All posts by: Kevin Mendoza

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Fact vs. Opinion: What You Need to Know About Nutrition Research  

It seems like everywhere you turn there is a different nutrition story making headlines. Whether in mainstream media or on social channels, consumers are inundated with information on the latest and greatest study often telling you to eat this or avoid that. But how do you know if a study is based on reliable data, anecdotal information, or simply a sensationalized headline? One part of the problem is that nutrition science is not linear: it is complex and often oversimplified when reported because it is ever-changing and involves multiple factors that are sometimes difficult to control and track. Regardless, there are things you can do to unravel fact from fiction and navigate the tide of information. Here are the top eight things you should look for when evaluating nutrition research:  

  1. Source of the Study – First, make sure the study was published in a reputable, peer-reviewed scientific journal. Peer review is extremely important because it involves experts digging into the data to ensure the conclusions are valid. Studies that are not peer-reviewed or unpublished data are not considered trustworthy. To double check, visit Valid scientific research can be published by any number of organizations including government agencies, academic institutions, nonprofits, and food and beverage companies. Typical credible scientific websites end in .edu, .gov, and .org. It’s important to notice the date of the study as well. 
  2. Check for References – Look at who conducted the study. Generally, you want credentialed nutrition scientists with a PhD, RD, or DSc, and with experience in the area they are researching.  
  3. Population – Nutrition studies can be done on humans (clinical or population based), in animals (all types), or in cells, sometimes called in vitro, in a lab. It is very difficult and in most cases not appropriate to make assumptions about humans from animal or cell research. It is important to always look for human and/or population studies first. 
  4. Study Type and Size – First, it is important to check the size of the study and study type. Often the sample size of a study is referred to as “n”. Be aware that most nutrition studies are observational in nature. Observational studies are large in size and easier to conduct but are subject to confounding (conflicts in the results) while clinical or control studies are usually smaller, more challenging to conduct, and have less risk of confounding. There are: 
  • Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT): studies that measure the effectiveness of a new intervention or treatment and are considered the gold standard for nutrition research. However, conducting them is expensive and requires a high level of scientific rigor. 
  • Cohort studies: a type of longitudinal study that tracks a defined population of research participants over a period of time. 
  • Cross-sectional studies: a type of observational study that collects and evaluates data from many individuals at a single point in time.  
  • Case control studies: observational study in which two groups with different health outcomes or disease states (i.e., one with heart disease and one without) are identified and compared related to diet.  
  • Systematic reviews: summaries of the scientific literature already published on a specific topic. 
  1. Correlation vs. Causation – It is important to note that most nutrition studies are observational in nature and therefore can only point out correlations. Observational studies do not prove causation or cause and effect. Consequently, a certain food or diet may be associated with a specific outcome or disease, but it is unlikely a research study will prove causation. This is largely because many other factors may influence the outcome. If a conclusion is drawn, be sure to identify whether the finding was statistically significant. Please keep this in mind when reading research.  
  2. Data Collection – Nutrition research often relies on 24-hour dietary recalls or food frequency questionnaires. This type of data has a high rate of error because test subjects can pick what they want to report or omit. The best studies look at large populations and control for many factors to minimize error. Be sure the data is comparing similar items in the control versus the intervention/experimental group.  
  3. Communicated without Bias – All studies should evaluate both the potential strengths and weaknesses of the research, which should lead to a further study in the future. Beware that the researcher is not overstating the positive or negative results of a study. Most studies should have a clear next step or research project. Look for research that is communicated with balance and accuracy. Researchers should identify possible study design flaws in their discussion section so readers understand the potential for inaccurate results. 
  4. The Body of Literature – Nutrition recommendations are based on the body of evidence, which includes both observational and intervention studies as well as human (population-based and single studies), animal, and cell data. What does the totality of the literature say? If only one study contradicts the weight of the evidence, carefully review before jumping to conclusions.  

