Food Label Fear Mongering and its “Toxic” Effects

by Megan Maisano

You know it’s hard out here for a processed food. These days, most consumers want to know what’s in their food and how it’s processed. While that may sound promising towards improving food choices and overall health, it also might be contributing to a culture of fear-mongering and food discrimination – none of which is helpful. This month, Megan Maisano investigates common marketing strategies employed by food manufacturers that result in unnecessary fear, doubt, and confusion in the minds of consumers.

Grocery supermarket

Source: pexels.com

Good news: over half of the U.S. population is paying attention to food labels. Bad news: it might be increasing consumer confusion and contributing to unintended health hysteria.

Whether it’s the latest Netflix documentary demonizing an entire food group, an Instagram feed promoting “clean” eating, or your mother’s cousin Carol pushing her latest detox agenda on Facebook, food fear mongering is real.

The problem is that many claims of “toxic” or “unclean” foods don’t come from health professionals or experts. On top of that, their messages are more accessible by the common consumer than, let’ say, the most recent edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

I’ll be the first to admit I read Michael Pollen’s Food Rules a few years ago. I loved it. It was simple, easy to understand, and seemed logical. Nutrition science, however, is not simple, not easy to understand, and evolves with advancing evidence-based research… and nutrition research is hard.

While the desire for food transparency is warranted and can lead to healthier decision-making, the marketing response by the food industry has taken advantage of consumers’ unwarranted fears. Instead of highlighting what’s good in the food we eat, product labels emphasize what’s not in our food, and it’s contributing to the chaos.

I decided to explore the research and science behind common food label claims. The results: practices that range from reasonable transparency to questionable marketing tactics that make us say C’mon Man.

 

Non-GMO Project

The Non-GMO Project, which started in two grocery stores in 2007, now has its iconic butterfly on more than 3,000 brands and 43,000 products. GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms, are plants, animals, microorganisms or other organisms whose DNA has been changed via genetic engineering or transgenic technology. The debate concerning GMO safety remains highly controversial. Without going into too much detail, cynics claim that GMOs have not been proven safe and that people have a right to know whether their food contains them. On the other side, folks like the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine claim GMOs have not been proven harmful to humans or the environment.

Regardless of the verdict, the Non-GMO butterfly is landing on more and more products that are naturally GMO-free, such as tomatoes, oranges, and milk. This trend leads to the misconception that tomatoes, oranges, and milk without said-butterfly DO have GMOs and are therefore less safe. This deceptive labeling practice not only hurts the consumer, but also competing brands and their farmers.

The Impact – a 2015 nonpartisan analysis reported that only 37 percent of those surveyed feel that GMOs are safe to eat and 57 percent considered them unsafe. Individuals with a higher education, on the other hand, were more likely to consider GMOs safe. Numerous studies also show that consumer knowledge of GMOs is low and that their information is mainly sourced by the media – insert cousin Carol’s shared Facebook article on GMOs’ toxic effects. The fear continues.

Paleonola grain free granola

Source: thrivemarket.com

Gluten Free and Grain Free

In his book Grain Brain, David Perlmutter writes, “Gluten sensitivity represents one of the greatest and most under-recognized health threats to humanity.” The well-known blogger, Wellness Mama, once wrote an article titled “How Grains are Killing You Slowly” (but has since changed the title). The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, on the other hand, list grains (specifically whole grains) as a part of a healthy eating pattern. How did this extreme divide on gluten and grains come about?

The 1990’s brought about increased awareness of celiac disease and the effectiveness of treatment following a gluten-free diet. This was a major win and relief for folks with gluten-related disorders. What followed was an increase in the amount of research on gluten and its potential effects on other chronic disorders – and that’s when hysteria hit. Books like Grain Brain and Wheat Belly, both which have been accused of literature cherry-picking and generalization, earned best-selling status and changed the way we looked at a baguette. This frenzy, combined with the highly popular low-carb Atkins Diet, created the recipe for a new villain – gluten and grains.

The food industry responded and so did the media. According to the research firm Packaged Facts, sales in gluten-free products came in around $973 million in 2014 and are expected to exceed $2 billion by 2019 – far exceeding what would be expected in marketing to the less than one percent of individuals with celiac disease. Oh, and these products are about 240% more expensive. Celebrity influences like Gwyneth Paltrow’s book and Miley Cyrus’ tweet, have made the gluten-free diet appear more mainstream, swaying consumer perception and decreasing the seriousness of disorders like celiac disease.

While research on non-celiac gluten sensitivity (affecting about six percent of the U.S.) is still mixed, many studies suggest that gluten may not necessarily be the underlying problem and symptoms may even be psychological. In his book, The Gluten Lie, Alan Levinovitz explains that the significant increase in negative responses to gluten may be due to a phenomenon called Mass Sociogenic Illness – where a physiological response is provoked by mass anxiety and negative expectations.

The Impact – a 2015 Hartman Group survey found that 35% of respondents adopted a gluten-free lifestyle for “no reason,” 26% followed it because they thought it was a “healthier option,” 19% followed it for “digestive health,” and only 8% followed it because of a “gluten sensitivity.”

There is a growing body of research that suggests there is no evidence to support gluten-free diets for the general population and that going gluten-free may even hinder health. Nevertheless, the damage may be done.

 

usda organic label

Source: usda.gov

Going Organic

The USDA Organic label identifies a product that meets federal guidelines for farming and processing. Guidelines include soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and the use of additives. As far as organic packaged foods, 95% of the product must be organic and free of artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors.

The organic movement is a step in the right direction towards encouraging more responsible agricultural practices. However, the social impact of the organic label has created unwarranted confusion and fear in “chemically-ridden” conventional foods that aren’t free of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The fear is hurting small farmers and our wallets.

A common source of organic fear-mongering comes from the infamous Dirty Dozen published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). This list identifies twelve non-organic produce items that are reported to have the highest levels of pesticide residue. What the EWG fails to mention, however, is the type of pesticide and its relation to its chronic reference dose (i.e., safe maximum daily dose for life). A Journal of Toxicology study found that none of the dirty dozen products came even close to their reference dose and that EWG’s methodology lacked scientific credibility. While there is nothing wrong with being mindful of pesticide use, people should know organic farmers use pesticides too and their levels are not tested by the USDA.

