Pack the right travel foods for a healthy journey

Healthy Eating Tips for the Holiday Travel Season

This blog was originally posted on Aspartame.org.

One of the best things about the holidays is the chance to spend time with the people we don’t get to see as often as we’d like throughout the year. But getting together with far-flung family and friends means we have to spend some time traveling. Packing the right clothes for your final destination may be top of mind, but it’s important to consider the foods you’re going to pack for the trip so you can have a healthy journey.

Traveling by Plane

Anything you bring to the airport to eat or drink on the plane must pass through the X-ray machine at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint. Liquid and gel foods larger than 3.4 ounces are not allowed in carry-on luggage, just like the restriction on other liquids. Hummus and yogurt fall into this category so consider packing them in smaller portions or substituting with solid foods if you are hoping to eat them on board.

The TSA Liquid Rule also applies to any food gifts you may have packed in your carry-on bag, even if wrapped. Keep that in mind and pack these products in checked luggage or mail them in advance so precious gifts are not thrown away.

Food items taken through security must be either whole, natural foods, like a piece of fruit, or foods in a container (salad) or wrapped (sandwich). No open food is allowed, such as an unwrapped donut or slice of pizza, since they can contaminate the security equipment.

Consider purchasing additional foods and beverages after you have cleared security checkpoints. There are no restrictions on foods and beverages purchased in the terminal or Duty-Free stores after you have passed through security.  Given the close quarters in airplanes, however, it does make sense to select items that are easy to eat and without strong odors. Individually wrapped granola bars are a good choice. A tray of sushi is not. Additionally, be sure to bring and refill your own water bottle and take advantage of any free in flight beverage service to stay properly hydrated in the air.

Even on flights under two hours, you will probably get hungry before reaching your destination if you consider your travel time to the airport and waiting at the gate. I count on a small bag of mixed nuts to hold me over since I can pack them or buy them at kiosks at most airports.  Eating my snack with a complementary can of diet soda on the plane means I am less tempted to order something from the in-flight menu.

Traveling by Car

Whether traveling by plane or automobile, you’re going to spend a lot of time sitting so you won’t be expending much energy in transit. This means you won’t need high caloric foods to sustain you along the way. While there are more places to buy food on the road than in the air, you’ll have to resist all the tempting fare lining the shelves and select the healthy, low-calorie options. One way around that is to plan your pit stops so you know where the better roadside eateries are on your route and what’s on the menu.

Another option is to BYOCF (bring your own car food).  I recommend eating a meal before you leave and packing a small cooler with individual “road food” bags for each person, similar to packing lunches for school or work. Sandwiches can be made to order, choice of fruit can be packed whole or peeled and sectioned, and preferred vegetables can be combined with a favorite dip in containers. Pre-frozen non-carbonated diet drinks and single pack light yogurts can be used to help keep things cool. And if you want to include chips and other snacks, it’s best to get the small individual bags or pre-portion them at home to help with portion control.

Don’t forget to include plenty of ways to keep little ones entertained so they don’t resort to mindless eating just to pass the time.

By starting out with the appropriate foods and beverages needed by each person in the car for the duration of your trip, you can avoid the temptation of buying something every time you stop to stretch your legs and use the restroom. You’ll save money this way, too. I do suggest reserving the option to buy one “treat” on the road to make the journey more fun, especially for children. Everything from sugarless gum to beef jerky is available, plus, this allows the driver to get a cup of coffee without denying the kids a little something extra.

For most of us, the best part of our holiday celebrations is the special meals we get to share with the people we love. Don’t spoil it by overeating while traveling.  With a little planning, you can arrive with an appetite, enjoy the celebration, and maybe even play together to release some of the energy you had to contain during your travels!

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian, cultural anthropologist and scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council, whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness. Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.

 

You can avoid vacation weight gain before your vacation begins

How to Lose Weight after Vacation… and Even Avoid Vacation Weight Gain

This blog was originally published on SplendaLiving.com

One of the best things about going on vacation is the chance to interrupt the monotony of our weekly routines. Whether we use our time off to sleep in and eat a picnic lunch in the park or fly to another time zone where we have breakfast in the middle of the night, the change of scenery and scheduling helps us to recharge our batteries.

