Understanding the USDA’s Smart Snacks Rule

What the New Nutrition Standards for Foods Sold in Schools Mean for Your Child
By Laura Cipullo and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team

The USDA has recently published new rules on July 28, 2013, regarding the nutrition standards for competitive foods sold on school campuses. These foods include those sold in vending machines, snack bars, school stores, a la carte items, and at events like fundraisers and bake sales.

Basically, these rules will set higher nutrition standards for food items that are not necessarily considered part of the School Breakfast Program or National School Lunch Program. This means that food sold in vending machines or at bake sales on campus will have higher health standards than ever before.

Regular sodas, snacks high in sugar like donuts, and super salty chips will not be allowed under this rule, while foods like low-fat tortilla chips and certain granola bars will be allowed if they fit under the new standards. Here is an infographic provided by the USDA.

These changes must be put into effect by July 1, 2014, which means all schools participating in the National School Lunch Program will have to abide by these rules by the 2014-2015 school year.

Fundraisers and bake sales have restrictions on what can be sold or offered, but each state has its own flexibility on how many “unrestricted” events are allowed each year that don’t have to follow these new rules.

Here’s a quick overview of the new guidelines:

  • Each food item must meet all of the competitive food nutrient standards including:

—Total Fat – ≤35% of total calories from fat per item as packaged/served  

—Saturated Fat –  <10% of total calories per item as packaged/served

—Trans Fat – Zero grams of  trans fat per portion as packaged/served  (≤ 0.5 g)

—Sodium – Entrée items that do not meet NSLP/SBP exemptions: ≤480 mg sodium per item, Snack and side items: ≤230 mg (until June 30, 2016),  ≤200 mg (after July 1, 2016)

—Calories – Entrée items that do not meet NSLP/SBP exemption: ≤350 calories, Snack items/Side dishes: ≤200 calories per item

—Total Sugar – ≤ 35% of weight from total sugars per item

AND
•Be a grain product that contains at least 50% whole grains by weight or have a whole grain as the first ingredient
OR
•Have as the first ingredient one of the non-grain major food groups: fruits, vegetables, dairy or protein foods (meat, beans, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, etc.)
OR
•Be a combination food that contains ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable;
OR
•For the period through June 30, 2016, contain 10% of the Daily Value of a nutrient of public health concern
•Calcium, Potassium, Vitamin D, dietary Fiber

One of the more dense areas in the regulation includes the allowances on beverages. Here is a chart provided by the USDA to better understand the restrictions for different grade levels.

Beverage Elementary School Middle School High School
Plain water , carbonated or not no size limit no size limit no size limit
Low fat milk, unflavored* ≤ 8 oz ≤ 12 oz ≤ 12 oz
Non fat milk, unflavored or flavored* ≤  8 oz ≤ 12 oz ≤ 12 oz
100% fruit/vegetable juice  ** ≤ 8 oz ≤ 12 oz ≤ 12 oz

Caffeine is restricted for all elementary and middle schools, but there is no caffeine restriction for high schools.  In high schools, calorie free and low-calorie beverages including diet sodas and certain energy and sports drinks will be allowed.

“These rules will definitely decrease the amount of empty calories offered in schools and provide overall healthier options for students to choose from. This is a huge regulation from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service that will support the health of young Americans.” says Lisa Mikus, Dietitian. Tell us what you think!

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Guest Blog: Fluffer Nutters vs. the Apple… which one really wins???

This weeks guest blog is written by Collen Colletti and addresses school lunch. Colletti is a mom, teacher, writer and equestrian. She describes herself by the contents of her purse: “In the contents of my purse you would most likely find the normal necessities, with a few exceptions.  First there is my USB stick filled with lesson plans to teach my students.  I love the feeling I get when I see a child’s mind exploring and learning.  Next one may come across a pair of spurs, I have spent countless hours at the barn with my horses.  Riding is both competitive and therapeutic for me.  If you dig a little deeper, there is a small writers leather bound journal that goes with me every where. It is constantly capturing my story ideas.  Lastly, a package of Barbie bandages for my girls, the most rewarding job I have ever had.  They bring more joy to my life then I ever could have imagined!”

