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FDA Requires Calorie Counts on More Food Items

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FDA Requires Calorie Counts on More Food ItemsThe road to good health starts with the individual. Choices in diet, exercise, and supplementation will dictate the type of lifestyle you will have. But without the right knowledge, making those choices can be challenging. One of the biggest debates over personal nutrition has to do with the accuracy and visibility of nutrition information, and passing the necessary laws to enact the best health interests of society.

Ancillary Effects of the Affordable Care Act

With the passing of the Afforadable Care Act in 2010, media coverage was focused mostly on how it would affect individual and family health care plans. But the Affordable Care Act also enacted widespread changes to many different parts of personal health, including the accuracy of nutrition labels. Recently, two major regulations put into effect by the FDA were part of the menu label law attached to the Affordable Care Act.

Knowing Where Your Calories Come From

One of the main changes was aimed at retail food businesses that have 20 or more locations. These establishments are now required to post calorie counts next to all food and drink items. Businesses that fall into this category include: Sit-down and fast-food restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurant-style food in some grocery and convenience stores. It has also been noted that for the first time, these rules will apply to take-out and delivery foods, foods purchased at drive-through windows, and self-service foods at salad or food bars within the included establishments.

Another intriguing change applies to vending machines. Calorie counts will now be required to be displayed either on the front of the food package or on a calorie menu located somewhere visible on the machine.

"Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home," said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg in a statement. "These final rules will give consumers more information when they are dining out and help them lead healthier lives."

Making the Calorie Counts Seen

With the backing of the National Restaurant Association—representing nearly one million food establishments and more than 13 million restaurant industry employees—these regulations are part of the larger movement towards greater personal health. While the choice will still come down to the individual, increasing the knowledge and health awareness of society as a whole helps make those healthy decisions a little easier.

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Is Your Kitchen the Key to Healthy Living?

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Is Your Kitchen the Key to Healthy LivingNutrition in the modern world has become increasingly elusive. Even with the rising trend of personal health awareness over the last few years, choosing nutritious meals on a consistent basis remains and ongoing challenge for millions of people, many of whom still choose speed and convenience over health. As of 2013, over 25% of Americans consume fast food every day. So what's the value of not choosing fast food, and does a home-cooked meal really make that much of a difference to your health?

Analyzing Home Meals vs. Dining Out

To compare the benefits of eating at home to dining out, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future analyzed data from the 2007-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey which contained more than 9,000 participants aged 20 and older. In the survey, participants were asked what they usually ate during a 24-hour period as well as their fast food eating habits of the last 30 days.

Results showed that 8% cooked dinner only once a week. This group consumed—on a daily average—2,301 total calories, 84 grams of fat, and 135 grams of sugar. Forty-eight percent cooked dinner six-to-seven times a week, consuming 2,164 calories, 81 grams of fat, and 119 grams of sugar on an average day. Other results from the study showed that those who prepared meals at home more regularly relied on frozen foods less and were unlikely to choose fast foods on the occasions when they did eat out.

"When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar, and less fat than those who cook less or not at all—even if they are not trying to lose weight," says Julia A. Wolfson, MPP, a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and lead author of the study.

The Culture of Dining Out and Making Holidays Healthy

Although studies show eating in is can be healthier there are certain times a year, mainly holidays, when there are concerns about eating at home. One of the main holidays for eating in—which is almost upon us—is Thanksgiving. However, there's still the concern of overeating at family gatherings. Keeping your holidays healthy can be simple with a few easy steps. If you know you are going to have a major meal like Thanksgiving dinner and you want to limit your intake, be sure to eat a decent breakfast. Often, people try and "save room" for Thanksgiving or other holiday meals, which can easily lead to overeating.

Here are some other quick tips for making this Thanksgiving holiday season a healthy one:

  • Use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy.
  • Use sugar substitutes in place of sugar and/or fruit purees instead of oil in baked goods.
  • Reduce oil and butter wherever you can.
  • Try plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and casseroles.

Let Home Be Where the Health Is

It can be easy to fall into the habit of eating out or buying prepared meals in our on-the-go society. But studies have shown that home-cooked meals can allow you to exercise greater control over your daily intake of calories, fats, carbohydrates, and sugar. The more you're able to control your daily diet, the better you'll feel and the easier it can be to make healthy decisions. Be your own healthy personal chef throughout this holiday season.

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Changing the Food Landscape: The Current State of the Non-GMO Movement

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Changing the Food Landscape: The Current State of the Non-GMO MovementWhat's in your food and where it comes from has been a continuing topic of debate in recent years. As we covered a few weeks ago, nutrition labels can be an important part of creating a healthy lifestyle, yet many people still don't take advantage of them. Federal rules and regulations, as well as a conscious push by society towards healthier living, have opened up the doors for changes in what goes into your foods—or in this case, what doesn't go into them.

Genetically modified organisms, better known as GMOs, have become a lightning rod of debate in food production and manufacturing over the last few years. On the positive side, however, these discussions have raised awareness about the need for greater transparency and understanding in food labeling.

Understanding the Benefits of Non-GMOs

The tug of war between non-GMO proponents and GMO backers mirrors that of a political debate. Those who support GMOs say there is nothing harmful or unhealthy about using them in foods. Those on the non-GMO side claim that more natural, organic foods and diets are better for society as a whole, and that proper regulations are lacking.

Because of the rise in personal health awareness over the past decade, consumers and regulatory agencies alike have called for clearer identification of GMO and non-GMO foods, especially the labeling of non-GMO products. The Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization that has worked both publicly and behind the scenes with manufacturers and retailers, has made much progress in educating consumers, raising awareness, and making the verified Non-GMO seal a modern staple on healthy foods a reality. The Non-GMO seal now apperas on over 25,000 products produced by over 2,000 companies and it is making an obvious impact on consumers: Total sales of Non-GMO Project verified products have reached over $8 billion.

Still Work to Be Done

While greater health awareness has emboldened organizations and educated consumers on the ingredients and additives in their foods, there are, however, some facets that lessen the impact and potential scope that the non-GMO movement is trying to accomplish.

Funding, as with anything on a large scale, is important to the progress of a cause; especially one that may cross paths with large corporations. While businesses and companies do pay attention to consumer behavior, at the end of the day their bottom line and fiscal projections are what matter to them the most. Studies and tests required to help purport the health benefits of non-GMO foods are also very expensive. Experts have stated that the lack of scientific evidence, along with the pro-GMO community outspending the non-GMO side 10:1, have affected the outcome of label laws in certain states where these referendums were put to vote. However, the referendums for the non-GMO side were only barely defeated, despite the contrast in spending, which shows that there is public interest in more accurate food labeling laws.

Continuing the Slow, Steady Push for Health Awareness

True power for instigating change lies within the hand of consumers, not with lawmakers or those attached to corporate entities. Many feel part of the problem is the mixed messages and heated debates that take away from the goal the non-GMO side is trying to accomplish, turning it into a political issue instead of a health one. As the public becomes more educated about what is in their food, how it was made, and where it came from, this will lead to you having a greater say in what goes into your body.

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Easily Accessible Mediterranean Diet Can Impact Your Health

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Easily Accessible Mediterranean Diet Can Impact Your HealthMetabolic syndrome is defined in the medical community as having three or more risk-related factors that can contribute to a variety of heart and blood sugar concerns. Some risk factors include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high glucose levels. Due to many elements such as a lack of exercise, poor diet, and genetics it is estimated that as many as 34% of adults in the US may have metabolic syndrome. However, what if there was a particular diet that could reverse the progression of these risk factors? A recent study in Spain sought to find the answer.

A Dive Into the Mediterranean

Prior studies on the Mediterranean diet have confirmed its positive benefits to cholesterol health and blood pressure, but researchers wanted to see how great an impact this diet could have on people already at risk with metabolic syndrome. The team of researchers analyzed adults, both men and women, ages 55–80 who were at risk for cardiovascular concerns. A total of 64% of the adults assessed for the study qualified as having metabolic syndrome. The subjects were then put onto one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, or a regular low-fat diet.

Following up after almost five years, the results showed that the patients who adhered to both types of Mediterranean diets saw a decrease in blood glucose levels as well as abdominal obesity. A total of 28.2% of the men and women who followed the Mediterranean diets also no longer met the criteria to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome at the end of the study period.

Add the Olive Oil and the Legumes

The Mediterranean diet eschews butters, trans fats, saturated fats, and unhealthy oils in favor of olive oils, omega fatty acids, and unsaturated fats. As one would expect, it also centers around a reduction in meat intake, replacing it with seafood—especially fish that are high in omegas such as salmon and tuna—at least twice a week. However, poultry, eggs, and dairy can also be consumed for meat and protein requirements. The Mediterranean diet also covers other nutrition groups by calling for high fruit and vegetable consumption.