Another way we switch over to vacation mode is to adopt the mindset that “anything goes.” I know I have a tendency to stay up later, spend more money and splurge at meals to get the most out of my time off. And there are endless ways to splurge! From big breakfast buffets to lavish lunches and multi-course dinners, the calories do add up. Even when traveling with children and dining in family-friendly restaurants, the large portions and irresistible side-of-fries that seem to come with every meal can dismantle our best intentions.

If you’ve ever experienced vacation weight gain, then you know what I’m talking about. It may only be a few pounds, but if you don’t make a conscious effort to lose them after vacation they can lead to “creeping obesity.”

What is Creeping Obesity?

 Researchers at the University of Georgia who studied vacation weight gain used the term “creeping obesity” to describe what happens when the weight gained while on vacation is not lost from one year to the next, and over time, results in obesity. Gaining just two pounds a year packs on an extra 20 pounds after ten years, and that can be enough to make the difference.

The study involved 122 adults who went on vacations lasting from one to three weeks. Sixty-one percent of the participants gained weight while away, and their average weight gain was .7 pounds. The researchers found that consuming more calories than usual, especially from alcoholic beverages, was a significant factor contributing to the vacation weight gain, and the excess weight was still present six weeks after the subjects returned home.

While I don’t want to put a damper on your vacation fun, I do think it’s important to halt creeping obesity in its tracks so you can go back for more fun year after year and not need a new wardrobe every time. And one of the best ways to do that is to start before you leave home!

Since most of the study subjects gained less than one pound on vacation, why not try losing a pound before you even get the luggage out of the attic for your trip? An easy place to start cutting calories is how you sweeten the hot and cold beverages you drink every day. Instead of adding sugar you can swap it out for a low-calorie sweetener, like SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener. That one change can eliminate 32 calories for every two teaspoons of sugar you replace. And depending on how many sweetened drinks you have each day and how sweet you like them those calories can really add up!. You can also continue this swap during your vacation to cut calories without having to give up sweetness in your favorite beverages.

As I wrote in my blog Controlling Food Portions to Help Curb Holiday Weight Gain, you need a game plan to get what you want out of your vacation (or holiday meals), without gaining weight. You can find some helpful hints in Weight Loss Success: Lessons Learned From Successful Losers and in the checklist below, which I suggest you copy and pack in your carry-on bag, just as a reminder.

 Checklist for Avoiding Vacation Weight Gain

  • Plan a fun new physical activity into each day, such as kayaking, rock climbing or Flamenco lessons.
  • Select fresh seasonal fruit options for dessert.
  • Take walking tours to see the sights and explore old neighborhoods.
  • Order a diet or zero calorie drink instead of tropical fruit drinks.
  • Move to the music whether listening to a full orchestra, mariachi band or street corner musician.
  • Let one meal a day be “special,” but not all three.
  • Wear comfortable shoes so you’re ready for every opportunity to scramble up the stairs, frolic in the park, or track down the best bargains in the marketplace.
  • Enjoy sampling the local fare without overindulging.
  • Save cab fare and use a walking app to get to your next stop.
  • Share small plates to taste the many flavors of the local cuisine.

I hope you return from your vacations well-rested, and at the same weight you were when you left, or a few pounds less if that was part of your vacation plan!

I have been compensated for my time by Heartland Food Products Group, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog with Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well. 
Reference:
Cooper JA, Tokar T. A prospective study on vacation weight gain in adultsPhysiology & Behavior.2016;156:43-47

 

Vacation weight gain can lead to creeping obesity

The Spring Break Souvenir Nobody Wants

This post was originally written for TheSkinnyOnLowCal.org.

When college students return to campus after their winter break most of them can’t tell you exactly when they’ll be taking their final exams, but they all know the dates for spring break. Reservations are booked long before anyone cracks open a book at the start of the semester. Escaping to someplace tropical for fun in the sun is standard fare, but for many there is a souvenir that can linger long after the tan marks have faded. It’s called creeping obesity.

Just like holiday weight gain that isn’t lost from one year to the next, weight gained while on vacation can contribute to creeping obesity – or gradual weight gain over time – if those extra pounds aren’t lost when you get home.  A recent study found the average weight gain for vacations of one to three weeks was .7 pounds, with some subjects gaining as much as 7 pounds.

Another finding in that study was that weight was gained despite the slight increase in physical activity reported during vacations. Apparently snorkeling and beach volleyball aren’t enough to offset the increased caloric intake, especially from alcoholic drinks which tended to double while on vacation!

Gaining a small amount of weight may seem like no big deal, but as I said in my book Fighting the Freshman Fifteen, if you don’t deal with the ounces they’ll turn into pounds by the time you graduate.  And since it’s much easier to lose one or two pounds than five or ten, why not make it part of your vacation plans to drop those unwanted pounds as quickly as you gained them?   Here’s how to do it.

Ways to Spring Back From a Spring Break!

  1. Know Your Number– Before you go on vacation use a customized program, like SuperTracker, to determine the number of calories you consume each day to maintain your present weight with your usual amount of physical activity. This is number your baseline calorie allowance.
  2. Step on the Scale– Weigh yourself before you leave for vacation and again on the morning after you return to see if you’ve gained weight and how much you need to lose to get back to your pre-vacation weight. Weigh yourself daily while following the steps below until you reach your goal.
  3. Keep a Record– Start recording everything you eat and drink, and the amounts, so you can tally your daily caloric intake. Keep it 200 calories below your maintenance number, calculated in #1. One way to drop 200 calories a day is to replace sugar-sweetened drinks with diet drinks and to use no- and low-calorie sweeteners in place of sugar.
  4. Up Your Activity– Increase your usual time spent in physical activity by at least one hour per week by adding a single 60-minute workout or an additional 15 minutes to four regular workouts.
  5. Monitor Your Maintenance– You can stop the calorie counting and extra hour of exercise once you return to your pre-vacation weight, but continue to weigh yourself weekly. Resume the food records and added exercise time if you see your weight going up before your next vacation.

Robyn Flipse. Fighting the Freshman Fifteen. Three Rivers Press, 2002.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian and cultural anthropologist whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness.  Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.

 

Plate size is one way to control portion size

Controlling Food Portions to Help You Curb Holiday Weight Gain

This post was written as a guest blog for SplendaLiving.com. You can read the original post here.

I have been compensated for my time by TC Heartland, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

A simple ruler may hold the key to preventing holiday weight gain this season. You’ll need it when unpacking the festive plates, glasses and utensils you use for all your holiday parties and meals. As indicated by the research cited below noting the size of that dinnerware can help you control the size of the portions you eat.

A study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found a link between portion size and overeating based on a review of more than 70 other studies that looked at the effect of different portion sizes on food consumption. The researchers concluded “people consistently consume more food and drink when offered larger-sized portions, packages or tableware than when offered smaller-sized versions.”

Pick the Right Plate for Portion Control

Choosing a smaller plate or bowl is one way to limit portion sizes according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. The research found that using smaller plates can decrease serving size by up to 10% with a corresponding reduction in the number of calories served. If your holiday place settings are super-sized, this may be a good time to pick up some smaller-sized pieces to add to the set to provide the options you need. I found a nice selection of smaller plates and bowls at the discount store that worked well with my tableware, and I got them at a great price, too!

 Apply Caution to the Portion Size When Eating Out

When eating in a restaurant or someone else’s home you typically don’t have a chance to pick your own plate, so other strategies are needed to control food portions. The most important one to remember is that you do not have to eat everything on your plate – or multiple plates if served multiple courses – no matter who prepared the meal or is paying for it. And if questioned about why you didn’t finish be prepared to politely, but firmly, tell your host how delicious the food was, but you simply had enough. You can then ask to take the unfinished portion home.

Need more help? Keep these 5 Portion Control Tips in mind to help you avoid holiday weight gain and unwanted calories all year long:

 Portion Control Tips

  1. Always use a small plate to serve yourself hors d’oeuvres at parties to avoid taking food from platter to mouth where it’s easy to lose track of how much you’ve eaten.
  2. Choose an appetizer for your meal when eating out and complement it with a salad and/or side vegetable.
  3. Alternatively, share an entrée in restaurants and get your own appetizer or salad to start.
  4. Use a salad plate at buffets and don’t put more than three different foods on it at a time, so you must get up and revisit the buffet line if you want more food.
  5. Ask the server for a “primo piatti” portion of pasta, or first course, instead of an entree portion.

For more tips on controlling holiday weight gain, see my earlier blog on “Tweaking Holiday Recipes.”
Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

 

Avoiding sugar is not the key to weight control

Avoiding Excess Calories

This post was written as a guest blog for Americans for Food and Beverage Choice. You can read the original post here.

I heard a funny joke the other day about a woman who couldn’t double the recipe for her favorite chocolate chip cookies because her oven didn’t go up to 700 degrees. Anyone who likes to cook knows you don’t have to double the oven temperature to make more cookies, just the ingredients, but it got me thinking about some of the other “kitchen math” that keeps people from eating well.

Counting calories is by far the toughest nutrition problem most people have to solve each day. Knowing how many calories we consume is one half of the energy balance equation (more math!) Knowing how much energy we expend in physical activity is the other half. The calories from all foods and beverages contribute equally to the intake side of the equation. When we consume more calories than we expend we can gain weight. Increasing our level of activity is one way to off-set those extra calories. Consuming fewer calories is another. Keeping both sides in balance is the goal for weight maintenance. If you’re tuned in to popular media you might think sugar-sweetened drinks are responsible for obesity, but that simply isn’t true.

All calories count – which is why I shake my head in disbelief at those who single out just one caloric source as the cause for obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Proponents of taxes on soda, warnings on sugar-sweetened beverages, and more red tape for grocery stores have got it wrong. As a registered dietitian, I’m convinced that consuming excess calories is the problem and unfortunately, there is no tax that will fix that.

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

Knowing "how much" and "how often" are key yo making the best food chocies

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

This post was written as a guest blog for Americans for Food and Beverage Choice. You can read the original post here.

One of the liabilities of being a registered dietitian is that we are asked a lot of questions about food and nutrition, even when we’re not on duty. That happened to me recently while looking over menu choices at an international buffet. The woman in line next to me saw “Registered Dietitian Nutritionist” on my name badge so sought my opinion without any introduction.

Her question reminded me of how eager people are to have “yes” or “no” answers about eating certain foods when what they really need to know is “how much” and “how often.”

Let me explain.

Herbs and spices have long been used for medicinal purposes in addition to flavoring our food. Over time scientific studies have been able to demonstrate the health benefits of some of these ‘”traditional” therapies, like mint for an upset stomach and cinnamon for blood sugar control. But just like taking a drug, there is a right dose and right frequency that provide those benefits.

Now back to the woman on the buffet line. She wanted to know if she should take the Chicken Tikka Masala for her lunch since it had turmeric in it, and she heard turmeric can prevent tumor growth. She went on to say she had a strong family history of *** cancer and was concerned about finding a lump. While that is a lot of information to get from a complete stranger, I couldn’t help but wonder if she really believed a single meal from this buffet would lower her risk of cancer? I also hoped she was taking other steps to protect her health. Then I told her if she liked tikka masala this version looked very good.

This encounter reminded of how easy it is for people to think they shouldn’t consume any foods or drinks sweetened with sugar because they see headlines that proclaim “sugar is toxic” or “soda causes obesity.” While neither claim is true, what gets lost in the headlines is the “how much” and “how often” part of the discussion and the other factors that contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

Eating a wide variety of foods and balancing your energy intake with adequate physical activity are part of a healthy lifestyle. So are getting enough rest, managing stress and not using tobacco products. And if you enjoy sugar-sweetened beverages or those made with low-calorie sweeteners, they can be part of a healthy lifestyle, too.

