Do you typically read the nutrition facts labels when choosing foods for yourself or your family? Do you spend the extra time to flip over the package to get to the label? Where do you start? What do the numbers mean? How can you know if it is a nutritious choice?
When teaching classes in the community or working with clients, the Let’s Move! STL registered dietitians meet many people who don’t know how to use the information on the nutrition facts label. It is a skill people are expected to understand but often don’t get the guidance needed to use it! Once you know how to use it, the nutrition facts label can be a vital tool in making healthy decisions for your family.
This month, we’re here to teach you nutrition label reading 101 so that you can take advantage of the tools at your fingertips and so you can be prepared for the changes coming in 2020!
What is the nutrition facts label?
The nutrition facts label is required on packaged foods to let people know what nutrients the
food provides. The label is required so that we can make healthy and informed decisions and to be able to find options that are packed with nutrients.
Where do you start? The first place to look on the label is the serving size and the number of servings per package. The serving size indicates that the rest of the information on the label applies to the specified serving size. For example, if the serving size is one cup and you eat one cup, then the information on the label stays the same. However, if you eat two cups, then you would need to double all of the information on the rest of the label.
Next, you will move on to look at the total calories in the specified serving size. As we have discussed in previous blogs, calories are a measure of the amount of energy you get from eating that serving size. Your calorie needs will differ based on many different things such as age, gender, activity level, etc. It is important to make sure we take in the amount of energy our bodies need, not too much, not too little.
You may remember that we shared the differences between fats here. For review, fat is used to provide structure to cell walls, insulate our bodies, promote brain development and function, and transports some vitamins throughout our body. However, we want to limit fats like saturated and trans fats, while getting enough of fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Saturated and trans fats are typically found on a nutrition facts label, while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are often not listed. Saturated fat and trans fat are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
On a label, a low source is considered 5% Daily Value (DV) or less. A high source is considered 20% DV or more. This rule of thumb will apply for other nutrients on the label as well.
Sodium is a mineral that helps to regulate fluid balance in your cells. It plays a large role in controlling blood pressure as well. To decrease your blood pressure, be sure to limit your sodium or salt intake to 2300 mg per day. For more information on sodium, take a look here.
We suggest the same rule as previously mentioned for fats: a food low in sodium will be 5% DV or less and a food high in sodium will be 20% DV or more.
Keep in mind that these rules apply per serving. So if we eat 2 cups of canned soup that has 20% DV sodium per serving and the serving size is 1 cup of soup, then we are eating almost 40% DV in sodium. This would be sending us way over on our recommended amount of sodium for that meal.
Carbohydrates are our bodies’ first choice as an energy source. They are very important for an overall healthy and functioning body. The nutrition label breaks down carbohydrates into three categories: total carbohydrate, fiber, and sugar. Total carbohydrate includes all the carbohydrates in that serving (this includes fiber and sugar).
Natural sugars are those already present in foods such as fruit, dairy, and even some vegetables. Foods that contain natural sugars also provide important vitamins and minerals and other nutrients that help our bodies function.
Added sugar is sugar or sugar products, such as syrups that are added into foods during processing or added in baking or cooking. The downfall of added sugar is that it contains little to no other beneficial nutrients like vitamins or minerals.
You can’t tell the difference between natural sugars and added sugars on the current nutrition facts label. In 2020, the new nutrition facts label will identify the amount of added sugars. More on this later.
It is recommended that we decrease the amount of added sugars we eat or drink because they have a lot of calories and are low in nutrients. If you want to know more about added sugars, we have written blogs on added sugars here and artificial sweeteners here and here.
Proteins are an important nutrient found throughout our bodies to help build muscle and tissues and act as an enzyme in many chemical functions in the body. Protein needs will vary from person to person based on many different factors. Because of this, there is no percentage Daily Value for protein required on the label. We recommend eating moderate portions of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, plus beans and peas, peanut butter, seeds and soy products to meet your individual protein requirements. Find out your individual protein requirements by working with a registered dietitian.
Vitamins & Minerals
To maintain good health, we need to make sure that we are getting enough vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, etc. Eating enough of these nutrients can improve our health and reduce the risk of some diseases and other conditions. These nutrients are listed at the bottom of the nutrition facts label. Again, aim for 20% DV or more of these nutrients to make sure your body is getting what it needs.
The New Label
Now that you have a solid understanding of the original nutrition facts label, we want to talk about the new label regulations set for January 1, 2020. The updated label is designed to be more user-friendly and reflect the latest evidence-based guidelines.
The nutrition facts label is a very useful tool to make informed food choices for your health and wellbeing, that is if you know what the information means for you. The new nutrition facts label aims to make these decisions even easier with updates based on new research and a user-friendly design
Easier label reading means faster decision making. Your time is valuable! No more lengthy trips to the grocery store reading label after label. Let the nutrition label guide and empower your nutrition decisions. If you have questions about the updates or labeling, ask away in our Ask The Dietitian page!
Images from: FDA
In the U.S., children and adults frequently take in artificial sweeteners. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), one in four children eat or drink an artificial sweetener. It is especially important to understand how these products affect children so the AAP calls for more research in their policy statement. Exposure may begin before birth and in breast milk given that artificial sweeteners are found in many products so we need to understand how long-term use can affect our bodies.
Numerous research studies were done to make sure that these sweeteners are safe to eat and drink. In part one of this blog on artificial sweeteners, we explored the safety and characteristics of the six artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA as food additives - acesulfame-potassium, aspartame, advantame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose.
