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