Category Archives: Nutritional Awareness

Brown-bagging it isn’t always as healthy as the school cafeteria

Healthy school lunch with bookWe’ll admit it. We’re a little surprised by this information coming out of the Washington Post. While we understand that the nutritional quality of school lunches has received a major upgrade, FoodFacts.com has just assumed that lunches prepared at home and packed in backpacks would still possess greater nutritional value than cafeteria food. It appears this isn’t always the case.

The Post compared 1,300 school cafeteria and brown bag lunches at three Virginia schools. They found that the packed lunches contained more calories, carbs, fat and sugar — as well as less protein, fiber and calcium when compared with the National School Lunch Program meals.

The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act require schools to increase fruits, veggies, whole grains, and low-fat milk; reduce sodium and saturated fat in the foods they serve; and meet nutrition needs for schoolchildren. Parent-packed meals do not have to meet any guidelines. About 90 percent of schools reported that they met these standards for the most recent school year, up from just 14 percent four years ago.

About 40 percent of children bring a packed lunch to school. However, the Post found that lunches from home contained more desserts, unhealthy snack items like chips, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fewer healthy items like fruits and veggies.

The report is in line with a recent study of schools in Massachusetts, which found that only 27 percent of the packed lunches met at least three of the five federal standards.

Parents can improve the quality of their lunches by including fresh fruit and vegetables in each meal, substituting a sugary drink for water or milk, and get rid of desserts in favor of a fruit. They should also involve their children in making decisions on what to eat, and help encourage them to eat healthier foods by giving them a choice between healthy options.

We get that parents today are busier than ever. The world is on overdrive for most of us as we shoulder more responsibilities than ever before. While that snack-sized bag of chips or Goldfish crackers may be easier to throw in a lunchbox than sliced apples or pears, there are things we just shouldn’t be willing to forego for our kids. There are easy ways to sneak in some additional nutrition with lunch. A wrap instead of a sandwich can house some vegetables. Yogurt and fruit can easily take the place of chips and cookies. Healthy eating habits are what we want instilled in our children from the youngest of ages. It will make a difference in the choices they make for themselves later on and it’s certainly worth the extra effort.

Let’s catch up with school lunches and make sure our kids are eating right — not only when they’re at home — but in the middle of their busy school days as well!

http://dailydigestnews.com/2014/11/packed-lunches-are-often-more-unhealthy-than-school-lunches-report-finds/

Nutritionally, it’s all about the first 1,000 days of life

the-importance-of-fiber-during-pregnancy-newFoodFacts.com has devoted a lot of blog space discussing the importance of children’s nutrition. We’ve certainly had plenty of good reasons for that — the obesity epidemic has affected our kids in a profound way, compromising their health and altering their young lifestyles. Much has been done in an effort to change and ultimately reverse the crisis. School lunches are under new regulations. First Lady Michelle Obama has done a wonderful job with her groundbreaking Let’s Move campaign. We’ve even seen some major manufacturers commit to ditching artificial food colors in products our children love.

But what if we started earlier in our children’s lives? What if healthy eating started, say, at conception, and lasted throughout the first 1,000 days of a child’s life?

That is what Lucy Martinez Sullivan hopes to drill into the national and international conversation with her organization, 1,000 Days. “I realized how little attention and how little money had been focused” on this stage in life, she said.

The most important time to pay attention to a child’s nutrition is from the time of conception until they are 2 years old. Good nutrition during this critical window can change their lives, leading to better growth of brain and body.

Certainly, some of the important focuses of 1,000 Days are conditions in poorer countries without great infrastructure. But the U.S. ranks among the top 10 worst-performing countries when it comes to several major factors of child and maternal health. We are a part of this as much as anywhere else.
Sullivan is on a campaign to get the message out to decision makers, world leaders, and perhaps most important, parents.

To try to help her expand the reach of her campaign, she partnered with a woman so many of us know, Heidi Murkoff — otherwise known as the writer of the “What to Expect” books.

