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Lean Cuisines Not So Lean? 

Click on this image to watch the Today show segment I have to say how continually impressed I am with the media, specifically how they can generate so much hype over nothing. The latest was a Today show investigative report exposing inaccurate nutrition labeling on "diet" frozen meals. The title grabbed me and I was mesmerized by the whole segment. "No WAY!!" I yelled at the TV as the reporter said that one particular frozen entree had 10% more calories and another had an unbelievable 350% more fat than listed. The segment even interviewed one of my former professors, a reputable nutrition scientist. She blamed food mislabeling such as this as a possible cause of why some people can't lose weight.

Alarmed, I did the math on the inflated calories and fat and became upset again: this time at the Today show. The particular entree they announced as the “biggest gut buster of all” was a Weight Watchers Smart Ones chicken dinner that had 11% more calories and 350% more fat than the label's 210 calories and 2 grams of fat; sounds horrific but the calculation comes out to a petty 23 extra calories and 5 extra fat grams (for a total of 7 fat grams)—still considered a low fat option for a dinner entree! The Today show probably realized how boring these numbers would look so they opted to display the more shocking "350% more!" value.

I agree that it's deceptive labeling, but because the original fat content listed was so low, the inaccuracy that it actually contained 7 fat grams is pretty trivial. Well, at least I don't believe it's a major cause of why people can't seem to lose weight. It's more likely that people are feeling so virtuous eating these low fat entrees that they end the meal with a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Of course I can see that if the total original calories and fat listed on an entree were higher, then the 10%-350% increase might be more troubling, but the examples the Today show used were not.

The report noted that some of the entrees tested actually had less fat and calories than listed. The problem seems to be variances in portion sizes during packaging, for which the Food and Drug Administration (who regulates food labeling) allows a 20% inaccuracy. I understand this might be disheartening for some who are very regimented and count every calorie, but there is a bigger picture with weight control and more meaningful tenets than calories in a frozen meal. Like eating more natural plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. Eating only until you feel comfortably "unhungry." Exercising regularly. This Today show segment was mildly interesting but didn't reveal anything earth-shattering or even helpful, especially because they stated the inaccuracies were due to differing portion sizes. Therefore it's possible that same Weight Watchers chicken entree but from a different box could have 100% less fat! Ahh, one up for those media writers who've created yet another sensationalized story I'll have to unravel for my outraged patients.


Kids Cook Monday...and Throughout the Year

A theme that has emerged in the past decade is a reconnection with food, in the kitchen and through family mealtimes, as seen in Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaigns. A big reason for this is our country’s ongoing obesity epidemic, now having successfully invaded the youngest of generations. The Healthy Monday campaign, started in 2005 through Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University, is an innovative concept that features Mondays as the perfect day to start healthy behaviors. Just as many of us initiate health-related New Year’s resolutions on January 1, Mondays carry the same “new beginnings” feel to motivate us toward making positive changes. Joanna Lee, a spokesperson for the campaign, says “We consider Monday to be the New Years of every week, but because there are 52 Mondays a year, our participants are likely to keep up their health resolutions week to week.”

The Kids Cook Monday is one program in the campaign that stemmed from increasing research showing the health benefits of families who eat dinner together regularly. Of course, we are a fast food nation and eating together doesn't necessarily guarantee healthful meals but according to the Bureau of Labor, meals eaten with families consist of about 50% more fruits and vegetables than meals eaten alone, and family meals are three times more likely to include low fat choices and less soda. Children in families who eat together tend to get better grades in school, talk to their parents when they have a problem, and experience a lower incidence of obesity. The Kids Cook Monday encourages families to continue this effort all year, using the first day of the week as a reminder to involve the family each week. If parents set aside time with their children not only to eat but cook together, the whole family A Kids Cook Monday healthy idea!learns about food and portion sizes (portion distortion is one of the top reasons why people gain weight, even when eating fat-free and reduced calorie foods). The Kids Cook Monday website offers yummy, nutritious kid-friendly recipes categorized by age with specific instructions on how children can assist with preparation.

Joanna notes that bloggers can play a special role in this campaign: “We’d love it if parent bloggers did weekly The Kids Cook Monday posts, detailing their family dinner through family cooking videos, sharing kid-friendly recipes, or describing their dinner experience with photos.” If you cook regularly with your kids and want to take part in this great campaign and potentially be featured on The Kids Cook Monday web page, please contact Joanna Lee at jlee@mondaycampaigns.org.


Taking Out the Tart

I'm more of a veggie than fruit person but come spring and summer, I get mad cravings for fruit! Nothing is better than juicy, naturally sweet fruits but what you get in the store can be a guessing game. To salvage those strawberries you picked up at 2 for the price of 1 that taste dreadfully sour, try a fruit dip and turn them into sweet dreams. Most packaged fruit dips are filled with sugar and fat, using sour cream, cream cheese, whipping cream or extra sugar. Make your own with yogurt as the base and you'll have an extra energizing and filling snack as the yogurt adds protein and other nutrients. Vanilla yogurt unadorned (I enjoy Yoplait's French Vanilla) makes a delicious simple dip. Or, if you're fancying chocolate try this easy recipe.

More recently I discovered this delightful recipe sprinkled with cinnamon (did you know that early research suggests this spice has antibacterial and antioxidant benefits and may help control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes?). It wonderfully complements those tart berries and too tangy Granny Smith apples.

Fruit Dip Whip

1 6 oz. container Chobani Greek yogurt, vanilla or peach flavored

1/3 cup fat free Cool Whip

1 tsp honey

1/2 t cinnamon

  • Stir together all ingredients until mixed well.
  • Serve with an array of sliced fruits for dipping, or make parfaits by alternating layers of dip with layers of sliced fruits.