Posts Tagged ‘sugar’

By David Grotto, RD, LDN

As seen on WebMD Real Life Nutrition

We seem to be at odds each and every day with Mother Nature’s plan. Her preference is for us to be opportunists – grabbing calories wherever and whenever we can because we are still hard-wired with the instinct to run from danger, trying to avoid becoming a wild animal’s next meal while also needing enough energy to hunt them to make them ours.  If we don’t have to expend a lot of energy “foraging” for food, Mother Nature rewards us with extra storage fat that will come in handy for those long, cold and hard winters when food is scarce. 

We are omnivores by nature who can eat just about anything. We were gifted with a natural bias towards sweet things such as fruit to obtain instant energy while Mother Nature is rewarded with a fertilized delivery package of undigested seeds to grow replacements. The problem is, for us, that we aren’t eating much of the fruits or vegetables of her labor but she’s okay that we return her seeds back in an altered form.  The landscape has changed and Mother Nature has adapted but we haven’t. In her mind we are doing just what we were programmed to do. Throw in a “drive thru” and we have met out biological goal of maximizing calories in while preserving calories out.

Time to change how we forage? There seems to be greater movement towards changing the world we live in rather than trying to change the individual. Based on our natural tendencies, maybe that’s not such a bad idea. Mayor Michael Bloomburg wants to set limits on the volume of sugary beverages that can be sold in restaurants and just recently, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has made the argument that the FDA should require the soda industry to cap the sugar we naturally crave, but now easily provided via beverages, to be more in line with dietary guidelines.

Recent research on limiting portion sizes does suggest that we can still be satisfied with less if presented with that as the preferred and only choice. Case in point, Paul Rozin, PhD, department chair of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, recently presented at a conference I attended and said that the portion sizes of many popular McDonald’s items are smaller in McDonald’s located in France versus ones found in the United States. Smaller portions also translate to the French dinner plate at home though they, as we know, consume more decadent calorie and fat laden items as part of the “French paradox” which results in smaller waistlines and less heart disease. Perhaps we too can have our (smaller) croissant and eat it, too?

I can’t believe that it’s me saying this but I’m really wondering if we are heading in the wrong direction in the fight against obesity and improving public health. Maybe trying to change personal responsibility isn’t the right approach especially since it fly’s in the face of our genetic autopilot that prefers that we over consume calories when presented with an opportunity to do so. Maybe the environmental hurdles we encounter daily are just too high for us to depend on our will power to get us over them and we have reached a point that we have to intervene to help Mother Nature. 

With the latest regulatory efforts, we obviously know where to begin but my question is, do we know where it should stop? So I ask you, should we also mandate? 

  1. No more all you can eat buffets or at least requiring paying for each additional plate
  2. The discontinuation of large sizes of anything we eat
  3. Price incentives for purchasing healthier foods while raising prices on larger portion sizes of foods deemed “not healthy
  4. The discontinuation of shows that promote gluttony such as “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” or “Man versus Food”
  5. Stiff penalties for parents overheard to say, “Finish eating everything on your plate” 

What say you?

 

Eat less calories, sodium, sugar, sat and trans fat and eat more plants and drink water instead of sugary sodas. Oh yeah…and Move! That’s basically the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans distilled down to a sound-bite. So, for those of you who just wanted the “low-down”, you are free to bail on me now. For all others, behold! For here they are in all of their glory…

Enjoy your food, but eat less.

Avoid oversized portions.

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals – and choose the foods with lower numbers.

Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

This may surprise you but I embrace these new guidelines…I really do. In fact, I also believe they are based on good science and NOT the result of special interest lobby groups’ efforts (oh how we love a juicy conspiracy story!).

