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The healthy pantry

Consumers anticipate the demand for healthier eating to increase over the next two years, according to proprietary health and wellness research conducted in 2004-05 for Campbell Soup Company, Campbell Foodservice. Both men and women claimed their top health priority when eating out is finding options that deliver a good source of vitamins and minerals. Heart healthy, low fat and low calorie follow in that order. To get the message across, customers prefer to see menu descriptions of an item’s healthy attributes…

It’s More Than a Fad This Time

Seventy-two percent of restaurant customers say they are trying to eat healthier these days. So reports the National Restaurant Association’s 2006 Restaurant Industry Forecast. But unlike the low-carb fad and other extreme diets of the recent past, healthy eating today seems to focus on balance and positive nutrition. Sure, Americans are still trying to slim down, but many are also seeking foods that promote and enhance health and wellness. For Baby Boomers, that might mean more disease-fighting antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, while Echo Boomers (their children) might be looking for organic and sustainable ingredients. And freshness and flavor seem to be universal cravings. Operators are responding by stocking their kitchens with a variety of healthy products to appeal to all their customers—and inspire a menu mix with a range of options.
These nutrition hot buttons should be on your radar right now.

Trans-Fat Free

Trans fatty acids—abbreviated as trans fats—are formed when hydrogen is added to any vegetable oil. This hydrogenation process increases the shelf life, texture and stability of products like fried foods, shortening, margarine, crackers, cookies, snacks and baked goods. In the past, manufacturers replaced animal fats with partially hydrogenated oils to lower the saturated fat content. But recent evidence shows that trans fats, which increase levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and decrease HDL (“good”) cholesterol, may pose a greater risk.

As of January, 2006, the FDA is requiring manufacturers to list trans-fat content on packaged food labels. So far, this mandate only applies to retail products, not foodservice. However, consumer awareness of trans fats is high and some restaurant favorites—notably French fries, chicken nuggets, pastries, even egg rolls and pizza—contain them. So a number of operators are turning their kitchens into trans-fat-free zones. Popular processed foods are being reformulated without trans fats and new products are being created from the ground up.

Oils: Most liquid vegetable oils are naturally trans-fat free. With many restaurants using hydrogenated soybean oil for deep-frying, researchers at Iowa State University, in partnership with a few manufacturers, have been trying to develop a non-hydrogenated oil that has a comparable high smoking point and yields the same crispy, nicely textured results. They’re breeding a new low-linolenic soybean which produces an oil that doesn’t have to be hydrogenated. Asoyia, Innovative Growers, Cargill, Bunge and Ag Pro are all processing the low-linolenic oil.

Zero-trans-fat food products: As manufacturers of cookies, crackers, chips and other foods rushed to remove trans fats from their retail products, potato processors led the effort in foodservice. McCain and Simplot are the major players reformulating their French fries and other potato products typically made with hydrogenated oils. New on the zero-trans-fat front are McCain’s potato pancakes, breakfast potatoes and sweet potatoes.

What to buy: Soybean, canola, safflower, sunflower and olive oil; potato products, baked goods and other processed foods with zero trans fat.

Omega-3 & Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Many consumers view fat as a nutritional villain, but certain fats can be beneficial to health. Two of these so-called “good” fats are Omega-3s and Omega-6s. These polyunsaturated fats are also labeled “essential fatty acids” because the body can’t produce them—they must come from the food supply.

Research has shown that Omega-3s have a positive effect on heart health. They make the blood less likely to form clots and protect against irregular heartbeats—both of which can cause heart attack. There’s evidence that Omega-3s also decrease triglyceride levels, reduce the formation of plaque in the arteries and lower blood pressure.

Omega-6 fatty acids also have some preventative powers. Those that contain linoleic acid are the most beneficial; they help regulate inflammation and blood pressure and relieve symptoms of arthritis and chronic skin conditions.

To reap the most benefits, people should eat a balanced amount of Omega-3s and -6s.

What to buy: Salmon, tuna, sardines, trout, swordfish and other cold-water fish; walnuts, almonds, tofu and vegetable oils.

Antioxidents & Phytochemicals

Vegetables and fruits are sources of vitamins A, C and E, fiber and several key minerals. But they also boast good amounts of antioxidants and phytochemicals—two terms that might not seem as restaurant-friendly or familiar. Recent research reveals that antioxidants may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and other chronic health problems. Both vitamin C and beta carotene (a form of vitamin A) are classified as antioxidants. Plus, antioxidants are part of a broader category called phytochemicals—plant-based substances that may have disease-fighting attributes.

Foodservice purchasing allows limited time to restock inventory—much less research the benefits of phytochemicals. So the smartest strategy is to buy and menu a large variety of fresh produce and high-quality frozen and canned items to cover all bases and taste buds. Shopping by color, says the Produce for Better Health Association, is a viable guideline.

