Friday, October 24, 2014

Fat-Free, Sugar-Free, Healthy-Free, Really?

Walking down the aisle of any supermarket, consumers are plagued with front-of-package label claims. From “Less Sodium” to “Low-Fat,” deciphering what these claims actually mean can be tricky. Below is a guide to what these advertising claims actually entail. Using Bon’App to check the content of your food will put these claims into a simple, clear language that you can easily understand.

The Claim: Free

Synonyms: Zero, No, Without, Insignificant Dietary Source. 

Meaning: As the saying goes, nothing in life is ever free (including with foods). To boast this label, products must contain either less than 5 Calories,  < 0.5 g rams of Sugar or Bad Fat, or < 5 mg of Salt. 

The Label Lowdown 
  • Fat Free: There are two problems with "fat free". In foods like baked goods, fat-free typically means more added sugar. In terms of satiation, fat slows down digestion and keeps you fuller for longer, so products that replace fat with sugar aren't necessarily great dietary bargains. Secondly, fat free foods sometimes don't taste all that great, and if the foods aren't appealing, you may overeat them to make up for the lack of satisfaction. However, with dairy products, fat free may be the way to go because it removes bad fat and reduces calories. 
  • Sugar Free: Though picking sugar free foods reduces caloric intake, the sugar is replaced with an indigestible food additive that duplicates sugar's taste. Some people react differently to these, or claim they taste different.  If you don't mind the taste, opting for sugar free may be a good option, otherwise, just eat a smaller portion of the sugar-containing product. It will be healthier and easier to digest. 

The Claim: Low

Synonyms: Little, Few, Contains a Small Amount. 

Meaning: Either less than 40 Calories, under 1 gram of Bad Fat, and/or under 140 mg of Salt. This term may not be used for Sugar.

The Label Lowdown
  • Low Fat: low fat can be a great option for many foods because it generally removes the Bad Fat, keeping your Bon'App batteries in check. As with "fat free" claims, be careful with added sugar. Also, be sure to remember that not all fat is created equal, and consuming healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats is important for overall health.
  • Low Sodium (Salt): Low sodium alternatives within processed foods are a great way to enjoy the taste you want in a food without added salt. If you are watching your sodium intake, low sodium is therefore a great option for when you eat processed foods. 

The Claim: Reduced
Synonyms: Lower, Less, Fewer. 

Meaning: To be marked with the term reduced, the product must contain at least 25% less of a given nutrient in comparison to the normal item (of the same brand). 

The Label Lowdown

Though reduced items are usually a better option than the original, the claim can be deceiving. Even with 25% less of a given substance, processed foods may still contain a significant amount of Bad Fat/Calories/Sugar. Unsure if the product is a good option? Just ask Bon'App!

The Claim: Excellent Source

Synonyms: High, Rich in. 

Meaning: Must contain 20% or more of the daily value for that nutrient (i.e. Fiber, or Calcium for instance). 

The Label Lowdown 

These foods may be an excellent source of one nutrient, but be careful the product isn't also high in Calories, Sugar, or Bad Fat. For example, chocolate milk may be an excellent source of calcium, but the milk will also contain a lot of sugar. On the other hand, fiber filled foods typically contain whole grains, and are healthy options.  
The Claim: Good Source 
Synonyms: Contains, Provides. 

Meaning: Must contain 10% to 19% of the daily value for a given thing. 

The Label Lowdown

Here is where labels really get deceiving.......Though a food may contain a good amount of a vitamin or mineral, if the food is high in Bad Fat, Sugar, or "empty" Calories, chances are any healthy effects are negated by the unhealthy nature of the food. Before you eat that Pop Tart for its high vitamin and mineral content, make sure you also check the Bad Fat, Sugar, and Calories in it.    

The Claim: Enriched
Synonyms: More, Fortified, Added, Extra, Plus. 

Meaning: At least 10% of the recommended daily value. May only be used for vitamins, minerals, Protein, Fiber, and potassium.

The Label Lowdown

Caution: foods may not be as healthy as they appear.  This front-of-package label claim often distracts from other, less healthful aspects of the food like Bad Fat or Sugar content. Though being enriched is a good thing, don't be duped by these labels. Check with Bon'App before you buy and before you consume those products. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

CFI: Campus Food Investigation

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead

The “CFI: Campus Food Investigation” was started by a small group of Bon’App Campus Ambassadors who wanted to document the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of their college dining halls.

