Report to Congress on Health IT Progress

Today, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) issued its annual report to Congress on health IT progress. Developing this report provided us with an opportunity to reflect on our collective health IT journey and the significance of the past year for HHS and our federal and private partners. As a nation, […]

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So What, Exactly, Is “Natural”?

According to the dictionary, the word “natural” means “having undergone little or no processing and containing no chemical additives.” But when it comes to seeing the word “natural” on a food label, the definition gets much murkier — so much so, in fact, that the FDA (which is currently reviewing the term and how it can define and regulate it) has recently extended its public comment period on the meaning of this word until May 10, 2016.

“Natural” is a term that food manufacturers use liberally, and to good effect. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, 62 percent of consumers seek out food labeled “natural.” But a whopping 87 percent said they would not only buy foods labeled “natural,” but also pay more for them, if the term met their expectations. Those expectations include meaning that the so-called natural food is free from pesticides, artificial ingredients or colors and GMOs.

“There is no standardized definition or comprehensive government rules for food concerning what products can be called ‘natural,’” says Ivan Wasserman, an attorney who specializes in federal regulation of labeling and advertising of foods, dietary supplements and cosmetics. “And consequently, over the years there have been hundreds of lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers who allege that a product labeled ‘natural,’ in their opinion, is not.”

If you want to be part of the process, go to regulations.gov. There you can answer any of the dozen or more questions the FDA is asking and leave your comments on what you’d like to see “natural” mean when it appears on food labels and how you’d like the FDA to regulate it. So far, according to Wasserman, they’ve received about 5,000 comments and could expect to have upward of 50,000 to sort through by the end of the comment period. After that, if the FDA regulators decide to move forward with defining the word, they will propose a definition and open that up to more public comment. In other words, don’t expect any real changes to happen for several years.

In the meantime, you may want to focus on seeking out foods with labels that do mean something — which currently include “USDA Organic” and “Non-GMO Project Verified.” For now, both of those offer better clues to how natural a food is or not than the word “natural” on the label does. Stay tuned.

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

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5 Surprising Ways to Use Pulses

The United Nations declared 2016 The International Year of Pulses. Never heard of the term? You’re not alone. Pulses include dry peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans). Chefs throughout the world have been experimenting with these babies and have come up with new and creative ways to use them.

The Nutrition Lowdown on Pulses

Pulses are a good source of protein: Lentils deliver double the protein per serving of quinoa. They’re also an excellent source of fiber, and contain four times more fiber than brown rice. They’re also rich in antioxidants, iron and folate, and are a good source of potassium. Pulses are also naturally free of sodium, cholesterol and gluten.

So how exactly can these superfoods be used in cooking and baking? I had the opportunity to learn from chefs at the acclaimed Culinary Institute of America in Napa, Calif., who have been experimenting with pulses. Here are five creative ways you’d never think of using them.

1. Tapenade

Instead of just using olives in your tapenade, add lentils to up the protein and fiber. The type of fiber found in lentils is called soluble fiber, which has been shown to help reduce cholesterol.

2. Chocolate Mousse

A new trend, called aquafaba, is when you use the liquid of the pulse. Most folks toss the liquid from canned or soaked pulses, like chickpeas. Instead, whip the liquid with almond milk until it becomes thick like whipped cream. Add melted chocolate for a delicious chocolate mousse.

3. Potato Tots

Instead of using shredded russet or sweet potatoes for tots or pancakes, combine them with pureed garbanzo beans for a boost in protein and fiber.

4. Chocolate Cake

Use a lentil puree (a combo of pureed lentils and water) to sugar, oil and eggs. Combine with a dry mixture of all-purpose flour, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking soda and salt for a moist, chocolatey cake.

5. Naan Bread

Combine bread flour with yellow pea and baby lima bean flour to make the dough for naan bread. These flours can be used in a variety of gluten-free baking recipes, but take a little time to get used to, since they don’t have the same consistency as traditional gluten-filled all-purpose flour.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

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“How Local Can You Get?” Beef

Been considering bypassing the grocery store and purchasing meat in bulk? Here’s some insight into my experience purchasing a share of a local cow for my family.