Fluffer Nutters vs. the Apple… which one really wins??? by Colleen Colletti

“Ring, “my alarm clock yells, indicating that Monday morning has arrived and the usual craziness of getting my husband, two children, and I ready and out the door for the day begins! Each morning I select a delicious energy filled lunch for my children, drop off at school and wish them a splendid day.

I arrive at work, a middle school classroom. Throughout my teaching career, I have watched as many of my students arrive to school sluggish. At lunch I see those same students enjoying a processed filled lunch, or trading aspects their nutritious meal for a bag of chips. The problem is simple, you send your child to school with a healthy balanced lunch and instead of eating it, it is traded for a sugar or additives overload. Not only does an unhealthy diet affect your child’s energy, it also may have health implications later in life. Yet how do we get our children to eat the lunch we send them? In kids eyes how does healthy food compete with what other students bring into the lunch room. Are we really reaching our kids or do the Fluffer Nutters win out?

Photo Credit: Ibán via Compfight cc

So how does one fight against the endless sea of fast food restaurants, bakeries, treats brought into the classroom, and the food exchange at lunch. In my household, we believe in providing a variety of food choices. My husband and I feel that banning certain foods simply makes the child want it more. Instead we allow our children to enjoy goodies, but provide healthy alternatives to the processed foods. For instance, instead of store bought chocolate chips, we offer cookies with all natural ingredients and dark chocolate instead of milk. Another big hit in our home are the fresh fruit ice pops. I liquefy strawberries, pour them into a kid friendly mold, and add a few strawberry or raspberry chunks and freeze over night. In the morning, they always love to have a fresh ice pop, and I don’t mind giving it to them, because it is all natural. An added bonus to these sweets is that it fosters quality time with my children. They love to put the cookie dough on the tray or berries in a bowl. I agree that between little league, ballet, or any other after school activities, it is much easier to simply buy pre-made treats, but are we really helping our kids? So in reality, how do I find the time to bake or cook? The answer is simple… make extra! I don’t bake or cook like my mother, whom every time you walked in the house the aroma of fresh goodies filled the air. Instead, I create fresh meals every few nights allowing for healthy leftovers. In terms of snacks, every few weeks I enjoy a Sunday afternoon with my children baking. Half our delicious snacks, I place into a jar and the other half go in the freezer. My children have become accustomed to natural fresh ingredients and in many cases shy away from the lack of quality and taste that processed foods offer. As a result, this method has helped expand my children’s taste buds in a way that is fun and healthy for them.

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What about those of you with a younger or older clientele? Daycare or nanny is prevalent even more today with a two household income. These environments are wonderful both socially and academically, except children are also exposed to sickness at a younger age. A wholesome diet, aides a healthy immune system cultivating their emotional, cognitive, and developmental skills. Some may say that the little ones are much easier to feed then the big ones. So how do we reach those opinionated teens? My experience with the young adult age group reaffirms what I do at home. Teenagers who have enjoyed fresh fruits, vegetables, essentially an all natural diet since they were little, continue those habits through their adolescent years. They are active members of the classroom throughout the entire day. No late afternoon sugar crashing! While, the students who have grown up on macaroni n’ cheese or Ramen noodles, will pack just that for themselves when they are in charge of their lunch. I always cringe when I see a growing child diving into a fast food lunch and diet coke on a daily basis. How do they have the energy required of them to study, play sports, and become active participants in their educational career?

In conclusion, as long as we teach our children to make the right choices, healthy choices… we are one step closer to winning the battle!

Going Nuts.

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Most parents are aware of the benefits of nuts, particularly almonds, peanuts and pecans, for our health and our kids’ health. These powerful pieces of nutrition provide essential fatty acids, proteins, fiber, and Vitamin E and help raise good cholesterol, known as HDL. However, the one drawback to this nutritious diet staple is that nuts can also cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction, known as an anaphylactic reaction.

