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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Nutrition in the News: Restaurant Menus and Calories

Look for calories to be printed on menus by May 5, 2017.  Good thing as this past week we ate at Olive Garden and wanted a lighter meal.  We asked the waiter if they had a light menu with calories noted.  He didn’t know.  We asked if the calories were posted on the menu and he said no, but he could go to the kitchen and look up the calories.  Luckily, we noticed the Olive Garden menu has Tastes of the Mediterranean with menu items under 600 calories.  Looking for calories on restaurant menus will become a lot easier on May 5, 2017 when restaurants that have over 20 locations will be required to post calories on their menus.   

What establishments will be posting calories?
  • Restaurants with more than 20 locations nationwide
  • Convenience stores must show calories of prepared food items such as muffins and donuts
  • Movie theaters – ever wonder how many calories in the tub of popcorn?  It will now be posted.
  • Supermarkets – will post calories of prepared foods such as sandwiches.
  • Vending Machines – look for calories near the food item or on a selection button.           

Tips for using the posted calories
  • How many calories do you need each day and each meal?  If you need 2100 calories a day, then dinner should be about 700 calories.  If your entre runs more than this, think of boxing up half of it to take home.
  • Menu Options – some menu items will have 2 calories posted:  350/450 as different preparation methods or options can change calorie counts. Ask the wait staff which options have the higher and lower calories.
  • Compare restaurants – you may always order a side of small fries.  But the calories can vary greatly from restaurant to restaurant.  So check the menu at each restaurant and don’t assume you know what the calories are.
Will posting calories make a difference in what we eat?

New York City already requires restaurants to post calories.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest noted a study that found 15% of people chose food with 106 fewer calories at lunch when the calories were posted. 

By looking at the menus you can now make healthier, informed choices. stated people can think about choices they are making such as ordering small fries instead of large fries saves you 200 calories.  Ordering the fries instead of ordering onion rings can save you 300 calories. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ban the Trans Fats from Your Diet

So many people focus on cutting back on carbs but not as many focus on cutting back on fat in their diets.  Some fats are truly the bad fats, the worst kinds of fat for your health.  These are trans fats.  Trans fats are so bad for your health that during 2007-2011, eleven counties in New York actually banned trans fats.  Restaurants, bakeries and concessions like park concessions could no longer sell foods containing trans fats.  This became a perfect experiment on trans fats and health as some counties in New York allowed trans fat in food sold in public places and other counties did not.  Granted, in every county in New York you could still go to the grocery store and buy foods containing trans fats, but not in restaurants and other public establishments that sold food.  So, what did the researchers find? 

Heart disease – in counties that banned trans fats, heart disease declined even more than in counties that did not ban the trans fats. Additionally, less people were admitted to hospitals for heart attacks and strokes as reported in JAMA Cardiology.     

Why are trans fats so bad for your health?                                                                                                                              
The Mayo Clinic states, “Trans fat is considered by many doctors to be the worst type of fat you can eat.”  This is because it raises your bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol)  and lowers your good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol).   This raises your risk of heart disease. 

What are trans fats?
Manufacturers add hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to create partially hydrogenated oil.  This hydrogenated oil is solid at room temperature.  Restaurants prefer this hydrogenated oil for deep fat frying as it lasts longer and they don’t have to change the oil in the fryer as often.  Good for them but bad for us the consumer.  Food manufacturers like to use partially hydrogenated oils as it has a longer shelf life so food products can be on the store shelves longer without spoiling.  Good for the food manufacturers but not our health.  

What foods have trans fats and how can you avoid them?
Mayo Clinic lists a number of foods that may contain trans fats.  Even if the label says 0 grams of trans fat, FDA allows manufacturers to include up to 0.5 grams of trans fat, but label it 0 grams of trans fat.
Baked goods – yes, all those good-tasting goodies, the store-bought cookies, donuts, cakes, pie crusts and even crackers and frosting. 
Snacks – some snacks do and some don’t.  Chips may have trans fats.  Look at the label and choose chips made with corn oil, sunflower or canola oil.  Lays chips are healthier as they are made with liquid oils and not partially hydrogenated oils.  Sun Chips are a good choice as they are whole grain and made with a healthier oil like corn oil.
Fried food – not only is fried food high in fat, but it may also contain trans fat.
Stick margarine – avoid stick margarine and choose tub margarine, softer margarines like Smart Balance are a better choice than stick margarines.