Tips to Reduce Trips to the Grocery Store: How to Save Time & Money  

Does it seem like you’re taking endless trips to the grocery store? While you may not be able to avoid some, you can reduce the number of trips you make while also saving yourself time and money. It is estimated that more than one-third of the global food supply is wasted each year due to spoilage and expired products. To put it in perspective, that is almost 1.3 billion tons of food worldwide. Help reduce your carbon footprint and save money with these helpful tips from our experts: 

  1. Shop for Your Pantry – The first step of any successful grocery store trip is to shop for your favorite pantry staples. Many of these foods are located in the center of the store. They include nutritious items like beans, rice, tuna, and canned foods. These foods have a longer shelf life and lower rates of spoilage due to common food additives and ingredients along with the process of being dried or canned. As a result, they are a great way to stretch a dollar and can be a lifesaver particularly when time is short and stomachs are growling. 
  1. Look for Products with Longer Expiration Dates – The second step for ultimate success is to shop for products that have lengthy expiration dates. Your favorite foods probably fall into this category: peanut butter, yogurt, salad dressings, canned fruits and vegetables, pasta, olives, and salsa, to name a few. Many are good-for-you products that can sit in your pantry or refrigerator until you are ready to use them. Keeping these products on hand means less waste and more money in your pocket. They also come in handy when supplementing more perishable items like meat and fresh vegetables. Consider serving up a light meal consisting of yogurt, fruit and nuts, a quick PB&J sandwich, or possibly some salsa with chips and cheese.  While shelf stable products are always the best when it comes to easy meals, do you know what contributes to making these products shelf stable? You can thank food additives and ingredients for that. They help extend shelf life and also contribute to taste, texture, and freshness while reducing costs. All food additives undergo safety tests and reviews by regulatory authorities.  
  1. Buy in Bulk – If you know your kids always seem to go through the same snacks, consider buying these foods in bulk. Buying in bulk has a number of advantages; it can save you countless trips to the grocery store, and buying in bulk is typically less expensive per portion than buying smaller quantities. Additionally, buying in bulk is convenient and great for emergencies because you don’t have to worry about running out of a certain item. Some of your kids’ favorite snacks and foods stay fresh for longer with the help of food additives and ingredients. Rest assured these same additives are found in some of mom and dad’s favorite things (i.e., beer and wine) and are completely safe. Freezing is another method to preventing food spoilage of bulk items.  
  1. Choose a Combination of Non-Perishable and Perishable Foods – Another key to success is buying a combination of perishable and non-perishable items. This allows you to have a greater variety of foods in your diet as well as versatility in the kitchen and on the table, giving you ample time to create recipes that utilize your fresh foods before they go bad. While perishable items spoil faster, additives do help contribute to their shelf life. The outside layer of many fruits and vegetables are sealed with additives to ensure it lasts on your shelf for as long as possible. 

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Facts About Packaged Snacks 

A busy schedule due to school, sports, and other activities, can result in meal patterns becoming more structured and including snacks and other more convenient food options. Snacks, in fact, have become an integral part of our food culture; a recent 2023 Food and Health survey found seven in ten Americans snack at least once a day – in addition to their main meals. Snacking after work, during and after school, and/or in between meals can keep hunger at bay while helping busy families stay happy throughout the day.  

But what is the best type of snack? Fresh fruits and vegetables are the gold standard for snacking, but these foods alone may not be practical, available, or feasible, especially for people-on-the-go. It is important to note that registered dietitians recommend choosing snacks with a balance of nutrients, including protein, complex carbohydrates, and good fats. “For the most nutritious and satisfying snacks, look for high protein, high fiber, whole grain snacks,” says registered dietitian Berit Dockter. “This is where healthy packaged snacks can fit the bill.”  

Packaged snacks are portable, easy-to-eat, and often sold in single serving sizes. They are also made with ingredients to keep your food safe, healthy, and flavorful. These snacks are also shelf stable which means they will not go bad quickly. Below are five snack foods you can enjoy eating or serving to your family.   

