Food & Fitness After 50: How to Add Nutritional Balance to Frozen Meals

chris-hs-1969
Senior HS Photo

Fifty years ago, I graduated from high school in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Nutrition was my chosen college major and under my high school yearbook photo it reads “future dietitian” (and, I was the scorer for the baseball team which may have led to my love of sports nutrition!) I was delighted to receive a scholarship from Stouffer’s, yes, the Stouffer’s of frozen food fame. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a Mrs. Stouffer and she ran a restaurant in Cleveland in the 1920s. Her meals were uber-popular so much so that customers asked for take-out meals. In the front of the restaurant stood a freezer chest so customers could take home a frozen lasagna or meatloaf to feed their families.

stouffersSo, I was delighted when Nestle (who purchased Stouffer’s in 1973) invited me to Solon, Ohio to learn more about frozen meals, from conception to freezer case, and join with their team of chefs to experience the creative process. In addition to working with the chefs to create spice blends used for developing global flavors and reducing sodium (like the one below), we toured the innovation center to see how recipes are developed and tested for scalability (i.e., taking a homemade lasagna recipe and scaling it to make thousands of them). The recipes created in the kitchen used the same ingredients you would use at home, they just use a whole lot more of them!

 

For many, “processed” foods are to be avoided, but let’s face it, we are not going back to the days when every meal was home cooked from scratch, nor should we. There has been a lot of talk of reducing what has been termed “ultra-processed” foods. A recent study found that when people ate a diet of ultra-processed foods (the foods that are calorie-dense, taste good, and gobbled up by many of us) an extra 500 calories a day was consumed. This was a small study, but well controlled, and it gives us some insight into one of the contributors to obesity (note, I said contributing, not causing).

Tamar Haspel, writing in the Washington Post , details the problem of ultra-processed foods and notes that maybe the answer from the food industry is “better processed food.” Innovations to reduce sodium, saturated fat, and increase veggies and whole grains are a good start but the catch is….we have got to buy the products. It made me think of Trix cereal; parents demanded natural colors instead of the neon-colored cereal nuggets, but when the change was made using natural fruit dyes, the colors were not as bright and guess what? Cereal sales dropped and parents wanted the original cereal back in the aisles!

Nestle-My-Plate-e1366123280768So, bringing this back to my visit at Nestle, we talked a lot about their program to Balance Your Plate. The website and program shows how a busy family (or a single who doesn’t want to cook) can enjoy a frozen meal or a frozen pizza, but the entrée can be balanced with sides and salads to round out the meal. The portion size can be modest when other things on the plate…. a fresh fruit salad, a green salad, or grilled or steamed veggies, balance the meal, contributing to nutrient intakes and keeping you feeling full.

I also came away with a new respect for frozen foods; we tasted a few Lean Cuisine entrees, California Pizza Kitchen, Sweet Earth, and Wildscape products that were delicious and healthy. Pairing some of these products with a side of brown rice, a serving of chickpeas, or roasted broccoli or cauliflower makes an easy family meal.

So, next time it’s 5 pm and you have no dinner plans and are tempted to drive through a quick service or fast food restaurant, rethink your meal and try the frozen food aisle instead. Some data show that frozen meal eaters have better diet quality than those who rely on quick service meals.

Me with box
Me, 50 years later

During our visit, we were asked to bring the box of a favorite frozen meal and explain why we chose the item. I had to pay homage to Mrs. Stouffer and show a frozen lasagna box. I make a great spinach lasagna, but sometimes when I have a big family gathering, I get tired of cooking and on the last day of their visit I pop a frozen lasagna in the oven…. but I always balance the plate with huge salad and a slice of crusty bread!

 

Disclosure: My travel for the one-day trip to Solon, Ohio was paid for by Nestle, but I was not asked to or compensated to write this post.

 

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Seafood Nutrition Part 2

Today’s post is Part 2 of Seafood Nutrition, answering your questions on fish. In future posts, I’ll address fish oil supplements and sustainability/environmental concerns that you raised. In the last post, we covered differences between the five types of salmon, omega-3 content of various fish and shellfish, how cooking affects omega-3s, taste comparison between wild-caught and farm-raised salmon, and canned salmon. (If you missed the post, click here to read it.)