Research into “safety” focused on whether it was poisonous or caused cancer. With these initial concerns lifted, the focus is now on how artificial sweeteners affect our weight, taste preferences, gut health, and risk for diabetes and stroke. We discuss these concerns in part two of this month’s blog on artificial sweeteners.
Do artificial sweeteners lead to obesity or chronic diseases like diabetes?
Short answer: We do not know.
Tell me more: Epidemiological studies (studies that look at how often diseases occur in groups of people and why) show an association between artificial sweetener intake and chronic disease. Association does not equal causation. Did using sweeteners lead to weight gain or did earlier weight gain lead to the use of artificial sweeteners to lower calories? A similar question could be asked for the association with diabetes. Did artificial sweetener intake lead to diabetes or did a diabetes diagnosis change intake and lead individuals to choose artificial sweeteners over sugar? Further research is needed, in particular, randomized controlled trials (the gold standard) to explore if there is a relationship here.
Will artificial sweeteners give me diarrhea?
Artificial sweeteners aspartame, saccharin and acesulfame potassium seem to be well-tolerated by the general population but there is not enough research that looks at if and how often symptoms like diarrhea occur. Pay attention to how your body responds to sweeteners and in what amounts you can tolerate.
Sugar alcohols are another story. Sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol are not fully broken down by our gut. You may get explosive diarrhea if you eat large amounts of them - like when one or two pieces of sugar-free gummy bears becomes the entire package. It happens. Erythritol behaves differently than other sugar alcohols so it may be better tolerated than other sugar alcohols. Check the ingredients. Many brand name sweeteners like Swerve and Truvia are blends of natural and artificial sweeteners with sugar alcohols.
Let’s talk a bit more about your gut…
Your dentist may like your switch from sugar to artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners stop the growth of bacteria that wreak havoc on teeth and gums. The helpful bacteria in your gut? Probably not a fan. So far, studies show changes to the bacteria within the gut of rodents with sucralose, saccharin, and aspartame. We need human studies to see if this happens in the human gut too. The bacteria within our gut play a role in digestion, sure, but they may do more. Our helpful bacteria may help us produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, a key player in mood. The more scientists discover about our gut, the more we will want to take note of substances, like artificial sweeteners, that could switch up the bacteria living there.
Will an artificial sweetener make me hungry?
Short answer: There is very limited research but the evidence does not show an increase in hunger.
Tell me more: Two small trials (12 and 24 participants) looked at how an artificially-sweetened (aspartame) beverage affected ghrelin, the “hunger hormone”. Amounts of this hormone rise between meals, our appetite increases, we eat, and ghrelin lowers. It is thought that the way we experience sweet tastes may play a role in how this hormone works. If an artificial sweetener tastes sweet, would our body behave the way it does when we take in calories and our hunger go down? The answer was “no” with these two studies. These are small trials and there are more ways to study how artificial sweeteners may or may not influence hunger. If you are hungry after drinking a diet soda, it may be that you are hungry, just not because of the diet soda.
This is how we want it to work, by the way. Ghrelin is just one of the gut hormones that tells us if we are hungry or full. The system works when food is available and we can eat based on our needs. For those who choose to bypass the system to lose weight, these results may be disappointing but artificial sweeteners are not a source of energy. Our survival is tied to our body knowing the difference.
Will artificial sweeteners lead to a stroke?
Short answer: We do not know. More research is needed.
Tell me more: Earlier this year, a study published in the journal Stroke showed an association between artificially-sweetened beverages (ASB) and the risk of stroke in a large group of women. They used data from the Women’s Health Initiative - a big study tracking the health of women over time. Women who drank an average of two or more ASB per day (24 ounces/day or more) had an increased risk of all stroke (all stroke types overall), in particular ischemic stroke, coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality (death from any cause) compared with those who had less than one ASB per week. The results were the same as previous studies but not all of them. We need more evidence to draw conclusions, especially when studies show different outcomes.
The information gathered from this type of study can be used to plan future research. Important questions such as “which ASBs are people using?” and “how long have they used them?” may be asked in future studies. Weight changes and history of dieting are important to know too. In the Stroke study, they grouped together results by body mass index (BMI) and found that women with higher ASB intake were only at a higher risk for stroke if they were also “obese” based on BMI. High intakes of ASBs in “normal” or “overweight” women did not match up with a higher risk of stroke so maybe it isn’t to do with the ASBs at all. Could women classified as “obese” have something else in common? Yes! Weight stigma, experienced by those in larger bodies, may do more harm for health.
How do artificial sweeteners affect my taste preferences?
Short answer: High-intensity or artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than table sugar and may affect how your taste buds pick up on sweet flavors.
Tell me more: Using large amounts of artificial sweeteners could skew your taste preferences more toward overly sweet foods and beverages. There is no harm in this. If you find that a preference for sweet makes it difficult to eat a variety of foods, then it may be worth lowering your intake.
Bottom Line: Artificial sweeteners are safe well beyond the Adequate Daily Intake (ADI) for the individual sweetener. Numerous studies were done to ensure that they are safe to eat and drink and do not cause cancer. Early research suggests changes in the bacteria in our gut but we don’t know yet if and how these changes influence health. More research is needed to understand the impact of long-term artificial sweetener use, especially in children and individuals with specific health conditions, like diabetes. As research continues, it will be important to explore how characteristics like body size, age, etc. influence the effect of artificial sweeteners within our bodies.
