June 30, 2007

Issue 5 of Small Bites Out!

Installment numero cinco of the monthly Small Bites newsletter examines portions, serving sizes, and why how much we eat is often more important than what we are putting in our mouths.

You can read it right now by clicking here.

To subscribe to the Small Bites mailing list and get each issue a full week before it is available here, send a request to: andy.bellatti@gmail.com

Say What?: Top Chef Misses the Mark

As a self-confessed reality show and food fanatic, I am sure it would not surprise you to know I am an avid Top Chef watcher.

In brief, it is a competitive reality show on Bravo in which 15 contestants -- ranging from professional to self-taught chefs -- compete in a series of tasks.

This week's main challenge consisted of giving classic comfort foods a modern and healthy spin. Some of the dishes included meatloaf, fried chicken, and pork chops with applesauce.

To my dismay, the only criteria contestants were given as to how to make their dishes healthier was simply to lower the amount of cholesterol in them.

I literally groaned when I heard this guideline and then contestants explaining, "I'm using turkey sausage instead of pork sausage to lower the cholesterol in my dish."

One contestant took a risk and made a dish with lobster -- a food moderately high in cholesterol that also offers healthy fats and other nutrients -- making the case that people shouldn't be so afraid of cholesterol.

"Right on!" I thought.

The judges, however, reprimanded him.

Were they regular Small Bites readers, they would know that dietary cholesterol does not affect blood cholesterol as much as saturated and trans fats.

Additionally, lobster contains omega-3 fatty acids, which provide a wide array of health benefits, including lowering the risk of developing atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries)!

Here's another perfect example. Three ounces of shrimp contain 166 milligrams of cholesterol (more than half the recommended daily maximum) but only 0.2 grams of saturated fat.

People going on a low-cholesterol diet would shun them and instead opt for a lower-cholesterol protein food like lean top sirloin. Hey, you can get twice as much (six ounces) and only get 95 grams of cholesterol. But here's the catch -- you are also getting four whole grams of saturated fat!

So, the lower-cholesterol option is actually the one that will worsen your blood cholesterol!

If you are truly concerned about your blood cholesterol levels, forget cholesterol in food and instead pay close attention to your saturated and trans fat intake.

Quick refresher: saturated fats are found in animal by-products (except those that are fat-free), while man-made trans fats are mainly in baked goods and shelf-stable processed foods.

Additionally, be sure to consume foods high in soluble fiber (oat products, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds).

Which bring me to another faux pas. One contestant made a flatbread with whole flaxseeds, for which he was commended. "Flaxseeds lower cholesterol," the dietitian-free panel explained.

I, however, was not satisfied with that erroneous statement. Remember, in order to enjoy all the benefits of flaxseeds, we need to consume them in their ground (or "meal") form. Whole flaxseeds pass through our digestive systems completely undetected!

I'll definitely leave opinions on whether a vanilla bean or pomegranate reduction goes better with a rhubarb tart up to the Top Chef experts, as long as they promise to bring on a nutrition consultant for their next season.

June 29, 2007

Numbers Game: Answer

An investigation by Efit.com revealed that the average airplane meal provides 1,200 calories, 50 grams of fat, and 2,000 milligrams of sodium.

That's 87 percent of the maximum sodium recommendation in just one (rather bland) meal.

How can you fix this? Here are my suggestions.

Two days before your flight, check out your airline's website to see what special meals they offer. Many airlines allow you to choose from a variety, ranging from vegetarian to low fat to high fiber! As an added bonus, special meals are usually delivered to fliers before that dreaded cart starts hitting the knees and elbows of everyone with an aisle seat.

Also, take healthy snacks on board with you. Bring some raw nuts, whole wheat crackers, and healthy bars like Lara or Clif Nectar.

June 27, 2007

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Veggie Chips

NOTE: Although this post discusses Robert's American Gourmet veggie chips, it can be applied to any other brand with a similar ingredient list.

The packaging boasts "potato, spinach and carrot," as well as "natural," but a closer look finds that there is nothing healthy about this rather new snack food.

Contrary to popular belief, the inclusion of vegetables (usually in powdered form) to otherwise nutrient-void choices does not make them healthier.

Take a look at these ingredients: Potato Flour, Potato Starch, Spinach, Carrot, Beet Root Powders, Rice and/or Sunflower Oil and Salt.

True, there nothing is inherently unhealthy (i.e.: high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils). There is also nothing inherently nutritious.

A baked potato, consumed with its skin, offers fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and some B vitamins, all of which are non-existent in potato flour.

Keep in mind that a nutrition label lists ingredients by order of prominence by weight. In this product, potato flour and starch are the big players.

Yes, spinach and carrot are there, but a look at the nutrient values makes it clear they aren’t the featured stars of these chips.

A one and a half ounce serving contains:

180 calories

6 grams fat

375 mg sodium

1.5 grams fiber

And as far as vitamins and minerals go, all we find is:

2% of the iron daily value

Remember, the more processed a food, the higher the sodium amount (and the lower the potassium). Granted, we do not know how much potassium is in this product, but keep in mind that whole fruits and vegetables contain virtually no sodium.

So, those 375 milligrams indicate this is not just a whole carrot being roasted and turned into a crispy chip.

Another clue this is basically just a potato chip with some spinach dust sprinkled on top? The low fiber amount. Vegetables are some of the best sources of fiber (a medium baked potato provides 4.5 grams, a cup of peas packs in 8, and a cup of brussel sprouts delivers 6.4!). These chips, though, deliver a weak 1.5 grams.

These veggie chips are by no means the equivalent of a larger order of McDonald’s fries. However, they are not a good choice if you are looking for a nutritious snack, despite what the packaging may have you believe.

June 26, 2007

All-Star of the Day: Goji Berry

After hundreds of years as a Tibetan superstar, the goji berry is being rediscovered on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Tasting like the lovechild of a raisin and a dried cranberry, the Tibetan goji berry – a member of the same plant as tomatoes and potatoes -- boasts a wealth of antioxidants and nutrients.

For instance, a quarter cup of this wonder fruit provides:

90 calories

4 grams of fiber

4 grams of protein

180% Vitamin A

30% Vitamin C

9% calcium

15% iron


Make sure you buy shade-dried goji berries. The sun-dried variety, while still healthy, offers a lower amount of nutrients.

Apart from containing several carotenoids (the same antioxidants found in carrots and winter squash), recent studies in Japan concluded that goji berries contain antioxidants that help inhibit the division of cancer cells.

Additionally, a 1994 study published in the Chinese Journal of Oncology found that the addition of goji berries to the diet of cancer patients was linked to better response to treatment.

As healthy as these berries are, some goji berry extract manufacturers are overzealous in their advertising and claim consumption of this fruit is basically the equivalent to drinking a liter of water from the fountain of youth. Proponents also claim goji berries cure a variety of illnesses, which is plain old false advertising.

Remember that eating the actual food delivers more benefits than an extract. Since supplements are not regulated, they could potentially not contain any of what is advertised on the label.

It is also worth nothing that as healthy as goji berries are, their benefits are best seen in diets already rich in whole, natural foods. Munching on a quarter cup of goji berries a day and then eating pizza, ice cream, potato chips, and soda will pretty much cancel their effect.

June 25, 2007

Numbers Game: The Friendly (and Fattening) Skies

An investigation by Efit.com revealed that the average airplane meal provides _______ calories, ____ grams of fat, and _______ milligrams of sodium.

a) 1,050/50/2,000
b) 1,200/40/1,500
c) 900/70/1,700
d) 1,500/85/2,500

Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Thursday for the answer.

You Ask, I Answer: Alli

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this new pill called "Alli". Seems to be quite a big thing, being FDA approved and not needing a prescription for it. What do you think?

-- Jamie Church

Alli (a post-modern spelling of “ally”) is the first FDA-approved over-the-counter weight-loss pill. I am sure you heard about it long before its June 15 launch date, thanks to a $150 million nationwide advertising campaign that spanned every kind of media outlet known to man.

A less powerful version of a prescription-only drug known as Xenical, Alli helps partially block the absorption of fat in the body. It works in a very similar principle to Olestra, the fat replacer in “Wow!” chips that was all the rage in the late 1990s.

Anything that blocks the absorption of fat has two drawbacks. First, there are the unpleasant gastric symptoms: diarrhea, bloating, gas, and even an oily rectal discharge at unexpected times.

Additionally, when fat isn’t full metabolized, neither are the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). This is precisely why many products made with Olestra were fortified with these nutrients.

The main reason why this product is flying off the shelves in record-numbers is that, in trial studies, people who supplemented their diets with Alli lost 50 percent more weight than those who simply dieted.

My main issue with Alli – or any other weight-loss drug – is that it does not teach healthy habits. Losing weight isn’t the hardest part of the gig; it’s the maintenance many people stumble with.

Although the dieters who also took Alli lost more weight, it is very likely they also gained back a higher percentage of weight once they went off the drug.

If you just pop a pill that helps melts pounds but does not help alter the eating habits that made you gain weight in the first place, what happens when you stop taking it?

Another issue worth thinking about: Alli is specifically a fat-blocker, so people who have gained weights as a result of diets very high in carbohydrates will not reap its rewards the same way as those who have packed on the pounds as a result of a diet high in fats.

The one positive aspect to this entire Alli craze is that advertisements make it clear this is not a magic pill, and that to fully obtain its properties, it should accompany a reduced-calorie diet and a consistent exercise program.

At the end of the day, I believe that just like in the famous children’s fable "The Tortoise and the Hare", slow and steady always wins the weight-loss race.

June 22, 2007

Angels and Devils: Ice Cream Cones & Treats

Whether you’re on the road, at the mall, or walking down a city street, the temptation to buy an ice cream cone in the summer is hard to resist. Below, some information (in alphabetical order) to help you consider what places will satisfy your palate without packing on the pounds. NOTE: The values shown for chains like Ben & Jerry's and Coldstone are based on an average of all flavors.

