Worlds of Healthy Flavors

January 18-20, 2012The Culinary Institute of AmericaHarvard School of Public Health

Each January, Worlds of Healthy Flavors brings together top nutrition researchers, influential corporate chefs, nutrition executives, world cuisine experts, members of the media, and other influencers, to discuss opportunities for presenting American consumers with a wider range of healthy menu options.

Worlds of Healthy Flavors builds on seventeen years of initiatives at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone that have made the techniques and flavor dynamics of world cuisines from the Mediterranean and Asia to Latin America more accessible to American foodservice. Traditions from these cuisines—especially the abundant use of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains—form the basis for creating more healthful menu offerings that are both flavorful and craveable.

The eighth annual Worlds of Healthy Flavors leadership retreat (held January 18-20, 2012) focused on addressing some of the major nutrition and health issues affecting the American public, and ways volume foodservice operators can address these issues.

Walter WillettIn his opening presentation, Dr. Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health reviewed the latest data on obesity rates. He reported that the majority of state populations are more than three-quarters obese. He explained that the obesity epidemic is not just a U.S. problem, but rather a global one. Parts of the world, such as the Middle East, now have higher rates of obesity than that of the U.S. Stressing that obesity is not just a cosmetic, but truly a health issue, Dr. Willett shared data on life expectancy and healthcare expenses: Healthcare costs have been rising at an unsustainable pace, while the U.S. is now thirty-eighth on the United Nations' life expectancy rankings. Inactivity and poor diet lead to obesity, which increases risk of type 2 diabetes, and in turn a slew of other health issues, including cardiovascular disease. Dr. Willett emphasized the need for new beverages in volume foodservice. Studies show that consuming just one 12-ounce serving of a sugar-sweetened beverage per day doubles a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Americans gain one pound a year on average, which results in a thirty-pound gain between the ages of 20 and 50 — a huge weight difference with dramatic consequences. Calories are not equal, and quantity and quality of diet are not completely separate: a poor-quality diet typically means more calories, and thus weight gain.

There isn't an obesity gene, stressed Dr. Willett, but rather dozens of genes that play a role in an individual's weight. Those genetic factors can be overridden with dietary and lifestyle changes. Replacing red meat with fish, poultry, or better yet, beans and nuts, lowers the risk of coronary heart disease. Results are visible in just a couple of months. Dr. Willett emphasized the urgency to make this replacement a top strategy toward a healthier lifestyle.

Dr. Willett spoke of eight different sectors identified for disease prevention and health promotion. Schools, work sites, media, and environment were the four sectors represented in the room. Arlin Wasserman of Changing Tastes, who gave a presentation on the business aspects of healthy menu innovations, stated that consumers will be forced to modify their dietary behaviors as environmental fluctuations change the availability and costs of ingredients.

More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight and obese, and the numbers keep getting worse. While less than one-quarter of all meals are eaten away from home, these meals represents a third of all calories consumed and nearly 50 percent of our food spending; volume foodservice operators can thus play a leadership role in efforts to reverse this trend. Providing nutrition and calorie information on menus, options for smaller portion sizes, and a greater variety of reduced calorie menu items are all positive steps operators can take.

Lilian Cheung of the Harvard School of Public Health presented the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate, an alternative to the USDA's MyPlate, that offers a more detailed description of the foods we should put on our plates. The Healthy Eating Plate stresses the use of whole grains, healthy proteins, and using alternative sources of calcium, such as broccoli, kale, and calcium-set tofu. These recommendations intentionally state what foods to limit in a healthy diet, Dr. Cheung explained.

Strategies shared by some of the guest chefs to reduce calories included using beans as bar food, making vegetables into appealing main courses, and relying on natural starches to thicken a dish. Joyce Goldstein demonstrated how to make fried chickpeas, which have the added advantages of being a cheaper bar snack than nuts. Diane KochilasDiane Kochilas suggested combining beans and greens, as is done in Greece, to create a satisfying main dish. Malcolm Lee demonstrated the depth of flavors found in Singaporean vegetable dishes thanks to the use of complex curry pastes, which make them satisfactory on their own, or when combined with seafood. Nancy Harmon Jenkins suggested using the rich repertoire of Mediterranean sauces combined with seasonal vegetables to provide the big, bold flavors that Americans crave.