For those managing diabetes: Check your blood sugar so you know how a food or drink affects you. Write down blood sugar readings to share with your doctor, dietitian, and/or diabetes educator.
We’ve covered the top questions we hear. What did we miss? Reach out to us on social media or send in the Ask a Dietitian form with your questions.
The average American takes in 23 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Concerns about the impact of added sugars on health led to a smackdown on sugar from healthcare professionals and the media. Many of us look to sugar substitutes to provide the sweet taste we desire, in particular, sugar substitutes with little to no calories or energy.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) refers to these low to no calorie sweeteners as non-nutritive sweeteners. The term artificial sweetener may be more familiar. The food industry often uses one or more artificial sweeteners in manufactured foods and beverages. Additionally, many of us add them directly to foods and beverages to improve the taste.
It is clear there is widespread use of artificial sweeteners but what do we know about the long-term effects to our bodies? This blog will describe artificial sweeteners and address commonly asked questions. If you were looking for information on natural sugar (or want to read both), check out our earlier blog The Lowdown on Added Sugar.
What is an artificial sweetener?
An artificial sweetener is one type of sugar substitute. Sugar substitutes are added to foods and beverages to provide sweetness. Some artificial sweeteners are marketed as “natural” even though they are highly processed or refined. This is because artificial sweeteners may be made from natural products. For example, sucralose is made from sugar sucrose. The structure of sucrose is changed to make something new that is no longer a sugar. The new sucralose molecule (sold as Splenda) is not broken down in our digestive tract so we do not get calories (energy) from it.
Common artificial sweetener brand names include: Equal® (aspartame and acesulfame-potassium), NutraSweet® Neotame (neotame), Sweet N’ Low® (saccharin), and Splenda® (sucralose).
What is a sugar alcohol?
Another type of sugar substitute is a sugar alcohol (polyol). Sugar alcohols do not contain alcohol, as the name suggests. They are not sugars either. They are carbohydrates (one of the main nutrients our body needs) that can be found naturally in fruits and vegetables but some are manufactured. Our digestive tract does not break them down all the way. This means sugar alcohols provide calories and raise blood sugar but not as much as regular sugar.
Sugar alcohols are not sweeter than sugar like artificial sweeteners. In fact, many are less sweet than sugar. They are often combined with artificial sweeteners in products to create the desired taste such as the stevia-based sweetener Truvia® (Erythritol). Sugar alcohols you may find in an ingredient list include: xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol, erythritol. When it makes sense, we share information about sugar alcohols but the focus will be artificial sweeteners.
Are artificial sweeteners like sugar?
Not entirely. When you eat or drink sugar it will raise your blood sugar. It tastes sweet, has no chemical aftertaste, provides calories (energy), adds bulk or structure to baked goods, and browns when cooked. Also, even though sugar browns, it still tastes sweet when heated to high temperatures.
Artificial sweeteners may taste as sweet as (or much sweeter than) sugar but they may vary in these other qualities:
Why do we use artificial sweeteners?
The main reason Americans choose artificial sweeteners is to lower our intake of added sugar and calories that come with it.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends cutting sugar to no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women and children and 9 teaspoons per day for men, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommend lowering added sugars to less than 10% of calories for the day. This has actually been in versions of the guidelines since 1980 but we continue to go well beyond the recommendations.
The average American takes in 91 g of added sugar per day (over 16.5% of calories), which is equal to 23 teaspoons of table sugar. It may be worth another look at the methods we use to change habits. Restricting foods high in added sugars may backfire when low sugar diets may increase sugar’s appeal. At Let’s Move! STL, we believe that all foods fit!
You do not need to cut out sugar completely to improve health, but large amounts of any one food or nutrient are not usually helpful. Research studies show an association between higher intakes of added sugar in the diet and the presence of certain diseases, like heart disease and diabetes. There aren’t clinical trials to show added sugar causes the diseases, but that has not prevented the harsh verdict that health professionals and the public have dealt out to sugar. Given the concerns about added sugars in the diet, the AHA and American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggest artificial sweeteners may be a way to meet the goal to lower added sugars. However, researchers at Columbia University recommend only short-term use, as a transition to less sugar, and caution against long-term use.
Are artificial sweeteners safe?
If by safe we mean “not toxic”, then, yes. All ingredients added to foods in the U.S. must be safe for us to eat. The FDA regulates food additives to ensure they are safe before they are added to foods and beverages.
The FDA gave the green light to use these artificial sweeteners as food additives: acesulfame-potassium, aspartame, advantame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose.
Polyols are approved as well. Steviol glycosides (highly purified extracts from Stevia leaves) and Luo Han Guo fruit extracts (also known as monk fruit) are regulated differently and research was limited so we do not cover these sweeteners in this post.
There are numerous studies into the safety of acesulfame-potassium, aspartame, advantame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose.
Acesulfame-potassium - find it in frozen desserts, candies, beverages, and baked goods
Acesulfame-potassium (acesulfame-K or aceK) was approved in 1983 for use in foods and beverages and in 2003 as a general use sweetener (except meat and poultry). There are over 90 studies to support its safety.
Advantame - 20,000 times sweeter than sugar
To find out if this sweetener was safe, the FDA reviewed 37 animal and human studies to look at toxicity to systems (immune, nervous, reproductive, and developmental). They also reviewed studies that looked at whether this sweetener caused tumors in laboratory animals (carcinogenicity studies), studies that looked at how the sweetener was absorbed, broken down, and removed from the body (pharmacokinetic studies). Then, Advaname was approved in 2014 as a general use sweetener and flavor enhancer in foods (except meat and poultry).