Question: Are salmon given dyes to make them pink?

salmonWild-caught salmon get their color from the food they eat, not from artificial dyes. If you’ve ever seen a pink flamingo (the real ones, not the yard ornaments!) they get their color the same way salmon do….from eating plankton rich in compounds called carotenoids. These compounds are broken down in the body to give the flesh a pink to orange to a deep red color, depending on the type and amount of food they consume. (Fun fact, humans who eat loads of carrots or drink a lot of carrot juice can develop a harmless condition called carotenemia…. the outer layer of skin, mostly seen on the palms of the hands, turn orange!)

Farm-raised salmon are fed a diet that mimics what wild-caught salmon eat, including carotenoids. While there is a lingering fear from various media stories that farm-raised salmon are injected with dyes, several news reports have corrected the inaccurate information, including Dr. Sanjay Gupta.  Click here to read more about setting the record straight.

Question: Does smoking salmon have any impact on the nutritional properties of the fish?

Smoked-Salmon-Header-1-1024x852That is a great question and it led me to ask another question: what is the difference between smoked salmon and lox? My husband loves lox with a good bagel and schmear of cream cheese, but I never thought about the difference between smoked salmon and lox.

I reached out to Tom Sunderland of Trident Seafoods who has over 15 years of experience in the salmon industry. “Lox is related to the German “Lachs,” which is used to describe smoked salmon.”

According to Epicurious Magazine, smoked salmon is cured or brined and then smoked. Nova lox is cold smoked salmon. (Nova gets the name from Nova Scotia, but now Nova just means any cold smoked salmon). And, if salmon is hot-smoked it is called kippers.

As for the nutrition, the primary difference is the sodium. “The sodium levels are a food safety requirement related to packaging under vacuum. The FDA mandates a 3.5% minimum water phase salt level on any non-nitrated product sold in a vacuum pack as a botulism inhibitor (3.0% is the minimum if sodium nitrite is used). The main purpose of sodium nitrite is color retention, but it does have some anti-microbial properties,” says Sunderland. (In a post a few months ago we covered sodium nitrite and what “uncured” means when used in meat, so for a refresher click here.)

According to Food Data Central, the USDA nutrient data base, 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of salmon has about 60 milligrams of sodium whereas smoked salmon and lox ranges from 800-1200 mg of sodium in the same 100-gram portion. Keep in mind that 3.5 ounces is a hefty portion of lox and many people (my husband included, use about an ounce on their bagel.) So, if you’ve been told to keep your sodium intake low to manage blood pressure, go easy on the smoked fish by using a smaller portion.

And, soon I’ll be introduced to gravlax, a Scandinavian cured salmon, when we visit the north lands for an anniversary trip! (Stay tuned for more on that.)

Question: Is Arctic Char as good as salmon?

I assume the question relates to nutrition and not taste, as taste is subjective, but the nutritionals are similar. Arctic char is a member of the Salmonidae family and found in cold-water lakes in the polar regions. “Most Arctic Char is imported from Iceland and Canada,” says  Valerie Agyeman, with Seafood Nutrition Partnership. She says that it has a “delicate texture and mild flavor, similar to trout and is a fattier fish than salmon.” Because of the higher fat content, it has about 1 gram (1000 milligrams) of omega-3s per serving.

For those unfamiliar with this fish, Agyeman says its “flavor appeals to people who enjoy trout but find salmon too strongly flavored.” As for cooking, she says cook char as you would trout. “Fillets and steaks can be broiled or cooked on the grill, while whole fish can be baked or poached. The skin becomes thick and leathery after cooking, so it’s best to remove it before serving. The oil content makes char also a good candidate for smoking.”

Question: Is frozen fish as healthful as fresh fish? Some frozen fish has added phosphates, why?

According to Christine Garvey of Trident Seafoods Corporation, some consumers think fresh fish is the premium offering. “Fresh fish is fantastic when it is truly freshly caught and not over a week old before it is consumed.  Unfortunately, when purchasing fresh fish, it is often impossible to know when that fish was caught and how it was handled through the supply chain. But, when fish is flash frozen at the source, I consider it the best quality fish available, typically frozen within hours of being caught.”

As for the addition of phosphates, “Alaska seafood companies do not use phosphates in processing fish in Alaska,” according the Michael Kohan, of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.  However, phosphates are an approved additive and some markets, such as Asian and Chinese markets, have long transit times to get their seafood to market so phosphates are used to improve the quality of the product. “Phosphates are added to preserve the moisture content of the fish during freezing to preserve freshness. When phosphates are used, they are declared on the label,” says Kohan.  Many people are looking for “clean” labels on foods and think the fewer additives, the better the product. While that is not necessarily true, those who are looking for fish without phosphates can choose Alaskan seafood, processed in Alaska.

Since my trip to Alaska I’ve become hooked on flash frozen wild Alaska Pollock, a cousin to cod with a mild taste and flaky texture. Try it broiled with lemon and thyme and a drizzle of olive oil, pan friend with seasoned panko bread crumbs, or blackened for fish tacos. One fillet (slightly over 4 ounces) has 80 calories and 19 grams of protein and is a great source of omega-3s, so it is a nutrient-rich choice for those over 50 years of age who want to keep calories in check while getting quality protein. And, try a wild Alaska Pollock burger for a change of pace on the summer grill.

 

 

I hope I’ve answered your questions on seafood nutrition, but if not, please let me know if you have lingering questions. Some people say seafood is too expensive, but as Linda Cornish, President of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, put it, “There is a perception that seafood is expensive, but chronic disease is more expensive!” So, take the pledge to start eating seafood twice a week!  Click here for delicious seafood recipes to help you keep the pledge!

Disclosure: I attended a sponsored travel program by Trident Seafoods where I got a deep dive (pun intended) into all things seafood and got introduced to helpful people and resources for evidence-based information on seafood. I was not compensated or asked to write this post. All of the questions came from my readers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Supplements for healthy aging?

VitaminsType “supplements for healthy aging” in Google and 26,200,000 results show up! I’m constantly being asked about supplements but I want to know what supplements are on your radar. I’m working on an article for health professionals on supplements commonly used by those of us in our 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond. And, your input is important to help me narrow down the wide field.

I know from consumer survey data from supplement trade groups that that vitamins (like vitamin D) and minerals (like magnesium) are popular, as are supplements that claim to support “healthy aging,” “heart health, and “bone health.” But, I don’t know what supplements fit neatly into those boxes and would like to know if you take any supplements or are curious about supplements you’ve read about or seen advertised in print or on television.

When I reviewed some of those 26,200,000 results, I was impressed with the creativity of the names and claims. From youngevity to longevity to herbal supplements that claim to be the “root of anti-aging.” (And, of course, we all know there is no such thing as anti-aging; even animals kept in the purest environments age.)  And, the names are cool, too, sort of like the names of the paint samples in Home Depot: “cell shield,” “ReVerse,” “Imortalium, ” and my favorite…. Super Ultra Mega longevity, because super isn’t a strong enough descriptor.

Broccoli and pillsSo, email me (chrisrosenbloom@gmail) or hit me up on twitter @chrisrosenbloom and help me compile my list. And, of course I promise to share what I learn about the supplements (what works, what doesn’t, what might, and what is just plain hype) with you in a future post.

Thanks!

Food & Fitness After 50: Seafood Nutrition Part 1

I shared my Alaskan adventure with you in a previous post and today I’ll answer your questions about the nutritional benefits of seafood. You asked so many great questions that I’m breaking it down into two parts, so welcome to Part 1. Thanks to all who submitted questions before my trip and thanks to the experts at Trident Seafoods CorporationSeafood Nutrition Partnership , and the National Fisheries Institute for providing insights for my responses.

Let’s start with an overview of the nutritional benefits of fish:

  • High in lean protein
  • Low in saturated fat (the type that raises bad blood cholesterol levels)
  • Rich in vitamin B12
  • Supports healthy brains, eyes, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels
  • Eating 2-3 servings of seafood a week reduces risk of death from all chronic diseases by about 17%.
  • All fish is healthful, but “fatty” fish are rich in omega-3 fats, specifically EPA and DHA.

Omega-3s are needed for more than a healthy heart. They are also critical for pregnant women and babies for making healthy brains for growing children. Unfortunately, only 1 in 10 of us meet the goal of eating seafood twice each week. (Dietitians take a food first approach, but if you don’t eat seafood, an omega-3 supplement is advised and more on this in a future post.) This chart identifies the fish richest in omega-3s. But, don’t worry if your favorite is on the lower end of the omega-3 chart. In the words of Dr. Tom Brenna of the Dell Pediatric Research Institute at University of Texas, “even fish with low omega-3s can deliver significant amounts if they are consumed frequently.”

snp_rdtoolkit2018_omega3_chart1

So on to your questions!

Question: I would like to understand the different types of salmon.

In last week’s post I gave you a handy way to remind the 5 different types of salmon, but here’s a rundown on the 5 types of wild-caught salmon, according to Analise Gonzales, Sales & Business Development Manager for Trident Seafoods:

  • King salmon or Chinook is the largest species (the current sport-caught world record is 97.25 pounds!) and is rich, moist, and buttery with a robust flavor. It is the highest in omega-3s and you are most likely to find it in an upscale restaurant.
  • Sockeye or red salmon is ruby red in color and remains red throughout cooking. It is high in omega-3s and is the second most abundant Alaskan salmon species.
  • Coho or silver salmon is the most commonly used in foodservice for its taste, color, and price point. It is moderate (compared to King or Sockeye) in omega-3s.
  • Chum or Keta salmon is moderately abundant, so it is a great value fish, with lighter color and milder flavor.
  • Pink salmon is the most abundant and is often used in canned salmon. It has the lowest omega-3s of all the wild-caught salmon.

Question: What’s the difference between Pacific and Atlantic Salmon?

Pacific salmon is wild caught. Atlantic salmon that you buy in the grocery store or  served in a restaurant is farm-raised. According to the National Fisheries Institute, wild Atlantic salmon is protected under the Endangered Species Act, so commercial fishing of Atlantic salmon is not allowed.

As for the nutrient profile, “it is based on what the salmon consume in their diets, and that would differ for wild species as well as farmed,” says registered dietitian Valerie Agyeman, Communications Manager for the Seafood Nutrition Partnership. “For example, Coho salmon from the Great Lakes has a different diet and “exercise regimen” than Alaska Coho. The five species of salmon, as mentioned above, also have different nutrient profiles, including omega-3s. The same is true for Atlantic salmon. What the farmers feed the fish will determine the omega-3 levels in the fish.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website provides more details on the diet of fish, but wild-caught salmon eat tiny shellfish and krill that have natural pigments, carotenoids (the colorful pigment that we eat in foods like carrots) that give salmon it’s deep red or pink color. Farmed salmon are fed diets that are formulated by nutritionists to include plant proteins, minerals, and vitamins. Many farmed salmon also are fed fish meal that contain fish oil so that they have omega-3 levels in their flesh, providing the beneficial oils to us when we eat them.

Agyeman says “there are a lot of fantastic advances in fish feed for farm-raised salmon, including some nutrient-rich algae-based options loaded with omega-3s.” (And, when we write about fish oil supplements in a future post we’ll talk about algae-based omega-3s which are popular with plant-based eaters who avoid seafood.)

Question: Which salmon tastes better, wild-caught or farm-raised?

It depends on personal taste and what you are accustomed to eating. People who live in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest who grew up eating wild-caught salmon enjoy the bolder taste and meatier texture, compared to farm-raised, but taste is subjective! Farm-raised tend to be fattier than wild-caught salmon.

Seafood is lifesavingQuestion: Does the preparation method, frying vs. grilling, alter the omega-3 content?

Yes, omega-3s are long chains of unsaturated fats and frying can oxidize them, thereby reducing the beneficial omega-3 levels. To preserve the healthy fats, baking, broiling, grilling, or poaching is preferred over frying. But, keep in mind that the type of fish that is fried is usually a milder, white fish (like Tilapia) that is relatively low in omega-3s compared to salmon.

 Question: Does freezing or canning salmon alter the omega-3 content?

According to Agyeman, the answer is, no, “although do keep in mind that different species have different omega-3 levels. Pink salmon, which is often used for canned salmon, is lower in omega-3s than other species.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will look at the differences in smoked salmon, Arctic char vs. salmon, and what to look for in the freezer case when choosing fish.

 

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.