Monthly Archives: February 2014

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane… It’s a Superfood!

Foods with high levels of vitamins and minerals are often called superfoods.  Superfoods may also contain antioxidants, substances that prevent or delay cell damage and help prevent disease.  Some people also claim that superfoods have incredible health benefits, today's superfoodssuch as lowering the risk of cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimers.   It could just be good marketing—these extraordinary claims have yet to be supported by scientific research—but experts do agree that a nutritious diet is essential to maintaining a healthy weight and overall good health.   At a minimum, superfoods are natural, unprocessed foods that can play a leading role in a nutritious and healthy diet.

Blueberries are a great source of antioxidants, potassium, and vitamin C.  Blueberries are also a natural anti-inflammatory. Looking for something more exotic? Try açai, a small purple berry with high levels of antioxidants.  Because it is native to South America, it is not usually found fresh here in the United States, so it is usually seen in smoothies and juices.  Another option is goji berries, which are small, red-orange berries high in Vitamin C.  Native to Asia, they are sold here dried or in powders and drinks.

Kale is the current star vegetable, packed with lutein, potassium, and vitamins A and K.  It is served raw in salads and smoothies or sautéed with apples and onions.  If kale is old news, try mustard greens, which are also high in vitamin A and C.  Other trendy choices include seaweed, such as kelp used to roll sushi.  Seaweed contains omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and magnesium.

Probiotics are “good” bacteria that assist in digestion.  Yogurt is the most common source of probiotics, but they are also found in sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and kefir.

Chia seeds are a hot new superfood because they contain fiber, omega fatty acids, calcium, and antioxidants.  Yes, it’s the same seed that was used to grow a “Chia Pet,” but they can be mixed into granola and tossed into smoothies for a superfood nutrition boost.


Now Serving: Calorie Counts at Vending Machines

If you were surprised to see a sign in Starbucks explaining that your vanilla latte contains 250 calories, get ready for some information that might spoil your afternoon snack: in 2014,nutrition facts at the vending machines vending machine operators will also be required to post calorie information.

The new nutrition labeling is actually a part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.  According to the FDA, menu labeling is intended to provide consumers with better information about what they eat. The idea is that when people have better information, they will make healthier choices.  Over 10,000 companies will have to comply with the new rules, which will affect 5 million machines.   The proposed rule states that calorie information would have to be displayed “clearly and prominently,” although not necessarily attached to the machine itself.  However, the sign must be able to be seen in the same field of vision as the items in the machine, so that it could be seen at the same time as the name, price, or selection button number.

The rules also apply to chain restaurants with 20 or more locations, which is why calorie information is popping up at more and more restaurants.  Bakeries, coffee chains, convenience stores, and grocery stores would all have to provide this information.  Under the proposed rules, there are exceptions for movie theaters, airplanes, bowling alleys, and other businesses where selling food is not their primary business.  Convenience stores and grocery stores, which are moving into the prepared food business, are also trying to carve out an exception for themselves under the new rules.

The FDA is currently accepting comments on the proposed rules, and they expect to release final rules sometime in 2014, with an effective date six months to one year after the rules are issued.



Making the Right Choice

Supporting Corporate Wellness


The Right Choice… For a Healthier You program developed by USConnect identifies healthier choices to support employee health and wellness. The Right Choice program encourages employees to choose vending and cafeteria selections that meet the research-based nutritional recommendations of major health organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Diabetes Association. The Right Choice program has established guidelines for beverages, snacks, and entrees, and consumers can find these selections by looking for the Right Choice logo.

USConnect members not only have access to the database of Right Choice selections, but also to training for their staff and sales team on how to support corporate wellness efforts.  Clients also have direct access to USConnect’s staff dietician, Carmen Gorniak, and can email her directly to ask questions about the Right Choice program: what breakfast options are lowest in cholesterol? Are any gluten-free snacks available through this vending machine? This service allows USConnect to listen to and meet employees’ needs.  Carmen also publishes a monthly newsletter with healthy suggestions and resources for employees.

The Right Choice program can also help members identify new products.  For example, breakfast bars are a newer offering that are a good source of both fiber and carbohydrates, and they can fill a variety of needs. Some employees are looking for breakfast on the go, while others are looking for sports nutrition to fuel up before or after a workout.  Others are just looking for a snack that tastes good, but has less sugar, and these products can fill all three of these needs. The Right Choice program can help develop the right product for your own commissary or find a comparable product for vending.

Whether the Right Choice program serves as a complement to an existing wellness program, or is the beginning of an employer’s efforts to promote healthier choices, the program can be tailored to the employees. Whether that means lower sodium and lower fat choices, or introducing new beverage selections that have less sugar, the program offers a variety of approaches to meet the needs of clients and their employees.


The Demand for Sustainability

The growing interest in environmentally sensitive packaging comes from a growing awareness of the impact that our choices may have on our planet. This may be reflected in the demand for sustainabilityan organization’s corporate responsibility policy, or it may be important to the message that a company is trying to convey to its own clients.

Sustainable packaging is packaging that may be recycled, reused, or composted. It also may include using less materials for the packaging, such as reduced layers or a smaller package, or including recycled content. Sustainability also includes how the product was made. The energy efficiency of the manufacturing process as well as the transportation of the final product are both significant.  Whether the energy and resources came from renewable sources are also potential factors.

Products advertising their sustainability or environmental sensitivity must make specific claims as to their recycled content and recyclability. Producers cannot claim an item is recyclable unless recycling facilities are available to at least 60% of consumers or communities; otherwise, the product must have a disclaimer that it may not be recyclable in your area.  Similarly, there are regulations on claiming a product has been made using renewable energy or contains recycled content. More information about environmental marketing claims is available from the FTC.

More products are now available in their own recycled and recyclable packaging.  Water bottles made of thinner plastic and compostable bags for snacks are already available, and companies continue to find new technologies.  For example, the Coca Cola company has a product called PlantBottle, a recyclable PET plastic bottle made partially from plants. Odwalla, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, switched all of its bottles to an HDPE plastic made of up to 100 percent plant-based materials derived from sugarcane.  According to the American Chemical Society, the technology for creating edible packaging already exists, and companies are experimenting with food wraps made from mushrooms and nuts.

Of course, sustainability does not just apply to the packaging. In the current “foodie” culture, consumers are increasingly conscious of the route that food traveled to get to their table. In addition to seeking food choices that are nutritionally sound, many employees may be interested in understanding as much as they can about what they are consuming.  Along with the interest in healthier choices, they may want to know about its origins—are the vegetables locally sourced? Is the coffee fair trade? Organic products, while sometimes considered healthier,  are also understood to have a smaller environmental impact and are considered socially responsible choices.