Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Functional Food For Thought

You may have heard the term functional foods used loosely before to describe foods that either naturally or artificially contain nutrients that offer some type of health benefit to the consumer. Magazine articles, internet websites, and news reports tout the benefits of eating these foods, which they claim can do everything from reduce cholesterol to prevent conditions like heart disease or cancer. Even on a simple trip to the grocery store, you can find yourself bombarded with health claims on food packages, such as those on cereal boxes, nut butters and yogurts, proclaiming why their food is best for your health. The functional food craze has become so popular that the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) wanted to investigate… They gathered data from a multitude of industry resources following trends of functional foods in America, and published their findings in “The top 10 functional food trends for 2014”. You may be thinking, “wait slow down… food that has a function? What does that even mean”? Let me backtrack...

First of all, it is important to point out that ALL foods have a physiological “function”. Put simply, proteins are important for muscle repair, fats and carbohydrates for energy, and vitamins and minerals for cell function.

In an effort to distinguish foods that have a potentially positive effect on health, beyond basic nutrition, from foods that do not offer this health benefit, Japan created a food class termed functional food in the 1980s. Here in the U.S., we do not have an official class for, nor have we adopted a legal definition for these foods. Nevertheless, functional foods still have a major presence in America, likely because people are becoming more aware of the impact that food has on their health.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines functional foods as “a food that provides additional health benefits that may reduce disease risk and/or promote good health”. 

Seems broad, right? That’s because it is. According to this definition, oatmeal is a functional food because it has soluble fiber which can help lower cholesterol, and calcium-fortified orange juice is a functional food because it contains calcium which promotes bone health. 

While all foods contain nutrients that have a function in our bodies, functional foods are ones that have an additional benefit to our health. Typically, the ideal way for people to get their nutrients is through foods that naturally contain health-promoting ingredients… these foods are called “conventional” functional foods, and include foods  such as whole grains, fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts.

So now that we’ve covered the basics on what functional foods are, let’s dive into what’s trending in America. According to the IFT Insights article, the Top 10 Functional Foods Trends for 2014 include the following:

  1. Specialty Nutritionals: Consumers are seeking more nutrients, vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals including more fish/oil/omega-3s. 
  2. Get Real: Consumers are looking for foods that are simple, real, natural, and free of artificial ingredients.
  3. Hispanic Health:  Hispanics are the #1 users of energy drinks, sports beverages and 100% juice. Hispanics are 2x more likely than the general population to spend whatever it takes to look younger and are often the first to try a new health food, nutritional product or diet.
  4. The Protein Evolution:  Consumers are seeking more protein to maintain healthy bones, strengthen immune systems, and build muscle strength while maintaining energy throughout the day.
  5. Kid-Specific: Moms are looking for a wider range of healthy, convenient, kid-friendly foods and drinks with nutrient and calorie levels specific to kids.
  6. Pharma Foods: The majority believe functional foods can help prevent or delay the onset of heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis and Type 2 Diabetes
  7. Alternatives: Many are seeking alternatives such as meatless meals for dinner on occasion; eggs are the most popular alternative followed by beans/lentils/legumes. Also, dairy-free milks including soy, rice and almond milk are increasing in popularity.
  8. Performance Nutrition: Sports nutrition category targets not only athletes and body builders but recreational sports participants, casual athletes and gym exercisers. 
  9. Weighing In: Consumers are avoiding the deprivation-style weight loss campaigns and instead simply eat healthier while adding specific real food components and nutrients to their diet. 
  10. Gen Zen: Today’s millennials between the ages of 14 and 33 view their food choices as healthier, more expensive, more natural and organic, less processed, better tasting and fresh. Millennials are also the most likely to believe that functional foods can be used in place of some medicines to relieve tiredness, lack of energy, retain mental sharpness with aging, reduce stress, and improve eye health. 

