This Week's Nutrition News Feed

By: Sara Reistad-Long
french fries


In this week's news: Restaurant chains phase out salt on the sly; the buzz on edible insects keeps growing; and doctors confess to being clueless about nutrition.

Sodium Levels? Nothing to See Here. 

Until recently, a meal of chicken, stuffing, cornbread and mashed potatoes at Boston Market would have contained about 2,590 mg of salt -- or 290 mg more than U.S. guidelines recommend for an entire day. Today, that same dinner tallies up at 2,000. Facing increasing pressure to make products healthier, the restaurant chain has quietly cut down on salt content in many of its dishes. The food giant is far from the only one: Hamburger Helper, Oreo cookies and McDonald's french fries are just some of the items that have been "stealth health"-ified. You read right. Consumers may know that healthier food options are a good thing, but that doesn’t mean that they're always excited to partake. Case in point: When McDonald's started cooking without harmful trans fats, it was flooded with complaints of the fries tasting different -- and not in a good way. As a result of such episodes, many brands are trying to make changes on the sly. Nevertheless, even though General Mills went the quiet route, slowly reducing sodium in Hamburger Helper by 50 percent over a six-year period, the product's sales have been in steady decline since the salt reduction began.

Chefs: Time to Put Your Feelers Out

If population growth continues at current rates, we'll surpass the 9 billion mark by 2050. Tomes could be written about why a skyrocketing number of mouths to feed presents problems, but earlier this week at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo, the conversation got particularly creepy-crawly. Insects, it turns out, are an excellent source of protein, and they require less food, water, land and energy to raise than other creatures. Thus far, 85 insect species in the United States and 1,900 worldwide have been identified as viable protein sources. The issue, of course, is how likely most people are to get over the instinctive "ick" factor. But some experts are hopeful, and the road might be through our interest in health. Some insects are as much as 80 percent protein and have more Omega-3 fatty acids than salmon. They also don't carry foodborne illnesses such as salmonella, listeria, E. coli or staphylococcus. So what are you waiting for? There's no time like the present to pick up, oh, say, a Chapul Cricket Bar, a popular item at the conference.

The Doctor Is In (But Don't Ask About Nutrition)

Fewer than one in eight doctors' visits includes nutrition counseling, and fewer than 25 percent of doctors say they think they have enough training to talk to patients about diet or exercises. They might be on to something: The number of hours devoted to teaching doctors-to-be about nutrition has actually gone down -- from 22.3 in 2004 to 19.6 in 2009. (According to the National Academy of Sciences, 25 to 30 hours is optimal.) This week, the Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative of the Bipartisan Policy Center, the American College of Sports Medicine and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation released a report calling for major changes in medical education and other aspects of health care to counteract the chronic diseases that tend to be linked to poor diet and exercise habits. In it, they also issued nine recommendations for reform: among them, developing a standard nutrition and physical activity curriculum for the country's 170 accredited medical schools and other health professional schools.

Sara Reistad-Long writes about science, wellness and lifestyle. She is the co-author of The Big New York Sandwich Book and can be followed on Twitter: @sarareistadlong

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