Nutrition

Redefining Healthy

When I first started my journey to become a registered dietitian, I had no idea I was getting into a field that would change and evolve as much as it does. Sure, my biochemistry and human metabolism notes are probably still relevant, but it seems like every other recommendation and guideline has been turned upside down.

Let’s take, for example, the low-fat craze of the 90’s. Remember those popular 100-calorie packs of refined grains advertising their low-fat contents (and the obvious fact that they only had 100 calories)? It doesn’t take long to start making a list of all the foods that started popping up on the shelves (and possibly in your home) that boasted being “low-fat,” “reduced-fat,” or even “fat-free.” You name it, it was probably out there: Fat-free salad dressings, cheese, frozen yogurt, candy. But does that make these foods “healthy?” According to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) definition of the food claim “healthy,” it does. Or at least did.

Twenty years ago, fat had become a villain and consumers wanted nothing to do with it. While the dietary guidelines emphasized saturated fat as the main culprit, most consumers assumed if one fat was bad, all fats were bad and should be avoided. Therefore, fat was replaced with carbohydrates. Instead of focusing on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (which are all good carb options!), the public deemed refined grains as good replacements, too.

Pretzels were good, but nuts were considered bad. Today this almost sounds absurd, but 20 year ago it was a different story. In order to use the claim “healthy” on the front of a package, the food had to meet the FDA’s criteria of being low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium with at least 10% of the daily value of one or more of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, or fiber.

Up until September of last year, that was still the definition of the “healthy” food claim. The foods we now would consider “healthy,” like nuts and avocados, couldn’t be marketed as such due to their high fat content (albeit “healthy” fat). Yet, other foods were still able to use the claim that hardly seemed appropriate with the evolving evidence and new dietary guidelines in place.

With the possible change of the Nutrition Facts Label and a push back from the popular Kind bars who used the phrase “healthy and tasty” for one of their nut-based granola bars, the FDA is now declaring it’s time to redefine what “healthy” means.

Rather than focusing on the amount of fat, a new guidance has been released – until a permanent change in the definition can be made – that focuses on the type of fat in the product. Manufacturers may now use “healthy” on labels if the item meets any of the following criteria in addition to the other criteria for the claim: 1) it is not low in total fat, but has a fat profile made up of mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats or 2) contains at least 10% of the daily value of potassium or vitamin D.

In the meantime, the FDA is asking for public input until April 26th on what “healthy” should mean and how consumers understand the “healthy” food label claim before they make a definite change to the claim. For some, this may mean looking past the nutrients. Perhaps it means looking at what the food doesn’t contain instead, such as artificial ingredients or sugar.

Whatever is decided, it may take years until a new definition of the “healthy” claim is released. In the meantime, it’s important not to judge a food on its label alone. What may be “healthy” for one person, may not be for another person depending on his dietary needs. Rather than focusing on the marketing claims or captions on the front of the package, look at the ingredient list and Nutrition Facts Label to make an informed decision for yourself on whether that item can fit into a balanced, healthy diet that’s right for you and your family.

A Guiltless Holiday: Here is How to Do it

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For some, the holiday frenzy has already started. For others, it all begins this week. The five-plus weeks of holiday indulgence from holiday parties, family dinners, and the continuous smorgasbord of sweets in the office has officially hit. Stress, social eating, and schedule overload can be the perfect storm for overeating.

Most of us start the season with good intentions, thinking to ourselves that this year will be different. But as we see another plate of those Oreo truffles being passed around, our willpower collapses and the temptation can no longer be resisted. I know, I’ve tried doing that before in the past, too.

The good news is – you don’t have to resist! As a registered dietitian, I give you full permission to have that Oreo truffle, pumpkin pie, or Grandma’s fudge without the guilt or remorse. Finding a balance between restrictions and overeating, such as allowing yourself a treat once in a while, may actually be what you need to keep the weight off this holiday season and throughout the New Year.

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The Good, Bad & Ugly About GMOs

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been a popular topic of debate in the news for several years now, but just this year, it’s seen more attention in the media and has been gaining momentum.

First it started with Vermont, who was the first state to pass a law requiring all products containing GMOs to be labeled, beginning in July of 2016.