Aspartame - safe for most of us
Aspartame, the nutritive (has calories) sweetener on the list, has the most research behind it. Over 100 studies support its safety. You may see “cooking with aspartame not recommended” on the label. This doesn’t mean it is not safe for you to eat. Aspartame doesn’t like heat and loses its sweetness so don’t add it to your baked goods. Aspartame is considered safe with the exception of those with a rare disease called phenylketonuria. Individuals with this disease cannot break down phenylalanine, an amino acid and building block of proteins. Aspartame contains it and those with phenylketonuria need to know about it so you will see a notice that it contains phenylalanine on the label.
Neotame - Brand name Newtame®
Neotame was approved in 2002 for use as a general purpose sweetener and flavor enhancer in foods (except meat and poultry). The results from over 113 animal and human studies were reviewed to look for signs of toxic effects on immune, reproductive, and nervous systems.
Saccharin - a bitter backstory
Saccharin got a bad rap for a while because of studies in rats. This was in the 1970’s. Since then, there have been over 30 studies in humans and in 2000 it was removed from the list of carcinogens (substances that cause cancer).
How much of these sweeteners can I eat or drink?
Short answer: Check the FDA’s table for the ADI of your favorite sweetener.
Tell me more: An acceptable daily intake, or ADI, is set for each sweetener. This is the amount that is safe for you to eat or drink each day for the rest of your life. The FDA sets the ADI low to be cautious (it is usually 1/100 of the maximum amount with no harmful effects seen in animal experiments).
The ADI is the amount of sweetener in milligrams (mg) per kilogram (kg) of body weight so there is a little math to figure out how much that is of your preferred sweetener. For those who enjoy Splenda (Sucralose), a 160 pound person (73 kilograms) would need to eat/drink 365 mg sucralose or 26 packets of Splenda to get to the daily limit. Find the ADI for your favorite sweetener in the FDA’s table.
There are limited data for intake levels in the U.S. but a 2018 scientific review looking at global use of the major low- and no-calorie sweeteners, like sucralose, are well below the ADI for these sweeteners. Keep in mind that food companies are adding artificial sweeteners to more and more products, including gum, toothpaste, protein bars, and tea bags. You may use only a few packets of a sweetener each day and think your intake is low but are unknowingly eating or drinking large amounts. Fortunately, you can spot these sweeteners by name within the ingredient list for the food or beverage.
What happens if I eat or drink artificial sweeteners everyday?
Short answer: Artificial sweeteners are safe well beyond their ADI but we do not have a clear picture of how they affect our health when we use them over a long period of time.
Research is underway to find out how artificial sweeteners influence our risk for disease, gut health, hunger/fullness cues, taste preferences, and so much more. We will explore some common concerns and the current evidence in our blog next month… stay tuned!
Bottom line: Artificial sweeteners are safe well beyond the acceptable daily limits.
For those that enjoy the flavor of an artificial sweetener, using them may make a beverage or food more delicious while you work toward goals to eat and drink less sugar.
Since we do not have a clear picture of how they affect our health over time, it may be best to use them for only a short time until we have more research. For more on the research, watch for next month’s blog!
What is Sustainable Eating?
These days, we hear a lot about the importance of being sustainable. We know we should recycle whenever possible, limit unnecessary electricity and water use, pass on plastic straws and bags, and so on. However, you may find it surprising that one of the most impactful ways we can be more sustainable is through our food. Below are five easy steps you can take to make what you’re eating more sustainable!
Support Local Food Shopping locally is a great way to support your community, local farmers, and the environment. Shopping locally is better for the environment because it reduces the amount of fuel needed to transport food. Choosing to shop at Farmer’s Markets is a great way to put this into practice. St. Louis Sprout & About has a Farmer’s Market Guide which is a great resource for finding a market near you! In addition to farmer’s markets, local grocers like Local Harvest and City Greens also offer a wide array of locally sourced goods.
Pay Attention To Seasonality Selecting produce according to seasonality promotes sustainability. When you buy produce out of season, those items likely had to travel farther to reach your store. For example, when you buy oranges during February in St. Louis, they were shipped in from a warmer state. An additional bonus to focusing on seasonality is that the foods you buy will likely have a better taste and more nutrients since they were picked closer to ripeness and did not have to travel as far to reach you! Seasonality may give you more variety in your produce. Eating the same fruits and vegetables all year round can get boring. By buying seasonal produce, fruits and vegetables you eat will naturally change throughout the year. The Missouri Farmers Market Directory has a great seasonality chart to help you know which items are in season!
Start An Herb Garden If you have ever gone shopping for fresh herbs, you have likely seen herbs for sale in plastic, whether it be in a plastic container or produce bag. If you want to be more sustainable, and even save some money, try growing your own herbs. During the Spring and Summer, you can easily grow your favorite herbs outside. You could also choose to start an herb garden in pots on a windowsill or balcony. This way you have easy access to your favorite herbs while cooking! Not only is this a fun project, but it is also better for the environment and can be better for your wallet! Check out our Pinterest board for more gardening tips and tricks.
