Sunday, June 17, 2018

Here’s Why I Don’t Buy Unsalted Nuts

Today I bought a container of mixed nuts – salted. Why wouldn’t I choose unsalted? First of all: the taste. Unsalted nuts don’t taste nearly as good as their salted brethren. Secondly, I don’t have high blood pressure so I don’t need to worry too much about sodium. But even if I did need to cut the sodium in my diet, salted nuts would not be the place I’d do it. Why? Because they’re just not that high in sodium.

People assume that if something tastes salty that it’s high in sodium. But if you take a look at the label on the mixed nuts I bought today, you’ll notice that they only have 90 milligrams of sodium. That’s a scant 4% of the daily limitation. Why sacrifice taste for such a small cut in sodium?

If you need to cut sodium, read labels and go for the big offenders. Canned soups, frozen dinners, and fast foods can all easily top out at over 700 to 800 mg or more. Some fast food meals have well over half of your day’s limitations. When you’re reading labels, always make sure you look at the serving size first. Let’s say you eat the whole can of soup and there are two servings in the can. If the label says 700 mg of sodium per serving, you’re actually getting 1400 mg! While some foods will shock you at their high sodium content, you may also be pleasantly surprised that some of your salted favorites really aren’t that bad!

Beth Kitchin PhD RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

They're Here. . . Finally!

They’re finally here. Calorie counts on menus were part of the Affordable Care Act back in 2010. They were supposed to take effect in December of 2016. But six years just wasn’t enough time for the food industry – according to the food industry. In 2016 they lobbied for an extension until May of 2018. So here we are. Finally.

Here are some fast facts:

  • The rule applies to restaurants chains and convenience stores that have at least 20 locations. So, small business people will not be affected by this rule. 
  • Limited time menu items offered for 90 days or fewer are exempt.
  •  Several restaurant chains (Starbucks, McDonald's, and Chick-fil-A) have already complied with the guidelines. 
  • The restaurants have to post calories on the menu items where customers can easily see them. For most, that means on the menu board or menu.
  • Other information, such as fat, saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates, and sodium must be available upon request. 
Why were restaurants so resistant to putting calorie counts on their menus? After all, the food companies have had to do it on food labels for decades and several restaurants did it with no apparent harm to their bottom line. Some in the food industry likely fear that people will not eat their food if it is particularly high in calories. Others say that it is expensive and time consuming to get the calorie and nutrient analysis done. Some have stated that sending their foods to a lab for analysis is expensive and burdensome. But the FDA states that they don’t have to do that. It is perfectly legal to analyze menu items using a food database. Registered dietitians do this all the time. All the company has to do is provide a recipe and a dietitian can run the analysis using a reliable database. It’s not all that expensive or time consuming. 

Some people claim that the research shows that customers don’t really change their behaviors and choose lower calorie foods when the calorie information is right there. But not all of the research results agree with that. Also, some research shows that restaurants change their behavior when they have to post calories and make changes to their menu items to lower the calories or offer other lower calorie choices.

So, while everyone’s got their own opinions on this, here’s mine:
  •       As consumers and customers, we have the right to know basic nutrition information on the foods we buy in stores or restaurants. Whether or not we act on that information is our own choice.
  •      As a registered dietitian, when I work with people on achieving their health and medical goals, this information is useful to me. I can use it to advise my clients and also teach them how to use that information.

So, I recommend you start paying attention to the menus and menu boards. If you’re trying to lose weight, compare items and choose lower calorie options or share or take home half of the higher calorie options. Use this new information to your advantage!

Beth Kitchin PhD RDN
Assistant Professor Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham  

Monday, March 19, 2018

Severe Weather Food Safety

      Alabamians are no strangers to severe weather and the power outages that often come with it. Hurricanes, tropical storms, straight line winds and tornadoes often leave you without electricity. With Tropical Storm /Hurricane Isaac heading our way later this week, let’s review a few key food safety tips to prepare for the storm. We’ll also talk about what to throw out and keep after a long power outage. Here are some tips from the folks at FoodSafety.Gov! 

Before the Power Outage:
·         Appliance Thermometers. You should have one in your freezer and your fridge. Not only will it help you keep the temps at the right level during fair weather, you can tell after a power outage to tell if the food is still safe.
·         Fill Your Freezer. A full freezer will keep food safe longer. Group your foods close together and fill plastic container with water and freeze them if your freezer is not full.
·         Keep a Supply of Bottled Water Stored in a Safe, Dry Place.

During and After the Power Outage:
·         Keep Fridge/Freezer Doors Shut: Food in the fridge will be safe for 4 hours if you keep the door shut.  A closed, full freezer will keep food safe for 48 hours if you don’t open it. That time span drops to 24 for a half-full freezer.

