Let’s Agree to Agree: Why It’s Vital to Stop Arguing About What We Should Eat

oldways katz, sara, willetEnough already.

It’s time to stop the food fights and come together to find common ground on healthy eating.

That was the goal of the Oldways Summit Finding Common Ground – a scientific and media conference I attended that had the ambitious task of crafting a unified, clear message about what it means to eat well.  This truly groundbreaking conference set out to find common ground — to clear up the confusion and show the often perplexed public that we agree on more than we disagree.

The conference was convened by Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, along with co-chairs David Katz, MD, MPH, Founding Director, Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, and Walter Willet, MD, DrPH, Chairman of the Department of Nutrition, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, all pictured above.

The outcome — a consensus statement on healthy eating — included 11 principles that represent the common ground identified by the diverse group of elite scientists who attended the conference.

This was no small task.

We had experts representing all factions — from Paleo to Vegan.  Dean Ornish was there to talk about the virtues of low-fat, while Harvard’s Frank Hu, who served on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, questioned the need to put a lid on total fat.

There were discussions about everything from the glycemic index to gluten free.

We explored the reasons why this meeting was so important — the distorted messages about nutrition in the media, the hyperbolic headlines and the self-proclaimed experts who trumpet a point of view more than actual evidence.  This issue is certainly a frequent topic here at Nutrition Unplugged.

What does the public think when they see what appears to be a flip-flopping of nutrition advice?  What are they left to think when they see experts argue?

As David Katz said: “Let’s not bicker over ‘my diet can beat your diet’ while everyone is eating glow-in-the-dark foods.” We lose people when they see us argue.  It’s easy to throw up your hands and do nothing when they think nutrition advice will just change again tomorrow.

oldways with katz

I was extremely honored to be part of a panel at the two-day conference:  Media and Coverage of Science and Health: Problems in Consistently and Constantly Communicating Common Ground.

Joy Bauer, of the Today Show, was our moderator, and I was joined by fellow dietitian Toby Amidor and Chicagoan Monica Eng.  I talked about the reasons why I think it’s especially challenging to communicate science-based nutrition advice in today’s media landscape.  You can find my presentation here, along with other speaker presentations.

The opening of our session was lead by science journalist John Bohannon, who shared his experience of publishing a junk study (eat chocolate to lose weight!)  just to see if the media would pounce on it.  And some certainly did.  It was a good lesson on how studies can be manipulated to get certain desired results and how the media love to promote provocative diet studies.  While he made some good points, I thought his presentation was  a bit tone-deaf and he ended up offending both the scientists and the media.

The night before the conference there was a wonderful reception that served tremendous food representing the various programs of Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition organization based in Boston.  We enjoyed food from the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, African Heritage Diet, Oldways Vegetarian Network and beautiful cheeses representing the Oldways Cheese Coalition, an international effort of cheesemakers, retailers and enthusiasts fighting to preserve their right to enjoy raw-milk and other traditional cheeses.

During the reception someone asked me what camp I was in.  The question surprised me and I wasn’t quite sure what she meant.  She explained, “you know…vegan, paleo, etc.”  I responded, “well…all of them, none of them.”  I don’t consider myself a member of any camp.  I told her I enjoy all foods — perhaps my eating style is most similar to the Mediterranean Diet, but I don’t really put myself into any one food tribe.  I’ve written about this before, why must we label how we eat?

I encourage you to visit Oldways and read more about the Finding Common Ground conference, including the consensus statement, network of scientists intended to be reliable sources for the media, and the plans to unite scientists and journalists in a positive campaign for better public health.  Dr. David Katz is well on his way of achieving this goal with the True Health Initiative, which has a similar mission.

So where did they find common ground?  Here’s a summary of the 11 points of agreement:

1. Support of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:  higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, seafood, legumes and nuts, moderate in alcohol, lower in red and processed meats, and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.  This  includes the idea that there’s more than one way to achieve a healthy diet — these foods can be enjoyed in a vegetarian diet, Mediterranean diet or other style of eating.