Their aim is to conduct extensive research into what food options are available to college students and to improve the variety, quality and access to healthy meals. Initially the group started off with three ambassadors, now there are over fifteen and the team continues to grow as more students find out about the opportunity to represent their University’s dining options. We have started to spread the word about our investigation by creating a Facebook page and Instagram account, as well as using the Bon’App Pinterest and Twitter pages.

The Investigation also involves a 2-minute survey that has been sent out to Universities across the US and the data collection to date has informed us of what college students like and dislike about their dining halls. This information was crucial in the brainstorming session of the “Dream Dining Hall” menu. This ideal dining hall has a flexible meal plan and no “dead hours” (times without service and unhealthy options only). It allows for variety, giving the students ingredients they can creatively combine in order to create meals that suit their taste and health preferences. As well as nutritious food choices, there would also be signage (with photos) all around the dining hall to offer guidance to students who need help crafting more individualized or healthy meals. This signage would also tell students transparently what is in their food (ingredients and main nutrients in simple Bon'App language - Sugar, Bad Fat, Salt) and how much of it, especially the sides of veggies, where it’s often hard to tell the ingredients.

Ideally, the presentation of the food would be nice, thoughtful, not just thrown into big bowls, making the veggie options more enticing. Accurate portion sizes would be served (meaning generally smaller or ad libitum). All of these aspects of the dream dining hall are aimed at creating a standard for all schools,  empowering college students to eat healthier and thus live healthier. It’s all too easy for college students to eat pizza at 3 AM every night and skip breakfast the following morning; instead, we want to encourage healthier eating decisions. A well-balanced diet is crucial for student’s every day performance, whether it’s in class, meetings or workouts. CFI wants to work with college dining halls to help students have nutritious and delicious food choices, which will result in much healthier lifestyles.

This menu was conceived with a cost-conscious approach that relies of 275 surveys filled out by students so far and three brainstormings by a group of 21 students from 16 schools. It will continue to be refined to improve food options on campuses. More details are below.
>>> Each week, the salad bar would display 3 salad guide menus to help students compose a variety of delicious salads with proper portion sizes and a step-by-step process on how to make the salad. (The Bon’App Chapter at U Penn is developing examples.) >>> The greens and toppings would change over time, with the cycle of the dining hall food (for example, two weeks), so that students do not get bored with the salad options. >>> On the Dessert Station, instead of a jug of hot fudge, display a tub of fresh fruits and nuts. 

Many of the above recommendations and Dream Dining Hall menu have been recently implemented by the new Bruin Plate dining hall at UCLA. This proves it can be done! Another great initiative is to reduce the usage of disposable to-go containers. U Penn Dining introduced this new program in its residential dining cafes.

We are looking forward to the day when ALL colleges nationwide will have a Dream Dining Hall menu, environmentally friendly, locally supplied when feasible, and with healthy options throughout campus!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Eat Green on St. Patrick’s Day!

Eat Green on St. Patrick’s Day!

By Melissa Rowe, Bon'App Ambassador at Simmons College

Coming around the corner is the infamous green holiday we all know as St. Patrick’s Day. Some may know what this day actually stands for while others display the color green in many ways, eating, drinking, and wearing. While this is not considered a legal holiday in the US, it is widely recognized and celebrated.

St. Patrick’s Day gives us another reason to overload on our green foods, such as kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, etc. Here are a few healthy snack/meal ideas for parties or just throughout your festive green day!

Green Smoothie
Starting off your day with this green smoothie will give you that extra boost to celebrate longer with this smoothie packed full of antioxidants and vitamins! Adding the banana and mango gives it a hint of sweetness and the ginger gives it that irresistible taste.  

1 - 1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk, depending on how thick you like your smoothie
1 cup kale leaves, center rib removed
1 cup baby spinach
1 frozen banana, cut into pieces
1 mango, peeled and cut into pieces
1 teaspoon fresh ginger


1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
2. Divide between glasses and serve immediately.

St. Patrick’s Hummus Dip
This green hummus is a great healthy protein packed dip that will be a loved item at your St. Patrick’s themed party! This dip can be served with celery sticks, carrots, pita chips, rice crackers, you name it! This is a vegan friendly dish also!