“The lack of interest” in the earliest years of life “is just startling,” Murkoff said. “The whole focus is on elementary school kids. They’re already 9 years old.”

Did you know, according to the Journal of Obesity in 2012, that french fries are the most common “vegetable” among 12-15 month olds in North America? With 18.5 percent of them eating fries at least once a day? Or that by 19 to 24 months, 62 percent of toddlers had eaten a baked dessert, 20 percent consumed candy, and 44 percent had consumed a sweetened beverage, according to the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism in 2013?

So while many countries that Sullivan deals with are in crisis mode because the children are undernourished, ours are poorly nourished. And that means their brains aren’t growing, they are in trouble physically, and it will be hard to dig out from under the damage already done.

So what now? As far as these two powerhouses are concerned, they will work together to try to engage the next generation of moms, policy makers and advocates to ensure a better start for babies worldwide.

Murkoff said she wants to see healthy food become more affordable and available. She wants to see more help to support breastfeeding for those who are able. “It’s a process that doesn’t come naturally,” she said. But many women want to, they just don’t know how. Or they are forced to return to work, many times to a place or shift work that doesn’t allow for pumping.

What does this mean for you and me? We need to change the way we all look at nutrition, childhood obesity and what causes a lack of good health — from the earliest days. That will help us prevent the worst diseases and health outcomes for the newest generation.

And, Murkoff noted, we have to “nurture the nurturer.”

That sentiment, Sullivan noted, will happen if we work to change policies, like a lack of paid maternity leave. How can we feed our children well, or even attempt to breastfeed them, if we have to return to work shortly after birth? How can we watch what goes into their little bodies if we can’t cobble together good childcare for those of us who do work? How can we feed them fresh fruits if we live in areas that have nothing but corner stores?

“The more we neglect populations…the more these families get locked into a cycle of bad health,” Sullivan said. “We need to set moms up to succeed.”

There’s so much critical information that’s revealed here. The research cited is fairly astounding. And it certainly points to the idea that we can do so much better for our children here in the U.S. We can remember when people were appalled when ketchup was considered a vegetable in school cafeterias and now we’re finding out that french fries are the most common “vegetable” for a substantial percentage of one-year-olds. It’s absolutely time to focus more energy on the nutritional quality of diets for the youngest among us. We’ll be doing so much for the health of future generations — and, in doing so, we’ll have a better opportunity reverse the obesity crisis once and for all.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/10/21/good-nutrition-during-the-first-1000-days-of-life-is-critically-important/

What girls eat today could influence their risk of breast cancer tomorrow

mailThere are many women for whom breast cancer is part of their family tree. Heredity can play an important role in the development of this devastating disease. But there are other women with no family history of breast cancer who are diagnosed every year having no idea how this could have happened to them.

But new research from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that what some of those women ate years ago as a teenager may have played a role.

“We know from lots of other data that that period of life is a critical period,” said Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Nutrition Department at the Harvard School of Public Health. “And the one thing that has been seen most clearly is consumption of red meat — both fresh meat and processed meat — during adolescence is related to higher risk of breast cancer.”

Researcher Maryam Farvid reviewed the data from nearly 45,000 women. She said girls don’t have to become vegetarians.

“If you just go from having red meat once a day to once a week, you can eliminate most of the risk,” Farvid said.

Researchers recommend choosing other forms of protein like nuts, beans, poultry and fish.

“That is the one thing that parents can steer their children towards to reduce their risk of breast cancer in the long run,” Willett said.

As for weight gain, research shows women increase their risk when they add pounds after menopause.

But as teenagers, it’s complicated.

“We actually see that the leaner girls have a higher risk of breast cancer later in life,” Willet said. “It’s quite a puzzle. It’s opposite to what everyone expected.”

Figuring out these connections between diet and risk could be key to preventing breast cancer in the next generation.

But one large-scale nutrition study — funded by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation — will take time.

