More Junk Food!

Since junk food is so pervasive in our society, I think it’s really important to highlight stories about families or individuals who have decided to stop buying and eating it. Like this one I saw on yahoo.com about a family in NC:

NO MORE JUNK FOOD!

How great is that? And they did it on a budget! Affordable, healthy eating for a busy family of four. Just. Awesome.

I love how the Leake family is trying to expand their lifestyle change to their kids’ school to encourage a wider group of people to eat better food.

And honestly, my favorite line in the whole article is the last one by the Leake’s oldest daughter. When asked about how a Popsicle (probably made with high fructose corn syrup) tasted, she said that processed foods just “taste gross after eating fresh food.”

I couldn’t agree more 🙂

What do you guys think? Is this a model that other families could follow? Are there obstacles that would prevent this from becoming the norm in our country?

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Junk Food Mythbusting Part 2: Illustrated

As a follow up to my post yesterday, check out this graphic from Bittman’s New York Times op-ed that I found on grist.org:

This is cool because it not only has price, but also shows nutritional information for each meal and compares it to the McDonalds meal. As Bittman’s op-ed points out and as this graphic illustrates, homemade is cheaper AND healthier.

When you visit the website, be sure to read the small blurb at the bottom of the page. It’s short and does a great job summing everything up. Here’s the link to the article: Fast Food v. Homemade

Be sure to explore grist.org too. It’s a great website with tons of interesting information. GRIST.ORG

Junk food mythbusting

<– The picture Bittman used in his op-ed yesterday in the NYT.

I can’t tell you how many times I have either heard or read about people claiming that fast food is the cheapest way to feed a family. We all accept it somewhat blindly because we hear about the Dollar Menu and can do some quick math to see how much a meal would cost.

But how much does it cost to serve a “healthy” meal? Not as easy to come up with an exact number, is it? In an opinion piece in the New York Times yesterday (that by buddy Peter sent to me…thanks man!) Mark Bittman says that preparing a roasted chicken with veggies and a salad for a family of four costs about $14…total. Contrast that, Bittman writes, with a standard order at McDonalds for a family of four: two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas. Cost: $28. I was never good at math, but I’m pretty sure 28 is twice as much as 14 and is therefore not the most cost-effective meal solution.

Bittman includes a multitude of facts about fast food, processed foods, and a variety of other topics that are extremely salient. I saw the price comparison and just had to write about it because it has been on my mind for a while. Bittman describes the other factors that go in to the decision making process as well (time-effectiveness, convenience, fast food locations, etc.) which definitely makes it worth a read. Plus, he quotes Marion Nestle, which is always a good idea 🙂

I am in no way saying fast food is not responsible for the obesity epidemic. It definitely is a major contributor. That is undeniable. But the widespread claim that a meal for four from a fast food joint is cheaper than a nutritious, budget-conscious, homemade meal is simply untrue. Blame it on convenience, having no time to cook, not knowing the prices for healthy options, or simply not having access a supermarket (living in a food desert is a HUGE issue in this country – and will be the subject of a future runfreedc blog post), but we can’t continue to hear that it’s because healthy food is too pricey. That’s simply not true.

Check out Bittman’s op-ed here: http://nyti.ms/pfZmm2 and let me know what you think!

The Ins and Outs of MyPlate

Ok so I’m a bit late to the party, but I’m still going to comment on the USDA’s newest food guide tool, MyPlate.

For as long as I can remember, the food pyramid had always been the government’s guide for our diet. Remember learning about this in school?

The last update to the pyramid (MyPyramid in 2005) made it horribly confusing and was not user-friendly at all. Check it out:

Confusing, right? Like Marion Nestle said: “we don’t eat pyramids. We eat off plates.” When I started my internship at USDA in July, MyPlate had just launched and everyone was very excited about it. It was official: the pyramid was officially retired and replaced with this:

I think it’s a huge improvement over the pyramid. It’s easy to understand and it’s visual, which really helps people (especially kids) follow the guidelines. People can just look down at their plate and see if the proportions match up with MyPlate! What I like is the shift to promoting a more plant-based diet. Half your diet should be fruits and veggies with the other half being grains and protein.

MyPlate also has a website (www.choosemyplate.gov) that is very interactive and user-friendly. It has a “tip of the day,” tips on healthy cooking, how to shop for healthy food on a budget, and many other practical, real-world tips and some great basic nutrition information. Check it out!

So what’s wrong with MyPlate? It definitely has its flaws. One thing that jumps out at me is that it doesn’t address portion control. That’s a MAJOR factor in the increasing obesity rates in our country. Food has gotten bigger and there’s more of it. That needs to change and MyPlate doesn’t address it. Even if we’re eating grilled chicken, broccoli and brown rice, too much is still detrimental to our health. Just a thought: put tips about portion control in a more visible location on their website.

Also, MyPlate doesn’t specify what kind of grains or protein. By including the descriptive word “whole grains” the USDA would be discouraging the consumption of refined carbs, like white bread and white rice, which are stripped of beneficial vitamins and minerals and, as a result, are essentially empty calories and nutritionally void. So why not include “whole” when encouraging grains?