Take the dairy message for example; I’m not too sure how the dairy folks feel about “Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk” as part of the new guidelines. I know I’m thinking “How many people are getting in too much saturated fat and calories because they are drinking 2% or whole milk?”  According to 2005-2006 NHANES data, only 60% of Americans consume the recommended amount of milk and milk products. And out of all milk products consumed, only 1/3 is consumed as a milk beverage. So it seems that whole milk as an ingredient may be more at issue and not because people are buying too much 2% and whole milk. Anyhow, I digress…a little…

What I really like about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is that it establishes dietary goals for better health. Who can’t get behind “Make 1/2 Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables”? But what I really loathe about the guidelines is that in their history, the majority of the population has never achieved all of the recommendations! Yet every 5 years, we are compelled to “raise (or lower in the case of “nutrients of concern”, i.e. sodium, sat and trans fat, cholesterol) the bar” despite how successful we as a society were in achieving the prior guidelines. Ah, but should we shoot the messenger? Is it the guidelines that I loathe or our inabilities to achieve them?

Guidelines without real teeth for implementation will always be just “guidelines”. It’s how we tackle them as a society that will change lofty guidelines into a roadmap for health. So I want to present for discussion how we might just go about making these guidelines “real” for everyone concerned. And I like approaching health “one delicious bite at a time” so let’s tackle what I consider the most important guideline of them all.

Task:. Make Half of Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables.

Solution?

I turned to blogger friend Jenna Pepper for some help on this one. You see, Jenna is a mommy blogger who has a kid-focused blog called Food with Kid Appeal. She already has been working on this project for as long as her kids could eat solid foods. What’s more is that Jenna also has taken her mission from the family kitchen table to the school cafeteria in the “Eat to Learn” program at Sherwood Elementary School in Houston Texas. She shared with me how this program is really making a difference in her community.

Q. What is the Eat to Learn Program?

Jenna: Eat to Learn is a year-long food education program that strives to make a connection with kids between food and learning, as well as increase consumption of fruits and vegetables in the school cafeteria. The program is not only for students at school, but also involves parents in several events. Eat to Learn was a grant proposal submitted to National Parent Teacher Association for a $1,000 grant award.  Sherwood did not receive a grant award.  We were able to fund the program with parent and community donations.  Events in the program include: 

  • daily morning announcements that connects 21 fruits and vegetables served in the cafeteria to learning
  • a parent meeting to educate parents on the nutrients a learning brain needs
  • Turkey Trot that links physical activity to improved learning
  • Lunch tray evaluations – students get to grade their lunch tray or lunch box selections
  • Taste Off – a campus wide food tasting competition
  • Monthly Eat to Learn flyers sent home with students for parents to read the content contained in the morning announcements.

Q. Why Sherwood Elementary?

Jenna: My sons both attend Sherwood Elementary.  Our school principal, Stefanie Noble, is supportive of building better eating habits in the student body as well as increasing student success by way of real food. Without a principal who believes in educating the whole child; including academics and wellness, the students at Sherwood would not be receiving education about real food and how it helps them succeed at school.  Ms Noble was receptive to the program from the beginning. 

Q. Tell me about the “Taste Off” competition.

Jenna: The Taste off Competition was a campus wide event, where each Sherwood student received a punch card with 9 foods listed: celery, cucumber, carrots, green beans, pears, oranges, beans, broccoli and spinach.  Each child was offered 9 types of produce and given an opportunity to taste them.  Tasters received a punch on their card.  After the tastings, students got to decide their favorite and least favorite item tasted by placing a sticker on a poster to build two Decision Charts for each grade.  After the tastings, students got to jump rope, dance, hula hoop or play soccer.   In the weeks following the taste off, each class room will receive their punch cards to build graphs and interpret the tasting data. They will also be writing journal entries and essays about the Eat to Learn program. The Eat to Learn program was designed to tie into math and language arts curriculum. 

Q. Of the 400 kids, how many tried the various produce offerings?

Jenna: 82% of the students tried all 9 items.  I saw a couple of punch cards with 3 tastes (the lowest), but of the 18% who didn’t taste all the foods, most tasted 7-8 items.   Surprisingly, raw spinach and broccoli were tasted by 95% of kids.

Q. What were the results?

Jenna: 48% selected one of the vegetables as favorite, 52% selected a fruit as their favorite.  25% preferred a green vegetable out of all nine foods offered.

