December 23, 2007
In the meantime, I am observing dietary trends, food marketing, and nutrition information in Argentina, noticing similarities and differences with those same concepts in the United States.
In fact, earlier today I ventured out to a large supermarket and snapped photos of several things that caught my eye.
Except plenty of new posts next week. In the meantime, enjoy your holidays!
December 22, 2007
December 18, 2007
Now, The New York Times' Andrew Martin takes this issue one step further and reveals the latest crop battle: food vs. fuel.
In fact, this might very well explain the reason behind the recent rising prices of everyday staples like milk, carrots, and broccoli.
"[Food manufacturers and livestock farmers] seethe at government mandates for ethanol production. The ethanol boom, they contend, is raising corn prices, driving up the cost of producing dairy products and meat, and causing farmers to plant so much corn as to crowd out other crops," writes Martin.
Certainly an eye-opening (and anger-inducing) read.
Although I understand what he is attempting to achieve, I believe Mayor Newson is going about this the wrong way.
Sweetened drinks undoubtedly add extra calories to anyone's day, but I have a problem with foods being automatically branded as "bad" or "evil," regardless of context.
I don't think the problem to tackle is soda itself as it is the ridiculous amounts of it people are used to drinking.
Between unlimited refills, 20 ounce to-go bottles, and 64 ounce containers at 7-11, it is perfectly feasible to accompany any given meal with as much as 1,000 liquid calories!
And while high fructose corn syrup is a dirt cheap man-made sweetener that is metabolized differently than real sugar (for one, it does not trigger our brain's satiety center when consumed), eliminating it will not decrease an obesity problem.
I have seen the graphs showing a correlation between high fructose corn syrup intake and rising obesity rates in the United States, but it is important to point out that increased high fructose corn syrup intake was also accompanied by exploding portion sizes and easier availability of sugar and fat-laden foods.
It makes much more sense to attribute weight gain to extra calories in the form of more food (larger portions).
Remember, high fructose corn syrup delivers just as many calories as any other sugar (fructose, honey, or table sugar) per teaspoon.
I would hate for people to think that products made with real sugar automatically get a free pass.
A Starbucks Venti vanilla latte accompanied by a banana chocolate-chip muffin adds up to over 1,000 calories and as much added sugar as a can of Coke.
High fructose syrup might be missing from the equation, but that does not make this "meal" healthier or waist-friendly.
A better initiative would be to help convenience stores (particularly those in low-income neighborhoods) offer healthier items (as attempted by New York City's Healthy Bodega initiative).
What do you think?
December 17, 2007
Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Thursday for the answer!
In the United States alone, 35.5 million citizens live in food-insecure households. Globally, current estimates categorize 800 million people as suffering from hunger and malnutrition.
You can help people all over the world while improving your own vocabulary over at Free Rice.
Developed by the same people who brought you The Hunger Site, Free Rice -- through the United Nations -- donates twenty grains of rice for every right answer you provide to an SAT-like "find the correct synonym" question.
December 16, 2007
I am not a big fan of scales. Although necessary in tracking weight loss goals, they are often misinterpreted and misused.
If your weight-loss plan includes exercise, you might lose fat and gain muscle, ultimately resulting in a higher weight than before, since muscle weighs more than fat.
Better barometers of weight loss? The clothes you wear -- especially if you are looking to shed just two or three pounds. If your 36-inch jeans are feeling looser and your weight hasn't budged, screw the scale, I say.
If you like keeping track of your weight, weigh yourself no more than twice a week. Be sure to weigh in at the same time of day each time, and be mindful of what your last meal was.
Meals high in sodium will retain water and result in slightly higher numbers.
-- Guy Betterbid
New York, NY
Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in significant quantities in the skins of red grapes and, subsequently, in red wine.
The popular "French paradox" claims that one reason why French adults have lower rates of cardiovascular disease despite consuming a high-fat diet is due to their consistent consumption of red wine.
Touted by some as an anti-cancer agent, resveratrol (which is actually produced by plants' immune systems when attacked by certain bacteria or fungi) soon became a hot supplement.
I personally wouldn't recommend you rush out to GNC and start buying it, though.
I am always skeptical when one component of a food (in this case, resveratrol -- found in grapes, raspberries, blueberries, etc.) is isolated and expected to function the same way as when it is accompanied in its original packaging (in this case, an actual grape).
Remember that supplements are not regulated by any agency. Studies have shown that the amount of concentrated resveratrol is supplements widely ranges from one company to another.
There truly isn't enough research of this supplement on humans to recommend it. In fact, there are no long-term studies, and the short-term ones performed on rats appear to show that high concentrations of resveratrol might overwork the liver.
You're better off having a handful of grapes or berries every day (or, if you already drink, having a glass of red wine every day) to get your share of resveratrol.
This powerful combination has been shown to decrease risks of heart disease (by lowering 'bad cholesterol'), high blood pressure, and even breast cancer, according to some promising research from the Canary Islands.
Sounds great, doesn't it?
Well, here's a reality check you might not be too keen on cashing -- that "extra virgin" olive oil you have been buying might be anything but!
Reader Chris Davis notified me of a lengthy article published by The New Yorker earlier this year which spotlights worldwide olive oil fraud, a market laden with corruption and political scandals that can produce as much money as cocaine trafficking.
Since reading the article, I have done a bit more research and want to share the not too uplifting news with you.
A lot of supposed extra-virgin olive oil is really soy or hazelnut oil that has been adulterated.
Unfortunately, the words "imported from Italy" do not necessarily mean what you think.
If low-quality oils from North Africa are shipped to Italy, where they are then tampered with and bottled, the packaging can legally claim that oil is an Italian import.
You might take that to mean that Tuscan olives from a small farm are made into extra virgin olive oil. Wrong!
The Food and Drug Administration does not test oils coming into the United States for adulteration.
Although a group known as the North American Olive Oil Association takes care of that -- and they have discovered several distributors selling inferior quality oils as extra virgin -- their testing is nowhere near as rigorous as that f the International Olive Oil Council.
There are currently several proactive anti-fraud ideas being floated around.
One would require all bottles of extra virgin olive oil to list the acidity of their contents (to be considered extra virgin, olive oil must contain an acidity of no more than 0.8%).
Of course, who is to say that these figures can't be doctored with the exchange of cold hard cash?
One interesting solution to this problem comes from the region of Andalucia in Spain (one of the world's largest manufacturers of olive oil). There are talks of using molecular cell technology to determine if olive oil labeled as extra virgin matches the structure of the authetic product.
In the meantime, what can you do as a consumer? From a label standpoint, look for any bottles bearing the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) stamp of approval.
If this is absent, see if the label lists the acidity figures for the supposed extra virgin olive oil. Look for an acidity level of 0.8% or less.
No luck? Look at the price tag. A liter of olive oil at $7.99 is highly unlikely to be extra virgin.
For more information, check out the International Olive Oil Council's website.
December 14, 2007
That's right -- Ronald's burger joint and The School Board of Seminole Country, Florida, have teamed up to offer free Happy Meals to students achieving good academic, conduct, and attendance scores.
Some of you might expect me to be flabbergasted and start punching my computer screen. Well, color yourselves surprised.
For starters -- the Happy Meal offers the choice of apple dippers instead of fries and milk in place of soda. I have to give McDonald's some credit for allowing customers to venture outside of the usual "soda and fries" mentality.
I also think that frequency, and not a Happy Meal itself, should be the examined issue.
If this free Happy Meal is a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence, I don't interpret that as a public health menace.
If anything, restricting unhealthy meals to certain events is better than placing them in the "grab whenever we're in a rush" category or normalizing them as an authentic substitute for a home cooked meal.
Yes, I know we are dealing with the issue of using food as reward, which brings its share of problems. And, no, I'm not comfortable with the idea of McDonald's advertising on a report card.
It is one thing if a parent chooses to grab a Happy Meal with their kids as a way of rewarding them for good grades, it's another when children come home and say, "Mom, I got all A's, can we go to McDonald's? Look, we can go for free!"
However, when I was an elementary school student in Connecticut, a local deli offered the exact same report card deal.
Granted, it was not promoted by my school, but (surprisingly?), this is not a case of McDonald's setting a new low standard.
In a recent interview with W Magazine, Swank proudly boasts that she takes 45 supplements a day! That's right, in 24 hours.
"This is my Aloe C, which I dissolve in water. Here's my flax. This one's for my immune system, and this one is my BrainWave -- it's great, like if I have a lot of lines to memorize," she explains to the reporter.
All this advice comes from Dr. Oz Garcia, nutritionist to the stars, who Hillary credits with changing her life.
Before I go on to talk about Hillary's pill regimen, allow me to shed some light on Dr. Garcia.
Specializing in "progressive nutrition, life extension, and anti-aging", Dr. Garcia caters to Hollywood's A-list and has had his number of television appearances. He also oversees nutritional services for Equinox Fitness Clubs.
Between that bio and his splashy website, you might think this guy knows his stuff.
Well, as we all witnessed with the Dr. Jan Adams debacle (who, despite being a media darling and even having his own show on The Discovery Health network, turned out to lack board accreditation and had a long history of malpractice claims by several patients), not everything is as it appears.
For starters, a 1987 Time magazine article describes Dr. Garcia as a "self-taught" nutritionist. That same article states that Dr. Garcia claims he can tell someone what to eat after analyzing a strand of their hair.
As far as I know, a strand of hair does not give you the same information as a blood test. Would Dr. Garcia advocate a high-protein diet to someone simply based on a hair sample, not knowing one of their kidneys is malfunctioning (and, therefore, need to be on a low-protein diet)?
Dr. Garcia predictably hawks his own water, described as "99.9%" pure and containing "three times the electrolytes found in sports drinks".
The electrolytes in drinks like Gatorade are two minerals you all have heard of -- sodium and potassium. Since Gatorade provides approximately one percent of a day's potassium requirement, then this special water contains, at most, 3 percent of the daily requirement.
A much smarter idea would be to get this mineral in much higher quantities from food. A cup of cantaloupes provides 10 percent, as does half a cup of Swiss chard or butternut squash. Throwing in half a cup of black beans into a salad provides 9 percent.
Dr. Garcia also sells colon cleansing, fat-burning, and even anti-aging products, all in pill form.
If this is the man Hillary Swank looks up to, it's no wonder she thinks nothing of swallowing 45 pills a day.
The excess of vitamins and minerals she is consuming is simply being excreted.
Just for the record, let me note that there are no mentally-sharpening magic pills that help anyone with memory.
Lastly, why is Hillary Swank taking flax in pill form? How about just sprinkling some milled flaxseed into a smoothie, salad, soup, or cereal bowl?
The wonderfully healthy properties of flaxseed (i.e.: phytochemicals known as lignans, which have been linked to a decrease in bad cholesterol) are not replicated in a flax pill.
And then we wonder why Kevin Trudeau's books become bestsellers....
Final scores were tallied by evaluating offerings via the following categories -- obesity & chronic disease prevention, health prmotion, and nutrition initiatives.
You can see the results here.
You may remember that back in mid August I reviewed several schools' lunch menus on this blog -- and was absolutely horrified.
According to author Greg Beato, McDonald's and other greasy food meccas bear the brunt of unhealthy offerings and public health policies despite even worse fare available at some local mom 'n pop stores or delis.