From a nutrition perspective, research on organic food is mixed. Both organic and conventional practices offer nutritious produce with plenty of phytochemicals; however, organic produce may come out on top as far as levels of phosphorous, antioxidants and less pesticide residue.

From a health-outcome perspective however, there is no direct evidence that organic diets lead to improved health or lower the risk of disease and cancer. Pesticide residue risk, if a concern, can be reduced by simply washing fresh produce.

Lastly, organic farming, labeling, and products are expensive. If price is keeping consumers from purchasing organic produce and fear is keeping them from purchasing conventional produce, we have a problem.

In a country where less than twenty percent of adults eat their daily recommended fruits and vegetables, all produce should be promoted without adding unnecessary confusion or fear.

 

all natural health claim label

Source: topclassactions.com

“Natural” and “Free of …”

According to a 2014 global health survey, 43% of respondents rate “all-natural” foods very important in purchasing decisions. Therefore, having that green and neutral-colored label considerably influences consumer behavior. In regards to meat and poultry, the USDA defines “natural” as containing no artificial ingredients, added colors, and minimal processing. Unfortunately, there is no regulated definition of the use of “natural” for all other products – hence marketing exploitation and further confusion. Below are just a few assumptions that consumers make about natural products regarding what they’re free of, and whether or not that really matters:

Free of Preservatives: Preservatives in food help delay spoilage, improve quality, and decrease food waste. They decrease the risk of food-borne illness, lower oxidation in the body, and keep us from worrying about things like getting tuberculosis from our milk. Consumers often fear ingredients that have chemical-sounding names; however, lest we forget, we are made of chemical compounds!  Many preservatives are harmless and even nutritious like ascorbic acid (vitamin C), alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), calcium propionate, niacin (vitamin B3), lysozyme, and tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ). Some other preservatives, however, may have questionable effects on health when consumed in high doses, so more research is needed on their safety.

No Antibiotics Ever: This term’s tricky. For a long time, many farmers used antibiotics not just for the treatment of ill animals but also to facilitate growth. The FDA has since banned the use for growth and animal antibiotics sales have fallen considerably. However, sick animals do need treatment and not using antibiotics to treat them would be unethical and pose a risk to food safety. So, here’s the deal to understanding the label: Farm A has a sick chicken which they treat with antibiotics. The chicken is therefore removed from the antibiotic-free group for sale (and who knows what that means). Farm B has a sick chicken which they treat with antibiotics. The chicken then goes through a withdrawal period and is tested before it can be used for processing, often with the oversight of a licensed veterinarian. Only Farm A can have the “No Antibiotics Ever” label. Is Farm A healthier than Farm B? Probably not.

No Hormones Added: Fun fact: adding hormones or steroids to poultry and pork is illegal in the U.S. Just like tomatoes with a Non-GMO label, chicken and pork products with a “No Hormones Added” label are simply playing into consumer fears.

Free of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS):  Great! But keep in mind that sugar, molasses, agave nectar, cane juice, and honey are “natural” sources of added sugars too. HFCS is essentially a mix of fructose, glucose, and water. It varies from having either 42% fructose (often found in processed food) to 55% fructose (often found in soft drinks) – not too different from sugar with a 50:50 mix or your $10 organic agave nectar.

 

chicken breast no antibiotics non gmo organic

Source: target.com

Conclusion: Fear Mongering Isn’t Helping

When it comes to promoting healthy eating behaviors, fear tactics aren’t helping and may even be harmful. Unlike tobacco or drug use, two issues where fear campaigns were successfully used to impact behavior, we need to eat to live. Instilling unnecessary anxiety about foods that are not Non-GMO, gluten-free, certified organic, or “free from” whatever may keep us from consuming a nutritious, well-balanced diet.

Unfortunately, the U.S. hasn’t learned its lesson from the anti-fat and anti-cholesterol era because we continue to look for something simple to blame for health problems, and the media and food industry continues to take advantage of that desire. Moderation just isn’t sexy.

Whether it’s the latest one-dimensional diet, a food blogger’s recent witch hunt, or a misleading food label in an earthy color tone, fear-induced messages are not helping. They are harming consumer knowledge, self-efficacy, health, and ultimate trust in food industry and nutrition science. It’s time to stop the food fear mongering and encourage the good in foods that will lead to our “natural” wellbeing.

 

Megan Maisano is a second year NICBC student and an RD-to-be. She has a Wheat Belly and a Grain Brain, but is doing okay. She’s got no beef with Non-GMO, Gluten-free, or Organic products, only their use in scare-tactics that aren’t based in science.

Friedman Hosts the 2018 Global Food+ Symposium

by Sam Jones

The second annual Global Food+ Symposium was hosted at Tufts University’s Friedman School this year. Innovative research being conducted at Tufts, MIT, Boston University, and Harvard University in the realm of the global food system was presented in speed-dating style, with each speaker giving only a seven-minute talk. Only some of the takeaways are reported here; the entire event can be viewed online.

February 16, 2018 marked the second annual Global Food+ Symposium, hosted by Tufts University at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. This year, 23 researchers from Boston University, MIT, Harvard, and Tufts shared the findings of their work in seven-minute presentations on topics ranging from microbiology to nutrition to theology. I attended the conference in its entirety from 12:30 to 4:30 on a Friday afternoon because I wanted to learn about what other researching in our consortium of schools are investigating to gain insight into what the non-Friedman community has to say about the global food system.

Throughout the afternoon, speakers presented fascinating research that touched every corner of the food system. Several presenters from Harvard and MIT discussed how water affects our food system, covering everything from breeding crops to use less water, to developing more adaptable water conserving technologies, and the ramifications of developing a water market in which price reflects scarcity. These speakers together illustrated that whether in the Zambezi River Basin or in Melbourne, Australia, water use and availability affects our food system, but there are steps we can take right now to plan for uncertainty in the face of climate change.