Much of the carbohydrate-rich foods and beverages featured on American menus are high glycemic load foods, which means the carbohydrates in them are easily digested and quickly converted to blood sugar. High glycemic load diets are associated with a number of health issues, including increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Culinary strategies to address and improve carbohydrate quality on American menus include:

  • Using whole grains in place of refined grains when possible
  • Reducing use of white potatoes and increasing use of other vegetables with lower glycemic loads
  • Providing a greater variety of beverages with less added sugar

The CIA and Harvard School of Public Health released consumer guidelines related to healthier baking strategies, and guest chef Mark Furstenberg and Stan Frankenthaler, Vice President of Innovation for Dunkin' Brands conducted a session focused on ways volume foodservice operations can improve the quality of quick breads they offer their consumers. Strategies include using more whole grains, using unsaturated oils from sources like canola or soybean oil, decreasing portion sizes, and adding healthful and flavorful ingredients like nuts, dried fruits, and seeds.

The daily sodium intake of the average American (3,500 mg) far exceeds recommended intake (<2,400 mg). The vast majority (>75%) of sodium in the American diet comes from processed and restaurant foods. Blood pressure is related to sodium intake; the higher a person's sodium intake, the higher his or her blood pressure will be. And because elevated blood pressure is associated with increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and other chronic diseases that contribute significantly to healthcare costs in the U.S., reducing sodium intake is a major public health issue.

A panel of members of the CIA's Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative (HMC) discussed the efforts made by members of the group to reduce sodium and increase amounts of produce in their operations. Subcommittees on produce and sodium were created during the June 2011 annual HMC meeting. Chris Gatto, Vice President of Food and Beverage at Uno Chicago Grill and HMC co-chair, shared the sodium subcommittee's three focus areas:

  1. Industry-wide inhibiting factors (such as consumer demand, labor and processes, availability, product knowledge and cost)
  2. Cross-functional needs for the production of these lower-sodium items
  3. Resources and strategies to accomplish these objectives

Peter GlanderCost remains the biggest challenge for all operators who tackle sodium reduction, which at times comes down to being a simple business decision. Other challenges can reside in the amount of dishes that require reengineering: Martin Breslin, Director of Culinary Operations for Harvard University Dining Services, shared that they cannot change all 7,000 recipes in their repertoire at once, so they looked at types of salts and managed to reduce sodium by 30 percent by switching to a kosher salt with a light, fluffy crystal matrix, which results in less sodium per measure. Peter Glander, Executive Chef and Director of Culinary R&D for Ruby Tuesday, described how Ruby Tuesday had just switched all of its recipes to kosher salt. He prepared a wheat berry and spinach salad, and a spaghetti squash salad, and explained how to control the sodium-to-calorie ratio of a salad with a main protein by limiting the use of high sodium ingredients and only using added salt to finish a dish

While fruits and vegetables should make up half of our plate, lean proteins that offer alternatives to red and processed meats, are still an essential component of our diets. Eric Rimm of Harvard School of Public Health, gave a presentation on omega-3 fatty acids, which come from marine and vegetable sources. He explained that omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our diets, but there are no strong U.S. public health campaigns to educate the public about their importance. Best marine sources that operators should consider include salmon, oysters, rainbow trout, tilefish, canned white tuna, swordfish, Atlantic pollock, halibut, scallops, and cod. Flaxseed oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids but not stable enough to be viable in foodservice operations. Canola and soybean oils are also good sources. Rimm recommended using oils and dressings to add these essential fatty acids to dishes.

Alex OngTo help operators think of ways to use leaner proteins in their menus, Chef Alex Ong, of Betelnut in San Francisco, made chicken the focus of his culinary demonstration. Since chicken skin had received the scientists' stamp of approval earlier in the conference as a source of healthy fat (the majority of fat in chicken skin is monounsaturated), his skin-on poached chicken was particularly appreciated. He topped the cooked chicken with a mixture of ginger, garlic, scallion, and chilies, over which he then poured hot rice bran and sesame oil. A showstopper dish was unquestionably Chef Ong's Beggar's Chicken, inspired by a dish he ate in Hong Kong. He brines a whole chicken overnight, then marinates it for a couple of hours, and fills it with a seasonal stuffing, such as Brussels sprouts and pumpkin. He then wraps the chicken in a lotus leaf, and covers it with non-toxic clay from a farm in southern California. A similar result can be achieved with a cast-iron Dutch oven, Chef Ong explained.