Make Small Changes To Reduce Daily Waste According to the EPA, the average person produces about 4.4 pounds of trash per day! Additionally, the EPA reports that a good portion of this daily waste comes from food and beverage packaging. While it is important to recycle when you can, there are also a few more small changes you can easily make to reduce your waste altogether.
Consider Composting Another way to reduce your food waste is to compost! You can compost most things in the kitchen you would typically throw away. Carrot and potato peels, fruit rinds, and even eggshells can all be composted! In fact, you can even add lawn clippings and leaves to your compost pile! Click here to see a great guide about composting for beginners!
Bottom line is that we can all work at making small changes in our everyday behaviors to reduce our impact and promote sustainable practices. What steps will you take to work toward sustainability? Let us know in the comments below!
Students of all ages return to school this month. Set them (or yourself) up for success by nourishing your body in a way that supports brain health.
What does brain health look like for you?
As with overall health, your idea of a “healthy” brain may look different from that of someone else. One goal may be to improve focus at work and school. Another may be to delay cognitive decline as you age. Healthy eating can support these goals. Let’s look at how to nourish your brain to achieve both.
What foods are best for brain health?
There are plenty of great articles highlighting foods that are good for your brain like blueberries, walnuts, and salmon. While these foods are all nutritious and excellent for your brain (among other things), it is easy to get caught up in trying to eat specific foods and miss the basics of nutrition. It is important to lay a foundation, so let’s hold off on the details (we’ll come back to them), and talk broadly about what and when to eat to support brain health and offer tips on how to create a plan that works for you. You can always layer in more detailed approaches based on the latest research once you are confident with the basics.
Fueling your brain in 3 easy steps
Whether you are a student or a working adult, you are learning new information all of the time. To do this, you need to stay focused on the task (listening, reading, discussing etc), think critically about the information, and store the information so they can retrieve it again later. It also helps to maintain an upright position in a chair. All of this takes energy.
1. Eat regularly throughout the day.
Your brain is the most energy demanding organ in your body and it does not store energy for later use. This means your brain needs a continuous supply of energy. Regular meals and snacks spread out across the day provide the fuel you need.
A place to start could be with a morning meal. In a 2009 systematic review of 45 studies on breakfast and academic performance, researchers found that eating breakfast was better for academic performance than skipping it. More of an impact was seen in children who may have missed out on important nutrients. A 2016 study added to the evidence for breakfast in teens. Of the 12-18 year old students studied, those who regularly ate three meals a day, especially breakfast, did better in school. The study also teased out a few key food groups for performance - fresh fruits, vegetables, and milk.
Children use up more energy stores overnight than adults and their brains use energy at a higher rate so it's especially important for kids to refuel in the morning before school. For those attending St. Louis Public Schools, all SLPS school children may eat a free breakfast and lunch without filling out a Family Application for Meal Benefits. If you would rather make breakfast at home, try these quick options. We’ve highlighted* ingredients that are of particular interest in preserving brain health.
Berry Overnight Oats
Microwave egg & Veggie Bowl with spinach* (this works in a mug too)
2. Eat all the macronutrients.
Include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in your healthy eating style. That’s right. All three of them. Unnecessarily cutting out or severely restricting any one of these important nutrients can impact how your brain (and body) function. Your brain is fueled by glucose, the sugar formed when carbohydrates are broken down by our digestive tract. Numerous studies demonstrate a link between blood sugar levels and performance on tests that measure attention, reasoning, and memory. Without this form of energy, your brain will not work at its best.
Your brain also needs amino acids (many from protein in your diet) to make new pathways and neurotransmitters, chemicals involved in signaling between brain cells. These signals travel faster when their pathways are insulated. Fatty acids from the fat in our diet, are used to make this insulation called myelin. If you aren’t sure where to find certain macronutrients in food, check out this guide. Of course the easiest way to ensure you get a mix of all of the macronutrients is to create balanced meals. See step 3 for how.
3. Use MyPlate to create balanced meals.
The MyPlate method focuses on ½ of your plate fruits and non starchy vegetables, ¼ of your plate whole grains or starches, and ¼ of your plate lean proteins and nonfat or low-fat dairy. Whole grains can be found in whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, farro, and many other grains. Starchy vegetables like corn, peas, and potatoes also fall into this section of the plate. When choosing lean proteins, look for foods like chicken, fish, beans, nut butters, eggs, lean ground meat, or loin or round cuts of meat. Aim to make your plate look like MyPlate for most of your meals in the day. We go into more depth about this approach when discussing heart healthy swaps for grains, protein, and fats in Love Your Heart, because what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain!
Maintain your brain as you age.
You likely want to stay sharp for years to come. Delaying dementia and other forms of cognitive decline is an area of extensive study. Without effective drug therapies, prevention may be key and researchers are looking at dietary approaches as a possible strategy. This is where we get into more details around meal patterns and foods that may be protective.
Two dietary patterns, the Mediterranean diet, and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet were protective against cognitive decline in study participants. These diets have a few similarities - they both emphasize eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting saturated fats. Using these diets as a springboard, researchers developed a hybrid diet, MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) that incorporates many food components of these diets such as extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, whole grains, and low-fat protein options like legumes and poultry.
The MIND diet takes it a step further to adjust foods and/or servings of food items based on the wealth of data on nutrients important for brain health. In particular, green leafy vegetables and berries are emphasized and fish servings are 1 or more servings per week vs. the higher consumption in the Mediterranean diet. Researchers found that when more of the MIND diet components were present in the diet it was associated with slower decline in several areas measuring brain function. It looks promising and may be worth including many of these foods into your healthy eating style.