Nutrition was, of course, the subject of several of the presentations. Tufts professor Will Masters discussed his findings on the nutritional quality of baby food. Spoiler alert: the global baby food supply is not actually that nutritious. Alison Brown, a post-doctoral fellow at Tufts presented the research from her dissertation comparing the diet quality and risk of hypertension in foreign-born non-Hispanic blacks to those of U.S.-born blacks. Her findings suggest that the former are better-off than the latter. While useful for developing culturally-appropriate nutrition strategies, it does not delve into the root causes of these differences. A more causal-based study would be useful if the intention were to narrow the gap in diet quality and health between these groups.

Most of the presenters at the symposium used or researched cutting-edge technology to answer some of the most vexing problems in our global food system. Karthish Manthiram from MIT, for example, presented his research on how electricity derived from solar panels can be used to create fertilizer. His research found that by using electric voltage in place of high temperatures, a low-footprint nitrogen fertilizer can be created and used by small-scale farmers in even the remotest parts of Africa.

Angela Rigden, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University, presented exciting research derived from new satellite data. These data showed that vapor pressure and root zone soil moisture actually explain significantly more variability in crop yields than does temperature alone. Both Jenny Aker from Tufts and Alicia Harley from Harvard separately explored the effects of having access to technology for poor farmers in Africa and India, respectively. They found that even where a technology exists, the targeted problems may not be solved in exactly the way they were intended. For example, Alicia Harley’s research found that poorer rice farmers were not adopting a system of rice intensification (SRI) that used less water because such a practice required control over one’s water source—a luxury most poor farmers do not have. As Jenny Aker put it, one specific technology is “not going to be a silver bullet.”

Water, technology, health, and sustainability were the overarching themes that wove the presentations together. But one researcher stood alone both in his discipline and in his ability to wow an audience of entirely dissimilar mindsets. Dan McKanan, a senior lecturer in Divinity at Harvard University, revealed that the foundations of organic agriculture, organic certification, WWOOFing, biodynamic agriculture, community supported agriculture, and the environmentalist movement all sprung out of a religion called Anthroposophy. In his words, this was a religion that acted as an antidote to the ideological monoculture system—an antidote to the “monocultures of the mind.”

What the innovative research presented at the Global Food+ Symposium made me realize is that there probably will never be a “silver bullet” that can solve the issues of water scarcity, food insecurity, malnutrition, or climate change. But the research that is being done in these interdisciplinary and diverse fields is worth pursuing, whether it aims to solve a big problem in a small place or a small problem on a global scale.

Sam Jones is a first-year AFE student with a passion for sharing others’ stories. She is currently an intern at Culture Magazine nd hopes to pursue a career in sustainable agricultural development and food journalism.

Friedman Goes to FNCE

by Hannah Meier, Sharmin Sampat and Anabelle Harari

Every year in October, dietitians from across America gather together at a convention for three days of learning, networking, and eating. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics organizes the national event, The Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (or FNCE® for short), bringing together registered dietitians (RDs), dietetic technicians, registered (DTRs), students, interns, researchers, physicians, policy makers and industry leaders to talk about current practices, care guidelines, controversies, innovation and entrepreneurship in nutrition. Three current students from Friedman, Hannah Meier, Anabelle Harari and Sharmin Sampat share their highlights.

October 21-24, 2017 marked the 100-year centennial anniversary of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ organized advocacy and support for the profession. Highlights include not only interesting educational sessions put together by seasoned experts (including Friedman’s own Dr. Tim Griffin in a talk about Sustainability and Dietary Guidelines), but booth after booth in the expo hall of health foods, supplements, schools and services relevant to the practices of nutrition professionals. Attendees of the conference and expo can network with brands, media, and fellow professionals at sponsored events or practice group receptions before and after each organized day within the program. Each day also features special events like culinary demonstrations, book signings, and poster presentations of research conducted by dietitians across the country.

Photo: Hannah Meier

More details of the event and program can be found on the conference website: eatrightfnce.org.

Hannah Meier

Why did you choose to go to FNCE this year?

I knew I wanted to attend FNCE in Chicago after attending my first conference when it was in Boston last year. I learned so much at the sessions and enjoyed getting to know the people behind some of the popular and up-and-coming food and nutrition brands at the expo. This year, I was fortunate to be able to attend the conference on behalf of the food company I work with, 88 Acres. Instead of hosting an expo booth, we organized a get-together with two other New England brands, DrinkMaple and Biena, and were able to network with dietitians and media contacts more personally.

What was your favorite Education Session?

My favorite education session was actually a career panel about pursuing “hot” career paths in nutrition. We learned from dietitians who forged their way into roles that may not have existed previously, and it was inspiring to hear from them about how to balance confidence and work ethic while ensuring that you still love your career at the end of the day. Dawn Jackson-Blatner, the RD for the Chicago Cubs and one of the panelists has also been featured in top media outlets and on the reality show My Diet is Better than Your Diet (which she won!).

What was your favorite new product at the Expo?

As funny and unglamorous as this seems, my favorite product was from Starkist: Pouches of tuna with rice and beans in hot sauce. Since working with student athletes at Tufts in Medford, I’ve learned the importance of convenience when it comes to managing nutrition with a busy schedule, and it’s my goal to recommend whole foods as much as possible as opposed to convenient snack bars and shakes (though these can be great in a pinch and certainly better than nothing). The packs of tuna with rice and beans combine a high-quality source of protein with fiber-rich grains for carbohydrates, and make an excellent, portable post-workout or game snack—or something to bring with you during a busy day of back-to-back classes. The packs even contain a portable fork that can be reused!

Favorite quote of Anabelle, overheard at FNCE

Did you find any new food and nutrition trends that surprised you?

The rise of plant-based foods was prevalent on the expo floor, though it didn’t necessarily surprise me. The breadth of options featuring plant proteins from hemp seeds to pea protein included ice cream, milks, chips, and cereals. It is clear that there is a demand for more plant-focused alternatives to animal products and food companies are responding in creative ways!

What was the most controversial topic you saw?

