Nutrition News: Planning Ahead for Health, Salt and Kids, and Reducing Ingredients

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Department of Advance Planning

Spontaneity has its charms, but if you want to make better food choices, you may want to plan ahead. When people experienced a delay between the time they ordered their food and the time they intended to eat it, they consistently made healthier, lower-calorie choices. And they generally weren’t even aware they were doing so, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found.

Eric M. VanEpps, who led the research, said it’s not just that people are less hungry when they order in advance and therefore order less; it’s also due to their “bias toward the present,” he said. “If a decision is going to be implemented immediately, we just care about the immediate consequences, and we discount the long-term costs and benefits,” he told The New York Times. “In the case of food, we care about what’s happening right now — like how tasty it is — but discount the long-term costs of an unhealthy meal.” However, when you order a meal ahead of time, he said, “you’re more evenly weighing the short-term and the long-term costs and benefits. You still care about the taste, but you’re more able to exert self control.”

Guilt-Free Shaking

Parents wondering whether or not to salt their kids’ food now have an answer, courtesy of the Times’ Well blog: “Yes, in moderation.” Kids in the U.S. usually get more of the recommended daily sodium limit of 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams (i.e., a teaspoon or less), but that’s mostly because of the processed and restaurant food they eat, not because of the salt a parent may use to season a home-cooked meal. Read labels to limit salt from packaged foods, but don’t worry too much about using a dash of salt to offset the bitterness of nutritious foods such as broccoli and cauliflower and make them more appealing. “You’re teaching the different flavors in which broccoli can be experienced,” biopsychologist Julie Mennella told the Times. “So if you’re adding a little salt and that’s how you prepare it because that’s how it tastes good to you, especially if you’re adding it with the salt shaker, the impact on the sodium content is negligible.”

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Labels: Short and Sweet

Simple is in. Major packaged-food companies, such as General Mills and ConAgra, are increasingly reducing the number of ingredients in their foods — including snacks, syrups, condiments and ice creams — and trumpeting the fact on their labels to appeal to health-minded consumers, The Wall Street Journal reported. The trend is to eliminate ingredients consumers wouldn’t recognize from their own kitchen pantries and to winnow down the total number of elements to no more then 10, experts said. “We are seeing the largest shift in American food habits since World War II,” Alex Placzek, marketing director for Haagen-Dazs, told the Journal. “Consumers are interested in the quality, origin and simplicity of ingredients.”

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer.