How We Can Reduce Food Waste and Promote Healthy Eating

Marianne Stein wrote . . . . . . . . .

Food waste and obesity are major problems in developed countries. They are both caused by an overabundance of food, but strategies to reduce one can inadvertently increase the other. A broader perspective can help identify ways to limit food waste while also promoting healthy nutrition, two University of Illinois researchers suggest.

“You can reduce food waste by obtaining less or eating more. Our concern was that if people are reducing waste by eating more, what does that mean for nutrition? And how do we think about these tradeoffs in a way that promotes both good nutrition outcomes and good food waste outcomes? Public policies have generally focused on either obesity or food waste, but rarely considered them together, says Brenna Ellison, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics (ACE) at U of I.

Ellison and Melissa Pflugh Prescott, assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN) at U of I, discuss a systems approach to addressing food waste and nutrition in a new paper, published in Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Food waste refers to the loss of edible food that is not consumed for various reasons. It occurs at all levels of the supply chain, from farm to transportation, processing, retail, food service, and consumer levels.

Food waste is often calculated by weight or by calories, Ellison explains. If you calculate by weight, dairy products, vegetables, grain products, and fruit account for the majority of food loss. But when converted to calories, added fats and oils, grain products, and added sugars and sweeteners are the top categories for food waste. Encouraging increased consumption of those foods could have negative health consequences, she notes.

In their paper, Ellison and Prescott provide strategies for reducing food waste in a variety of settings, including food service, retail, schools, and homes.

Some restaurants and university dining halls that offer buffet-style dining have tried to limit food waste by imposing fines or offering incentives to ensure people finish the food they select. While such strategies may limit waste, they encourage overeating, the researchers say. They suggest instead using behavioral cues such as smaller plates and scoops that nudge people to select less food.

School meals are important means to improve public health and introduce children to new, healthy foods. However, plate waste is a persistent problem in school lunch settings. Schools can use salad bars to encourage students to try new items, but that causes pre-plate waste because some items are not selected. COVID-19 modifications pose additional challenges to safe strategies for food recovery, but there are still viable options, Prescott states.

“For example, schools can take items like whole apples or unopened cartons of milk and recycle them. They can reuse them in future meals, making sure they are following food safety protocols. Or they can donate them to food pantries and other nonprofit organizations, or create backpack programs where they can send some of those items home with students who may be struggling with food insecurity. There are certainly ways to do this safely,” she says.

The researchers note that households are responsible for some of the costliest food waste, because they are at the end of the supply chain. Consumers throw away food for various reasons, such as food safety concerns, desire to eat fresh food, and poor food management.

Choosing more processed food could reduce waste but is not desirable from a health perspective. Learning strategies for better meal planning and using a list for grocery shopping are better ways to accomplish both waste reduction and improved nutrition goals, Ellison says.

“We know that even if you try to plan meals, it can be hard to follow through. It’s important to be realistic about planning. For example, if you know that you’re likely to order take out one or two nights a week, then plan for that. Don’t buy food you won’t need,” she notes.

The researchers also suggest ways to encourage good nutrition through small changes. “If you have young kids, you can try frozen vegetables. You can take a little bit out at a time and do some testing with your children; you won’t have a whole package that might go to waste,” Ellison says.

Better cooking skills are also important, Prescott states.

“Cooking is a win-win in terms of promoting health and reducing food waste. There is evidence that links cooking and improved diet quality. And people who cook might over time become more skilled at repurposing leftovers, and being more creative with foods that are about to go to waste,” she says. “Freezing leftovers for future meals is also a helpful strategy, if you have freezer space.”

Prescott notes that some of these strategies may be difficult for families that lack adequate equipment for cooking, storing, and freezing. She and Ellison are working to develop a cooking education curriculum primarily addressing the challenges facing low-income households who may have limited resources available.

The two researchers are also planning a study on school nutrition aiming to identify behavioral nudges to increase fruit and vegetable consumption while reducing waste, and a project focusing on safety issues of food recovery in schools.

Source: University of Illinoise Urbana-Champaign

Healthy Eating Could Delay Onset of Parkinson’s Disease

While researchers continue to try to find the key that unlocks the cause of Parkinson’s disease, new research suggests that what a person eats could make a difference.

