Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Total Menu Makeover

Photo courtesy of Michelle Loy. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

I've noticed some interesting and exciting changes on the menu boards and menus in restaurants least in California.  Have you?  Menus are beginning to get a total menu makeover since our governator approved a bill in 2008 that made California the first state to require larger restaurant chains to post the caloric price tag of their offerings on menus and menu boards by January 1, 2011, which is just around the corner.  After July 1, 2009, brochures listing calorie and nutrition information were required to be available at the point-of-purchase or ordering.  While that has been a fantastic start towards helping consumers make more informed decisions about their food intake while eating out, I think that is still a passive strategy since the consumer still must make the choice to pick up the brochure and evaluate it.  And while there's more to food than calories, I think that it will be interesting to see how these environmental policies affects consumers' behaviors, including overall daily caloric consumption, and ultimately their long-term weight status. In my opinion, these environmental strategies will serve as simple tools to help consumers make wiser selections when eating out (at least in terms of calories).  And {hopefully} as a result, restaurants will respond by offering more nutritious options.  I think these data will be an eye opener for many.  I work in the trenches, and I find that a number of people are shocked by the caloric price tag of the restaurant foods they consume.  For example, one very nutritionally savvy client ordered a "light breakfast taco with turkey sausage" from a restaurant's so-called "light menu" thinking it was her best option only to find later that it contained 1110 calories! Light?  More recently, I went to a popular breakfast establishment and eagerly browsed the calorie content of their menu items, and I would estimate that 90% of the menu items were in the range of 750-1500 calories! (And that doesn't include beverages, sides, or appetizers.)  That's about half or more of many people's daily caloric needs. 

Similar laws have been in effect in New York City for at least a couple of years now, and there's been quite a bit of controversy over it.  Some argue that labeling the caloric content of foods on menus will make those foods more appealing, therefore, causing more people to want to eat them or to opt out of ordering anything at all only to head home and go overboard in response.  Despite the controversy, some preliminary research suggests that this type of menu labeling could be effective at helping consumers reduce the caloric value of their order.

Are you on board with calories going on the menu board?  Well, hang on tight as the total menu makeover is about to take over the nation since a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that President Obama signed into law in March 2010 will require that all larger chain restaurants post calories on menus and indoor menu boards.

So, what do you think of these changes?  Will they help? 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Trendy Bytes: Greek Yogurt

 Photo courtesy of Michelle Loy. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

So I finally succumbed to one of the latest trends in nutrition...Greek Yogurt.  I'd heard clients, students, and others rave about it; however, I really dragged my feet when it came to trying it out myself.  While I'm much less of a food neophobic than I used to be, I guess I held off because I am admittedly pretty picky when it comes to my yogurt.  I opted to begin with a familiar brand (must be that food neophobia kicking in), and I must say that I wasn't impressed.  I could not figure out why anyone would go for it, but after a little field research, I realized I had started with the wrong brand!  That made a world of difference.  After experimenting with several different brands, kinds, and flavors of Greek-style yogurt, I have finally settled on one favorite in particular -- Fage 2%.  Now, Greek-style yogurt has won me over.  

How does it measure up nutritionally?  Although Greek yogurt can have a seriously luxurious texture and taste, keep in mind that it is basically a type of strained yogurt.  The whey portion is removed leaving behind a thicker, less watery version of yogurt.  So it's not really as mysterious as many people seem to believe.  Because it's strained, it typically contains about twice the amount of protein of regular yogurt, so if you're looking to give your meal or snack a protein boost, this could possibly help with that depending on your personal nutrition needs.  But remember that most Americans are already consuming plenty of protein. You'll also get plenty of calcium and probiotics, too.  Most brands of plain Greek yogurt also tend to be slightly lower in sodium and naturally occurring sugar than regular plain yogurt.  Two things you might miss with Greek yogurt are Vitamins A and D.  Most regular yogurts are fortified with them, and I've found that some versions of Greek yogurt are not.  The good news is that there are other ways to get enough of these nutrientsIf you're watching your calorie or fat intake, you may want to opt for the 2% or 0% versions of Greek yogurt as the whole milk versions tend to be a lot heavier in calories and fat, especially saturated fat.  Otherwise the calorie and fat profiles of low-fat Greek yogurt and low-fat regular yogurt are fairly similar.  Finally, be aware that some of the flavored versions of Greek yogurt will contain added sugar, so I recommend going with the plain kind and combining it with your own mix-ins, such as whole, fresh fruit or nuts so that you're in the driver's seat with the added ingredients. 