For some people, the tricky part of the Mediterranean diet is getting the good fat content. Luckily, you can satisfy this part in a variety of ways. Apart from olive oil there are a number of foods that provide good fats including avocados, whole grains, nuts, and other various legumes.

An Easier Path Than You Think

Some may think that switching to a Mediterranean diet means having to use exotic ingredients for their meals that are both expensive and restrictive. Many of the foods required to follow this diet, however, are readily available in your grocery store—all you need to do is make a few crucial, yet simple, substitutions which will allow you to enjoy many tasty, healthy meals. And because there are actually many foods containing the good fats and nutrients required, the Mediterranean allows for plenty of variety and experimentation. Evidence continues to mount about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, so while many can get sucked into fad and crash diets, the Mediterranean diet can be a nutritious and fulfilling option out there to help support not only a healthy heart, but greater well-being.

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Finding Healthy Facts in Nutrition Labels as a Guide to Better Living

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Finding Healthy Facts in Nutrition Labels as a Guide to Better LivingSince the late 1800s the government has set standards which regulate how companies and industries can claim or market what is in their food products, paving the way for modern nutrition labels. Nutrition labels continually go through changes and updates as our knowledge about certain foods, ingredients, and what it means to be healthy evolves. These labels are designed to be a guideline so that you know the true health value of the foods you consume. But in spite of the availability of this information, do people actually read them?

A Study in Purchase Habits

To investigate how often people really look at nutritional labels, researchers at the University of Minnesota took 203 volunteers and gauged what information they looked at when making a food purchase. The test involved a computer-based-shopping program where participants were shown 64 different items—including products such as cereal, soup, crackers, cookies, and ice cream—posing the question of whether or not they would buy the item. Synced with the computer program was an eye-tracking device that monitored what the shopper was viewing, tracking up to 1,000 eye movements per second. Once the buying task portion of the study was done, participants were then asked to fill out a questionnaire about their usual real-world grocery shoppping and buying habits.

What the Numbers Really Say

What researchers discovered was that there was a big difference between consumers' viewing habits and what they self-purported in the questionnaire. Thirty-three percent of participants stated that they "almost always" look at product's calorie count, 31% said they looked at total fat content, 24% looked at sugar content, and 26% claimed they paid attention to serving size. However, the eye-tracking data showed that only 9% of people looked at calorie count for almost all items—while only 1% of the participants looked at each of the other components, including fat, trans fat, sugar, and serving size.

Authors of the study say that the biggest problem with food labels is their confusing nature and sometimes concealed placement on certain boxes and packaging.

"In the simulated shopping setting, participants could see Nutrition Facts labels without having to turn, rotate, or otherwise manipulate a food package. In contrast, Nutrition Facts labels on food packages tend to be in locations that cannot be seen by consumers looking at the front of a package (e.g., when viewing a shelf of items in a grocery store)," the authors wrote.

Monitoring Serving Size to Avoid Overeating

Many people desire a road map to better health, not realizing that every box, container, or bag of packaged food already provides insight into what you are eating, allowing you to monitor what your body is getting each day and align it with your daily needs. One of the main things people often misunderstand is what serving size means when it comes to individual food items. Serving sizes are determined by the FDA and USDA to provide an average calorie count of certain food items. However, many people don't take into account the serving sizes of snacks or foods such as cereal, crackers, or candy bars, which can lead to the consumption of excess calories.

Recognizing What to Avoid and What to Focus On

Another point to note is the fat content of food. Nutrition labels separate the fat content by total fat, trans fat, and saturated fat. If you are focusing on a heart-healthy diet, watching for foods that are both low in saturated and trans fat content is crucial.

Salt and sugar are other ingredients that warrant attention. Salt is associated with heart health; in particular, blood pressure. Balancing out your salt intake with nutrients such as potassium can help keep your blood pressure levels within healthy ranges. Sugar, in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners, can be a source of "empty calories", which are calories that provide little or no added nutritional value, so be on the lookout for these, too.

Giving the Label a Look

Nutrition labels are often misunderstood and underused resources for better nutrition. Utilizing the nutritional information that is already available to you can help you develop healthier eating habits day in and day out. Along with following daily exercise recommendations and supplementing your diet when needed, you can start seeing the results you always wanted.

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