23, January 2015 12:59 PM

With the popularity of information sharing on sites like Facebook and Twitter comes the risk of perpetuating inaccurate and even harmful information, photos and "urban legends". As a result, services like Snopes and Fact Checker offer consumers reasonable guidance on separating fact from fiction online. 

The access to information provided online raises the same concerns for sharing inaccurate or exaggerated nutrition claims. Luckily, the Food and Nutrition Science Alliance (FANSA), a partnership of nationally recognized and credible health organizations, is dedicated to providing accurate nutrition information to consumers and health professionals. The combined membership of FANSA organizations includes more than 120,000 food, nutrition and medical practitioners and scientists.  

The Alliance developed the following 10 “red flags” of junk science to help consumers recognize exaggerated or false claims:

1. Recommendations that promise a quick fix
2. Claims that sound too good to be true
3. Simple conclusions drawn from a complex study
4. Recommendations based upon a single study
5. Dramatic statements that are refuted by a reputable scientific organization
6. Recommendations based upon studies without peer review
7. Recommendations based upon studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups
8. Dire warnings of danger from a single product
9. Lists of “good” and “bad” foods
10. Recommendations made to help sell a product, or by the manufacturer itself 

For more information, read the article "How to Separate Fact from Fiction.”

Teachers in middle school or high school may want to use this text in the classroom as a critical thinking activity that aligns with English Language Learning (ELA) Common Core State Standards to help students distinguish between fact and marketing hype. Sample activities:

  • Ask students to bring in a magazine article with advertisements or health claims. With a partner, have them identify articles/ads that seem “too good to be true” and discuss why they would question the findings.

  • Have each pair create a check-list of ways to affirm that an article is scientifically sound, and then have pairs share their ideas with the class.

So the next time you read something online or hear about the "next best thing" when it comes to nutrition, take a moment to try and spot any of these red flags. Until then, please continue to eat moderate portions of variety of foods from all five food groups. It might not sound terribly exciting, but it's sound nutritional science.

Tags: Healthy eating healthy eating patterns nutrition research
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

13, January 2015 3:08 PM

“It’s Not Nutrition Until It’s Eaten!” This is the theme of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement of California (SLM of CA), a coalition of seven agencies across California dedicated to low or no-cost ways to make the healthy choice the easy choice in the school lunch line. As part of its commitment to community health, Dairy Council of California and the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement of California are offering online and in person trainings to help school foodservice personnel reduce plate waste and increase student nutrition.

The SLM was created by the Cornell Center’s for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program (the BEN Center) and is based on the research-based strategies of using behavioral economics to nudge children to make healthy choice. The BEN Center has since driven the SLM through Food & Brand Lab research with school environments and implemented SLM principles into schools across the country. SLM is a grassroots effort where changes are made within the school lunchroom environment that nudges kids towards making more healthful foods like fruits, vegetables and low-fat milk.

The Smarter Lunchrooms core values include:

  • Low Cost/No-Cost Solutions
  • Focus on Lunchroom Environment
  • Promotes Healthful Eating Behaviors
  • Sustainability

The Smarter Lunchrooms six principles are:

  • Manage Portion Sizes
  • Increase Convenience
  • Improve Visibility
  • Enhance Taste Expectations
  • Utilize Suggested Selling
  • Set Smart Pricing Strategies

In conjunction with the California School Nutrition Association (CSNA) meeting in late 2014, representatives and proponents of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement in California gathered to showcase their best practices and results at a recent reception. Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction (pictured at right), congratulated SLM school districts on making the healthy choices the easy choice. Torlakson, a long-time advocate of student health, remarked on the success of the SLM initiative statewide and the partnership of the seven agencies has now trained over 150 California public school districts and over 500 staff in less than two years.

"CSNA is dedicated to the professional growth and learning of our members. I am happy to see school foodservice professionals in California joining the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement," said CSNA president Agnes Lally (also pictured at right). "Having the support of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement of California collaborative partners is providing the training and support to engage us in activating this movement within our schools."

SLM continues to grow in California, due in part to the USDA’s adoption of SLM into mandated student wellness policy and award programs. California partners, Kaiser Permanente, California Department of Education, Dairy Council of California, UC Cal Fresh Nutrition Education Program, California Food Policy Advocates, the California Department of Public Health, The California Endowment and Cornell’s Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs will host training sessions statewide during March and April 2015. 

