November 25, 2009

Great Marketing for Crappy Kids' Cereal Draws Fire

This week, Washington, DC-based Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report analyzing the nutritional quality of foods marketed to children on Nickelodeon. The report is a follow-up to CSPI's 2005 report and Guidelines for Responsible Food Marketing to Children. The report found that 80% of Nickelodeon food commercials are for poor nutritional-quality foods, down from 90% of all food commercials included in the 2005 study.

One of the most troubling areas highlighted in the study was the dismal performance of children's cereals advertised on Nickelodeon.  Ten percent of all of the food advertisements on Nickelodeon during the CSPI study period were for cereal. Of these, almost 60% were cereals of poor nutritional quality:

CSPI recommends that to be of high-nutritional value, a cereal should have at least 2.5 g of fiber or 8 g whole grain and should contain 10% daily value for fiber as well as vitamins A, C, E, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and protein. Ready to eat cereals can (and should!) be a great source of iron-fortified, whole-grain carbohydrate for kids. The reality is - the ones marketed directly to children rarely are.

The CSPI report comes on the heels of a recent backlash against high sugar cereals like Apple Jacks and Froot Loops masquerading as "good sources" of fiber. The FDA allows the claim "good source of fiber" for foods that have 2.5 to 4.9 grams of fiber per serving; the FDA does not allow the "good source" claim if that same food has one of the following per serving:
  • More than 13 grams of fat
  • More than 4 grams of saturated fat
  • More than 60 milligrams of cholesterol
  • More than 480 milligrams of sodium
What nutrient is conspicuously absent from this list? Sugar...the very ingredient that you get 12 grams of in every serving of Apple Jacks! So Kellogg's can market their product as being a "good source of fiber" even though sugar is the VERY FIRST INGREDIENT in the ingredient list!

Another recent report on the marketing and deleterioius effects of high-sugar cereals comes from Kelly Brownell, PhD of the Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. This October 2009 study reported that cereals marketed directly to kids have 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber and 60% more sodium than adult cereal. And not only do marketers target high-sugar cereals to kids, but they adorn those same cereal boxes with "better-for-you" industry-created, controversial front-of-package labeling.

In the United States there are no laws that prohibit direct marketing of unhealthy foods to children, despite the obviously negative effects that have been borne out in recent studies. Rather, any limitations are industry-opposed, and largely ignored. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies stated in 2006, "Industry should develop and strictly adhere to marketing and advertising guidelines that minimize the risk of obesity in children and youth". But since nobody is making industry do anything to limit marketing that makes kids fat, what can be done?

Health and nutrition think tanks and research institutions continue to rely on industry self-regulation and pressure tactics as their only tool in this uphill battle. CSPI's Key Recommendations from this week's report include:
  • Chuck E. Cheese’s, Perfetti van Melle (maker of Air Heads candy), IHOP restaurants, Topps Candy (maker of Baby Bottle Pop candy), YUM! Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut), and all other food and beverage companies that market to children – through television or any other media – should join the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI)
  • The Council of Better Business Bureaus should revise its CFBAI guidelines to include a set of nutrition standards, which all participating companies must comply with, such as those being
    developed by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children 
  • Nickelodeon and other media companies should have comprehensive policies for marketing to
    children that cover all their media and should air only ads aimed at children for foods that meet
    strong nutrition standards
What if you or your kids - God forbid - still want to eat cereal?! The Brownell/Yale report created a Nutrition Profile Index (NPI) score ranking all child and family cereal brands stocked in more than 5% of supermarkets in May 2009. According to their report, the top 15 most nutritious cereals are (in decreasing order of nutritional quailty):
  1. Kellogg Mini-Wheats
  2. Barbara's Bakery Organic Wild Puffs
  3. Kashi Mighty Bites
  4. Kashi Honey Sunshine
  5. Cascadian Farm Clifford Crunch
  6. Kellogg Hannah Montana
  7. General Mills Kix
  8. Quaker Life
  9. General Mills Cheerios (excluding Honey Nut)
  10. Barbara's Bakery Puffins
  11. Annie's Bunnies
  12. Nature's Path EnviroKidz Organic
  13. General Mills Dora the Explorer
  14. Cascadian Farm Cinnamon Crunch
  15. Post Raisin Bran
A final set of recommendations for choosing a healthy cereal comes from sports dietitian Nancy Clark and her Sports Nutrition Guidebook (3rd ed.):

November 20, 2009

How Fake is Your Fiber?: Intact vs. Isolated Fibers

Food manufacturers are wising up to the public's interest in increasing dietary fiber. You can find fiber in foods where it never existed: Fiber One's High Fiber Yogurt, Skinny Cow Ice Cream Sandwiches and now even Splenda has fiber. But are all fibers created equal? Not if you look closely...