2. Sourcing food that is sustainable for the health of humans and the planet.  The upcoming 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are expected to exclude sustainability from the recommendations.  The Oldways scientists found this to be a mistake and emphatically supports the inclusion of sustainability in the report.  Food insecurity cannot be solved without sustainable food systems.  Inattention to sustainability is willful disregard for the quality and quantity of food available to the next generation.

3. Support of the 2015 DGAC process. At a time when some distractors have criticized the committee, the Oldways scientists expressed confidence in their approach to the weight of the evidence.  They also support a transparent process where the evidence-based report of the scientists is translated directly into policy without political manipulation.  [This was included because Congress intervened this year to prevent sustainability from being included in the 2015 DGAs, even though the Committee fought hard to have it included.]

4. New view of food.  Food can and should be good for human health, good for the plant and simply good — unapologetically delicious.

5. Confusion is unnecessary. Despite uncertainty about some details, much of the public confusion about healthy eating is unnecessary and at odds with the understanding of experts and the weight of the evidence.  The group affirms that experts with diverse perspectives and priorities can find common ground.

6.  Fundamentals don’t change.   The fundamentals and current understanding of diet and health do not change every time a new study makes headlines. It’s important to consider the weight of the evidence, along with biology and heritage.

7. Accurate reporting is responsibility of both scientists and media.  Consider context.  New evidence should be added to what was known before, not substituted for it sequentially.

8. Seek out the swaps.  The group endorsed the principle of dietary substitutions, or a “compared to what” approach to make dietary changes meaningful.  Instead of simply saying “drink less soda,” say “drink water instead of soda.”

9. Action plan is needed.  The group recommended education programming, policy and legislation in support of these goals be implemented widely and in a timely manner, with regular monitoring and evaluation.

10. Food literacy is important.  I especially love this one.  We need to help people learn more about the origins of their food, the conditions under which it’s produced and its impact on their health and the health of the planet. This includes food traditions and the cultural context of food (health through heritage) and cooking skills.

11. Food systems approach. We must consider food systems (production, manufacturing, food waste, etc.) when discussing priorities for human and planetary health, while supporting social responsibility and animal welfare.

Learn more at Oldways Common Ground.

Read what others had to say:

Megan Scudellari

Catherine Katz, Cuisinicity


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Vegetables Step Up to the Plate in Restaurants, Yet MIA at Home

beet carpaccio by Or Hiltch

Vegetables are undeniably a huge culinary trend. In restaurants across the country, vegetables are pushing meat to the side of the plate – or completely off it.

Chefs are embracing locally grown produce and root-to stalk dining, which makes use of all parts of the plant. Vegetable-forward restaurants are popping up everywhere and gaining tons of acclaim, including Al’s Place in San Francisco, which was recently named Bon Appetit’s best new restaurant of 2015. This eatery features unique interpretations of vegetables, with meat listed under “sides” on the menu.

While restaurants are putting vegetables front and center, we don’t seem to be eating our veggies at home. Yes, vegetable spiralizers are selling like hot cakes, kale salads remain popular and cauliflower is being transformed into “rice” and “pizza crust.” These creative vegetable dishes may be popular on Pinterest, but these trends don’t seem to be making a dent in our total vegetable intake.

It’s so ironic how vegetables are suddenly the star ingredient in restaurants, yet they’re lacking in our meals at home.

Only about 4 percent of Americans meet daily recommendations for vegetables, according to a new report released by the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, a national alliance of public and private partners that includes the Produce for Better Health Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
peas by Melissa
The 2015 Report Card revealed that the produce problem in this country is even getting worse. Our average intake of vegetables (excluding fried potatoes) declined 6 percent during the past five years. One major reason for this drop was tied to a decline in a vegetable side dish at dinner.
Dinner looks different these days. The growing popularity of convenience items and one-dish meals, such as pizza and sandwiches, has pushed the vegetable side dish off the plate, according to the report. Staples such as lettuce salads, corn and green beans are consumed less often and have led the decline in vegetable consumption.

Research with moms found that the main barriers to increasing their family’s vegetable consumption are different family preferences, the need for new preparation ideas and cost.

Family members often have different vegetable likes and dislikes, which makes it tough on moms, says registered dietitian Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation. “She doesn’t want to be a line cook, making something different for everybody.”