But then, just last week, President Obama signed a bill that requires all states to have a label of some kind on foods that have been genetically modified, overturning the Vermont’s law, in a way to prevent each state from have a piece-meal of different labeling laws.

Of course, this was a bill of heated debate. While some argue this unnecessarily creates a fear in the consumer and will increase food costs, others believe consumers have the right to know what’s in their food.

I think it’s safe to say nobody knows the answer. Like anything debatable, there are pros and cons. But it’s also safe to say that it’s a term few actually understand. Consumers have gained a vague fear of GMOs without even knowing why, simply because of what they’ve heard through the media and opinionated sources.

We do have a right to know what’s in our food, but it’s also important to have a good understanding of what that label means in order to form our own opinions.

Genetic modification is a process of taking genes from plants, animals, insects, or bacterium and transferring them into another species for a desired outcome. Rather than breeding plants or animals the traditional way, which took years, the discovery of genetically modifying organisms made it much faster to get the desired result.

GMOs made their first appearance in the mid-1990s as a way to do good – when researchers found a way to genetically modify rice to resist the floods in Eastern India. Rather than losing acres of crops, the modified rice survived the harsh conditions and was able to provide food for millions.

Several more possibilities have been developed since, such as Gold Rice, which produces a precursor to vitamin A to help prevent blindness in developing countries.

Since becoming commercially available in 1996, GMOs have taken over much of our food supply with about 90 percent of the corn and soybeans produced in the U.S. being genetically modified. Over half of the sugar produced in the U.S. is genetically modified and 80 percent of processed foods have ingredients made from GMOs. However, very few of the whole foods we eat are genetically modified.

There are as many studies stating that engineered foods are safe to consume as there are studies that say they’re not.

Most of the GM crops in the United States either have been modified to resist herbicides (meaning farmers can spray fields without killing their crop) or have been modified to resist plant-hungry insects by naturally producing an insecticide.

On the plus side, the resistance to herbicides has helped farmers skip the need for tilling their soil, which prevents erosion and helps maintain the nutrients in the soil. With naturally occurring insecticide, crops have less dependency on the sprayed pesticides, which can be toxic to us.

All good things don’t come without their cons, though. Due to the herbicide-resistant crops, more herbicide is being applied, most of which is glyphosate, the main ingredient found in Roundup. Glyphosate, an antibiotic, can hinder our healthy microbiome in our gut and may be a carcinogen for humans.

On top of that, with 20 years of herbicide use and insect-resistance plants, we’re now dealing with herbicide resistant weeds and insects resistant to the GM crops, meaning stronger herbicides and pesticides are being applied to crops.

The struggle is real, and it lies mostly in the gray area. How can we help the most poverty-stricken people – who most need this technology in order to prevent blindness or to stay in business – while on the other hand, realize that the direct benefit to the consumer isn’t as well defined when most of the crops in the U.S. are genetically modified corn and soybeans.

Genetically modified organisms, while developed over 20 years ago, are still in their infancy in research standards. Long-term studies still need to be conducted and more knowledge needs to be gained. For now, the debate continues…

The New & Improved Nutrition Facts Label

It seems like every time I turn around, there’s a new discovery being made in the field of nutrition, new research being conducted, or a new dietary recommendation out that needs to be followed.

I love that I’m in a field that’s constantly evolving, growing, and changing. But there’s one area that hasn’t changed for over 20 years and has been, not surprisingly, falling behind – the Nutrition Facts Label. Of the many nutrition-related questions I get asked, the Nutrition Facts Label is at the top.

It’s the label that adorns every packaged food item, informing you of everything from the serving size and calories to the percentage of vitamin A found in your bag of potato chips. It can be a confusing label to try to follow with all the numbers and percentages filling up such a small space.

Yet, with all the information you can gather from the label, it still seems to be missing some valuable information.

It’s been a long time coming for the Nutrition Facts label to get a major overhaul. This may be the reason why professionals in the nutrition field gave cheers of delight – myself included – when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in late May that a new look was going to be coming for the label in as little as two years.

Better yet, the changes are ones I completely agree with and believe will help consumers make easier, more nutritious decisions when comparing foods.