1 can white cannellini beans (1 1/2 cups) - drain/rinse in hot water
1 cup kale (fresh or frozen works)
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice + generous pinch of lemon zest
1/2 tsp fine black pepper
3 dashes of cayenne
1/4 cup raw cashews (no need to soak if using a high speed blender or food processor)
1 1/2 Tbsp tahini, roasted
1/4+ cup warm water
1/4 cup chopped parsley, flat-leaf
optional: garlic powder, fresh, or roasted garlic

1. Add all ingredients to high speed blender. Blend from low to high until silky and smooth. Add a few extra splashes of water or drizzles of oil if needed to blend smooth. (It will firm up quite a bit in the fridge)
2. Pour in serving dish and chill in fridge for 1 hour or overnight. You could serve right away or warm if desired as well.
3. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil on top and fresh parsley to garnish.

Kale Chips
If you haven’t heard yet, these are a delicious rendition to your regular high fat potato chips! These chips are perfect for a party because it provides the crunch that people are looking for at a low cost with great health benefits. Nothing better than that!

1 large bunch kale, tough stems removed, leaves torn into pieces (about 16 cups; see Note)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt

  • Position racks in upper third and center of oven; preheat to 400°F.
  • If kale is wet, very thoroughly pat dry with a clean kitchen towel; transfer to a large bowl. Drizzle the kale with oil and sprinkle with salt. Using your hands, massage the oil and salt onto the kale leaves to evenly coat. Fill 2 large rimmed baking sheets with a layer of kale, making sure the leaves don’t overlap. (If the kale won’t all fit, make the chips in batches.)
  • Bake until most leaves are crisp, switching the pans back to front and top to bottom halfway through, 8 to 12 minutes total. (If baking a batch on just one sheet, start checking after 8 minutes to prevent burning.)

Cucumber Roll Ups
These cucumber rolls are a great finger food, in exchange for pigs in a blanket. They are an easy and quick make for all you busy on the go people! You don’t need to slave in the kitchen for hours for these decadent snacks.

2 cucumbers
6 ounces crumbled feta
3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
2 1/2 - 3 1/2 tablespoons finely diced sundried tomatoes or red bell pepper
8 - 12 pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon roughly chopped dill or oregano
2 teaspoons lemon juice
pinch of pepper, or to taste

1. Thinly slice the cucumbers long ways on a mandoline at a 2mm thick setting. Alternatively, you can use a vegetable peeler if you do not have a mandoline. Lay the cucumbers on top of a paper towel lined cutting board while you prepare the filling.
2. Add the feta and yogurt to a medium bowl. Mash to combine using a fork. Add the bell pepper or sun dried tomatoes, olives, dill, lemon, and pepper to the bowl. Stir well to combine. In a bowl, mash the feta using a fork.
3. Place 1 - 2 teaspoons of mixture at one end of a cucumber strip and roll up. Secure with a toothpick. Repeat with remaining strips. If not serving immediately, chill until ready to serve.

Avocado Ice Cream
You can’t have a party without some sweets! This is a rich and oh so creamy healthy ice cream. Now who would ever think healthy and ice cream would be in the same sentence but this recipe proves it!

3 regular-sized, ripe Hass avocados
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt
1/2 cup heavy cream
Juice of 1 lime
Big pinch of sea salt

1. Scoop out avocados and roughly chop
2. Transfer all ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth
3. Freeze immediately in ice cream maker according to your machine's directions or place into freezer container/bag for those who don’t have an ice cream maker

Cucumber cooler
Last but not least we have a great green idea that can be done either as a cocktail or mocktail for all ages! This is a great green inspired beverage that doesn’t include adding food coloring (YUCK!) This beverage can be enjoyed plain by all ages or can be made with your preference of vodka or gin.

3 cucumbers (peeled seeded and coarsely chopped 6 cups)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup fresh mint (leaves)
1 lime (thinly sliced)
24 ozs club soda
2 tbsps agave nectar (honey)

1. In a blender, puree cucumbers and water.
2. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve set over a large bowl, pressing on solids (you should have about 2 cups juice; refrigerate overnight, if desired).
3. In a pitcher, mash fresh mint leaves with back of a wooden spoon until bruised.
4. Add cucumber juice, lime, club soda, and agave nectar or honey; stir to combine (add gin or vodka if wanted).
5. Fill four glasses with ice, top with drink, and serve with thinly sliced cucumber.

We hope you enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day this year with some of our healthy GREEN snacks and don’t forget to wear green!!

Recipe references: