Field Notes: FNCE 2014

A few weeks ago I attended the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo™ (commonly referred to as FNCE®, pronounced FINN-see). This is the annual event in which 8,000 or so registered dietitians and others working in the nutrition field congregate and learn the latest nutrition science and research, sample new products, get a peek at the latest trends, and network like crazy. For me, FNCE is like an annual reunion, where I get to see – or meet for the first time – people I communicate with throughout the year on social media and via email. It’s fun, but hoo boy – is it exhausting!!

Which is probably why it took me this long to write up my FNCE recap. I needed the rest and recovery!

There is so much to do at FNCE, but my main job there was with Welch’s, working the booth and introducing its new Farmer’s Pick by Welch’s line of 100% fruit juices. Still, when I wasn’t at the booth I spent much of the rest of my time on the exhibit floor and came away with the following insights on the latest trends:

  1. We love our snacks! According to the USDA, about 96% of Americans reportedly snack at least once per day. That trend was certainly apparent at FNCE, with snack foods galore. And not only were these snack foods packed with nutrition and taste, the brands also wanted you to know what they didn’t have, like GMOs or nuts or gluten or high-fructose corn syrup.
  2. Kids are king! Maybe it’s the mom in me, but I was getting some good ideas for school lunches and snacks for my grade-schooler. With so many schools instituting no-nut policies, it was interesting to see all the nut-alternative products made with beans, peas and lentils, packaged in fun ways with kid appeal. But that’s not to say…
  3. We’re nuts for nuts! So many nuts were at FNCE (and no, I’m not talking about the attendees!) There were peanuts and almonds and pecans and so much more. Maybe it’s because…
  4. We’re also nuts for protein! Protein may be the one nutrient of which most Americans consume the right amount, but boy do we love protein! And there are myraid ways to get protein – not just the traditional sources like meat and dairy, but also protein-fortified bars and beverages.
  5. We like to mix things up! Setting aside the “yogurt gets a passport” trend (see previous blog post on that topic), we love customizing our own foods, mixing savory with sweet, crunchy with creamy. You could see that in action with yogurts (SO many yogurt options), cottage cheese – even strawberries.

Curious to hear from other RDs and the trends they picked up on at FNCE. Leave a note in the comments!


Disclosure: Welch’s is a client, but I was not compensated nor asked to write this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

New feature: the Dietitian Dine Around

Today I’m launching a weekly blog series: the Dietitian Dine-Around. Each week I will feature a review of a food find at area restaurants and cafes. And although I’m a sucker for locally-owned businesses, for the most part  I’ll be reviewing items found at popular chains, so that non-DC-area-based readers can enjoy the “fruits” of my labor as much as the local folks.

Photo credit: Panera Bread

The first installment of Dietitian Dine-Around features a healthy food find from Panera Bread. This morning I found myself with about 20 minutes to spare while I waited for a local grocery store to open. In the same shopping plaza was a Panera Bread, so I decided to have a quick breakfast and some coffee.

A typical on-the-go healthy and satisfying breakfast for me is a bagel and peanut butter, but I was delighted to see a few egg and cheese sandwich options. I chose the Breakfast Power Sandwich – a complete 340-calorie meal of a grilled egg with cheese and ham sandwiched between a slice of whole grain bread. Eggs in the morning tend to satisfy me longer than most other breakfasts, so I was excited to try this healthy-seeming sandwich.

When my Panera Pager went off, I picked up my sandwich at the counter. I’ll be honest, what was awaiting me was a little disappointing. The sandwich looked bland and lonely on its large, bright yellow plate. The fork and knife provided were unnecessary, as the sandwich itself was just a slice of bread cut in half with the egg/ham/cheese layered between. I’m certainly not complaining about the portion – the sandwich was certainly filling and provided plenty of calories and nutrients – but eating is a multisensory experience, involving not just our taste buds, but also our noses and eyes, even our sense of touch (mouthfeel) and ears. No wonder healthy food sometimes gets labeled as boring…this sandwich certainly looked it.

Undeterred, I found a place to sit and picked up my breakfast, ready for the first bite. As I did, water dripped out and made a small puddle on my plate. How an egg, ham and cheese sandwich could be watery is beyond me, but sure enough I had a soggy sandwich.

Not only was it wet, but the sandwich was really salty. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, since both ham and cheese tend to be salty, but this combo seemed especially so. Sure enough when I looked up the nutrition info online when I got home, this 340-calorie meal wasn’t quite the bargain I thought: at 820 mg sodium, I was getting about 1/3 of my daily limit (current guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 mg sodium per day for the average healthy adult; that number drops to 1,500 mg for certain populations and those at higher risk for hypertension and heart disease).

Another closer look at the nutrition info found that my little sandwich had 15 grams of fat, 7 of which were saturated fat. Not terrible, but also a little high considering that 40% of the calories in the sandwich came from fat (most nutrition professionals recommend getting no more than 30% of calories from fat).

All told, six hours later I realize I didn’t need my usual mid-morning snack and am now finally ready for lunch. Still, here are some improvements I suggest to Panera:

  • Hold the salt! Not sure why additional salt is needed. Keeping it off will save 40 mg sodium.
  • Use lower-sodium ham and/or cheese.
  • Add some veggies for extra nutrients. The Mediterranean Egg White sandwich has spinach and tomatoes – those would be great additions to this “Power” sandwich as well.

Wasa new-a in my pantry

Growing up, it wasn’t unusual for someone in my house to decide to be on a diet. There were clues to when these times came around: certain foods would be off limits to us kids, like when the pantry was stocked with NutriSystem foods or the freezer had diet fudgsicles. You also knew it was diet time when the only crackers you could find in the house were these thick, plywood-like, flavorless sheets that came in a cardboard box wrapped in paper…Wasa crackers. 