Can you relate to any of these functional food trends? My guess is that many of us are already buying into the functional food trends without even realizing! Health is important, and so is the food we eat. Choosing functional foods, especially the “conventional” functional foods that naturally contain health-promoting nutrients, is a great way to maximize your nutrition and live a healthy life. 

~Ashley Hamm


Sources: 

1. Denny, S. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. What are functional foods? April 2013. Accessed May 29, 2014. Available at http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442472528.

2. Sloan, E. Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) website. The Top 10 Functional Foods Trends. Food Technology. 2014:64(4). Accessed April 29, 2014. Available at http://www.ift.org/food-technology/past-issues/2014/april/features/toptentrends.aspx?page=viewall 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What Are the Facts on the New Nutrition Facts Label?

Picture a common scenario: standing in the grocery store, trying to decide between two food products—what do you do? If you’re like most consumers, you probably turn the package over to examine the Nutrition Facts label and base your decision on calorie or fat content (or, if you’re like me, you discard both options and head for the dessert aisle instead).  The Nutrition Facts label, found on most food packages in the US, serves as a guide to help consumers make informed food choices and practice healthy dietary habits. However, it can be incredibly hard to understand! If you’ve ever argued with yourself in the middle of the store trying to decode the label (and scared a Publix employee in the process), you’ll be happy to know that it is about to get a major facelift.

Why the sudden fuss over this image that we’ve come to accept as an unavoidable component of food packaging? For starters, the current label, introduced more than 20 years ago, does not reflect the current food environment of the average consumer.  In other words, the serving sizes shown on the current labels are no longer relevant to the dietary habits of today’s society. The proposed changes take people's actual eating behavior into account and the new label aims to provide a greater understanding of nutrition science with a refreshed design that is easier to read.


What Exactly are the Changes?

 Greater Understanding of Nutrition Science 
  •  The new labels require information about “added sugars,” which can decrease the intake of nutrient-rich foods while increasing calorie intake.
  •  Updated daily values for nutrients like sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D will be included on the label to help consumers understand the nutrient information in the context of a total daily diet.
  •  Manufacturers will be required to state the amount of potassium and vitamin D on the label, because they are considered “nutrients of public health significance.”
  •  The term “calories from fat” will be removed, because research shows the type of fat consumed is more important than the amount.

      Updated Serving Size Requirements and New Labeling Requirements for Certain Package Sizes
  •  Serving sizes will reflect how consumers eat and drink today. The label information must be based on what people actually eat.
  •  Packaged food and drinks that are typically eaten in one sitting, such as a 20-oz soda, must be labeled as a single serving with calorie and nutrient information to reflect the entire package.
  •  For certain packages that are larger and could be consumed in one sitting or multiple sittings, manufacturers must provide “dual column” labels to indicate both “per serving” and “per package” calories and nutrient information—for example, a 24-oz soda or a pint of ice cream.

      Refreshed Design
  •  Calories and serving sizes will be more prominent in order to emphasize parts of the label that are more important for public health.
  •  The Percent Daily Value will be on the left of the label so that it is read first.
  •  The label footnote will be changed to more clearly explain the meaning of the Percent Daily Value. 

The Next Step

Will the new Nutrition Facts label really be that much more helpful than the current one? Results from a recent Georgetown Institute for Consumer Research (GICR) study suggest so. In an attempt to investigate how helpful the current and the proposed new labels are to consumers, the researchers presented 830 participants with various items and asked them how healthy they perceived each to be. The items—a 20 oz bottle of soda, a frozen pizza, and an 8-oz bag of chips—were accompanied by either the current Nutrition Facts label, the proposed label, or an alternate proposed label. Consumers were randomly assigned to view one type of label. In addition, the label information was presented for either 10 seconds (to mimic an in-store viewing) or for an unlimited amount of time. The results suggest that the proposed labels were more helpful than the current label when given a brief, 10-second timeframe. This rapid encounter reflects the amount of time that a consumer would realistically spend looking at labels while shopping—hence, the proposed labels could make eating healthier an easier task for shoppers.