What’s Involved?

Getting involved with a local farmer is one of the best things you can do, but it is slightly more complicated than making a trip to your local grocery chain store. Thanks to the Internet, finding a farm in your area isn’t too difficult. I also suggest asking around at your local farmers market to see which farms offer this service. In my case, a friend recruited a few local families to all go in on a cow together. Since each animal yields more than 400 pounds of meat, there’s plenty to share. The beauty of this small local farm is that it’s a completely grass-fed operation that I can go visit to see how humanely the animals are treated.

A trip about 50 miles out of town was required for pickup, and then it was time to divvy up the goods. All cuts of meat came individually wrapped, labeled and frozen. Our group decided on a pickup location and met up with coolers in tow. There’s nothing wrong with putting in some extra effort and elbow grease in the name of delicious food and good health.

Costs

Meat from this farm was very reasonable at $5 per pound, especially since my neighborhood grocer charges anywhere between two times and SIX times as much depending on the cut. You do need to consider where to store all this meat, however. My share was 40 pounds, but some folks bought in for 80, so a second refrigerator with freezer space or a standalone freezer is required. If you don’t already have one, you’re looking at an additional investment.

Pros & Cons

The upsides of a cow share are numerous. The quality and taste of the meat is far superior to that of the meat from your garden-variety grocery butcher shop. Grass-fed meat is lower in fat and also higher in essential fatty acids (including Omega-3 fats) and antioxidants.

There are also a few downsides. As with many local food endeavors, there’s a higher cost up front. Freezer space may be an issue, and you will get many cuts of meat that you may not be familiar with, which can be intimidating. Luckily, you can find out what to do with every beef cut on the Beef It’s What’s For Dinner website.

Sold?

Going in on a cow is a big commitment. If you’re intrigued but not ready to jump in or you missed the ordering window at your local farm, there are some alternatives. Visit a farmers market for weekly purchases, or consider a service like Butcher Box, which provides monthly deliveries of grass-fed American-purveyed meats.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

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Keeping Consumers in the Know: Help Us Update the Model Privacy Notice

As ever more sophisticated retail health technology – like exercise trackers, wearable health technologies, or mobile applications that help individuals monitor various body measurements – comes into widespread use, it is increasingly important for consumers to be aware of companies’ privacy and security policies, including data sharing practices. Given this diverse market and the array […]

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News Feed: Wood Pulp in Cheese, Starbucks Sugar Shocker, Cage-Free Trader Joe’s

Cheese, please

Have we all been sprinkling wood on our pasta and pizza? Some suppliers of grated Parmesan cheese have been filling their products with cellulose — an anti-clumping additive made from wood pulp — or using other, less expensive cheeses and failing to disclose the actual ingredients on the label, Bloomberg Business reports. One cheese maker has estimated that 20 percent of hard Italian cheeses are mislabeled. Another told Bloomberg that only one-third of the 28 brands of grated Parmesan it tested appeared to be accurately labeled, in terms of protein levels and fillers. In response to a Bloomberg investigation, in which a lab test confirmed that several store brands contained high levels of cellulose, several stores have begun pulling the questionable products from their shelves.

Too-sweet treat

We all love to reward ourselves with a Starbucks beverage from time to time, but those trying to keep tabs on their sugar intake may want to be mindful of what they order. Recent research released by Action on Sugar, a U.K. group dedicated to reducing the amount of sugar in processed foods, indicates that 98 percent of hot flavored drinks sold at major coffee-shop chains “would receive a ‘red’ (high) label for excessive levels of sugars per serving — with 35% containing the same amount or more sugar than a can of Coca Cola.” Topping the group’s list of hot-drink “worst offenders” was Starbucks Venti Hot Mulled Fruit (offered only in U.K. Starbucks stores) — Grape with Chai, Orange and Cinnamon, which it determined contained “a whopping 25 teaspoons of sugar — more than THREE times the maximum ADULT daily intake of free sugars (7tsp/d).” Starbucks’ Mocha with Whipped Cream (Short), Classic Hot Chocolate (Short) Pumpkin Spice Latte with Whip (Short) and Caramel Macchiatto (Short) each contains a modest-by-comparison four teaspoons of sugar per serving.

Egg-cellent news

Trader Joe’s is going cage-free. The grocery chain, under pressure from consumers, recently announced that all the eggs it sells in its stores will come from cage-free suppliers, although the stores’ transition to 100 percent cage-free will not be super-speedy. Since 2005, when Trader Joe’s announced that its store-brand eggs would be from cage-free chickens, the chain says demand for cage-free eggs has grown; today, cage-free eggs account for 62 percent of its egg sales. In a letter to customers earlier this month, Trader Joe’s said it planned to offer only cage-free eggs in its stores in Western states by 2020 and roll the change out to all stores by 2025. However, the company said, “If market conditions allow us to accomplish these goals earlier, while still providing our customers outstanding value, we will do so.”

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5 Smarter Ways to Eat Pizza at Home — Comfort Food Feast

Save your napkins for mopping up spills at the dinner table. There’s no need to blot any grease when you serve one of these healthy homemade pies from Food Network. Start with whole-wheat pizza dough — store-bought is ideal on a busy weeknight — or hop aboard the latest health food trend and prepare a high-fiber crust using chickpea flour. Have plenty of fresh, in-season toppings on hand. You can’t go wrong with a basic marinara sauce or pesto, plus your favorite cheese and a handful of fresh herbs. The No. 1 perk to preparing pizza at home? These easy pies cook up in the same amount of time you’d spend waiting for your delivery to arrive — maybe even less, if you have help. Even the littlest sous chefs can chip in with the toppings.

Without further ado, here are five better-for-you pizzas to save you from another humdrum weeknight dinner:

Broccoli Pesto Pizza (pictured at top)
Dress up nutty whole-wheat pizza dough with soft goat cheese, sliced tomato, fresh basil and homemade broccoli pesto. If you’re used to traditional pesto, you’ll love the taste of the earthy florets when combined with Parmesan and olive oil in your food processor.

Butternut Squash and Gorgonzola Pizza
Instead of waiting for delivery, you can prepare this comforting pie at home in just 30 minutes. Ellie Krieger opts for whole-wheat pizza dough and tops it off with tender cubes of butternut squash, sliced red onion and gorgonzola cheese.

Chickpea Crust Pizza
Those who give up gluten often pine for pizza, but there’s no need to dream of the crisp-yet-chewy crusts of the past: This pizza is completely gluten-free when you prepare the crust with chickpea flour in place of wheat flour. Top with a homemade tomato sauce, provolone cheese and chicken sausage.

Taco Pizza
Cuisines collide in this mash-up: pizza topped with refried beans, sour cream and salsa. Kids will love getting in on the action, so let them take a crack at helping to sprinkle the lettuce and grated cheddar on top. For quick assembly, use store-bought dough.

Tricolor Salad Pizzas
Ellie saves time by using store-bought whole-wheat pizza dough for this simple pie. Cut down on the fat by using part-skim mozzarella and ricotta cheeses.

For more comforting pies you can prepare at home, check out these recipes from our friends:

Feed Me Phoebe: Easy Mexican Breakfast Pizzas with Avocado
Creative Culinary: Pear, Gorgonzola and Hazelnut Pizza with Mixed Green
The Lemon Bowl: 5-Ingredient Chicken Pesto Pizza with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Homemade Delish: Superb Pizza
Daisy at Home: Pizza Panini
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Six Pizza Recipes For Your Academy Awards Party
In Jennie’s Kitchen: Best Pizza Recipes
Taste with the Eyes: Pretty Smoked Salmon Pizza with Chive Blossoms
FN Dish: 5 Ways to Eat Pizza for Breakfast

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