Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cutting the Salt

First it was saturated fat, and then it was trans fat, the new culprit on the menu: SODIUM. And not without reason: In salt-sensitive people, elevated levels of sodium in the diet have been shown to raise blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. So it’s no surprise that health advocates like the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have been lobbying for government control over the use of salt. They even went so far as to sue Denny’s for the amount of sodium served in dishes (some as high as 5,690 mg of sodium) and suing the FDA for not imposing tighter regulations for the use of salt as an additive packages foods.

While Denny’s responded by calling their lawsuit frivolous, congress responded by consulting the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to further investigate the claims against salt and make some recommendations. Those recommendations included that the FDA make encourage the food industry to limit sodium levels in foods. The FDA agreed that sodium is a problem and agreed to take steps to help the food industry comply with these recommendations.

Most of us in the industry know that limiting salt in both restaurant and retail food is a larger undertaking than most consumers believe. Salt plays a crucial role in food flavoring, and is a critical leavening agent in baking, not to mention the number one food preservative in our food system. And these recommendations aren’t talking about minor changes; the average American eats about 3,400 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day while current federal dietary guidelines suggest 2,300 mg, and the Center for Disease Control suggests a meager 1,500 mg. We’re talking big salt cuts.

I fully recognize that salt/sodium is a major issue that we need to address. However, I’m a bit concerned about how the industry will respond. Remember when the government started suggesting that we limit saturated fat intake? The outcome of that was trans fat; that came around to bite us in the….

So what are the scientists going to come up with to replace salt in foods?

One thing that I have been hearing a lot about in foodservice the use of spice blends in replace of salt to add flavor. That works, but I would imagine that spices are more expensive than salt, and they don’t reslove the preservative issue.

I need some more feedback:

What do you think about the salt issue?

How do you (if you do) cut back on salt in your cooking?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Playing with Toys

It looks like health advocates are going back to old fashioned techniques for combating childhood obesity. The old reward or penalize method is the latest tactic proposed Santa Clara County California for fast food restaurants who offer free toys with kids meals.

The toy ban would only allow restaurants to offer toys in kid’s meals if the meals meet nutritional criteria (less than 485 calories, no more than 35 percent of calories from fat or 10 percent from added sweeteners, or have more than 600 mg of sodium).

I get it, reward for good dietary choices and withhold treats for less nutritious offerings. It’s kind of like treat training a dog, give the treat for jobs well done - no treat if commands aren’t followed. I’ve been talking a lot lately about changing children’s taste preferences by offering them good tasting healthy foods so that they will grow up liking healthy foods instead of (or at least as well as) junk foods. Maybe this toy thing is a step in the right direction.

But on the other hand, is this really the government’s business? Should they be sticking their noses into our happy meals? Opponents like the California Restaurant Association very clearly oppose the ban and are working hard to fight it.

Administrators, parents and doctors in the area are in full support of withholding the toys. They argue the toys/lack of toys will be a good incentive not only for kids to make better choices, but also for restaurants to create and offer more healthful “happy meals”. And others agree; already other California counties and New York City have proposed similar bans.

Do you think that this is a reasonable ordinance? Do you think that it will have the desired effect?

More Thoughts on Nutrition in Schools

A few weeks ago I blogged about changing the way kids view healthy foods by introducing nutritious foods in schools. A lot of you agreed and made some great comments about different ways that schools can teach and integrate nutrition. Since then I’ve been on the lookout for news related to the subject. I wanted to share some good articles that one of our interns brought to my attention.

The article School nutrition and gardening classes aim to grow healthy eating habits from the Chicago Tribune explains how many different organizations in the Chicago area are helping to educate school kids about nutrition. The methods and resources are far more robust than the nutrition lessons of the past that involved the old food guide pyramid and crayons. These new teaching methods are more hands on and all involve actually eating healthier foods and in some cases growing or preparing the foods as part of the lesson.

I think that these programs are really smart to take a more wide-scale approach to teaching nutrition, especially teaching to children. It’s one thing to talk about nutrition in a classroom, and even writing about it and drawing pictures doesn’t really seem to drive the point home quite enough. Actually eating these foods, liking them, and learning how to prepare them so that they can replicate or request them at home seems so much more efficient. Hopefully we begin to see more of these kinds of programs take affect all over the country.

While I think that everyone can agree that teaching nutrition in schools is very important, some say that nutrition education and obesity prevention should start even earlier. An article from explains how some San Francisco health advocates are arguing that nutrition intervention to prevent obesity in children needs to start with pregnant women due to recent study findings that many school-aged children are already obese.

I agree that any preventative intervention is better than corrective action, and I think that parents and pre-parents also need and deserve the kind of hands-on education that is being provided in some of the forward-thinking schools. Maybe Michelle Obama will help us fund such grand ideas?

It’s not just me that want healthier foods for school kids. An article from the Daily Herald, a local Suburban Chicago publication describes how three fourth grade girls started a campaign to try to get school officials to offer more healthful lunch options. This is really promising to me, kids wanting and asking grown-ups for healthy food; it makes me think that we can change the way that the future generations and see “good food”.

What do you think – can we change taste preferences by starting young?