Thursday, June 30, 2011

Going Green & Lean with Nutrition

We hear about “going green” everywhere these days—from the liquid we use to wash dishes down to the compostable cutlery served at quick service restaurants.  As a nutritionist and a full-fledged “foodie,” the first thing I think of when I’m asked about the best way to start your “going green” journey is obvious: food!  Food that is nutritionally dense is also the same food that is the most sustainable for our environment.

In theory, we are forced to think about food a minimum of three times a day (if you work in the restaurant industry, it’s likely a lot more than that).  That makes food a very powerful component of the green movement.  Every time you prepare, serve, or eat a meal, you have the opportunity to impact your environmental footprint, as well as make a strong impact on your health and the health of those you serve.  Why not do both at the same time and kill two birds with one stone?  Here are some tips on how to be conscious of your health as well as the health of the planet:

  • Choose foods that are low-calorie, nutritionally dense, and in their most natural state.  You guessed it; I’m talking about vegetables.  What other foods are filling, nutritious, and environmentally friendly as vegetables and fruits?  Purchased directly from farmers, these miracle foods are not only low in calories, cholesterol, and fat, but are sustainable to produce and practically packaging-free.

  • Go with the grain.  Produce isn’t the only eco-friendly, healthy food group.  If it grows in the ground, it is almost guaranteed to be sustainable and nutritious.  Go with whole grains as much as possible to get the most vitamins and highest fiber content.

  • Buy directly from farmers.  By definition, farmer’s markets sell local food (hardly any carbon footprint) that is fresh off the vine.  Plus, at farmer’s markets you are limited to buying only the foods that are in season, meaning they are at their most palatable and nutritional peak.

  • Grow your own.  Whether it’s windowsill herbs, a backyard garden, or a community-supported endeavor, gardening reduced transportation and packaging costs, while allowing you to control the amount and types of chemicals used on your food.  Restaurant owners sourcing from their own gardens is a steadily growing trend in the industry as “going green” gains momentum.

  • Cut the sugar.  The typical American eats 150 pounds worth of sugar per year.  That releases 855 pounds of carbon!  Processed foods and soda are the main culprits here, neither of which is good for the Earth or your waistline.  Cut your sugar consumption in half and save 7,500 calories a month!

  • Don’t forget about calories.  Grains, nuts, legumes, and oils are all nutritious and natural, but they can also be calorically dense.  Cater to dieter’s sensibilities and serve them in small portions that are calorically controlled.

Sustainability and the environment go hand in hand with a healthy lifestyle.  In fact, it is almost impossible to speak or read about the movement toward greener practices without hearing about nutrition and fresh, whole foods.  Illness and obesity are on a steady rise across America.  Do your part by sourcing and serving foods as nature intended, and the world will be healthier for it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Putting Restaurant Nutrition Facts to the Test

A few years ago a local news station released an exposé on a few major chain restaurants revealing that the nutrition facts that they had been disclosing to the public about some of their healthier meal offerings were actually quite false.  Recently, a Fox news station in Alabama conducted a similar experiment by ordering meals from three different restaurant chains and having them tested at a food science laboratory to determine the meals’ exact nutritional content to then compare the values on the actual restaurant menus and websites.  The findings this year were much more comforting; I think that the last study scared them straight.

The thing that diners need to keep in mind is that when you are getting food in a restaurant it is being prepared by human hands, not stamped out by a machine.  It is perfectly reasonable to expect some variation in the nutrition contents of a menu item from dish to dish.  At FoodCALC we always recommend that our clients use disclaimers very similar to the statement that Applebee’s gave Fox news for this very reason.   

So how much variance should one expect from the posted nutrition information in a restaurant?  According to the most recent proposed regulations from the FAD, 20% is considered reasonable variance. 

It definitely helps to have and to follow standardized recipes, and to use consistent scoop sizes, and to follow proper production from procedures, but cooks and chefs are not well oiled machines; they are people.  Not every chicken breast in a case will be cut exactly the same, and, not every #8 scoop will be exactly 4 fl oz. 

All things considered, I still think that nutrition facts in restaurants provide good ordering guidelines for health conscious diners. What do you think?