"Before America fell in love with cheap, convenient, standardized junk food, it loved cheap, convenient, independently deep-fried junk food," writes Beato.
While it is true that so-called traditional "American" fare consists of hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pie, fast food restaurants take traditional comfort food and turn it into an artery-clogging equation.
Think about the following. McDonald's originally only offered one size of fries -- the 250-calorie version currently find inside a Happy Meal!
These companies have chosen to inflate their portions to such a degree that we now have four beef patties, eight strips of bacon, and six slices of cheese in between two buns.
You can get 2 liters of soda in a cup or, in the case of Hardee's new breakfast burrito, a day's worth of fat first thing in the morning.
A large order of McDonald's fries will set you back 800 calories (and provide 400% of the recommended maximum intake of trans fats for one day!)
Additionally, fast food chains are basically accessible any place at any time. More locations are increasingly keeping their doors open 24 hours a day, and a road trip down any major (or not so major) highway in the United States reveals a landscape littered with Domino's, KFC, Wendy, Burger King, and more.
And while delis offer their share of fat-laden bombs, truly healthy choices are available. In the case of fast food establishments, it is always about choosing the "lesser of the evils."
What do you think?
December 13, 2007
To become a winner, simply eat a 72 ounce (that's four and a half pounds!) top sirloin steak, shrimp cocktail appetizer, baked potato, salad, and dinner roll in 60 minutes or less.
The "incentives" include getting your name on a list of champions, having your $72.00 bill refunded, and receiving a T-shirt, mug, and certificate.
Amazingly, 8,000 people have successfully consumed 4,886 calories, 140.4 grams of fat (216% of a day 's worth), 51.1 grams of saturated fat (255% of the daily maximum limit), and 4,882 milligrams of sodium (203% of the daily limit) in under one hour.
The accompanying photo illustrates all components of the challenge!
December 10, 2007
My light research suggests it is very healthy (i.e.: a lot of mono-unsaturated fats).
Is it just as healthy as something like walnuts or an avacodo or would you regard the acai as being uniquely healthy?
-- Guy Betterbid
New York, NY
The acaí (pronounced ah-SIGH-ee) fruit -- native to Brazil, hailed by many as a "superfood", and known within trendy circles as "the new pomegranate" -- is rich in vitamins and minerals and a great source of fiber.
It also offers a fair amount of monounsaturated fatty acids (mainly in the form of oleic acid) -- the healthy fats found predominantly in olive oil, walnuts, and avocados.
As great as the nutritional profile of acai berries is, remember that all fruits are healthy. There is no fruit equivalent to a bag of Oreos.
While the acai beats out many of its counterparts in terms of antioxidants levels (which should not be the end-all, be-all criteria for selecting any food), other fruits offer more of certain vitamins and minerals.
For instance, an orange contains more Vitamin C than an acai berry.
Is acai nutritious? Absolutely.
Is it a miracle food, as so many acai suppliers want you to believe? No.
It is important to keep supposed "miracle foods" like acai berries in the appropriate context. After all, drinking acai juice while snacking on chips defeats the purpose.
I find that it is better to focus on general eating patterns rather than getting hung up on one specific food.
In a piece titled "Nutrition in the Blogosphere", Vincci mentions Small Bites along with a handful of other high-profile nutrition blogs, including Marion Nestle's.
Take a look at the article here.
December 9, 2007
-- Diane Grant
Although we often refer to "Omega 3 fats" as one general category, there are three different types of Omega-3 fatty acids: Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), EicosoPentaenoic Acid (EPA), and DocosaHexaenoic Acid (DHA).
ALA is found exclusively in vegetable sources, including walnuts and flaxseeds.
You might have heard some people talk about the Omega-3's in dark, leafy green vegetables.
However, they are so low in fat to begin with that, although nutritious in many ways, I don't consider them to be a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids.
EPA and DHA are found in large quantities in cold water fish. Grass-fed beef will contain a little, as well.
One concern with getting Omega-3's solely from vegetable sources is that some people are unable to convert ALA to EPA and DHA.
Even if you are able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA, 10 grams of ALA are needed to make 600 milligrams of EPA and 400 of DHA.
Considering that current recommendations call for 1 gram of EPA and another of DHA, that's a lot of ALA to consume -- and convert!
And while ALA is indeed good for us, there is, as always, too much of a good thing. Several recent studies have linked very high intakes of ALA among men with a higher risk of prostate cancer.
It's also important to realize that as good for us as Omega 3 fats are, they do not work alone. Vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium are involved in the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA.
If you are not consuming enough of those nutrients, your conversion will happen at an even slower rate.
Walnuts and flaxseed are nutritious and have their share of health benefits. However, for optimal Omega-3 fat consumption, it is highly recommended to include sources of EPA and DHA in your diet.
December 7, 2007
-- Suzanna (via the blog)
The nutrition information listed on raw chicken breasts is for the uncooked product.
This is where consumers have to do some extra math.
Even though you are buying a four ounce chicken breast, you are eating less -- approximately two and a half or three ounces -- due to water lost during the cooking process.
This isn't so much the United States Department of Agriculture being misleading as much as it is them being unable to guess how people will be cooking their raw chicken.
Not only does the final weight of a chicken breast vary on cooking times and methods, so does the caloric content.
Grilling does not add extra calories, but sauteeing chicken breast in a tablespoon of olive oil adds an additional 120.
December 6, 2007
To any new readers who found this blog through the Reuters.com article -- welcome to Small Bites!
A large majority of this figure can be attributed to popular cereals like regular Cheerios, Total, and Fiber One.
Although they offer their share of fiber (and millions of people like to start their day off with them), these cereals are often characterized as too bland by fiber-free eaters persuaded to switch to healthier breakfast foods.
Consequently, these people often revert to sugary, "made with whole grain" varieties that are basically sugar flakes with a pinch of whole wheat flour thrown in to justify a "Whole Grains!" boast on the front of the box.
I always think it's good to let you know of smaller companies who are putting out delicious and nutritious products, so while we are in the cereal realm, I thought I would let you know about Barbara's Bakery.
Their Shredded Line of cereals is composed of tasty -- and ultra crunchy, even after several minutes in milk -- whole grain cereals.
A 1 1/4 cup of Shredded Oats, for example, contains five grams of fiber, 230 milligrams of potassium, six grams of protein, and 2.5 grams of fat.
Thank the nutrition deities for a realistic serving size! Too many cereal brands try to pass off half a cup as a serving.
Tomorrow morning, measure out half a cup of cereal. Then laugh, as you realize that the average person eats at least an entire cup or breakfast.
Since the first two ingredients are whole grains -- whole oat flour and whole wheat flour -- one serving of Shredded Oats covers a whooping ninety percent of the daily recommended intake of whole grains.
I'm actually not big on packaged cereals, but, for the past several months, boxes of Shredded Oats have taken permanent residence in my cupboards.
Baked Lay's make my palate think I am munching on salty cardboard, and other varieties (Baked Doritos, Baked Cheetos) taste just as artificial as the conventional versions.
If you are a "sandwich and chip" luncher, or someone who enjoys a crunchy, salty treat once in a while, I am happy to report that the folks at Kettle have come up with a Small Bites approved solution -- Kettle Bakes Potato Chips.
Unlike synthetic low-fat/low-calorie potato chips made from dehydrated potato flakes and break apart (rather than crunch) in your mouth, these chips are made from real potatoes.
No flakes, no dehydrated shenanigans -- actual potatoes (you can even see the skins)!
Each 0.8 ounce bag clocks in at a mere 100 calories and contains 65% less fat than the same amount of regular Kettle chips.
The best part? The texture is like that of a real kettle potato chip!
While I don't advocate tracking down a bag of potato chips every time you are in the mood for a salty snack, there is one advantage to having them over other kinds of chips. One 0.8 ounce bag of Kettle baked chips contains 390 milligrams of potassium -- 12% of the recommended daily intake!
Let me be clear. I am not recommending potato chips as a good source of potassium.
However, if you have a hankering for chips, be smart and reach for an individual sized bag of Kettle Bakes!
Tasty, calorie controlled, made solely with real potatoes, low-fat and, as an added bonus, throw some much-needed potassium your way.
December 5, 2007
-- Anonymous (via the blog)
To those of you who have never heard of it, the Western alternative bagel is developed by California-based chain Western Bagel.
Each two-ounce bagel clocks in at 110 calories and contais 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of sugar, 7 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein.
Here's the mystery, though. Look at the ingredient list: Enriched unbleached flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, wheat gluten, corn starch, inulin, oat fiber. May contain 2% or less of: calcium sulfate, enzymes, l-cysteine, salt, yeast, calcium propionate and sorbic acid (preservatives), artificial flavor, sucralose.
Whole wheat flour is nowhere to be found.
Sure, oat fiber is present, but towards the end. Certainly not in a sufficient quantity to result in seven grams of fiber.
So...how do they do it?
Allow me to introduce you to inulin.
Also known as chicory root, it is a natural fiber (and prebiotic!) found in asparagus, onions, bananas, and other fruits and vegetables.
Some of you may have heard the term 'prebiotic' before but are not sure what it means.
In essence, when we consume inulin, the bacteria in our digestive system digests it and forms fructooligosaccharides, which in turn increase the number of beneficial bacteria in our colon.
The higher our beneficial bacteria count, the healthier our intestinal tract.
Food manufacturers love inulin, since it can replaces fat, whole wheat flour, and sugar while still giving baked goods a soft texture and and pleasant mouthfeel.
From a health standpoint, it contains the same benefits as other fibers -- longer-lasting satiety, regularity, and increased stool bulk.
Additionally, it does not raise blood-glucose levels, so it is deemed safe for diabetics.
In The Netherlands, inulin has been given an official stamp of approval. Products containing this fiber can legally be advertised as "promoting well-balanced intestinal [intestinal] flora composition."
It gets better! A 2006 Brazilian study published in renowned journal Nutrition Research found that inulin helps increase calcium and magnesium absorption.
Any drawbacks? Two I can think of.
First, consuming large amounts of inulin (especially if you are not accustomed to it) can result in flatulence and mild stomach pains.
Additionally, although inulin has its nutritional advantages, it is missing most of the goodness found in whole grains.
A bagel made with refined grains and inulin is definitely a better option than a fiberless one made solely with white flour.
However, whole grains are more than just fiber. They are an exclusive mix of phytonutrients, plant sterols, and antioxidants with their own health-boosting properties.
I don't think of inulin (while helpful and beneficial in its own right) as a true substitute for a 100% whole grain product.
WHAT I LIKED: Super Skinny Me goes beyond the standard "I'm eating so little that even routine chores wear me out and I feel lethargic all day" narrative to spotlight the emotional repercussions of extreme dieting.
Kate, for example, starts off the experiment highly motivated and initially even has fun with it.
After three weeks of deprivation, she "falls off the wagon" and eats more calories than her ultra strict regimen permits (800 calories, approximately 40% of her needs).
Afraid of putting weight back on, Kate becomes anxious, depressed, and even reverts to bingeing and purging. The doctor supervising the experiment mandates that she stop the extreme dieting halfway through week four.
Kate later reveals that the four weeks of extreme dieting -- in which she dropped 17 lbs. -- triggered painful memories of weight struggles as an adolescent.