The Nutrition Facts Panel tells you the total grams of Dietary Fiber in a packaged food's serving. What it doesn't tell you is whether that fiber is from intact fiber (found in foods naturally high in fiber like whole grains, fruits and vegetables) or isolated fiber (fibers derived from other starchy foods and added to non-fiber containing foods to make them higher in fiber). To find out if your fiber is from intact or isolated sources (also called functional, nondigestible fibers), you have to look at the Ingredients List - located right below the Nutrition Facts Panel on food packaging.

The most common isolated fibers manufacturers use to bulk up not-so-fibrous foods include:
  • Maltodextrin
  • Inulin (chicory root)
  • Polydextrose
  • Oat fiber
  • Resistant starch
  • Pectin
  • Gum
Foods with functional fibers highlighted in this blog include Mission Carb Control Tortillas (modified food starch) and Oroweat Sandwich Thins (polydextrose).

Do the health benefits of dietary fiber include those of isolated fiber? Not exactly. The American Dietetic Association Position Paper on Dietary Fiber (J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108:1716-1731) says, "Whether isolated, functional fibers provide protection against cardiovascular disease remains controversial." The position paper goes on to say, "longer-term studies of fiber intake which examine the effects of both intrinsic [intact] and functional [isolated] fibers...are required."

While we don't know exactly whether the health benefits of dietary fiber are attributable to intact fiber, the additional nutrients in those high fiber foods or even the healthier habits of high-fiber-diet-eating people, most dietitians and nutrition professionals recommend sticking to foods that are naturally high in fiber: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes like lentils and dried peas and beans and taking it easy on the faker fiber foods.

You may be better served to go middle of the road on your fiber-containing foods:
  • Instead of a hot cereal with added isolated fiber such as Kashi GoLean (chicory root) fiber and 5 grams of fiber per serving, try Quaker Quick Oats with a naturally occurring 4 grams of fiber per serving - all from good old fashioned 100% rolled oats
  • Instead of Oroweat Double Fiber Bread (modified tapioca starch) and 6 grams of fiber per serving, try their regular 100% whole wheat bread with 3 grams of fiber from whole wheat flour
  • ...and if you're looking for a naturally occurring high fiber yogurt...well...some things just weren't meant to be!

November 16, 2009

Bulking up Thanksgiving Dinner

If Thanksgiving for you means birds stuffed with white bread...
this year try these high fiber tips instead:

  • Sub sweet potatoes: sweet potatoes with their skins have on average 1 gram of fiber more per serving than do white potatoes
  • Blanch veggie sides: avoid boiling your vegetables to death! A quick dip in boiling water minimizes the loss of vegetables' nutrient content. Overcooking also degrades the fibrous structure of vegetables, resulting in a mushy, less nutritious mess
  • Whole grain stuffing: use 100% whole wheat bread instead of white bread in stuffing recipes
  • Get cruciferous: try a high fiber vegetable side like 1 cup of cooked cauliflower for 3 grams of fiber or a cup of cooked broccoli for 5
  • Stick with pumpkin pie: if you're debating over a piece of pumpkin or pecan pie - go with the pumpkin. While one cup of canned pumpkin has 7 grams of fiber compared to 9 grams in a cup of pecans, the average piece of pecan pie has 200 calories more per slice - making pumpkin the overall healthier dessert
  • Sneak in whole wheat flour: play around with baked goods recipes by substituting up to half of the all-purpose white flour with whole wheat flour

November 9, 2009

Fiber Bomb! Mission 10" Carb Balance Whole Wheat Tortillas

Mission's burrito-sized carb balance whole wheat tortillas pack an incredible fiber punch! Weighing in with 21 grams of dietary fiber (84% of your daily value), these monsters are unusual given their relatively normal 10-inch serving size with 200 calories. But, the high fiber content is not a function of any ingredient that ever appeared in a traditional Mexican flour tortilla recipe (flour, fat, salt, water); rather, wheat gluten, enriched bleached wheat flour and wheat protein isolate add bulk to the tortilla and round out the list of 25+ ingredients (which also includes  a small amount of partially hydrogenated soybean oil, i.e. trans fat that raises LDL cholesterol levels).

The "carb balance" moniker comes from the outdated and debunked low-carb diet craze of counting "net carbs". Essentially, net carbs are grams of carbohydrate in a food minus the grams of dietary fiber in that same food. For example, one of the aforementioned tortillas has 31 grams of carbohydrate per serving; you would subtract 21 grams of dietary fiber from carbohydrate content to arrive at 10 grams of net carb.

The notion behind net carbs is that the fiber content of a food slows the digestive process by essentially delaying the conversion of carbohydrate to glucose in your blood sugar. While this is true, the creation of a "net carb" equation was created primarily to sell low net carb food products  through outlets like Atkins Nutritionals.

Low carb diets may help with short term weight loss, but they are no more effective at long term weight loss than is any other calorie restrictive diet. Most nutrition professionals agree that if you're concerned about losing and maintaining weight loss long term, net carb counting is the equivalent of dietary hair-splitting. Instead of minimizing net carbs, Registered Dietitians, government health agencies and the medical literature all recommend increasing exercise, limiting calories and choosing a variety of foods that are natural sources of dietary fiber as the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off.

If you're not a regular consumer of high-fiber foods, be warned that eating a tortilla with over 20 grams of fiber may lead to unpleasant GI side effects, including gas and bloating. To minimize an upset gut, work on slowly increasing your fiber by a few grams each day. Increasing the amount of water you drink along with the high fiber foods can also help reduce any unfortunate - and embarrassing - GI incidents.

November 6, 2009

Fiber Fuels the Battle Against Belly Fat

The benefits of dietary fiber just keep on coming! An article published in the November 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition studied the relationship between dietary fiber intake and visceral adiposity (belly fat). The researchers studied 85 overweigth Latino boys and girls for a period of two years and found that:
  • Participants who had decreased their fiber intake over the study period experienced a 21% increase in belly fat
  • Participants who had increased their fiber intake over the study period experienced a 4% decrease in belly fat
The lead investigator on the study was Dr. Jaimie N. Davis from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. In a Reuters news article on the published results, Dr. Davis confirmed what nutrition professionals are constantly reminding the public: not all fiber is created equal. "Just because it says 'whole wheat' or 'multigrain' doesn't mean it's a good source of fiber," Dr. Davis explained. "People think if it's brown, if it's wheat, it's good, but not necessarily."

The best advice remains: Deal your belly fat a blow by reading the Nutrition Facts panel and Ingredient Lists for the real dish on dietary fiber.

November 2, 2009

Benefit of Beans

Dietitians spend a lot of time convincing clients not to eat out of cans: canned vegetables have fewer nutrients than their fresh or frozen counterparts do and canned soups are high in sodium. But legumes - dried peas and beans - are great sources of fiber that are most convenient when canned.

On average, a one-half cup serving of dried or canned peas or beans has 5-6 grams of fiber and 5-6 grams of protein.  Canned beans can pack up to 500 mg of sodium per serving, but you can rinse them off under the sink to help reduce sodium or choose lower-salt canned varieties. Try interspersing beans throughout your diet:
  • Sprinkle garbanzo beans on your salad
  • Make chili with half the meat and other half kidney beans
  • Try lentil soup instead of cream-based soups
  • Order whole pinto or black beans with Mexican food instead of refried beans
Dried or canned peas and beans are not only high in fiber, but they are a good source of nearly-complete protein...and they're low in fat too. If you're trying to lose weight or are concerned about cardiovascular disease, try making one meatless meal per week. Canned beans - like pinto, kidney, garbanzo, black beans or lentils make great high-protein, high-fiber meat substitutes in many entrees.

Click here for a great crock-pot chili recipe from Registered Dietitian Wendy Jo Peterson and her Edible Nutrition blog.