Blue and purple fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanins and phenolics—two antioxidants being studied for anti-aging bonuses. They may also lower the risk of certain cancers, maintain urinary tract health and foster memory function.

What to buy: Blueberries, blackberries, purple grapes, plums, dried plums, purple figs, raisins, purple asparagus, potatoes and eggplant.

Green fruits and vegetables have several compounds that promote a healthy digestive tract and guard against cancer. The phytochemicals lutein and indoles are notable for curtailing cell damage and promoting heart health. Some studies indicate that cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage, broccoli and kale) help regulate a complex system of bodily enzymes that protect against cancer.

What to buy: Broccoli, arugula, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, asparagus, leafy greens, spinach, green peppers, green beans, okra, sugar snaps, zucchini, avocados, honeydew, kiwifruit and green pears.

Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables are a significant source of carotenoids (including beta carotene) and bioflavinoids—two classes of phytochemicals—as well as vitamin C. Together, these work to maintain a healthy heart and eyes, power up the immune system and lower the risk of some cancers.

What to buy: Butternut and acorn squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, rutabagas, yellow peppers, apricots, mangoes, papayas and pineapples.

Red fruits and vegetables are notable for the phytochemicals lycopene and anthocyanin. Much research has been done on lycopene, which is an antioxidant related to beta-carotene. Dominant in tomatoes, lycopene is linked to a reduction in the risk of prostate and other cancers as well as heart disease.

What to buy: Tomatoes and tomato products, pink grapefruit, cranberries, cherries, pomegranates, strawberries, watermelon, beets and red peppers.


Nutrient Density


Foods that pack in a lot of nutrients in relation to their calorie counts are known as “nutrient dense.” People watching their weight look for flavorful foods that offer plenty of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, fiber, phytochemicals and other substances for the least calories.

Short of analyzing every ingredient that comes into your kitchen, how can you search out nutrient-dense foods? Start with some of the categories on these pages, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish—all are naturally low in calories. Lean meats, poultry and dairy products made with skim or low-fat milk are also good.

What to buy: Turkey, chicken breast, tofu, dried beans, yogurt, citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, flank steak, cod, halibut and shrimp.

Whole Grains

Bread, pasta and rice are back in vogue now that carb-phobia has subsided, but nutritionists are pushing whole grain products over the refined type. The reason—whole grains contain the entire grain kernel, including the bran, germ and endosperm. Those are the parts that contain fiber, iron, zinc and many B vitamins. Refined grains are milled, which gives them a finer texture but removes the bran and germ in the process.

While many refined grain products are enriched with the missing B vitamins and iron after processing, fiber is not usually added back. Insoluble fiber, the type found in whole grains, is important in promoting a healthy digestive system and may offer protection against colon cancer. Diets rich in whole grains can also lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Manufacturers of pasta, bread, crackers, tortillas and other grain products are moving toward increasing their line of whole-grain products or products made from a mixture of whole and refined grains.

What to buy: Brown rice, bulgur (cracked wheat), couscous, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, whole-wheat breads (buns, rolls and breads), whole wheat flour, whole wheat tortillas, wild rice, buckwheat, barley, quinoa, millet and grits.

The New Superfoods

Certain foods do more than deliver a lot of nutrients—they are mother lodes of healthy compounds that promote longevity by possibly protecting against cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and even dementia. That’s the theory behind the concept of “superfoods,” popularized by Dr. Steven Pratt in his 2004 book, “SuperFoods Rx,” in which he singles out “14 foods that will change your life.” The list includes beans, blueberries, broccoli, oats, oranges, pumpkin, salmon, soy, spinach, tea, tomatoes, turkey, walnuts and yogurt.

In a follow-up book, “SuperFoods HealthStyle,” more choices were added to the roster. Here are the latest additions suggested by Pratt and other superfood proponents.

Apples are loaded with fiber (5 grams per on average) and antioxidants. Raw or cooked, an apple a day can keep cardiovascular disease at bay.

Avocados are power-packed with phytochemicals, including lutein. This plant compound helps maintain healthy heart, prostate and eye function. Recent research shows that avocados act as a nutrient booster when eaten with other fruits and vegetables; they allow the body to absorb more disease-fighting nutrients like beta-carotene and lycopene.

Cinnamon may have a significant role in reducing blood sugar levels in people with Type II diabetes and in lowering triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. A USDA study found that a half teaspoon of cinnamon a day may be enough to do the trick.

Chocolate—the dark, semisweet or bittersweet variety—is not only rich in flavor, it’s rich in antioxidants. The compounds in cocoa and chocolate have similar cell-protecting antioxidants as those in red wine, tea, and fruits and vegetables. Plus, these compounds raise HDL or “good” cholesterol and reduce the chance of blood clotting that can trigger heart attack and stroke.

