Top Questions in Nutrition (Part I)

March 11, 2014 Johanna Goetzel, Elle Alexander

March kicks off national nutrition awareness month, a great opportunity to feed our curiosity. With that in mind, we curated some of the top 10 questions around nutrition, and will share five now and five at the end of the month.

  1. Which sweetener is the best for human health and has minimal environmental impact?
  2. How can eating behaviors change to support health?  
  3. How have prepared and packaged foods changed in the last decade to promote nutrition?
  4. Is yogurt a health food?
  5. How useful are currently serving size recommendation?
  6. Should energy drinks be marketed to kids?
  7. Where in the world does our food come from?
  8. What lessons can we learn from abroad?
  9. The other, other white meat?
  10. How have food companies shifted their products to promote healthier options?


1. Which sweetener is the best for human health and has minimal environmental impact?

There has been much discussion on high fructose corn syrup vs. cane sugar from health and environmental perspectives. Marion Nestle sheds some light on the debate:

“Sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contain the same sugars—glucose and fructose—and do much the same things in the body.  I think everyone would be better off eating a lot less of either.”

2. How can eating behaviors change to support health?

When presented with numerous food choices, people tend to pile plates high with calories.   Choosing smaller plates helps to reduce calorie intake since people tend to stop eating based on visual cues rather than internal satiety cues.

See Brian Wansink’s “Bottomless Soup Bowl” Experiment:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gMv_-YmAlNM

3. How have prepared and packaged foods changed in the last decade to promote nutrition?

In November of 2013, the FDA banned trans-fat, a decision that many – including the Scientific American – considered long overdue and with an impact of saving lives at a minimal cost to industry. Decisions to eat healthier are easier for consumers when information about health and a variety of healthy options are available.

Further work is also needed to reduce sodium intake in the US population, as only 5% of intake is added during cooking and 6% at the table; 75% is from packaged foods.  Companies must take the lead to reduce sodium in packaged foods for consumers while ensuring food safety and taste.

4. Is yogurt a health food?

For hundreds of years humans have consumed yogurt across cultures. The protein rich and bacteria filled product has experienced a renaissance of sorts since the 1900s and with the mass popularization of “Greek” yogurts. A New Yorker article in November documented the growth of Chobani; the recipe is modified for consumer enjoyment, including added sweeteners in many products. The benefits of yogurt include probiotics, calcium and a hearty dose of non-animal based protein.

5. How useful are currently serving size recommendation?

According to the CDC, portion sizes have increased, impacting health. There are new devices on the market to help guide consumers toward eating ‘recommended’ quantities, including the Silo which pours 1 cup, 1/2 cup or 1 tsp. There is also a recent proposal to the FDA to make the Nutrition Facts label easier for consumers to understand, highlighting calories, recalibrating serving sizes and including added sugars.

Stay tuned for the next installment at the end of the month. Your thoughts are welcome!

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