Due to the potential seriousness of allergies, many schools have started to enforce restrictions on the kinds of foods students are allowed to bring to school. This raises some complicated questions for parents hoping to send their children off to school with healthy, nutritious food. What do we do as parents when our child’s school has banned nuts? For some kids, going without nuts means missing their vegetarian protein source. Should we pack our kids dairy every day and risk raising their LDL cholesterol? Should we send tofu and soy butter, which are more processed than natural nut butters? Should we send sunflower butter, which is also highly allergenic and can also cause anaphylaxis? Should we focus on peanut-free and not tree nut-free?

In addition to the immediate challenges these kinds of bans place on nutrition, they also have the potential to affect the ways our kids interact with one another.  Do we advocate for a nut-free table in the cafeteria, which would set kids with allergies apart? While a “nut-free” table would be organized with students’ safety in mind, in enforcing this rule we risk ostracizing them from their classmates. I have heard some moms in Connecticut are fighting with their children’s schools to allow their child with a nut allergy eat with the other kids. Do we go along with the nut -free school zone? Do we recommend establishing this nut-free zone on a class-by-class basis, pending if someone has an allergy?

Where do we draw the line? I understand this is a sensitive subject, and should be — the risks are very high. I do think a nut free elementary school is advantageous. However, when my son’s school proposed a ban on all food products made in a factory that may be in contact with peanuts (at a school where the children eat lunch in their classroom and there may be no allergy in many classrooms) I felt at a loss. I am a mom, RD, CDE and I am now going to have to take on the responsibility of feeding my kids as if they had an allergy, possibly decreasing their immunity to such foods. Busy parents are challenged enough as it is to feed their kids healthy, let alone nut- free food, and our choices are narrowed even further when we are expected to avoid products from facilities where peanuts may have been processed. I would gladly comply if a child in the class had a documented allergy, but to go through hoops and hurdles when it may not be necessary seems overboard.

This excessive caution seems all the more extreme when we consider how allergens and contamination are regulated (or aren’t).  Avoiding food processed in the same facility as nut products is not always effective. According to a recent article by a panel of experts from the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases:

The FALCPA does not currently regulate voluntary disclaimers such as “this product does not contain peanuts, but was prepared in a facility that makes products containing peanuts” or “this product may contain trace amounts of peanut.” Such disclaimers can leave consumers without adequate knowledge to make objective decisions.

The EP identified 10 studies that examined whether standards for precautionary food labeling are effective in preventing food-induced allergic reactions. No study explicitly attempted to infer a cause-and-effect relationship between changes in frequency of severe symptoms from unintentional exposure (for example, to peanut) as a consequence of implementing food labeling. The identified studies mostly assessed knowledge and preferences for food labeling.1

If this labeling is voluntary, unregulated, and therefore possibly inaccurate, does it make sense for schools to use the kinds of labels to inform their policies regarding allergies? Many of my clients with peanut allergies still have tree nuts, and even peanut butter, in their homes and simply know how to prevent cross-contamination. Many of my clients with these allergies still eat foods processed in a facility that may share equipment with nuts, wheat and other common allergens.   So are our schools being too authoritarian? Are they smart for playing it safe, or is there such a thing as too much caution? Should sweets be forbidden from schools for fear of hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia, conditions that are just as threatening for someone with Type 1 Diabetes? Should grapes be forbidden since they are a choking hazard?

Instead, I recommend schools practice peanut/nut free or safe policies.  Focus on education, emergency plans for allergic reactions and having the epi pen to administer if there is an allergic reaction. Avoiding nuts or rather nut free facilities is not the best answer. Yes, precaution is necessary but we also need an action plan for as we know with voluntary labeling, kids still may be exposed and have an allergic reaction.

What do parents think? Do you believe in nut-free schools?  Do you believe in nut free schools banning food products made in a facility made that may have processed nuts?