It all comes down to how much and how often and what else you’re doing to make all of the pieces of a healthy lifestyle add up right. When you do you’ll find life really can be sweet with sugar and spice!

Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

 

Use these simple eating tips for form good eating habits in the New Year

Eating Tips for Good Health and Weight Loss in the New Year

USE THESE SIMPLE EATING TIPS FOR FORM GOOD EATING HABITS IN THE NEW YEAR

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read it here.

Anyone old enough to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve will probably make a resolution to drop a few pounds in the coming year. It’s one of the top resolutions made in the first minute of the first day of every new year. If it’s on your list, I have a few eating tips that can help you reach your health and weight loss goals in 2013.

The key is forming good eating habits so the preferred behavior happens automatically. A habit is a habit whether good or bad, so swapping out your old way of eating for something new, and better, solves the problem for good.

The biggest challenge is interrupting the status quo. It’s like switching off the cruise control in the car when we’re driving on a highway. Once we do, we’ve got to think about maintaining the speed limit again. The same is true when we‘re making food decisions. It’s not that we dislike every brand of high fiber cereal on the shelf; we just keep selecting the same low fiber one over and over again because that’s what we’ve always done.

But that does not mean you should skip the resolutions when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. If you’re really willing to leave the old year behind, let this be the year you ring in good health and weight loss for the very last time.

Top 10 Eating Tips For 2013

  1. Pick a start date that works for you. There’s nothing magical about January 1st, or the 52 Mondays in the year, or your birthday. There’s also no reason to wait a minute longer if you’re ready. You can start right now.
  2. Be brutally honest with yourself about what has blocked your success in the past. Do you feel entitled to eat certain foods? Procrastinate about meal planning? Blame others for your food choices? It’s time to deal with those disabling thoughts and beliefs.
  3. Make educating yourself about good nutrition part of your commitment. It is much easier to eat well when you understand why it matters.
  4. Talk about the changes you’re making to those who need to know so they can be supportive of your efforts and so they’ll understand why you stopped eating the way you used to do.
  5. Don’t try to make anyone else change along with you, just be an example for them. You can only change yourself.
  6. Plan each meal and snack around a fruit or vegetable – or both – instead of thinking about the meat or starch first.
  7. If you eat out more than once a month, it’s not a special occasion. Those meals should be as well- planned and carefully selected as the meals you eat at home.
  8. Don’t worry about disappointing others if you don’t eat as much as you used to or celebrate with food the way you once did. Worry about disappointing yourself.
  9. Small changes are all it takes to overhaul your life as long as you make enough of them and you stick with each one.
  10. Make sure you never view any food as a reward, no matter how tempting or delicious. If you’re thinking, “I deserve to eat this,” don’t eat it unless you can say, “I choose to eat this.”

How many of your resolutions from last year did you keep?

Start the holiday party season with a plan to control excess calories

Simple Solutions to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

This post was originally written as a guest blog for TheSkinnyOnLowCal.org. You can read the original post here.

I know it can seem impossible to control what you eat during the holidays due to all of the parties and special occasions that occur, but weight gain is not inevitable! Instead of worrying about weight loss during such an overwhelming time, focus on maintaining your current weight and adding in exercise when possible- a game of touch football while Christmas dinner is in the oven or a walk with family before dessert. Below I’ve put together five simple substitutions for a happy and healthy holiday season.

BE SELECTIVE

Whether you have 3 social engagements in the same day or 3 in the same week, you can’t walk into each one and eat and drink as if it’s the only party of the year. Instead, you need to be selective about where your calories are going to come from so you can stay within your personal calorie “budget.” A good place to start is with the beverages. A no calorie diet soda or glass of seltzer with a twist of lime can save 150 to 300 calories compared to a glass of wine or fancy mixed drink. And choosing a non-alcoholic drink will also help you make the rest of your food decisions with a clear head.

