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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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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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RD Urban Legends: The Craziest Stories Ever Told

RD Urban LegendsAs dietitians, we all hear crazy stories from our patients about the things they’ve been told regarding their health. Sometimes the things they say are so disturbing, we bottle them up inside and try, with all our might, to pretend like we never heard them say it. But, others are funny enough that we have to share with everyone around us! We’ve been compiling some of the favorites that we’ve heard from other dietitians so that we can share them with you here on the blog. Have you heard any of these?

  • “Bananas are the worst food you can eat because they have an enzyme in them that makes you fat!”
  • “I heard it’s not healthy to shake salt on my food, so I spoon it on instead.”
  • “I thought it’s not good for you to have fruit after 2 pm?”
  • Patient in a wheelchair, with 2 below-knee amputations was sucking down packets of mayo in the hospital cafeteria, telling people freely “I have diabetes and can’t eat carbs”.
  • This is not from patient, but from a pharmacist (not a technician either) “About 6-8 years ago, when we all were learning about Lipitor interaction and cautioned to not consume grapefruits.”The pharmacist said to not have grapefruit, but you can have grapefruit juice because juice is not the same thing.”
  • “Well I’m probably not going to lose much weight now because it’s winter time.  Your metabolism slows down because your body has to preserve the fat because it’s cold.”
  • Anything that begins with the phrase “But I heard on Dr. Oz…..”
  • “Clear colored soda doesn’t have any calories”
  • I had an MD tell me (on TV!) that eating a potato will “make you fat”
  • .”Don’t combine fruit with proteins when eating.  When you do this the fruit stays in your stomach longer and rots. Always eat fruit by itself.”

And the #1 urban legend goes to this gem of wisdom…

  • I replace all sugar in my recipes with brown sugar instead”, with the person thinking this now made them a whole grain

Because we all know that if it’s brown, it’s a whole grain… right? Thank you to everyone who shared your best RD Urban Legends with us! We got a kick out of reading all of them! Do you have any stories to add to this list? If so, please share them in the comments below or email us at info@ncescatalog.com. We could all use a good laugh today!

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Happy RD Day 2015

from your nutrition education partners at NCES!

RD Day eCard NCES

Take a minute to share this eCard with the RD’s in your life! You can share this blog, or share the image via our Facebook and Twitter pages as well, using the hashtag #RDDay!

Let’s make RD Day go viral!
celebrate nutritionCelebrate Nutrition and RD Day 2015 with 40-50% off select items at NCES! Simply click here to browse the discounted products.
**All prices as marked

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For National Nutrition Month: 5 Reasons to Love (& Sometimes Hate) Your Dietitian

Girl with fruit saladMarch is such a big month for RD’s! Not only is it National Nutrition Month, the only month of the year that nutrition gets a big spotlight, it also hosts RD Day. So, in honor of such a big month for our profession and nutrition community, here’s a list of five reasons you should love (but will sometimes hate) your dietitian! When you’re done, take a minute to share your reason in the comments and to share this with all of your favorite RD’s too!

5) We’ll be your biggest fan and provide support when you need it most.

4) We often get to cook and/or workout for fun… and get paid for it.

3) We’re more likely to give chocolate, fruit & wine as gifts than anyone else you know.

2) We get giddy when we see new fruits and veggies in the store and will buy one just to try it!

1) Forget Iron Chef… we can whip out a healthy meal with as little as five ingredients. Anytime, Anywhere!

 

Happy National Nutrition Month and RD Day on March 11th, 2015!

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Turning Your Nutrition Product IDEA in to a Sellable Product

Have you created a product or written a book that you’re ready to take on to the next step? Being around so many dietitians all the time, we know that many of you have great talent, are very creative and have the drive to create a product aimed at helping people live healthier lives!

At NCES, one of our proudest reputations is that of helping dietitians create the products that they dream of creating. NCES was actually started as a way to distribute a book that had been written by a dietitian who needed an outlet for distributing her book. We have continued that tradition throughout the years as we create and select new products to bring to you at NCEScatalog.com. Roughly 35% of our current vendors are other dietitians that we are proud to work with and support.

Our production team will help no matter where you’re at in the creation process. With our team of dietitians, writers and graphic designers, we’ll help you take your idea from concept to creation. We also provide access to our extensive network of printers, illustrators, packaging specialists and much more.

Lastly, we help you with distribution through NCEScatalog.com and related media outlets. Currently, our combined social media reach is approximately 36,000 nutrition professionals.

Unlike many in this industry, whose success is based solely on selling their own products, NCES is proud to support other dietitians. From carrying products created by other dietitians, like “Super 15” and “Lipo Visuals” to helping dietitians make their dreams a reality, like we were fortunate to be able to do with “Lainy’s Polite Bite”, we love having the opportunity to work with dietitians from across the country and across different specialties.

If you have an idea you’d like to work with us on, please email Carrie Mark or give her a call today at 877.623.7266. Carrie will work with you to get started on your project right away.

I think I’ve said enough about this for one day! But, before you go, listen to what Emma Fogt has to say about it all! Emma wrote the children’s book “Lainy’s Polite Bite” and worked with NCES to turn her story in to a bookshelf worthy book that is now selling at NCEScatalog.com.

Emma Fogt Lainys Polite Bite Video Cover