Health headlines can change as frequently as a seasonal menu.
Nevertheless, Americans eat them up. To stay in touch with the latest research (and perhaps be a step ahead of your customers), here’s what’s happening with some of the ingredients you can purchase for your menu.
Blueberries rank high in antioxidant activity due to the presence of polyphenols—particularly anthocyanin, the substance that gives the berries their blue color. Recent studies on polyphenols reveal that they may protect against the age-related decline of brain function and could be useful in treatment of Alzheimer’s-like symptoms and Parkinson’s disease.
Cherries joined blueberries and other fruits as a “superfood” in 2007. That means they offer health benefits beyond basic nutritional needs. Scientific evidence shows that tart cherries—available dried, frozen and as juice—have very high levels of antioxidants. These are linked to such health benefits as easing the pain of arthritis and gout to protecting against heart disease and certain cancers.
Grapes, also categorized as a “superfood,” are rich in plant compounds called phytonutrients. These include resveratrol, known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and flavonoids, which boast anti-clotting effects. Emerging research also links grapes to the prevention of the onset of Type 1 diabetes.
Mushrooms are a little-known source of vitamins. A serving of four to five ’shrooms delivers 4 percent of the daily value of vitamin D and is also an good source of the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid, as well as the minerals copper and selenium.
Onions contain the peptide compound GPCS, which has been discovered to slow bone loss. In addition, neokestose—another compound found in onions—helps promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the bowel.
Soy foods such as tofu, edamame and soy milk products, have coronary benefits, including cholesterol-lowering properties. The isoflavones in soy can also reduce the risk of bone fractures in post-menopausal women. And the most recent research shows that these isoflavones may help asthma sufferers.
Probiotic dairy products aid digestion from the addition of lactobacillus bacteria, which promote the growth of “good bacteria” in the body. Probiotic yogurt has been available for awhile, but DCI has just introduced a line of probiotic cheeses in mild cheddar and several jack varieties.
Salmon, trout, black cod and other finfish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have long been known to protect against heart disease. More recent research shows that DHA, one of the omega-3s, helps promote and maintain healthy vision from birth through old age.
Almonds help lower LDL cholesterol without contributing to weight gain, according to a 2007 study. Although relatively high in calories, women who ate 2 ounces (344 calories) of almonds every day for 10 weeks did not gain weight.
To post or not to post
Legislation is pending in New York City and other locales that will require chain restaurants to post calorie information on menu boards or the menus themselves. The thinking is that if patrons realize a cheeseburger has 990 calories, they might choose a grilled chicken wrap instead. Is this the best way to get the health message across?
Not according to Anita Jones, the director of Healthy Dining Finder, a San Diego-based company that has partnered with the NRA. While healthydiningfinder.com does provide nutrition information to help customers identify the healthier items on a menu, it doesn’t scare them away from more caloric choices. “It’s more productive to take a proactive approach to nutrition and tell people what they should be eating—not what they should avoid,” says Jones. She advocates putting positive messages on the menu, boasting about items high in antioxidants, abundant in whole grains or served in smaller portions.
Another solution is Nutricate, a computerized system that prints nutrition information on a customer’s receipt. The software, now in place at two fast-casual concepts—Silvergreens and Extreme Pita—not only provides calorie, fat, carb and protein data for a menu item, it steers eaters toward healthier choices. “The bottom of the receipt might say ‘next time, order light mayonnaise and you’ll save 30 calories,’” explains Nutricate CEO Jay Ferro, who began in the industry as an operator. “We give diners the tools to help them understand what they’re eating, placing accountability on a customer’s shoulders instead of the restaurant’s.” Nutricate software can also calculate data for health-promoting compounds, like beta carotene and fiber.