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NEWS: Americans Making Better-For-You Food Choices At Restaurants

We met our brother for lunch this weekend at California Pizza Kitchen.

As we both ordered from what we considered to be the “better-for-you” salad menu, Brother, an attorney, looked at the small print.

“Yikes,” he said, “My Cobb Salad has 941 calories. I thought salads were supposed to be low-calorie!”

Well, er, not when topped with blue cheese, bacon, avocado and 1/4 cup of dressing (which is 400 calories in and of itself).

But we are still perplexed as to how our Thai Crunch Salad added up to 1089 calories. It had lots of Napa and red cabbage, carrots, cilantro, cucumbers and scallions, with perhaps two ounces of grilled chicken and modest accents of edamame, wontons, rice sticks and peanuts. The lime-cilantro dressing was minimal.

It seems that if we wanted to count calories, we should have gotten half portions. But we left full of fiber and protein, and grateful that we hadn’t ordered the BBQ Chicken Pizza.

This morning, we read a Food Channel Trendwire email which announced:

 

At 550 calories, a better-for-you entrée.
Photo courtesy Applebee’s.

 

Restaurant Diners Actually Starting to Make Healthier Choices

The article led with the bad news: A report issued earlier this month by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that the national obesity epidemic continues to worsen. Only one state showed an obesity rate below 20% (and just barely): Colorado at 19.8%. Twelve states have obesity rates over 30%. Mississippi was number one at 34.4%. Seven states have seen their rates double in the past 20 years.

But there is some good news: This year, a number of leading restaurant chains are finding significant growth in the better-for-you menu options.

  • Applebee’s. For the first time in the restaurant’s history, the top selling entrée on the menu came from the under-550 calorie menu: Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Sauce. Applebee’s president, Mike Archer, remarked, “I’ve been in the restaurant business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. We’re seeing a sea change in consumer behavior.”
  • IHOP. The pancake powerhouse reports that its Simple & Fit menu, offering a range of under-600 calorie choices, now accounts for 8% of entrées sold. At 330 calories, the Spinach, Mushroom and Tomato Omelet is now a best seller.
  • Friendly’s. Four of its under-550 calorie limited time offers have sold so well that they’ve been moved to the permanent menu this summer.
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    Of course, the reports don’t count any beverages, bread, appetizers and desserts, but America is finally off to a good start.

      

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    TRENDS: Eat Hemp & Support Hemp Farming

    The second Annual Hemp History Week ended yesterday.

    The national grassroots education campaign aims to renew support for hemp farming in the U.S. Although illegal today, hemp was traditionally grown in the U.S. by many farmers—including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper!

    In addition to edible hemp seed, hemp has long been used to make fiber for rope and textiles.

    The growing of hemp as a food and textile crop was banned in 1957, due to federal confusion over industrial hemp and marijuana.

    While there is pending legislation to change the situation, currently no live hemp plant (specifically, leaves and stems) can enter the U.S. But the seeds and end products containing them can be imported.

     

    Shelled hemp seeds are a delicious addition
    to salads. Photo by Elinor D. | Wikimedia.

     

    Hemp seeds are one of the most nutritious foods around. Hemp, along with quinoa, is one of the few plant foods that are a complete protein (containing all the essential amino acids). Hemp seed is packed with protein, omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (the highest levels of any plant source) and magnesium. The flavor is mild, similar to sunflower seeds.

    If only hemp were legal, it would add inexpensive protein to our diet. Instead of appearing only in niche health foods, large manufacturers would use it to add protein to cereal, milk and other foods.

    Currently, Americans can purchase hemp seed powder to add to smoothies and other foods; shelled hemp seeds to sprinkle on salads, soups, veggies, yogurt and hot and cold breakfast cereals (very tasty!); and hemp seed oil for salads.

    Beyond nutrition, an excellent reason to legalize hemp growing is that it can be a salvation to many of America’s farmers.

    It is difficult for many American farm families to earn a living from farming. Farmers earn $25/acre for growing corn. Hemp would yield $200/acre, giving them the income they need to keep their family farms.

    Now that you know, support hemp farming. Write to your state and federal representatives. Not only does the federal government need to legalize hemp farming, but each state must also legalize it in order to allow its farmers to grow hemp.

    Learn more at VoteHemp.com and follow the link to send a pre-written email, fax or letter to your legislators to let them know how you feel about the status of hemp in the U.S.

    And don’t forget to enjoy the benefits of hemp as a high protein nutritional supplement. Start with sprinkling the tiny seeds onto your salads. If you typically eat a low-protein vegetable salad for lunch, it’s just what the doctor (or nutritionist) ordered. Two tablespoons of hemp seed provides 11 grams of protein, as much as a chicken drumstick.

    Our favorite hemp food: the hemp bagels from French Meadow Bakery.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Know Your Saturated Fat Foods

    So good to taste, so bad for your heart (photo Paul Johnson | IST).