How to enjoy it? Use it as you would other yogurt for a snack by adding in fruit, granola, or nuts for flavor and texture.  Mix it with cereal and fruit for breakfast instead of using milk. With the plain kind, you may want to add a little sweetness with honey or fruit preserves.  In the photo above, I added about 1 tsp of fruit preserves and fresh fruit. You can also use Greek yogurt as a substitute for sour cream or mayo in dips or on sandwiches.  Or enjoy it in a smoothie!

If you haven't tried it, give it a shot and let me know what you think.  If you have tried it, what do you think?

If you haven't already done so, please check out my $40 e-card giveaway.  You have up to 4 chances to win, so take advantage!  Giveaway ends by 7/1/10 at 9 PM PST, so hurry on over!  Good Luck!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

9 higher sodium foods that might surprise you

Sometimes I talk to clients or students who really don't think sodium intake matters because they don't have high blood pressure, but from the perspective of someone who highly values disease prevention, I think it does matter.  We do actually need a small amount of sodium daily since it performs many vital functions in the body, such as aiding muscle contraction, assisting with nerve transmission, and maintaining proper blood pressure.  However, evidence continues to suggest that high sodium intakes are linked to high blood pressure, which increases the risk for several chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and stroke.  You may not be concerned about your blood pressure, but consider these staggering figures:
Studies have also detected a relationship between lower sodium intakes and reduced risk of high blood pressure in people who do not have high blood pressure.  I'm 110% for prevention. I believe that it's far more effective and beneficial to prevent chronic disease through dietary and other lifestyle measures rather than manage the disease once it's been diagnosed. Believe me, the enhanced quantity and quality of life are worth the investment! 

What are the current recommendations for sodium intake?  Current guidelines on sodium intake recommend no more than 2300 mg a day for healthy young adults.  This is the equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of salt.  However, recommendations for middle-aged to older adults, African-Americans, or those with chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, kidney disease, or diabetes, suggest no more than 1500 mg/d. 

How much sodium does the average American consume?  3,436 mg/d, which is about 50% more than recommended!  But believe me, I've seen higher!  Many people think that the biggest source of sodium in the diet comes from adding salt to food during cooking or at the table, but the real truth is that most of the sodium in the typical American diet, or a whopping 77%, comes from processed foods.  While some of those foods might seem obvious (eg, canned soup or salted pretzels), others may surprise you.  Here's my list of 10 higher sodium foods that you might not expect.

Chicken or Turkey:  Some brands, especially store brands, infuse their chicken breasts and thighs with a sodium-containing solution.  One store brand contained 290 mg per serving of chicken breast.  In an effort to save time, some people opt for the pre-seasoned ground turkey; however, this stuff is loaded to the tune of 680 mg per serving, which is more than a McDonald's 6-piece chicken McNuggets!  

Veggie or soy burgers: Veggie and soy burgers are popular choices among vegetarians, vegans, or those who enjoy a meatless meal on occasion.  However, the commercially-prepared versions can pack quite a salty punch.  One brand of veggie burgers contains 400 mg per patty!  Another popular brand of soy burgers could run up your sodium intake by 520 mg per burger!  Both of these contain more sodium than a Taco Bell Taco Supreme.

Low-fat cottage cheese:  A 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese will run around 459 mg of sodium. Ouch!  Get the "no sodium added" version, and you'll cut the sodium content by 94%! 

Bagels:  One medium-sized 100% whole wheat bagel that I recently checked out contained 400 mg of sodium.  That's more sodium than a large order of McDonald's French Fries!

Salad dressing:  Many commercially prepared salad dressings are high in sodium given the typical serving size of 1-2 Tbsp.  A vinaigrette from one popular brand of salad dressings contains 390 mg per 2 Tbsp! Whip up your own, and you could save significantly on the sodium.

Pita bread: A typical serving of whole wheat pita bread contains about 340 mg of sodium.  That's more sodium than a small dill pickle!

Protein shakes: Often promoted as meal replacements or between-meal snacks, these can be higher in sodium as well.  One brand of protein shakes reviewed contained between 220-270 mg of sodium per 8.25 ounce serving.  Drink a glass of low-fat milk or a smoothie, and you'll cut the sodium by at least half.

Granola bars: This granola bar contains 250 mg per bar, which is more sodium than a serving of potato chips!

Oatmeal:  For those of you looking for a quick, nutritious breakfast, beware of that instant stuff because it can really take a toll on your sodium consumption.  One brand of high-fiber instant oatmeal includes 210 mg of sodium per packet.

Let me leave you with these suggestions:
  • Consider balancing your intake of higher sodium foods with naturally lower sodium foods, like vegetables and fruits.
  • Consider moderating your intake of higher sodium foods. Maybe you don't consume those foods at every meal or snack or maybe just not everyday. Maybe you eat a smaller portion of that food.
  • Read your food labels carefully.  In order to be labeled "sodium free", a food must contain 5 mg or less per serving.  In order to be labeled "very low sodium", a food must contain 35 mg or less per serving. In order to be labeled, "low sodium" a food must contain 140 mg or less per serving.  Select foods that state "unsalted", "no salt added" or "without added salt" on the label.
  • One of my faves...prepare more food yourself.  This way you get to be in the driver's seat of the sodium content of your own food.
What foods have had a sodium content that surprised you?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

8 Mistakes That You Could Be Making With Your Supplements

Photo courtesy of Michelle Loy. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
Are you currently taking dietary supplements? Could you be making some mistakes with your supplements?  I get asked a lot of questions regarding supplements, so today I thought I'd share my insight on some of the biggest mistakes I see people making with their supplement usage.

Are you relying on the advertisement or supplement label for information regarding the safety and effectiveness?  Many people rely on the supplement labels, advertisements, or sales people for information about a supplement, but keep in mind that the information may be inaccurate, misleading, or biased.  Advertisements also often rely on testimonials or anecdotal evidence; however, one person's experience does not necessarily make a supplement safe or effective.  It's best to do your own research of scientific, peer-reviewed, evidence-based resources so that you can make an informed decision about the supplements you choose to use.  Believe me, your time and effort will be worth it!  You may want to check out these resources for starters:  The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, or

Are you taking the correct dosage?  When talking with people about their supplements, I often find that many people aren't taking the dosage indicated on the container.  Some take more, some take less.  Most recently someone mentioned that she started taking a supplement upon the recommendation of her eye doctor.  She stated that she just takes the supplement "whenever her vision gets blurry", but the directions indicate that users should take "three capsules three times a day".  So keep in mind that if a supplement actually does what it claims, then taking it "whenever you feel like it" or "whenever you remember" may not benefit you as much as it would if you took the supplement as directed.  On the other hand, more isn't necessarily better when it comes to supplements either.  I know some people who pop extra vitamins to give them a boost of "energy" or to stave off a cold; however, there is a risk of toxicity associated with some supplements.  For example, taking too much iron can lead to iron toxicity, which has harmful effects, especially in children.  So be sure to follow the dosage directions carefully.

Are you timing it right?  Just as some medications indicate a specific time frame during which they should be taken (eg, morning, between meals), some supplements require the same.  For example, those who use zinc lozenges to recover from a cold quicker are usually advised to start taking the supplement at the first onset of symptoms and to continue for at least 48 hours after that. In addition, users are also directed to consume one tablet every two to three hours until symptoms subside.  However, I know  many people who do not follow the proper timing when taking zinc lozenges to treat the common cold.  These instructions are a little tough to follow, yet based on the evidence, they appear to be most effective when consumption is timed right.

Could your supplement be negatively interacting with a food, nutrient, drug, or other supplement?  While people may consider these things when taking medications, I often find that they do not give the same attention to supplements.  Many nutrients compete for the same sites of absorption in the gastrointestinal tract.  So consuming nutrients in supplement form can interfere with the absorption of nutrients from food.  For example, did you know that consuming calcium supplements with a type of iron in plant foods (non-heme iron) may reduce the bioavailability of the iron since they compete for absorption in the GI tract?  Also, some dietary supplements may increase or decrease the absorption, metabolism, or action of certain medications.  Did you know that many medications are derived from or modeled after herbal remedies?  It's true! For example, the chemical composition of aspirin is similar to that of willow bark.  For that reason, many herbal remedies can interfere with the metabolism or amplify the effects of medications.  For instance, consuming ginkgo biloba with blood-thinning drugs, such as coumadin or heparin, may prolong bleeding time and increase the risk for hemorrhage.  Or taking St. John's wort with antidepressant medications may intensify their effects.  Because of these potentially harmful interactions, you may want to have the supplements your taking evaluated by a Registered Dietitian, physician, or other health care provider.
Is there a reason you shouldn't be taking a supplement?  Some supplement labels will provide a list of contraindications or reasons that one should not take the supplement, and this list typically includes pregnant or lactating women and children.  Other than that, there aren't always comprehensive lists of contraindications.  However, we do need to be cautious about taking supplements given certain circumstances, conditions, or illnesses.  For instance, smokers are advised against long-term supplementation of beta carotene, a form of vitamin A, due to a possible increased risk for development of lung cancer.  Competitive athletes may need to avoid certain supplements because they contain a banned substance. For example, guarana is banned by the NCAA; however, this caffeine-loaded substance is found in many supplements designed to "improve athletic performance".  Taking such a supplement could result in suspension or disqualification from the sport.  Given the potential risks, it is wise to check with your physician, dietitian, or the athletic staff, in the case of athletes, to make sure that all substances contained in a supplement are considered safe, effective, and approved for use.

Are there other ingredients in the supplement that could be harmful to you?  I find that people often select a supplement based on the label claims or the major ingredients highlighted on the front of the label or on the supplement facts panel.  However, few people read through the entire ingredient list to see all that the supplement contains. Many supplements include other substances, such as binders and dyes, to which some people may be sensitive or allergic.  For example, some supplements contain soybean oil or soy lecithin, which may be harmful for someone with a soy allergy.  Someone with a wheat allergy may need to avoid products made with modified food starch as this may come from wheat.  If you do have food allergies or sensitivities, then it would be beneficial to thoroughly review the supplement ingredient list yourself for any potentially harmful substances or have your dietitian or health care provider do so with you.

Are you taking multiple supplements with the same ingredients?  When evaluating supplements, I often discover that a person is taking multiple supplements that contain the same nutrients.  For instance, they may be taking a multivitamin-mineral along with a B-complex supplement.  Each supplement contains some amount of all of the B vitamins, typically at least 100% of the Daily Value, so they're basically taking more than necessary.  In fact, since B vitamins are water-soluble and not stored to any great extent in the body, so the excess is basically excreted from the body in the urine. Pretty pricey urine, if you ask me!  So, examine your supplements carefully to make sure that you're not taking more than what's necessary.

Are you taking a supplement to make up for what you lack in your diet?  Some people readily admit that they take supplements to make up for what their diet lacks.  Usually what's lacking are vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, which are also packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals.  I understand that it may be challenging to eat a healthful, well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods from the various food groups everyday and that some people opt to take supplements as a safety net.  However, some people simply do not want to or do not like to include foods like vegetables and fruits into their diet, so they think that they're getting the next best thing with supplements.  It is important to keep in mind that they are called supplements for a reason.  They are meant to supplement the diet rather than serve as a substitute for food consumption.  Okay, so maybe it's better than nothing, but we need to consider what a person misses out on when s/he consumes supplements instead of food as a source of nutrients.  How is it possible to truly package the full nutritional value of a whole vegetable or fruit into one or even a few pills?  Also, research suggests that it is the combination of nutrients and phytochemicals of whole foods that work together synergistically to provide optimal nutrition to the body, and those processes would be lacking if we singled out nutrients or phytochemicals.  I also find that some people take supplements and still consume an unbalanced diet that provides less than optimal nutrition.  So far, it doesn't appear that taking a slew of supplements makes up for a diet loaded with less nutritious, processed foods.  Finally, when consuming supplements instead of whole foods, we are missing out on the FOOD!  While popping a pill or two might provide some of the essential nutrients one needs for basic physiological functioning, it will not necessarily help with satiety.  A person will still need to eat food to satisfy hunger.  Eat 5 cups of vegetables and fruits daily and most will find themselves very satiated and well-nourished!

If you're really ready to dig into some solid information regarding supplements, you may want to check out the titles below. Some of these can even be checked out at your local library!
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