USDA Proposes New Rules to Cut Sugar, Salt in School Meals

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Cara Murez wrote . . . . . . . . .

American schoolchildren could be getting school lunches that have less sugar and salt in the future, thanks to new nutrition standards announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday.

These are the first school lunch program updates since 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What’s different this time is a limit on added sugars, starting in the 2025-2026 school year. Limits would at first target high-sugar foods, including sweetened cereals, yogurts and flavored milks.

By fall 2027, added sugars must be less than 10% of total calories a week for school breakfasts and lunches. Sugary grain foods like muffins or doughnuts can’t be served more than twice a week at breakfast.

Another example is that an 8-ounce container of chocolate milk must contain no more than 10 grams of sugar under the revised rules. Some popular flavored milks contain twice that amount.

“Many children aren’t getting the nutrition they need, and diet-related diseases are on the rise. Research shows school meals are the healthiest meals in a day for most kids, proving that they are an important tool for giving kids access to the nutrition they need for a bright future,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an agency news release.

Vilsack said the agency’s goal is to get school guidelines to align with U.S. dietary guidelines for the nearly 30 million children who eat lunch at school and the 15 million who have breakfast there.

The American Heart Association applauded the move.

“By proposing to limit the amount of added sugars in school meals for the first time ever, the USDA is taking a major step toward helping children achieve a more nutritious diet and better health,” the AHA said in a statement. “Added sugars are a significant source of excess calories, provide no nutritional value and may cause weight gain and increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions.”

But sugar won’t be the only thing targeted in the updated rules.

Sodium would be capped to stay in alignment with recommendations that kids 14 and up have less than 2,300 milligrams per day. The recommended limits are less for younger children. Sodium content would be reduced in school meals by 30% by fall 2029.

High school student lunches now average about 1,280 milligrams of sodium, and that would drop to 935 milligrams.

“More than 90% of children consume too much sodium, and taste preferences — including those for salty food — begin early in life,” the AHA said. “The new sodium reductions would be phased in over time to help schools make the transition, and the proposed limits would be achievable for schools and effectively lower sodium consumption.”

A 60-day public comment period on the 280-page plan starts Feb. 7.

Not everyone thinks the changes are the answer.

“School meal programs are at a breaking point,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the trade group School Nutrition Association, told the Associated Press. “These programs are simply not equipped to meet additional rules.”

Courtney Gaine, president of the Sugar Association, expressed concern about the use of sugar substitutes and said the proposal ignores the “many functional roles” sugar plays in food.

But Katie Wilson, executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance, told the AP that the changes are “necessary to help America’s children lead healthier lives.”

Source: HealthDay






The B Vitamins: Put Them on Your A List

Steven Reinberg wrote . . . . . . . . .

B vitamins. These powerhouse nutrients help your cells function at their best, protect your brain and heart, support your immune system and can even improve your mood and energy levels.

This critical class of vitamins needs to be part of a healthy diet.

According to Harvard Health, B vitamins help enzymes do their jobs, including releasing energy from carbohydrates and fat to breaking down amino acids and carrying oxygen and nutrients around the body.

Two of the most essential ones are B6 and B12.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is found in many foods, but it is also added to foods and supplements. B6 is a coenzyme that helps more than 100 enzymes perform various functions, including the breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, according to Harvard Health.

Meanwhile, vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is found in meats and fish. It can also be added to foods or supplements. It’s needed to make red blood cells and DNA, and it also has a role in the function and development of brain and nerve cells.

What is vitamin B6 good for

B6 helps maintain normal levels of the amino acid homocysteine, high levels of which can cause heart problems. B6 also supports the immune system and keeps the brain healthy.

A recent study published in the journal Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental found that taking vitamin B6 supplements may even help relieve depression and anxiety.

“The functioning of the brain relies on a delicate balance between the excitatory neurons that carry information around and inhibitory ones, which prevent runaway activity,” study author David Field, an associate professor at the University of Reading’s School of Psychology and Clinical Sciences in the United Kingdom, said when the research was published. “Vitamin B6 helps the body produce a specific chemical messenger that inhibits impulses in the brain, and our study links this calming effect with reduced anxiety among the participants.”