Of course, as with any change in consumer products, new information warrants a need for education on the label changes. What do you think of the proposed label changes? Will it be easier for consumers to make healthy choices at the grocery store? Or, has the FDA uncovered a whole new set of problems? No matter what your feelings are on the issue, you won’t see these changes until at least August 1st, 2014.


~Jenna Norris


Sources:
  • MacMunn A, O’Malley R. As Advocates for Improvements on Food Labels, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Supports FDA's Proposed Label Changes, Calls for Nutrition Education for Consumers. AND web site. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/Media/content.aspx?id=6442480118#.U4SLjJRdVSa. Published February 27, 2014. Accessed May 23, 2014.
  • Proposed Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label. FDA web site. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm. Published May 2014. Accessed May 23, 2014.
  • Hennessy M. Proposed Nutrition Labels More Effective Than Current Labels: Survey. Food Navigator web site. Available at: http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/R-D/Proposed-nutrition-labels-more-effective-than-current-labels-survey. Published May 22, 2014. Accessed May 23, 2014. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Rabbit Dishes are Back!

Last week I stumbled upon an article titled “rabbit dishes are regaining popularity” and I must say I was quite intrigued. I first was surprised to learn that rabbit dishes had once been a common occurrence on dinner tables across the United States. Upon reading further I learned that rabbit meat was highly popular during the World War II era. With most food shipped to the soldiers overseas and ration stamps at home, many Americans turned to raising rabbits in their backyards for meat and growing “victory gardens” for produce. Eating rabbit was considered patriotic, but somehow this trend dropped off after the war and most rabbits since then have been seen as household pets instead of a delicious meal. In Europe, however, rabbit has consistently been a part of the menu. The second main thing that I learned about rabbits was the small environmental footprint that they leave.

With today’s craze of all things “local”, “organic”, “sustainable” and the increased popularity in game meats it seems that rabbit meat is primed for a comeback in the US. Slow Food USA states that a rabbit produces 6 pounds of meat while a cow produces 1 pound of meat using the same amount of food and water, talk about sustainable! According to Whisper’s Rabbitry, rabbits can be raised in the country or suburban areas, make little noise, take up less space to raise, and are a very nutritious and lean meat. The Los Angeles Times reports that rabbit meat is higher in protein but lower in calories, fat and cholesterol than many other meats, such as chicken, beef and pork. So not only is rabbit meat local and sustainable but it is also very nutritious!

I had been thinking about cooking a rabbit dish of my own for some time now and after reading more about rabbit meat I decided to give it a try. Finding rabbit meat seemed like a daunting task at first but I soon realized that it wasn’t that bad. I tried my local Publix first but was unsuccessful there. I found out online that there are several rabbit breeders in Florida, most sell their rabbits as show breeds or as pets but some of them sell rabbit meet as well. This website has a listing of the various rabbit breeders in Florida with descriptions of the intended use of the rabbits they sell http://rabbitbreeders.us/florida-rabbit-breeders. After some more searching I discovered that Petty’s Meat Market in Longwood FL did occasionally sell whole frozen rabbit. I gave them a call and asked them to hold the only rabbit they had in stock which was a 2.7 pound frozen whole rabbit.

After I picked up the rabbit meat I went home and searched for a recipe. I choose to make a German dish called Hasenpfeffer (Rabbit Stew) that I found on allrecipes.com. Butchering the rabbit once it defrosted was not as challenging as I had anticipated although all I had to do was cut it into pieces and cook it with the bones still intact. It’s important to note that the bones are very small so be careful when eating the finished product! The cooking process itself was fairly simple. I have heard stories of how rabbit meat (which is all white meat) dries up really quickly, so I was very nervous that I might mess it up. Thankfully this wasn’t the case; I followed the recipe I printed off and the stew turned out delicious and tender! I wasn’t sure what kind of flavor to expect from the rabbit meat, although my suspicion was that it would have a gamey taste. Much to my surprise the rabbit meat was not gamey at all and really held the flavor of the seasoning well.