MAKE TRADE-OFFS

When it comes to weight control, every calorie counts! That means you need ways to offset the added calories you’re likely to eat when the tins of homemade cookies and boxes of assorted chocolates are passed around. It’s possible by making lower calorie substitutions throughout the day. For example, order a Skinny Latte made with a low-calorie sweetener, like aspartame, and nonfat milk instead of your usual mocha coffee drink. Or you can swap out your mid-morning muffin for a reduced-calorie, high fiber granola bar. How about passing on the croutons at the salad bar and taking an extra scoop of crunchy cauliflower for another calorie-saving trade-off? By saving calories throughout the day, you can enjoy a few more later on.

BE PREPARED

We can’t add more hours to the day to get all those extra errands done we have this time of year, but keeping plenty of better-for-you foods on hand can help fuel us while doing them. The best choices provide protein and fiber so we’ll feel satisfied longer. Try a container of light yogurt with chopped walnuts sprinkled on top, a cheese round or wedge with a few whole wheat crackers, or a small container of hummus with some baked soy chips for great grab-and-go snacks that can curb your hunger until your next meal.

PLAN TO EAT

Even if it feels like your “to-do” list gets longer every day, skipping meals is not a good way to catch up. Eating on a regular schedule keeps your energy levels on track so you can get to the bottom of that list! It will also help prevent the impulsive eating that can occur when you get too hungry and face a food court full of temptation. You can make your meals as simple as a healthy frozen dinner heated up in the microwave or a soup and sandwich combo from the nearest deli. The key is to take the time to stop and eat a planned meal instead of over eating an unplanned one.

DON’T LET STRESS GET THE BEST OF YOU

The holidays are meant to be enjoyed, so make sure you keep your sights focused on the fun, not just the work. Delegate, improvise and take shortcuts to reduce some of the demands on your time and the stress eating that can go with it. Wouldn’t a massage, a facial or long soak in the tub make you feel more relaxed? Making time to pamper yourself is often all it takes to put things back into perspective.

WISHING YOU ALL A HAPPY, HEALTHY HOLIDAY SEASON!

Traffic light symbol used to help count calories in restaurants

Counting Calories in Restaurants

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read the post here.

CHANGES IN MENU LABELS SHOULD MAKE IT EASIER TO COUNT CALORIES IN RESTAURANTS

When you see a red light you know it means “stop.” With that in mind, a study was designed to test whether using a traffic symbol on menus would help people select lower calorie options over just providing their caloric values.

It produced some surprising findings.

There’s no denying that we eat more when eating out. In an effort to slow us down (make that an “amber light”), the Affordable Care Act requires posting calories in restaurants. If you’re into counting calories, this might help.

But if you’re one of the millions of Americans who don’t have a clue how many calories you need each day, those extra numbers next to the price on menu labels won’t mean much.

Traffic Lights and Calories on Restaurant Menus

The study was done by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity in February 2013. To conduct the experiment a restaurant was divided into three sections, all with the same food and menu descriptions. Different information about the caloric content of the items was on the menus in two of the sections. One section had no caloric information and served as the control group. One section had calorie-only information for each item on the menu. The third section had menus with the calorie information and a traffic light symbol. The Green Light indicated 400 calories or less, the Yellow Light meant 401-800 calories, and the Red Light items had more than 800 calories.

Over a two week period, diners were seated at random in one of the three sections during lunch service. They could choose from the 51 options on the menu or the daily special, and had no idea they were participating in a study.

At the end of the meal they were asked to complete a survey that included questions about their demographic characteristics, health consciousness, reason for dining out and frequency, method of item selection (taste, price, healthfulness, etc.) and menu label preference when given the choice between calorie-only or calorie+traffic light. They also completed a checklist indicating everything they ordered. At this point they were informed they were part of a research project.

The Big Surprise

The biggest surprise for me when I read the results had to do with the way people with different levels of “health consciousness” were influenced by the calorie information provided. Here’s what the researchers found:

  • calorie-only labels had the greatest impact on the least health conscious
  • calorie+traffic light menus had greatest impact on the most health conscious
  • calorie-only labels had their greatest impact on the selection of the main entrée
  • calorie-only and calorie+traffic light menus resulted in more extra calories (sides, desserts, drinks) being ordered than by those with no information on their menus
  • calorie+traffic light menus resulted in total calorie reduction of 69 calories

Summary of Key Findings:

At low levels of health consciousness, the calorie-only label led to larger calorie reductions; however, as health consciousness increased, the calorie+traffic light was more effective at reducing entrée calories. The results suggest the calorie-only label does not really tell those who are the most health conscious any new information, so their entrée choices did not change. But the calorie+traffic light label did appear to provide some new information, leading the most health conscious to choose entrée with fewer calories.