Baskin-Robbins (1 scoop):

280 calories
15 grams fat, 8 grams saturated fat
27 g sugar (7 teaspoons)

Baskin Robbins Softserve:

110 calories
0 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat
22 grams sugar (5.5 teaspoons)

Ben & Jerry's (1 scoop)

240 calories
13 grams fat, 8.5 grams saturated fat
20 g sugar (5 teaspoons)

Carvel (1 scoop)

231 calories
12 grams fat, 7.2 grams saturated fat
23.5 grams sugar (6 teaspoons)

Coldstone (small cup with two mix-ins)

717 calories
35.8 grams fat, 17.7 grams saturated fat
67.7 grams sugar (17 teaspoons)

Dairy Queen Small Vanilla Cone:

240 calories
7.5 grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat
27.5 g sugar (7 teaspoons)

Dairy Queen Large Vanilla Cone:

480 calories
15 grams fat, 9 grams saturated fat
55 grams sugar (14 teaspoons)

Dairy Queen Small Blizzard Treat:

570 calories
21 grams fat, 10 grams saturated fat
64 grams sugar (16 teaspoons)

Dairy Queen Large Blizzard Treat:

1,010 calories
37 grams fat, 18 grams saturated fat
110 g sugar (27.5 teaspoons)

Haagen Dazs (1 scoop)

250 calories
12 grams fat, 9 grams saturated fat
21 g sugar (5 teaspoons)

McDonald’s Cone:
150 calories
3.5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat
18 g sugar (4.5 teaspoons)

McDonald’s McFlurry:

560 calories
16 grams fat, 9 grams saturated fat
71 grams sugar (18 teaspoons)

Tasti-D-Lite (small cup)

80 calories
2 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat
16 grams sugar (4 teaspoons)

Wendy’s Softie (Junior – 4 ounces)

161 calories
3.9 grams fat, 2.4 grams saturated fat
20.9 grams sugar (5 teaspoons)

Wendy’s Softie (large – 12 ounces)

540 calories
13 grams fat, 8 grams saturated fat
70 g sugar (17.5 teaspoons)

June 21, 2007

Got Milk? Keep It in the Dark

I recently shared that, when cooking vegetables, the preparation method determines the amount of nutrients available for absorption.

When it comes to milk, storage properties are just as important.

Next time you're at the grocery store, do not reach for glass or plastic containers of milk. This dairy product should be in containers that shield it from the harsh rays of supermarket ultraviolet light.

Not only does exposure to light affect the protein structure of milk (thus offsetting its flavor), it also drains drastically lowers its nutritional value, specifically when it comes to Vitamins A, B2 (riboflavin) and C.

The lower the fat content of the milk, the higher its nutrient losses when exposed to light. And, a little light goes a long way. Studies have found that, on average, nutrient losses for milk starts after just 4 to 6 hours of exposure to light.

June 20, 2007

You "Ask", I Answer: Forbidden Foods

Everything will cause disease in excess, even exercise and celery. The real problem is not what we eat, but how much stress we have.

I guarantee that far more heart problems are caused by stress than by having a few Klondike bars over the summer.

But of course, we can't ever address stress. That would get in the way of our capitalist goals of working constantly so we can buy SUVs and riding mowers. Nah, much better to create fake foods, diet fads and gym memberships and shame people into using those products.

Please stop contributing to this problem, and stop labeling foods as demonic. It's silly, and it's counter-productive to goals of better health.

-- Anonymous (not surprisingly)

The section "Angels and Devils" is simply a fun way to label posts that compare different brands of one given product in order to help people make wiser purchasing choices.

I am not labeling foods as 'angelic' and 'demonic' (I am not trying to be the next Dan Brown), but rather pointing out which ones are a better fit for a health-conscious consumer.

I have stated in several posts (as well as my newsletter) that foods should never be forbidden, nor should food groups be avoided.

That being said, I will not hesitate to recommend that somebody reach for a 100-calorie, saturated-fat-free Haagen Dazs Fat Free Raspberry & Vanilla Frozen Yogurt bar when they are in the mood for a sweet treat versus an artery clogging Klondike bar.

As you said, stress is a problem in our society. So, why aggravate those symptoms with food that raise our risk of heart attacks, artherosclerosis, high blood pressure, and obesity? A body that is fed healthy food will handle stress much better than one whose arteries are clogged due to excess consumption of saturated fats.

As far as "fake foods" and "diet fads" go, I have never condoned them. If you take the time to read my blog and newsletters, you will see I believe in a well-balanced diet rich in whole foods, not sugar-free, fat-free brownies made in a factory.

I have nothing against gym memberships, though. Heck, I have one myself! However, as I have said in the past, the important thing is to perform physical activity, which doesn't necessarily have to take place in the confines of a room full of treadmills and free weights.

Thanks for taking the time to write in!

Numbers Game: Answer

According to research by the American Cancer Society, 14 percent of cancer deaths in men and 20 percent of cancer deaths in women could be prevented simply by weight maintenance.

Being overweight needs to be viewed not from an aesthetics angle, but as a health hazard.

From a nutrition standpoint, I cringe when I hear obese people proudly stating they are at peace with their bodies and have no desire to conform to society's standards.

Although I find the pressure on women to be a size zero (while men can tip the scales at any weight without much disapproval) absolutely heinous, a healthy weight goes beyond vanity. Keeping off the pounds significantly decreases your risk of developing strokes, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain cancers.

You Ask, I Answer/Celebrity Diet Secrets: Colonics

I often read about celebrities (i.e.: Jennifer Aniston) using colonics as a weight-loss tool. Are they a good way to lose 5 pounds quickly, which you can then keep off with dieting?

-- Tiffany Polder
San Francisco, CA

How coincidental! I was planning on publishing a posting on colonics when this question arrived in my Inbox.

I wonder if Tiffany and I were both thinking along the same lines after catching an insepid Vh1 special on celebrity diet secrets where, among other things, they shared that Kate Beckinsale, Ben Affleck, Demi Moore, and Madonna are big fans of colonics (a process where a gallon or so of water is flushed into the intestines via the rectum, which supporters believe helps cleanse and purify internal organs).

I find colonics to be unnecessary and not at all useful for weight-loss purposes.

Much of their reputation stems from the fact that after finishing a colonic procedure, people find they immediately dropped four or five pounds. Guess what? It's all water weight. In other words, once they go home and eat and drink like normal, all that weight is gained right back.

Remember, water weight is not lost, it is just temporarily gone.

It's also important to note that we carry beneficial bacteria in our colon that act as immune barriers to a variety of pathogens. Since a colonic flushes both the good and the bad out, people can be susceptible to a variety of illnesses and infections for a few days until the helpful bacteria re-establishes itself.

Since some of these bacteria are responsible for the production of Vitamin K, it is sometimes advisable to take a Vitamin K supplement after getting a colonic.

Successful weight loss is attributed to adopting healthy habits like portion control and choosing nutrient dense foods, which a colonic does not teach you.

If you are concerned with ridding your body of toxins, eating your recommended amount of fiber, staying hydrated, and cutting back on added sugars and saturated fats will do the trick.

Angels and Devils: Ice Cream Bars & Sandwiches

We continue our look at ice creams, this time focusing on sandwiches and bars. Unfortunately, as you are about to see, if you are not careful, you could very well end up buying a portable chocolate-covered triple bypass.

I give the following a trim thumbs-up:

Haagen Dazs Fat-Free Raspberry & Vanilla Yogurt Bars
100 calories
0 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat
16 grams sugar
(per bar)

Skinny Cow Chocolate & Vanilla Sandwiches
130 calories
2 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat
22 grams sugar
(per sandwich)

Soy Delicious Li'l Buddies Sandwiches
150 calories
3 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat
13 grams sugar
(per sandwich)

And these frightful four should be on the "very occasional treats" list:

Klondike Bar
280 calories
19 grams fat, 14 grams saturated fat
22 grams sugar
(per bar)

Nestle Drumstick
340 calories
21 grams fat, 11 grams saturated fat
24 grams sugar
(per drumstick)

Starbucks Mud Pie Ice Cream Bar
350 calories
21 grams fat, 13 grams saturated fat
25 grams sugar
(per bar)

Ben & Jerry's Cone To Go
360 calories
19 grams fat, 12 grams saturated fat
30 grams sugar
(per cone)

June 18, 2007

Numbers Game: Don't Just Blame Smoking

According to research by the American Cancer Society, ______ percent of cancer deaths in men and ______ percent of cancer deaths in women could be prevented simply by weight maintenance.

a) 5, 2
b) 14, 20
c) 10, 6
d) 7, 5

Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Wednesday for the answer!

June 16, 2007

Angels and Devils: Ice Cream Pints

A summer without ice cream is like a car without wheels – pretty much pointless. Over the next two weeks, I’ll let you know which ice creams deliver taste without destroying your figure, and which are simply frozen, sugary evil.

Let it be known that I am not listing “sugar-free” ice cream because I find it to taste pretty horrible. After all, what is the point of eating sugar-free and fat-free ice cream? If you’re looking for a treat that doesn’t contain sugar or fat, open up a can of tuna!

Before I start naming names, some general nutrition tips for your next ice cream pint purchase:

* Always read the nutrition label on the back, paying special attention to the number of servings. Each pint contains 4 servings. In other words, if you and a friend down a pint, you would each have to multiply the values on the label by 2 to get an accurate reflection of what you ate.

* Be careful with flavors that mix in brownies, caramel bits, and cookie pieces – all of which contribute additional calories, unhealthy fats, and sugar.

* Serve yourself a scoop in a bowl and then put the container back in the freezer. Sitting down with a pint and telling yourself, “just three spoonfuls!” is a recipe for disaster.