  1. Peanut Butter and Pretzels – Pretzels and peanut butter are a classic combination with the perfect combination of sweet and savory. 
  1. Low Fat Cheese and Whole Grain Crackers – Prepackaged cheese, whether string, or cheddar, come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors. Combine with whole grain crackers to make a complete little meal.  
  1. Protein Bars and Cereal Bars – Protein bars are one of the easiest snacks to bring almost anywhere. Look for those touting seeds, nuts, and whole grains like oats and dried fruit. 
  1. Trail MixThese come in a variety of blends and can be spicy or sweet. Choose ones with your favorite nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.  
  1. Carrot Sticks and Hummus – Carrots provide all the nutritious vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants while hummus supplies protein and good fats

Why Do We Need Food Additives? 

By definition, a food additive is anything added to a food to preserve, maintain, or improve its safety, freshness, taste, texture, and appearance. We have been using food additives, such as sugar and salt, for centuries. In recent years, the need for these ingredients has greatly increased due to the advancement of food science, safety and standards, the need for foods to be shipped long distances, and a desire for foods to be more shelf stable and affordable. Food additives are used in a variety of everyday foods and are used for numerous reasons including:  

  1. To Improve and Maintain Nutritional Quality – Did you know that the vitamins and minerals added into dairy, cereals, breads, and pasta are considered food additives? Folate, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, and iron are also used to fortify and enrich foods.   
  1. To Give Food a Smooth Consistency and Texture – Emulsifiers, stabilizers, and thickeners prevent food from separating (think peanut butter, mayonnaise, salad dressing, and baby formula) and provide a uniform texture. Additionally, these are what make plant-based milks and ice cream stay smooth and creamy when you eat it.   
  1. To Control the Acid-Base Balance of Foods and Provide Leavening – Yeast, baking powder, and baking soda in baked goods are considered food additives that help with leavening. Other ingredients are also used to control the acid-base balance of foods and produce a certain flavor or texture. 
  1. To Preserve the Safety of the Food – There are a number of food additives used to preserve the wholesomeness and quality of foods, allowing them to be transported safely from a factory to a store and to your table at home. These include antioxidants, which prevent browning of fresh produce, rancidity of fats, and reduce the deterioration of food; and antimicrobials, which prevent bad bacteria, yeasts, and molds from spoiling food. Often products use a combination of these food additives to ensure your food is of high-quality and safe to consume.  
  1. To Improve and Maintain the Sensory Characteristics of the Food – Food additives make sure the food you eat tastes and looks appealing. Food coloring, both natural and synthetic as well as flavoring ingredients and sweeteners, fall into this category. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is tasked with determining the safety of food additives in the United States, while the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) conducts safety reviews in Europe. There are similar agencies that regulate food safety in different countries around the world. After the safety of an ingredient is established, regulatory authorities establish requirements to ensure its continued safe use in food products.  

Decoding Food Labels

Want to know what’s in the food you’re buying? Reading food labels is the easiest way to know the content of the food you’re eating. The two most important parts of food labels are the nutrition facts label and the ingredient list. Both are intended to give you the knowledge to make the right food choices for you and your family. Here is what you need to know about each:

Nutrition Facts Label: This section tells you how many servings are in the container/package, what constitutes one serving, and the amount of calories and key nutrients there are per serving. The number of servings is important to know because if you eat more than one serving at a time you will be consuming more calories and nutrients than is listed on the label. There are several nutrients that are required by law to be disclosed based on potential health impacts; these are total fat (including saturated fat and trans-fat), cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates (including dietary fiber and total/added sugars), and protein. There are also several required vitamins and minerals including potassium, vitamin D, calcium, and iron.

The Nutrition Facts label also discloses Percent Daily Values (%DV) for each nutrient, which gives you the percent of the total recommended DV for that nutrient based on a 2,000-calorie diet. This can also give you a quick snapshot of whether a food is high or low in a specific nutrient. Generally, a 5% DV means the nutrient content is considered “low” while a 20% or higher DV means the level is considered “high” in a particular product.

