Shiny red apple sitting on top of a book

Nutrition Education vs Healthy Eating Habits

This post was 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 original post here.

NUTRITION EDUCATION AND HEALTHY EATING GUIDELINES ARE ONLY USEFUL IF WE EAT WHAT WE LEARN

Americans have received a lot more nutrition education than is evident by looking at what we eat. Thanks to a number of successful campaigns by the food industry and government-issued healthy eating guidelines, we have had the chance to learn what’s in our food and why it’s good for us, even if we don’t always put it into practice.

Please take this little quiz to help make my point:

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know milk is rich in calcium and calcium is good for our bones?

  1. Can you name a food high in vitamin C?
  2. Where does most of the iron we eat end up in our bodies?
  3. Why do we need protein in our diets?
  4. What makes our blood pressure go up?

(You can find the correct answers below.) If you got them right, that’s proof the marketing about these food-nutrient-function connections stuck. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean you have healthy eating habits.

What’s Missing From Nutrition Education?

Associating individual nutrients with individual foods is an easy way to get a message across, but there are unintended consequences. The biggest one is that we tend to lose sight of the synergy of a mixed diet and the way nutrients work together to keep us healthy.

For example, teaching people which foods have the highest level of this nutrient or that overlooks the fact those nutrients are of little value to us until they are absorbed. As it turns out, one of the best ways to enhance absorption is to consume different types of food together, not single foods.

Then there is the danger of believing the only nutritional value of a food is the one nutrient you associate with it, such as the calcium in milk. This narrow view can result in your thinking something as complex as milk can be replaced by a single dietary supplement, such as calcium. If that happens, you’ll end up cheating yourself out of the 10 other vitamins, minerals and protein found in milk.

And finally, there is the problem of not knowing about the other foods-nutrients-functions that haven’t had their own advertising blitz yet. So until someone launches a “Get Your Potassium From Produce” promotion or “Go Nuts for Magnesium” movement, we’ve got to include as much variety in our diets as possible to cover all the bases.

Eat What You Know

At the end of the day, healthy eating habits aren’t measured by what we know about food and nutrition. They’re reflected in what we eat. I believe most people know enough, they just have to eat what they know.

(Answers: Orange juice, blood, build muscles, sodium)

superfoods can’t prevent cancer, healthy eating habits are essential

Focus on Healthy Eating Habits, Not Superfoods

This post was 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 original post here.

If you follow nutrition news as closely as I do, you might be convinced that eating certain foods can cure cancer. Not only that, the top superfoods promise they can do everything from prevent acne to reverse aging.

If your hearing isn’t impaired, this should sound too good to be true.

When I hear these claims I’m reminded of Ponce de Leon’s search for the Fountain of Youth. While it did help him discover Florida, no one living there is getting any younger.

Similarly, there are no miracle foods that can save us from the other bad choices we make or our genetic predisposition. If we want food to save us, we need to establish healthy eating habits.

Pursuit of the Perfect Diet

Eating the top superfoods cannot spare us from the leading causes of death in the U.S. – heart disease, stroke and cancer. That’s because when it comes to good nutrition, it’s not individual foods that matter, it’s the total diet.

In its Position Paper on the Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) states it is the overall eating pattern that matters most, with attention to not only what foods are eaten, but how much and how often. A well-balanced diet must also be complemented by adequate physical activity to achieve a healthy weight.

The Position Paper further points out that classification of specific foods as “good” or “bad” (read as super or lousy) can have unintended consequences. Such simplistic categorizations may lead people to limit the scope of their food choices, rather than striving to eat a wide variety of foods, which can offer the best nutritional profile.

Making Moderation Your Mantra

Giving up the belief that a perfect diet is built upon eating only the top superfoods is not, however, the most difficult notion for most people to grasp in their pursuit of healthy eating habits. The real challenge is accepting the principle that all foods and beverages can be included in a healthy diet.

Moderation is a basic tenant of the “Total Diet” concept and one that will withstand the test of time.

There is much we do not know about food composition and how to best meet our unique nutritional needs throughout our lifetime. The future of nutrition science lies in identifying our individual nutrigenomic profiles. But until we have that information, we must rely on what we know. The evolutionary history of our species shows us that human beings have an uncanny ability to adapt to a constantly changing food supply. Limiting ourselves to only a few superfoods is incompatible with our evolutionary success.

Get help starting with your healthy eating habits here:

  • The Yin Yang Symbol Offers Path to a Balanced Diet
  • If Diet Means Don’t Eat, Don’t Diet!
  • Finding the Best Diet for You
  • Why is the American Diet So Bad?
  • Debunking Another Fad: Paleo Diets
creating chocolate flavored milk in a laboratory

Debate Over Ingredients in Milk Served at Schools

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.

FLAVORED MILK IS A POPULAR DRINK FOR CHILDREN, BUT SOME PARENTS ARE NOT HAPPY WITH PROPOSED CHANGES IN ITS INGREDIENTS

Misinformation about the labeling of flavored milk has been in the news lately, and that’s not good. There are always people ready to attack the food industry no matter what they do, but if they suspect a drink for children is being altered in some way – especially the ingredients in milk – it really gets them up in arms.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had to count to ten and wait for the facts to seep in before we reacted to headline news?

Who Decides What’s in Our Food?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established a “standard of identity” for 300 “common and usual” foods and beverages. These are legal definitions that specify the minimum and maximum ingredient requirements for any product sold under a specific name, such as “strawberry jam,” the optional ingredients that may be used in that food and those that are prohibited, as well as processing specifications.

These standards were developed to protect consumers from the problem of inconsistent quality when different food items are sold under the same name. With standards of identity in place, all manufacturers must include a certain amount of strawberries, by weight, in their strawberry jam or call it something else.

The standards also provide a means of penalizing companies that try to sell adulterated products, and they protect us from the economic fraud that can occur when strawberry jam is made with more strawberry gelatin than strawberries.

These standards have even been used to help improve the nutritional value of foods.

So far so good.

What Are the Ingredient’s in Milk?

The standard of identity for “milk” defines the percent solids it must contain (8 ¼ ) and fat (not less than 3 ¼ for whole milk), the amount of vitamins A and D that can be added, and that it must be pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized.

The optional ingredients include natural and artificial flavoring, color additives, emulsifiers, stabilizers and nutritive sweeteners. The list of allowed nutritive sweeteners is long, but includes beet or cane sugar, brown sugar, invert sugar (in paste or sirup form), molasses (other than blackstrap), high fructose corn sirup, fructose, fructose sirup, maltose, dried malt extract, honey and maple sugar.

When one of those optional sweeteners is used in “flavored milk,” it does not have to be named on the front label. Consumers must check the ingredient list to see which one was used. That is, if they realize flavored milk is sweetened.

The uproar over the possible use of sugar substitutes in flavored milk suggests many consumers don’t realize this popular drink for children already contains added sugar.

The Proposed Change in Labeling Flavored Milk

Sugar substitutes are not on the list of allowed optional ingredients in the standard of identity for milk, so their use would require a front of package declaration. The International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producers Federation want to change that. They proposed an amendment to the standard of identity for milk that would allow the use low calorie sugar substitutes in place of the added sugars in flavored milk without having to identify the milk as “reduced calorie” or “lower sugar.”

The dairy industry believes this would make a lower calorie option available to children without having the stigma of a “diet” claim on the front of the container, which seems to matter to kids on the lunch line. They also claim it will help deal with the problem of overweight and obesity in kids, which now affects 30 percent of them.

All sweeteners would still be named on the ingredient list, and all would be FDA approved sweeteners that are safe for children and adults alike.

Facts About Flavored Milk Now Served in Schools

  • Contains the same 9 essential nutrients as white milk
  • Provides only 3% of the added sugars in the diets of children
  • Contains an average of 39 more calories than white milk
  • Contributes to better quality diets in school-aged children without increasing the total fat or added sugar in their diets
  • Increases milk consumption at school

Do you think the problem of childhood obesity can be helped by offering more lower calorie products on school menus?

Lessons learned during weight loss hold key to success

Changing Lifestyle is Key to Successful Weight Control

Research shows losing weight and keeping it off requires changes in lifestyle

Losing weight is difficult, very difficult. No matter what diet program, product or procedure is used to shed excess pounds, people have tremendous resistance to changing their routines and doing something different. I could argue that no matter what the reasons are that people have gained weight, they all share the same reason for having trouble losing it. People hate change.