Remember: HOW you eat is as important as WHAT you eat.
Prioritize your plan to fuel your brain so you may improve your ability to hold attention, stay focused, think critically, store information, and make decisions. You know, all the ways your brain needs to function at work and school. Nutritious, balanced meals and snacks before, during, and after school or work help you achieve your goals. Keep the WHAT simple until you’ve got a routine that works for you. Then, play around with food swaps to maximize brain health.
As the kids are gearing up to go back to school, here are some nutrition tips that will get their year started strong! Excerpt from our Back to School Nutrition post.
Not sure if you’ve found a healthy snack? Check out this tool to help you choose a healthier packaged snack (you will need to register to use the tool but it is FREE).
Nutrition and risk of dementia: overview and methodological issues
Nutritional prevention of cognitive decline and dementia https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29957766
A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents.
Grilling season is here! With summer comes many get-togethers with friends and family for summer holidays, graduation parties, and other outdoor celebrations. Barbecues can be loaded with not so healthy choices of hot dogs, burgers, and desserts.
Signature barbecue foods tend to be processed and fatty meat products. Research has found that a higher consumption of processed meats is linked with high risk of heart disease. Other research has found that a high consumption of charred or well-done grilled meats may also increase risk of some cancers.
Have no fear! We have your top ten tips to hosting a healthy barbecue this summer!
1. Choose your protein - One of the biggest contributor to heart disease is that high saturated, fatty meat. Choose leaner proteins such as turkey burgers or chicken. We also love grilled fish like salmon or tilapia, which are full of heart healthy fats. Additionally, beans and legumes offer a great source of plant-based protein. Try out making your own black bean burgers like these here!
2. Aim for whole grain - When choosing buns for burgers or whipping up quick side dishes, opt for whole grain alternatives. Whole grains are a great source of fiber, which can help slow rises in blood sugar, keep you full longer, and promote digestive health. Make sure your whole grain breads and buns have the first word “whole” in the ingredient list on the back of the package. For more on whole grains, check out our blog article!
3. Grill up those seasonal vegetables - Grilling can be an excellent way to prepare seasonal vegetables. Most veggies can be tossed in some olive oil with a pinch of salt and thrown on some foil onto the grill. Try out some Missouri summer vegetables!
4. Pack a side salad - If you aren’t hosting the event, offer to bring a healthy salad or fruit salad so that you know you have an option for a healthy side. Greens are in season in the summer months in Missouri, making salads a perfect option. Chop up any mix of vegetables (and/or fruits) and bring a quick homemade dressing!
5. Prep fresh fruit - Fruit is a delicious and refreshing side for summer! We love making a fruit salad, grilling fresh fruit, or making a fruit based dessert. When grilling fruit, the natural sugars caramelize, giving them an extra, natural sweetness.
6. DIY Dry Rub - Rubs and seasonings can be extremely high in sodium. Many Americans consume too much salt through convenience foods, cured meats, and pre-made seasonings. Lower your sodium intake by making your own homemade rubs and seasonings. We recommend buying bulk seasonings and mixing different combinations into jars that you can have on hand. We love these combinations below from Cook Smarts.
7. Hydrate with H2O - Many barbecues tend to be accompanied by lemonade, sweet tea, sodas, or alcoholic beverages. These beverages add empty calories and do not offer many other health benefits. Stay hydrated in the summer months with good old water! Take a look at our creative tips to make water a bit more exciting.
8. Use the MyPlate Method - The MyPlate method focuses on ½ of your plate fruits and non-starchy vegetables, ¼ of your plate whole grains or starches, and ¼ of your plate lean proteins and nonfat or low-fat dairy. Build your plate with a whole grain bun, lean protein burger or fish, grilled vegetables or salad, and grilled fruit dessert!
9. Upgrade your Side Dishes - Try to health-ify your side dishes! Make coleslaw with a vinegar base instead of mayonnaise, add veggies to your pasta salad, bring guacamole or hummus with cut-up vegetables, or use plain Greek yogurt in your go-to potato salad recipe.
10. Indulge! Finally, don’t get so caught up in trying to be healthy that you don’t allow yourself to indulge. Choose indulgences mindfully. Pick foods that you truly enjoy; don’t just eat desserts you aren’t excited about just because they are available. Balance your indulgence by eating all of those delicious veggies and still giving yourself permission to eat those foods you love!
This summer, try out some of these tips for those upcoming barbecues! Choose vegetables where you can but also choose the foods you love in moderation! What tips do you plan on trying out this summer? Let us know in the comments below!
With summer weather and the Missouri heat, it is extremely vital to stay hydrated. We often hear people struggling to keep up with the recommended water intake. But, why is that? For one, we hear that water is boring. Hands up if you agree? With soda and sugar-sweetened beverages at every turn, water can definitely be less appealing.
In this article, we’re arguing in the name of water. We’ll discuss the benefits of drinking more H2O and some creative ways to get in that wet stuff so that drinking water doesn’t have to feel so boring!
Why does it matter?
Water has so many important roles in the body. It provides a medium for our cells to carry out the necessary functions such as nutrient metabolism or other enzymatic reactions. For one, it helps to maintain a healthy body temperature. It also lubricates and cushions joints, protects your tissues and spine, and helps get rid of toxins through urine, sweat, and other bodily functions. It filters through the kidneys, respiratory system, and digestive system to eliminate waste and ensure proper digestion. Drinking enough water can even ease constipation and prevent kidney stones. It can help you to feel full after a meal, keep you alert and awake throughout the day, and keep you hydrated during physical activity.