This was back when “diet food” tasted terrible, but as dieters you’d feel virtuous eating it. If it tasted good, it must be bad for you, right? Wasa crackers to me were the epitome of diet food.

As I’ve mentioned before, a perk of being a dietitian is that I sometimes get food samples to try out.  So when a few packages of Wasa crackers arrived, I was curious. These were not the Wasa crackers of my youth, but new thin and crispy flatbread crackers.

I should say right off the bat, I love flatbread crackers. I could eat them plain or topped with cheese. But the brand best known for making quarter-inch-thick bricks of crackers is now making flatbread thins? This I had to try.

There were three flavors to sample: original, sesame and rosemary. I tried the rosemary first, since I love pretty much anything seasoned with rosemary. These did not disappoint. For a thin little crisp, it was quite a burst of flavor. There was a perfect mix of rosemary and sea salt, which gave the cracker a rustic taste. I could eat these by themselves…and I did. At 70 calories per two flatbread crisps, eating a couple of these is great when you’re craving potato chips or something crispy and salty.

Next I tried the sesame. I was a little dismayed that these crackers didn’t have whole sesame seeds sprinkled on top, but the flavor was really good. Again, there was a hint of salt and rosemary, but not as strong as the rosemary crackers. These were also good by themselves or with a topping (I used different kinds of cheeses).

Last I tried the original. It was bland, which was a bit of a letdown at first but actually worked out well as a basis for strong cheese or hummus.

Nutrition-wise these crackers are pretty good. As I mentioned before, two crackers supply 70 calories and contain 8 grams of whole grains (half a serving), and whole wheat flour is listed as the first ingredient. I was a little surprised that you only get 1 gram of fiber for every two crackers, but then again, it’d be hard to boost the fiber and still keep the cracker thin and light. Besides, if you’re itching for more fiber, just top a flatbread with some hummus or guacamole. Easy…and delicious!

Getting reacquainted with an old childhood friend: cottage cheese

One of the perks of being a registered dietitian is the food samples. Recently, I was the lucky recipient of some Daisy brand cottage cheese, delivered cold right to my door. I’m not a big cottage cheese-eater – it’s a food item I often forget about even though it’s fairly nutritious – so I was pleased with the opportunity to try some again.

Perhaps my all-time favorite cottage cheese was something served in a local restaurant where I grew up. Instead of bringing over a bread plate for patrons to nibble on while we glanced over the menu, the servers dropped off dishes of herbed cottage cheese (I think with chives) along with an assortment of breadsticks and crackers. We used to devour this free appetizer and sometimes asked for seconds. I’ve yet to replicate the consistency and flavor of this cottage cheese, and the restaurant is long-since closed, replaced by a strip mall, so the recipe is probably gone forever.

Now, it’s very likely that this cottage cheese from my youth was full-fat and mixed with who-knows-what to give it that spreadable, thick consistency. The 2% fat Daisy brand I now have in my fridge is a pretty good substitute, in that it’s thick enough to be eaten with a fork rather than a spoon. And at 90 calories per ½-cup serving, it’s a low-calorie, lowfat way to get high-quality protein and some calcium (10% Daily Value). Milk, yogurt and even most regular cheeses are better sources of calcium, usually providing 20% Daily Value or more. Also as with all cheeses, cottage cheese is not a good source of vitamin D and provides a fair amount of sodium. Still, you’re getting a pretty nutritious bang for your calorie buck.

One of the reasons cottage cheese isn’t among my go-to foods is because I find it a little sour. It’s just not a food I could eat on its own – I need to mix it with something sweet, such as chopped fruit, or put it into a pita pocket with crisp lettuce and cucumbers. One great idea I recently heard is to top a baked potato with cottage cheese and chives instead of sour cream – what a nutritious, balanced meal! For other ideas on how to serve cottage cheese, check out some of the tips on the Daisy website.

Despite my own preferences and biases, I would recommend reduced-fat cottage cheese to most relatively healthy clients looking for a quality, vegetarian protein without too much fat and calories. Now, time to make a cottage cheese sandwich!

Note: As with everything on my blog, all views expressed in this post are my own. I did not receive compensation for this post, nor did Daisy ask me to post a review.

Yogurt gets a passport

The yogurt case in your local supermarket is like a mini United Nations. When I was a kid, the most exotic yogurt available was the one that came in a slightly smaller cup with a fancy French name (Yoplait). Nowadays, nearly all yogurts have shrunk from 8-oz. to 6-oz., giving Yoplait some company as a 2/3 cup serving.

Also, today we can get yogurt inspired from Greece, Australia, and now, Iceland. (Locavores, take note: most of these yogurts are processed in the United States – so while the front of the package conjures up transatlantic travel, the reality is these yogurts are made in California, New York or other less exotic locales).

I recently tried Siggi’s Icelandic Style Skyr, which is apparently the traditional style of yogurt in Iceland. The watery whey from milk is removed, leaving behind a thick, concentrated yogurt with double to triple the amount of protein. I like Greek yogurt, though sometimes the tanginess is too much for me. Siggi’s yogurts were tangy and thick as well, and very tasty. They come in exotic flavors such as pomegranate & passion fruit, orange & ginger, and acai, in addition to the more traditional plain, blueberry and vanilla.

As with nearly all dairy products these days, Siggi’s yogurt has a claim that the milk used for its yogurt does not contain added growth hormone (rBGH). It’s also noted that the yogurt contains no artificial sweetener but rather is lightly sweetened with agave nectar. For fructose-a-phobes that really should be a flag, since agave nectar is about 80-90% fructose (whereas the much-maligned high fructose corn syrup contains 55% fructose, and table sugar is 50% fructose). But that’s the subject of another post…