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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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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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The Most Nutritious Measuring Cups I’ve Ever Used

Up until now, you may have been under the impression that all measuring cups are created equal. I mean, a cup is a cup is a cup, right? The truth is that not all measuring cups are created equal. In fact, the ones we’ve been using offer more information on choosing healthy portions of body-fueling foods than most of us really ever thought was possible. Nutriportion Measuring Cups ™ are created from a flexible, easy-to-use material and highlight calories, carbohydrates and carb exchanges for many of your favorite foods based on the size of the cup you are using.

For the diabetes patient, Nutriportion Measuring Cups™ highlight the carbohydrates and carb exchanges for many of your favorite foods. Each of the four sides classify foods based on carbohydrate levels and group them together so you know how many carbs are in ¼, 1/3, ½ and 1 cup of each food, such as granola, rice or pasta.

For the health and nutrition conscious, Nutriportion Measuring Cups™ help you understand the calories in many of your favorite foods. With everyday foods like popcorn, beans, dried fruit and raw or cooked vegetables, monitoring and tracking your calorie intake is made simple with these measuring cups.

No matter your language, you’ll find Nutriportion Measuring Cups™ easy to read and understand. All of the helpful information on the measuring cups is in both English and Spanish. According to the CDC, Hispanic/Latino Americans are at a particularly high risk for Type 2 Diabetes. So, providing diabetes education and resources to this group within our population is particularly important.

Whether you are looking for a new set of measuring cups for your personal kitchen, or you’re a dietitian searching for the perfect resource for your patients, these measuring cups will not let you down. They’re the only ones I use in my kitchen for many reasons, including the ones listed above. Plus, they make great giveaways for your nutrition or diabetes programs. I can even say that I’ve been known to give these as gifts to friends and family members as well as door prizes at conferences and events. Wherever I’ve taken them, they’ve always been a hit!

NCES is proud to carry Nutriportion Measuring Cups™ online at NCEScatalog.com. For many years, these cups have flown off the shelves to individuals, as well as organizations purchasing them in large quantities. The video below offers a look at Nutriportion Measuring Cups™ in action and highlights what sets these outstanding measuring cups apart from the rest. Visit the Product Page to learn more and place your order today. Order now and you can still get them in plenty of time for your holiday shopping!

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The 5 Most Amazing Tools to Have in Every Healthy Kitchen

We’ve all been there! We’re interested in preparing healthy snack and meals at home. But, we don’t have all the right tools. It seems like in order to get ourselves back in shape, we have to spend a lot of money getting our kitchens back in shape too. Based on the foods that wreak the most havoc on our waistlines, there are only a few essential items that you need in order to update your kitchen and lighten up your cooking.

Salad dressings are one of the most commonly overused foods. If we’re eating a salad, it’s healthy, no matter what we top it with, right? The truth is that salad dressings hide a lot of empty calories. So, limiting the amount used on a salad is a great way to cut back on overall calorie intake. Reusable dressing lids that measure portions make it super easy to watch portions and still enjoy your favorite dressings. This tool is also great for kids as they learn how much dressing they should be using on their salads.

NCES Healthy Step Pasta BasketI don’t know about you, but in my house pasta is a staple in many of our meals. It offers a great base for many vegetables and proteins. The key with pasta, like with any other food, is to keep an eye on your portions. The Healthy Steps Pasta Basket is perfectly sized for an individual portion. Plus, it hangs on the side of your pot of boiling water for easy draining when the pasta is done and collapses flat for easy storage after use. Truly, it doesn’t get much easier than that!

The Perfect Portions Food Scale also makes keeping an eye on portions easier. Not only will it weigh your foods before you add them to your favorite recipes, it will also give you the nutrition information for that food, including calories, fat grams, protein and much more. It’s like having your own personalized nutrition label for any amount of any food!

The best way to add flavor to any dish is by using fresh herbs. Cooked in to your favorite recipe or cut fresh on top of a salad, herbs are a great low (or no) calorie addition. If you don’t use them quickly enough though, they tend to go bad. The Herb Savor Pod stores them neatly and also helps to keep them fresher longer, prolonging their life by up to 3 weeks.

And, finally, no healthy kitchen is complete without this hands-free countertop tool, the iPrep iPad Holder. As technology changes, printed cookbooks are quickly becoming ‘so 1995’. In their place are online recipes, meal planning sites and digital cookbooks. What’s better to access them from than an iPad? But, those mini computers aren’t cheap so you don’t want it setting on your counter with all of your ingredients while you’re cooking. Instead, have it safe and secure in the iPrep holder for easy recipe viewing. It also comes with a stylus so you don’t have to touch the screen with dirty, meal prepping hands. It’s basically the cookbook holder of 2014!