The Growing Up Today Study has been tracking thousands of kids closely since 1996, but the oldest ones just turned 30.

“The participants have not really been old enough to start developing breast cancer yet, but within a decade or two, they will be.”

FoodFacts.com knows that everyone in our community works hard to make sure that their children are consuming nutritious, balanced diets. When it comes to breast cancer, nutritional awareness should take a front row seat in the educational process that can help us lower not only our own risk, but our daughters’ as well.

Read more:http://www.wcvb.com/health/leaner-girls-have-higher-risk-of-developing-breast-cancer-later-researchers-say/29014540#ixzz3HIapYaWu

Fast food menus claiming less calories … sort of

fast food slimmingFoodFacts.com ran across some seemingly encouraging news today regarding calories and fast food menus. As we read further, though, we realized that there’s a bit of a “smoke and mirrors” component going on with these claims.

A comprehensive new report is revealing that fast-food chains have been cutting calories on their menus.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, menu items introduced by big chain restaurants—including McDonald’s, Chipotle, and IHOP—had, on average, 60 fewer calories than items released in 2012. That’s a 12 percent drop in calories.

The study looked at 19,000 menu items served in 66 of the 100 largest restaurant chains in the U.S. from 2012 to 2013. The biggest drops were in new main course offerings (67 calories), followed by new children’s (46 calories) and beverage (26 calories) items.

However, the overall mean calories didn’t budge. The burger chains aren’t cutting the calories of their signature burgers; they’re just adding healthier items, such as salads, to the menu. Time posits that the lower-calorie menu additions are popping up because restaurants with 20 or more locations in the U.S. have to list calorie counts on menus.

But according to the study’s lead author, Sara N. Bleich, 200 extra calories a day can contribute to obesity.

“You can’t prohibit people from eating fast food, but offering consumers lower calorie options at chain restaurants may help reduce caloric intake without asking the individual to change their behavior—a very difficult thing to do,” Bleich said in a statement.

“This voluntary action by large chain restaurants to offer lower calorie menu options may indicate a trend toward increased transparency of nutritional information, which could have a significant impact on obesity and the public’s health,” Bleich said.

On the other hand, FoodFacts.com just wants to put out there that these voluntary actions by large fast food chains may be more about seeking to change public perception than an attempt to increase nutritional transparency of menu items. Since there is no chain that’s actually reformulating their signature items in attempt to decrease calories, we do have to think this might be true. While it’s important for fast food restaurants to introduce lower calorie options, as long as their main offerings remain as they are, it’s somewhat misleading to say that menus are slimming down. It all depends on what the consumer chooses to eat, not on the concentrated efforts of chains to reduce calories in items across their menus.

http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/10/12/fast-food-menus-are-slimming-down–theres-catch

Obesity link in cancer

Cancer &-fatOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so we want to spend time spotlighting new research illustrating possible nutritional links with cancer that can be of help to the FoodFacts.com community. Knowledge is power — especially when it comes to helping us avoid health conditions and disease. So let’s look at some new research that can make us more powerful in the fight against cancer.

You likely know that being overweight increases your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But did you know it also increases your risk for cancer?

If you didn’t, you’re not alone. While around 90% of Americans know that smoking is linked to higher rates of cancer, Dr. Clifford Hudis says, the inverse is true for obesity and cancer; less than 10% of us realize how fat is related to this chronic disease.

“Obesity is a major, under-recognized contributor to the nation’s cancer toll and is quickly overtaking tobacco as the leading preventable cause of cancer,” Hudis and his colleagues at the American Society of Clinical Oncology write in a new position paper.

In fact, as many as 84,000 cancer diagnoses each year are linked to obesity, according to the National Cancer Institute. Excess fat also affects how cancer treatments work and may increase a cancer patient’s risk of death, either from cancer or from other related causes.
The key word, Hudis says, is preventable. While we can’t change the fact that we’re all getting older (incidence rates for most cancers increase as patients age), we can change our weight through diet, exercise, sleep and stress management.

