Monthly Archives: June 2012

How Many Sugar Cubes are in Your Favorite Soda?

A week or two ago, I posted a “how to pack a healthy lunch” blog.  It gave ideas about how to include all the food groups into a balanced, healthy meal for your school-aged child, or for someone to bring to work.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone would just pack their own lunch from home, full of fruits and vegetables?  Ahh, a dietitian’s dream! Obviously, this is not realistic. Not everyone wants to pack their own lunch, cook their own meals, shop for their own groceries, and even wash their own dishes!  Often times due to time constraints, cost, convenience, or other reasons, employees and students of any establishment will choose to either go through a fast food drive through, nuke a frozen meal in a microwave, or head to the vending machines to find something to eat.  So, next Friday Mary and I will be hosting the first of a six-part “Lunch & Learn” series, where we will be addressing how to make healthier lunch choices at fast food restaurants nearby campus, which frozen entrees are the best choices, and which vending machine snacks are the healthiest at WVU.

This afternoon I ventured down into the lounge area in the Agricultural Science building where the vending machines are located.  WVU is a Coca-Cola campus, and they have 10 different 20-oz beverages for $1.25 in 2 separate vending machines.  There is also a snack vending machine with over 30 snack choices (mainly chips, candy bars, and pretzels/trail mix).

The soda vending machines in WVU’s Agricultural Sciences Building

There are many different rating systems I could use, from “never eat this” and “always eat this” to scales of 1-10, 10 being the healthiest, or even a grading scale like A, B, C, D, & F.  I decided upon a “stoplight” type system. Green means go ahead/yes and is a good vending machine choice, given the options.  Yellow means proceed with caution/maybe, and is an okay choice to make sometimes.  Red means its an item that probably shouldn’t be eaten/drank every day, but is okay to have once in a while.

I started with the beverages rather than the snacks, and I here’s what I came up with:

Vending Machine Beverages

The above link will open a docx where you can see a reader-friendly chart with images included.  The beverages that earned a green light were Dasani (best choice overall, indicated with a green star), Coca-Cola Zero, Diet Coke, and Mello Yello Zero for all having 0 calories and 0 grams of sugar.

The yellow light ratings were given to Coca-Cola, Sprite, and Pibb Xtra, all of which have 65 grams of sugar per bottle, at around 240-250 calories per bottle.

Finally, the red light ratings were given to Coca-Cola Cherry (260 calories, 70g of sugar), Fanta Orange (270 calories, 74g of sugar), and Mello Yello (290 calories and a whopping 78g of sugar).

To see what 65 grams, 70 grams, or 78 grams of sugar looks like, I’d recommend visiting for great visuals on how much sugar is in beverages, desserts, vegetables, fruits, breakfast foods, candy, and more. Here’s an example of our yellow star rated Coca Cola:

65g of sugar in a 20-oz Coca- Cola

Crazy, right? Can you imagine being given nearly 17 sugar cubes and told to eat all of them at once? That’s basically what is happening when someone is drinking a 20-oz Coca-Cola, Sprite, or Pibb Xtra.  Add 3.3 more sugar cubes to that stack, and you’ve now reached the sugar content of a 20-oz Mello Yello.

So next time you’re thirsty and thinking of reaching for an ice-cold soda, you might try an iced tea, lemonade, or juice instead, right?

Minute Maid Lemonade (20 oz), 67 g of sugar, 260 calories
Snapple Lemon Iced Tea (16 oz), 46 g of sugar, 200 calories
Sobe Mango Melon (20 oz), 70 g of sugar, 280 calories
Minute Maid Orange Juice (16 oz), 48 g of sugar, 220 calories

…okay maybe not.  As you can tell, they’re not much different than sodas– still 250-280 calories and 58-70 grams of sugar per 20 oz bottle.

What does all this mean?  Now, I don’t think anyone has to give up sodas or sugary drinks from the vending machine for life. But cutting back on the frequency of getting these drinks can not only spare your wallet, but spare your waistline, too.  Think of it this way: if a person who normally drinks an average of 2-3 Fanta Oranges per week cut back to only getting a Fanta Orange 1-2 times per week, and replaced the rest with water, they’d save 14,040 calories a year, which equates to a 4 pound weight loss.  In sugar terms, that’s 3,848 g of sugar per year, or 976 cubes of sugar! Plus, now this person has saved themselves $65, that they would’ve been spending on $1.25 drinks a few times a week. I personally don’t think I know anyone that is strongly against losing 4 pounds and gaining 65 bucks.

