5 Shades of Grey in Nutrition

2784830364_a3dccfd818_zWe all know about the book and movie with “shades of grey” in the title. That phrase may conjure up certain images in your head, but it got me thinking about all the shades of grey in nutrition.

People frequently speak about food in absolutes – this food is bad, or this diet is best. Well, it’s not that simple: Nutrition is not always so black or white.

To me, shades of grey means there’s a little bit of right and wrong. With so many of today’s food fads, popular diets and nutrition claims there’s typically a nugget of truth. Yet things get exaggerated or blown out of proportion. The reality lies somewhere in between.

Here are five shades of grey in nutrition that I wrote about in my latest column for U.S. News & World Report Eat + Run blog: 5 Shades of Grey In Nutrition.

1. Butter is back. Not really. While headlines and popular books are making a hero out of butter and other saturated fats (such as coconut oil and lard), that’s not exactly true. Just because something may not be as bad as previously thought, it doesn’t make it good. Much of this hero worshipping got started when a recent analysis appeared to let saturated fat off the hook when it comes to heart disease. It’s true that researchers found little differences in heart disease rates when comparing those who ate the most vs. the least saturated fat. But the results are not so clear cut. The study did not look at what else people were eating. So if eating less saturated fat means eating more refined starch and sugar, then no wonder there’s little or no improvements. However, if saturated fat is replaced with polyunsaturated fat or monounsaturated fat in the form of olive oil, nuts and other plant oils, there’s a lot of evidence that heart disease risk will be reduced. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee concluded that our diets are still too high in saturated fat, especially for those over age 50. There’s no need to totally ban the butter or ditch your coconut oil, but don’t buy into the idea that these fats are suddenly health foods.

2. Avoid refined grains. Not completely. While Americans eat too many refined grains (white bread, pasta and pizza crusts) and the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends replacing most refined grains with whole grains, you don’t need to fully banish them from your diet. Just be choosy. Switch to whole grains when you can, but there may be times when only the white version will do – maybe you want a slice of a crunchy baguette with dinner or to savor a hot croissant in the morning. In moderation, refined grains are not “toxic,” and you shouldn’t feel guilty when you eat them. Refined grains are typically low in fiber but are enriched with iron and B vitamins and fortified with folic acid. Look for ways to reduce refined grains, but don’t think you need to abolish them.

3. Fresh is best. Not always. Sure, it’s great to eat fresh, local and in-season fruits and vegetables. If you can pick up your produce at a farmer’s market, that’s even better. Yet, that’s not always possible. The most important thing is to eat more fruits and vegetables – no matter what form. Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh; studies have demonstrated this time and time again. And if you tend to leave your fresh veggies a little too long in the crisper drawer, the nutrient content can plummet. So frozen vegetables could even be more nutrient-dense. If fresh fruit tends to go to waste in your house before you can eat it, there’s nothing wrong with stocking up on bags of unsweetened frozen berries, or buying cans, jars and single-serve containers of fruit packed in water or juice.

4. Only shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Not needed. You’ll often hear this advice to help steer people away from processed foods. It’s true that the produce aisle, fresh meats, dairy and other “whole foods” are typically in the outer sections of a supermarket, but there are plenty of cart-worthy options up and down the middle of the store. What about packages of whole-grain pastas, bags of brown rice or quinoa, nuts, canned beans, reduced-sodium soups, frozen vegetables and dried fruit? You won’t find these convenient, nutrient-rich items in a store’s perimeter. I think we need to give families reasonable options and make it simple and doable. If we make the ideal so lofty, it doesn’t seem attainable. I think it’s more valuable to provide ideas on how to evaluate choices in those middle aisles instead of telling people to avoid them entirely. Plus, many supermarkets are not even organized that way anymore, so the rule doesn’t always hold true.

5. Choose the “healthy” option. Not always. Many foods boast about their health credentials on the front of the package or on restaurant menus. That’s fine, just don’t let these health halos tempt you to eat larger portions, which has been documented numerous times. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that people chose larger portions of “healthy” foods because they assumed they had fewer calories than the standard version – even though the calories were the same in the two options of coleslaw, cereal and drinks that were offered to the study participants. Previous studies have found similar results. When people saw “low fat” on a label, they ate even more because they felt less guilt.

I was happy to see my post was the lead story in this week’s SmartBrief.

Nutrition advice is not always absolute, dietitian says

04/17/2015 | U.S. News & World Report

Popular food trends or advice are not absolutes, so recommendations about eating fresh foods, butter or refined grains have some gray areas, writes registered dietitian nutritionist Janet Helm. Frozen foods can be as nutritious as fresh, butter may not be as unhealthy as once believed but still is not particularly good for people, and refined grains are OK to have on occasion, Helm writes.

View Full Article in:

U.S. News & World Report

 

image: bread and butter by plus45 on flickr

 

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2015 Food Trends Cheat Sheet

 

Don’t know your kimchi from your kohlrabi? Confused about cold brew coffee? Fear not. Conde Nast Traveller tackles the latest trends on the global gastro scene to tell you what you should be eating and drinking this year — and looks at the foods that are so last year (looking at you, kale).