·         Check the Temps: If the freezer temp is 40 degrees or lower, it is safe to refreeze the foods; if the fridge temps are above 40 here are the rules:

Throw Out:        
·         Raw or cooked eggs, meat, poultry, fish
·         Casseroles, soups, stews
·         Soft cheeses like cream cheese, cottage cheese, brie, mozzarella
·         Shredded cheeses
·         Pizza
·         Milk
·         Cut fresh fruit
·         Cream Pies
·         Cooked Pasta, Rice or Potatoes
·         Creamy Salad Dressing and Mayonnaise  

·         Jelly, mustard, ketchup, pickles, olives
·         Hard cheeses (cheddar, Swiss, parmesan - whole or grated)
·         Fresh whole and opened canned fruits
·         Raw vegetables
·         Fruit Juices
·         Fruit Pies
·         Vinegar Based Sauces and Salad Dressings

For more information in much greater detail go to

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RD
Assistant Professor Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Do You Know How Much Protein You Need (and where to get it)?

There’s a lot of focus on protein these days but is it necessary to work so hard to meet your protein needs? Proteins do many, varied jobs in our bodies. Fat and protein can’t do these jobs. Proteins provide structure to our bones, teeth, and connective tissues. They are the enzymes that our intestines make to break down our nutrients so they can pass into the bloodstream. They are the antibodies that fight infections. They make and repair muscles.
With all that work to do, we need to get the right amount of protein each day. How much do you need? 

The average person needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. To run this calculation on yourself, take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2. This will give you your weight in kilograms (kg). Then multiply by 0.8 to get the grams of protein you need. Here’s an example:

150 pounds/2.2 = 68 kg
68 kg x 0.8 = 54 grams of protein a day.  

Let’s take a look at what that translate into for the average person:

Your Weight:                                   Your Protein Needs Per Day:
125#                                                               45 grams
150#                                                               54 grams
175#                                                               63 grams
200#                                                               72 grams
225#                                                               81 grams
250#                                                               90 grams
275#                                                               100 grams

But, athletes and older people may have higher protein needs. Elder adults should aim for 1.0 to 1.2 grams for each kilogram of body weight. Athletes should aim for 1.2 – 1.8 grams for each kilogram of body weight.

Athletes and Elder Adult Protein Needs:

Your Weight:                                   Your Protein Needs Per Day:
125#                                                               68 grams
150#                                                               81 grams
175#                                                               95 grams
200#                                                               109 grams
225#                                                               122 grams
250#                                                               136 grams
275#                                                               150 grams

Here are some high protein foods that make it easy to get your protein!

Foods High in Protein
·         3 ounces cooked poultry or beef          27 grams
·         3 ounces tuna, salmon, other fish        21 grams
·         ½ cup Greek yogurt                               12 - 14 grams
·         ½ cup cottage cheese                            14 grams
·         ½ cup tofu                                               10 grams
·         ½ cup cooked beans                               9 grams
·         1 cup of milk or soy milk                        8 grams
·         1 ounce of cheese                                    8 grams
·         ¼ cup or 1 ounce of nuts                         7 grams
·         1 egg                                                          6 grams
·         1 cup cooked pasta                                  6 grams

Timing and protein quality count too! Dairy, eggs, lean meats, and soy foods are generally the protein sources best used by the body. Spreading that protein out throughout the day at each meal and snack can help you hang on to your muscle strength if you’re older. For athletes, getting 25 – 30 grams within 2 hours after a training session may help maintain and build muscle.

What about high protein drinks and protein bars? I like people to focus on foods first. But if you have a poor appetite or just can’t eat enough of these foods, high protein drinks may do the trick. But it doesn’t have to be Ensure or a protein drink – something like good old Carnation Instant Breakfast can work just as well. The bottom line is to read food labels to find high protein foods you like!

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences

Follow me on Twitter: @DrBethK 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

True or False: Hot Foods Cool You Down in the Summer

Can hot foods actually cool you down in the heat of the summer? Warm tea is a staple in India. Spicy foods abound in Mexico. So it makes sense to ask this question even though it sound counter intuitive.

It turns out folks may be on to something. If the conditions are right, hot foods may actually make you feel cooler.

Here’s how:

  •        Our bodies are really good at regulating our internal temperature. One of the main ways it does this is through sweat.
  •       In the case of hot beverages, it’s through the temperature receptors in the stomach. The hot beverage hits the stomach and your internal temperature increases about .5 degree Celsius (about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit). The body says “I’m heating up – I need to cool down”. To cool down, you start to sweat.
  •      With spicy foods, the end result is the same – increased sweating. But this time, it’s the receptors in the mouth that send the signal to the body that the temperature is rising. This is “gustatory sweating”.

