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  • Soda Taxes vs Dietary Guidelines: Which Can Best Improve Our Diets?

    Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN

    Are you one of the millions of people who eagerly awaited the release of each new Harry Potter book over the past 20 years and snatched up a copy to read as soon as it came out? That sort of describes how registered dietitian nutritionists, like me, feel about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). A new edition is published every five years to provide health professionals and policy makers with the latest nutrition science to guide our eating advice for the nation.

    I know that probably doesn’t sound as exciting as a day at Hogwarts Academy, but it supplies me with many of the tricks of the trade I need to do my job!

    The most recent edition of the DGA was published this year, so it’s still fresh on my mind. A key message throughout the 200+ page document is the importance of dietary patterns over single foods or nutrients in determining diet quality.  The DGA define dietary patterns as:

    “...the quantities, proportions, variety or combinations of different foods and beverages in diets, and the frequency with which they are habitually consumed.”

    It goes on to say that a healthy eating pattern should include everything from vegetables and fruits to grains, dairy, protein and even oils. It also says our eating patterns should limit excess saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sodium.

    “As you can see, there’s much more we need to include in our diets than exclude to be healthy.”

    This all came to mind as I followed the news of soda taxes being proposed in several cities across the country this year. It made me wonder how taxing sugar-sweetened beverages was going to help Americans achieve the goals outlined in the DGA? Reducing added sugars is important, but it shouldn’t overshadow all of the other ways Americans can improve their diets - or worse yet - lead them to think reducing added sugars is the only thing that matters.  And sadly, there may be some evidence of just that.

    Soda consumption in the U.S. has been declining for the past 30 years while obesity and unhealthy diets persist. Maybe it’s time for legislators to propose bills that will help Americans achieve better dietary patterns instead of focusing so much on sugars since the DGA also clearly state, “...the eating pattern may be more predictive of overall health status and disease risk than individual foods or nutrients.” 

    Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, "The Everyday RD," is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.

  • When The News Tells Tales About Soda Taxes, What Do You Believe?

    Americans For Food and Beverage Choice

    The news cycle is fast and furious - but unfortunately, not every series of articles surging forward is accurate. Sometimes what we read is even downright misleading. Here’s a prime example: recent reports falsely claim that soda taxes are curbing consumption and enhancing health. Closer examination shows these stories are not backed by credible research. And, it is illogical to presume that one arbitrary tax will amount to change that registers on a bathroom scale.

    It is well established that taxing a single grocery item does not cause us to change our diets in a comprehensive way. In fact, research shows, any reduced consumption of one product can actually trigger increased intake of another set of calories. Sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

    What the data does make clear is that obesity and obesity-related health issues have continued to rise for years while soda consumption dropped steadily at the same time. In other words, beverages are not a unique variable driving America’s public health challenges. These issues relate to many factors, ranging from overall diet and genetics to inactivity and stress. So taxing soda is a fundamentally flawed idea to begin with.

    What we hold true is that holistic education will always prove more productive than cherry-picking products to tax. It’s not up to the government to decree what you eat, drink and feed your family. We can all make informed choices from the well-labeled products on the market today, which come in a plethora of calorie counts and sizes and can be incorporated into a balanced diet.

    So the next time someone tells you soda taxes are working, take a good, hard look at their claim. Taxes certainly make governments richer, but to date, research has yet to verify that grocery taxes carry any real or lasting benefits.
  • Family Meals: A Valuable Choice

    Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD

    As a child family meals were a daily ritual for both breakfast and dinner in my home. My mom prepared these hot meals for our family every day of the week. When I was in high school and she returned to work full-time, I helped her both in the planning and preparation. We sat down once a week to plan the week’s dinner menus, which made it easier for us to prepare after a busy day at school or work.

    Enjoy togetherness

    To highlight the importance of family meals, The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Foundation led the charge to designate September as National Family Meals Month. Family meals may not take several hours to prepare anymore or be something busy families with lots of activities can do every single day but they are important for several reasons.

    Savor the benefits

    Sitting down and sharing a meal lets families relax and catch up after a hectic day as well as help children learn conversation skills and good table manners. According to FMI, regular family meals are linked to higher grades, better self-esteem and positive behaviors like sharing, fairness and respect. In addition, research has documented that kids who share family meals at least three times a week have healthier eating habits and are less likely to be overweight.

    Involve them all

    Getting the entire family involved is a great way to make sure meals represent everyone’s favorites and food preferences. When they help plan, shop for and prepare meals, children learn how a variety of foods can create nutritious, balanced meals. Using the USDA MyPlate as a guide, each family member can plan dinner for one day of the week. Parents can teach kids how to balance food choices with a meal that pairs grilled meat with fried potatoes, a steamed green veggie and whole grain roll. Likewise, enjoying fruit for dessert after most dinners allows the family to splurge a couple of nights a week on a piece of cake or an ice cream float.

    Making balanced food and beverage choices starts with parents teaching their kids at home, including around the family dinner table, and a much better strategy than trying to regulate or tax people into better eating habits. There are many choices in life. Choosing to make family meals a part of the daily routine will reap benefits for parents and kids now and for years to come.


    Neva Cochran is an award winning registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition communications consultant in Dallas, Texas. A veteran media spokesperson and popular speaker she was also a 20-year freelancer for Woman’s World Weekly magazine. She is a past president of the Texas Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and a past chair of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation. Neva is also an advisory partner to the Food and Beverage Industry. Follow her on Twitter at @NevaRDLD