Read more on the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement of California, including a listing of the dates and locations for trainings. Additionally, the SLM of CA has launched a Technical Advising Professional network to provide hands-on support to districts, following their training program. The Smarter Lunchroom Movement of California is indeed moving!

Tags: community health Healthy eating smarter lunchrooms
Categories: categoryNutrition Education

07, January 2015 3:52 PM

nutrition calculator helps examine food choices to create a healthy eating plan

Nearly half of Americans make some kind of New Year's resolutions, so we're offering a new, streamlined tool to help those resolution makers achieve success with a healthy eating plan. 

In just three easy steps, the all-new Healthy Eating Planner helps you assess your eating habits, learn basic health and nutrition recommendations and set a realistic goal for improvement.

Planning for Success

Step One: set your benchmark. The Healthy Eating Planner helps you review your eating habits and examine your food intake to determine areas for improvement. Progress, not perfection, is the goal here. Do you tend to skip breakfast? Do you prepare meals at home? These questions are designed to help you examine your habits to identify areas for improvement and goal setting.

Step Two: learn how you are doing.  A nutrition calculator helps you to examine how your eating patterns compare with the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Are you eating balanced meals with enough food group foods? By identifying your individual health concerns and life stage information, you'll receive personalized recommendations and tailored information in order to create a plan in step three.

creating a healthy eating plan with this nutrition calculator

Step Three: make a plan. Setting small, achievable eating and activity goals based on the information shared in steps one and two is the third and final step in creating the healthy eating plan. These goals focus primarily on adding activities and foods to your diet rather than restricting choices. 

If you're interested in creating healthier eating and activity habits in the New Year, take a moment to complete the Healthy Eating Planner and let us know what you think. For additional information, this series of articles explores some of the science behind setting goals and creating healthy habits.

Maureen Bligh, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Tags: Healthy eating healthy eating patterns Maureen Bligh nutrition calculator
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

01, January 2015 8:00 AM

The New Year is a wonderful time to start instilling healthy habits like family meals or meal planning. To help you in these efforts, here are the weekly themes and recipes we'll be sharing all month long.

January Family Meal Recipes 

Low and Slow 

Hungarian Beef GoulashNoodle Kugel and Chocorazz Smoothies; plus Pulled Pork with Carmelized OnionsApple Yogurt ColeslawZesty Meatball Sandwiches and Slow Cooker Oatmeal.

Healthy Eating Planner

Skillet Gnocci with Chard and White Beans, Peanut Butter Pork Skewers and Apple Dippers; plus Ziti Alfredo with Vegetables, Low Fat Cha Cha Chalupas, Basil Green Beans and All Natural Oatmeal Banana Cookies.

Winter Produce

Root Vegetable Gratin, Rosemary Oven "Fried" Chicken, Cinnamon Stewed Apples, Lower Fat Parsnip and Potato Cassarole, Roasted Pears with Cheddar Crumble, Sweet Potato Gnocci with Light Bolognese, Polenta with Winter Squash, Gorgonzola and Walnuts.

Egg Month

Sunday Sausage Strata, Ginger Almond Pears, Green Tea Smoothies, Italian Tomato Eggs, Banana Cinnamon French Toast, Avgolemono Chicken Soup, Pan-Roasted Asparagus with Red Onions, Hard-Boiled Eggs, Capers, and Tarragon.

Tags: family meals Healthy eating healthy eating patterns
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

22, December 2014 4:08 PM

Saturated Fat is Bad for You: A Pervasive—Yet Not Wholly Accurate—Perspective

Not to date myself, but my interest in nutrition emerged in the 70s, piqued in the 80s and matured in the 90s … the three decades when fat, particularly saturated fat, was considered the worst thing that could pass your lips. Not only would it deposit directly on your hips and thighs, causing almost overnight obesity, but it would practically lodge in your heart and lead to a sudden heart attack, quietly and with no warning. 

eggs and cheese are back on the breakfast menu with new saturated fat research As a result, we eschewed butter, cream, whole milk, eggs and gravy and minimized our intakes of saturated fat-laden meats and cheeses. A generation of foods was developed and marketed that were low-fat or non-fat. We happily ate crackers and chips that were ‘baked not fried’ (and tasted like cardboard). We substituted margarine for butter and made chocolate chip cookies with applesauce or other fruit-based concoctions.