In 2003, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a study that included more than 900,000 American adults. Researchers followed the healthy study participants for 16 years, and found the heaviest participants were more likely to develop and die from cancer than participants who were at a healthy weight.

After their analysis, the study authors concluded that excess fat “could account for 14% of all deaths from cancer in men and 20% of those in women.”

Since then, research has simply strengthened the link between obesity and cancer. Studies have found a relationship between weight and the risk of as many as 12 cancers, says Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, including endometrial, colorectal, esophageal, kidney and pancreatic cancers.

A recent report published in the American Association for Cancer Research’s journal predicted the top cancer killers in the United States by 2030 will be lung, pancreas and liver — in part because of rising obesity rates.

“It’s not enough to say there’s an association between obesity and cancer. We need to know why,” Hudis says. “With the why, we can do something about it.”

Scientists are exploring several hypotheses on how excess fat increases a person’s risk for cancer. The answer may be slightly different for each type of cancer, but the encompassing explanation seems to be that obesity triggers changes in how the body operates, which can cause harmful cell growth and cell division.

Many of these changes may be linked to inflammation. In general, inflammation occurs when your body is reacting to something out of the norm — say a virus or a splinter in your foot. Obesity seems to cause chronic inflammation, which in turn may promote cancer development.

Take for example, Hudis says, hormone-sensitive breast cancers. Chemicals in the body meant to regulate inflammation also increase production of the hormone estrogen. And studies have shown excess estrogen can cause breast cancer tumors.

Fat tissue also produces hormones called adipokines, which can stimulate or inhibit cell growth, according to a fact sheet from the oncology society. If these hormones are out of balance, the body may not be able to properly fight cell damage.

Obesity can affect a cancer patient’s outcome from diagnosis to remission, Hudis says.
Obesity-related pain or unbalanced hormone levels may distract patients from the early warning signs of some cancers. Fatty tissue can also make it difficult for doctors to see tumors on imaging scans. And a late diagnosis often means a lower chance for survival.
The relationship between cancer and obesity also matters after diagnosis. Cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, may be hindered by a patient’s size. If the patient needs surgery, studies show excess fat puts them at a higher risk of complications, infections and death.

A recent study of 80,000 breast cancer patients found that pre-menopausal women with a BMI over 30 had a 21.5% chance of dying, compared to women with an average BMI who had a 16.6% chance of death.

Remaining obese as a survivor can also increase your risk of developing what’s called a secondary cancer, the authors of this new position paper say.

In general, “people should be aware that overweight and obesity, as common as they are in our population, have serious consequences,” Hudis says. “Cancer is really just another one.”

Start reducing your risk now: Stay active. Eat nutritious foods that are low in calories. Get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Manage your stress levels. All these behaviors will help you reach a healthy weight.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology is recommending more research be done on weight loss in the cancer survivor population to determine the best intervention method — and whether losing weight after a diagnosis improves patient outcomes. The results of these future studies could help persuade insurance providers to reimburse patients for weight management programs.

There’s so much great information here that gives us all significant reasons to continue our commitment to a healthy lifestyle. So many contributing risk factors for cancer are within our own control. We do have power here and can work to make the decisions that will ultimately improve our health and well being.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/01/health/obesity-cancer-asco/

Increasing waistlines signal bad news for the obesity crisis

waistlinesNews regarding the obesity crisis continues to be conflicting. Some reports would lead us to believe that if the obesity trend isn’t reversing, it may at least be stabilizing. So what’s actually going on? New information released last week isn’t as encouraging as some of the recent reports infer.

The prevalence of abdominal obesity and average waist circumference increased among U.S. adults from 1999 to 2012, according to a study in the September 17 issue of JAMA.

Waist circumference is a simple measure of total and intra-abdominal body fat. Although the prevalence of abdominal obesity has increased in the United States through 2008, its trend in recent years has not been known, according to background information in the article.

