Nutrition News: Healthier School Lunches, Coconut Oil, Juice Cleanse Details

Healthy school lunch changes pay off, clearing up the murkiness around coconut oil, and things to know before attempting a juice cleanse.
School lunch success

School lunches get a bad health rap, but they may be getting better. A new study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, indicates that the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, a 2012 federal law that aims to nutritionally boost school lunches by making whole grains, vegetables and fruits more available and requiring students to select one fruit or vegetable portion per meal, has prompted kids to consume more essential nutrients and fewer calories. The study’s lead author, Donna B. Johnson, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health, told The New York Times that the study proves the policy has “improved the quality of meals served to millions of children every day” and that “kids are healthier because of it.”

The truth about coconut oil

If the craze for coconut oil has left you confused as to whether it’s healthy or not, you have company. In response to a question from a reader hoping to gain clarity on the subject, The New York Times' Well blog asked nutrition experts, who said that, despite the hype, the data doesn’t support the idea that coconut oil consumption carries health benefits. Plus, the Times notes, “Coconut oil is high in saturated fatty acids, and saturated fat has been linked to high cholesterol levels and heart disease.” Having said that, if you are going to eat it anyway, at least eat it in moderation and get virgin coconut oil, rather than the highly processed stuff. Processing pretty much strips coconut oil of the “good essential fatty acids and antioxidants” that come with the cholesterol-raising bad ones, the Times warns.

Juice-cleanse detox details

Speaking of health crazes, let’s move on to the juicy subject of juice cleanses, in which dieters seek to “detox” their bodies by consuming only fruit and vegetable juices (no other foods) for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Science is not behind the diets, Time magazine warns, advising readers to consult their physicians before attempting a cleanse. The magazine also explains what a person can expect from a juice cleanse, and it’s not all so good: You may find your metabolism slowing down (which is the opposite of most dieters’ goals) to conserve energy in response to reduced calorie consumption — plus, you may feel colder, more tired and weaker, and get headaches. On the bright side, by eliminating foods and then gradually reintroducing them, you may gain insight into which ones don’t agree with you. Still …

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. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish .

Next Up

Healthy Swaps: School Lunches

Packing a healthy lunch that your kids will actually eat can be tricky. We took a look at some less-than-healthy school lunch staples and gave them an upgrade. Tuck these better (but still yummy) options into your little one’s lunchbox.

Robin's Healthy Take: School Lunches

Robin Miller's ideas for healthy back-to-school lunches for kids.

Nutrition News: Defining "Natural," Healthy Kids' Meals, Calorie Counts in Question, and a Coconut Oil Warning

Michael Pollan mulls the meaning of "natural," a menu switcheroo helps kids eat healthier, nut calorie counts are not all they’re cracked up to be, and coconut oil is not heart-healthy.

Foodie New Year “Cleanse"

Here’s a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners to jump start healthy habits in the new year.

Nutrition News: Pink Slime

What’s your take on the food issue everyone’s talking about: pink slime?

This Week's Nutrition News Feed

In this week's news: Nouveau fast-food franchises flaunt their healthy sides; coconut water claims get a reality check; rumors of kale's demise turn out to be greatly exaggerated -- and more.

This Week's Nutrition News Feed

This week's Nutrition News Feed has headlines about fast food, red wine, and teenagers who diet.

This Week's Nutrition News Feed

In this week's news: Gluten isn't the only culprit in town; carbs, however, aren't getting any slack; and a chef serves up a side of food politics.