It was also interesting to learn some of the various extreme diets -- the watercress soup diet (800 calories a day, three bowls of watercress soup a day and nothing else), the protein shake diet (1,000 calories, 2 protein shakes + one protein-heavy meal a day), and the popular "cleanse" lemonade diet (drinking nothing but a heinous concoction of pure lemon juice, cayenne pepper, maple syrup and water three times a day).
I am also glad Super Skinny Me showed the sheer stupidity of many "diet tricks". At one point, Louise tries an exercise routine loved by "a certain pop star".
It involves wrapping yourself in Seran Wrap and running on a treadmill (in a sauna!) for 30 minutes.
She only lasts 15 minutes -- and manages to lose half an inch off her waist and hips! Of course, one glass of water brings that half inch right back because the only thing you lose by doing that (apart from your time and self-respect) is water weight.
WHAT I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO SEE: Although we see a few effects of the extreme diets on Kate and Louise's social lives (Louise goes out to dinner with friends and brings her watercress soup in a plastic bowl, which she asks the waiter to heat up for her), I was left wondering how this assignment affected Kate and Louise's work performance.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN LEFT OUT: Louise's interview with an anorexic teenager seemed choppy and slightly out of place. The subject of the interview wasn't very likeable -- she mainly complained about the fact that people only wanted her to gain weight because she wasn't famous (alluding to the fact that if she was an A-list actress, her weight would be complimented, rather than criticized).
In fact, there was no mention of her struggling with body image issues, engaging in dangerous eating patterns, or even some background on how and why she developed her condition.
IN CONCLUSION: While Super Skinny Me did not delve into the socio-political, business, or cultural aspects of dieting, it did a wonderful job of showing the toll these insane regimens have on people's bodies and psyche.
I especially liked the last segment, in which Kate and Louise weigh in two weeks after ending their extremely restrictive eating plans.
Not surprisigly, they gained the weight back. This is precisely why crash diets are a waste of time; not only do they involve unnecessary deprivation, they also set you up for failure.
Losing weight is much more manageable -- and pleasurable -- when done with a balanced, nutritious meal plan and realistic timelines.
December 4, 2007
a) One 1.5 ounce individual box of raisins (120 calories)
b) One ounce (6 individual)Triscuit-like whole-grain crackers (120 calories)
c) Four cups air-popped popcorn (124 calories)
d) 17 raw almonds (118 calories)
e) One 1 oz. bag of soy crisps (110 calories)
Air-popped popcorn leads the pack with 4.6 grams of fiber.
Here is how the other nevertheless healthy snacks rank:
6 Triscuits: 3 grams
17 raw almonds: 2.4 grams
1 oz. soy crisps: 2 grams
1.5 oz box of raisins: 1.5 grams
Many people looking to add fiber to their diets often forget one of the most popular whole grains -- popcorn!
Yes, 20 cups doused in butter (what you get at a movie theater) are equal to two Big Macs, but, when air popped, it is a great low-calorie, high-fiber crunchy treat.
I checked but there was no warning on the packaging. How come they don't warn about the side effects of Olestra?
-- Bubbles (via the blog)
Welcome to nutrition politics! I'm getting ahead of myself, though.
Let's begin with some general information.
Olestra -- a calorie-free fat-substitute made by linking fatty acid chains to sucrose molecules -- was developed in 1996 by multinational consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamble.
I am sure many of you remember the popularity of "WOW!" chips in the late 90s. Those were fat-free thanks to the inclusion of Olestra.
At the time, two things stood out to people who read the nutrition label and ingredient list. First, vitamins A, D, E, and K were added into the product.
A "healthier" potato chip? No. Since Olestra inhibits the absorption of these vitamins, it was decided to fortify such fat-free products with them.
However, the statement following the ingredient list caught most people's attention: "Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools." Yum!
Why is this? Olestra travels through our bodies completely undigested. In turn, even not-so-large quantities result in less than pleasurable side effects.
Alas, time went on and the Food & Drug Administration received over 20,000 formal complaints from consumers. The overwhelming majority revolved around the consumption of Wow! chips and painful -- sometimes painfully embarrassing -- side effects.
This made Olestra the food additive with the most complaints in the history of the FDA.
Interestingly enough, Wow! chips were soon replaced by "light" varieties of popular snacks. The perfect marketing trick, if you ask me -- offer a product with a tarnished reputation under a different name.
Remember, this is Proctor & Gamble we are talking about here. A lot of money -- and corporate interest -- is at stake.
I should also mention that Proctor & Gamble is known for its overly generous contributions to the Republican Party. This nugget of information will come in handy in a about two seconds.
Fast-forward to October of 2003 when, magically, during a Republican presidency, the FDA announced that products containing Olestra no longer need to list warnings on their packages.
Their reasoning? The reported gastrointestinal side effects were "mild and rare."
In fact, one of their main arguments was that abdominal cramps and diarrhea are common, and Olestra was just getting a bad reputation.
I don't think Olestra is worth all the trouble. If you are looking for a lower fat conventional potato chip, try Baked chips (I personally think Baked Lay's taste like salted cardboard, but the new Kettle Baked Chips are tasty), which contain 85% less fat than their regular relatives and absolutely no Olestra.
It would help me tremendously to see an easy to read label that ranks foods faster than I can read the labels.
See a "1" and you can avoid those foods, especially the sneaky ones (such as cereal, which can be billed entirely as healthy even though some have so much sugar).
It won't make me skip label reading entirely, but they would help to make faster decisions.
The most important application, however, is to have a VISUAL reminder of what you are about to purchase- something that not everyone thinks of when buying.
If you find yourself always snacking on trailmix, for example, because it's "healthy" and all of a sudden it gets slapped with a "2" or a "3"- well, it might just make you think twice about getting that again, won't it?