Kiwifruit packs a big nutrition punch for a little fruit. Available with both green and gold flesh, kiwi provides twice the vitamin C of an orange, folate to reduce the risk of heart disease and carotenoids and vitamin E to protect body cells. The antioxidant lutein, prevalent in kiwifruit, guards against macular degeneration of the eyes.

Olive oil has long been known as a heart-healthy source of monounsaturated fat; it lowers the levels of total blood cholesterol, LDLs and triglycerides (fats). Studies suggest that olive oil exerts a protective effect against certain types of tumors, including breast, prostate and colon cancer.

Pomegranates are abundant in three polyphenols—tannins, anthocyanins and ellagic acid—all potent antioxidants that help protect against heart disease and cancer. In addition, pomegranates and their juice are high in vitamin C, potassium and fiber.

Words to the Wise

Antioxidants are food substances that inhibit the normal oxidation process that takes place during digestion. Oxidation triggers the release of free radicals, which, in turn, can damage cells. Antioxidants bind with these free radicals and neutralize them before they get a chance to do harm. This helps protect the body against cancer, heart disease and the effects of aging. Antioxidants include vitamins A, C and E plus a host of other nutrients.

Carotenoids are a group of around 700 compounds that give fruits and vegetables their green, yellow, orange and red colors and protect them from sun damage. The most common in the group is beta-carotene (found in carrots and squash), but lycopene (the pigment that makes tomatoes red) and lutein (found in eggs and green veggies) are also carotenoids. All act as antioxidants.

Flavonoids or bioflavonoids covers a category of plant nutrients that number about 4,000. Like carotenoids, these are pigments that color foods like chocolate, tea, blueberries and grapes. Soy foods also are a rich source of flavonoids. Ongoing studies show that these potent antioxidants offer protection against heart disease and cancer.

Functional foods are foods or any component of a food that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. Examples include natural ingredients—like berries, soy, broccoli and oranges—as well as processed fortified or enhanced foods. The term is used interchangeably with nutraceuticals.

Phytochemicals or phytonutrients cover a broad spectrum of plant compounds that includes the antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, beans and grains. Phytochemicals protect plants against environmental damage from ultra-violet light and pollution, and evidence shows that they may have a similar positive effect on humans.

The Organic Connection

Organic foods comprise about 2 percent of foodservice sales, according to Rachel Maines, an analyst at MarketResearch.com and visiting scholar at Cornell University. “That’s still a pretty small number, but it’s double what it was five years ago,” she says. Stats from the NPD Group, a market research firm based in Port Washington, New York, reveal that 13 percent of all Americans consume organic and natural foods on a regular basis. Harry Balzer, vice president of NPD, says Americans always will try something new, particularly if it is marketed as a “healthy food choice.”

With Whole Foods Markets raising consumers’ organic consciousness and organic-savvy college students becoming tomorrow’s major dining-out customers, it looks like demand for organic ingredients will rise. The challenge: a well-priced supply to keep up with demand.

Sourcing organic takes more time. About 20 percent of operators have trouble finding organic ingredients, Maines says. “The more people who get involved in organics, the better the supply chain will become,” she explains. The growth of the first national organic distributor—United Natural Foods—should get more suppliers into the organic network. UNF now services 21,000 customers in retail and foodservice, and the company expects 2006 sales to increase 15 to 20 percent over 2005 levels.

Organics tend to be higher-priced. “It’s extremely expensive to go 100 percent organic, especially when it comes to sourcing fruits and vegetables,” Maines says. “Out-of-season organic produce has to be imported and transported, making it quite pricey.” But operators who stick to seasonal produce from local farmers or organic cooperatives—an increasingly popular trend—can keep costs down.

Crop production is growing. The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that U.S. farm acreage earmarked for organically grown crops doubled between 1992 and 1997, then doubled again in the last four years. Along with boosting supply, this increase is boosting the quality and appearance of the fruits and vegetables being produced.

Customers want organics. The National Restaurant Association reports that in 2005, 46 percent of operators
in family dining, 39 percent in casual dining and 48 percent in fine dining received more orders for organic menu items than they did two years ago.

What’s in demand. In a survey of its member companies, the Organic Trade Association predicts that organic meats, dairy products and alcohol (especially wine) will be most in demand by 2025. There’s also a growing interest in organic items that mimic conventional food brands and those perceived as having health benefits.

Trends in Healthy Eating

Consumers anticipate the demand for healthier eating to increase over the next two years, according to proprietary health and wellness research conducted in 2004-05 for Campbell Soup Company, Campbell Foodservice. Both men and women claimed their top health priority when eating out is finding options that deliver a good source of vitamins and minerals. Heart healthy, low fat and low calorie follow in that order. To get the message across, customers prefer to see menu descriptions of an item’s healthy attributes. Operators, on the other hand, usually rely on staff education, nutritional brochures and POS materials.

