental fruit is native to china.  It spread to Japan very long ago and later was introduced to California during the middle of the nineteenth century.  They are rich in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants that are vital for good health.
  3. Dragon Fruit (fruit) This exotic fruit contains large amounts of Vitamin C. Not only that, the vitamin C in dragon fruit is more easily digested than a vitamin c supplement. It is also said, but not proven, that Dragon Fruit aids in controlling blood sugar levels in those with Type 2 Diabetes (Note: This is not a sufficient medical plan for controlling diabetes)
  4. Purple Dragon Carrot (vegetable) This unique carrot has a sweet flavor, making it great for salads and for juicing. Carrots help reduce cholesterol, fight infections and stabilize blood sugar. High in nutritional value, but low in calories, carrots play an important role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  5. Sweet Baby Broccoli (vegetable) Broccoli provides a high amount of vitamin C, which aids with iron absorption in the body, and fiber, which enhances the gastrointestinal tract. They can help prevent the development of cataracts, and also ease the symptoms of the common cold. The folic acid in broccoli helps women sustain normal tissue growth and is often used as a supplement when taking birth control pills and during pregnancy. The potassium in broccoli aids those battling high blood pressure, while a large amount of calcium helps combat osteoporosis.

Are you ready to go out and try all these great new fruits and vegetables? Each of them has a unique flavor, as well as all the health benefits mentioned. So, give  ‘em all a try. And, be sure to let us know what you think on our Facebook page.