Good Foods, Bad Foods at the 2010 Dietitian Conference and Expo

We participated earlier this week in the American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. The expo includes a showcase by food companies boasting their healthy products to masses of dietitians and future dietitians.

Some products are clearly healthy and make sense, but others obviously have no room in a nutrition conference being held by America’s leading dietetic group. But then again, the conference is sponsored by Coca Cola, Mars, and a few other junk food companies, so what could we expect. Here is a sampling of good products and bad bad products:

The Good:

Unsweetened Teas – both Coca Cola’s Sokenbicha brand, and smaller Guayaki Yerba Mate add nothing but tea leaves and flavorings to water, to create a flavor that is very common in countries such as Japan, but difficult to appreciate by sugar laden taste buds of American consumers. Keep trying, after a while you won’t be able to get back to suagry drinks.

Blueberries – what can we say – the local, sweet, delicious, antioxidant powerhouse.

Nuts – the pistachio board put together an impressive booth branding “the green nut.” Almonds also had a nice presence.

Unsweetened Greek Yogurt from Chobani - a great way to start the day, add your own granola or diced fruit.

The Bad:

Hidden Valley Light Ranch Dressing – designed to encourage kids to consume veggies, this dressing has more chemicals than a teen has zits, including phosphoric acid, artificial colors, MSG, artificial flavors, and a few more.

Kellogg’s Corn Pops – including 2 and half teaspoons of sugar, trans-fats, and BHT, a controversial preservative.

Frito Lay Potato Chips – yes, they are made with only 3 ingredients. Yes, they are lower in sodium than pretzels. No, they do not belong in a a nutrition expo, where one would expect foods that dietitians should recommend to clients. But PepsiCo, parent company of Frito-Lay is an expo sponsor…

Gimme milk chocolate candies fortified with vitamins and minerals -This can’t be real. They’ve taken candy and fortified it. Wrong on so many levels.

Naked juice, Juicy juice, and other sugary beverages – yes, they’re made without any added sugar, but the sheer amount of beverages offered at the expo creates an environment where offering juice as a soda alternative for daily consumptions seems  like a smart choice. The fact is, juice should be considered a once in a while treat, not a daily hydration solution.

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  • Louise Goldberg

    I can certainly understand and appreciate your perspective. For me, I don’t view this as-there were bad foods vs. good foods at the expo. I think it is an opportunity for us, as dietitians, to educate ourselves about new products that our clients WILL be exposed to. As nutrition experts, it’s not great to have a client come into your office and tell you they’ve been eating some product that’s in the stores and you don’t have a clue what it is.. It also gives us an opportunity to speak our mind and give feedback to these companies about what we DON’T like in their products. I heard MANY many people giving negative feedback at several of the booths you mentioned and I even saw a rep from the co. writing down what the RD was telling her. I know, for myself, that I was thrilled to have the opportunity to really debate with the HFCS/’corn sugar refiners’ (?) group–we went head to head with research articles. So from an RD’s perspective, it is great to learn about new products-’healthy’ or NOT-in order to protect our patients and our feedback is a driving force for these companies to make changes in their products.

    • Editorial Staff

      Hi Louise, it was nice to meet you briefly at the conference.
      If we follow the “opportunity” to expose RDs to what their clients will be exposed too, perhaps McDonald’s needs to be invited back to the ADA to showcase the McRib…

  • glutenfreeforgood

    Potato chips and corn pops? At the Dietitian Expo? Really? I’m a holistic nutritionist (whew).

  • Maya E Nahra, RD, LD

    haha! Don’t forget the ‘create your own pepsi one’ junk machine! :)

  • Mama__B


    Wouldn’t it be your job to educate yourself, rather than advocate and defend junk food at an expo like this? Can you not figure out what junk is out there without its marketers being given a forum where they can pretend they’ve created something healthy?

  • Rachel Assuncao

    Chips, sugary cereals, and juice are bad enough at an expo like this. I’m still a bit shocked at the idea of fortified chocolates. I can just see it now – kids lining up in the morning to get their vitamins!

    This kind of stuff has no place at a conference hosted by the ADA. And I’m sure there’s a direct correlation between dietitians seeing these products at conferences and then recommending them to their clients. And yes, I’ve known many people who have been told to eat horrifying, clearly corporately sponsored foods by dietitians.

    It is good to see that some of the bigger players are catching on and offering some healthier products. Hopefully that trend continues to grow!

  • Barb MacLeod

    Bottom line … it’s like having a few Tobacco sponsors for a Non-Smoking Conference. Dietitians devalue their own profession by accepting monetary support from junk food companies. Hard to blame them though … most people would not be able to refuse. Still … this puts their value to society in question.

  • Bill McNye

    I see your point regarding the junk food at the conference. However, would the conference even happen without sponsorship from these companies? Unforatunately, they have the $$$. Also, it is usually more effective to work with these companies than against them. Hopefully more good than harm comes out of there participation.

  • Lauren Slayton

    Sadly Hemi, this year was better, there were more “good” choices. With regard to Louise’s comments I agree with her (sort of). There aren’t good foods and bad foods, there are good foods and non foods! It sadly comes back to supply and demand. As long as RDs are waiting on line to take photos with Tony the Tiger and eating Gerber graduates and canned peaches outside seminars, Corn Pops stay.

  • Elle

    This was an overall disappointing article. Not for the informaton presented, but the manner in which is was presented. As a blog that reaches several thousand people everyday, a simple spell-check might produce a more polished result, along with a less sarcastic more informative tone.

    Also, since most of us are unable to attend, I had hoped for some insight on exciting new heathy natural products. Tea? Nuts? Blueberries? That is not new inforation. It is difficult to imagine a conference of purportdely healthy foods in which the only new and viable health products are nuts and berries….

    Thirdly, if you wish to share the harmful aspects of products worthy of mention, one expects a weightier argument and a bit more in depth information than a vague”….and a few more”[in regards to the Ranch Dressing] What has the aformentioned candy been fortified with? How is a sugar free fruit juice enjoyed in moderation a “bad” food?

    Sarcastic quips back at (in this case) qualified posters? By the staff of this website….really?

  • Louise Goldberg

    I realize you were being sarcastic with the McDonalds response but you actually make my point…would I love to tell patients only shop at Whole Foods and here’s a list of products that are acceptable? Sure! Of course! But sadly we just don’t always have that luxury… we have to figure out how to help people make lifestyle changes within their realities and if they tell me “I only eat at McD’s for lunch and that’s it” then I have to know what are the best possible choices they can make there. Is it ideal? No, of course not but it’s not helpful to patients and clients to set them up to fail. I hope you aren’t implying that allowing a corporation to purchase a booth at the expo somehow influences dietitians into making unethical recommendations about food/products. Do you really think we go out and recommend junk food? Really?? Do you guys know who funds major research about food and nutrition that gives you the info you use on Fooducate and other sites? I like Fooducate and think we have similar values–educating the public about the food that is out there to help them make wise choices. Let’s remember we are on the same team!

  • Connie

    I was there and found some of these exhibitors disturbing. Although I am not an RD I try to feed myself and my family good healthy foods. I also work in a position where I help supermarket consumers make better educated choices. The ADA has chosen to have no scruples when it comes to this sort of thing… really, disgusting. If you can pay, you can go. Shameful, really.

  • Karla

    I think you are unrealistic in your expectations and I think your are wrong. First of all the title of the expo (and convention) was Food and Nutrition. Most people expect dietitians to be knowledgeable about the field – not saints. And as I looked around, the vast majority of people I saw were considerably healthier and lower in weight than the general population, clearly practicing what they “preach”.

    I do think that the focus was on health-IER foods and if you look at it from that perspective it was generally a win. You mentioned Juicy Juice on the blog – clearly you didn’t stop and look at what they had. They were featuring a 10 oz can of juice that was mixed 1/2 and 1/2 with sparkling water. Yes, it is still a sweet drink but it is natural and considerably lower in calories than soda – which is what it was being offered as a substitute for. Despite what you might hope, most people are not going to cut soda entirely from their diet and switch to unsweetened teas and water. Going a half-step as a start could be a huge, and manageable change. One they could feel successful about.

    My personal “bugaboo” were all the artificial sweeteners that were there. I don’t use them and I think they are chemical bombshells, BUT I do understand that they are another tool for people to use to cut back on their calories. Faced with death from heart disease or diabetes in those that won’t cut back on their sweets, artificial sweeteners offer a real alternative. Many of the “junk” foods you mentioned were artificially sweetened.

    The Frito Lays you mentioned, were featuring a much reduced salt intake. I tried those too (bad me!) and found them to taste much more of potatoes. Should you eat them at every meal? No. But they are a good alternative to many of the other comparable chips that are out there eaten in moderation.

    Those big bad companies that you condemn, sponsor and pay for a huge percentage of the foods research done in the US and other countries. I say this all as a near-vegetarian. Yes there were things at the expo that I would not choose to eat, would not recommend for others to eat who are further along the path towards eating well. But there are many, many Americans who are overweight, consuming too much sugar, salt and fat, and many of these products offered realistic ways in which to gain control of their caloric and fat intake. First steps, baby steps that can help them feel successful, adjust their palates, and then move on to the next step.

  • Nancy – The Frugal Dietitian

    I gave up my membership 2 years ago for various reasons but I still think expecting Dietitians to be “holier than through” is ridiculous. Most professional groups take money from sponsors that are not in their organization’s best interest, which doesn’t make it right of course.

    I have been asked in my 32+ years of being an RD “You mean you actually like sweets?”, “You mean you don’t watch cooking shows?”, “You don’t love to cook?”, etc.

    When I taught LPNs a nutrition class they told me if I had come in overweight they wouldn’t have any respect for me – mind you these were future nurses who over 1/2 were overweight and 1/2 smoked.

    Dietitians for the most part are underpaid and everyone else claims to be a nutritionist!! I spend more time debunking dietary supplements, nutrition health fraud, “quacky nutritionists” and claims on “Super” foods than regular foods. But most people will still eat regular food so having them at the conference is a good way to know they exist. I bet lots of the dietitians debated with the manufacturers too!! Go RDs!!!

  • Jimmy Cracked Corn

    It does seem, in this age of sponsorship and advertising, that everyone is afraid to say what you did about drinks. It isn’t good or normal to get all your daily hydration from drinks that have calories or even a flavor. It is perfectly normal (and quite inexpensive) to drink *GASP* tap water, whether straight from the sink or filtered at home. My two kids get about 4 ounces of juice each morning and live the rest of the day on plain old water. That’s probably MORE than the “in moderation” clause actually allows.