I attended an educational session about weight bias in healthcare settings and felt an immediate divergence among RD’s in the audience about defining and treating obesity. The presenters reflected on the importance of ensuring that we do not use shameful, dehumanizing or assumptive approaches to treating and preventing obesity on the policy level, but argued that we cannot focus only on prevention and leave out those who still struggle with obesity as a disease. During the question and answer segment at the end of the talk, one dietitian presented the idea that obesity might not need to be approached as a disease and rather as a descriptor of size, and that we turn our focus away from managing “weight” and more to managing health behaviors. I have been personally interested in learning more about weight-neutral approaches to nutrition and adopting an evidence-based Health at Every Size framework for practice, looking at metabolic indicators as opposed to BMI as primary outcomes for health. As encouraging as it was to see medical professionals talking about reducing weight bias in health care, the debate goes on about the best way to “treat”, reduce, and prevent obesity in the long-term, and whether or not it should really be considered a disease whatsoever.

How has your understanding of food and nutrition changed since going to FNCE?

I am encouraged, yet a little overwhelmed with the potential we have as nutrition professionals to not only shape the health trajectory of our nation, but of the globe. I appreciated the wide array of niche areas in which dietitians across the country choose to specialize, and am reminded that this is a field that can benefit from all types of thinkers, movers and shakers. I think we are at a time where collaboration is critical, and changes need to be made both with small, individual steps on the ground and with large steps on the level of policy via food industry collaboration.

Hannah is a second-year Nutrition Communication student and registered dietitian. This was her second FNCE, and her first that she attended on behalf of 88 Acres. She enjoyed networking with other professionals and ironically ended up craving a lot of fruits and vegetables at the end of the conference after sampling protein bar after protein bar in the expo.

 

Favorite quote of Sharmin, overheard at FNCE

Anabelle Harari

Why did you choose to go to FNCE this year?

I was really interested in learning about the latest nutrition research, meet fellow nutrition students from around the country, and network with some brands that I love.

What was your favorite Education Session?

My favorite education session was a toss-up between a talk on Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and navigating different career paths in nutrition. There were so many interesting and inspiring sessions, it was really difficult to choose which to attend! Luckily, all of the sessions were recorded and can be watched later.

What was your favorite new product at the Expo?

Love the new Triple Cream Chocolate Siggi’s yogurt and the Vital Protein Matcha Collagen that comes out in a few months. Both really delicious.

Did you find any new food and nutrition trends that surprised you?

There were a lot of bars, but that did not really surprise me. I saw a bunch of companies using sprouts, grains, and of course countless protein shakes.

What was the most controversial topic you saw?

Weight Stigma in Healthcare, Communities and Policy—this session challenged people to be careful with public health messaging around obesity, stigmatizing patients with obesity, and being considerate of the language we use as professionals.

How has your understanding of food and nutrition changed since going to FNCE?

I think there is a lot of exciting changes in biotech that will influence the food and nutrition profession. There were several DNA and microbiome testing companies at the Expo as well as a fascinating session on nutrigenomics. I think as the science advances, we’re seeing more personalized nutrition, people wanting to know very specific information, and also tailoring nutrition recommendations to each person based on their unique genetic information.

Anabelle is in her third year completing the MS-DPD program with a concentration in Nutrition Communications and Behavior Change. When she’s not in class, you can find her in the kitchen creating delicious and healthy recipes for her blog, Local Belle. Check her out on Instagram for inspiring recipes and nutrition tips: @localbelle 

2

Favorite quote heard by Sharmin, originally attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt

Sharmin Sampat

Why did you choose to go to FNCE this year?

This was my first FNCE conference. I am glad and grateful I got a chance to attend as a student host volunteer, a position I had applied for early on. As a volunteer, I was stationed at the Silent Auction area and helped with registering items for the auction. It was a excellent opportunity to network and connect with people with various backgrounds in nutrition. I had heard a lot about FNCE during my internship at EatingWell Magazine and how amazing it is to attend the best annual event in the nutrition field. I also wanted to take the opportunity to go to the student internship fair and gain insights about the programs I plan to apply to for my Dietetic Internship next year.

What was your favorite Education Session?

My favorite session was Sport Supplement: Facts, Noise and Wishful-thinking. It talked about how the sport nutrition market accounts for $30 billion U.S. dollars and rising—but unfortunately, it’s a market backed with little scientific evidence. It also shed light on how athletes consume ineffective supplementation to improve their health/stamina. I was surprised to find out that 1 out of 10 supplements that are purchased over the internet contain substances that fail a drug test. The Speaker also briefly gave some cues for reducing risks associated with supplements. In addition, I noticed how social media was also a big part of the sessions at FNCE. As Anabelle noted, I too had a hard time deciding which sessions to attend.

What was your favorite new product at the Expo?

I thoroughly enjoyed the KIND fruit bites, which are bite-size snacks made of real fruit. They claim to have no juice, concentrate, or preservatives—just real fruit. I must admit I found them tasty and interesting.

Did you find any new food and nutrition trends that surprised you?

Though not surprising, I found a lot of focus on fiber, functional foods: foods that have positive effects on the body other than basic nutrition; like a company named Beneo introduced chicory root fibers, a digestible fiber, in their products to improve gut health. There were also sessions that focused on gut health and gut microbiota.

Favorite quote of Hannah, overheard at FNCE

What was the most controversial topic you saw?

I attended a session on agriculture and its links to healthy eating patterns. One topic that was discussed at length in this session was Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The speaker addressed how different countries have varying viewpoints on GMOs, which influences their policy making. I think GMO, in general, is a very controversial topic and as noted by the speaker, Dr. John Erdman, an emotional one too!

How has your understanding of food and nutrition changed since going to FNCE?

I think FNCE has been a insightful experience and made me realise how nutrition and its related fields can make such a great impact, not only on an individual but also on governments and countries. There is immense and extensive research in the field of nutrition that is taking place right now. It was overwhelming and inspiring at the same time, and it makes me grateful to be a part of this field.

Sharmin is a 2nd year student at Friedman School of Nutrition, majoring in Nutrition Interventions, Communications, and Behavior Change. She is also completing her coursework at Simmons College to become a Registered Dietitian.

 

 

 

Fueling your Performance with Fall Flavors

by Megan Maisano

Gearing up for this year’s Turkey Trot? This month Megan Maisano shares seasonal foods and recipes that will fuel your best performance.

