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In response to First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative to reduce childhood obesity, National Turkey Federation (NTF) and Shape Up America! have launched “Simple Steps to Upgrade Your Diet,” a public education campaign emphasizing that small changes in meal preparation can improve a family’s diet. The campaign features the Meal Upgrade Calculator, an online tool that demonstrates how families can improve the nutritional content of their favorite meals by changing the type of protein, the side dishes and even the condiments.
Offering breakfast, lunch and dinner options, the calculator allows consumers to select a number of possible “upgrades,” starting by changing the meat to turkey, a nutrient-rich, low-fat and low-calorie protein source. According to recent research from Shape Up America!, using the calculator just to change the meat in a meal to turkey results in an average savings of 108 calories per eating occasion. Calculating the impact over the course of a year, the Shape Up America! estimated a savings of 6,408 calories a year, or almost 2 pounds in extra weight if consumers use lean turkey instead of another meat protein once a week at alternating meal occasions such as breakfast or lunch or dinner. This change also led to an average reduction in the total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol consumed by 59 percent, 71 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
Shape Up America! additionally estimated the potential health savings when families ate the same lower-fat turkey version of a meat-based meal on a weekly basis. Using lasagna as the example, the researchers found a savings-per-meal occasion of 239 calories and an annual savings of 12,428 calories, or 3.6 pounds a year. The group then calculated an average reduction in the total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol ingested by 66 percent, 73 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
“The message from the First Lady and all leading public health officials is that all of us have a role to play in preventing childhood obesity, starting in our own homes,” noted Barbara J. Moore, president and CEO of Clyde Park, Mont.-based Shape Up America!, which was founded in 1994 by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to raise awareness of the health effects of obesity and to educate the public, health professionals and policymakers on proven ways to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. “And that is the reason for this new campaign — to give consumers the tools to make simple ‘upgrades’ in meal preparation that will reduce the calories and fat in the family diet.”
“The calculator brings to life what we in the nutrition community have always known — that turkey is a positive and simple step consumers can take to lower the fat and calories in their diet while not making tradeoffs in taste and convenience,” added Hilary Thesmar, senior director of scientific and regulatory affairs at Washington-based NTF. “Not only is turkey highly nutritious, but the variety of turkey cuts and products available today can [also] be incorporated into any meal, which means cooking delicious, convenient and healthy meals is easier than ever.”
Among other possible “upgrades” are opting for alternative side dishes, choosing higher-fiber breads and substituting other condiments. With each “upgrade,” the calculator shows what these easy changes are worth in calories, fat and saturated fat saved.
The Meal Upgrade Calculator currently offers 24 common meals, including scrambled eggs and bacon, hot dogs, spaghetti and meatballs, and pizza. NTF and Shape Up America! will add new meals to the calculator on a continuing basis, in addition to new recipes and cooking tips. The calculator is also being promoted widely to nutrition educators and health professionals, who can use the new tool to advise families on how to eat better.