    Last year, a media blitz let America know that trans fat was bad for us. Some cities legislated that it could not be used in restaurants. Manufacturers reformulated their products and declared “No Trans Fats!” on the packaging.

    Trans fats are no longer the enemy.

    Know what is? Saturated fat!

    Knowing which fats raise LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and which ones don’t is the first step in lowering your risk of heart disease—America’s number one killer. You can’t wait until you’re 50 to change your diet. Your healthy future starts today.

    Saturated fat is the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol. It is found mostly in foods from animals, plus some plants.

    And darn it, saturated fat is found in America’s favorite foods: beef, lamb, pork, poultry, veal and their fats (chicken fat and lard, e.g.), for starters.

     

  • Butter, cream, milk, yogurt, cheeses and other dairy products made from whole and 2% milk contain dietary cholesterol. That means ice cream and frozen yogurt too. (Sob!)
  • And watch out for the saturated fat in coconut, coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil (often called tropical oils), plus cocoa butter (a key component of chocolate).
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    The American Heart Association strongly advises these fat guidelines for healthy Americans over age 2:*

  • Limit total fat intake to less than 25%–35% of your total calories each day.
  • Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7% of total daily calories.
  • Limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day, for healthy people.
  • Limit trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of total daily calories.
  • The remaining fats you consume should come from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, fish and vegetable oils.
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    If your calorie goal is 2,000 calories each day (recommended for sedentary females 21-50), that means no more than 16 g saturated fat and between 50 and 70 grams of total fat each day, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

    It isn’t easy to cut back on that delicious saturated fat. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single teaspoon.
     
    BEYOND SATURATED FATS:

    WHICH FATS & OILS ARE HEALTHY VS. UNHEALTHY.
    ________________
    *Conventional thinking, currently being studied by researchers, is that infants need relatively large amounts of fat, including saturated fat, for proper growth and development.
     
      

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    TRENDS: Alcohol Consumption By Country

    With Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day upon us—two holidays known for celebration with alcohol—we found this comparative drink consumption chart.

    America isn’t even in the Top 10.

    That’s no reason to celebrate (or to over-indulge). The better focus would be to move our students up the Top 10 list in math and science.

    In a 2009 study, U.S. eighth graders ranked 11th in science and 9th in math.

    Next question: Why do people in Luxembourg drink so much?

     

    Chart courtesy Grafikdienst.com.

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    TRENDS: Craft Beer

    Try a spicy beer with your fruitcake.
    Photo courtesy CraftBeer.com.

    Here’s an idea for Christmas dinner or New Year’s Eve: Treat guests to a craft beer tasting.

    As we relayed last week, a Wakefield Research survey shows that more than 60% of men would prefer to toast the New Year with beer rather than Champagne. By implication, they wouldn’t mind having that beer at Christmas as well.

    And by further implication, they wouldn’t mind tasting some exciting craft beers instead of the same old, same old.

    So go to your closest depot of craft beer and get six or so different brews for a tasting. If you don’t know where to begin, the sales associate can help you. One place to start is with the same style of beer (pilsner, dark ale) from six different microbreweries. Or, purchase six different styles of beer from the same brewery.

    Serve the beers in order from lightest to darkest style, giving everyone a two-ounce pour. This nets out to one bottle of beer consumed per person. One 12-ounce bottle yields 6 pours. Discuss the aromas and flavors in each beer—they’re complex and much more flavorful and aromatic than mass-marketed megabrands.

    Craft beer continues to be hot. In 2010, craft breweries nationwide were unable to keep up with demand from enthusiastic beer lovers.

    While many of the top-selling beer brands from the large breweries saw a decline in sales in 2010, 200 new craft breweries opened and almost 500 more are reported to be in the planning stages.

    Here are highlights from the ever-changing beerscape, according to the Brewers Association, which represents America’s small and independent craft brewers.

    • Cans vs. Bottles: Full-flavored craft beers in cans instead of bottles continued to gain traction across the country.
    • “Sour is the New Hoppy”: Barrel-aging, which produces interesting tart flavors, has become very popular—even among America’s hopheads who like the bitter flavors.
    • Beer and Food: Craft beer and food pairings continue to be prevalent at the dinner table. From coast to coast, restaurants are offering beer pairings with food. See our beer pairing dinner menu (a great idea for New Year’s Eve) and find many pairing ideas at CraftBeer.com.
    • Cooking With Beer: Craft beer has become a staple ingredient in many dishes, from brines to sauces. Get lots of ideas at BeerCook.com.
    • Nano Breweries: These tiny breweries, with a case output so small that they can’t be called microbreweries, are hot and growing.
    • Brewpubs: The estimated 1,000 brewpubs in the country represents well over half of U.S. breweries. Looks like we want good grub with our craft beer.

     

    Support your local brewery. Meet friends at your nearest brewpub for some holiday cheer.

    Understand the types of beer in our Beer Glossary.

     

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