Overall my experience with making the rabbit dish turned out great and was easier to do than I had imagined. Although the rabbit meat was expensive per pound ($11.59/lb), it was an experience that I would like to repeat in the future. So if you’re looking for something new for dinner, give rabbit a try, it’s delicious and nutritious! Below I’ve included the recipe I used, if you have any recipes you would like to share please comment. Happy cooking!

~Stefanie, MS, RD, LD/N


Hasenpfeffer (Rabbit Stew)
Ingredients 
Original recipe makes 4 servings:
3 pounds rabbit meat, cleaned and cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup water
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules
1 tablespoon currant jelly
10 black peppercorns, crushed
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

Directions
1. Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Sprinkle rabbit with salt and coat with 1/3 cup flour, shaking off excess. Brown rabbit in remaining bacon fat. Remove from skillet, along with all but 2 tablespoons of the fat, and reserve.

2. Sauté shallots and garlic in skillet for about 4 minutes, until tender. Stir in wine, 1 cup water and bouillon. Heat to boiling, then stir in jelly, peppercorns, bay leaf, and rosemary. Return rabbit and bacon to skillet. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat to low. Cover and let simmer about 1 1/2 hours or until rabbit is tender.

3. Remove bay leaf and discard. Place rabbit on a warm platter and keep warm while preparing gravy.

4. To Make Gravy: Stir lemon juice into skillet with cooking liquid. Combine 3 tablespoons water with 2 tablespoons flour and mix together; stir mixture into skillet over low heat. Finally, stir in thyme. Pour gravy over stew and serve, or pour into a gravy boat and serve on the side.
     
Sources:  Noelle Carter, “Rabbit dishes are regaining popularity” The Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-rabbit-20140426,0,4933210.story#ixzz30HiViAhC, April 26 2014. Whisper’s Rabbitry, http://whispersrabbitry.webs.com/allaboutmeatrabbits.htm. Allrecipes.com, http://allrecipes.com/recipe/hasenpfeffer-rabbit-stew/.

Friday, March 7, 2014

March is National Nutrition Month!

March is National Nutrition Month, an annual event sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which reminds us to focus on making informed food choices along with healthy eating and physical activity habits. Each year this month-long event has a theme and the theme for this year is “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right”. That sounds pretty catchy, but what exactly does it mean? Well consumer research has shown that people tend to eat more of foods that they like the taste of… this seems like a no-brainer here. So using this information, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that the goal for this year’s theme is to “combine taste and nutrition to create healthy meals that follow the Dietary Guidelines recommendations”. The unfortunate part about all this is the idea that some people think that healthy foods are equivalent to foods that don’t taste good. But is that really true? I find it difficult to believe that there is a majority of people out there who don’t like the taste of foods like strawberries, beans, chicken, carrots, fish, nuts, olive oil, asparagus, oranges, avocados, beef, etc. There are so many foods from each food group that are considered “healthy” that it leaves me confused as to how we got to this idea that “healthy” foods taste bad. Is a steak healthy? Are potatoes healthy? Of course! They have nutrients that our bodies need, but does this mean we should eat them every single day? Of course not! I think that the big takeaway that you can get from nutrition education is balance, or as many RDs like to say “all things in moderation”.

This leads me to what the theme “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right” means to me which is to focus on eating whole foods and a variety of them. If we think of dinner as, I want a piece of grilled chicken with broccoli and rice instead of a lean cuisine TV dinner or a fast food chicken sandwich, we are thinking in terms of whole foods and not quick processed meals which frankly are less satisfying. Besides choosing whole foods, eating a variety of different foods from all of the food groups is so important. All foods do not contain the same things. This is why we need to eat a variety of foods from the grains, protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables and fat/oil groups to be able to get all of the nutrients that our bodies need to function every day. Just think about it, if our bodies did not need the nutrients provided by certain food groups then those foods would not exist in nature in the first place! Which is why diets that exclude or restrict certain food groups are absolutely ridiculous to me, but that’s another story.