How much do I need?
The amount of water you need in a day can vary from day to day based on different circumstances. Your hydration status is impacted by weather, if you are sick or running a fever, if you exercise, if you have medical conditions that may require more or less water, and even if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
For most people, an average recommendation remains about 64 oz. per day. This is where that 8 cups of water a day rule of thumb comes from. Aim for eight, 8 oz. glasses of water or hydrating substances daily. Keep in mind that foods can contribute to overall fluid intake too! We’ll talk about that a bit more below. Be sure to discuss hydration with your dietitian or physician for more specific recommendations based on various conditions.
How Can We Hype Up Hydration?
Now for the fun part. Take a look at our top four tips to get more creative in getting enough fluid in.
St. Louis is known for its hot and humid summers. Be sure to beat the heat this summer with these hydrating tips. We’re planning on making a fruit-infused mocktail for a refreshing pool-side afternoon! How are you staying hydrated this summer?
Be sure to check out one of our own SLU RD’s talking about hydration this week on KMOV!
This year we are celebrating the 5th Annual Flash Mob! Have you joined Let’s Move! STL for the flash mob? If you love to dance and move your body, then this event is for you!
Saint Louis Public School District (SLPS) students in elementary and middle grade levels continue to take steps to improve their health and combat obesity. The fifth annual Let’s Move! STL Move Your Body Flash Mob will take place to help them along their journey. The entire metropolitan community is invited to join in the Move Your Body fun on Friday May 3, 2019, at the Ford Plaza in Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals!
Students at all SLPS elementary schools and select middle schools will join together for a synchronized dance routine. The event is sponsored by Let's Move! STL, the Healthy Schools Healthy Communities initiative, in partnership with SLPS, the City of St. Louis Department of Health, BJC School Outreach and Youth Development, COCA, -Center of Creative Arts, Aetna, a CVS business , and Saint Louis University’s Department of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Last year’s flash mob was a huge success, with approximately 52,000 students, teachers, and community partners statewide spending the morning engaged in fun and physical activity. Students have been dusting off their dancing shoes from the four previous years and are ready to perform not one, not two, but three dance routines. They will perform Beyonce’s “Move Your Body” routine, the “Gimme 5” dance to Kidz Bop’s “Uptown Funk,” and the newly choreographed “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” routine, choreographed by advanced students from COCA.
“Programs like Let's Move! STL and AIM for Fitness continue to help SLPS tackle the issue of childhood obesity with a focus on nutrition, physical activity and teaching students about the importance of embracing a healthy, active lifestyle. Each year brings exciting new ideas and fresh opportunities, as we continue to make progress and encourage healthy behavior change,” said Leanne White, project director for Saint Louis Public Schools.
“The partnerships and collaborations that are budding out of these health-minded programs are very beneficial. Not only are they sustainable, but the collaborations are allowing for engagement of individuals from all levels, from those who are directly impacted by the programs to those who make the policies and final decisions about the programs. I truly feel it is a holistic approach,” said Erica Oliver, a community health partner with BJC School Outreach and Youth Development. Additionally, “Let’s Move! STL enjoys being a part of the growing interest for health and physical activity in the Saint Louis Public Schools,” said Lauren Landfried, the Let’s Move! STL Flash Mob coordinator for the City of St. Louis Department of Health. “The partnerships that have been created from this annual event continue to prove essential to making the St. Louis community healthier.”
For more information about the flash mob on May 3, 2019, the Healthy Schools Healthy Communities initiative or Let’s Move! STL, please contact:
M. Leanne White, Project Director – Saint Louis Public Schools
Lauren Landfried, Let’s Move! STL Flash Mob Coordinator – City of St. Louis Department of Health
Erica Oliver, Community Health Partner – BJC School Outreach and Youth Development
About Healthy Schools Healthy Communities
Healthy Schools Healthy Communities (HSHC) empowers communities to build a healthier future for children and families across Missouri. An initiative of Missouri Foundation for Health, HSHC brings together schools, community organizations, businesses, parents, and residents to identify and push for changes that increase access to healthy food and physical activity where our kids live, learn and play. Saint Louis Public Schools and BJC School Outreach and Youth Development are co-leading the HSHC initiative in the City of St. Louis, currently targeting the Carr Square, Carondelet, Greater Ville, Forest Park Southeast, Shaw, Fountain Park, and Bevo Mill communities.
About Let’s Move! STL
Let’s Move! STL is a comprehensive initiative to combat and solve the challenge of obesity and diseases related to poor diet and fitness by leveraging community resources, coordinating partnerships and engaging the community towards the goal of zero obesity by 2020. The City of St. Louis Department of Health is the lead coordinating agency for Let’s Move! STL.
About Saint Louis Public Schools (SLPS)
Saint Louis Public Schools has been preparing students for a bright future since 1838. The District serves approximately 22,000 children in pre-kindergarten through grade 12. With nearly 70 schools and programs, including Magnet and Choice schools, SLPS has a school to fit every child’s needs. For more information about SLPS, visit the District’s website at www.slps.org or follow the District on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook.
About BJC School Outreach and Youth Development
BJC School Outreach and Youth Development, a division of BJC HealthCare, provides health prevention education and career exploration opportunities for students. It offers programs to equip young people with the information and skills they need to become health literate, increase academic performance and reduce high-risk behavior.