Cooking healthy meals can be a lot of work. However, with the right tools, you can really simplify the process. The Wellness Spot, backed by NCES, offers an entire line of products just like you’ve seen in this blog. We chose these five as essentials for every healthy kitchen, but there are many more available to browse through by category. If you have any ideas for healthy products that should be featured on The Wellness Spot, send them in and we’ll see about getting them added. We hope you enjoy your new tools and your healthier kitchen!

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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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3 Ways to ‘Healthify’ your Breakfast Cereal for the Best Start

NCES Healthy Breakfast CerealAs you probably already know, we love celebrating ‘healthy’ days throughout the year! We’re big fans of the UNL Food Calendar and use many of the days they highlight to bring attention to different nutrition topics. This week is National School Breakfast Week, which also happens to coincide with Cereal Day (tomorrow). So, to further the message of creating a healthy breakfast, we’ve compiled our RD’s tips for the best ways to make the most of your breakfast cereal.

Many RD’s tend to shun breakfast cereals. It’s really not surprising given all the added sugar, empty carbs and deceitful marketing surrounding popular cereals. However, there are many companies out there fighting to provide healthy breakfast cereal options. Plus, by using some of our tips below, you can really beef up your breakfast cereal to a level that will please any dietitian.

  1. Don’t skip reading the nutrition label. All cereals are not created equal. And, just because the image or text on the front of the box implies that the cereal is a healthy way to start the day, you still need to read the label. Look for things like:
    1. Whole Grains: Check the ingredients label to see if the first ingredient is a whole grain.  If the first ingredient is enriched or refined whole grain then it’s best to but it back on the shelf.
    2. Low-Sugar: You are looking for cereals with 15 grams or less of sugar per serving
    3. High fiber to jump start your metabolism and help your body process food
    4. Protein to keep you full and fuel your body through the morning
  2. Stick to the serving size. Most cereal serving sizes are between ¾ and 1 cup. However, most cereal bowls easily lend themselves to servings at least double that size. Use a measuring cup, or one of our NCES Right-Sized Portion Bowls to keep your cereal portions in check.
  3. Full your bowl with nutritious add-ins. Fruit like bananas and strawberries, as well as nuts and dried fruits like blueberries help to provide the fuel your body needs to get through the morning. Since you’re focusing on cereal portions now, you’re bowl may look a little emptier than your used to. So, fill it up with fresh, filling options!

Breakfast tends to be one of the hardest meals for many Americans. Mornings are busy and donuts are easy. However, understanding how different foods can fuel your body for the day will help you build the best cereal. Cereal isn’t the only way to start your day either! When you’re choosing breakfast foods, focus on these same tips. Protein and Fiber will help you start the day strong, making foods like eggs and peanut butter a good choice. Just remember to focus on portion control. How you start your morning can determine your attitude about eating for the rest of the day.

For more great tips on starting your day with a healthy breakfast, check out the NCES “Breakfast: The Most Important Meal of the Day” video, available as a Lunch N Learn Presentation or on DVD.

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Do We Need to be Eating All We Can Eat?

Buffet Display

I know we say it all the time, but it’s not enough to just focus on the types of food your putting on your plate, you have to pay attention to the amount of food you’re putting on your plate. I was reminded of this concept during a recent trip to an all-you-can-eat buffet. I still struggle with the concept that many people struggle with… If I’m going to pay an all you can eat price, I need to eat all I CAN eat. But, in the words of Ellen Degeneres, “We don’t need to be eating all we can eat”. They make it so easy though. I mean, just leave your plate at the table and go get a new one. It’s like washing away all the guilt from the food that we just ate so we can clean our conscience and go eat more. We’ve all struggled with this… am I right? The key is to not give in to the temptation to eat all we can eat. Your body doesn’t get any more nutrition by eating 4 plates full of food than it does off of one healthy plate. In fact, you’re going to harm your body more by adding all the extra calories your body doesn’t need. So now, I try to look at it this way… If I’m going to pay $12 for lunch, I’m going to leave feeling full, satisfied and having enjoyed some of my favorite foods. When we over eat, it’s hard to enjoy the food because our stomachs begin to stretch and feel overly full.

So, how do you overcome the temptation to over eat when you’re at a buffet? You have to find a portion control tool that works for you. In the past, we’ve published the ever-popular hand guides for portions of different foods. These work great in a pinch, as long as you can remember all of the proper portions by looking at your hands (and don’t have abnormally large hands). An easy to use pocket portion guide, like this free NCES one, can be a big help too. But, we’ve got something that can make it even easier. Whenever possible, I take along my NCES Right-Sized plate so I can be sure I’ve taken the correct portions in each food group. It really doesn’t get any easier than that! You walk up to the buffet with your right-sized plate and Voila, no more guesswork! These plates are available for both kids and adults and really do take the guesswork out of portion control. Give one a shot today!

Did you like this blog? Don’t forget to subscribe before you go. The link is in the upper right corner. Plus, share it with your friends. Portion control is a hot topic! Great tips and tools can help everyone take control of their health. Plus, remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay on top of the latest news in health & nutrition education.