(via the blog)
I concur with you that the ONQI has the potential to make healthy shopping easier -- and faster -- for some people.
Let's, however, take your trail mix example further, as it is a pefect example of a controversial item.
Yes, trail mix is calorically dense due to the presence of nuts. And, on a food label, its sugar content would rival that of a chocolate bar.
However, we are talking about an item that offers heart-healthy fats, naturally-occurring sugars, protein, fiber, vitamin E, and magnesium.
Hence, those calories values differ greatly from similar ones found in a Crunch bar (which contains a generous share of saturated fat and added sugars).
Although one of my favorite mantras is "sugar is sugar is sugar" (meaning that whether in a piece of fruit or made in a lab, heavily processed, or made from organic cane juice crystals, it adds up to 4 calories per gram), the difference with naturally-occurring sugars (found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy) is that they are present in foods that offer nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and in many cases, fiber).
It would be helpful if foods had brief explanations as to why they received their respective scores (i.e.: "50% of the daily saturated fat limit" or "8 teaspoons of added sugar per serving.")
I would hate for people to be dissuaded from learning the skill of reading a food label or an ingredient list simply because this ranking would do that for them.
The other issue with these rankings is that they can sometimes split hairs unnecessarily. For instance, do we really need to start debating whether an orange is "healthier" than an apple?
We'll see how the public reacts once it is implemented.
This new labeling system, developed by a panel of leading nutritionists (including Yale's Dr. David Katz, who I interviewed for this blog) scores foods from 1 to 100 (1 being absolute junk, 100 being perfection) based on several different factors.
I applaud the motives behind this initiative (helping consumers quickly identify healthy foods), but a few questions come to mind.
First -- does this address the issue at hand?
Most people know the basics -- that fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are healthy.
Similarly, I don't think anyone considers Doritos, Coke, Haagen Dazs, and Oreos to be staples of a nutritious diet. Whether they choose to ignore that and snack on Ruffles and Pepsi every day because "they taste good" is a separate topic.
I don't think too many people will be surprised to learn that raisins score higher than M&M's, or that Trix and Grapenuts are several numbers apart.
Are consumers not buying healthy foods due to a lack of knowledge on their behalf, or the vastly different marketing budgets of food companies? After all, Nabisco certainly has more money to throw around for a cookie advertising campaign than the Avocado Board.
Additionally, many healthy snack options are developed by smaller companies who are more concerned with getting their products on store shelves than on an American Idol commercial break.
Many people who would love the taste of a nutritious product like Lara bars have no idea they exist. No wonder -- when was the last time you saw a magazine or television ad for one?
My main hope is that this system stays far away from the glycemic index. After all, if you swear by that ranking, ice cream is a better choice than a potato!
I'm also curious to know how the issue of vitamins and minerals will be dealt with. Will a processed food like a Luna Bar injected with synthetic vitamins and minerals score just as high as an orange or apple (which, despite lacking added sugar or sodium, offer a lower variety of nutrients?)
I'm looking forward to seeing how ONQI resonates with the public. If anything, I love the discourse it will bring up, and I sincerely appreciate the desire to make shopping for healthy foods that much easier.
December 3, 2007
-- Vincci (via the blog)
I assume you are referring to whole wheat breads that are white in color.
If so, I'm happy to report that they are just as healthy and nutritious as regular whole wheat breads.
The only difference between them is that while standard whole-wheat bread is composed of red wheat, white whole wheat breads are made using albino wheat.
Remember -- determining a bread's whole grain content by its color is often inaccurate.
Many brown breads are made of refined white flour and have molasses thrown in for color. And, in the case of white whole wheat products, their color does not represent a fiberless bread.
You'll always be sure of what you are getting by reading the label.
If "whole wheat flour" is not the first ingredient, you are not getting a whole grain bread.
In fact, if the second ingredient is "unbleached wheat flour," you are not getting as many whole grains as you could. The ideal whole wheat bread should have one kind of flour -- whole wheat.
If your question is in reference to breads "made with whole grains" (or those labeled "multigrain"), then you have every reason to be suspicious, since they are not whole grain breads.
It appears whole grain consumption is far below what it should be.
This surprises me. With so many more convenient whole grain options out there (i.e.: whole wheat pastas, whole grain English muffins, whole grain waffles, etc.) , I was under the impression more people had integrated them into their diets.
I personally love whole grains for their taste alone. I wonder if people are shunning them out of dislike, unfamiliarity ("quinoa? no clue what that is. I'll just buy white rice."), or another reason I'm failing to see.
Whether you're pressed for time or away from a kitchen for a few days, snacking on-the-go is part of many people's daily routine.
It certainly doesn't help that most convenience foods comes in the shape of chips, cookies, candy, sugary sodas, and protein bars that are often loaded with sugar and saturated fat.
Alas, I am happy to add Tzu (The Tea Bar) to my Hall of Fame - which currently includes Lara Bars, Clif Nectar Bars, and Pure Bars.
I knew Tzu was worth looking into when I stumbled across it at my local deli and read the ingredient list: sprouted whole grain brown rice, whole grains (oats, buckwheat), whole grain rye, sesame seeds, green tea leaf, green tea powder, konnyaku fructose, flax seeds, sapporo brewer's yeast, and bamboo salt.
Do you see all the pluses? No artificial ingredients, no syrups, no sugary soy and rice crisps, no hydrogenated oils, and fructose is not one of the first five ingredients.
I do wish the flax seeds were included in their ground state (since, in their entirety, they are completely undigested by our bodies), but I consider that to be a very promising ingredient list.
The nutrition profile is very nifty, too. Each bar contains a mere 110 calories, 1 gram of fat, 35 milligrams of sodium, and 2 grams of sugar.
It also offers 4 grams of fiber, 60% of our vitamin C needs, 15% a day's worth of calcium, 20% of the daily magnesium recommendation, and 20% of the recommended daily intake of selenium.
The best thing about it is -- this is all done with real food (not by injecting synthetic vitamins and minerals into the bar, as so many other products do)!
As you all know, I do not recommend a product on my blog until I taste it. Tzu passed that exam with flying colors. If you like the taste of green tea, you will absolutely love this bar.
So what about the inclusion of green tea?
At 3 grams per bar, that's equal to 2 cups' worth. Most studies showing health benefits (mainly on cardiovascular health) from green tea involved participants drinking 4 to 6 cups a day.
While Tzu bars contain a fair amount (which, if anything, helps rather than hurts), their virtues go well beyond that, as they are low-fat, low-calorie, tasty, and a good source fiber, vitamins and minerals.
December 2, 2007
-- Rachael Hoffman
Great trick question, Rachael!
Traditionally, soba noodles are whole grain.
Composed entirely of buckwheat (which, despite its name, contains no wheat and is actually an herb, rather than a grain), they offer an unmistakably nutty taste and significant amounts of fiber, magnesium, and zinc.
They also contain rutin, a flavonoid that has been found to help decrease heart disease risk (mainly by protecting against platelet aggregation in our arteries).
Mainstream soba noodles, though, are made mostly with refined wheat flour and some whole buckwheat flour.
The result? A celiac-unfriendly noodle with an inferior nutritional profile.
Luckily, a few companies -- like Eden Organics -- offer 100% buckwheat noodles. Best bet is to order online or try specialty/health food stores.
As far as wheat berries (pictured above) are concerned, they most certainly are a whole grain!
To those of you unfamiliar with them, wheat berries are unprocessed and unrefined wheat kernels.
It's not surprising, then, that a mere half cup serving contributes 4 grams of fiber.
They make for a great salad base. Mix them with your favorite vegetables and some finely chopped cilantro for a delicious side dish.
December 1, 2007
a) One 1.5 ounce individual box of raisins (120 calories)
b) One ounce Triscuit-like whole-grain crackers/6 individual crackers (120 calories)
c) Four cups air-popped popcorn (124 calories)
d) 17 raw almonds (118 calories)
e) One 1 oz. bag of soy crisps (110 calories)
Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Tuesday for the answer!
Here is one I find particularly accurate, illustrating two common marketing techniques.
First, state the obvious as a "new" development (during the Atkins craze, many bottles of olive oil, which is 100% fat, boasted about their absence of carbs -- duh!).
Then, charge four times as much to make the product appear healthier or special.
Most recently, I expressed my disgust at Borba Skinwater.
November 28, 2007
a) 4 ounces of fresh cold-water salmon
b) 4 ounces of canned sardines (in oil)
c) 4 ounces of fresh lobster
d) 4 ounces of canned salmon
e) Trick question. They all provide the same amount!
The correct answer is "d" -- canned salmon. Four ounces pack in 2.2 grams of Omega-3 fatty acids!
The remaining fish?
4 ounces of fresh cold-water salmon provide 1.7 grams, sardines contribute 1.8 grams, and fresh lobster contains 0.1 grams.
Omega-3's are essential (meaning our bodies can not produce them) polyunsaturated fatty acids that have been linked in hundreds of studies to lower risks of heart disease, cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, and even Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Recommendations are currently set at 1 to 2 grams a day (or 7 - 14 grams a week).
Why does canned salmon edge out cold-water salmon? Simple -- all canned salmon is wild.
The figure for cold-water salmon, meanwhile, is an average that takes into account wild and farmed salmon.
Farmed salmon offers lower levels of Omega-3 fatty acids since they are fed grains (rather than subsisting on a natural diet of small marine creatures).
Although all salmon is a great source of Vitamin D (four ounces provide a day's worth!), canned salmon offers an additional bonus -- calcium. Turns out the cooking process softens the bones to such a degree that they can be eaten.
The result? A quarter of your day's calcium needs in a (lactose-free) four-ounce piece!
November 27, 2007
I'm very excited for the premiere of Super Skinny Me on BBC America this Sunday, December 2 at 10 PM EST/PST.
In it, two female British journalists come up with a new -- and, I would say, scarier -- twist on the 2004 classic documentary Supersize Me.
For five weeks, they will emulate notorious celebrity diets in hopes of shedding five dress sizes.
I'll be watching it for the first time myself this Sunday and publishing a review Monday evening.
Read the fine print carefully and you'll notice that said study was funded by Ajinoto Company, Inc. -- one of the world's leading producers of aspartame!
The critical thinker in me can't say with absolute certainty that this latest study fully convinces me of aspartame's safety.
Let me be clear. A healthy adult having Diet Coke a few times a week or a bowl of Fiber One every morning (which contains aspartame) does not concern me.
However, my personal jury is still out on aspartame consumption and children.
There may be three decades of research on aspartame consumption, but as far as I know, it all involves adults.
Even when healthy adults are involved, I would much rather someone consume small amounts of real sugar than wolf down sugar-free products made with aspartame.
-- Anonymous (via the blog)
Actually, the Food & Drug Administration allows food manufacturers to not take grams of insoluble fiber into account when tallying up their caloric totals.
Remember – wheat bran is the only food that is 100% insoluble fiber.
Thus, it is not surprising that cereals consisting solely of wheat bran -- like Fiber One -- do not count calories from this specific fiber.
When it comes to foods containing a mixture of soluble and insoluble fibers – such as the lentils in a soup – fiber grams are not subtracted from total carbohydrates.
Why doesn't soluble fiber get the same free pass?