Photo: Megan Maisano

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, it’s not the winter holiday yet, but the season runners have patiently waited for over the last ten months: Fall.

After the heat and humidity of its summer, New England graces us with a pocket of blissful conditions before winter forces us back into the gym. Running just feels more effortless with crisp air, stunning foliage, crunchy leaves to step on, and trendy tights to rock.

The fall is also prime harvest season. So, when you swap your Mango Peach Salsa Yankee Candle with Apple Spice, be sure to do the same with your grocery list. Your palate and your legs will thank you.

Below are a few fall favorites you can count on to fuel your workouts, recover quickly, and perform your best.

Photo: Pixabay

Beets

Nitrates, baby. There is growing evidence on their performance-enhancing effects. While nitrates are found in nearly all vegetables, beetroots take the lead with more than 250 milligrams per 100-gram portion.1 Dietary nitrate is converted into nitric oxide, where it functions in blood flow regulation, muscle contraction, glucose and calcium homeostasis, and mitochondrial respiration. By increasing blood flow and decreasing oxygen needs during exercise, beets may improve your speed and stamina.1-4

This simple, yet hearty, Food Network salad balances the earthy taste of beets with creamy goat cheese and crunchy nuts. Add chicken or quinoa to make it a well-rounded meal.

Photo; Pixabay

Winter Squash

Pumpkins, butternut squash, and acorn squash are all in the same family of winter squash. Compared to their summer squash cousins, they have thick skins which means longer storage life and obligatory decoration on your kitchen counter.

Their bright orange color is a clear indicator that they’re packed with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that will keep our immune system in check and support our vision. But they’re also an excellent source of carbohydrates, potassium, fiber, and vitamin C. Eat before workouts to keep you energized and hydrated, or eat afterwards to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscle tissue.5-9

Don’t toss those pumpkin seeds either! They offer a tasty source of protein, iron, and magnesium – nutrients that must be replenished after strenuous exercise. Bonus — pumpkin seeds are also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid involved in the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin.10-12 Toss seeds on salads, roasted squash, or soup to reap benefits on mood and sleep.

Pumpkin or butternut? Can’t decide? Have both. Try this Food & Wine soup as an appetizer for your post-Turkey Trot meal.

 

Photo: Pixabay

Cabbage

A stomach can be a runner’s worst enemy, but cabbage is a stomach’s best friend. High in fiber, cabbage will keep you feeling full longer and keep your digestion system, ahem, on track. There’s also emerging research on the benefits of probiotics, like cabbage kimchi, on athletic performance via enhanced recovery from fatigue, immune function, and GI function maintenance.13

Still on that Oktoberfest kick? Try this German-inspired Eating Well dish that pairs pork chops with a sweet-and-sour cabbage side. Hefeweizen optional. Prost!

 

Photo: Pixabay

Clementines

When the days get shorter and darker, a fresh clementine can brighten up your day. Get your “Christmas-orange” while it’s in season from late October to early February. The citrus smell that the peel leaves on your hands will keep you feeling rejuvenated through afternoon class. Rich in vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium, these easy-to-peel snacks can help reduce exercise-related oxidative stress, support a healthy immune system, and keep you hydrated.14-17 Vitamin C also plays a role in the production of collagen, which is important for joint and tissue recovery after a workout.14,15

Combine citrus with cinnamon spice after your workout with this One Green Planet breakfast bowl. Bonus—cinnamon has anti-inflammatory effects that may decrease muscle soreness in response to cell damage.19 

Resources:

  1. Murphy, M et al. Whole Beetroot Consumption Acutely Improves Running Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2012;112(4):548-552.
  2. Coleman, Ellen. Reap the Benefits of Beetroot Juice — Evidence Suggests It Improves Heart Health and Athletic Performance. Today’s Dietitian. 2012;14(2):48.
  3. Shannon, Oliver et al. “Beet-ing” the Mountain: A Review of the Physiological and Performance Effects of Dietary Nitrate Supplementation at Simulated and Terrestrial Altitude. Sports Medicine. 2017;47(11):2155-2169.
  4. Peeling P, Cox GR, Bullock N, Burke LM. Beetroot Juice Improves On-Water 500 M Time-Trial Performance, and Laboratory-Based Paddling Economy in National and International-Level Kayak Athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015;25(3):278-84.
  5. Krustrup et al. Sodium bicarbonate intake improves high-intensity intermittent exercise performance in trained young men. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2015;12(25).
  6. Feldman, Donna. Why Sodium-Potassium Balance Is Critical for Better Hydration. com. <https://www.active.com/nutrition/articles/why-sodium-potassium-balance-is-critical-for-better-hydration&gt;. Accessed October 2017.
  7. Mansfield, Beth. Fall Nutrition means Winter Squash! Peak Performance. <http://peakperformance-ca.blogspot.com/2010/10/fall-nutrition-means-winter-squash.html&gt;. Accessed October 2017.
  8. Peternelj, T, Coombs, J. Antioxidant Supplementation during Exercise. Beneficial or Detrimental? Sports Medicine. 2011; 41(12): 10342-1069.
  9. LeBlanc K, Nelson, A. Beta-Carotene and Exercise Performance.: Effects on Race Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 1999; 31(5):118.
  10. Brown, Mary. Top 11 Science-Based Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds. Authority Nutrition. June 2016. < https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-benefits-of-pumpkin-seeds#section1&gt;. Accessed October 2017.
  11. Ristić-Medić et al. Alpha-linolenic acid and cardiovascular diseases. Med Pregl.2003; 56(1):19-25.
  12. Chollet et al. Magnesium involvement in sleep: genetic and nutritional models. Behav Genet. 2001;31(5):413-25.
  13. Pyne et al. Probiotics supplementation for athletes – Clinical and physiological effects. European Journal of Sport Science. 2014; 15(1):63-72.
  14. Economos C, Clay W.D. Nutritional and health benefits of citrus fruits. FAO Corporate Document Repository. 1998. <http://www.fao.org/docrep/x2650T/x2650t03.htm#TopOfPage&gt;. Accessed October 2017.
  15. Shaw et al. Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis. American Society for Nutrition. 2017;105(1):136-143.
  16. Organic Facts.9 Best Benefits of Clementines. <https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/clementines.html&gt;. Accessed October 2017.
  17. Adams AK, Best TM. The role of antioxidants in exercise and disease prevention. Phys Sportsmed. 2002;30(5):37-44.
  18. Baur, J. What fall produce should I eat? Runner’s World. 2017;10:p 36.
  19. Mashhadi et al. Influence of Ginger and Cinnamon Intake on Inflammation and Muscle Soreness Endued by Exercise in Iranian Female Athletes. Int J Prev Med. 2013; 4(1): S11–S15.