In my training as a dietitian, this paradigm was further reinforced. Patients with, or at risk of, heart disease (pretty much everyone) were steered away from saturated fats. Dieters were put on low-fat diets to save the 9-calories-per-gram that fats provided. Even cancer was associated with fats … and who wasn’t afraid of cancer? There was hardly anyone, except perhaps elite athletes, who shouldn’t be on a low-fat diet. Doctors, nurses, health educators … everyone in the health field agreed that saturated fats were bad for you. A look into the history of nutritional science sheds some light on how this myth was born and propagated into national guidelines.

The low-fat recommendations were based largely on a single scientist’s study, called the Seven Countries Study, which took place back in the 1950s. The scientist, Ancel Keys, looked at diet and heart disease data from seven countries, concluding that heart disease was directly linked to blood cholesterol levels, which were in turn linked to saturated fat intakes. Keys was so passionate about this relationship, and the data seemed so strong, that no one questioned him. 

He presented at national conferences. His ideas spread and powerful institutions, including the American Heart Association and National Institutes of Health, adopted them. Research dollars were made available to further his theory. Time magazine, the most influential magazine at the time, featured his story. During the 1950s and 60s the U.S. was immersed in a national epidemic of heart attacks and strokes, and people were hungry for ways to prevent these horrible fates. President Eisenhower had a series of heart attacks, eventually dying of heart disease in 1969. All in all, we were ripe for a solution and Keys provided it.

Saturated Fat and Heart Disease: A New Perspective

The past few years have uncovered serious flaws in Keys’ study design, and newer research has shown that this saturated fat- blood cholesterol- heart disease relationship is too simplistic:

  • Keys hand-picked the seven countries in his study. When other countries are included, the relationship between saturated fat and heart disease diminishes, if not disappears altogether. In fact, Keys has been accused of choosing only those nations that confirmed his hypothesis.
  • His was an epidemiological study—at best, it only showed an association. This would be like saying, ever since I bought a red car, I’ve gotten in a lot of accidents, thus the red car must be causing the accidents. True clinical studies that prove cause and effect are needed upon which to base recommendations.
  • We now know there are various types of cholesterol—such as HDL (healthy) and LDL (unhealthy), and subtypes of each—that have different effects on heart disease. Keys lumped all of these together to draw his conclusions.
  • Just like cholesterol, we now know there are different types of fat and saturated fat, all with different effects on blood cholesterol. Some types of saturated fat, such as those found in dairy foods, are neutral or even beneficial to heart disease risk. Again, Keys lumped all these saturated fats together.

Newer research is showing that saturated fat is not, in fact, linked to heart disease as once believed. A recent review that combined the results from 72 studies confirmed this, calling into question the recommendations to reduce intake of saturated fats. The June 2014 feature article of Time magazine was titled “Eat Butter: Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong.” Best-selling books are flying off the shelf, including one I recently read called “The Big Fat Surprise: Why butter, meat and cheese belong in a healthy diet” that summarizes the changing paradigm on saturated fats.

enjoy cheese in moderation again

So… Is Saturated Fat Good or Bad?

This puts us in a conundrum in nutrition, where the recommendations do not align with the new research.  Many people, health professionals included, are embedded in their old paradigms, but this new evidence suggests that it’s time to re-think these edicts. The bottom line is that saturated fat is not the demon once believed. Foods that were once avoided—like butter, eggs and whole milk—can be incorporated into healthy diets. Eating smaller quantities of highly satisfying food may be just what we need!

At the same time, this doesn’t give us liberty to eat one-pound hamburgers and bacon every day. Calories still count and body weight, physical activity and dietary patterns are more important than any specific food component. 

Before making any drastic changes to your diet, check with a dietitian or medical doctor to make sure it’s on track with your individual needs. And, don’t hesitate to share what you now know about the saturated fat topic!


Lori Hoolihan, Ph.D., R.D.N. 

Tags: healthy dietary patterns Healthy eating heart disease nutrition research saturated fat
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

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