So we can eat “right” by choosing a variety of whole foods from each food group but how can we “enjoy” it? It’s simple, play a more active role in your eating experience. Go online or ask friends for tips on new recipes to try, using foods you’ve never eaten before; make your meal a cultural experience by cooking a traditional Middle Eastern, Asian, Latin American or some other cultural dish; keep whole foods available at home to use for snacks such as nuts, fruits, cheese, crackers, trail mix, etc.; cook and eat with friends; and be mindful during your meal by really noticing the color, texture, smell and taste of the food you are eating, you may realize that the satisfaction that you get from your meal is enhanced when you do this.

So what I hope you get from this blog is that you use the theme “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right” by choosing a variety of whole foods from each food group and being more active in the eating experience. And once you’ve done that, make it a habit!      

Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ website at: http://www.eatright.org/nnm/# for more information on National Nutrition Month.

--Stefanie MS, RD

Monday, December 30, 2013

Frozen Produce: Get the Facts

Frozen produce gets a pretty bad wrap. I'm not totally sure why, but a recent article from the Wall Street Journal has a few ideas.

Maybe it's the idea that is conjured up when I mention a "frozen dinner"-- something bland, covered in some kind of sauce, and probably fairly salty, chewy meat. Not a lot of color, kind of a greyish-brownish mix of things.

Maybe it's the idea that if I didn't slave away over the stove for hours then it doesn't really "count" as a home-cooked meal, or I'm not taking proper care of my family.

But the reality is -- when you're going for produce, frozen is just as good as fresh. And at times, it can be even better than fresh -- like now, in the dead of winter, when fresh may have spent a fair amount of time in transit before I ever see it in the store. During transit, storage, purchase, and (ultimately) sitting on my counter or in my fridge until I'm ready to use it, my produce is losing nutrients. Some of these nutrients start to break down with exposure to the air (oxygen), or if they get battered and bruised a bit along the way.

And - bonus - especially out of season, these fruits and veggies are often cheaper than fresh.

Now, I know what you're going to say -- but the berries are mushy, and... no thank you. Well, you're right. There is absolutely nothing in this world that can compare to a fresh strawberry at peak season. Certainly not a frozen strawberry on a chilly January day such as this. But there are ways around this. So here you have it -- tips for getting the most out of your frozen fruits and veggies!

- Frozen fruit is great for smoothies! You really can't tell the difference here, I promise. And, bonus, they are already chilly so you don't even need to add ice!
- Looking for some crispness in your veg? Look no further than your skillet. Microwaving frozen veggies (while delicious) may not be what you're after, texturally. So try heating them up in a skillet to help maintain some of the texture.
- Frozen fruit is good for cooking! making compote or jellies for waffles and pancakes can help you use the softer texture of fruits to your advantage. They are also great for home-made pie fillings (easier than you'd think).
- Frozen veggies are great to toss in soups! Many types come without sauce and already chopped into the perfect sized bites for soups.

For the complete WSJ article, please go here.

-- Les, MS RD LD

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An ode to B12

Maybe "ode" isn't the best word, since I'm not much of a singer/song-writer, but I still think today is a good day to talk about B12 -- what it is, what it does, and why we should care.

B12, or Cobalamin as it's called in more science-y circles, is one of the B-complex vitamins. This also includes B1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9. They each have alternate names like thiamine (1), riboflavin (2), niacin (3), pantothenic acid (5), pyridoxine (6), biotin (7) and folate (9). It may sound like a lot to remember but here's basically everything you need to know about the B vitamins. Are you ready?