The Recommended Dietary Allowance of B6 for men aged 14 to 50 is 1.3 milligrams (mg). For those 51 and older, it is 1.7 mg. For women aged 14 to 18, it’s 1.2 mg. For women aged 19 to 50 it’s 1.3 mg, and for women 51 and over, 1.5 mg. During pregnancy and lactation, the amount increases to 2 mg, Harvard Health says.

Sometimes higher amounts of B6, up to 100 mg, are prescribed. High doses of B6 should only be done under the supervision of a doctor because too much B6 can be toxic.

Too much B6 can cause numbness in the feet and hands, loss of control of body movements and nausea, according to Harvard Health.

Vitamin B6 foods

Vitamin B6 is found in a variety of animal and plant foods:

  • Beef liver
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Fortified cereals
  • Chickpeas
  • Poultry
  • Some vegetables and fruits, especially dark leafy greens, bananas, papayas, oranges and cantaloupe

What is vitamin B12 good for

Vitamin B12 helps break down a protein called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are linked with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke because it can contribute to the formation of blood clots and free radical cells, and it affects normal blood vessel function. Inadequate vitamin B12 can increase levels of homocysteine.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for men and women aged 14 and older is 2.4 micrograms (mcg) daily. For pregnancy and lactation, that increases to 2.8 mcg daily, according to Harvard Health.

No upper limit has been set for vitamin B12, as there is no toxic level. However, a recent study in the journal JAMA Network Open suggests that supplements of 25 mcg per day or higher may raise the risk of bone fractures.

On the other hand, vegetarian diets that exclude meat can result in a vitamin B12 deficiency with potentially serious health conditions.

One recent study in the BMJ found that although a vegetarian diet reduced the risk for heart disease, it increased the risk of stroke.

Commenting on the study, Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said, “Vegans and strict vegetarians need to be mindful of obtaining certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids from their diet and supplements.”

Heller advised: “You can’t go wrong cutting back on red and processed meats such as beef, pork and ham, and adding lentils, chickpeas, tofu, broccoli, spinach or cauliflower to your meals.”

Vitamin B12 foods

Foods rich in B12 include:

  • Fish, shellfish
  • Liver
  • Red meat
  • Eggs
  • Poultry
  • Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt
  • Fortified nutritional yeast
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Enriched soy or rice milk

Source: HealthDay





Best of CES 2023: Nutrition Tracking and a Very Smart Mixer

Cara Rubinsky wrote . . . . . . . . .

From an AI oven that promises to warn you when your food is about to burn to a mixing bowl designed to take the hassle out of tracking calories, food tech was a key theme at this year’s CES tech show in Las Vegas.

Brad Jashinsky, a director analyst at research firm Gartner, said big companies often use CES to make attention-seeking announcements about products that are currently out of reach for most consumers, but may become more widespread and affordable in the coming years.

Samsung’s bespoke AI oven comes with a camera inside that it says can warn you when your food is about to burn. It’s available in Europe but not yet North America, where a price has not been announced.

Also on display was tech aimed at the food industry. Yo-Kai Express, creator of an autonomous restaurant that can quickly make ramen 24-7, offered a scaled-down version for small retailers and co-working spaces. Several startups showed tech that could help restaurants and others reduce food waste and improve supply chains, which Jashinsky said could have a huge impact on their bottom lines.

For those who want to become better home cooks, there was plenty of tech aimed at mostly affluent consumers.

Here are some products that caught our eye:


VersaWare is designed for people frustrated by trying to track their nutrition in traditional apps.

It provides a cutting board and a mixing bowl, each attached to a phone-sized device that will display recipes and other information. As you cook, you note what ingredient you’re adding and it weighs it and calculates the nutritional information. At the end, you have the statistics for whatever you’re making without having to do the math yourself.

The appliances will sync to the company’s app, which will include recipes automatically tailored to your nutritional goals — you’ll need to decide how comfortable you are sharing that information. For example, if your nutrition plan means a recipe should have 25% less calories, VersaWare says its AI can figure out how to get it there.

“We’re trying to shoulder the burden of nutrition tracking,” said CEO Jacob Lindberg.

The company is still raising money and hopes to launch in the third quarter of 2023. They haven’t determined pricing. The cutting board and mixing bowl will be sold separately.


An exhibitor demonstrates the OneThird avocado ripeness checker during CES Unveiled before the start of the CES tech show,

Knowing exactly when an avocado is perfectly ripe may sound a bit niche, but Dutch startup OneThird thinks it’s a key to helping reduce food waste.