Interestingly, Harvard recently also put out its own version of MyPlate. Their version does specify whole grains and healthy protein and also includes corresponding descriptions about each group. Take a look:

Harvard’s version adds some valuable descriptors and may help people who are confused about what to eat from each group. I found this comparison of the two on Harvard’s site, so it’s very biased but still interesting to look at: Harvard v. MyPlate

What do you guys think about MyPlate or Harvard’s plate? Have you ever used a food guide – either the pyramid or MyPlate – when deciding what to make for dinner? Comment and let me know!

Clarendon Day is this weekend!

This weekend there is a full-on party in Arlington. There is a race but even if you’re not signed up you should still come to Clarendon and enjoy some of the festivities on Saturday. Check out the website to get some general info about the party here: http://clarendonday.org/

And then, of course, there’s the 10K/5K run. This is a blog about running, after all 🙂

Mal and I are signed up and are going to run the 10K before we head down south for our friends Megan and Victor’s wedding – so exciting!

Here’s the race’s website (there’s still time to sign up): http://pacersevents.com/clarendondayrun/index.html

Oh, and this is a Pacers Event, so you KNOW it’s going to be expertly organized and TONS of fun!

Hope to see you all there!

The HERO Forum in Phoenix

This past week I had the opportunity to be a volunteer at the annual Health Enhancement Research Organization’s (HERO) annual Forum in Phoenix with two of my buddies from American University, Kevin and David.

This year’s focus was “Keys to Engagement” in worksite wellness and it was absolutely fascinating. Companies came and shared their promising practices about wellness programs to encourage other companies to implement similar programs in their worksites.

I won’t go on and on and geek out about how cool it was to be at this conference, but I will say that I learned an incredible amount. I’ll just post my three main takeaways from the forum so as not to bore you too much 🙂

In order for a worksite wellness program to be effective, leadership HAS to be on board. Whether it’s the President, CEO, Board of Directors, Dean, whatever…the top people have to be passionate about the effort and behind it 100% or it won’t work.

I always thought incentives were the most important aspect of a wellness program. I was wrong. While there is a role for incentives in worksite wellness, real and sustainable changes only happen when the environment and culture at the worksite shift. Makes sense, right? How effective can a $25 gift card be in the long term if the wellness program lasts 3 months and there are still unhealthy food choices available once it’s over? Change the environment and culture of the workplace and healthy choices eventually become the norm.

Money talks, but employee health and wellness are part of that same conversation. Most companies are concerned about the return on investment (ROI) for their wellness program, which makes sense. The companies at the forum (both large – like Google or Comcast – and small) all believe that wellness programs are an asset to their bottom line. Studies suggest that wellness programs reduce the amount of days missed due to illness, make the employees more efficient when they are at work, and can – and do – cut down tremendously on health care costs. And by the way, the companies at the forum saw an ROI of at least $2.50 for every $1 spent on their wellness program, which is impressive.

The companies all had data to back up the claims about their wellness programs, but I definitely don’t want to bore you with that. All in all, I met some really interesting people and it was a great chance for me and my buddies to meet some leaders in the wellness industry. Check out HERO’s website here: http://www.the-hero.org/index.html

Do you have a worksite wellness program where you work? If so I would love to hear about it! Do you participate in it? Why or why not? Comment and let’s keep the conversation going!

Go Greek!

It happens to all of us: we want something sweet for dessert but we don’t necessarily want to grab that pint of Ben & Jerry’s. So what should we do?

Go Greek!

Greek yogurt is an outstanding alternative to ice cream. It gives you that delicious flavor and satisfaction that you get after chowing down on some chocolate chip cookie dough, but without any of the, shall we say, nutritional drawbacks 😉 In fact, it delivers quite a nutritious punch in the process: no fat, low(er) sugar, and tons of protein!

This particular Greek yogurt has twice the protein of a normal yogurt (a hunger-busting 14 grams – which will keep you full for much longer) and it has a respectable 18 grams of sugar. The picture above is the Yoplait’s honey-vanilla flavor, but I also like Chobani’s vanilla option (that has even less sugar).

Yogurt is always fairly high in sugar – unless you get the plain variety, which I can’t do because it’s TOO plain – but if your yogurt comes in at under 20 grams for a 6 ounce serving, you’re in good shape. Greek is the way to go.

There are also fruity flavors you can try. I’m not a big fan but I know lots of people who say they’re delicious.

     

But wait, there’s more! Since it’s such a healthy option, you can have more than one a day. I eat a Greek yogurt with some Kashi GoLean granola every morning for a very healthy and hearty snack that keeps me full until lunch, and then I have another one after dinner for dessert.

There are so many different brands you can try. My favorite is Oikos (made by Stonyfield) but it’s quite pricey so I don’t buy it often. My two favorite brands are Yoplait and Chobani. Dannon has a Greek Activia line, but it’s astonishingly high in sugar. Not all Greeks are created equal, so be sure to check the nutrition facts when weighing your options.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!