Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Teenage girls and food

Sharing time with teenage girls at home has been an education for me. We are starting gardens in early schools and making progress in school education in some areas. Yet, we are missing some really important opportunities in practical food science and nutrition lessons that need to be brought home. Here are three typically asked questions concerning teen girls that need to be clarified and the lessons that need to be taught.

1. What’s a “Carb”? Nearly all teenage girls I’ve spoken with really don’t know. They just believe that they are bad and make you fat. One teen I recently had breakfast with said, she didn’t want to eat the waffle served to her because she didn’t want to eat “carbs”.  Because she didn’t want “carbs”, she then didn’t want to eat the breakfast at all. Her mom wanted her to eat and coached her to eat a little so she agreed and promptly drowned one waffle in fake maple syrup (pure sugar and high fructose corn syrup with artificial maple flavor) - the worst way she could consume carbs in the form of added sugars. She turned down an egg (protein) and accepted the orange juice (with as much sugar as a glass of Cola soda) because it was fruit juice. The breakfast she had consisting of the one waffle with maple syrup and a glass of orange juice had a whopping 64g of sugar (252 calories). The “carb” content of the meal was slightly higher from the flour in the waffle than the sugar content alone but not much.  The breakfast this teen ate was nearly 500 calories, 450 of which were from “carbs” - a “carb” overload in the unhealthiest way.

There were also oranges and bananas on the table. If she ate one waffle with an orange, she would have 16g of sugar (64 calories).  She could have added bananas and cinnamon or jam for a healthy topping. The waffle containing some fat and protein brought the healthier waffle and orange meal to just over 150 calories for the meal (and adding an egg for added protein could add another 100 calories more to the breakfast).  One half of a banana, jam with cinnamon would add no more than 10g of sugar or 40 calories.

The waffle with 2g of sugar and only 9g of carbohydrate need be her least concern with the breakfast.

Lesson: Think about what would want on your plate - what you want that’s good rather than what you don’t want that’s bad. Fruits and vegetables and the fiber they contain are all carbohydrates and essential for good nutrition.  Seek to fill at least 1/2 of one's plate with these “carbs” in whole form at every meal. A plate should always be colorful as possible.  A healthy plate should be pretty. Teen girls, if you want to be beautiful inside and out, remember this.

By the way, an average teen would not want to eat more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar/about 100 calories of sugar daily (not including whole fruits and vegetables).

2. How do I know if food in the refrigerator will make me sick?

Meat, chicken and eggs are the foods most likely to make you sick.

Lesson:  Store eggs in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Check for cracks and do keep them in a container where they cannot touch other foods. Meat and chicken should be kept frozen if already frozen and you will not eat them right away. If you do not keep them frozen, cook them as soon as possible to eat within 3 days at most and keep them covered in the refrigerator. If defrosting in the refrigerator, do not let the food or juices touch other foods or surfaces. Use a plastic wrap over or paper towel over the cutting board which can be tossed. Wash all cutting surfaces and counters with soapy water with a clean sponge or towel.

If a food has a different odor or color than is typical for the food in a fresh state, toss it. If it is moldy, unless it is a hard cheese, toss it. There are a few exceptions, but this is safest.

If a packaged food has passed it’s expiration date toss it; however you do not necessarily need to toss it if the food has passed it’s sell by date, best if used by date or even it’s use by date. These dates are manufacturers way of telling you that there may be some flavor or quality loss from the freshest product for a number of reasons but do not pertain to safety.

3. How do I store my food in the refrigerator?

Allow warm foods to approach room temperature before storing in a container at a colder temperature. Glass containers for all food storage are best, especially those that have any liquid. For fruits and vegetables, plastic containers are fine as long as there are vents to let gases that spoil them release. Place a paper towel in the container to absorb extra moisture.

Lesson: It’s generally a good idea to cover your food, so that if another food in the refrigerator goes bad or spills it does not contaminate another food. Foods that can spoil are best on the lower shelves to avoid spills to other shelves.

Most bacteria and molds grow in environments where oxygen and moisture are present. The colder the temperature, the slower the growth.

Do not eat food from a can that is dented or bulging. A bulging can indicates that bacterial toxins despite the fact that the canning process eliminates oxygen which if remains safely sealed will keep you safe.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Addicted to the idea of convenience?

Every year the food industry looks at the top new products and trends. Taste trumps most, but convenience is typically the next attribute that influences our purchases.  I wonder if we are taking what we think is convenient a bit too far and hurting our own pockets, health and the environment? What is the true price we pay that we choose not to think about?

Know that there is always a price for perceived convenience even if in reality the convenience benefit is small.  What really drives your purchase? Are you driven by saving money? Saving your health? Saving the environment? I ask you to consider how much of your time are you really saving when you make a choice for convenience.

Let's have some fun with this by first recognizing that food companies are in the business of making profits by providing perceived benefits. That means that you will pay more money for perceived convenience not necessarily actual convenience. You get to chose if the benefits are appealing to you but unfortunately for you, you rarely consider the consequences.

An example of this is buying frozen scrambled eggs in a carton from the freezer which is about the cost of a dozen eggs for just a few. This is because you are paying for the packaging and are buying "breakfast" ready made in a box that sadly you will likely not recycle. You rationalize that you saved money over the cost of buying breakfast away from home. Instead of paying $0.60 for 2 eggs you paid $3-$4 for a refrigerated or frozen egg breakfast that you still heated or at least the same price eating out (and waited on line or for your food, etc. etc.). I personally would rather know the chickens have free range and some quality of life and put my money there. The truth is that you didn’t save more than a minute of time over preparing an boiled or fried egg and it cost you more.  Did your health benefit? Nope. And yes, you were a cost to the community and environment due to packaging.

Another example: You buy "light” juice. Why? So manufacturers can add water to the juice so you don’t have to. When they add the water to the juice, they have to pay by weight to transport products, you pay as much for a product that is all juice as one that is watered down. You can buy fresh juice, add a touch of the juice to your carbonated water and you have the equivalent of flavored sparking water. It’s really a win - you consume less sugar, use one less plastic bottle, save money and spend about one minute more - the time it takes to fill your filtered water pitcher or pour from two bottles instead of one and maybe wash one glass rather than drink from the bottle.

You are also paying for manufacturers to ship water in plastic bottles to you. They make it inexpensive by using cheaper, thinner plastic which is usually not as good for you and the earth. But you want water to be inexpensive. Who is paying for the packaging and shipping? There is always a cost. Is buying cases of plastic water bottles for “convenience” worth sacrificing your health and the environment? The water often sits in the back of your car exposed to light and heat. The plastic can then leak BPA into the water you drink. You stay away from canned foods because of your fear of BPA but drink water and juices from the plastic bottles leaking BPA. Is this the price you want to pay on a regular basis to save the minute it takes to use a filtered water pitcher and pour the water or juice into a glass or metal bottle?

If you don’t care about the money and you are not really saving time, could it be that we all have developed some less than ideal habits in the name of convenience that have hidden costs to your health and society because they are not visible to you in the moment? 


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!