As I continue to work on the stop light system for the snack & food vending machine, it’ll be interesting to see what else I find.  No one has to give up their candy bars, chips, or sodas, but if you make simple switches, cut back on the frequency, or eat smaller portions of these items, these small changes over time will add up to something big!

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Healthy Snacking Activity for Kids!

On Tuesday, Mary Rodavich and I were able to give our 90-minute nutrition lesson to a group of 13 4th graders from The Shack Neighborhood House.  The day before and the morning of the activity, we set up the chairs, pre-chopped some of the food, and set up the supplies we’d need for the activity.  The theme for this nutrition lesson was healthy snacking.  We began the morning by introducing ourselves, telling them we’d be making a few fun recipes, and also learning about what it means to snack healthy.  After going over MyPlate, the kids were able to give an example of a snack from each section of the MyPlate.  Then I went over the acronym “S.N.A.C.K.S.” with the kids.

“Not in front of the TV” received gasps from the audience, and we had the kids figure out why that might not be a good idea.  It has something to do with portion control. If you’re zoned out in front of the TV, you may find yourself not paying attention to what you’re eating, or how much you’re eating.  And snacks are supposed to be smaller portions than a meal, because you want to still be hungry for dinner!

We then told the kids we’d be making a snack from the vegetable food group– homemade tomato salsa.  Several of the kids got to wash their hands, and volunteer to come up front and help chop the tomatoes and green peppers, measure out the lime juice, and put the cilantro, garlic, and jalapeno peppers into the bowl to be mixed.

When I held up the green onions, the kids thought it was asparagus! So I passed some green onions around, as well as the bunch of cilantro so the kids could smell and feel the herbs.

When the salsa had finished, we moved on to making tortilla chips from wheat tortillas. Each 4th grader got to cut up their tortilla into triangles, spray both sides with cooking spray, and sprinkle on salt, pepper, and chili powder.

Then while the tortilla chips were baking, the kids were divided into 3 teams and got to play “Guess That Fruit or Vegetable.” I had bought 12 different fruits and vegetables (zucchini, cucumber, orange, parsnip, turnip, celery, bell pepper, banana, pear, mango, cabbage). We put each item into a paper bag, taped it up, put a #1-12 on it, and cut out a small hole in the back of the bag. Teams were instructed to send 1 team member at a time to choose a bag, and by touching only, write down their guess of what fruit or vegetable was inside.

The kids learned about new fruits and vegetables, and had fun competing for first place.  Some of the items stumped the kids (parsnips feel like a large carrot, after all!), but I was impressed that they could tell what a mango was just by feeling it.  And guessing “squash” for zucchini is technically correct.

Finally, after the lesson & activity, the kids were able to line up at a station and make their own fruit & cheese kabobs on skewers.  We encouraged the kids to add a variety of the fruits to their skewers, but the kids were huge fans of the purple grapes, strawberries, and cheddar cheese especially.

The kids also got to try their tortilla chips and salsa at this point, and were able to take home containers of extra salsa, as well as a nutritional brochure containing the information we covered (S.N.A.C.K.S.) and recipes for the salsa and chips.

As the 90 minutes was coming to a close, I asked the kids what food groups we had eaten as snacks today. The kids were able to tell Mary and I that the salsa was a vegetable, the whole wheat tortilla chips were a grain, and the kabobs were in the dairy (cheddar and mozzarella cheese) and fruit food groups.  Hopefully the kids will take away the message that its important to snack and eat from a variety of food groups, and not all just from the grains or fats & oils food group (cookies, granola bars, popcorn, pizza rolls, potato chips, donuts, crackers, etc).

This was a fun activity to design and implement, and I hope that in the future I will continue to have opportunities to teach kids to get excited about fruits and vegetables and try new things!

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The French Way of Eating: A Look at Jenny Craig Overseas

French Women Don’t Get Fat

I recently came across an article in the New York Times magazine entitled “French Women Worry About Getting Fat, Too.”  The title is poking fun at the popularity of Marielle Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Fat which was published in 2004 and became a #1 New York Times bestseller.  The popularity of this idea grew, and the book has now expanded into a brand that includes a “French Women Don’t Get Fat” cookbook and a “French Women Don’t Get Fat” 3-month weight loss program.

