Friday, April 30, 2010

Organic's "healthy halo"

Cornell Professor Brian Wansink's latest research finds that organic foods have a "healthy halo" causing overeating. An organic food which is free of synthetic materials used in processing may be safer to eat if handled properly and eaten quickly, but defining a food as organic certainly does not give us license to eat a food without moderation. Organic foods can be healthier than non-organic foods in some respects because of how they are grown or processed but do not have more nutrients than naturally occur in that food and need to be eaten soon after harvest and in appropriate quantities. Organic does not tell us how healthy a given food is, it just says it is grown or formulated in a certain way with certain standards.

Importantly, organic certainly doesn't mean a food is low calorie. If we give ourselves permission to overeat when we choose organic foods are we defeating our purpose at least to some extent?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Reward kids and make them happy!

New legislation in California puts restrictions on a "Happy-type meal" so that a kids meal that doesn't meet certain nutritional guidelines cannot be sold with a toy.

How did these "Happy-type meals" come about? Rewarding children for behavior works well to create a desired action. While, there are many ways to reward children, food and toys are typically the rewards of choice. Personally, I would argue for more love, hugs and attention with a few good toys and other treats. Can't we interchange rewards so that all the rewards are good and sometimes even an unexpected surprise? No one consciously wants to teach our children to mistake food or objects for love.

I vote for one reward at a time. If the reward is a burger or a food or candy treat, do we really need to double dip with two rewards - a food or candy and a toy? Just in case the first reward doesn't work, there is a fallback reward?

Now if it is established that if the toy is the reward, should the child be rewarded for eating an meal that doesn't meet nutritional guidelines? Wouldn't you want your child to be rewarded with a toy for eating a healthy meal?

Using a smaller plate to adjust portion sizes to what they should be

When you want to be accountable for calories you eat in a meal and be sure to eat for one rather than two, look at the portion and calories associated with frozen food entrees. If you want to consume lower calorie meals refer to frozen entrees such as such as Lean Cuisine. Notice the size of the plate (typically about 8 inches in diameter) and the size of each food portion. If you are preparing the meal yourself, eliminate the dessert or sauce on your own meal and you can eat a little more quantity for the same amount of calories and your meal will have more nutrition per calorie.

If you are not trying to have a lower calorie meal but just want to be sure that you are not eating more than you should, use the full calorie frozen entrees for reference. Eating Right or Healthy Choice are good selections to reference.

Once you get used to the amount of food you should be eating in a meal, you can use your own plate that is a similar size but stick to the quantities you have become accustomed to. Remember, whether preparing your own food, purchasing food from a store or eating out, portion size quidelines should be minded.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Processing and the chemicals in our foods

Technically speaking, processing is the "process" of bringing food from the farm to the consumer. Handling and processing can be more or less harmful depending on practices used.

Often there is an issue of what chemicals are used to bring foods to consumers. Some chemicals that have been found to have negative consequences on health are used to preserve foods from spoilage so that they can be brought to the masses who cannot get to farmers markets or who cannot afford to purchase these fresher foods. Foods that spoil and are eaten are not safe either and there are tradeoffs that must be made for safety. Foods that are thrown away cost us money. Recently, I have seen some new innovative, natural food preservation methods. With the appropriate focus in this area more innovations are likely to surface.

The USDA will be announcing new regulations to keep our food safe in the coming months. Some of these regulations will be hard on smaller businesses as the required practices may be costly to implement.

Some chemicals are used so that foods alter the appearance of foods to make them more appetizing to consumers such as additives that enhance the color of a product. The upside of this approach can be to make these foods more appealing to purchase. The question becomes, can we educate consumers to be comfortable consuming oranges that are not completely orange so coloring is not a part of their processing? How can we manage the cost of bringing food to consumers that is healthy and still appealing. (I'd hate to see us throw away all the oranges that don't have a great orange color but still are sweeet and have lots of Vitamin C). What price are we willing to pay for healthier food?

We pay a price, risking our health in many ways that we may not be aware of. But if we are aware, we need to speak up. Consumers need their voices heard so that competition in the market will bring us the very healthiest and safest food for the lowest cost.

Trend towards ingredients and other food to avoid

In short, from research I've seen, only a very small segment of consumers read labels and of those, few are aware of what specific ingredients used in food processing that they should steer away from. If we are talking about the Whole Foods shopper perhaps a few more are aware. Therefore, considering basic human behavior, I highly doubt consumers will be on the lookout for more than a few ingredients to avoid since it's hard enough for them to keep track of these details and factor all of this information into their diet.

As for trends in this area, we can think back to issues with Red Dye #3 and or even MSG. Any one additive ingredient can begin an awareness trend that would bring these issues to light today either because of a study that causes the government to bring attention to the ingredient or because of a consumer movement that tips the media attention.

I believe our problem today is that the consumer is overwhelmed by hearing about specific ingredients to eat or not to eat rather than following a more holistic approach with their diet considering how a particular food fits into their diet, budget, need for convenience and beliefs. Yes, it's important to stay as educated as possible about what we should eat but even more important to step back and put it all into perspective. We need to weigh the risks of what we eat in total. I believe in simple, guiding principals overall rather than expecting a consumer to know the healthy or non-healthy food or ingredient of the day.

We eat what we do because we consciously or unconsciously give ourselves permission. If we really took a look at what we consume honestly, would we give ourselves permission or would we make changes? More often than not we already know what we should do and just need some further guidance.

Here are some guidelines. Eat more whole foods and make tradeoffs as necessary. Be conscious and honest about these tradeoffs. Only when we are honest and diligent about our own food choices, will real change occur.


About Me

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First trained as a food chemist and nutritionist, my career began enriching a Twinkie, comparing the nutrition of a Twinkie to an apple and studying the role of sugar in the diet. With an M.B.A. and years in food and pharma understanding consumers and manufacturers, I'm back to where I started - food should taste great and serve to keep us healthy. To do so, there needs to be consumer awareness. Consumers need to vote for what they want by buying what they really want. If they buy impulsively, that's what they will see more of. They need to practice balance and responsible choices. That's when change will come. Please engage me with your conversation so that I can help you make and stick to better food choices that you enjoy. You'll gain a deeper appreciation of food not only from farm to table but farm to health. My vision is to promote solutions for healthful food and food practices you can happily embody and embrace!