Ever wonder what the keys to unlocking a long life of happiness and good health are? Think blue. Blues Zones, studied by Dan Buettner and his team, are areas where people live the longest, healthiest, and some of the happiest lives in the world, unlike the American society that we live in today plagued by chronic disease. Many of these illnesses result from unhealthy lifestyles, and the American way of life and ideology often contribute to these diseases.
We tend to value productivity and focus just on work, rather than on healthy behaviors and taking care of our bodies. Americans would benefit from taking the necessary time to relax and enjoy life. Relaxation leads to lower stress levels, stronger immune systems, and improves mental health status. Research conducted on other nations has found that not all populations are facing the high rates of chronic disease like the United States is.
Dan Buettner teamed with National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging to identify the locations and lifestyle behaviors that seem to ensure the longest lives in the world. They found that people who live in Blue Zones reach the age of 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the United States. Buettner discovered 9 lifestyle characteristics, called the Power 9, that these areas have in common that lead to longer lives.
Sardinia, Italy is one of the first discovered Blue Zones. They still harvest much of their food, hunt, and fish. They eat a mostly plant-based diet, consisting of whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, while enjoying red wine daily. Cannonau wine is the staple drink of the Sardinians that has 2-3 times the amount of flavonoids than other wines. Flavonoids are rich antioxidants found in foods such as wine, grapes, apples, blueberries, and many other plant foods. They also drink goat’s milk regularly. Aside from diet, other behaviors include walking five or more miles a day, laughing with friends, and valuing elders and family.
Across the globe, in Okinawa, Japan, centenarians are actively roaming the island while enjoying sunshine, gardening, and walking. The area is one of the poorest, however it has with some of the happiest and healthiest people in the world. The citizens of Ikaria, Greece exercise by gardening and walking. They nap every afternoon, drink plenty of goat’s milk, eat a Mediterrian style diet, and value time with family and friends.
In Loma Linda, California, people meditate, walk daily, eat plenty of nuts and seeds, practice moderation, and focus on giving back to the community. In Nicoya, Costa Rica, they keep a sense of purpose throughout each day, focus on family life, work hard, relish sunshine, and value traditions.
So what is it that each of these locations have in common? The Power 9 points out the intersecting behaviors in every zone.
Try incorporating the Power 9 into your everyday life. Here’s some tips: drink wine (in moderation), take a nap, spend time with family, learn to relax, and go for a walk. How great does that sound? The keys to living a longer and healthier life lie within some of the most enjoyable activities.
Check out Dan Buettner’s work at https://www.bluezones.com/ or his TED talk here.
Happy March! As dietitians this is one of our favorite months because it is finally National Nutrition Month! We are thrilled to have an entire month devoted to nutrition, food, and healthy eating. As an added bonus, we also have RDN Day which is on March 13!
In light of National Nutrition Month and RDN Day coming up, we want to talk about what it is that dietitians do, what the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist is, and why dietitians truly are the nutrition experts.
When working in the community or with clients, we have found that there is so much confusion on what a dietitian actually does or who is a dietitian.
So what is a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist (or RD/RDN for short)?
A registered dietitian must complete a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. A bachelor’s degree focuses on areas of food service, food service management, food science, chemistry, biochemistry, medical nutrition therapy, anatomy, and physiology.
Once the undergraduate is completed, students must complete a dietetic internship. Dietetic internships might be found within a university, healthcare facility, or food service management company. The internship is a comprehensive program, requiring 1200 hours of supervised practice in community, clinical, and food service areas.
After the dietetic internship has been completed, students must then sit for the national exam though the Commission on Dietetic Registration. After passing the exam, the professional is then deemed a dietitian and must hold a license in their practicing state. A dietitian is then required to complete continuing education appropriate to their professional areas.
Where do registered dietitian nutritionists work?
A registered dietitian nutritionist can work in many different areas. You might find an RDN in:
What’s the difference between a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist and a nutritionist?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions. It can be a confusing concept, but to simplify it: all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians.
Why is that?
A nutritionist is not a legally protected title. This means that there is no consistency in education or background in order to become a nutritionist. In some cases, nutritionists may not have any nutrition background at all.
Whereas, registered dietitian is a legally protected title. Therefore, in order to practice as a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist, a professional must complete rigorous school work, dietetic internship, pass a registration exam, and hold an active license in the practicing state. Dietitians are the only people who can practice medical nutrition therapy.
Why does it matter?
Dietitians are the experts in nutrition and dietetics because they have a thorough background in the physiology of nutrition and the chemical interactions foods have in the body. This background allows them to weed out fact from fiction and help you to navigate your health considering a wide array of considerations. They are trained to consider your food preferences, health conditions, budgets, schedule, culture, lifestyle, and many other things to help you make the best nutrition choices for your life.
This graphic above is an excellent representation of all the components dietitians are trained to think about when evaluating nutrition and health habits!
How do I find a dietitian?
To find a registered dietitian near you, you can go to this website to locate an RDN in your area. You can also ask your doctor if they have a dietitian that they can refer you to as well. If you just have questions for a dietitian, Let’s Move! STL is a team of five registered dietitians ready to answer your nutrition related questions. To ask a question, click here!
This month, find an RDN and wish them a happy National Nutrition Month! Sign up for our monthly newsletter here to stay up to date with our NNM events and other blogs and recipes we share on the site!