What Guiliano’s book and the New York Times article had in common, was their explanation of the French way of eating.  High quality food. Cooking at home.  Eating slowly. Enjoying your meals with good company.  This model of eating is vastly different than the typical American way of eating, which is more centered around fast food, eating out at buffets, eating quickly, often eating meals alone, and eating between meals.  Snacking is an American concept.  “We eat three times a day, ideally no more,” said Dr. Patrick Serog, a nutritional consultant for Jenny Craig in France.  The popularity of snacking is growing in modern France however, as a study last year found that 61% of French people snack at least 2 out of 3 days. This may account for the rise in obesity in France as well. Fifteen years ago, 8.5% of French were obese. Now that number is 14.5%, with 38% of French being overweight or obese.  Still well below America’s 35% obesity rate, but when France has the highest percentage of underweight people in Western Europe, you can imagine there must be quite the stigma for being overweight or obese in France.

With this rise in obesity in France, several weight loss programs have cashed in on this opportunity and moved from the US over to France.  Weight Watchers has been in France since the 1970s, and has 1800 weekly meetings! But Weight Watchers seems to be a program that can be easily adapted into different cultures. Weight watchers doesn’t limit or restrict the type of foods people can eat, it focuses on Points, or basically calories. French people on Weight Watchers can still eat their 3 elaborate meals a day, eat the same foods as their family enjoys, and have their glass of wine on the side.  Seems fairly simple.

Jenny Craig made its way to France as well, and started marketing its product in 2010.  Rather than allowing its users to eat anything (like Weight Watchers), Jenny Craig specializes in frozen, pre-packaged meals delivered to the home or picked up at a local Jenny Craig center.  Users are also instructed to supplement their meals with fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy.  This system may not seem like something the French would embrace. Eating different foods than your family, not sharing in that communal dining experience, being on “diet”? And most of all, what do Americans know about dieting?  This is why Jenny Craig had to make several important changes when adapting the American program into a program that works for the French.

An example of the differences would be the marketing strategy in both countries.  The American Jenny Craig website and advertising is full of feel-good, positive affirmations. “Feel like new, feel like you” and “see what success tastes like” and other self-esteem boosting phrases. The French take a more practical approach. The quote on the main Jenny Craig French website reads “It works. Why not you?”  According to Erick Moreau, the director of Jenny Craig in Europe, “the French are the most pessimistic people in the world.”  If you’ve ever been to France (or seen a French film) you’ll know that their sense of humor and way of speaking is a little more direct and serious. No “You can do it, just believe in yourself!” type of advertising there.

Another main difference between the two programs are the meals.  If you glance at the online menus at both websites (Jenny Craig USA and Jenny Craig France), you might notice that the dinners in France are more “adult” foods, very French, and are elegant entrees with fancier packaging. The American meals are more reminiscent of favorite meals from childhood: burgers, macaroni and cheese, and sweet and sour chicken.  The American Jenny Craig plans also come with a multitude of snacks, desserts, and granola bars. American dieters are encouraged to eat 6 small meals a day (3 meals, 3 snacks), while the French stick to their 3 meals a day.  The French typically stay away from snacking because snacks are usually consumed on the go, and alone, instead of together with family or friends around a table.  On the Jenny Craig plan, however, the French are encouraged to have 1 small snack at 4pm– the same time many French children get home from school and eat their mid-afternoon snack, or le goûter.

Obvious differences also exist in the “dessert/snack” menus in either country. France has two snack options, a white chocolate or a milk chocolate cereal bar (to be eaten at 4pm). “In France, dessert is fruit,” Serog said. “Cake is for special occasions.”

And on the other hand, in Jenny Craig USA, there exists a multitude of “indulgent” desserts.

Another difference between Jenny Craig in the US and in France is who the dieters meet with each week.  In the US, Jenny Craig users meet with a trained Jenny Craig consultant each week, or by phone. In France, they meet with Dietitians.  I believe this is a major difference.  In one country, people are trained to think like Jenny Craig and almost rely on the program.  In another country, people are taught sound nutritional information that they can use for living a healthy lifestyle, not just while on a temporary diet.