Earl S. Ford, M.D., M.P.H., of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and colleagues used data from seven 2-year cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) starting with 1999-2000 and concluding with 2011-2012 to determine trends in average waist circumference and prevalence of abdominal obesity among adults in the United States. Abdominal obesity was defined as a waist circumference greater than 40.2 inches (102 cm) in men and greater than 34.6 inches (88 cm) in women.

Data from 32,816 men and nonpregnant women ages 20 years or older were analyzed. The overall age-adjusted average waist circumference increased progressively and significantly, from 37.6 inches in 1999-2000 to 38.8 inches in 2011-2012. Significant increases occurred in men (0.8 inch), women (1.5 inch), non-Hispanic whites (1.2 inch), non­Hispanic blacks (1.6 inch), and Mexican Americans (1.8 inch).

The overall age-adjusted prevalence of abdominal obesity increased significantly from 46.4 percent in 1999-2000 to 54.2 percent in 2011-2012. Significant increases were present in men (37.1 percent to 43.5 percent), women (55.4 percent to 64.7 percent), non-Hispanic whites (45.8 percent to 53.8 percent), non-Hispanic blacks (52.4 percent to 60.9 percent), and Mexican Americans (48.1 percent to 57.4 percent).

The authors write that previous analyses of data from NHANES show that the prevalence of obesity calculated from body mass index (BMI) did not change significantly from 2003-2004 to 2011-2012. “In contrast, our analyses using data from the same surveys indicate that the prevalence of abdominal obesity is still increasing. The reasons for increases in waist circumference in excess of what would be expected from changes in BMI remain speculative, but several factors, including sleep deprivation, endocrine disruptors, and certain medications, have been proposed as potential explanations.”

“Our results support the routine measurement of waist circumference in clinical care consistent with current recommendations as a key step in initiating the prevention, control, and management of obesity among patients.”

While body mass index statistics are pointing to a leveling out of the obesity statistics, abdominal obesity is still on the rise. FoodFacts.com takes this as bad news. Abdominal obesity is referred to as obesity for a reason. This is important information that speaks to the continuation of a crisis and begs from all of us a renewed commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140916162401.htm

Don’t eat that! It will spoil your appetite! Junk food just might do exactly what your mother warned you about …

Assorted Junk FoodYou have at least one memory from your childhood featuring your mom or your grandmother or some other well-meaning adult admonishing you in a harsh tone. “Don’t eat that! It will spoil your appetite!” It might have been cookies, or candy or chips. Inevitably, it was very close to dinner time. And odds are, you weren’t pleased by the words.

As it turns out, junk food really might spoil your appetite — on a more permanent basis.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales Australia conducted several studies to see how junk food would impact rats’ weight and dietary preferences. Of course, they found the obvious—junk food “makes rats fat.” But they also determined that junk food-fed rats experienced a reduced desire for novel foods, which is important as this appetitive tendency, innate in animals, typically encourages rats’ to pursue a balanced diet.

“Eating junk food seems to change the response to signals that are associated with food reward,” commented Prof. Margaret Morris, Head of Pharmacology from the UNSW Australia’s School of Medical Sciences and a study co-author.

How did the researchers come to this conclusion?

For several weeks, the team fed one group of animals a diet of healthy rat food, and they fed another group of rats a diet that included not-so-healthy human foods such as pie, dumplings, cookies and cake. Both groups of rats were also given cherry and grape sugar water to drink. The junk food-fed rats wound up weighing 10 percent more than their healthy food-fed counterparts.

In one of the experiments, the team taught these rats to associate cherry and grape sugar water with different sound cues. The healthy rats responded appropriately to the sound cues—that is, if they had just consumed grape sugar water and then heard another cue for grape sugar water, they wouldn’t drink more of it. Junk food-fed rats, on the other hand, would respond to sound cues in an unhealthy manner—if they heard a noise associated with grape sugar water, they would drink said sugar water even if they had just consumed a lot of it. (The same findings hold for cherry sugar water.)