OVER

Ramen

EATING

Korean street food

UP NEXT

Taiwanese gua bao buns

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pork belly gua bao by alpha on flickr

OVER

Kale

EATING

Cauliflower

UP NEXT

Kohlrabi

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organic kohlrabi by orchid galore on flickr

OVER

Burgers, fried chicken

EATING

Lobster rolls

UP NEXT

Poutine

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dino poutine by robyn lee on flickr

OVER

Toast

EATING

Cereal

UP NEXT

Artisanal ice

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ice bar stockholm by pikadilly on flickr

OVER

Small plates

EATING

Single-item restaurants

UP NEXT

Pre-paid dinners

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align by edsel little on flickr

OVER

Aperol spritz

EATING

Negroni

UP NEXT

Mezcal

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mezcal mule by steve mcclanahan on  flickr

OVER

Green juice

EATING

Cold brew coffee

UP NEXT

Bone broth

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bone broth by the meat case on flickr

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Friday Food News

wendys-ghost-peppers-fries-jalapeno-fresco-spicy-chicken-sandwichMILLENNIALS DRIVING SPICY FAST FOOD TREND
Via Time

If you want to know why fast food menus are being overloaded with hot flavors and extra spicy sauces, look no further than millennials and their “adventurous” tastes. Walk into almost any chain restaurant in America and you’re sure to encounter spicy new menu items that’ll put a little sweat on your brow, writes Brad Tuttle.

WHY THE SIMPLE BREAKFAST SANDWICH’S POPULARITY ENDURES
Via  The New York Times

A new eatery called BEC that’s set to open in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood will offer ethnic takes on the traditional egg, cheese and meat breakfast sandwich, including a Greek version with lamb sausage and feta cheese. The simple breakfast sandwich remains a staple in the city, where the pace of life demands a fast, foil-wrapped meal that can be eaten on the go, writes Pete Wells.

OYSTER ORDERS ON THE RISE
Via Nation’s Restaurant News

Chef Jeremy Sewall, owner of Boston restaurants Island Creek Oyster Bar and Row 34, says demand for oysters continues to increase as the previously over-harvested seafood makes a population comeback. Oysters clean water systems and boast a high protein content, benefiting the environment and diners alike.

FOOD BRANDS RESPOND TO CONSUMER DEMAND FOR SIMPLER INGREDIENTS
Via FoodBusinessNews.net

Nestle, Kraft Foods, General Mills and other top food companies are altering product formulations to include simpler ingredients and less sugar. In a shopper survey, 62% of consumers said they seek out minimally processed foods, and 53% prefer foods and beverages with a short list of recognizable ingredients, according to the Natural Marketing Institute. Nestle recently reduced the amount of sugar in its Nesquik powdered milk, and General Mills removed the artificial sweetener aspartame from its Yoplait Light yogurts.

KIND BARS GET WARNING FROM FDA ABOUT HEALTH CLAIMS
Via ABC News

The FDA sent a warning letter to KIND Healthy Snacks, saying labels on its snack bars make health claims that the products do not meet “healthy” criteria.  My favorite response to this was from registered dietitian Cynthia Sass for Health.

SOMMELIERS TAKE WINE SERVICE TO A NEW, MORE PERSONAL LEVEL
Via Wine Enthusiast Magazine online

Sommeliers are elevating the traditional restaurant wine service to a more personal level, working with patrons to determine their wine preferences before they even arrive at their table. The practice helps deepen the sommelier-consumer relationship and makes wine more approachable, said Farmhouse Inn Estate Wine Director Allyson Gorsuch.

OLIVE GARDEN TO PUT TABLETS IN EVERY RESTAURANT
Via Orlando Sentinel

Olive Garden has been testing tabletop tablets at a handful of Florida eateries for more than a year, and next month it will put the gadgets in all 845 of its U.S. restaurants. The 7-inch touchscreen tablets from Ziosk let guests play games, split bills and pay from the table using a credit-card reader.

MARCUS SAMUELSSON TALKS MOBILE APPS AND PAYING FOR RESERVATIONS
Via NBC News

Chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson’s fast-casual eatery Streetbird will go live with a free mobile ordering and payment application this week that will speed ordering and cut wait times, he said. His full-service Red Rooster restaurant works with reservation service OpenTable, but he is against a new generation of apps that charge extra to snag in-demand tables.

HOMARO CANTU LEAVES A LEGACY TO CHICAGO’S RESTAURANT SCENE
Via Chicago Tribune

Chef Homaro Cantu, who died Wednesday, was one of three Chicago chefs credited with raising awareness about the city’s creative culinary scene, writes Phil Vettel. “Cantu, a visionary and idealist with the ability to delight and inspire, is gone, a singular career cut short way too soon,” he writes.

 

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Friday Food News

SMOKED COCKTAILCHEFS USE SMOKE ON MORE THAN MEAT IN KANSAS CITY
Via The Kansas City Star

Kansas City chefs add the aroma and flavor of wood-fired smoke to dishes using portable, hand-held smokers. Salads, seafood dishes and even ice cubes are smoked to give dishes complexity and add drama to the dining experience, writes Jill Wendholt Silva.

VEG-CENTRIC DINING IS THE NEXT CULINARY TREND
Via FoodBusinessNews.net

Chefs are seeing more demand for veg-centric cuisine, a culinary style that makes vegetables the focal point of the dish. A growing number of fine-dining eateries are making veggies the star of the plate, using searing, charring and other cooking methods, said Corporate Consulting Chef Gerry Ludwig of Gordon Food Service in Grand Rapids, Mich.

SCARY TIMES FOR CALIFORNIA FARMERS AS SNOWPACK HITS RECORD LOWS
Via NPR

The water outlook in drought-racked California just got a lot worse: Snowpack levels across the entire Sierra Nevada are now the lowest in recorded history — just 6 percent of the long-term average. That shatters the previous low record on this date of 25 percent, set in 1977 and again last year. And it has huge implications for tens of millions of people who depend on water flowing downstream from melting snow — including the nation’s most productive farming region, the California Central Valley.

FARMERS RESURRECT LAMB HAM IN TIME FOR SPRING CELEBRATIONS
Via National Public Radio/The Salt blog

Lamb ham, the spring delicacy that dates back to America’s Colonial times, is making a comeback just in time for Passover and Easter celebrations. A country ham-maker and a shepherd in Virginia have teamed up to produce the cuts of lamb that are smoked and cured for up to six months to produce a rich, nutty flavor.

CUP NOODLES’ EVOLUTION FROM POSTWAR HUNGER REMEDY TO STUDENT STAPLE
Via Adweek

Nissin’s Cup Noodles has grown from a remedy for a hungry nation to a staple for students and those with low budgets and limited time. Momofuku Ando created precooked noodles to fill a need for a low-cost convenience food in his native Japan after World War II, which evolved into the Cup O’Noodles that hit U.S. shelves in 1973. Nissin has sold more than 30 billion cups of the instant soup.

YOUNGER WINE DRINKERS LOVE LAMBRUSCO
Via Chicago Tribune

Lambrusco is shaking its too-sweet reputation from the 70s and 80s and making a comeback on the wine racks of Generation X and Y drinkers. The wine from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy is fizzy, slightly sweet and pairs well with just about any meal, writes Bill St. John.

FOOD & WINE ANNOUNCES BEST NEW CHEFS 2015
Via Eater

Food & Wine magazine announced its annual Best New Chefs class of 2015. According to a press release, the list “honors the top chefs from the country’s best restaurants” who the magazine believes “are poised to become the culinary stars of tomorrow.” The 10 chefs will be featured in the magazine’s July issue and will be showcased at the 33rd annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. See article for full list.

AOL FOUNDER: FROM ‘YOU’VE GOT MAIL’ TO ‘YOU’VE GOT LUNCH’
Via The Washington Post

AOL founder Steve Case has channeled his entrepreneurial drive into Revolution, a venture capital fund focused on game-changing food companies. “Our focus … is on investing in people and ideas that can change the world, and it’s harder to imagine anything that changes the world as much as food,” he said.

 

image: smokey negroni at Hakkasan in NYC by Chris Goldberg on flickr

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Trending Cuisines and Factions

I returned this week from the International Association of Culinary Professionals annual meeting in Washington, DC.  It was a fabulous meeting, as always.  I connected with good friends, ate a lot of good food and learned a lot too.  You’ll be hearing more about the meeting in future posts. One of the presentations I attended was on food trends and featured an excellent panel, including Suzy Badaracco from Culinary Tides.  Here are her predictions for top cuisines and factions for 2015.

Deep South/Appalachian/Low Country

backcountry cooking pEtE

Backcountry cooking by pEtE on flickr;

What does is mean to eat Appalachian?  Check out Eat Me Daily

Filipino

filipino

tapsilog by Shubert Clencia on flickr

Cuban 

cuban sandwich

cubano by Jeffreyw on flickr

Middle Eastern Lamb kabobs

Lamb Kebabs at Taboon by Kevin Harber on flickr

Nordic

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Nordic Skyscraper Restaurant by Jonathan Marks on flickr

Brazilian

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Tristao Da Cunha on flickr

Regional Mexican

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Torta by Rick Bayless in Chicago via Star 5112 on flickr

Easter Block EU – Russian

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Russian Borsch Soup by Robyn Lee on flickr

FACTIONS

Foraged

Seasonal

Picked, sour, fermented

Single estate/farm foods

Hybrids

Global Breakfast

Snacks

Street Food

Global Vegetarian

Artisan,  Housemade

Spirited Desserts

Tea Cocktails

 

  

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