A 2007 study in American Psychology reported that one-third to two-thirds of dieters eventually regained more weight than the amount they lost on their diets. Obviously relying on temporary diets, or “fixes” are not successful in maintaining weight loss long-term.  As much as people hate to hear it, the secret to weight loss remains “eating healthy & exercising more.” It is that simple! However from what I’ve read, Jenny Craig in France does a fairly good job of promoting good lifetime eating habits. It encourages many “French” traditions; eating at home with the family, enjoying your food (higher quality entrees, elegant packaging), refraining from snacking on the go/eating alone, and meeting with Dietitians for nutritional counseling.

Whether or not the French are on Jenny Craig or simply reaching or maintaining their body weight without the use of a pre-programmed diet plan, they are doing a better job at eating than we are. I think we Americans can definitely learn from the French.  Walking more, cooking at home, enjoying fine dining, minimal snacking, and treating each meal time as a time for good fellowship are all French habits that we could benefit from.

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2012 Farm Bill & SNAP

You may have been hearing news recently about the new Farm Bill being passed into the Senate.  However, the Farm Bill has been around for a long time. It first came to be in 1933 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a part of the New Deal, under the name the “Agricultural Adjustment Act.” Its role was to pay farmers subsidies for not planting certain crops, as well as killing off excess livestock. By doing this, the surplus of crops would be decreased, and the value (price) for crops would increase.  Today, the Farm Bill has expanded to cover agriculture (commodity programs, conservation programs, and trade), nutrition, rural development, and the forest service.  Every five years the bill (now The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240)) is passed.

This bill “ends direct payments, streamlines and consolidates programs, and reduces the deficit by $23 billion. It also strengthens top priorities that help farmers, ranchers, and small business owners continue to grow our economy.”  Sounds great!!

Although the Farm Bill covers forestry, rural agriculture, commodity programs, and nutrition; it is the nutrition programs that account for 67% of the Farm Bill spending.

One of the programs that the Farm Bill covers is SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Previously known as “Food Stamps,” SNAP helps supplement the monthly food budget for low-income Americans.  Depending on their monthly income, a family of four could receive up to $668 per month, and an individual could receive up to $200 per month.  Food items that are eligible to be purchased with SNAP include:

  • Breads and cereals
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Meat, poultry, fish
  • Dairy products
  • Seeds & plants that produce food (ie: tomato plants, carrot seeds)
  • Special occasion cakes with over 50% of the value coming from the edible portion (up to 50% of value on non-edible decorations)
  • Gift baskets with over 50% of the value coming from food items (up to 50% of the value can be on non-food items)
  • Energy drinks with a nutrition label
  • …Junk food such as chips, soda, cookies, ice cream, candy bars, crackers, popsicles, etc.

Items that cannot be purchased with SNAP:

  • Vitamins, Medicines, Supplements
  • Alcohol, tobacco, cigarettes
  • Energy drinks with a supplement label
  • Foods that will be eaten in the store
  • Hot foods
  • Pet food

Several times in the history of SNAP, congress has considered placing further limits on what foods qualify for SNAP.  I mean, imagine a family using all $350 of their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, remember) money to buy liters of Pepsi, quarts of ice cream, packages of cookies, a chocolate cake from the grocer bakery section, a 6-pack of energy drinks, cookies, Little Debbies, and potato chips.  Currently, families can do that if they would like.  Obviously, many people (including myself!) think that congress should make only nutritious foods qualify for SNAP, and not “luxury” foods.  But because of the time and labor that it would take to categorize all these food items, it remains up to the individuals or families to decide whether they want to buy junk food or nutritious food or a mix of both.

Now back to the Farm Bill…

Other nutrition programs the Farm Bill covers include the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, and research. When these programs are funded properly, it puts Americans on the right path to improved health and nutritional status.  It also ensures that the right people are using SNAP benefits, and that the fraud and abuse within SNAP is decreased.

Thursday, June 21st the Farm Bill passed in the US Senate, with 64-35. Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan casted the 60th yea vote.  The next step is for the House to pass their version of the bill.