So, what changes will be being to see on the label? Here are the major changes and how they’ll affect you and me.

Nutrition Facts label

On the left, is the current Nutrition Facts Label. What the revised label will look like is on the right. Source: http://www.fda.gov

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How to Find Peace at the Dinner Table

How to Find Peace at the Dinner Table

With crazy schedules, a kid on the verge of a meltdown, and a dog at your feet waiting for any fallen scraps, I know that trying to put a nutritious meal on the table the entire family will eat can be a challenge. Weekly meal time can be anything but enjoyable, especially if your child is “picky” or unwilling to even touch his or her food.

Let me start by first saying, I was hesitant to write about this topic, considering the fact that it can draw out a lot of emotions from parents and, maybe the more obvious reason, I don’t have any kids yet or have first-hand experience with this! But, as a dietitian, and as somebody who has a budding interest in this area of nutrition, I’ve done a lot of reading, research, and talking with others to get me to the point where I know that some families are missing the mark when it comes to meals and feeding their children.

I’ve had moms come to me, completely out of ideas and exhausted, asking for any advice about what to do with their picky eaters. The look of desperation in their eyes followed by their sincere gratitude after they hear some possible solutions made me feel like it was worth sharing a few tips with you as well, with the hopes that it may be something you can use at the dinner table.

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The Value of Family Meals: It’s More than Just Nutrition

Family Meals It's More Than Just Nutrition

Happy Labor Day, everyone! I hope you’ve been able to relax, stay cool, and enjoy this long weekend! I’m doing my best to stay inside due to the fact that every time I step outside, it makes me feel like an extra 10 pounds is weighing on me. The Midwest is great, but its humidity is not my friend. At least this weather is making me that much more eager for the leaves to start changing and for sweatshirts to begin making an appearance.

The unpredictable Midwest weather aside, my long weekend has been full of family, friends, and relaxation. Just what I needed! Philip and I headed down to Peoria, Illinois, to see family and friends. We snuck away for a little bit to relive when we first met three years ago. A little bit of me feels like three years isn’t that long at all, while another part of me is screaming, how has it been THREE years?!? I just met this man that happens to also be my husband. :)

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Three years ago, Philip made the trip down from Madison to Peoria to meet me on Labor Day for a picnic (picnic basket and all) on Grandview Drive, a beautiful and scenic drive overlooking the Illinois River. Our picnic turned into us talking for about 6 hours until we realized the sun was starting to set and we had better call it a day. Little did we know that that was only the beginning… :)

We made a trip back to Grandview Drive this past Saturday to enjoy another picnic together. While the picnic didn’t last 6 hours like the last one (re: it was really hot out), it was still just as special and fun to try to remember what exactly we talked about during our first picnic together.

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Back in Madison, I’m soaking in the last hours of my long weekend, as I’m sure most of you are. With school just having started this past week, I’m guessing parents are taking a deep breath this weekend before the real craziness of fall activities begin. Recently, I wrote an article for a local paper and thought it’d be worth sharing part of it on my blog for all the families (big or small) who are already wondering how they’re going to get everything done this school year…including family meals. Enjoy!

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Gluten-Free: Fact or Fiction

Gluten-Free Fact or Fiction

Hello, again! I hope you had a fun-filled weekend and are ready for the (hopefully) short week ahead. I can’t believe it’s almost the 4th of July! Summer is flying by too quickly, in my opinion. I have things lined up every weekend from now ’til September and it seems like the weeks just keep picking up pace, too.

This weekend I made a trip up to the Minneapolis area for a bachelorette party for one of my closest friends from college. Her wedding is in just a few short weeks and if this weekend was any indication of how the wedding will be, I know we’re in for a good time.

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I arrived home yesterday completely exhausted from the weekend, so today, instead of a recipe, I’m adding another segment to my “Dietitian Ramblings” collection. This week’s topic: gluten. It’s a topic I hear about often what with the gluten-free craze/fad running rampant now. Here are my professional thoughts on the topic:

Is gluten or wheat “bad” for me? Can I lose weight if stop eating gluten? Will I be healthier if I go gluten-free? These questions and more are common concerns I hear frequently thanks to the barrage of — often misleading —information coming at us every day from the media.

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