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So, while the labels placed on foods should be helping us to make better choices, sometimes they offer contradictory statements that are open to interpretation.

I live in the Washington DC area where we have a number of grocery stores that feature health foods. Yes Organic Market, My Organic Market, the Tacoma Park-Silver Spring Coop, and of course Whole Foods all carry a number of whole foods and supplements to support health – which is not to say that every single thing that is sold in these stores is healthy. And it’s often in these stores where label reading is somewhat more complicated.

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As consumers we sometimes are fooled into thinking that foods that sport labels saying they are “natural,” and “organic” are automatically healthy.  But actually, under Food and Drug Association (FDA) policy, food manufacturers can use the label “natural” when the product has no synthetic and artificial ingredients. The organic label requires that the product meet the standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National Organic Program. Nothing in the FDA guidelines or the USDA’s standards test for the health supporting qualities of the product in question.

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Defined by regulation, the Label “healthy” means that the product must meet certain criteria, which limits amounts of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium that the product can contain. Additionally, the food must contain minimum amounts of vitamins, minerals or other beneficial nutrients.

So the next time your mouth starts watering when you see some kind of frozen confection that is “organic” and “all natural,” don’t assume you’re making a healthy choice. Remember to read past those claims that suck you in! Read the label and especially take note of the sugars and fats you might be taking in (in the name of virtuous eating)!

Read more at: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm094536.htm 

Related posts:

http://heartynutrition.net/2013/01/06/whats-in-a-label/

http://heartynutrition.net/2013/01/10/health-claim-labels/

http://heartynutrition.net/2013/01/08/nutrient-claims/

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It’s that time of year when the weather outside is less than inviting and you find yourself craving all those familiar dishes you shared with your family when you were growing up. Perhaps you’ve left many of them behind because they were loaded with carbohydrates and not as healthy as eating a salad… But still, on cold winter days those cravings persist…

One way around it is to make healthier versions of the foods that you once loved. I did this last Sunday by making shepherd’s pie. I started with a recipe I found at simplyrecipes.com and switched out the white potatoes for sweet potatoes — mashed with chicken broth and butter; and using lean ground turkey rather than ground beef. Instead of including peas, I added fennel, celery, kale, and carrots; and then threw in a few cranberries, and fresh pear to give it a hint of Thanksgiving. I have to say it really did the trick – satisfying a comfort food craving – with 70% less guilt about the carb loading…

Ground Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

Prep time: 20 minutes; Cook time: 50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 lbs of sweet potatoes (3 large potatoes, peeled & chopped)
  • 2 stalks of celery, coarsely chopped
  • 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 6 medium sized mushrooms, chopped
  • ½ red pepper, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup of dried cranberries
  • 1 cup of chopped Anjou pear (1 good-sized pear)
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground turkey breast
  • 4 tablespoons butter (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup chicken or turkey broth
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of dried  savory
  • 1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning (including dried oregano, basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary)Read how to make your own at: http://www.food.com/recipe/italian-seasoning-82770?oc=linkback
  • pinch of salt
  • black pepper to taste

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Peel and cut sweet potatoes into 2 inch chunks, boil in salted water until tender (about 20 minutes).
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, after all vegetables are cleaned and chopped, melt 2 Tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in large frying pan.
  4. Sauté mushrooms in butter and olive oil over medium heat until they begin to soften. Add carrots, celery and cook until the celery and carrots begin to soften
  5. Add ground turkey and sauté until no longer pink. Once meat has browned add spices, salt and pepper. When mixture dries, add 2 tbsp of chicken or turkey broth and cook, uncovered, over low heat for 10 minutes, adding more broth as necessary to keep moist.
  6. When meat is cooked thoroughly, add cranberries and chopped pear and cook for another 3-5 minutes, then remove from heat.
  7. Mash potatoes in bowl with remainder of broth and butter (add broth first, let the potatoes soak up the broth, then add butter and mash). Season to taste.
  8. Place turkey/vegetable mix in baking dish. Distribute mashed potatoes on top. Rough up with a fork so that there are peaks that will brown nicely. You can use the fork to make some designs in the potatoes as well.
  9. Cook in 400 degree oven until bubbling and brown (about 30 minutes). Broil for last 3-5 minutes if necessary to brown. Watch the oven to ensure that the potatoes brown, but do not blacken.

Yield: Serves four to 8 people — depending on how strong those cravings may be!

Credit: Inspired by recipe found at:  http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/easy_shepherds_pie/

 

As described in an earlier posting (http://heartynutrition.net/2013/01/06/whats-in-a-label/), a health claim is a claim on the food or dietary supplement label makes a direct or implied correlation between use of that food or supplement and a disease or health condition. Such labels could include symbols, or illustrations or recommendations from a third-party.

So when you read a container of Quaker Oats Oatmeal or go to the Quaker Oats Website you might read:3g of soluble fiber daily from oatmeal, in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease;” and “as part of a heart healthy diet, the soluble fiber in oatmeal can help to reduce cholesterol.”

I consider oatmeal “healthy,” especially steel-cut oats which have a lot of fiber and protein, and “old fashioned” rolled oats, while not the same caliber as steel-cut, are also a good source of fiber and nutrition; but the more processed the oats are, the less fiber and nutrition they will provide.

On its labels and website, Quaker does not do a great job of distinguishing this fact, and speaks of their one-minute oats as if they are equivalent to the old-fashioned oats “as part of a heart healthy diet, the soluble fiber in oatmeal can help to reduce cholesterol.”

The important take away is that health claims are general… They talk about an ingredient in the product and its association with a disease or health condition for which the U.S. general population or subset of it is at risk. Health claims that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prior to being used on a specific food/product are known as “qualified health claims.” They are based on publicly available evidence, but the scientific support does not have to carry significant scientific agreement.

Even more to think about as you shop!!

I continue to explore this question because everywhere you look there are claims being made “eat this, it’s healthy,” “it’s good for you,” “it’s all natural…” Thanks to the Cornucopia Institute and a new report due out tomorrow – you might have available at the click of a mouse more information about the contents of some of the most popular breakfast cereals that we all believed were wholesome options. Turns out “all natural” is not equal to “organic…”  Enjoy this sneak preview of their new report and tune in tomorrow for more information!

I have become really aware of the way that lunches generate trash. I live and work in Washington DC where boxed lunches are often provided at meetings. I am almost always shocked by the paper plates and napkins; plastic flatware and cups that are left after the meetings’ end.  I am fortunate enough to work at a place where we have a small kitchen, so I can leave food in the fridge and heat it if I need to on a little stove. Realizing not everyone has this option – especially teachers and children attending school – I was really happy to see that the Environmental Working Group EWG post an article on how to pack appealing lunches for children that are healthy and don’t cause too much environmental destruction. Heck, a lot of the suggestions look pretty darn appealing to at least this adult!

I am always challenging clients to get rid of what is in their way to having the healthy life they were meant to live. And in terms of naming the obstacles, I have to say that the holiday season ironically ends up being one of the biggest obstructions to living a balanced life. Holiday parties with their rich food and lavish drinks throw people off healthy eating routines, and gift-giving rat-race turns the whole holiday season into a material frenzy.

It’s often hard to remember that we have choices during days like BLACK FRIDAY. We can consciously decide to spend the day far away from the commercial chaos and instead find ways to reconnect with ourselves and the people we love. Mother Nature Network featured a blog last week encouraging people to buy nothing on Friday, November 26.  I encourage you to think through the four reasons to buy nothing, and see how much of this is true for  you.

It the face of Black Friday and its corresponding ads and  gimmicks it is easy to forget that living a balanced, well-nourished life has nothing to do with stuff.  For many of my family members and friends Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday because it is about being together with people you love around a table. Yes, there is eating and often over-eating involved, but what really nourishes us on a day like Thanksgiving is our gratitude for the relationships in our lives that we hold dear.

Stay tuned for future blog posts where I intend to write more about consumerism’s impact on Earth and its people as malls around the country declare open season for shopping. Happy Thanksgiving!

Health & Nutrition Counseling

An integrative approach to health and nutrition which includes Earth consciousness.

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