Three chefs sneak nutrition onto the menu

Allen Susser
Chef Allen’s, Miami, FL
Allen Susser taps into tropical and citrus fruits to add bursts of color, flavor and health to dishes. For his Tangelo and Rum Glazed Shrimp with Orange Caribbean Ratatouille, he squeezes fresh tangelo juice to use in a marinade and glaze for sautéed shrimp, then serves them with a citrusy ratatouille made with calabaza squash, plantains, chayote, chilies and bell pepper. A tangelo is a grapefruit/tangerine hybrid, high in immune-building vitamin C.

Mychael Bonner
Di Pescara, Northbrook, Illinois
Chef-partner Mychael Bonner asks
himself two questions before he puts a piece of fish on the menu: “What species speak to high Omega-3s and how can we prepare them in a healthy way?” For his signature BBQ Salmon—a fish that has a particularly high Omega-3 count—he marinates an 8-oz. portion in balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and ginger and gives it a quick turn under the broiler.

Ron Mendoza
Sona, Los Angeles, CA
Health and fitness are obsessions in L.A., but Sona’s patrons would be hard-pressed to figure out that some of pastry chef Ron Mendoza’s desserts are as good for their bodies as they are good to eat. For his Meyer Lemon Granita with Braised Blueberries and Bay Leaf Ice-Cream, the plump blueberries contribute disease-fighting phytonutrients, including carotenoids, polyphenols and anthocyanins.

So how do I source healthy products?

Jay Friedlander, COO, O’Naturals, Portland, ME
The four-unit fast-casual chain serves everything from breakfast breads to soups, Asian noodles, salads and flatbread sandwiches. Menu choices range from a Chicken and Roots Flatbread (free-roaming chicken breast with pesto, brie and root vegetables) to Korean sweet-soy glass noodles.

What kinds of foods do you source?

We focus on flavor first, but the ingredients have to be all-natural or organic. The current mix is about 30 percent organic, local or wild with the other 70 percent from products with no artificial colors or flavors and no irradiation.

Is it difficult to source to those specs?

When we started in 2001, the organic industry was directed at retail. We had to shop in health food stores and have meat Fed-Exed across the country. In the years since, the change has been dramatic. There’s more supply out there and prices are more competitive. We use a broadline distributor for foodservice-size packages of manufacturers’ products; both Sysco and U.S. Foodservice now have organic divisions. That accounts for 20 to 30 percent of our purchases. About 50 percent comes from a specialty distributor and the remainder from a produce company.

How much clout do you have with food manufacturers?

In the beginning, we talked to companies at the NRA show, but only two or three could meet our criteria. As we’ve grown, so have the manufacturers’ product lines. Many of the big brand names are into organics now. Heinz was one of the first—and we were the first multi-unit concept to use their organic ketchup. And a potato processor is developing an organic French fry for us.

Do you buy locally?

We get as much as we can from local producers. We have relationships with farmers in New England for produce and cheese and our bottled water and coffee come from local companies.

Are O’Naturals customers concerned with nutrition?

Around 80 percent are concerned with getting a really good meal fast. But there’s a subset of patrons who have special dietary needs—they’re vegans, lactose- or gluten-intolerant or simply fat-phobic. We have a separate wheat-free and dairy-free menu and items to meet everyone’s needs.

Extreme health makeover: Restaurant edition
Before: Jefferson, a high-end contemporary American restaurant
After: Jefferson Grill, a casual Asian bistro with healthy accents
Reason for re-do: Chef-owner Simpson Wong’s heart attack

When Simpson Wong opened Jefferson in New York City in 2003, the plan was an upscale restaurant where he could showcase French technique and luxe ingredients. Egg yolk- and butter-enriched sauces, marrow bones simmered into rich veal stock and dishes infused with cream were all in his daily repertoire.

Soon after, the 42-year-old Wong suffered a heart attack—an event that transformed his culinary mission. “I had always eaten healthfully and was in good shape, but as executive chef, I was constantly tasting,” Wong says. “Although the doctor never told me to change my diet, it made sense to come up with a healthier menu.”

So Jefferson became Jefferson Grill, with an Asian menu featuring grilled, stir-fried and sautéed items. Standouts include Three-Minute Salmon with sunchoke and Malabar spinach and Day Boat Scallops with truffle avocado and potatoes. Instead of butter, Wong uses olive oil for poaching and a house-made 50-50 blend of olive and soy oil for stir-frying; trans-fat-free grapeseed oil goes into salad dressings. Pastry chef Pichet Ong offers lightened-up desserts that taste anything but, such as Hot Chocolate and Date Pudding.

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