Ingredient Label: The ingredient label contains the ingredients included in a food product and is ‎listed in descending order from highest to lowest amount based on weight. Thus, the higher an ‎ingredient appears on the list the more it is contained in the product. The ingredient list ‎consists of both the major components of the food as well as any food additives that were used ‎to impart a technical function. Food additives are substances that are added to food to maintain ‎or improve the safety, freshness, taste, texture, or appearance of the food. They include vitamin ‎and mineral-derived additives that are added to improve the nutritional content of bread, dairy, ‎and cereal products; stabilizers and emulsifiers that prevent separation and keep the product ‎uniform and of high quality; antioxidants and preservatives that support food safety and longer ‎shelf life; and finally, natural and artificial colors/flavors to improve taste and flavor. While some ‎food ingredients may be easy to spot like salt and sugar, others may be less familiar. But all ‎ingredients permitted for use in food have been rigorously tested and reviewed by regulatory ‎agencies and are just as safe and vital to our food supply. So don’t be concerned if you don’t ‎recognize a particular ingredient’s name. ‎

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Get the Fast Facts on Ultra-Processed Foods 

Recent attention around processed food, particularly “ultra-processed” foods, has made headlines across the country. You may find yourself asking “What exactly are ultra-processed foods, and are they unhealthy?”

Foods are processed for several reasons including to prevent spoilage, ensure food safety, maintain or enhance taste and flavor, improve nutritional value, and lengthen shelf life. The degree of processing varies depending on the type of food and can range from minimally processed to highly processed. Ultra-processed foods fall into the highly processed category. Although researchers, regulators and food experts are still debating the exact definition, ultra-processed foods generally are those made using industrial, scientific processing methods and typically have five or more ingredients. However, this in no way means foods considered “ultra processed” are inherently bad or unhealthy. In fact, a recent study led by scientists at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center showed that it’s possible to build a healthy diet with more than 90 percent of the calories coming from ultra-processed foods while still following the recommendations from the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Don’t let misleading headlines deceive you into thinking you need to cut out your favorite or even staple foods from your diet. You might find it surprising that these common food items could be considered ultra-processed by ranking systems like the NOVA scale.

  • Breakfast Cereals: Many breakfast cereals are fortified with important vitamins and minerals and are a good way to increase dairy intake.

  • Flavored Greek Yogurt: Yogurt is a good source of calcium and some brands even add probiotics, which help improve gut health.

  • Peanut Butter: Not only is peanut butter a favorite among children and adults but it contains a slew of health-promoting nutrients, including vitamin E, magnesium, iron, selenium, vitamin B6, and protein.

  • Plant-based Milks: Well-liked by consumers, plant-based milks like almond, oat, and soy are good choices for people who are lactose intolerant or have other dietary preferences.

  • Frozen Pizza: Not all pizza is created equally. Even more so, the increased consumer demand for low-carb, plant-based and gluten-free variations to their favorite foods has drove innovation like cauliflower crust pizzas that are higher in fiber and lower in calories than more traditional alternatives.

  • Canned Baked Beans: A favorite at family gatherings, baked beans are loaded with fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.

  • Protein Bars: Protein bars are often packed with vitamins and minerals. Read and compare Nutrition Facts Labels to find the best match for you. Don’t just focus on the protein; start by aiming for 3 – 10 grams of dietary fiber and added sugars to less than 8 grams per bar.  

Trust the Process-es: Understanding the Truth About Processed Foods

Processed foods, by definition, are those that have been changed from their natural state. There are many ways that foods are processed. Some of the ways we process foods in our ‎own home include chopping, grinding, cooking, drying, fermenting, salting, freezing and ‎mixing ingredients of a receipt together. Then there are food manufacturers who use modern ‎technologies like ultra-high temperature processing (used for shelf-stable milk) and modified ‎atmosphere packaging (used for many foods from meat to dips) that involve numerous ‎complex ‎steps and require scientific understanding to function successfully.

For thousands of years humans have been processing food – and for good reasons too. Why? First for food safety and secondary for preservation. Historically the use of salt helps preserve meat and prevent spoilage.

Fermentation is an example of a food safety and preservation technique. Food cultures are used to start a controlled fermentation in many types food including yogurt, cheese, sausages, beer and wine. Another recent example is the process of pasteurization (high heat for a short time), which ensures a beverage or food is safe and of good quality for longer, but also developments include the use of aseptic packaging to ensure the safety of beverages and the use of food additives to support product quality.” The process of pasteurization, which ensures a beverage or food is safe and of good quality. Another reason is preservation.

More recent developments include the use of aseptic packaging to ensure the safety of beverages and the use of food additives to support product quality. Citric acid and lecithin are used to prevent oxidation and rancidity in butter, cheese, bread, and almond milk, while emulsifiers, thickeners and stabilizers such as carrageenan, gellan gum, and xanthan gum help extend shelf life and improve product quality. Then there’s palatability and taste which is what makes food acceptable to consumers and includes everything from spices and seasonings to natural and artificial flavorings.

Nutritionally processed foods can deliver much needed vitamins and minerals like enriched bread, high-protein snack bars, or calcium-fortified orange juice. Finally, there is consumer convenience. Processed foods are noted for their convenience and require minimal preparation and cooking or could even be ready-to-eat. In today’s fast-paced society, convenience is key and a driving force behind many consumer’s food purchases – like microwave packaged rice, canned beans, and frozen pizza. Many of these foods are healthy and nutritious items that add variety as well as versatility to our diets and are oftentimes much less expensive than fresh food. Over the years consumers’ lifestyles have changed, including a reduction in the amount of time available to dedicate to meal preparation. In 2022, the labor force participation rate – the percent of the population working or looking for work – increased for mothers and fathers, regardless of marital status; ranging from 71.1% to 93.7%.[1] The availability, accessibility, affordability, and ease of processed foods are crucial to today’s way of living – it takes less than 10 seconds to open a can of beans compared to at least 4 hours or up to 12 hours to soak dried beans.

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Food Dates Guide: Know What to Keep or Toss

Let’s face it, no one likes to throw away food but we all do it. In fact, Americans waste about 40% of the ‎U.S. food supply which, according to the US Department of Agriculture, amounts to a loss of about ‎‎$1,500 of uneaten food per year for an average family of four. Unfortunately, not all of the food that’s ‎thrown out is bad, and in some cases product labels can give the wrong impression about the safety or ‎quality of a product. But aside from the inevitable moldy bread or wilted lettuce, how do you know ‎what to save and what to get rid of? Navigating the various dates terminology isn’t always simple. In ‎fact, Congress reintroduced a bill called the Food Date Labeling Act of 2023 in May. Legislators are ‎seeking a uniform solution to dating products with the hopes to reduce consumer confusion and ‎reduce food waste. Until that happens, here is quick guide to help you know what to keep and what to ‎toss: ‎

Use-By Date: The “use-by” date indicates the last day on which the product is expected to be at ‎its peak quality. This is typically used for perishable items like meats, and ready-‎to-eat meals and, depending on the product, there could be safety implications if the food is ‎consumed well past the use-by date. When it comes to perishable items, precaution should ‎always be taken. It is best to do a visual inspection and if there is any doubt throw them out. ‎

Sell-By Date: Aimed at retailers, this date indicates the date by which the store should sell the ‎product to ensure that the consumer has a reasonable amount of time to use it before its ‎quality begins to decline. However, this doesn’t mean a product should not be consumed after ‎its “sell-by” date and it has virtually no impact on the safety of the product. ‎

Best-By/Before Date: Probably the most common, this date is similar to the “use-by” date and ‎indicates the date by which the product is expected to be at its best quality. It is often found on ‎fermented items like dairy products. It is also found on packaged foods, canned goods, and snacks. Consuming products after the “best by” ‎date doesn’t necessarily pose health risks, but the flavor, texture, and nutritional content may ‎have started to decline. Many foods are still safe to eat well beyond the “best by” date if they’ve ‎been stored properly and show no signs of spoilage.‎

Freeze-By: This date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak ‎quality, similar to above. It is not a purchase or safety date.‎

In addition to learning these important food date guides, it is also essential to understand the role food additives play in reducing food waste. Food additives and ingredients such as antioxidants and stabilizers help prevent spoilage and increase the shelf-life of some of your favorite foods and snacks. Understanding what these dates mean is one of the easiest ways to know whether to throw out a food product or not.