The following brands and flavors get a small bites “Thumbs Up” for their low calorie and fat numbers:

  • Edy’s Slow Churned Light Vanilla

    100 calories

    3.5 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat

    11 grams sugar

    (per 1/2 cup serving)

  • Edy’s Slow Churned Light Fudge Tracks

    120 calories

    4 grams fat, 2.5 grams saturated fat

    13 grams sugar

    (per ½ cup serving)

  • Edy’s Slow Churned Light Mint Chocolate Chip

    120 calories

    4.5 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat

    13 grams sugar

    (per 1/2 cup serving)

  • Soy Delicious Chocolate Peanut Butter

    150 calories

    5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat

    12 grams sugar

    (per ½ cup serving)

On the other end of the spectrum, these brands and flavors get a red flag for their apparent guerilla attack on our health.

  • Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup

    380 calories

    26 grams fat, 13 grams saturated fat

    25 grams sugar

    (per ½ cup serving)

  • Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby

    330 calories

    21 grams fat, 12 grams saturated fat

    24 grams sugar

  • Haagen Dazs Vanilla Chocolate Chip/Butter Pecan/Cookie Dough

    310 calories

    20 grams fat, 12 grams saturated fat

    22 grams sugar

June 13, 2007

No Dairy = No Phlegm?

According to one common nutrition myth often repeated by professional singers, milk consumption results in an excess production of mucus.

However, a numbers of studies across the world (many done by independent researchers not associated with dairy councils) have shown there is no truth behind that statement.

The studies, including a major one in 1990 published in the American Review of Respiratory Disorders Journal, concluded that it wasn’t dairy itself that increased the production of phlegm, but rather that the fat in whole dairy products thickens already existing mucus.

That same year, the South Australian journal Appetite published the results of a double-blind study in which subjects drank either milk or a soy-based drink, which shed more light on this common belief.

Although subjects reported feeling thicker mucus after drinking both liquids, none of them had actually produced more phlegm. Rather, what they were describing was the creamy texture in both drinks that can linger in the palate for a few moments.

Some people go as far as saying that going dairy-free is a way to avoid asthma. Again, there is no evidence to support this claim.

A major study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunologies reported that after drinking milk, people’s airways are no less constricted than when they drink any other sort of liquid.

You Ask, I Answer: Cooking Artichokes

How do you add artichokes to a stir fry? Do you just eat the heart? I usually eat the bottom of the leaf with my teeth... but can more of it be eaten?

-- Taylor Stirek
New York, NY

Artichoke hearts are a great way to eat a lot of this delicious -- and healthy -- vegetable. I especially love to mix them into a frittata.

I recommend buying either canned or frozen artichoke hearts, chopping them up with other vegetables (i.e: onions, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli) and adding them to the egg batter that will eventually go on a an oiled and heated pan or skillet.

Remember: when purchasing canned vegetables, be sure to rise them in cold water before using them to remove some excess sodium.

Chopped artichoke hearts are also a great addition to a summer salad. Start off with mixed baby greens and, along with artichoke hearts, add chickpeas, red onion, lean protein (canned tuna, grilled salmon, or grilled chicken), and shredded carrots.

June 11, 2007

All-Star of the Day: Artichokes

Artichokes might look funny, but they certainly have a good heart!

In fact, just half a cup of their hearts provides 5 grams of fiber, 14% of our Vitamin C requirements, 11% of our folate needs, 16% of our recommended Vitamin K intake, and 13% of our magnesium requirements – all in a measly 42-calorie package.

And that’s just the beginning! As many of you now know, the power of vegetables lies in their antioxidants – and artichokes certainly deliver.

One especially promising antioxidant they contain is silymarin. Among other things, it has been found to maintain liver health and, as published in a 2001 study by Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Dermatology, helps lower our risk of developing a variety of skin cancers.

Meanwhile, another antioxidant found in artichokes known as cynarin helps curb bad and total cholesterol levels while also supporting liver healthy by aiding in the regeneration of healthy tissue.

I highly recommend steaming them (to prevent the loss of the B vitamins and vitamin C) and then add to a frittata or stir-fry.

Numbers Game: Answer

The average meal at a (non-fast food) restaurant provides 1,250 calories.

And that doesn't include dessert!

Explanation? Out-of-control portions (more on that in the next installment of the Small Bites newsletter, out next week) and high amounts of oils used in the cooking process.

For tips on how to eat out nutritiously, please read this post.

June 9, 2007

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Little Bites

With the Supersize backlash, many people are aiming for smaller portions and serving sizes.

“Little Bites” baked goods -- an assortment of muffins and brownies in small pouches -- might sound like a smart choice. The package even exclaims the typical self-control phrase, “I just want a little bite!”

Unfortunately, these treats raise some BIG nutritional red flags.

Consider that a standard pouch of these apparently inoffensive sweets packs:

-- 270 calories

-- 16 grams of fat (a quarter of your needs if you consume 2,000 calories a day)

-- 4.5 grams of saturated fat (23% of your maximum amount, no matter how many calories you’re eating)

-- 2 tablespoons of added sugar

To help you put it into perspective, we’re talking the same amount of calories, total fat and sugar as a half cup of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream!

If you’re in the mood for a sweet nibble and fruit just won’t cut it, I suggest a 100-calorie pack of Oreo or Chips Ahoy crisps. You get 170 fewer calories, 14 less grams of fat, zero grams of saturated fat, and 4 less teaspoons of added sugar.

All-Star of the Day: Subway (!)

Earlier this afternoon, I experienced hunger in the enemy’s territory – a shopping mall food court!

Although Coldstone beckoned me with the tempting aroma of freshly baked sweets, I remembered that a small serving of cake batter ice cream with an added brownie mix-in added up to 527 calories, 68% of my daily saturated fat limit, and 12 and a half teaspoons of added sugar.

I had a good workout earlier in the morning, and there was no way I was going to sabotage 60 minutes of hard work.

McDonald’s? In the (wise?) words of Whitney Houston – “hell to the no!”

My eyes then wandered to Subway’s yellow and green sign. Although I have never been a big fan of theirs (having had their sandwiches only once before), I recalled hearing about a new company initiative to offer healthy sides and options.

A sandwich was out of the question since I am vegetarian and find their cheese and vegetable sandwiches rather tasteless (and too high in sodium).

Upon walking in, a quick glance at the menu made me smile. I decided to order three sides: a small bag of sliced apples, a small box of raisins, and a 12 ounce bottle of 1% milk.

In other words, I was able to go to a fast-food chain and nourish myself with:

365 calories
3.5 grams fat (for my caloric intake, I should get approximately 80 grams)

2.5 grams saturated fat (everyone’s limit is set to 20 grams per day)
4 grams fiber
240 mg sodium (a mere 10% of the maximum allotment)
18 grams protein

Kudos to Subway for offering truly healthy choices. Hopefully, other food court staples will follow suit.

June 8, 2007

Quick Tricks: Cutting Down on Sugar

The average adult in the United States downs between 20 and 25 teaspoons of added sugar a day, severely exceeding the recommended maximum of 10 teaspoons (40 grams).

Below, some tips to cut down on added sugar without sacrificing taste.

* When buying canned fruit, make sure it is packed in its own juices rather than an artificial, heavy syrup. Remember, fructose, the naturally-occurring sugar in fruit does not deserve the same concern as processed, refined sugar. You save: 8 grams/2 teaspoons of added sugar.

* Have regular Cheerios for breakfast and add your own dried fruits and nuts to it, rather than pouring a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. You save: 8 grams/2 teaspoons of added sugar per cup of cereal.

* Forego packaged salad dressings for homemade vinaigrettes (combine vinegar, the oil of your choice, and any spices and herbs that suit your mood). You save: 10 grams/2.5 teaspoons of added sugar).

* Instead of drinking a cup of Nesquik chocolate milk, mix 1 tablespoon of Hershey's chocolate syrup into a cup of skim milk. You save: 12 grams/3 teaspoons of added sugar.

* Add your own toppings (raising, nuts, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla extract) to plain oatmeal rather than purchasing flavored oatmeal packets. You save: 12 grams/3 teaspoons of added sugar.

* When craving chocolate, have a serving of one comprised of 85% cocoa, rather than milk chocolate. You save: 17 grams/4 teaspoons of added sugar.

* Buy plain yogurt and add your own fresh fruit to it, rather than purchasing flavored yogurt. You save: 20 grams/5 teaspoons of added sugar.

* When looking to quench your thirst, have a glass of flavored seltzer rather than one of regular soda. You save: 32 grams/8 teaspoons of added sugar.

* In a rush and need a snack bar? Forget Zone bars (17 grams/4 teaspoons of added sugar), Power Bars (18 grams/4.5 teaspoons of added sugar), and Luna Bars (11 grams/3 teaspoons of added sugar). Instead, reach for Lara Bars or Clif Nectar Bars (most of which have 0 grams of added sugar, or at most, 2 or 3 grams -- less than 1 teaspoon!)

Remember, low sugar does not always mean low calorie!
Always read food labels to determine how many calories you are getting. It is still possible to overeat without having too much sugar, but a lower intake is better for our overall health.

June 7, 2007

Numbers Game: Fatstaurants

The average meal at a (non-fast food) restaurant provides __________ calories.

a) 650
b) 850
b) 925
c) 1,250

Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Sunday for the answer!

June 6, 2007

All-Star of the Day: Corn

When cooked properly, corn is a nutrition all-star offering a wealth of nutrients.

A cup of cooked corn (or one large kernel, in barbecue terms) provides 4 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, 20 percent of the daily requirement for folate, as much potassium as a medium banana, and 15 percent of our phosphorus and magnesium needs.

The combination of folate, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium make corn a great defender against heart disease and high blood pressure.

Research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that once law required folate be added to bread products, deaths caused by heart attacks dropped significantly.