The company unveiled an avocado scanner designed for supermarkets that’s currently being tested in Canada and can tell you whether an avocado is still firm or ready to eat.

OneThird already works with growers, distributors and others along the supply chain to predict the shelf life of avocados, tomatoes, strawberries and blueberries and is working to add more produce.

According to the United Nations, nearly a third of food of all food globally is thrown away. Reducing that would mean less food waste being tossed into methane-producing landfills.

Another Dutch startup, Orbisk, helps restaurants reduce food waste by tracking where and when it’s happening.


Blok wants to be the Peloton of cooking classes.

It’s a large cutting board with a docking station and a digital display where subscribers will be able to watch live cooking classes taught by professional chefs and chat with other participants.

Creators Alissa and Tony Frick envision groups of family members and friends doing classes together virtually four or five times a month. The classes will all be 30 minutes or less.

The idea was born during the pandemic, when the Fricks couldn’t get together to cook meals with their family.

“We missed that so much,” Tony Frick said.

The Fricks have sold 100 units that will be delivered this summer and are hoping to scale up production after that. They anticipate selling the cutting board for $299 or $399, with an app subscription expected to cost $9.99 a month.


Some people love to experiment in the kitchen. If you’re not one of them, there’s the Tramontina Guru.

The Brazilian company’s smart induction cooktop promises to help you make perfect risotto, steak au poivre and caramel toffee, among 200 other recipes.

An app guides you through every step of the cooking process. You can even choose whether you’d like to your meat to be rare, medium or well-done.

You weigh your ingredients in the pot on the cooktop. When you’re ready, you press a button and the cooktop heats to the right temperature for the right amount of time.

“This takes out the guesswork,” said Tramontina, head chef Flavia Gois.

The basic set including an induction cooktop and pot will be available in the U.S. this spring for $299.


GE Profile unveiled a smart mixer that lets you weigh your ingredients in the bowl while you’re working.

The mixer also has an auto sensor that can monitor changes in texture and viscosity and adjust speed accordingly. It shuts itself off automatically to avoid overmixing.

And it has voice control so you don’t have to stop what you’re doing and wash your hands off to operate it.

All that precision doesn’t come cheap — the mixer costs $999.95 and is only available at Crate & Barrel.

Source: AP





Ginger Brings Zing to a Meal – But Does It Do More?

Michael Merschel wrote . . . . . . . . .

Ginger is not subtle. Whether sprinkled from the jar in your kitchen cabinet or sliced fresh from the produce section, its sweet, sharp warmth stands out.

But is it a healthy way to spice up your world?

Ginger is certainly an old spice, having been used in India and China perhaps 5,000 years ago. It was a valuable trade good in the Middle Ages, when a pound of ginger would have been equivalent to the cost of a sheep. Arguably, this makes it a posh spice as well.

At the grocery store, you can find ginger as a powder or as a fresh, lumpy root (technically, a rhizome, or underground stem). It’s a key part of Indian cuisine and enjoyed around the world in many forms.

But research on ginger as an ingredient has been sparse, said Kristina Petersen, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. “I think we just have a lack of studies looking at that sort of context,” she said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 teaspoon of raw ginger has 1.6 calories; a teaspoon of dried powder has 6 calories. Either form comes with traces of several vitamins and minerals, but neither would provide significant amounts at the levels most people would eat.

Much of the research on ginger has been done in its form as a supplement. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, ginger may be helpful for mild nausea or vomiting during pregnancy, but some studies have not shown it to be helpful for motion sickness.

Petersen, however, has researched ways ginger could help with risk factors that contribute to heart disease. She was senior author of a review of several spice studies, published in Nutrition Reviews in 2021, that noted possible ginger benefits.

“Some clinical trials have shown that very high doses of ginger in supplements form may improve blood cholesterol levels,” Petersen said. Other research has shown that ginger supplements could improve blood pressure and help maintain blood glucose levels. “Again, these are quite large doses,” she said.

Such dosages come with caveats. Few studies have looked at the potential for side effects, Petersen said. And although the Food and Drug Administration includes ginger on its list of foods generally recognized as safe, dietary supplements are not regulated in the same way that pharmaceuticals are.

