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Healthy Eating Good for the Budget
Organic School Lunches?
Flavored Milk: A Great Alternative to Soft Drinks
The controversy continues over safe ways to get your omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fatty acid the body must obtain from foods and found in abundance in fish. The Food and Drug Administration warning last year alerted consumers that pregnant and nursing women, infants, and toddlers who eat certain fish may be at risk for exposure to mercury, which can affect brain development in fetuses and young children. Opinions differ on how broad to write the list of fishes to avoid. Meanwhile, an April 11, 2002, report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that men with high serum omega-3 fatty acid levels had an 81% lower chance of heart attack; omega-3s may also lower risk of cardiac arrhythmias and possible arrhythmia-related sudden deaths, according to Alice Lichtenstein, Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. So who should eat fish and which fish are safe? Philip Landrigan, Chairman of Community and Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, advises women of childbearing age and young children to "be selective about the species" of fish, choosing younger fish (such as canned tuna) and farm-raised fish, because larger and older fish have more time to absorb mercury from their environment. The American Heart Association does not recommend general use of fish oil capsules as a solution; and researchers say some are found to be contaminated. Vegetarians may get their omega-3s from foods containing alpha-linoleic acid, which the body can convert to an omega-3 fatty acid, says Christine Alberts, lead author of the New England Journal of Medicine article. Foods high in alpha-linoleic acids include certain oils, flaxseed, and walnuts.
The June 2002 issue of Consumer Reports (CR) reported that 83% of the most successful dieters reduced their weight entirely on their own. Nearly one quarter of the 32,213 dieters who responded to CR's questionnaire had lost at least 10% of their starting weight and kept it off for a year. Of the respondents, 80% cited exercise as their number one strategy, and 29% included weight lifting. Basic diet regimens cited as most successful included adequate protein intake, small amounts of healthy fat, generous intake of low energy-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, and high-fiber grains and legumes. Most "superlosers"-more than 4,000 respondents who maintained an average 37-lb weight loss 5 years or longer-said they shunned meal replacement products, dietary supplements, and nonprescription weight loss aids.
If you thought eating a well-balanced diet was hard on the wallet, think again. A recent study in the May Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2002;102:645-656) led by researchers at the University of Buffalo found that families whose obese children agreed to one year on the "Traffic Light Diet" and at least 3 hours a week of physical activity reported lower energy intake, lower fat intake, more nutrient-dense foods, and significantly lower food costs. "A well-balanced diet may help keep you in good nutritional and financial standing," says American Dietetic Association spokesperson, Wahida Karmally, RD, of Columbia University.
The National Agricultural Biotechnology Council held its annual conference on Foods for Health in Minneapolis on May 19-21, 2002, focusing on exploring a deeper relationship between medicine, agriculture, and health. As the old adage says, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," and the potential for medicines and foods that are tailor-made to "fit" each individual's unique genetic characteristic is still a long way off. Indeed, although the potential of food biotechnology in increasing yields, shelf life, and other benefits of food has been realized, examples of bioengineered foods with unique nutritional characteristics are few and far between. Conferees suggested a need for greater overlap between agriculture and health policy, specifically between agricultural policy formation and public health policy. Public health approaches must integrate agricultural considerations, and agricultural policy needs to embrace public health more fully, especially as the lines between foods, supplements, and medicines become blurred. Conferees also discussed regulatory problems and dilemmas in trying to assess the food safety of products that are not actually foods but are sold as foods and of supplements that are actually medications. The discussion continues about whether voluntary developer-driven oversight or more formal mandatory procedures are appropriate for safety assessment. Finally, the best ways to consider and anticipate consumer response and acceptance of new products was discussed. Dr Irwin Goldman concluded his presentation underscoring the importance of "preventive rather than reactive approaches to health concerns."
Whatever you think about the milk-moustache campaign and the best sources for calcium, flavored milk remains a much healthier option than soft drinks and "fruit drinks" for thirsty children (and teens and adults too!). A recent study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2002;102:853-856) reported that "flavored milk actually boosts their overall calcium intake, without increasing their total added sugar intake," according to Rachel Johnson, PhD, MPH, RD, Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont, the study's lead author (and also a Nutrition Today Editorial Advisory Board member). Tips for helping a child choose flavored milk over those high sugar beverages include:
* stock the fridge with single-serving containers, as convenient snacks and to grab on the go;
* make Popsicles with flavored milks poured into a cup along with a Popsicle stick, held in the middle of the cup with plastic wrap until frozen;
* have a (supervised) blender party, and let kids create their own flavors.
This fall the Palo Alto Unified School District in California will become one of just a few districts in the nation to offer organic lunches, one response to the national concern about childhood obesity. On a "test day" (for the kitchen) before beginning the pilot program, kids got to taste all the options and cast their votes by dropping a paper clip into a "Yum," "OK," or "Yuck" cup. The finicky kindergartners through fifth graders took voting seriously. They praised foods such as meatless chicken-style nuggets, faux Oreos, burritos, seasonal fruit, and penne pasta and voted "yuck" a pan of brown rice with black beans. Although not all school lunch gurus would go organic (it is more expensive and it is not low fat), pilot programs such as this one suggest some potential models for making school lunches healthy-and fun.
The Food Stamp Program provides an important safety net for many American families. This net was weakened in 1996, when the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) imposed time limits on recipients. Although this Act intended to encourage those who could work to do so, a recent evaluation of the Act suggests that many who came "off" food stamps were not able to work, due to issues such as substance abuse, medical or mental health problems, or homelessness, in a market of spiraling rents and more competition for jobs. As the Food Stamp Program comes up for reauthorization, nutritionists may want to learn more to help keep their clients within the safety net. For a printed copy of the report, Food Stamp Time Limits: A Burdensome Policy that Weakens the Safety Net, prepared for the US Department of Agriculture by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc, contact Mathematica at 609-275-2350 or communications@ mathematica-mpr.com. To view the report electronically, visit http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/PDFs/redirect.asp?strSite=foodtime.pdf.
Midwives still strongly support mothers with HIV infection in exclusively breast-feeding their babies where this is the woman's choice, according to the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM)'s Council meeting in Vienna in April 2002. Delegates of 60 national midwifery associations from 50 countries agreed on a position statement for infant feeding when the mother is HIV positive. Reasons for this support include the difficulty of finding safe artificial feeding methods in many countries, and research from Gambia suggesting no difference in HIV risk between breast- and bottle-fed infants up to 3 months of age. Research and discussion continue on this sensitive issue. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), together with UNICEF, will hold a technical meeting on HIV and infant feeding on September 20-21, 2002. For more information, contact WABA by e-mail at email@example.com or visit http://www.waba.org.br/wbw2002.htm.
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