Moms also may be giving in too easily.

“It used to be: This is what we’re eating, so eat it,” Pivonka said. Now, parents don’t want the fight. About one-third of parents (35 percent) view getting their kids to eat their vegetables as a battle, just behind getting them to clean their room and stop bickering.

Pivonka said moms are hungry for ideas on what works for other moms. Involving children in growing, selecting or preparing vegetables, having vegetables cut up and ready to eat, hiding vegetables in other foods and providing tangible rewards when a child tries a new dish are the most successful approaches, yet no more than half of all moms have tried these approaches.

One thing is for sure. If you have multiple forms of vegetables in your home – fresh, frozen, canned and 100 percent juice – your family will likely eat more vegetables. Studies show that people who eat “all forms” tend to eat more vegetables.

“I think having more vegetables in school meals and snacks, as required in schools today, will expose children to more vegetables, prepared in different ways, and they’ll begin to find vegetable dishes that they like,” Pivonka says. “It will also expose them to what ‘normal’ eating is supposed to be. Finally, if other children are eating their vegetables, peer influence can play a positive role. Young vegetable consumers will be vegetable consumers for life.”

Fortunately, there are many creative initiatives such as the Food Literacy Center and Purple Asparagus that are going into schools and helping get kids excited about vegetables.

Vegetable consumption among children gets a D and the marketing of vegetables gets an F in the 2015 Report Card, so we have a long way to go.

To help get a passing grade, the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance outlines specific actions to increase vegetable consumption. These strategies include increasing accessibility of vegetables in communities, schools, worksites and on menus; effective nutrition education and promotion efforts that give people the skills and motivation to eat more vegetables; and better alignment of federal policy and funding priorities with the Dietary Guidelines of America.

Originally appeared in U.S. News & World Report’s Eat + Run blog.

Images: beet carpaccio by Or Hiltch , peas by Melissa , green beans by Sarah Jane Smith on flickr

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More Food Trends for 2016: Top 10 Predictions from Technomic

The 2016 food trend reports keep coming.   The latest is from Technomic, a Chicago-based food research and consulting firm.  Here’s a look at the top 10 trends that may prove to be transformational in 2016, ranging from menu tweaks to technological and social upheavals.

The Sriracha effect. Having learned that Sriracha sauce can add instant ethnic cachet to something as straightforward as a sandwich, chefs are scouting the world for other assertive flavorings to employ in similar ways. Likely bets: ghost pepper from India; sambal from Southeast Asia; gochujang from Korea; harissa, sumac and dukka from North Africa.

4988178681_49c406a9be_zElevating peasant fare. Meatballs and sausages are proliferating—traditional, ethnic or nouveau, shaped from many types and combinations of meats. Likewise on the rise are multi-ethnic dumplings, from pierogis to bao buns. Even the staff of life gets the royal treatment, from haute toast to signature cheesy bread.

Trash to treasure. Rising prices for proteins raise the profiles of under-utilized stewing cuts, organ meats and “trash” species of fish—but the “use it all” mindset has also moved beyond the center of the plate. How about a veggie burger made with carrot pulp from the juicer?

Burned. Smoke and fire are showing up everywhere on the menu: in charred or roasted vegetable sides; in desserts with charred fruits or burnt-sugar toppings; in cocktails featuring smoked salt, smoked ice or smoky syrups.

3806827548_3a083159cd_zBubbly. Effervescence makes light work of the trendiest beverages: Champagnes and Proseccos, Campari-and-soda aperitifs, adults-only “hard” soft drinks including ginger ales and root beers, fruit-based artisanal sodas, sparkling teas.

Negative on GMOs. Whatever the science says, many consumers have made up their minds: no genetic tinkering with their food. Some diners will gravitate to restaurants touting GMO-free fare; others will demand GMO labeling on menus. That’s a big issue for the supply chain, since many crops (such as soy fed to livestock) have been modified to boost productivity.

Modernizing the supply chain. Climate destabilization, mutating pathogens and rising transportation costs, among other challenges, will lead to increasingly frequent stresses on the food supply chain, such as 2015’s Florida orange freeze or avian flu-related egg shortage. Consumer demand for “fresh” and “local” fare also challenges a distribution system based on consolidation, centralization, large drop sizes and long shelf life.