Ginger also might interact with medications such as blood thinners. “I think caution is always warranted around supplements,” Petersen said. “And where possible, it’s better to get things in your diet.”

Petersen said little research has been done on the effects of ginger tea. And ginger ale often contains little or no actual ginger – but lots of sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

None of that means you need to exile ginger to an uncharted desert isle, however.

Petersen has led research showing that adding a mix of herbs and spices that included ginger to a typical American diet lowered blood pressure in adults who had a higher risk of heart disease. Ginger’s effect wasn’t singled out, she said, but such findings suggest that “incorporating ginger in your diet or adding it to foods to improve the flavor may have heart disease benefits.”

Herbs and spices don’t need to provide direct health benefits to improve your diet, Petersen said. “If you add ginger to healthful foods – for example, vegetables – and that makes you enjoy your vegetables, then you’re going to get the health benefit from eating more vegetables.”

Ginger, Petersen said, goes nicely with a whole range of different vegetables, especially carrots, and with chicken, a relatively healthy source of protein. In addition to its use in Indian-style recipes, ginger works well in stir-fries.

In other words, the professor says ginger doesn’t have to be the star of a healthy meal – it works great as a supporting cast member. “I think there’s lots of places where you can incorporate it,” Petersen said.

Source: American Heart Association





MyPlate? Few Americans Know or Heed US Nutrition Guide

Jonel Aleccia wrote . . . . . . . . .

Here’s a quick quiz: What replaced the food pyramid, the government guide to healthy eating that stood for nearly 20 years?

If you’re stumped, you’re not alone.

More than a decade after Agriculture Department officials ditched the pyramid, few Americans have heard of MyPlate, a dinner plate-shaped logo that emphasizes fruits and vegetables.

Only about 25% of adults were aware of MyPlate – and less than 10% had attempted to use the guidance, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Center for Health Statistics. Those figures for 2017-2020 showed only slight improvement from a similar survey done a few years earlier.

That means that the Obama administration program that costs about $3 million a year hasn’t reached most Americans, even as diet-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease have continued to rise.

“This is currently the primary education tool that communicates guidelines for Americans,” said the study’s lead author, Edwina Wambogo, a nutrition epidemiologist at the agency. “MyPlate should be doing a little bit better.”

The results are hardly surprising, said Marion Nestle, a food policy expert.

“Why would anyone expect otherwise?” she said in an email. “MyPlate never came with an education campaign, is old hat by now, only dealt with healthy foods, said nothing about unhealthy foods and is so far from what Americans actually eat as to seem unattainable.”

A top USDA official said the agency’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget seeks an increase from $3 million to $10 million a year to bolster the MyPlate campaign by extending its reach and making recipes and other materials more culturally relevant.

“We absolutely want to make sure that MyPlate and other critical tools are in the hands of more people,” said Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.

The new study found that people who rated their diet as excellent, very good or good were far more likely to have heard of MyPlate than those who said their diet was fair or poor. Of those who’d heard of the plan, about one-third tried to follow it, the study found.

MyPlate was introduced in 2011 with high-profile support from former first lady Michelle Obama, who made healthy eating and exercise her focus.

It uses a dinner plate with four colored sections for fruit, vegetables, grain and protein, with a smaller circle for dairy products, such as low-fat milk or yogurt. It encouraged Americans to make half of their meals fruits and vegetables in what was promoted as a fast, easily accessible format.

But the guide left out crucial details, said Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, a nutrition specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“It doesn’t differentiate between starchy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables,” she said. “There’s no fats on there.”

Nor does MyPlate acknowledge that vegetables, grains and dairy foods also contain protein, Nestle added.

MyPlate replaced the USDA’s food pyramid, which was in use from 1992 to 2011. Although it was recognized by generations of schoolkids, nutritionists were critical of the pyramid for promoting too many carbohydrates through grains and cutting back on fats.

“It wasn’t the best set of recommendations on so many levels,” Surampudi said. “Our rates of diabetes didn’t go down. Our rates of obesity didn’t go down. It went up.”

The new study called for research into why some groups are less likely to be aware of and follow government guidance – and how best to reach those with poor diets.

But it’s tricky, Surampudi said. In general, people know now that they should eat more fruits and vegetables. Beyond that, the message gets muddled.

“The minute it gets a little confusing, people shut down,” she said.

Source: AP