A bit of a hiatus, admittedly …

I admit, I haven’t quite been posting regularly on the blog for the past few weeks … The blog may change format a slight bit over the next few months, as Laura just accepted a new job at Golin Harris and I’m getting ready to have my first baby any minute now … However, I am determined to keep the blog alive long-term. I WILL do it!

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Tap Into Grain Nutrients w/ Onion and Garlic

As posted yesterday in NutritionData.com’s blog by Monica Reinagel, research from India has found that when onion or garlic is eaten with grains, it allows us to better absorb the sometimes shy nutrients zinc and iron. Grains have something called phytic acid, or phytate, that can prevent these minerals from being absorbed normally. However, onion and garlic eaten with grains allowed the body to better absorb these nutrients, which can be hard to come by – especially for non-meat eaters.

Since garlic and onion go together so well with so many types of foods, it certainly doesn’t hurt to incorporate either of these food friends into sandwiches, as well as rice, pasta and other grain-based dishes/foods.

Americans Continuing to Plump Up

A study released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health found that obesity rates increased in 28 states. Mississippi still reigns supreme as the heaviest state, and also boasts the highest rates of hypertension and being physically inactive.

The survey also polled parents, and found that there is an increasing awareness of obesity and the potential harmful impacts it can have on individuals and the public overall. However, parents still aren’t connecting childhood obesity on a broader scale with the impacts it can have on their own kids’ lives. For example, 84% of parents think their kids are at a healthy weight, yet 33% of kids and teens are overweight/obese (there is a 17% discrepancy between reality and perceptions).

It’s great that an increasing number of people and parents are becoming aware of the obesity epidemic and how linked it is to overall health. Yes, the obesity numbers are growing in the majority of states. However, the fact that awareness is on the rise is a great sign – and the first step to improving the situation.

2010 Dietary Guidelines: A Draft Report & Your Chance to Comment

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee draft report. Everyone in the U.S. (including YOU!) has an opportunity to comment on the report until July 15. This report will be used to develop the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, which will reign as the overarching U.S. gov’t’s nutrition recommendations until 2015.

The report is long and contains a lot of details. Some of the notable conclusions/recommendations include:

  • Audience: Previous versions have focused recommendations on a healthy population. Not this time. Since the majority of Americans are overweight or obese, these recommendations have been tailored to folks who need to drop some pounds. Of course, the recommendation is to do so smartly, by decreasing/managing calorie intake and moving more.
  • Sodium: Dropping daily intakes down to 1,500 mg/day (from the last version’s recommended 2,300mg). This is pretty drastic, but with the help of the recently-released IOM report on sodium, there will likely be gradual decreases in sodium content in the overall food environment of foods over time. The majority of sodium in the diet is in processed foods and restaurant foods. Essentially, the U.S. palate will need to change so people don’t go running for the salt shaker to make these sodium-reduced foods “taste right.”
  • Plant-Based and Whole Foods-Based: The report recommends eating a plant-based diet that includes low-fat and fat-free dairy but is limited to moderate amounts of  meat, poultry and eggs. It also puts an emphasis on eating whole foods that are dense in nutrients and that are minimally processed.
  • Reducing Added Sugars, Solid Fat, Refined Grains and Sodium: In addition to the sodium note above (a big change for the population!), there is a large push to limit added sugars, solid (saturated/trans) fats and grains that are highly refined plus low in nutrients and/or high in added sugar. Limiting these components is more of a focus than discretionary calories (extra calories left over you could have fun with if you got what you needed first), which were an emphasis in the last iteration.
  • Focus on Breakfast: The importance of breaking the fast is a sub-focus of the report, as the authors note the important links between eating breakfast and getting more nutrients and the lower risk for obesity, especially in kids.
  • Fats: Saturated fat recommendations have been dropped to 7% of total calories from 10% in the last iteration of the report. Further, they’ve singled out “cholesterol-lowering fatty acids,” which include both saturated and artificially-created trans fats, and give the target of a 5-7% of calories total.
  • Sustainability: The report emphasizes this topic for the first time, underscoring the importance of a sustainable food supply.
  • Nutrients of Concern: The nutrients that people aren’t getting enough of that the report focuses on are vitamin D, calcium, potassium and fiber. It emphasizes ways to get more of these nutrients.

An extra tidbit: The guidelines are considered to be released jointly by USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). This round, USDA has taken the lead on development. Next round, DHHS will.

One Year Plus ‘Til National Calorie Labeling Takes Effect

As you may have heard, the health care reform enacted earlier this year touched on more than what many think of plain ‘ol healthcare. Included in that “other” category was menu labeling in chain restaurants and vending machines.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has one year to formulate national menu labeling regulations. These regulations require that all chain restaurants with more than 20 locations AND operators of 20 or more vending machines provide calorie counts for each item. However, it’s not clear when the federal law will actually be enforced.

This will no doubt make it easier than fitting the patchwork standards that had begun to pop up in cities and states, which was making it a bit confusing, costly and time consuming for chains to comply. It also will help with the confusing variety for folks who were looking for that information to help make better choices. Would this city/state have the information available? Would it not? 

It’s cool to know that eventually, wherever in the U.S. we are, we’ll be able to count on standard calorie info in chains. And the vending machine piece will be a small sliver of a boost that will help people make more informed choices wherever they are – and it’ll also contribute to the school-focused arm of the nationwide Let’s Move! campaign aimed at tackling childhood obesity within a generation. Until then, blissful ignorance will continue!

WHO Estimates Cancer to Hit 21 Million a Year By 2030

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there may be more than 21 million cases of cancer diagnosed worldwide each year by 2030, with 13 million deaths a year from cancer by that time.

Lung cancer is the most common form, followed by breast cancer and colorectal cancers. Check out maps of worldwide cancer data here.

The good news is that we can do our best to decrease the chances of getting these types of cancers by not smoking, conducting monthly breast self-exams and getting colonoscopies per our doctors’ recommendations (once every 10 years starting at age 50).

According to the World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research report on cancer, released in 2007, overweight and obesity is a top factor related to cancer; the report recommended maintaining a “normal” body weight, staying physically active at least 30 minutes a day, eating mostly plant foods and limiting intake of red meat, avoiding processed meat, drinking alcohol in moderation and limiting consumption of salt and breastfeeding children as their top dietary recommendations for cancer prevention.

While there’s no guarantee any given person won’t get cancer, but following general healthy eating and weight guidelines, we can not only decrease our chances of getting cancer but also help our bodies be at their best.

Marion Nestle Shares List of Helpful USDA Reports

In a blog post over the holiday weekend, Marion Nestle shared a helpful list of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports the agency has released recently. Included among the reports is information on individual states (population, income, poverty and employment rates, agricultural characteristics), the WIC program (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which serveds 9.1 million people a month), agricultural statistics, foodborne illnesses, organic farming, local food systems and more.

These types of reports are free and released regularly by USDA. They’re definitely helpful if you’re trying to brush up on a food topic – especially in terms of what it means as a U.S. citizen.