 

1. “Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States” Report of the NIAID-Sponsored Panel.”  The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 126.6, Supplement (2010): Pages S1-S58.

Too Much Weight on BMI

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Too Much Weight on BMI
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE

A few weeks ago I was asked to share my thoughts on Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative with radio host Rita Cosby. I researched the campaign at length while watching the boys play soccer, and what I came up with is that the movement is generally positive. I do believe that a bit of tweaking is in order, however, and that certain ideas could be rephrased. (Check out the complete podcast here.) As I continue to think about America’s “obesity epidemic” I think the measurement called Body Mass Index is overrated and has the potential to misdiagnose ourselves and our kids.

At the end of the day, it always comes back to this same question: “What can we as parents do to prevent disease?” This includes obesity-related disease.

I recognize we need measurements for statistic purposes and possibly diagnostic tools. However, I think BMI should be emphasized less and instead we can focus on behaviors and a cluster of measurements. BMI is only one measure, and it’s not always reflective of a person’s state of health.

BMI is based solely on height and weight. (You can read the official definition from the NIH here.) Weight can be a funny subject though. After all, the number on the scale is not always reflective of how healthy a person is. Therefore, one’s body mass index is not going to accurately reflect a person’s health status.

As parents, healthcare facilitators and makers of change, we must remember that obesity does not always equate with overeating, high cholesterol and/or inactivity. A dear client of mind, for example, has a BMI that would qualify her as overweight, and yet she is a shining example of good health. She runs marathons, eats a balanced intake of food, and has an ideal cholesterol ratio.

Let me let you in on a little secret: I, too weigh more than the black and white number recommended for my height, otherwise known as my “ideal body weight.” Me—a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and “paragon of health (by all other measures)”!

Granted, there is a ten percent range above and below IBW. I fall into the range above my IBW, as many people do. That being said, you can see how easy it can be for someone above their IBW to assume they are overweight, even when it’s not true. I’m by no means overweight, rather I am the weight that is appropriate for me.. If someone were to slap a label on me based on weight alone, or to use Weight Watchers’ recommended weight, I would be over my goal number.  Well, I don’t need to lose weight, so the point is, using these means to determine a person’s health with a Body Mass Index are somewhat antiquated and inaccurate.

Remember that muscle weighs more than fat. Otherwise, most hyper-muscular football players (even Tom Brady!) would be considered overweight too, if only by their BMIs. Some people are also more densely built than others. My nephew, who is visually lean and bony, qualifies as obese according to his doctor, though if anything, he could stand to gain a few pounds.

Whether lean and dense or round and curvy, we are all decidedly beautiful. We must remember that BMI is not a measure of self-worth. Rather, it’s merely one tool that aims to measure health—and a flawed tool at that.

On the flip side, I also work with a number of clients who have extremely low BMIs. These individuals are struggling with their health.  They may use unhealthy behaviors such as skipping meals or starving themselves to keep their weight down and or BMI low. So you see, a low BMI may not be indicative of health either. What we need to be sure of is to take our focus away from the body mass index and to instead consider healthy behaviors as a whole.

So if weight isn’t the ultimate measure of health (nor is one’s appearance), then what is? Blood pressure, liver function, Total Cholesterol/ HDL ratio, endurance, energy and other daily habits are much better ways to gage a person’s physical condition. As parents, political pundits and health care professionals, we must move toward size-acceptance, promoting confidence and self-esteem in our children. I propose to start with the following:

  • Foster a positive opinion of food in the household.
  • Feed your children a balanced intake of whole grains, lean proteins and heart healthy fats.
  • Tell your children you love them. Have them look in the mirror and tell themselves they are loved. Tell them they are  more than a number.
  • Encourage healthy behaviors by setting an example.
  • Focus on your children’s efforts and behaviors, not on outcomes or measures. Praise them for trying a vegetable or sport rather than for being a veggie eater or a great baseball player.