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Great Eat-spectations is my outlet for sharing recent news that sparks my interest (and hopefully yours), tasty recipes that I have tried, fun food facts, and fascinating articles for you to enjoy!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

More Labeling Woes.


The giants of the food industry, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), have announced a new labeling program called the Nutrition Keys. They claim the development of the Keys was in response to Michelle Obama's request for a consistent front-of-pack labeling system. Front-of-package labeling refers to any health and nutrition-related message or symbol displayed on a food label. Here are a few examples:

 The Nutrition Keys, which will begin appearing on the front of packaged foods in the next few months, is the food industry's fancy, new labeling system. It's a glorified nutrition facts label, only it contains less information in a bigger font and it appears on the front, as opposed to the back, of the package. The icons display the calorie, saturated fat, sodium and sugar content of the product along with the serving size.

                                    
The decision to put the proposal into action came after the results of an International Food and Information Council study that was meant to evaluate the effectiveness of the Nutrition Keys. The conclusion was that consumers prefer the Nutrition Keys over other labels, but the results offer no evidence that shoppers are more willing to buy those products or if purchasing them will lead to healthier eating habits. The IFIC report states that the new label "strengthen(s) consumers' comprehension and comfort levels with the information provided." The GMA and FMI seem to have taken the only positive message out of the study and run with it.

Are we really confident that the food industry has our health, and not the depth of their pockets, as a prime interest? This isn't the first time food manufacturers have "taken action" to develop a unified front-of-package label. Their last attempt was known as Smart Choices. The green checkmark was used to promote “healthy” foods and listed the calorie amount along with servings per container on the front. It was abandoned in 2009, after scrutiny by the FDA and investigations into its validity when the logo started appearing on sugary cereals and frozen treats. The program's supporters argued the sugary cereal had been fortified with vitamins and the frozen dessert was low in calories and fat.

                                                              
Although the Nutrition Keys slim down the Nutrition Facts Label and make some of the information more visible, they still require the shopper to contemplate the overall quality of the product. The same limits and confusion of the Nutrition Facts Label remain. A new front-of-package location and a larger font won't mean squat to someone who typically spends under 13 seconds choosing one product over another. I understand the convenience factor, but summarizing the Nutrition Facts Label to give a quicker "peek" at the content is a little too reductive for me.

Let's End American Heart Month on a Sweet Note.

Before American Heart Month officially ends I would like to share my favorite cookie recipe with everyone. Mainly because they are so good and easy to make. They also contain whole grains, fruit, nuts, and are low fat too! I wouldn't recommend eating the whole batch for the sake of moderation, but they are definitely a minimum-guilt snack.


Banana Coconut Cookies
                                                   
Ingredients:

2 bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar 
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 teaspoons milk (you can use soymilk, almond milk or rice milk)
1/2 cup all purpose
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened, you can also omit this if you aren't a coconut fan)
1/4 cup of your favorite crushed nuts (optional)
1/4 cup of dried fruit (optional)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Blend together mashed bananas, vanilla, sugar, oil and milk with a potato masher or anything that can get the job done.
3. In large bowl mix together flour, baking soda and cinnamon.
4. Stir in the oat flakes and then fold in the banana mixture well.
5. Fold in shredded coconut, nuts, and dried fruit.
6. Scoop spoon-sized portions onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes.

They may not be too beautiful to look at, but I promise they taste amazing, Enjoy!

MObama Deserves a Thank You.

The First Lady's success in establishing the Let's Move Campaign and then furthering its goals over the past year have been substantial. I think that she deserves a "Thank You" from our nation, whether we have been directly affected by her initiative or have only heard about the fruits of her labor in our neighborhood or state. Here is a recap of what she has done in the past year:


1. Organic White House Vegetable Garden- On March 20th of 2009 the Obama's broke ground on the White House's South Lawn, with over twenty students from a local elementary school, for an organic vegetable garden. The White House has not had a garden on it's property since Eleanor Roosevelt's Victory Garden during World War II. The Obama's hope to set an example of healthful eating for the country by educating children about nutritious, locally grown fruits and vegetables. The first lady is hoping children will become interested in where their produce comes from and influence their families and communities to eat healthier.
2. Let's Move!- A little over a year ago the First Lady announced her initiative to find a solution to childhood obesity in the United States that encourages healthful eating and physical activity. The five key components that the campaign focuses on are creating a healthy start for children, empowering parents and caregivers, providing healthy food in schools, improving access to healthy affordable food and increasing physical activity. Here is video of Michelle Obama recapping the last year of Let's Move!


Here are a few highlights of the campaign's accomplishments:
  • USDA's healthier U.S. School Challenge programs, which recognize schools that promote healthful eating and physical activity, has been adopted by the campaign and expanded.
  • USDA's Chefs Move to Schools pairs chefs with interested districts to develop healthful menu items and incorporate local food. This program has also been adopted by the initiative and participation and interest from schools has skyrocketed. 
  • National conversation has shifted its focus to the issue of childhood obesity and many people have joined the discussion leading to a great deal of inspiration and ideas aimed at solving the problem.
  • Recognition and support from the food industry, in response to the campaign calling for better access to and greater affordability of healthful foods for all Americans, has led to the Grocery Manufacturers Association's development of the Nutrition Keys and Walmart's Nutrition Charter. 
  • Government officials within some communities have taken action to improve access to healthful foods and fund physical education programs. 
3. Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010- In August of 2010 the First Lady began speaking to congress about how important the passing of this act would be for our nation. Apparently her speeches were effective because on December 13th, 2010 the bill was presented to President Obama who signed the act into law. The bill gives funding to federal school meal and child nutrition programs. It ensures the additional enrollment of 115,000 low income children to provide access to nutritious meals. Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids will improve the quality of school meals, mirroring the goals of Let's Move!, by reworking nutritional standards of meals and monitoring schools for adherence.


4. Walmart Nutrition Charter- Not long after the first anniversary of the Let's Move Campaign this year, Walmart announced its Nutrition Charter to provide healthier and more affordable food for its customers. The nation's largest food retailer has promised to:
  • Build new stores in areas that currently have little access to healthful foods.
  • Make healthful food more affordable.
  • Participate in developing consistent front-of-package labeling to make it easier for shoppers to identify healthful foods.
  • To commit, by 2015, to carrying only items that have reduced their sodium content by 25%, reduced added sugars by 15% and eliminated trans fats. 
Over 140 million people shop at Walmart each week. The company is also the largest customer of most food companies putting significant pressure on the industry to provide its customers with healthier products or face being removed from the shelves.



February 9, 2011

“We applaud the First Lady’s advocacy efforts for better nutrition for America’s children. She has served as a powerful catalyst in our efforts to make food healthier and healthier food more affordable and we look forward to continue working with Let’s Move to bring better nutrition to kitchen tables across the country.”
- Andrea Thomas, Senior Vice President for Sustainability, Walmart

5. Restaurants- Michelle Obama has been discussing the restaurant industry's role in her campaign with the National Restaurant Association over the past year. Her hope is for the adoption of smaller portions and children's meals that include healthful alternatives to the traditional french fries and soda accompaniments. The White House has said that the talks are still in the early stages and that no formal agreements have been made.

Thank you Michelle Obama and everyone who have contributed to furthering her campaign, I hope the year ahead will be just as fortunate as the last!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fill up your cup with...






Coffee, coffee, coffee! The amazing warm, brown, liquid is important to many Americans’ morning routines, especially mine. The caffeine kick helps those of us with non-stop lives to wake up and begin our days. The varieties and brands that have recently boomed into the market prove that we hold our morning cups near and dear to our hearts. Some people view their coffee habit as a guilty pleasure, but new research suggests that maybe people should replace their shame with a pat on the back. 

Alas, a break for our dear friend coffee. Studies have been emerging that link drinking coffee with a handful of health benefits including reducing cancer risk, preventing Type 2 diabetes, and maintaining heart health. Much like tea, coffee is rich in antioxidants. In fact, most of the benefits of drinking coffee are associated with its high antioxidant content (substances found in certain foods that help to decrease free radicals in the body).  Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage healthy tissues and organs and are shown to be a contributing cause to many chronic diseases.            
            
Coffee, believe it or not, is a plant-based beverage that contains vitamins and minerals. A study by Salazar-Martinez et al revealed that magnesium, vitamin B3, potassium, and niacin are all present in coffee. This doesn't mean that you should skip a serving of vegetables and replace it with a cup of coffee. Although it contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants it isn't as nutrient dense as whole fruits and vegetables. Coffee won't be the cure-all we have all been searching for, but at least now you can look at it with a new perspective. No longer will you see that brown liquid as a simple vessel for your caffeine, but as a healthful addition to your balanced diet (just hold the cream and sugar). So go ahead, drink that morning cup with your head held high!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ethical Eating.

Whole Foods Market is known for providing their customers with high quality, organic and ethically produced products. It was no surprise when, in January, Whole Foods announced that it would be increasing the standards for meat sold in their stores. 

"The more you know about our meat, the better" is the tagline of Whole Foods Market’s launch of a 5-step animal welfare rating system. The company has collaborated with a non-profit organization, The Global Animal Partnership, to certify the welfare of meat sold in their stores. The rating system provides customers with information about how the animal was raised ranging from 1, no cages or crowding, to 5, the most animal centered rating. Details can be found on the Whole Foods Market website or in their Animal Welfare PDF.

The store has also publicized it will no longer sell meat that has not been certified and ranked, which is a big accomplishment. So far the system is only for ranking beef, pork and chicken with the certification of turkey and lamb still in the works. Whole Foods is hoping that by increasing the transparency of where the meat comes from, farmers within the industry will be encouraged to improve their current practices.  The animal welfare ranking system provides Whole Foods Market’s, already ethically conscious, meat eating, consumers with yet another tool to ensure quality food. Here is your chance to enjoy a nice steak dinner without being plagued by guilt!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Who Gets to Hold the Salt Shaker?

In 1963, The American Heart Association realized February held a unique opportunity to spread awareness, in a month already filled with images of hearts, by establishing this month as American Heart Month.  Salt reduction is one of the major recommendations regarding heart health that we hear over and over because of its link to hypertension, stroke and cardiovascular disease.

The average American exceeds the maximum recommended sodium intake of 2,300mg or 1 teaspoon per day. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released on Monday (by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) urge consumers to further reduce daily sodium to 1,500 mg for children, people who currently have hypertension, and those over the age of 51.

So how will a country that has developed it’s palate for high amounts of sodium put down the saltshaker? The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a set of recommendations last April that proposes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) take regulatory action in gradually reducing sodium throughout the food supply. Why get the government involved? Although putting away the saltshaker will benefit you, the majority of the average American’s sodium intake comes from prepared or processed foods that do not necessarily taste salty.

Should the FDA take action? I am usually a firm believer that American consumers are responsible for their own wellness as long as the information needed is readily available. The majority of the U.S. population knows that sodium negatively impacts its health. The problem lies in the public’s time for and ability to read nutrition facts labels. If the FDA does step in and do what the IOM perceives to be the government’s part in the sodium crisis, a consumer can always pull out their saltshaker and add it back.