Why doesn’t FDA ban trans fats if they are so bad for our health?
Actually, FDA is banning trans fats but not until 2018.  Since 2006, FDA required food manufacturers to list trans fat on the Nutrition Facts label because trans fat has been linked to heart disease by contributing to plaque buildup in arteries.  In 2015, FDA ruled that partially hydrogenated oils were no longer “generally recognized as safe”.  In June, 2018 food manufacturers will have to ensure that their products no longer contain partially hydrogenated oils unless FDA authorizes that use. 

To cut back on the trans fats in your diet, look at the ingredients and look for “partially hydrogenated oil”.  Even if the trans fat is 0 grams, if the food contains partially hydrogenated oil, the food has some trans fat in it. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Habits for Healthy Aging

Who doesn’t want to stop father time?  We can’t turn back the clock, but we can establish some habits that will keep us healthier as we age.  WebMD has some good advice in their article, The Secret to Healthy Aging.  They acknowledge there is no fountain of youth but establishing some healthy habits can make your life more enjoyable and extend your life span.  What tips do they offer?
     1. Keep Moving – keep exercising and stay physically active.  So many health benefits to exercise:  reducing heart disease risks, you sleep better, have a better memory, less depressed, stronger bones and you are less likely to fall when you are older. 
       2. What kind of exercise?
  • Aerobic or Cardio is a good way to strengthen your heart and to get fit.   But one doesn’t have to go to the gym to get some aerobic exercise.  Walk at a faster pace, go for a bike ride or ride a stationary bike when watching TV.  Spring and summer are great times to be outside, mow the lawn, wash the car, put down new mulch, gardening is a great way to be active and get  some fresh air. 
  • Strength training – so good for toning up for summer.  One doesn’t need to lift huge amounts of weights to get toned and build some muscle.  Light weights from the Dollar store will work.  Or do some sit ups, push ups, basic exercises at home.  Go to Verywell at Beginner's Guide to Strength Training for some ideas on how to get started.  I go to the gym, for strength training 2 days a week.  5 machines for upper body toning and 5 machines for legs and lower body. 
      3. Focus on the Mediterranean Diet – not to lose weight but to eat healthier and live longer.  This is not a “diet” but a way of eating every day.  It focuses on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and healthy fats like Olive Oil.  U.S. News & World Report ranks this diet as one of the healthiest diets to follow to promote good health and fitness.   Read more about the Mediterranean Diet to learn about how to eat healthier by adding herbs and spices to your diet, eating more fruits, veggies, beans, nuts and leaner protein.  Even if you can’t follow all aspects of this eating pattern, try changing something.  For example, focus on eating a handful of nuts a day.  Eat a banana every day at breakfast.  Pack some baby carrots in your lunch every day.  Make at least some aspects of this healthy “diet” a pattern of eating.

4.   Healthy Fats – Choose olive oil, canola oil for cooking and for making salad dressing.

5.   Fish – aim for fish twice a week.  If you are not a “fish” lover, then find some way you can incorporate more fish in your week.  We make tuna fish salad sandwiches as a way to get some fish in our week
 6. Veggies – no, not French Fries, but some fresh or steamed veggies.  Skip the frying and try them steamed or cook them in the microwave.  More broccoli, kale, spinach, carrots and tomatoes add not only vitamins but many antioxidants – or anti-aging compounds to your day.  

With the weather warming up, it is a great time to be outside more and going to Farmer’s Markets to get stocked up on fresh fruits and vegetables.     

Enjoy some buckwheat pancakes with fresh blueberries and lite syrup.