Obviously, folate is abundant naturally in fruits and vegetables, and corn is one heart-healthy friend.

Even better, recent research suggests a link between meeting one’s daily folate needs and decreasing risk of colon cancer by as much as 20 percent!

What many people fail to realize is that corn is a whole grain, meaning it provides many of the same health benefits attributed to oatmeal, buckwheat, quinoa, and whole wheat products.

Among these – a healthy dose of magnesium, a crucial mineral for bone growth and maintenance.

Phosphorus, meanwhile, is the behind-the-scenes player helping our kidneys get rid of waste and is also necessary to keep our nervous system in check and running.

Additionally, research shows whole grains help stabilize blood sugar levels!

Potassium-rich foods such as corn also help counter the dangerous effects of too much sodium on our blood pressure.

The healthiest way to eat corn is grilled or popped. Yes, popcorn (especially in an air popper) is an immensely healthy snack. Hold the butter and spice it up with some salt-free chili powder or cinnamon for a low-fat, fiber-rich afternoon treat.

June 4, 2007

Lift Weights to... Lose Weight?

Many adults looking to shed those last few pounds sign up for aerobics classes, go on daily jogs, or take their bikes out for a ride. Although these are by no means bad decisions (any exercise is a good thing), they are missing out on a crucial component to weight loss -- weight-bearing exercises.

As a general rule, the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns to simply maintain it.

One reason why we need less calories as we age -- apart from our metabolism slowing down -- is that we lose muscle mass with time. Thus, the body burns less calories on a daily basis.

Many women fear that doing weight-bearing exercises will turn them into Arnold Schwarzenegger with breasts, which could not be more far from the truth.

Rather than do a few repetitions of heavy weights, doing 15 to 20 repetitions of a bearable weight will help tone muscles and eventually help the body burn extra calories. As an added bonus, this will also help with bone density issues -- a key component in the fight against osteoporosis!

Even better, weight-bearing exercises help your metabolism burn calories efficiently for several hours after you're done.

To really help your body burn calories, follow weight-bearing physical activities with cardiovascular ones.

Remember, watch out for sports/energy drinks that are basically giving you the same amount of -- or more! -- calories that you just burned off.

June 3, 2007

You Ask, I Answer: Alcohol

Thanks for your site. It's helped me to understand what some foods actually do to your body, and not just that I should avoid them (phosphoric acid and high fructose syrup especially!)

So my question is...what is it about alcohol that makes it so bad for you?

Especially looking from a weight-loss perspective, am I better off eating the cheeseburger, or drinking the four beers (for example)?

-- Anonymous

Alcohol is a tricky subject, because it can be argued that it is both "good" and "bad" for you.

Alcohol is the only substance that can actually increase our good (HDL) cholesterol.

Many foods can lower our bad (LDL) cholesterol and maintain our good cholesterol numbers, but none of them can actually raise the latter.

Keep the following in mind, though. In order to get the positive effects from alcohol, men should have no more than two servings a day, and women no more than one.

A serving of alcohol equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 1/2 ounces of liquor.

That being said, excessive alcohol intake is especially detrimental to our kidneys, pancreas, and stomachs.

From a nutritional standpoint, alcohol adds empty calories, meaning they are void of nutrients (an exception could, I suppose, technically be made for red wine and maybe even for white wine due to the presence of antioxidants).

That being said, no one's health suffers from a lack of drinking alcohol.

So, as a general motto, if you don't drink now, there is no need to start.

Remember, exercising and quitting smoking also raise HDL levels.

So, a few gym visits each week are much better for your body than relying solely on alcohol to improve your lipid profile.

As far as your "lesser of two evils" question (whether you are better off eating the cheeseburger or having four beers): at the end of the day, they both offer pretty much the same amount of calories.

However, beer does not add extra sodium and saturated fat to your day. Then again, the cheeseburger provide protein and some vitamins and minerals not found in beer.

From a weight-loss perspective, one is not a better choice than the other.

Our bodies don't discriminate. Extra calories (specifically 450 of them) are extra calories, whether they come from beer, hamburgers, or sushi rolls.

June 2, 2007

Shame on You: Kevin Trudeau (Part 3 -- Addendum)

In his fervor to prove that the field of medicine is hell-bent on not curing diseases (by throwing statements like "there are more people diagnosed with cancer than ever before"), Kevin Trudeau fails to mention that no one is dying from scarlet fever, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, or smallpox anymore.

I would also be interested in learning how Mr. Trudeau explains the fact that life expectancy is higher now than 100 years ago.

Numbers Game: Answer

A single Klondike bar provides 65 percent of the recommended daily saturated fat intake.

That's 13 whooping grams of artery-clogging and cholesterol-raising saturated fat. A Big Mac has more than twice the calories (540 versus Klondike's 250) but less saturated fat (10 grams, or 50% of the recommended maximum).

Shame on You: Kevin Trudeau (Part 3)

Chapter 2 of Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You To Know About is titled “What’s Wrong with Health Care in America?”