·    But here’s the kicker: in order for sweating to cool us down, you’ve got to have air flow for the sweat to evaporate and cool you down. Humid air and too much clothing keeps the sweat from evaporating.

So, is there research that supports all this? There’s actually some from a researcher at the University of Sidney in Australia. Dr. Ollie Jay’s research shows that the cooling effect of the sweat outweighs the added heat of the hot beverage – as long as the sweat can evaporate.

So, go ahead and indulge in that hot coffee or spicy salsa this summer. Just make sure you’re catching a breeze at the same time! 

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

How and What to Feed Your Kids

My nephew Hal (now an adult) eats his vegetables!
We've been doing Facebook Live sessions on Tuesday's on the Good Day Alabama show right before or after my nutrition segment. I always get a lot of really good questions from viewers. Today, a lot of people asked questions about getting kids to eat healthy and what to feed kids. When I was an undergrad in clinical nutrition, our textbook for pediatric nutrition was by Ellyn Satter. She's a registered dietitian and a social worker. She's pretty much the queen of child nutrition and her advice is practical, healthy, and based on science. One of my favorite things shes says is that parents are responsible for what foods are offered to the child while the child is responsible for how much they eat. She recommends offering children choices and then letting them decide among those choices.

 You can visit her wonderful website here: Ellyn Satter Institute

While child nutrition is not my expertise, I have learned a few things over the years - particularly the years I worked at Head Start: 

  • Children do like healthful foods - but you as the parent or other responsible adult need to offer the children healthy foods and have them available. I will never forget hearing a child say "Who doesn't love a grape? I just wish my mom would buy them!". 
  • Adults need to model healthful eating. You can't expect kids to eat healthy if you don't - so be a good role model.
  • Kids like to be involved in grocery shopping and food prep. Getting kids involved in the food prep process and trying a variety of foods at family meals can help kids learn to like healthful eating!
  • Don't make foods off limits. When you tell a child that a food is bad and they shouldn't eat it, it only makes them want it more. We adults are the same way! So let your kids have candy and chips - but as part of an overall healthy eating pattern. Read Ellyn Satter's advice on how to handle "forbidden foods" with kids so that they don't feel deprived but also learn to eat healthy foods too!  

 We'll be talking about this topic more on Good Day Alabama so keep watching!  

Beth Kitchin PhD RDN
Assistant Professor Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Kids Can Drink Juice Without Weight Gain

There’s been a backlash against juice over the last couple of years. Why? Well, juice has as many calories per ounce as soda. And those calories come from fructose – the natural sugar that gives fruit all of its calories. Juice became a victim of the unfounded hysteria over sugar and fructose. I’ve heard people say “juice is bad for you”. Many people have told me they’ve given up juice and just eat whole fruit. That’s not a bad idea – because whole fruit does have way more fiber in it than juice. But do you have to completely eliminate juice from your diet? Especially if you like it? I’ve always told people that drinking juice is fine – and now I have some research to back it up!

Some health experts have been telling parents not to give their kids juice because it can lead to obesity. Now of course, making a blanket statement like that without any attention to how much juice is pretty ridiculous. This week, an analysis of juice studies published in the journal Pediatrics shows that juice in moderation is not associated with weight gain in children. The researchers analyzed data from eight studies for a total of 34,470 boys and girls under 18. They found only a slight associated increase in BMI (body mass index) in children age 1 to 6 who drank 6 to 8 ounces of 100% fruit juice a day. This slight increase did not put children at risk for obesity. In children and adolescents age 7 to 18, there was no link at all between fruit juice and weight gain. 

So, here are some guidelines for drinking juice:

  • Look for 100% fruit juice

  • Don’t drink juice to quench thirst

  • Limit juice to 8 ounces a day for children particularly

  • Eat whole fruit for most of your daily fruit servings

  • Mix juice with mineral water

100% fruit juice is high in vitamins like vitamin C and folate and also high in potassium – a mineral that helps keep blood pressure low. Some people with diabetes notice that some fruit juices raise their blood sugar, so they may need to limit juices. That makes sense. Otherwise, some juice every day can be good for you! For people who like juice, I recommend drinking a cup a day to count as one of your daily fruits and then eating whole fruit for the rest of your servings! 

Beth Kitchin, PhD, RDN
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Auerbach BJ, Wolf FM, Hikida A, et al. Fruit Juice and Change in BMI: A Meta-analysis Pediatrics. 2017;139(4):e20162454