Diners who received menus with calorie information actually ordered more extra calories than those who received none. This suggests they may have experienced a “licensing effect,” meaning they felt that by ordering a lower-calorie entrée that had “license” to order an extra side item or dessert.

Lower calorie entrees were chosen by women, people over age 55, and those who ranked health as the most important characteristic when ordering.

Those with higher education ordered slightly fewer extra calories, while those in larger parties ordered more.

The preferred menu information by 42% of the participants was calorie-only, with only 27.5% choosing the calorie+traffic light. The researchers said this could be interpreted to mean the diners want more calorie information on their menus, but do not want to be told what they should or should not consume (i.e., green = good, red = bad).

What helps you make the best selection when ordering from a restaurant menu?

Trends in Restaurant Food Service for 2013

13 Trends in Restaurant Food Service for 2013

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can read my original blog here.

RESTAURANT FOOD SERVICE NEWS PREDICTS WHAT WE’LL SEE ON MENUS IN THE YEAR AHEAD

After researching all of the predictions by the people in the know, I compiled my own list of restaurant trends we can expect this year to complement my earlier post about food trends for 2013. There is some overlap in what we’ll be buying and preparing at home and what we’ll be ordering off menus, but overall it promises to be another year of adventurous eating!

Restaurant News & Food Service Trends

  1. Big breakfasts aren’t just for weekends. The most important meal of the day is catching on as a way to eat well for less than the cost of a lunch or dinner out. More protein will be seen on menus along with the eggs, such as beef and ham steaks, sausage and chorizo, and salmon and crab.
  2. Vegetables move beyond salads and side dishes. We’ll see more innovative uses of vegetables as entrees, such as cauliflower steak, without necessarily being part of a meat-free meal.
  3. Grown-up flavors appear on kid’s menus. There’ll be real fish in those tacos and a wholesome whole grains in the buns surrounding the sliders, and all of it will be much more nutritious than standard fare kid’s food.
  4. Small plates will be enough for adults. Tapas-style eating will allow you to order some fish or meat, vegetables and starch to make the right-sized meal for any appetite.
  5. Popcorn will be the snack-turned-garnish that is served with everything from soup to ice cream. The beauty of this whole grain is that it can be dusted with any flavor to complement a meal or be a great stand alone snack.
  6. Apps and iPads in the dining room. We’d all like to see fewer cell phones in use when dining, but using a smart phone app or tablet computer to peruse the menu and place your order is technology that’s on its way.
  7. New cuts of beef and more varietals make the grade. Expect to find parts of the cow you’ve never seen before on menu, including the organ meats, for those looking to expand their animal protein options.
  8. “Have it your way” isn’t just at Burger King. Restaurants are ready to accept your special requests for gluten-free, lactose-free, vegan, or whatever else it takes to keep you happy and satisfied.
  9. Food from the Southern Hemisphere is “Nex-Mex.” This year we’ll be moving beyond Mexican cuisine to the flavors and dishes of Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
  10. Adult beverages minus the alcohol make a splash. Specialty cocktails will feature herbs and exotic nectars while distilled ciders and homemade sodas appear on tap.
  11. Sustainable seafood is catching on. Just like knowing where your eggs were laid, cows were milked and tomatoes were harvested, diners will expect to know where the catch of the day was actually caught.
  12. “Know your grower” menu descriptions help sell food. Customers can help support local farmers, cheese-makers, bakers and other providers of sustainable and artisanal foods when they see their wares being advertised on the menu.
  13. Family-style take-out lets you eat out at home. You’ll find special menus in some restaurants for foods you can order in quantity and pick-up packaged with instructions for you to reheat and serve.