This is the National School Lunch Week. Improving the quality of school nutrition is one of the ways to address the problem of childhood obesity. It is encouraging to see that the USDA has established the HealthierUS School Challenge to recognize schools that promote good nutrition and physical activity. This week, Secretary Tom Vilsack is recognizing schools who have achieved the “Gold” status in this program. My question is: how come more schools are not participating in this program? The Secretary should address the barriers to his program’s adoption and measure performance in a transparent way. Only then he can hope to achieve the scale needed to truly address childhood obesity.
Here are the 5 nutrition related news that caught my eye this week. Enjoy and drop me a comment to share your thoughts.
Honey! I shrunk the food ingredient list
In a positive trend, Registered Dietitian Janet Helm (@JanetHelm) points out that packaged food producers are scrambling to simplify and shrink the list of ingredients on their products. Michael Pollan should feel happy – after all, he is the one who has been telling people not to buy foods that contain more than 5 ingredients or difficult to pronounce ingredients! Actually, I agree with him and welcome this trend. Even though all these ingredients including additives, colorants and preservatives are considered to be safe, it just doesn’t make sense to me when I pick up a product which has over 20 ingredients. Why process the food so much?
Some of the new products – Haagen-Dazs five ice cream for example – now claim to be made just like the way you would make at home with only a handful of ingredients. Hmmm…I wonder if they cost more than the regular products! That would be a brilliant marketing idea – make more money with less!
Rice eaters have healthier diets – really?
A new study based on national food consumption surveys finds that rice eaters in general tend to have healthier diets because they eat more grains, more vegetables and dietary fiber, less added fat, less saturated fat and less added sugar. Rice is cheap and provides a rich source of carbohydrates.
I was intrigued by this news, not because we eat a lot of rice in hour household, but because the correlation implied that people should switch to rice! But then upon a closer look at the story I found that this research was sponsored by the USA Rice Federation. There is nothing wrong in urging people to eat more rice, but then the study should also point to the risks of eating too much rice. White rice is a refined grain and even when enriched with added vitamins and minerals, it is nutritionally inferior to brown rice. It also has a high glycemic index which will make your blood sugar rise rapidly. On the other hand, brown rice comes with an expiration date, may be more expensive, takes longer to cook and you may not like its chewy texture.
Just because someone eats rice, does not mean their diet is healthy on its own.
Home remedies for the common cold not backed by science
No doubt, eating warm chicken soup when you are down with the cold and flu is very comforting. But is there any scientific evidence that home remedies like the chicken soup, drinking plenty of fluids, vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, honey and garlic can treat or prevent your sickness? In an extremely well-researched article, Dr Ayala (@DrAyala) concludes that there is no solid scientific evidence on food, nutrients and relief from the common cold. Her advice – you can try these home remedies for comfort, and they don’t hurt except that you need to be careful about supplements.
I do take vitamin C every day, but I am under no illusion that it is the magic bullet for preventing cold and flu. The best way to prevent cold and flu is to avoid contact with sick people and frequently wash your hands. Vitamin C is an immunity booster, not an immunity builder. Proper nutrition, healthy lifestyle, good hygiene are the building blocks for good health. Not an isolated supplement!
New York City bans bake sales in schools
Would banning bake sales from schools solve the childhood obesity problem? New York City regulators seem to think so! They seem to be on a roll because in their zeal to impose a wellness policy, they are going after everything they can find which can be labeled as nutritionally evil for the health of our children. This is nutritionism at its best without regard to the cultural norms.
You might be wondering why it bothers me so much! After all, I don’t live in New York City and my children are too young to go to school.
What I find troublesome is that regulators and policy makers feel that simply by making new rules and demonstrating their power, they can change unhealthy behaviors. It is only the stick, never the carrot! In this case, everybody is rightly upset that they will lose a very traditional way of raising funds for school activities. But are the regulators providing any alternative? A few exceptions to the new rules are provided, but they are practically useless in terms of fundraising.
They should try to focus on encouraging children to make the right choices about their eating habits in the long run. Not simply ban stuff without providing alternatives.
Parents magazine offers tips for turning your baby into a veggie lover
Dr Greene, the author of Feeding Baby Green, has a nice article in the November issue of the Parents magazine. He advises to build on your child’s curiosity about colorful things by introducing him to colorful fruits and veggies. Start early, keep trying, and introduce variety right from the very beginning. A lot of parents are concerned about allergies, so they do not introduce new foods quickly. He disagrees with this approach and offers scientific data which suggests that babies learn to love new flavors best when they are introduced to new foods in rapid succession. He gives you a nice list of 21 plant families you should sample with your child before he reaches the age of 1.
It may work, or it may not work – and of course, all bets are off in the toddler years! That is when they get picky and nothing seems to work anymore. Here are a few articles we have published to help you with fruits and veggies:
Ask the Expert – Developing a Taste for Fruits and Veggies
Help! My Kids Don’t Eat Enough Fruits and Veggies
Ask the Expert – Getting Complete Nutrition on a Vegetarian Diet
Help Your Child with Autism Have Fun with Food
Enjoy and do let me know you think. I would love to have you share your best tips in comments below.