MenuDirections 2012: The Skinny on Healthful Menu Items

One expert's view on what to eat packaged some surprises.

MenuDirections' keynote speaker detonated many of the myths about healthful dining.

Nutrition expert James Painter lobbed some firebombs of alternative thinking into Monday’s session of MenuDirections, detonating such well-bunkered truths as “avoid cholesterol at all costs” and “don’t eat fat.”

His list of 10 foods to eat for better health began with rebuttals of those two long-held tenets. But his challenge of the conventional wisdom on healthy eating hardly ended there. Take, for instance, his assessment of chocolate.

“Chocolate is actually a health food,” asserted Painter, who chairs the School of Family & Consumer Sciences at Eastern Illinois University. 

The nutritional devil, he continued, is in the details. The sugar that’s used to counter the bitterness of cocoa, the source of chocolate, may weigh against healthy eating. But “cocoa itself is beneficial,” Painter said.

Still, cocoa can be stripped of its health benefits if it’s processed using the so-called Dutch method, the process used for most just-add-water mixes currently on the U.S. market, according to Painter, a registered dietician and Ph.D.

That message—that the do’s and don’t’s of healthful eating are far more nuanced than the broad strokes of popular or even professional wisdom—was stressed again and again during Painter’s animated presentation.

“It has been a long-held public policy to reduce dietary fat,” he noted. “The goal is you don’t cut it out, you cut it back.”

It’s also a matter of what sort of fat is under discussion.

“Substituting polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat is the one thing you can do [to promote health],” Painter remarked. “It’s the one place where our health policy is correct.”

He similarly challenged the prevailing mindset on cholesterol.

“People still have this idea that you need to cut cholesterol out of your diet. [But] it really does nothing,” he said. Rather, managing the relationship between so-called bad cholesterol—LDL—and the good variety, HDL, is the real route to safer eating, he explained.

Painter also burst the myth that nuts should be avoided “because they’re full of fat.” In fact, “We’ve known for a long time” that they can be beneficial in moderation. Just don’t keep the lid off the jar, he advised.

Painter cited a number of foods that should be mixed into diets for better health. They include…

Phytosterols, the ingredients in butter substitutes like Benecol and Smart Balance that reduce cholesterol.

Soy in all forms, including tofu.

Fiber-rich foods, particularly psyllium seed and oat bran.

Grape products, including raisins, wine and whole purple fruit. “You’d think they’d all be the same, but they’re not,” Painter said. Raisins, for instance, tend to reduce inflammation similar to the way aspirin does. Wine has its own set of benefits. “You need about a cup of grape juice, you need about a half a cup of wine,” he commented.

Garlic, but only when it’s smashed, diced or otherwise handled in a surface-breaking way that releases the aromatics. “Until you break it and make those aromatic compounds, it does nothing,” said Painter.

Tea, which lessens the chance of arterial blockage by working against clotting.

Painter’s session was sponsored by the California Raisin Marketing Board.

Watch a video clip of Dr. Painter's presentation below:

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
tug hospital robot

Automation has opened up in recent years as foodservice operators across the country grapple with labor shortages. Robots deliver food trays to patients in hospitals, and they make sushi on college campuses. For some operators, they’re worthwhile to reduce strain on human employees and increase productivity.

Robots roamed the hallways when the University of California San Francisco Medical Center’s new Mission Bay campus opened last year. Though these robots have nicknames like Wall-E and Tuggie McFresh, they’re not a novelty. They’re a solution to a problem that administrators...

Ideas and Innovation
sandwich sub

At our corporate operation in the Kohl’s headquarters, two kinds of sandwiches are available daily—an artisan version and a more straightforward sub. While planning out a business model for the space, Kohl’s wanted something that was quality driven, but very sensitive to pricing for associates. Diners are comfortable spending about $6 to $7 for lunch.

Ideas and Innovation
usc asian remodel

With a prime location in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s foodie capitols, the University of Southern California has plenty of dining competition. So when Kris Klinger, assistant vice president of retail operations, discovered that students were heading off campus for sushi and noodle bowls, he knew it was time to take action. The construction of Fertitta Hall, part of the university’s Marshall School of Business, provided the opportunity.

Klinger and Gary Marschall, associate director of USC auxiliary services in hospitality, shared photos of both the new Fertitta Cafe and a...

Ideas and Innovation
sriracha bottles

Generally, I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. They tend to be grandiose and unrealistic—and why not just resolve to start doing/not doing that thing you’re not doing/doing right away instead of going hog wild until Jan. 1? (New Year’s Day also is my birthday, and if you can’t eat at your favorite Thai restaurant and sip bubbly then, well, when can you?)

I do, however, enjoy the raucous singing of “Auld Lang Syne” to ring in the new year, though I’ve never been quite sure whether you’re supposed to be remembering the year fondly or happily putting it out of mind. While I...

FSD Resources