Q. How do the results of this project apply to kids across America?

Jenna: Many kids do not eat vegetables, and many kids do not prefer vegetables.  Liking a vegetable and preferring a vegetable are two different things. Many kids never learn to eat items they don’t prefer. The vast majority of their diet on a daily basis is made up of various preferred items. Training taste buds starts with mindset.  If mom believes that her kiddo can learn to like vegetables, and she follows up that belief with similar thoughts (jr tasted broccoli today, that’s progress.) and actions (serving vegetables on a regular basis) and expectations (I expect that my child will learn to eat vegetables because we value food that nourishes the body) then in most cases a child will learn to eat vegetables.  What happens with mom’s mindset is more like this “Picky eaters don’t usually like vegetables.”  What do her thoughts, actions and expectations look like?  What are the results? I’m not saying that an open mindset enables every kid to eat every vegetable, but that mindset sets kids up for success with healthy eating habits.

Studies have shown that kids have more taste buds than adults.  This means they taste “bitter” much more intensely than adults do.  Some bitter vegetables are often unloved by kids until they are older and have lost some of their taste buds.  If a child has a strong reaction to a bitter vegetable at age 3, that broccoli or leafy green may forever be labeled as “unacceptable” by the child. When in reality, that same flavor could be adopted with practice or in time, as taste buds decrease, become palatable. Another issue is mindset.  How many parents would end up with literate kids if we doubted our child’s ability to learn to read?  Kids learn to read because we know they are capable of it, we expect it and our actions are in agreement with our mindset. The results (literacy or adventurous eating) fall out of the mindset.

  • Mindset matters.  Believe that your child will learn to like vegetables the same way he learns to ride a bike, read or write.  With lots of practice, with parents who believe he can.
  • Control of the menu.  Remove processed food from the menu, and see what kids eat.  When crisp steamed broccoli sits next to boxed macaroni and cheese, it’s hard for a palate to appreciate the broccoli.
  • Make vegetables relevant to kids.  Kids want to eat foods that help them grow, learn and move.  What is it that your kids do with their mind and body?  Make sure they know that vegetables help them do what they love.
  • Be consistent with your actions. Offer a variety of veggies often and in a variety of ways on a regular basis.  Some kids will eat raw spinach vs. cooked spinach.  Some kids prefer carrots cooked to raw.  Try lots of veggie salads, lots of veggies sides, roast veggies, steam them, and serve raw veggies with dips like salad dressing or hummus.  If you don’t cook, make sure you expose your child to lots raw veggies in their lunch box and select vegetables in restaurants.  Menus are full of delicious salads and side vegetable items.
  • Communicate your expectations to your kids. Let kids know that nourishing their body is a value your family holds.  Let them know you expect them to nourish their body with plenty of wholesome food. Teach kids they don’t have to love vegetables or prefer them to eat them.  They can just be “acceptable”, or “not yucky.”  With so many processed foods that are chemically engineered to taste amazing, it’s hard for young eaters to accept a food item that doesn’t create a party in their mouth. 

Q. I heard a poem was written about the health benefits of eating produce and was shared with the kids at Sherwood Elementary. Can you share it with us?

Jenna: Sure!

Spinach makes memorizing math facts a breeze,
B vitamins bring oxygen to the brain helping it breath.
Antioxidants prevent brain cell death by the hour,
more brain cells = more spelling power.
Folic acid has the brain instruct your face to smile
while you put facts and figures in a huge brain file.
The iron in spinach will fuel you with energy,
run, swing, climb, slide and be done with lethargy.
Eat the spinach sitting there on your lunch tray
you’ll grow a big brain the Sherwood way.

Thanks Jenna! I like the “…and be done with lethargy” part. Hopefully this new set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans will inspire all to work together to improve the health of our nation. And maybe we will finally be done with apathy, too!

I’d love your thoughts about the new guidelines and want to hear about your efforts on the home front, at schools, in industry, etc. to make them come alive deliciously on the plate. Comment away!