They are all water soluble (meaning the body doesn't really store them very well). They help you break down the food you eat to get energy. So that's why we call them energy vitamins. Energy drinks and little magic "3 o'clock feeling" caffeine-free energy supplements are loaded with B vitamins, and B12 in particular. (In case you're wondering, vitamin C is also water soluble. Vitamins A, D, E & K are all fat soluble).

What's interesting, though, is that if your body doesn't have the energy available, such as a carbohydrate, protein or fat source (i.e. food), then the B vitamins don't get used. And because they are water soluble, the body will flush them away along with the rest of your... fluids. You will literally flush these vitamins down the toilet.

B12 Myth Busted: B12 burns belly fat! Or any kind of fat. Looking at the above, you can understand how someone may make this mistake. B12 is not a calorie-free energy source. In fact, calories are the body's energy source so... no calories, no energy. Makes sense, right?

However, studies have shown that in people who are B12 deficient, weight loss will occur when adequate B12 levels are achieved. This is due to the body being able to more efficiently break down the energy in the food you eat when it has enough of the vitamin available.

So then, how do you know if you are B12 deficient? B12 is produced by animals (but not humans, sadly), and is therefore found in animal products, such as meat fish and dairy. Strict vegetarians may require B12 supplementation, since they won't get it from the diet. Other at-risk groups include people with digestive alternations, such as having had gastric surgery or removal of parts of the intestine that absorb B12.

B12 requires activation in both the mouth and stomach to be sufficiently absorbed. Additionally, since B12 is found in animal protein sources, stomach acid is important to help break everything apart so the body can get access to the B12.

What's the lesson here? B12 is a pretty phenomenal vitamin. In addition to its role in metabolism and breakdown of energy sources, it is also plays a part in cardiovascular and neurological health & function. B12 is a pretty cool vitamin.

-- Les, MS RD LD

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Beyond the Basics of Sodium

We hear a lot about Sodium. It's all over, really. Sodium takes credit in popular media for increasing blood pressure and causing fluid retention. It also takes credit for enhancing flavor (especially in processed foods). As a result, when sodium is conspicuously absent from these foods, they are advertised with a big shiny label that says "No Sodium Added!" or "Low-Sodium!".

But what does it actually do?

In terms of taste, yes, it makes things taste salty, but it also enhances the flavor of sweet things and can add depth to savory foods. So removing salt from a food doesn't just keep it from being salty, it may also completely change the flavor profile.

In the body, sodium is pretty important, and it does a lot of things. Yes, that includes influencing blood pressure (in some people, but not everyone) and can cause fluid retention. 

But why? And how?

Well, as it happens....

Sodium and water get along just beautifully. Specifically, NaCl (sodium [Na] chloride [Cl]) really likes to be around water. Have you ever put salt on an avocado? Or noticed the way a salad will wilt if you leave salad dressing on the leaves for too long? Sodium actually pulls water to come with it. Chemists will call this "osmolality" but really it just means sodium and water love to hang out.

As it happens, this is pretty important in human physiology. Humans are somewhere between 60-80% water (we are born closer to 80% and dry out as we age). That's a LOT of water to keep in the right place. Sodium helps us do that. In the case of water retention, all it means is your body will hang on to a bit of that water until it has time to flush out the excess sodium. Excess water can influence blood pressure for some people (meaning your blood has more water in it, which means more pressure by your heart to pump, thus higher blood pressure). This can also be the case for people with difficulty maintaining sodium balance, such as those with renal disorders.

Sodium is also important in nerve transmission, and it moves frequently in-and-out of the cells to help maintain water balance and electrical current.

So, in essence, what does this all mean? Sodium is pretty important! We have requirements for Sodium each day, and for the most part, the body can take care of a little fluctuation in one direction or another. In general, the Institute of Medicine recommends no more than 2300 mg daily of sodium. Naturally, certain conditions, such as blood pressure, kidney issues and diabetes, will have other recommendations for sodium intake. Be sure to ask your physician about your specific needs before you make any changes in your own diet or exercise routines.

The more you know!

-- Les, MS RD LD