Megan Maisano, referred to as Megatron by family, is a second-year NICBC student and an RD-to-be. As a marathoner, triathlete, and military veteran, she’s interested in how nutritious food can best fuel endurance performance. She loves to plan and has a special place in her heart for mixed nuts and her pup, Nala.

 

 

 

Candy-Ween

by Hannah Meier

Dressing up, carving pumpkins, ringing doorbells, staying up late, gorging on candy. Halloween traditions are well-beloved in the United States, and reminisced upon fondly by even the most educated nutrition students in the Boston area. But with sugar in the spotlight of contemporary public health interventions, is it time to reconsider our chocolate-coated hallows ‘eve habit?

Hannah and her younger brother Adam in matching, handmade leopard costumes

I liked to sort my candy by type, color, and preference. Each Halloween, I would make my rounds to every house with lights on in my suburban Minnesota neighborhood. I’d ring countless doorbells and gleefully chant, “trick or treat!” alongside my costumed friends, while grown-ups scooped candy by the handful into our open pillowcases. I would relish the end of the night, coming home and dumping the pounds of fresh candy onto a wide space of open floor, sorting the Milk Duds (a personal favorite) into their own pile and relegating Now & Laters, Licorice and Butterfingers into the pile of not-so-greats that I’d probably try to trade for more Milk Duds from my brother later.

The dumping and sorting of Halloween candy was a well-loved tradition

For me, candy was a given on Halloween. Sure, there were houses that we’d visit that would hand out fruit snacks or granola bars, and I usually ended up with at least one toothbrush. But these “treats” held hardly as much excitement. My parents allowed my brother and I to keep all our candy, but we were normally held to 2-3 pieces as treats per day, max.

Fast forward 20 or so years, and I not only survived 10 years of tick-or-treating in good health, I’m now in a position of relative influence in the world of nutrition. I’ve learned enough about food to know that candy provides little more to our bodies’ cells than some quick energy and easy calories. Some would argue there are properties within candy, like added sugar, that are harmful to our bodies. I would argue that most people have nothing to worry about if candy is left as a once-in-a-while food (even a once-a-day treat). Looking at the bigger picture of overall diet is more telling. Even though most candy contains negligible amounts of micronutrients, will our bodies really know whether we ate two Snickers® fun size® bars or a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Larabar®, give or take a few grams of fiber? I do not have an answer to that question, but I can tell you, without a doubt, that my mother would not have payed twice the price for pulverized cashews and dates.

used for comparison based on weight and likelihood of use as a Halloween candy

Now, I’m not anti-Larabar®, and recognize that if we were to compare ingredient lists, one would be a clear winner. Of course, I’m not comparing a Snickers® bar to an apple, a bag of trail mix, or popcorn—all options that would clearly be less-processed, more wholesome snacks. I’m comparing a Snickers® bar to a reasonable cousin—one that also provides the satisfaction of unwrapping a crinkly wrapper—yet happens to be expensive and out of reach for most. It’s worth taking a step back and considering whether the battle to promote “healthier” Halloween treats really holds up – we shouldn’t be relying on candy or snack bars like Larabar® for micronutrients, anyway.

Still, it’s hard to find the Halloween candy tradition benign when considering our current food environment, which makes eating large portions of highly processed foods in a fairly mindless way all too convenient and affordable every day. Holiday traditions put a spotlight on food industry favorites, and Halloween is the king of them all. Unlike food traditions surrounding holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Rosh Hashanah, Halloween is all about the candy.

Trick-or-treating and candy-giving on Halloween rolled out in the United States as a fully-fledged tradition in the 1950s, alongside Wonderbread® and CocaCola®. Packaged candy was cemented as a Halloween staple during the 70’s when folks feared razor blades in apples, Samira Kawash suggests in a 2010 article in The Atlantic. Since then, Americans have taken hold of the sugar habit, purchasing upwards of 600 million pounds of candy a year for Halloween, and 90 million pounds of chocolate during the week of Halloween alone according to a Neilsen report from 2009. That’s about one pound and 3.2 ounces of chocolate per child in the United States purchased in one week.

Talk about added sugar.

The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, along with proposed updates to the FDA Nutrition Facts Panel, pinpoint 50 grams of added sugar as the suggested daily intake for an average adult based on a 2000 Calorie diet pattern. One pound and 3.2 ounces of milk chocolate contains about 543 grams of sugar, which averages out to over 75 grams of sugar per day if consumed in one week. And that’s just chocolate—add in sugar from other foods like yogurt, baked goods, sauces and dressings, and the scales are tipped firmly in the direction of “excess.”

So, what are we supposed to do about it?

According to an informal survey of Friedman students, a majority (64%) believe that handing out Halloween candy neither helps nor hurts public health nutrition policy, and only 55% do not believe it is our responsibility as nutrition professionals to shift our current candy-centric Halloween culture.

“Holidays are unique and have anticipated traditions that vary by family and culture,” one Friedman student responded. America just happens to have a love affair with sugar on Halloween.

But of course, Halloween candy is not the only thing contributing to chronic disease. Another student argued, “Blaming candy is like saying if we want to prevent house fires we should outlaw matches.”

Moderation was a signature theme of survey responses. “Every holiday doesn’t require candy and sweets, but it provides a good opportunity to discuss with children the importance of moderation and sharing,” one student suggested.

While I agree that moderation is a key message, and that foods like candy (or ice cream, or brownies) can indeed be incorporated into an overall health-promoting diet when approached without guilt or stress, does fixating on treats at holidays like Halloween (and Christmas, and Easter, and Valentine’s Day) really send that message? Would we be so obsessed with candy on Halloween if we weren’t constantly trying to avoid it the rest of the year?