In other words, it appears junk food-fed rats don’t seem to realize when they’ve overindulged in a food (the flavored sugar water); instead, they respond to the sound cues just the same, whereas healthy rats stop responding to the food they just ate.

“We know a lot about food and nutrition and what we should be doing, and yet we’re getting fatter and fatter,” Morris says. “Our sort of diet appears to override an animal’s ability to know it’s just eaten something—they’re just eating indiscriminately, if you will.”

In another experiment, the researchers wanted to see whether the apparent disruption of the reward mechanism persisted after the junk food-fed rats were placed on a healthy diet. Even after a week on healthy rat chow, the formerly junk food-fed rats still acted the same way, treating both solutions indiscriminately, according to Morris.

“It suggests that whatever changes happen in the brain may persist for a while,” she says.

The study, while pertaining to rats, has a lot of troubling implications for humans. Rat behavior often gives insight into human behavior—which means we should think deeply about junk food’s psychological and public health impacts.

Science is constantly offering us new perspectives on our health and our foods. FoodFacts.com can say with confidence that those new perspectives simply uphold what nutritionists, dietitians, researchers, and educated consumers have known all along. Junk food is nutritionally vacant. What it does provide, unfortunately, are high levels of sugar, salt and fat, contributing to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. And according to the study detailed here, it can interfere with our normal tendencies to balance our diets, thus leading to more of the same. Now that’s a new perspective — not to mention yet another significant reason to stay far away from junk food.

http://www.newsweek.com/junk-food-addictive-avoid-trying-new-foods-266803

Eat like an Olympian

The 2014 Sochi Olympics are well underway. Fans have already been awed by the power and strength displayed by athletes in snowboarding, figure skating and skiing, to name just a few of the sports we’ve been watching since February 6th. It’s impossible to watch these athletes compete and not marvel at the amazing abilities of mind and body.

For every one of the Olympians, that power and strength most certainly comes from extraordinary talent and training, as well as discipline and the desire to push the envelope of their sport. But it is fascinating to learn what an important role nutritional concerns play in their development and their ability to compete at such an intense level.

The nutritionists and dietitians at the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) play a joint role when it comes to making sure the athletes’ nutritional needs are met on and off the field. Concentrating on service, education and research the sports nutrition experts at the USOC adhere to a three-pronged approach to helping athletes achieve excellence. By incorporating the expertise from the USOC’s sports medicine division and strength and conditioning team, sports nutrition experts utilize science as the foundation of performance enhancement.

Allen Tran is a high performance chef for the US Ski and Snowboard Association and this year’s US Olympic ski and snowboard teams in Sochi. In an interview, he commented about the nutritional needs of the US team. “When it comes to nutritional needs, athletes definitely need to incorporate a combination of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and nutrient-dense fruits and veggies. That’s the nutritional base for many of my meals.”

Chef Tran’s sample menu includes oatmeal, Greek yogurt with fresh berries for breakfast and veggie and beef Texas chili and spinach salad with avocado for lunch.

Kelly Anne Erdman, MSc, R.D., former Olympic cyclist, 1992 Barcelona Games, helps organize the nutrition programs for Canada’s top athletes at the Canadian Sport Centre in Calgary. She commented, “We’re looking at high-quality sources of protein—beef, pork, eggs, turkey. That’s their main recovery meal, which is generally after their midday weight-and-resistance training.” Whole-grain rice and pasta as well as fresh vegetables round out the athletes’ diets.

The general nutrition guidelines for the USA team include: Consume a low saturated fat diet, (less than 7 percent of total calories. No more than one gram of saturated fat per 100 calories. Consume more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as oily fish, leafy greens, almonds, cashews and avocados. Eat foods with plant sterols and sterols which are found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds and com­mercially prepared butter-like table spreads.

Optimal hydration supports daily training and recovery. Suggestions to help increase fluid intake at training or competition include drinking cool fluids (59 degrees) in hot weather and warm fluids in cold weather. Sodium is critical for optimal cellular rehydration and should be included in drinks when athletes do not have the opportunity to consume electrolytes naturally found in food. Low fat milk and flavored milk have been shown to be effective rehydration solutions.

While most of us aren’t world-class athletes adhering to an intense training schedule (and probably have no need to consume the number of calories per day as those who are), we can all find the nutritional sense in the guidelines these professionals have outlined. Lean protein, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds … real foods that are nutritionally valuable can help keep all of our bodies performing at optimal levels. Even if we aren’t attempting a triple toe loop or a triple cork or looking to fly over 240 meters on a ski jump, optimal health is a goal that should have us all trying to eat like Olympians.

Read more here: http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/16503441-nutrition-guidelines-for-the-olympics

New nutrition labels on the horizon for the first time in 20 years!

It’s a mantra around here … ALWAYS read nutrition labels. How can you know what you’re eating unless you do? But while you’re consistently reading those labels, odds are you sometimes have some questions regarding the information they’re trying to impart.

That idea hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Food and Drug Administration. Nutrition labels as we know them today have read exactly the same way for the last 20 years. The FDA says that knowledge about nutrition has evolved over the last 20 years and nutrition labels need to evolve along with our knowledge. 20 years ago, we were all hyper-focused on fat. Remember all those fat-free products lining our grocery store shelves back then? And 20 years ago, we weren’t quite as focused on serving sizes as we are today.

As the agency considers revisions, nutritionists and other health experts have their own wish list of desired changes.

The number of calories should be more prominent, they say, and the amount of added sugar and percentage of whole wheat in the food should be included. They also want more clarity on how serving sizes are defined.

“There’s a feeling that nutrition labels haven’t been as effective as they should be,” says Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “When you look at the label, there are roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren’t intuitively familiar with.”

For example, he says, most of the nutrients are listed in grams, the metric system’s basic unit of mass. Jacobson says people don’t really understand what a gram is.

Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, says 20 years ago “there was a big focus on fat, and fat undifferentiated.” Since then, health providers have focused more on calories and warned people away from saturated and trans fats more than all fats. Trans fats were separated out on the label in 2006.

The nutrition facts label “is now 20 years old, the food environment has changed and our dietary guidance has changed,” says Taylor, who was at the agency in the early 1990s when the FDA first introduced the label at the behest of Congress. “It’s important to keep this updated so what is iconic doesn’t become a relic.”

The FDA has sent guidelines for the new labels to the White House, but Taylor would not estimate when they might be released. The FDA has been working on the issue for a decade, he said.

There’s evidence that more people are reading the labels in recent years.

According to an Agriculture Department study released this month, a greater percentage of adults reported using the nutrition facts panel and other claims on food packages “always or most of the time” in 2009 and 2010 compared with two years earlier.

The USDA study said 42 percent of working adults used the panel always or most of the time in 2009 and 2010, while older adults used it 57 percent of the time during that period.

One expected change in the label is to make the calorie listing more prominent, and Regina Hildwine of the Grocery Manufacturers Association said that could be useful to consumers. Her group represents the nation’s largest food companies.

It’s not yet clear what other changes the FDA could decide on. Nutrition advocates are hoping the agency adds a line for sugars and syrups that are not naturally occurring in foods and drinks and are added when they are processed or prepared. Right now, some sugars are listed separately among the ingredients and some are not.

It may be difficult for the FDA to figure out how to calculate added sugars, however. Food manufacturers are adding naturally occurring sugars to their products so they can label them as natural – but the nutrition content is no different.

Other suggestions from health advocates:

- Add the percentage of whole wheat to the label. Many manufacturers will label products “whole wheat” when there is really only a small percentage of it in the food.

- Clearer measurements. Jacobson of CSPI and others have suggested that the FDA use teaspoons instead of grams on the label, since consumers can envision a teaspoon.