Fast food refresh. Consumers gravitate to “better” fast food, transforming and diversifying the industry. “QSR plus” concepts with fresher menus and spanking-bright units exploit a price niche between fast food and fast casual (think Culver’s or Chick-fil-A). “Build your own” formats are springing up in more menu categories. Many quick-service eateries are adding amenities like alcohol. Others are giving up on upscaling and returning to their roots, serving simple, traditional menus at low prices.

Year of the worker. In today’s tighter labor market, mandates to boost minimum wages will reverberate up and down the workforce, with experienced staffers demanding proportional raises and skilled workers (already in short supply) even harder to hire. That’s tough news for operators trying to hold down menu prices. Front-of-house technology and back-of-house automation will help restaurants do more with fewer or lower-level workers, and companies will devote more resources to training and retention.

The delivery revolution. Proliferating order-and-pay apps and third-party online ordering and delivery services make “dining in” easier than ever and, in some cases, “dining out” a thing of the past. Transformational companies like Uber and Amazon are muscling into the market. App-only services like Munchery deliver food from commissaries, bypassing the brick-and-mortar restaurant altogether.

Here’s a video of Technomic’s top 10 food and beverage trends

Images: ghost peppers by Bill Roehl, smoke by britz briones.com on flickr

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Food and Beverage Dining Trends: A Look at 2016 Buzzwords

Baum + Whiteman just released their 11 Hottest Food and Beverage Dining Trends in Restaurant and Hotels, 2016.  Here’s a quick summary of the key buzzwords they identified.


Falafel appearing as vegetables in serious restaurants.

Kombucha going mainstream.

Burnt vegetables.

Nashville Hot Chicken.

Everything bagel seasoning mix.

Root-to-stalk cooking, and “vegetable forward” restaurants.

Poke. (Hawaiian poke was also a hot trend identified by Sterling Rice Group)


Globalized ramen.

Adding seaweed to popcorn.

General Tso flavorings.

Philippine cuisine.

Alcoholic beverages in quick-service restaurants.

Food halls.

3-D food printers.

“Shack” in restaurant names.

Chains going “clean,” replacing artificial ingredients.

Values, not value (scrutinizing restaurants’ policies on health & wellness, sustainability, GMO, animal welfare, employee wages).

War on food waste.

More automation and kiosks in restaurants to speed service and save labor.

Build-your-own options.


Images: falafel by MrTinDC , poke by Frank Farm  on flickr


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10 Culinary Trends for 2016

Trend trackers begin to make their predictions for the coming year in October and they keep on coming through December.  Typically one of the first to burst onto the scene is from the Sterling-Rice Group, a culinary firm in Boulder, Colorado.  Kara Nielsen, culinary director for SRG, says 2016 will be defined by looking back.

“What’s new is often not new at all, but a rediscovered ingredient, drink, or dish that has been refashioned with contemporary palates in mind.  These palates are definitely expanding, turning to more savory compositions and new regional cuisines, while also gladly accepting familiar foods in delightful new formats.”

Here’s a look at what SRG predicts will be 10 food and beverage trends that will inspire packaged foods and foodservice menus in 2016.

1. Switching to Switchels


These drinkable vinegars have been brewing for a while, but maybe 2016 will be the year they break through. Known as haymakers in New England, switchels are typically made with apple cider vinegar, along with ginger and honey, maple syrup or molasses.  This colonial refresher is an example of something old that’s new again.  Nielsen told FoodNavigator-USA:

“While it’s still a niche opportunity right now, it taps into the trend of ‘rediscovering’ old recipes and food traditions and the trend of enjoying stronger, more vinegary flavor profiles that has helped to drive sales of products such as kombucha,”

Trend in action: CideRoad organic switchel, Up Mountain switchel, Fire Cider, Bragg organic apple cider vinegar drinks

2.  Hawaiian Cuisine


I certainly fell in love with Hawaiian cuisine during my visit two years ago — especially the Pig & the Lady.  From fast-casual to fine dining, traditional and ‘ono (delicious) island ingredients are showing up in a range of new dishes like poke bowls (raw seafood salads), musubi rice, and nori waros.  Even Spam might make a resurgence (in housemade forms). They love this canned meat in Hawaii.