To help make your decision—will you or won’t you participate in passing out candy to kids this Halloween?—let’s refer to my favorite decision-making tool: the Pros vs. Cons list.

 

PROS

CONS
Candy is cheap, usually on sale, and comes in many varieties Look at the ingredients list… if you dare
But chocolate has antioxidants, right? Have you ever babysat a kid who ate candy for dinner?
Dentists need more business, it’s good for the economy. Candy may be cheap, but fillings are expensive.
More likely to be viewed as a “cool house” for handing out candy. If no one comes to your door, you can wear pajamas and go to bed early.
Leftover candy

Leftover candy

 

While over 95% of Friedman students surveyed enjoy eating candy on Halloween, only 53% of them plan to hand out sweet treats to costumed kiddos this year. Most who aren’t participating in the tradition reported not having Trick-or-Treaters stepping up to their doors. Others said they would be handing out granola bars, nuts (allergies are a whole other topic worth considering on Halloween), or non-food items like stickers.

Most folks passing out candy are going with fun size bars or “whatever’s cheapest.” My building is one that will likely not be visited by young tricksters looking for treats, but if it were, I’d pick up a big bag of fun size pretzel M&Ms® (because they offer the best of both worlds) and ask every kid their name. Like one insightful second-year student added “Halloween is a great opportunity to get to know neighbors and give personal attention to your community.”

Thanks to all the Friedman students and alumni who filled out the unofficial survey and offered thoughtful and creative responses! It’s clear we can improve our Halloween traditions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to do away with candy altogether.

*Statistics based on a voluntary Facebook-linked google survey of 45 Friedman students and alumni in September, 2107

Hannah Meier is a registered dietitian, second-year Nutrition Communications student, foodie, and festivity nerd. She believes in the power of food as both an instrument for health and community, and strives to make nourishing options as accessible and convenient as possible for all. You can find her on Instagram @abalancedpaceRD and Twitter @hannahrosemeier.

Nutrition in a Nutshell: Lessons Learned as a Dietetic Intern

by Katelyn Castro

I was one of those few teenagers who knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. Now, after four years of college and two years of graduate school combined with a dietetic internship, a career as a registered dietitian is not far out of reach. While my passion for nutrition has never dwindled over these last six years, my approach nutrition has changed significantly.

Nutrition tips on the sidebar of Self magazine, an over-simplified nutrition lesson in a health class in middle school, and a quick nutrition lecture from my pediatrician, summed up my understanding of nutrition before entering college. Now­—six years of coursework and 2000+ hours of dietetic rotations later—I not only know the nitty-gritty details of nutrition science, but I also have learned some larger truths about nutrition that are not always talked about.

Beyond what you may read as you thumb through your social media feed, or even what you may learn from an introductory nutrition textbook, here are some of the lessons that I have acquired about nutrition along the way:

1- Nutrition is an evolving science.

First, let’s be clear that nutrition is a science that relies on concepts from biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and epidemiology to study how nutrients impact health and disease outcomes. Understanding how diabetes alters carbohydrate metabolism allows people with diabetes to live without fear of dying from diabetic ketoacidosis or seizures due to unsafe blood glucose levels. Understanding how ulcerative colitis impacts mineral absorption and increases protein losses helps those with the condition manage nutrient deficiencies with adequate nutrition supplementation. These are only a few examples of the many ways our knowledge of nutrition science makes it possible to improve individuals’ health outcomes.

However, the more I learn about nutrition, the more I realize that the research still holds many unanswered questions. For example, previous nutrition guidelines, like when to introduce hypoallergenic food to children, are being disproven and questioned by more recent studies. On the other hand, research on the gut microbiota is just beginning to uncover how one’s diet interacts with their gut microbiota through hormonal and neural signaling. Staying up-to-date on the latest research and analyzing study results with a critical eye has been crucial as new scientific discoveries challenge our understanding of nutrition and physiology.

Who would have thought a career in nutrition would require so much detective work?

 2- Food is medicine, but it can’t cure everything.

The fact that half of the leading causes of death in the U.S. can be influenced by diet and physical activity highlights the importance of nutrition for long-term health. Using medical nutrition therapy for patients with variety of health problems, ranging from cancer and cardiovascular disease to cystic fibrosis and end-stage renal disease, has also allowed me to see nutrition powerfully impact the management and treatment of many health conditions. High cholesterol? Avoid trans fat and limit saturated fat in foods. Type 2 diabetes? Adjust the timing and type of carbohydrates eaten.

While making simple changes to eating habits can improve lab values and overall health, nutrition is often only one component of treatment accompanied by medication, surgery, therapy, sleep, and/or stress management. Interacting with patients of all ages and health problems, and working with health professionals from a range of disciplines has forced me to step out of my nutrition bubble and take a more comprehensive approach to patient care: Improving quality of life and overall health and wellbeing is always going to be more important than striving for a perfect nutrition plan.

3- Nutrition is political and nutrition messages can be misleading.

Back when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics was one of many health organizations sponsored by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, I realized how much influence large food industries have on food advertising, marketing, and lobbying. With known health consequences of drinking too many sugary beverages, the concept of health organizations being sponsored by soda companies was perplexing to me. Learning more about the black box process of developing the government dietary guidelines has also made me more cognizant of government-related conflicts of interest with industries that can color the way nutrition recommendations are presented to the public.

Industry-funded nutrition research raises another issue with nutrition messaging. For example, only recently a study revealed that the sugar industry’s funded research 50 years ago downplayed the risks of sugar, influencing the debate over the relative risks of sugar in the years following. Unfortunately, industry-sponsored nutrition research continues to bias study results, highlighting positive outcomes, leaving out negative ones, or simply using poor study designs.  While sponsorships from big companies can provide a generous source of funding for research, as both a nutrition professional and a consumer, I’ve learned to take a closer look at the motives and potential bias of any industry-funded nutrition information.           

4- Nutrition is not as glamorous as it sounds, but it’s always exciting.

