Nutrition [Food News & Facts]

Trading meat for plants may be healthier for people and the planet, but that may not be the best way to “sell” the concept to clients.

by Alexandra Williams, MA


Lead story: Will Your Grill Be Vegetarian by 2050?

For many Americans, the idea of outdoor cooking immediately conjures aromas of burgers and other grilled meats. However, as our population continues to grow, along with the incidence of health problems and environmental concerns, it may be time to help clients reconsider which foods go best with grill lines.

According to a recent article on, “If we are to have any hope of feeding 9 [billion] people by 2050, there will need to be a radical shift in dietary patterns away from beef in particular” (March 7, 2018). The article—by Elaine Watson, who reported live at the 7th International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition—summarized much of the compelling information and stats shared at the event

“Societies must work together to change the perception that red meat—particularly beef—is the mainstay of an affluent and healthy diet,” said Joan Sabaté, MD, DrPH, a board-certified physician and professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Loma Linda University in California, where the congress was held. That message is key: It’s an almost exact duplicate of a line in a study published in Public Health Nutrition, in which Sabaté and other researchers compared the effects of producing 1 kilogram of protein from kidney beans versus beef. The bean protein, they said, would require about 18 times less land, 10 times less water, 9 times less fuel, 12 times less fertilizer and 10 times less pesticide (2015; 18 [11], 2067–73). Watson’s article also cited numerous other environmental concerns over beef production, including greenhouse gas emissions, water acidification and waste products.

Will this planet-based information sway clients who are not already eating a plant-based diet? Likely not, says consumer awareness expert Ruben Sanchez, PhD, of the Universidad de La Frontera, in Temuco, Chile, who spoke at the event and on camera with Watson. For people who choose bulgur over burgers, the sustainability info is like an “add-on” benefit—a further support for their decision. For proud carnivores, though, Sanchez advises touting the health perks of decreasing meat intake, rather than delivering a lecture on sustainability.

Ginger drinks are making their way into gyms.

Cold Ginger Beverages Are Hot!

Ginger is in the news and on the shelves! From cold-pressed caffeine-free ginger shots to a turmeric latte with elephant ginger to blueberry-ginger kombucha, beverages that include this root are coming on strong this year. While ginger has long been associated with digestive health, a small 2015 study of “non-weight-trained” people doing a “high-intensity elbow flexor exercise protocol” showed accelerated recovery in muscle strength after taking 4 grams of ginger per day for 5 days prior to the workout (Phytotherapy Research, 29 [6], 887–93).

Don’t be surprised to see some ginger shots at your gym or in clients’ gym bags someday soon.

Birthday parties encourage kids to associate a happy mood with goodies like cake and ice cream.

Does Junk Food Make Kids Smile?

Psychologist Shayla C. Holub, PhD, from the University of Texas at Dallas found a link between snack choices and happiness—a link that begins early in life. In an observational study, Holub and co-author Cin Cin Tan, PhD, from the University of Michigan, report that children aged 4½–9 years old chose chocolate candy over goldfish crackers more frequently in response to both happiness and sadness (Appetite, 2018; 123, 169–74). Interestingly, sad children consumed more chocolate than their happy counterparts, but both happy and sad kids ate more than those who were emotionally neutral.

“What we’re learning is that it’s sometime during the preschool period that children are developing these eating habits,” says Holub. “For example, you go to birthday parties and experience positive emotions—everyone has fun and gets candy or cake. Children begin to associate food with certain feelings.”

Parents, she says, can help to prevent emotional eating by not modeling it for their kids—and by not offering kids a “treat” when they get hurt or bored. “If we can learn how to nurture healthy habits early on, that makes us less likely to have to eliminate negative behaviors later,” says Holub. “The idea is to set up healthy trajectories and communicate with our children about how to choose healthy options.”

Healthy Consumers Are Driving Food Industry Trends

It’s good to know that fit pros and their clients will continue to have more opportunities to choose foods based on health, sustainability and animal welfare. A few encouraging trends have emerged over the past year, including

  • bone broth derived from “properly raised” animals;
  • functional herb beverages (see the “ginger” item);
  • plant-based dairy alternatives used as ingredients, not just as beverages; and
  • more alternatives to basic grains—for example, almond flour, seed flours and cassava.

According to Tracy Miedema, vice president of Presence Marketing, natural and organic products are up about 8% across the board, with no sign of slowing down. Calling this “one of the biggest shifts that has happened in the last 36 months,” she attributes much of the investor enthusiasm to incubators within large companies such as General Mills and Hain (Celestial). Following marketplace demand, Miedema notes, “the power . . . has been unlocked” for these healthier foods to move even wider into the mainstream.

Eat Right for Higher Height

For even the fittest of families, proper nutrition can take a back seat when schedules become overloaded. Of course, parents know that’s not a good thing, but here’s another compelling reason for them to put healthy fare back on the menu: Worsening nutrition has been tagged as the main culprit for Americans’ drop in height rankings worldwide.

Yes, you read that right: Men and women in the United States are getting taller at a slower rate than their counterparts in other high-income countries. One hundred years ago, U.S. men and women were the third and fourth tallest in the world, respectively. Now, they have fallen to 37th place (men) and 42nd (women), according to an article by the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (eLife 2016; 5:e13410 doi:10.7554/eLife.13410). Parents may find this even more disconcerting in light of research showing that taller people have longer life spans, greater educational success, higher incomes, and a lower incidence of heart disease and stroke.

While being taller in and of itself may not be a goal for everyone, it’s certainly a byproduct of healthy nutrition, which is a life-enhancing objective worth pursuing. With nutrition taking the blame for America’s height decline, you have one more reason to encourage families to make healthy eating a priority at home.

Grilled Watermelon Shrimp Kebabs with Sweet Spicy Glaze

“During the summer, don’t knock on my front door during the dinner hour—just come on through the back gate,” says Jennifer Fisher of Austin, Texas, who created this refreshing recipe. When she’s not enticing her neighbors with the aromas of outdoor grilling, Fisher is a competitive athlete, mom of three boys and advocate of science-based nutrition. Fisher shares her inspiration for fresh, flavorful meals at After trying this recipe, you may want to move next door to her.

6 cup 1-inch watermelon cubes
1 Tbl red chili sauce (like Sriracha)
1 Tbl honey
1 Tbl reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp minced garlic
1 lb uncooked jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
1 large red onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
Sea salt and coarse black pepper, to taste
Fresh cilantro, for garnish

TO MAKE THE GLAZE: In a blender, combine 2 cups watermelon with the chili sauce, honey, soy sauce, minced garlic and any watermelon juice that has pooled in your watermelon prep bowl (or substitute 1 tablespoon of water to get the blender going). Purée until smooth, then transfer watermelon mixture to small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer on low for approximately 15 minutes or until mixture has reduced by about half. Set aside.

TO MAKE THE KEBABS: While glaze is simmering, thread raw shrimp, onion pieces and remaining watermelon cubes onto four (12-inch) metal or soaked-bamboo skewers (presoaked in water for 30 minutes), alternating ingredients. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

Heat outdoor grill or stovetop grill pan to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place skewers on grill and cook for about 3–4 minutes per side, flipping once. Near the end of grilling, use a silicone brush to glaze skewers with half the glaze.

Remove kabobs from grill when shrimp is cooked through and no longer translucent. Watermelon and onions should also have nice grate marks.

Drizzle with the rest of the glaze and serve alone, over cilantro rice or a salad, or with your choice of side. Serves four.

Recipe used with permission.

Watermelon’s Secret Superpowers: Two More Reasons To Love Watermelon

A study published recently in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care noted that supplementation with L-citrulline, an amino acid found in watermelon, can improve blood flow and improve oxygenation of skeletal muscles, thereby enhancing exercise performance in healthy young adults (2017; doi:10.1097/MCO.0000000000000340). Turns out this fruit’s positive effects on blood vessels may also make it an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED) if taken in concentrated form.

According to an article in Medical News Today, “Some studies suggest that watermelon may be a viable substitute for Viagra” (Villines, Z., Dec. 27, 2017). Here’s why: The L-citrulline converts to arginine in the body and then to nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels throughout the body. While this mechanism is different than that of ED drugs, the end result could be similar. The effects are more pronounced with concentrated watermelon juice, which has higher concentrations of L-citrulline than the fruit.

Source: Villines, Z. 2017. Can watermelon help with erectile dysfunction? Accessed Apr. 22, 2018:

Meet our experts

AFM_Author_Williams Alexandra Williams, MA, A writer and editor, as well as a lecturer at UC Santa Barbara in the department of Exercise Studies, Sport and Recreation. She is a vegetarian who cooks and bakes from scratch. Find her at

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