Penny Kris-Etherton of Pennsylvania State University, shared results of a study she conducted on lean beef, and the following recommendations:

  • Try the recipes that are being presented at Worlds of Healthy Flavors.
  • Consider adapting those recipes in ways that make them more appealing to your clientele, such as using a very small amount of lean beef in a dish that otherwise contains mostly vegetables.
  • Look at your current most popular dish and adapt it, for example, cutting down the meat in a chili or adding vegetables to a meat loaf.

Looking to existing examples of these recommendations around the world, Chef Suvir Saran explained that using just a small piece of meat to flavor a large pot of soup or stew is common in Indian kitchens.

Peter GlanderA better understanding of healthy and unhealthy fats continues to be a challenge for operators. Operators are often more educated than their customers about beneficial fats, and are still battling the notion among diners that low fat is best. Thirty-five operators took part in the Audience Response Survey. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents have begun improving the fat content of their dishes, by eliminating trans fats, reducing the total amount of fat in a dish, reducing saturated fat, and using more unsaturated fats and oils. They are looking at both type and amount of fats when making those changes. Customers remain a challenge, however; while 44 percent want to know the amount of fat in a dish, the same percentage is not interested at all in fat content or quality. While they generally proved savvy on the topic of fats, 75 percent of the respondents answered incorrectly that "all fats in foods and beverages are a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats," showing that more work remains to be done in furthering chefs' understanding of fats in our food supply.

Chris Gatto of Uno Chicago Grill, Lisa Feldman, Director of Culinary Services for Sodexo K-12, David Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard, and Eric Rimm of the Harvard School of Public Health were together challenged to create a number of healthy meals. Gatto was challenged to create one item each for breakfast, lunch, and dessert with whole grains. While Ludwig performed sous-chef duties and explained the science behind the whole grains used, Gatto demonstrated an eight-grain porridge topped with fresh strawberries, a farro and black rice salad served with grilled chicken and an orange vinaigrette, and a banana and wheat berry pudding. Feldman's challenge was to develop a vegetarian burger for a local food district using only ingredients that belong to the National School Lunch Program USDA Foods Program (formerly known as the Commodity Foods Program). She created a burger patty with black beans, brown rice, and mashed potatoes—“a gateway vegetable”—cilantro, chopped green peppers, and onions, seasoned with garlic, ground chipotle, and cumin. The burger was placed on a whole wheat bun, and topped with a cilantro slaw, and received Rimm's approval as a healthy alternative, with the suggestion to slowly reduce the amount of mashed potatoes as kids get used to this alternative burger.

The retreat ended with a final forum during which attendees discussed success stories related to healthy menu research and development. Many operators reported that they are indeed having success with the introduction of new menu items that feature more produce, less meat, smaller portions, and world flavors. We look forward to the ninth annual Worlds of Healthy Flavors leadership retreat, which will be held January 23-25, 2013, where we will continue to discuss and debate the best ways to improve the quality of foods and beverages made available to consumers in a wide variety of volume foodservice operations.


The Business of Healthy Menus
Arlin Wasserman
17.8 MB

Creating Healthful Meals
Lilian Cheung, Harvard
7.7 MB

Eat Like a Greek
Diane Kochilas
16.3 MB

Entrepreneurship in Healthy Food
William Rosenzweig
14.3 MB

Fishing for Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Eric Rimm, Harvard
4.4 MB

Global Public Health Priorities 2012
Walter Willett, Harvard
5.5 MB

Healthy Carbs and Fats
Kathleen Zelman, WebMD
66 KB

Healthy Eating Pyramid
534 KB

Improving Carbohydrate Quality in Asian Diets
Frank Hu, Harvard
6.3 MB

The Mediterranean Diet
Lluis Serra-Majem, Uni. of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
375 KB

The Mediterranean Plate
Nancy Harmon Jenkins
2.9 MB

Muffin Makeover
Amy Myrdal Miller, CIA
1.9 MB

Public Health Priorities in Singapore
Kee Seng, Kaolinska Institutet
5.2 MB

Singapore's Healthy Hawker Program
Ang Kak Seng, Health Promotion Board of Singapore
7.6 MB

Sodium Reduction Project Charter
36 KB

Sodium Content of Various Salts
5.2 MB

Sustainable Kitchens
Lisa Carlson, Unilever
2.9 MB