Continue reading

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“The Shack” Neighborhood House & Nutrition

Mary and I had the opportunity today to visit The Shack.  Since we will be giving a cooking demo and nutrition lesson to the 3rd & 4th graders next week, we thought it’d be a good idea to check out The Shack’s kids, the families it serves, the current nutrition, and assess any needs.  We spent the morning with 9 Kindergarteners, Caleb (the counselor), and 2 “JVs” or Junior Volunteers who are 7th-12th grade students.  It was fun (& draining!) to get to know the kids. I played on the playground with the kids, where we watched a mole burrow a long tunnel; played monopoly; went to the sensory garden; and learned about new snacks.

The sensory garden was pretty cool. It’s an herb garden with mint, sage, basil, and other herbs I couldn’t recognize. The kindergardeners were encouraged to use their senses (smell, touch, see) to learn about the different herbs. Then they all got to pick a basil leaf to take inside.

This is where it got tricky (I love tricking kids into trying new foods! haha): Amanda told the kids they were each going to get a cracker, spread with cream cheese, and they could put their basil leaf on top, as well as with a slice of a Zima tomato (optional):

Now, after the kids tried their little basil/tomato/cream cheese cracker, they were asked if they liked it.  The kids were big fans of it! But then…muahaha the cream cheese was not cream cheese! It was Mascarpone cheese!

Other activities the kids did was smell different spices (dill, garlic, dried onion), learn about the word “fragrant”, and try a cheese/bean/tomato dip with crackers.

I also got to speak with the woman in charge of the breakfasts and lunches for all 140-180 kids at The Shack every day.

The June menu is below:

Basically, the lunches all have to include a grain (whole grain preferably), 2 oz of protein, 3/4 cup vegetables and fruits, and a milk choice (fat free chocolate milk, or fat free skim milk).  She emphasized that she tries to meet the guidelines while still serving food that kids will like (pizza & pizza rolls are their favorite lunches). The lunch we saw today was a grilled cheese sandwich (I noticed it was made with whole wheat bread), 1/4 cup pears, 1/2 cup french fries (count as a vegetable), and their milk.  The only person I saw taking a skim milk (80 calories)  instead of a chocolate milk (130 calories) was a counselor.  But, the skim milk is still there if kids want it!  Overall, I think they do a good job of including the necessary fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, and protein, while still making the food “kid friendly.”

However, right after lunch, all the kids are allowed to have “free time” and pretty much intermingle with the other grades. They have the opportunity to play computer games inside, but the large majority of the kids were outside in 91*F weather, playing in the pool! I wish I could have jumped in there myself, to cool of! At any rate, about 30 minutes after lunch, a whistle blew and kids jumped out of the pool. I asked what that meant, and Caleb told me that every 20-30 minutes or so, they get the kids out of the pool for about 10 minutes, to calm them down (so things don’t get too rowdy, understandably). It also means the concession stand is open. 30 minutes after a complete lunch? What? Yes. Kids were lining up to buy pizza, pizza rolls, popcorn, beef sticks, ice cream, shaved ice, and more from the concession stand. Not really any healthy choices there. And there was a vending machine with soda and sugary sports drinks that kids were putting dollar bills into as well.

Now, I am not against concession stands. I buy fries, ice cream, shaved ice, and popcorn at amusement parks, fairs, and zoos myself.  But when kids know that they don’t have to eat their fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, or drink their milk, because just 30 minutes later they can have a lunch of icecream, hotdogs, and a 12oz bottle of Coca Cola each day? They’re not going to finish or fill up on their lunch.

If my nutrition dream could come true, I’d have all the soda in the vending machines replaced with waters, 100% juices, and/or diet sodas (all caffeine-free)…I’d add a fresh fruit salad (in a little dixie cup?) to the concession stand menu, and I’d delay the opening of the concession stand to at least 1.5-2 hours after lunch is served.  Just my thoughts! I think that way, kids would be more likely to eat their lunch because they know they won’t get to the concession stand in another 2 hours (as opposed to 20-30 minutes later), the sugar consumption would be reduced (no more sugary sodas), and there would be a healthy option at the concession stand, there if parents, counselors, guests, or kids are hungry.

I’ll see the kids next week, for our cooking demonstration, nutrition activity, and nutrition lesson. Pretty excited! I think it’ll go well. I mean, if I can handle kindergarteners, I can handle 3rd & 4th graders…right? 🙂

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