Researchers in Canada found a strong correlation between eating either a Mediterranean diet or the MIND diet (which combines elements of the Mediterranean diet and a diet known as Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), and a delay in onset of Parkinson’s disease.

“Sticking really closely to these diets, both the MIND and the Mediterranean diet, coincided with a later onset of Parkinson’s disease,” said Avril Metcalfe-Roach, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. “For women, that was actually up to 17.4 years when they adhered really closely to the MIND diet and for men it was about eight years.”

The study, published online recently in the journal Movement Disorders, offers a glimmer of hope because there’s a lack of medications to prevent or delay Parkinson’s disease, the researchers noted.

Metcalfe-Roach acknowledged that the study has limitations. It asked the 167 study participants what they ate after they were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and presumed those were eating habits they had maintained for some time.

“That is a limitation of our study. We don’t really know how long they have been on those diets, but ideally for neurodegenerative diseases and your health in general, it is best to just start as early as possible,” Metcalfe-Roach said.

The study highlights the connection between the microbiome and the brain, according to the research team, which plans to further study this potential connection.

The gut microbiome is like a giant factory that produces beneficial chemicals, Metcalfe-Roach explained. Your input affects how the microbiome works.

Diets like the Mediterranean and MIND diets are thought to use the microbiome to reduce inflammation, he said.

Understanding how these diets affect the microbiome and how the products of the microbiome affect Parkinson’s disease could open the door to new therapeutics, Metcalfe-Roach suggested.

Both diets encourage eating whole grains, vegetables, fish and reduced amounts of meat and dairy.

That there were differences among genders and differences among people who adhered to the two diets may offer more leads for researchers to pursue, Metcalfe-Roach added.

Parkinson’s disease affects about 1% of the population over age 60, making it the most common neurodegenerative disease behind Alzheimer’s. It affects “predominately dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain,” according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. Symptoms develop slowly over time.

There are certain genetic factors that account for about 10% of Parkinson’s cases, Metcalfe-Roach said. Environmental factors are also attributed as causes in some people.

James Beck, chief scientific officer at the Parkinson’s Foundation, said epidemiology studies are really important because they can help point the direction of where research can potentially go for Parkinson’s disease.

However, he said he had concerns about the use of a survey asking about eating habits after a person is diagnosed and assuming those habits hadn’t changed over the years.

“I don’t find that plausible because too often we are presented with new information about the importance of eating different things, and I feel that people’s diets change as a result of this information and that especially a person with Parkinson’s disease, their diet might have changed once they’ve been diagnosed,” Beck said. “They might endeavor to eat healthy.”

It’s important to recognize that scientists don’t know exactly what triggers Parkinson’s disease, or how long the interval is between when it begins and when it can be diagnosed, Beck said.

Yet, healthy eating and being at a healthy weight can be beneficial for many reasons, Beck said. The Parkinson’s Foundation offers suggestions for a healthy diet for those who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

“It’s likely to not only prevent negative effects from Parkinson’s disease, but it could also prevent negative effects from other diseases as well, and maybe even ameliorate them,” Beck said.

“People who are older with Parkinson’s [PD] can have other health problems besides PD. They can have diabetes. They can have cardiovascular disease, and this is where healthy eating can really improve health overall,” he said. “That makes dealing with any disease that much easier.”

Source: HealthDay

Veggies’ Popularity Is All in the Name

How do you make healthy food more popular? Start by giving it a yummy-sounding name, researchers say.

People are much more likely to choose good-for-you foods like broccoli or carrots if labeled with names that emphasize taste over nutritional value, according to Alia Crum, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University, and her colleagues.

In previous research, Crum’s team found that Stanford students were far more likely to go for decadent-sounding veggies like “twisted citrus glazed carrots” over an equivalent option that might be labeled “dietetic carrots.” The key, however, is the food must actually be tasty, the new study confirms.

“This is radically different from our current cultural approach to healthy eating which, by focusing on health to the neglect of taste, inadvertently instills the mindset that healthy eating is tasteless and depriving,” Crum, senior author of the new report, said in a university news release.

“And yet in retrospect, it’s like, of course, why haven’t we been focusing on making healthy foods more delicious and indulgent all along?” she added.

In the new study, the researchers tracked food choices made by students enrolled across a network of 57 U.S. colleges and universities. The investigators looked at 71 vegetable dishes labeled with either taste-focused, health-focused or neutral names.

Students were 29% more likely to select veggies when taste was emphasized rather than health. And they were 14% more likely to consume vegetables that had a tasty-sounding name instead of a nondescript name, such as “orange vegetable.”

Diners also ended up eating nearly 40% more vegetables (by weight) when appetizing marketing was deployed, the findings showed.

Mouth-watering names increase a diner’s expectation of a yummy meal, Crum said. Certain key words — such as “garlic,” “ginger,” “roasted,” “sizzling,” and “tavern-style” — seem to do the trick, she noted.

Knowing this could make a difference in the effort to get people, particularly young people, to eat more healthfully, the study authors said.

According to study co-author Bradley Turnwald, “College students have among the lowest vegetable intake rates of all age groups. Students are learning to make food decisions for the first time in the midst of new stresses, environments and food options. It’s a critical window for establishing positive relationships with healthy eating.”

The report was published online in Psychological Science.

Source: HealthDay

Study: What Influences Healthy, Sustainable Food Choices

“We eat first with our eyes.”

This comment has been attributed to Marcus Gavius Apicius, a 1st Century Roman gourmand. Two thousand years later, academic research backs up Apicius’ statement, as a team of marketing professors at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University (SDSU) have studied the sensory impact of food and the evolution of healthy eating.

SDSU associate professor, Dr. Morgan Poor, who has studied the impact of food on the senses knows firsthand how just an image of food can have a sensory and emotional effect on individuals. “Seeing a photo of a hamburger, for example, can stimulate other sensory images, causing individuals to imagine the taste or smell of that hamburger,” she noted.

World Wide Health Crisis

Unfortunately, the pleasing aesthetics and easy access to unhealthy foods (such as hamburgers), along with limited access to healthy foods, may be leading to a worldwide health crisis. In fact, statistics released by the World Health Organization (WHO) show that 39 percent of all adults in the world are overweight and 13 percent are obese meaning they have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. The organization also noted that global obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1975.

Making Healthy Food Attractive is Key

One solution to obesity may involve focusing on the pleasure of eating which could be used a tool to promote healthy food choices. Research conducted by SDSU marketing professors Dr. Paula Peter, Dr. Iana Castro, and Dr. Sunaina Chugani, and recently published in the Journal of Business Research, determined that associating healthy food with pleasurable experiences and emotions led to greater interest in purchasing or eating it.

The researchers cited a successful marketing campaign by Bolthouse Farms to reverse the sales decline of their brand of baby carrots. The campaign did not emphasize the carrots’ healthy qualities, but embraced the sensory pleasure derived from eating them. For example, the neon orange color, crispy texture and crinkly sound of the packaging mimicked some of the characteristics of certain “junk foods” and led to an increase in product sales of 10 to 12 percent.

Breaking down Barriers to Healthy Foods

In the same research, the professors also noted that the two primary barriers to building pleasurable experiences around healthy foods are time and money. Time is needed to seek out the necessary ingredients to assemble a healthy meal or find a restaurant that serves good tasting, healthy food, where money is needed to purchase the restaurant meals or the ingredients (as well as the knives, pans and other tools) to create the end product. Based on numerous studies, the professors concluded that money, more so than distance to the food or lack of time, is the primary barrier to healthy food access.

Castro has done extensive research on access to healthy foods (including fresh produce) for people living in lower income and ethnically-diverse neighborhoods. Residents of underserved communities do not always have access to supermarkets and may rely on smaller food stores, liquor stores or corner stores to meet their food needs. These smaller stores are limited in the amount of healthy foods they can offer. However, distributors require minimum order quantities to cover their delivery costs and, in many cases, these minimum order requirements exceed store needs.

In an article that was co-authored by Castro that is forthcoming in Translational Behavioral Medicine*, researchers studied whether stores that accept food assistance payments are able to meet the minimum stocking requirements set by United States Department of Agriculture. While the stocking requirements are meant to increase the amount of healthy food items available in smaller stores, the research suggests that stores are struggling to meet the requirements.