- Serving sizes that make sense. There’s no easy answer, but health experts say that single-size servings that are clearly meant to be eaten in one sitting will often list two or three servings on the label, making the calorie and other nutrient information deceptive. FDA said last year that it may add another column to the labels, listing nutrition information per serving and per container. The agency may also adjust recommended serving sizes for some foods.

- Package-front labeling. Beyond the panel on the back, nutrition experts have pushed for labels on the package front for certain nutrients so consumers can see them more easily. The FDA said several years ago it would issue guidelines for front of pack labeling, but later said it would hold off to see if the industry could create its own labels.

Tracy Fox, a Washington-based nutrition consultant, says clearer information is needed to balance the billions of dollars a year that the food industry spends on food marketing.
“There’s a lot of information there, it’s messy,” she says. “There may be a way to call out certain things and put them in context.”

FoodFacts.com certainly believes that better nutrition label information can lead us all to making better food choices — and can lead to manufacturers taking greater care when producing food products. Transparency in labeling is so important. We all deserve to understand the actual serving size of every product we purchase. We all deserve to understand the sugar content of the foods we’re eating. And we’d all have a more precise knowledge of our foods if nutrient content was expressed in teaspoons here in the U.S. We’re looking forward to seeing the changes that the FDA will put forward that will help us become more educated, aware consumers!

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/fda-says-nutrition-facts-label-will-get-makeover

Taco Bell introduces new Grilled “Stuft” Nacho

While we know that we probably have a different view of food products than average consumers, FoodFacts.com has always held to the unspoken rule that when manufacturers use “creative spelling” within the name of a product, odds are it’s not going to be good. The product in question will most likely have an unpleasant ingredient list with more than a few items we don’t like or it will be unreasonably loaded with fat, sugar or salt. It’s a general observation we’ve been able to make over the last decade or so and it’s pretty much held true across the board. Can you think of any product that spells cheese “Cheez” that you’d actually volunteer to consume? That’s just one example that readily comes to mind.

Now, Taco Bell is promoting their latest product … the Grilled “Stuft” Nacho. And we have to admit that even before attempting to research this new offering, we were tipped off by the “creative spelling” of the word stuffed. While we’re trying to nail down the ingredient information for this one, we haven’t come up with much yet. Except that Taco Bell is claiming five ingredients. Seasoned beef, warm nacho cheese sauce, their new zesty nacho sauce, crunchy red strips and cool reduced-fat sour cream.

O.k. before we even get to the idea that we have no idea what’s actually in the two varieties of nacho cheese sauce, we just need to ask … what the heck are crunchy red strips???? What are they supposed to taste like??? Tortillas, red peppers, tomatoes, maybe???? All by itself, this ingredient is rather off-putting, even for fast food.

This product shouldn’t be confused with nachos. In the first place, the serving is one Grilled Stuft Nacho. It’s a triangle-shaped tortilla shell (the shape of a tortilla chip). That shell is grilled and then stuffed with the aforementioned ingredients.

While we couldn’t get any further along with the ingredients, we did get the nutrition facts for an item that’s priced more like a snack than your average fast food lunch. Did we mention it only costs $1.29. Since it’s priced along the lines of a McDonald’s Snack Wrap, we’re going with the idea that the Grilled Stuft Nacho isn’t actually intended to be a lunch item. But frankly, you may as well have a Big Mac or a Whopper instead.

One Grilled Stuft Nacho has a super-sized calorie count of 570 with 32g of fat, 7g of saturated fat and 960mg of sodium. That’s the same kind of nutrition information you’ll find associated with the biggest of burgers at most of the popular fast food chains.

We’re happy to say that our old rule-of-thumb regarding “creative spellings” has held up once again. You can usually consider it code for “what’s in here is so bad for you that we can’t actually call it by its real name.”

http://herald-review.com/blogs/decaturade/eating-badly-taco-bell-s-new-grilled-stuft-nacho/article_ea647faa-fd36-59e5-af6e-23e8c862aa8a.html