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Archive for March, 2012

Chocolate is a mainstay of many holiday treats. While two boxes of heart-shaped delicacies linger on my table, Easter approaches for another round of tasty morsels. Is there any good news for chocolate lovers? Yes. Chocolate may have some health benefits.

In forty-two clinical studies, people who consumed chocolate or cocoa for a few weeks to months had slightly decreased blood pressure and improved blood vessel function. The British Medical Journal reported that those who regularly consumed more chocolate (forty-five grams per week) compared to those who ate smaller amounts (less than nine grams per week) were nearly 30% less likely to experience stroke. Eating chocolate also decreased insulin levels and reduced diabetes risk. Researchers, however, did not support chocolate as a healthful indulgence and recommended moderation.

In another study, two groups of overweight and obese pre-menopausal women were given either a daily dark-chocolate snack or a non-chocolate snack. Both groups showed decreases in body weight. Thus, eaten sparingly, dark chocolate did not hamper weight loss.

From a health perspective, is chocolate good? Although flavanoids in chocolate, specifically flavanol, may be responsible for healthful benefits, researchers doubt one could eat enough to improve health without creating weight problems. The downside of this decadent treat is the high calorie, fat, and sugar content. Dark chocolate has more cocoa (60%) and less sugar than milk chocolate.

We don’t need an excuse or reason to eat chocolate, but we must be wary of too much of a good thing. A feasting frenzy isn’t a good idea. Although small amounts may help, too much may result in excessive weight gain, a known contributor to several health problems. Like most foods, moderation is key. Indulge your sweet tooth with a bit of dark chocolate now and then. Just settle for a small piece, not an entire box.

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Registered Dietitian Day

March 14, 2012 marks the fifth anniversary of Registered Dietitian Day sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). Registered Dietitians (RDs) complete a minimum of five years in specific educational requirements and training with emphasis on foods, nutrition, and dietetics. They must pass a national registration examination from the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education. To maintain registration, they acquire a minimum of fifteen hours of continuing education each year. Approximately fifty percent of RDs hold advanced degrees.

RDs work in many settings with more than half involved in clinical practices. About one-fourth work in food and nutrition management, dietetic counseling, or business. Many seek employment in community nutrition, education, or research while others engage in communication fields, private practice, and a myriad of opportunities where their knowledge is needed.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, RDs are “indispensable providers of food and nutrition services. . . .and [a] credible source of timely, scientifically-based food and nutrition information.” As food and nutrition experts, they translate the science of nutrition into practical applications for healthful living.

In recognition of their special day, express your appreciation to these valued health professionals as they work to help Americans make healthier food choices.

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On the political scene, today is Super Tuesday. Numerous states will hold primaries to vote on the potential Republican candidate. Whether you consider yourself red or blue, right or left, few of us think about the impact upcoming elections have on our very substance of life—the food we eat. Politics affects many aspects of our food. Elected officials hold sway over availability, safety, and even the healthfulness of what goes into our mouths. What can consumers expect this year?

According to Marion Nestle, nutrition and public policy expert, political leaders are likely to avoid or postpone any issues that may threaten corporate interests.

  • Expect fewer regulations as corporations enjoy carte blanche with public health issues.
  • Expect strong opposition and division over budget cuts or increases in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program. SNAP benefits cost 72 billion in 2011. Supporters struggle to keep the program’s benefits while others promote offerings of more healthful foods.
  • Look for continued fights about food marketing and it effect on childhood obesity. Issues at stake include taxes on unhealthy foods and beverages, front-of-package labeling, and programs to discourage consumptions of sugar-sweetened drinks. The food industry prefers to set its own standards and list positives of products instead of negatives such as warnings on calories, saturated and trans fat, sodium and sugars. The industry will continue to press Congress to block any efforts at control.
  • Observe continued stalemates on food safety issues. Currently, government agencies inspect less than two percent of imported foods and five percent of domestic productions. Small producers feel threatened as easier targets than the mega-producers who have been responsible for many deadly food-related outbreaks.
  • Watch for momentum in food movements. The number of farmer’s markets has exploded, more young people have gone into farming, more interest has surfaced in farm-fresh foods for school lunches, and grassroots community efforts have implemented food programs and legislated local reforms.

Government guidelines and regulations affect all Americans. But don’t expect much to happen until after the November 2012 elections.

 

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March is National Nutrition Month. Sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), the theme for 2012 is “Get Your Plate in Shape.” What does that mean?

The Academy adapted guidelines from the USDA brochure “Let’s Eat for the Health of It.” Those standards emphasized five areas:

  • Build a healthy plate. Cover half your plate with brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Choose fruits and unsalted nuts for healthy snacks.
  • Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and salt. To help you do that, remove visible fat from meats, and choose those lower in fat content. Select drinks and foods with little or no added sugars. A 12-ounce can of cola has about ten packets of sugar. Check labels for sodium content in items like soups, breads, and frozen meals.
  • Eat the right amount of calories for you. To do that, 1) enjoy what you eat, but eat less, 2) stop eating when you become full, and 3) use smaller plates and bowls to help limit portion sizes. Before eating calorie-laden foods, ask yourself if the taste is worth those extra calories.
  • Be physically active your way. Choose your own type of exercise whether walking, swimming, cycling, or some other activity. If you can’t exercise for thirty minutes or an hour, ten minute cycles of exercise several times daily will pay dividends.
  • Learn to read food labels. Labels have ingredients listed in descending order of quantity in the product. Ingredients such as sugar may be listed in several forms: sucrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, and others. Watch for sodium content and the types of fats.

Improve your foods choices this month and every day. Get your plate in shape by following the above guidelines. Find more information about healthy eating at the links below.

 http://www.eatright.org/NNM/content.aspx?id=5342

 http://www.choosemyplate.gov/

 http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/MyPlate/DG2010Brochure.pdf

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