Unlike its insoluble cousin which passes right on through our digestive system, soluble fiber is metabolized by bacteria in our colon.
This results in the production of short-chain fatty acids, which are involved in many processes, including glycolysis (the breakdown of glucose).
November 26, 2007
You guessed it -- E.Coli 0157:H7 has reared its ugly head once more.
This, by the way, is the same strand that, back in 1993, caused the death of 4 children who consumed contaminated meat at fast food giant Jack in the Box.
How do these outbreaks happen?
It's quite simply, really. Any healthy-looking cow can carry E.Coli in its intestinal tract.
Once the animal is slaughtered and its meat is ground up, E. Coli germs intermingle with it and, voila, E.Coli-infested beef is shipped off to your local grocery store.
To make matters more difficult, E.Coli-infested beef does not look, taste, or smell "funny".
This is why cooking beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is crucial (it kills any living organisms).
Additionally, be sure to use separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables so as to not cross-contaminate your raw salad greens with any bacteria present in raw meat.
Of course, on a much larger scale, if our food production system was better regulated and not hell-bent on accruing profits while jeopardizing cattle and human health, we wouldn't be constantly facing these outbreaks.
Not only are cows in feedlots practically living on top of one another (significantly increasing the spread of disease among a single population), they are also on a completely unnatural corn diet, which appears to increase their chances of contracting E.Coli 0157:H7 (the corn diet makes for a more acid stomach environment, which the E.Coli strain loves).
I believe the personal is often the political. Our hard-earned dollars are an extremely powerful vote.
If you choose to eat meat, purchasing local organic grass-fed beef (if within your price range) can help bring some peace of mind to your health and support more natural and sustainable practices.
November 25, 2007
-- Ashley L.
Over-the-counter zinc remedies have risen in popularity over the past few years. At any given drugstore, you can buy lozenges, nasal sprays, dissolvable tablets, and even nasal gels (think a medicated QTip inserted into your nose for approximately ten seconds).
Zinc is an important immunity-boosting mineral. Best sources include pumpkin seeds, peanuts, brown rice, beef, wheat germ, almonds, pork, oats, quinoa, lentils and barley.
If your diet is generally low in zinc and other nutrients linked with a healthy immune system, you can certainly expect to catch more colds -- and recover less quickly -- than someone with a well-rounded diet.
I now eat much healthier than I did five years ago. Not surprisingly, I get sick a lot less often (and, when I do, I am back on my feet much faster than before). I do not take multi-vitamins, supplements, or amino acids. I simply eat real food that contains the nutrients I need.
Is it accurate, then, to assume that taking extra zinc when our nose is drippy and our throat is scratchy will have us back in tip top shape in no time?
Studies on the efficacy of zinc remedies provide mixed results.
Some suggest these products help shorten the duration and intensity of a cold, others conclude they perform no differently then a placebo.
Meanwhile, a recent study conducted at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlotesville -- and published in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases -- argues that while zinc lozenges are futile against the common cold, zinc nasal gels might prove helpful.
The reason? The cold virus thrives in our nose. By coming directly in contact with zinc, its strength and ability to replicate appears to be negatively impacted.
On the flip side, some users of zinc-based nasal gels and sprays have experienced long-lasting anosmia (loss of smell) as a result of using these products.
Best bets once you have a cold? Rest and make sure to drink liquids often and throughout the day.
I also don't see anything wrong with taking a decongestant or cough medicine, if necessary.
As much as I believe people tend to almost instinctively reach for a pill upon the slightest of symptoms, I also think there are instances where standard medicine certainly provides more benefits than problems.
a) 4 ounces of fresh cold-water salmon
b) 4 ounces of canned sardines (in oil)
c) 4 ounces of fresh lobster
d) 4 ounces of canned salmon
e) Trick question. They all provide the same amount!
Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Wednesday for the answer.
November 24, 2007
Allow me to introduce you to Borba Skin Balance Water. Caution: you will be entering a website with chill-out trance music and excessively beautiful people.
Per the advertisement, "Borba Skin Balance Water uses only the finest vitamins, minerals and botanicals to help you achieve a youthful, luminous appearance. All with no carbs of calories."
First of all -- can someone please send out a memo to all advertisers notifying them that carb-phobia and the Atkins Diet are, thankfully, a thing of the past and that there is no need for them to tout the absence of carbs in their products?
Moving on. The "finest" vitamins and minerals? All vitamins are created equal. There is no A-list reserve stowed away for luxury waters.
Not to mention -- these are the same vitamins and minerals naturally found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
Anyhow, Borba Skin Water comes in four exotic (of course) flavors -- lychee fruit (replenishing), guanabana fruit (firming), acai berry (age defying), and pomegranate (clarifying).
I sincerely hope no one is chugging a $3 sixteen-ounce of water flavored with an exotic berry, truly believing the posh advertising campaign claiming it helps combat "oily skin, clogged pores and impurities."
Because it doesn't.
Although staying well-hydrated is one of many important factors in maintaining healthy skin, this is easily attained by drinking regular water.
If that's too boring for you, I recommend Hint Water, which delivers a pleasant fruity taste without sugar or hyperbolic promises.
Actually, one of the best things you can do for your skin is eat a varied diet containing different fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fish high in Omega-3, such as salmon.
In fact, if the above mentioned foods make up a large majority of what you eat, you are getting the same vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants the Borba folks want you to believe are exclusive to their water.
More importantly, you will be eating real food, rather than relying on extracts or flavorings, which do not contain the same health benefits.
Similarly, it is also important to keep the consumption of added sugars and processed foods low, as these foods can trigger cellular inflammation associated with various skin problems.
Water flavored with pomegranates or lychee fruit might quench your thirst, but it is far from being the fountain of youth.