Eating is a habit, which is one reason it’s so hard to change, but another is that it’s part of a lifestyle. And your lifestyle is shaped by where you live and work, how much money you have, who you spend your time with, and what you know, like, believe. If you want to change what and how much you eat and how often you exercise, it is going to require major changes in your lifestyle.

Knowing what needs to be done to lose weight is rarely the problem. All of my clients are able to tell me what they need to do differently. They say they know they should eat breakfast, take smaller portions, limit their snacks, exercise more, double-up on vegetables and switch to low fat, but they have a hard time sticking to those suggestions. Even just one.

That is because, for example, to eat breakfast every day you have to shop regularly to be sure you have food in the house, get up a little earlier, be able to prepare something you like and is good for you, make your own coffee, and clean up after yourself. Getting up earlier is a big enough hurdle for most people; making sure you have cereal, milk and a banana can be insurmountable!

Why, then, is it possible for some people to change their lifestyle and lose weight? The answers can be found in the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR).

First a few words about the Registry, my favorite source of inspiration. It is a voluntary group made up of over 5000 people who have lost anywhere from 30 -300 pounds and kept it off for five years or more. That’s all it takes to be a member.

Several common traits have been identified among the NWCR participants to help us understand what has worked for them and might help others. They are listed below.

The one thing you won’t find on the list is what made them do it. Cultural anthropologist Inga Treitler, Ph.D. conducted extensive interviews with ten of the registrants to see if she could figure that out. What she found is they all experienced an inner transformation which resulted in their abandoning their former lifestyles and being “reborn” into a new one. In essence, they found a reason to change that made living in their new lifestyle easier than the old.

It all begins with the right reason.

TOP TEN TRAITS FROM WEIGHT CONTROL REGISTRY45% lost the weight on their own

10. 55% lost the weight with the help of a program

9. 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week

8. 74% weigh themselves at least once a week

7. 78% eat breakfast every day

6. 80% are women, 20% are men

5. 90% exercise an average of 1 hour a day

4. 94% increased their physical activity, walking was the most common activity

2. 98% modified their food intake in some way, most by controlling calories and fat

1. 100% found a reason to change their lifestyle

Here’s what has helped me keep my weight in control for the past 40 years.

Getting Motivated to Eat Right

Motivation comes from within, the reasons are your own.

Getting Motivated to Eat Right

Why motivation is a critical step to eating right

Somewhere along the way, after counseling thousands of clients about food and nutrition, creating hundreds of handouts, writing books and articles, teaching classes, delivering presentations and providing media interviews, I realized that all of the valuable nutrition information I was disseminating did not automatically motivate those on the receiving end to eat better. The only real measure of success for all of my efforts has been the improved knowledge about food and nutrition people have gained from me. But seeing that knowledge put into practice is another matter entirely.

Finding the motivation to act on one’s knowledge of how to lead a healthier lifestyle is a private matter. It cannot be taught, but must be discovered within. And it must be a deeply powerful motivator because we must draw upon it every day, several times a day, to reap the benefits. Making good food choices just three out of seven days a week doesn’t cut it. Nor does exercising like a fiend after every binge.

My motivators for eating right and exercising regularly have been clear to me for most of my life. I had the motivation long before I had all of the knowledge acquired as a registered dietitian about the do’s and don’ts of living well. Those forces have never weakened their hold over me. With each new day and every new situation I have faced, the decision to make wise food choices and remain active have always won out over all other temptations and distractions. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that my life is a bore – far from it. I just don’t lose sight of the prize.

Here’s what has motivated me to maintain a healthy body weight for over 50 years and better than average stamina, strength and flexibility for a woman my age:

Low pain threshold. I don’t like to hiccup, let along cough. Knowing certain behaviors can increase my risk for pain and discomfort is like an inoculation against living carelessly.

Belief in prevention. Most treatments involve some risk and lots of side effects, not to mention pain, so preventing injury and illness has always made more sense to me. By living clean I pay it forward.

Fear of hospitals. Maybe it was that first time I visited a hospital as a little girl and smelled that smell when I exited the elevator on the ward where my grandmother was a patient, but I can still recall wanting to run away as fast as I could. I have never gotten over my aversion to hospitals and do all that I can to avoid them.

If you haven’t found your personal motivation to eat smart and stay fit, this is where your journey should begin. If you have found it, I’d love to hear what works for you?

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