Taking Action

Castro decided she wanted to do more than just study food access challenges in underserved communities – she wanted to find a way to give community residents access to fresh produce while providing SDSU students a learning experience that increased their involvement in tackling pressing issues that impacted the local community.

Castro co-founded BrightSide Produce, a produce distribution service operated by SDSU students, to address the challenges faced by small stores in underserved communities. BrightSide Produce initially launched in June 2017 with five stores in National City, California, but word spread that the produce was popular with customers and profitable for the store owners. As of September 2019, BrightSide Produce was delivering fresh produce to 13 stores in National City, with plans to expand into the City of San Diego by the end of the year.

Respect for the Insect

What’s next for academics, cooks and scientists wanting to find healthy, low-fat food sources that are also easily sustainable? Professor Peter is finding evidence to suggest a new food source may be coming to American menus soon:


While eating bugs (entomophagy) may be trending in epicurean circles, they would certainly lack eye appeal to most people and would seem to fly in the face of some of Peter’s earlier research emphasizing the aesthetic attributes of healthy foods. However, given the popularity of edible bugs in other cultures, beauty may be in the eye of the beholder.

“Insects such as ants, grasshoppers, crickets and various kinds of larvae have been used as a low-fat source of protein in many parts of the world (especially in Asia), but have found little traction in the Western Hemisphere, especially the U.S.,” said Peter. “While many people in Western culture find the practice of eating insects to be repugnant, they are actually high in protein and iron, as well as an inexpensive and sustainable food source.”

Will American chefs and lovers of healthy foods be able to make bugs look good enough to eat? Stay tuned – Professor Peter is researching that now.

Source: San Diego State University

Forget Low-Fat and Low-Sugar, Concentrate on a Healthy Eating Pattern

Penelope Clark wrote . . . . . . . . .

You want to eat healthfully, but what’s the best way to do it? Some of today’s popular diets say to cut sugar while others restrict fat. With so many diet books and bloggers, it can be easy to become confused. But no matter the fad diet of the moment, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein foods will always prevail.

A Healthy Eating Pattern

Rather than eating an exclusively low-fat or low-sugar diet, focus on your overall eating pattern. One meal does not make or break one’s health; rather, it’s what people do most of the time that has a significant impact. Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, seafood and nuts. Meanwhile, eat less red and processed meats, sweetened drinks, desserts and refined grains.

Vegetables and fruits should take up the most space when filling your plate (roughly half). Fill the remainder with whole grains and lean protein foods. While not every plate requires each food group, pairing at least two or three different foods will increase your satisfaction and deliver more nutrients. And don’t forget to pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness signals.

The Skinny on Fat

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes oils rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids as part of a healthy eating pattern, and recommends limiting saturated and trans fats. Choosing the right kinds of fats, including those from fatty fish such as salmon, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds is especially important.

5 Tips for Making Good Decisions about Fat

  • Try grilled, steamed or baked salmon, trout or mackerel instead of fried or breaded fish.
  • Vary your protein choices by eating more seafood and legumes (including soyfoods, beans and lentils).
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and remove visible fat. Remove skin and fat from poultry.
  • Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products or calcium-fortified plant-based alternatives.
  • Top salads with nuts or seeds instead of croutons. Use oil-based salad dressings instead of cream-based dressings.

The Skinny on Sugar

The average American consumes more than 13 percent of daily calories from added sugars — yet the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of daily calories. By going above 10 percent, it’s difficult to maintain an overall healthy eating pattern. Added sugars can be found in foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages and refined grain snacks and desserts. Naturally occurring sugars in foods such as fruit and milk are not added sugars.

3 Tips for Reducing Added Sugar

  • Re-think sweets: Save sugary desserts for special occasions.
  • Instead of a post-dinner dessert, close out a family mealtime with a cup of decaf coffee or herbal tea — but enjoy it without added sweeteners or cream.
  • Switch from sweetened yogurt with added fruit to plain low-fat yogurt. Then, add fresh fruit for a nutritious, naturally sweet mid-morning snack. Fruit and low-fat dairy contain natural sugars that provide nutrients that promote health.

Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics