Category Archives: Nutrition News

Diet Book for Kids

The title of my post may have you thinking that this is a review of a diet book for kids or that I am advocating this genre of books. I assure you that is the opposite of what this is about. I rarely get into controversial topics on my blog, but I couldn’t let this one go by without expressing my opinion.

Earlier today on Twitter I saw a retweeted post by a couple of tweeps I follow who advocate for positive body image. The post was about an article on The Women’s Blog of the Guardian website, “A diet book for six-year-old girls: the worst idea ever?” Before I even read the article I agreed with my fellow tweeps that a diet book for kids is terrible. Then I clicked through and read the article and was even more appalled.

According to the blog post, the forthcoming book, “Maggie Goes On a Diet” by Paul A. Kramer is aimed at six to twelve year old girls — the perfect age for girls to develop eating disorders, which will no doubt be further exacerbated by books like this. The book is about a teenage girl who “is transformed from being overweight and insecure to a normal-sized teen who becomes the school soccer star.”

maggie goes on a diet

I have so many problems with this that I don’t even know where to start. First of all, the cover of the book shows the young “overweight” girl holding up a party dress in a mirror, and the reflection back at her is a skinnier version of herself. No wonder we have a society filled with women with body dysmorphic disorder. Second, the fact that the blurb about the book says that the girl goes from being “overweight and insecure” to “normal-sized” and the “school soccer star” implies that to be a star you have to be a so-called “normal” size — whatever that is. That’s some way to build confidence in pre-pubescent girls who will be going through size changes any day.

I can only imagine the kind of parents who would buy this book for their daughters, and I would hope that they seek out some help and think twice before doing so.

What do you think about this book? Please share your opinions! 

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Flavored Milk Debate

Should chocolate milk be banned from schools? That’s the topic of a heated debate going on in the school system these days. Until now I haven’t opined on this subject, but recently I received some new information based on scientific studies that has made me decide it’s time to share some facts and my opinion.

Schools that have banned or are considering banning chocolate milk are doing so because they think eliminating a source of added sugars will lower childhood obesity rates. In a recent YouTube video, cardiologist Dr. James Rippe has weighed in on the issue of banning flavored milk and he also clarifies some misconceptions about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), one of the types of added sugar used in flavored milk. Here is a summary of some of his main points:

  • There are no studies that link the consumption of chocolate milk with childhood obesity.
  • There are studies that show chocolate milk consumption is correlated with total milk consumption. A recent study that reviewed previous studies on this topic1 showed that when chocolate milk was banned, milk consumption decreased immediately by 35 percent and there was a corresponding decrease in calcium and vitamin D levels. Both calcium and vitamin D are critically important nutrients for bone building at school age when children need it the most.
  • Whether chocolate milk contains HFCS or sucrose (table sugar) makes no difference. A sugar is a sugar. HFCS is sugar made from corn and table sugar is made from sugar cane or beets. They both have the same number of calories, the same level of sweetness, and our bodies metabolize them the same way.
  • The Dietary Guideline recommendation for milk and dairy consumption is three servings a day. Currently only one-third of boys and one-fifth of girls are getting that recommended amount.

At the end of the day, I think there is enough evidence to show that banning chocolate milk has the potential to do more harm than good for children. As with all foods, I believe chocolate milk has a place in the diet of children and adults in moderation. Making something completely off-limits sends the wrong message to children. Let’s teach them portion control and balance, rather than restriction.

Disclaimer: I am a consultant to the Corn Refiners Association (CRA); however, all statements and opinions are my own.

1Patterson J, Saidel M. The removal of flavored milk in schools results in a reduction in total milk purchases in all grades, K-12. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009; 109,(9): A97.2.

Make Way for the Dinner Plate

Most of you are probably familiar with the food guide pyramid created in 1992 (below left) by the USDA to help consumers make healthy food choices. That pyramid, however, had some fundamental problems that over the years were heightened as research showed more about what makes up a healthy diet. In 2005 the food pyramid got a big facelift and was changed to MyPyramid (below right)— a colorful depiction of how your diet should be balanced with the inclusion of physical activity. Unfortunately, consumers were still lost on the message since the pyramid had no words and you needed online access and the help of a professional to understand what any of it meant.

food guide pyramid      mypyramid food pyramid

With the introduction of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines this past January, the Obama administration campaigned for a better (and clearer) picture of what our diets should look like. Today the food pyramid is a thing of the past with the launch of the newest food icon: MyPlate!

myplate food icon

MyPlate is a more fitting icon to help people balance their diets — after all, we eat off of plates, not pyramids! It’s also a tool that dietitians have been using for years. The MyPlate image is divided into four sections: vegetables (red), fruit (green), grains (orange), and protein (purple). There is also a small cup-like image next to the plate that represents dairy. Like MyPyramid, there isn’t much information on the plate about portions, but visually you can see that the vegetable and fruit sections together make up half the plate (with vegetables slightly larger than fruit), and the grain section is slightly larger than the protein section on the other half.

Another item missing from MyPlate is healthy fat, like oils and nuts. If you look at the information online, you will find that nuts fall into the protein portion of the plate, but the oils are missing representation. This doesn’t mean you don’t need them – you do! It’s just one of the flaws that already stands out with the new food icon, proving that MyPlate won’t be able to solve all your dietary conundrums (and why you still need a registered dietitian to help you understand it all!).

All in all, although MyPlate could use some tweaking, its message is clear: pack your plate full of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein and keep your portion sizes under control.

What do you think of MyPlate? How does it compare to the food pyramid?

Are functional foods really healthy?

By Megan Kian

A recent NY Times article, “Food With Health Benefits, or So They Say” (May 14, 2011), questioned the role of functional foods in our increasingly health conscious society. What exactly are functional foods? They are foods that claim to have a health-promoting or disease-preventing property beyond the basic function of supplying nutrients. For example, yogurts that claim to help regulate your digestive system or cereals that claim to help support your child’s immunity are functional foods.

The issue with functional foods is the accuracy of the health claims. Although companies are legally allowed to make these health claims (as long as they are supported by some sort of scientific evidence), you still have to wonder how truthful they are. It seems that many of the declarations companies make are just advertising ploys to increase sales of these foods. The best way to shop for healthy food in the supermarket is to take these claims with a grain of salt, read the fine print on labels, and stick to what you know is good for you.

What do you think of functional foods?

Best Diet? The One You Can Stick With

This week’s health news has been buzzing with the Consumer Reports diet rankings. The results were quite surprising to many of us in the nutrition field – the top five diets are:

  1. Jenny Craig
  2. Slim Fast
  3. Weight Watchers
  4. The Zone
  5. Ornish Diet
  6. Atkins

Interestingly, Jenny Craig came out on top based on a Journal of the American Medical Association study from last October that showed 92 percent of Jenny Craig clients stayed on the program for 2 years. What Consumer Reports didn’t seem to take into account, is that the participants in the study didn’t pay a penny for the program – the researchers paid for all the expenses, which are quite hefty. The program, which includes an annual fee and the cost of all the food, can cost a couple thousand dollars per year. I highly doubt that 92 percent of the participants would have stayed on the diet for as long as they did if they were paying for it themselves.

The fact that Slim Fast, which involves drinking a shake for breakfast and lunch and having a 500 calorie dinner, came in second is also mind-boggling to me. In fact, of all the programs listed I would have thought Weight Watchers would have come out on top.

consumer reports diet rankingsThe truth is, I don’t advocate for any of these diets. I encourage people to eat balanced meals filled with vegetables, fruit, lean protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrates. And the food they eat should be nutritious and delicious. An occasional treat is also ok as long as it’s in moderation. This is the foundation of a healthy diet; restriction, packaged foods (especially for all meals everyday), shakes, and meal replacement bars are not.

One component of some of these diets that I do recommend is support. Whether it’s visiting a registered dietitian once a week, calling a friend for encouragement, or going to a support group, if you’re looking to lose or maintain your weight, having the support of others will help you reach your goal.

What do you think about the Consumer Reports diet rankings? Do you believe in diets? 

National Mediterranean Diet Month

It’s May, and that means that it’s finally starting to feel like summer and it’s National Mediterranean Diet Month! What a great time of year to sing the praises of a lifestyle that has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and improve brainpower.

The Traditional Mediterranean Diet consists mainly of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish, beans, nuts, herbs and spices, small amounts of dairy, and red wine (sounds a lot like what I recommend!). In 1993, Oldways, a Boston-based non-profit that develops consumer-friendly health-promotion tools including the Whole-Grain Stamp, introduced the Med Diet Pyramid. The pyramid was based on the dietary traditions of Greece and southern Italy when the rates of chronic disease were among the lowest in the world, and adult life expectancy was among the highest. The pyramid was updated in 2008 and is very much in line with the recently released 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

mediterranean diet

As you can see, physical activity and enjoying meals with others are the foundation of the pyramid, which shows just how important they are to a healthy lifestyle. Fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and beans, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and herbs and spices take up the most space of the pyramid, indicating that the majority of your diet should include those foods (have you heard my tip about making half your plate fruits and vegetables?!). Next in line: fish and seafood, a group of foods that are also emphasized in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt should be eaten in moderate portions, and meats and sweets are occasional treats. Check out the Oldways website to get a detailed list of foods consumed on the Mediterannean Diet and learn more about National Mediterranean Diet Month.

Over the next couple of days, Nutritioulicious intern Jo will be sharing some Mediterranean dishes she recently cooked up!

What are some of your favorite foods that fit the Mediterranean Diet?

Disclaimer: I was not paid to promote Oldways or the Mediterranean Diet. All opinions are my own. 

Photo Credit: Oldways

Quinoa on Passover

Tonight starts the eight-day long Jewish holiday of Passover, during which one may not eat chametz — the collective name for leavened products containing wheat, barley, oats, rye, or spelt.

passover holiday

Last Passover I told you about matzo – the unleavened bread that Jews eat over the course of the holiday. Over the years, supermarket shelves have become stocked with more and more foods that are Kosher for Passover, including noodles and rolls (generally made out of potato flour). One item that was approved for Passover and has become popular over the past few years is quinoa.

As quinoa has risen in popularity, rabbinical authorities realized that it is a Kosher for Passover grain — very exciting news for Jews who knew about quinoa and all it’s virtues. I for one was thrilled with this news — one more food that we can eat on Passover to avoid the monotony of matzo and potatoes.quinoa passover

I’ve mentioned quinoa before, but never really shared all of its benefits. Here are some facts about quinoa:

  • It’s an ancient grain (like einkorn), although it is actually a seed related to leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard.
  • It’s the only grain that is a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids you need.
  • It’s high in fiber and a very good source of the minerals manganese, magnesium, and iron.
  • It’s gluten-free.

Interestingly, there was an article in today’s NY Times questioning whether quinoa is in fact Kosher for Passover. The reason for the debate? Some Rabbis say that some quinoa grown in Bolivia (where it originates) is harvested with wheat and corn (two forbidden foods on Passover) so there may be some particles mixed into the packaged quinoa. To me, this debate calls to mind a bigger issue: whether the quinoa is in fact gluten-free —
an important, potentially life-threatening concern for people with celiac disease or wheat and gluten allergies.

To be 100% certain that you are getting gluten-free and Kosher for Passover quinoa you must read the labels. According to Rabbis who approve quinoa for Passover, the two brands that are given thumbs up are Ancient Harvest Quinoa and Trader Joe’s brand. So stick with these if you’re observing the holiday and/or following a gluten-free diet.

What do you think about quinoa? Do you like it?