Trend in action: Big Daddy’s Poke Shake in LA, Noreeth, NYC, Aina pop-up, San Francisco, Roy’s

3. Oysters to the Rescue


With sustainable seafood as important as ever, cultivated oysters are fueling an exciting resurgence of oyster bars. Expect the burgeoning Millennial taste for oysters to grow in 2016 and years to come.

Trend in action: Island Creek Oyster bar, Boston; The Ordinary, Charleston; The Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle; Pearl, iPhone app

4. The Savory Side of Yogurt


Well, I couldn’t be happier about this one.  I love labneh, and it seems this Middle Eastern yogurt-cheese is poised to go mainstream.  Tapping into the desire for less sugar combined with the growing interest in Middle Eastern cuisine,  labneh is stepping into the spotlight.  I’ve enjoyed labneh in Lebanon, where it’s especially popular at breakfast (always savory, never sweet).  Labneh pairs well with olive oil, spices (like za’atar), seeds, olives and vegetables.

Trend in action: Sohha Savory Yogurt, White Moustache labneh, Karoun Dairies Labne

5. Coffee’s New Guises

nitro coffee

From coffee mocktails and sodas to dry-hopped coffee on nitro tap and coffee cherry brews, there’s no end to the creative coffee libations coming our way from inventive baristas and ready-to-drink beverage makers.

Trend in action:  Pixan, Slingshot Coffee, Corvus Hopped Coffee, Stumptown nitro

6. Swiggable Soups

tio gazpacho

Fancy bottled juices have been all the rage, but now expect soup to be the new cold-pressed juice.  No bowl is required to enjoy these chilled soups, which offer the convenience of juice with less sugar and more fiber.  Nielsen told FoodNavigator-USA:

As more of us are grazing throughout the day, and meals and snacks are blurring into one, consumers are increasingly looking for a meal/snack that is healthy and filling, but also convenient and swiggable soup certainly fits the bill. “It also taps into the trend towards more savory snacks…I expect to see some big brands following this trend closely and introducing their own products if it looks like it is taking off.”

Trend in action: Tio Gazpacho, Mucho Gazpacho, Splendid Spoon

7. Pumped-up Porridge


Something is going on with porridge.  Flavor & the Menu also cited porridge on its 2016 food trends list.  I’m keeping my eye out for this in Chicago.  Porridge is being made with an ever-widening selection of grains – rye, spelt, black rice and quinoa — topped with all sorts of savory ingredients like pork, mushrooms, smoked fish, eggs and vegetables.

Trend in action; 42 Grams in Chicago, Faro in Brooklyn, Porridge and Puffs pop-up in LA

8. Intensified Dessert

The Food Place

Look for desserts and sweet treats to get a flavor boost with the addition of savory ingredients, such as umami-rich miso paste, malt, corn-husk ash and dairy whey.

Trend in action: Miso caramels from Gearharts Fine Chocolates, Miso Cherry Ice Cream, Corn Husk Meringue

9. Pass the Platter


Chefs are prepared more family-style meals on large platters with centerpiece proteins — whole fish, roasts, whole chickens, big piles of ribs — and accompanying sides.

Trend in action: Mourad, San Francisco; King and Duke, Atlanta; Maketto, Washington, DCs

10. Mail-Order Meal Mania


SRG predicts that meal-kit delivery services will continue to explode in 2016 as the big players expand nationally and smaller start-ups tap niche cuisines and dietary trends.

Trend in action: Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Plated, Farm to Fir, PlateJoy, Cooking Simplified

Images: drinking vinegars by Suzi Edwards-Alexander,  oysters by Farrukh, nitro cold brew coffee by T.Tseng, chobani yogurt by Meng He, Hawaiian poke by Frank Farm, dessert by The Food Place.co.uk, pork porridge by Alpha, roast chicken by Alexa Clark, HelloFresh by Porcupiny on flickr


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