When the media is flooded with nutrition tips for healthy skin, food for a healthy gut, or nutrients to boost mood, the topic of nutrition can seem light and fluffy. With new diets and “superfoods” taking the spotlight in health magazines and websites, it’s easy to think of nutrition as nothing more than a trend.

However, any nutrition student or dietitian will prove you otherwise. In the words of one of my preceptors, “my job [as a dietitian nutritionist] is not as glamorous and sexy as it sounds.” Throughout my dietetic rotations, my conversations with patients and clients have gone into much more depth than just aesthetics and trendy nutrition topics. If I’m working with a patient with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, bowel movements (a.k.a poop) may dominate the conversation. If I’m counseling someone who has been yo-yo dieting, I may be crushing their expectations of fad diets while encouraging more realistic, sustainable healthy goals. If I’m speaking with a group of teenagers with eating disorders, I may not talk about nutrition at all and focus more on challenging unhealthy thoughts and behaviors about food. It is these conversations, discussing what really matters when it comes to food, nutrition, and overall health that make a career in nutrition ever-changing and always exciting.

Katelyn Castro is a second-year student graduating this May from the DI/MS Nutrition program at the Friedman School. She hopes to take advantage of her experiences at Tufts to make positive impact on individuals’ health and wellbeing through community nutrition outreach. You can follow on her journey as she blogs on all things relating to food and nutrition at nutritionservedsimply.com.

 

 

Balance, Variety, and Moderation: What Do They Really Mean?

by Katelyn Castro

Balance, variety, and moderation have been referenced in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for decades. Yet overtime, the ambiguity of these terms has clouded their importance and left their meaning open for interpretation—often misinterpretation.

“Everything in moderation.”

“It’s all about balance.”

“I eat a variety of foods… well, a variety of ice-cream flavors!”

These words are often used to justify our food choices or to make us feel better when our diet is not 100% nutritious. Not anymore! Instead of using these words to rationalize our eating habits (which is completely unnecessary and counterproductive), let’s talk about how these nutrition concepts can be interpreted with a more intuitive approach to healthy eating.

Variety

Fruits and vegetables are usually the food groups that we focus on when we talk about variety in our diet. However, variety is encouraged within all the major food groups and among the food groups.

Besides making meals more colorful, eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, dairy, proteins, and grains provides a wider range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, prebiotics, and probiotics—keeping our heart, mind, skin, eyes, and gut functioning optimally. Varying protein with a combination of eggs, dairy, legumes, grains, and nuts is especially important for vegetarians to receive adequate amounts of all essential amino acids.

In addition to the benefits of variety at the biochemical level, a varied diet can also make eating more satisfying and flexible. While it can be easy to rely on your food staples for meals, introducing new ingredients can bring attention back to the flavor and enjoyment of eating, preventing you from eating on autopilot. Swap out an apple for a grapefruit or peach; have turkey or fish in place of chicken; substitute barley or quinoa for pasta. Choosing local and seasonal foods will also keep your diet varied diet throughout the year. Giving yourself permission to eat a variety of foods within all food groups can be freeing, helping to overcome rigid eating habits and food rules and appreciate the range of foods that satisfy your hunger and cravings.

Photo credit: https://stocksnap.io

Moderation

Sweets, fatty meats, fried food, fast food, soda… these are all foods recommended to “eat in moderation,” or limit, in some cases. Whether it is unwanted weight gain or increased risk of type 2 diabetes, the negative health effects of eating excess added sugars and solid fats have been identified in the literature. However, cutting out sugary and fatty foods completely can be just as damaging for our emotional health, leaving us disconnected from friends and family and preoccupied with thoughts about food. Food is a huge part of our culture; it’s social, celebratory, and meant to be enjoyed in good company. That’s why moderation—not restriction or overindulgence—is the secret to healthy, happy eating habits.

But, what does moderation really mean? Technically, the most recent dietary guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of total calories per day, saturated fat to less than 10% of total calories per day, and trans fat to as little as possible. Realistically, this may translate into having more added sugars one day (i.e. when you’re eating cake at a family birthday party), and having more saturated fat another day (i.e. when you eat pizza with friends on a weekend).

Moderation is about being open to day-to-day variations in your diet depending on your appetite, cravings, and activity level. Sometimes a big bowl of ice-cream is just want you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, other times a small square of chocolate may be enough to keep sweet cravings at bay. Savoring the flavor of sugary and fatty foods and becoming aware of how your body responds can help you determine what “eating in moderation” means for you.

Photo credit: https://stocksnap.io

Balance

Out of all three of these terms, balance probably has the most interpretations. A balanced diet is often defined as a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges set by the Institute of Medicine. A balanced meal, on the other hand, refers to a balance of food groups consistent with MyPlate or Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate: fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one fourth with lean protein, and one fourth with whole grains. Together, creating a balance of food groups and macronutrients can make meals and snacks more filling (from protein and fiber) and provide more sustained energy (from carbohydrates in whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables).

Beyond balance within our food choices, energy balance looks more broadly at the balance between energy intake (calories from food) and energy expenditure (calories used for exercise and metabolic processes). Energy balance is associated with weight maintenance, while energy imbalance can contribute to weight loss or weight gain. However, this concept is often oversimplified because energy expenditure cannot be precisely calculated since many factors like the stress, hormones, genetics, and gut microbiota (bacteria in our digestive tract) can alter our metabolism. For example, chronic stress can lead to high levels of cortisol, which signal the body to store fat, contributing to weight gain. In contrast, a diverse composition of gut microbiota may enhance metabolism and promote weight loss, according to preliminary research.

Considering the multiple factors influencing our metabolism, listening to our bodies’ hunger and fullness cues can often guide food intake better than relying on calculated formulas and food trackers. Creating balance, variety, and moderation in our diets can help us meet our nutritional needs and achieve energy balance, while preserving the joy and connection that food brings to our lives.

Photo credit: https://stocksnap.io

Katelyn Castro is a second-year student in the DI/MS Nutrition program at the Friedman School. She’s a foodie, runner, and part-time yogi on a mission to make healthy eating easy, sustainable, and enjoyable. You can find her thoughts on all things relating to food and nutrition at nutritionservedsimply.com