Kevin Trudeau sets up his argument that the medical community is basically worthless by throwing out the following vague statements (which are not cited, sourced, or backed up with any evidence). My comments follow each one.

“More people get cancer than ever before.”

Define “ever before.” If you are comparing today’s cancer rates to 1750, when no one even knew what the disease was, then yes, we currently have millions more people diagnosed with it.

“More people have acid reflux, ulcers, and stomach problems than ever before.”

So what? Getting food poisoning from eating undercooked kitchen has nothing to do with how healthy you are. Also, ulcers are caused by a bacteria named H. Pylori (the whole “ulcers from stress” explanation is a myth) which is currently being researched by gastroenterologists. It is not yet known how people get it in their systems, or why some harbor it without displaying symptoms.

“More women have menopause problems than before.”

No, the symptoms are now understood . In 1875, women with menopause symptoms were declared insane and locked in attics.

“More people have bad skin and acne than before.”

Proof? Additionally, the majority of teenage acne is caused by the surge of hormones that accompanies puberty. Completely irrelevant to what Trudeau’s book claims to address.

“More people suffer from depression, anxiety, and stress than ever before.”

Yes, because all the above can now be identified and diagnosed. It’s not that suddenly people are more depressed, it’s that now people with any of the above can be understood and helped, rather than be told they are witches and burned at the stake.

Strangely, Trudeeau finishes his laundry list of bizarre and unfounded claims with this bullet point:

“There are more surgeries performed than ever before.”

This is relevant how? Yes, thanks to surgery, malignant tumors can now be removed, impaired vision can be restored to 20/20, and knees and hips can be replaced. Besides, plastic surgery alone has increased dramatically in the past 20 years, so in comparison to surgery statistics from 1960, today’s numbers will obviously be higher.

Trudeau attemps to dismiss nutrition by starting that:

“More people are on diets than ever before.”

Yes, FAD diets. The ones all nutritionists tell people are just gimmicky and not a smart way to lose weight.

“More people take more diet products than ever before.”

Seriously, what is with this “ever before” business? Has Trudeau found records showing what prehistoric cavemen did to lose the flab? Anyway, the reason why people purchase and consume more diet products is because there are now thousands of them out there, as opposed to a small handful in 1945.

“Yet more people are fat than before.”

Yes, Mr. Trudeau. Although you don’t believe in calorie control, may I suggest you look into the explosion of portion sizes in the United States? People are being fed larger amounts and, thus, eating more calories. Its as simple as that.

Trudeau finishes this chapter by letting us know we are a doomed species, since we are the only ones to get sick. He exclaims, “animals in the wild… do not get sick!”

Really? How does Mr. Trudeau explain bird flu, gorillas infected with ebola, or millions of rats dying as a cause of the Bubonic plague? Or, closer to home, rabid skunks and raccoons?

The back cover of Natural Cures… claims Trudaeu “provides hope, provides answers, provides solutions.” How about providing refunds for the millions who own this book?

June 1, 2007

You Ask, I Answer: Diet Soda

What are your feelings towards diet soda, especially those that use aspartame as a sweetener?
-- Hektor Suhr

Although I don't advocate diet soda (I would never recommend it to someone who doesn't drink or like it), I also am not about to throw a bucket of corn syrup on the next celebrity featured in Diet Coke's latest ad campaign.

As far as aspartame goes, the jury is still out as far as I am concerned. It is obviously legal to have in the food supply, but there haven't been many long-term studies done with it. There is no reason to panic and completely avoid it, but I also wouldn't feel 100% kosher downing 4 Diet Cokes a day, every day.

My biggest issue with any soda (regular or diet) is the presence of phosphoric acid.

See, our bodies like to stay in balance (you might remember the term “homeostasis” from your high school biology class). Calcium and phosphate, in particular, are two minerals that are actually good buddies.

In fact, they’re inseparable. If one’s level in our blood goes up, the other one wants to go up as well. So when you drink that can of diet soda, your body's phosphate levels rise. Calcium sees this, and says, "Wait a second, I want to go up, too!"

If you are like most people in the United States, your calcium intake isn’t as high as it needs to be, meaning you don’t have much available calcium floating around. So, in order to up its levels, calcium -- eager to join phosphate -- starts leeching extra calcium from the first place where it can find it – our bones.

Let me be very clear here – if your calcium intake is good, the occasional diet soda is not going to harm you or make you develop osteoporosis. But, in looking at teenagers, many of whom are already calcium deficient and on top of that are guzzling down two or three sodas a day, this is a problem.

Although we don’t see the physical consequences of osteoporosis until middle age, this silent disease starts when we are young, especially if our body is constantly leeching calcium out of our bones! If you absolutely must have diet soda every day, you need to sure you are getting sufficient calcium to prevent your bones from losing this crucial mineral.

My other issue with diet soda is that it usually triggers unhealthy cravings (potato chips, pretzels, buttery popcorn, hamburgers, French fries, etc).
When was the last time you were jonesing for a fruit salad and a Diet Pepsi?