September 28, 2007

Numbers Game: Calorie Control

Which of the following breakfast "switch strategies" reduces the most calories?

a) replacing a cup of whole milk with a cup of skim milk in your latté.
b) replacing your morning bagel with an English muffin (NOTE: both denote a top AND bottom half)

c) eating an orange instead of drinking a cup of orange juice

d) spreading a tablespoon of peanut butter, rather than a tablespoon of butter, on toast

Think it over and leave your guess in the "comments" section.
Come back on Monday for the answer!

September 27, 2007

You Ask, I Answer: Spelt

Are bread products made with spelt healthier than ones with whole wheat?

-- Patrick Wrengton

Palo Alto, CA

Spelt -- which is actually part of the wheat family -- is a whole grain -- a healthy choice when it comes to your carbohydrate consumption, but by no means one that leaves its counterparts in the dust.

It is definitely a smart choice, since it offers plenty of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, thanks to a tough outer husk that does a good job of retaining nutrients.

If the majority of your bread products are whole grain, you are doing just fine from a nutritional standpoint. Whether you choose whole wheat cous cous, quinoa, or brown rice is entirely up to you.

Personally, the bread products I have tried with spelt flour haven't wowed me. I recently had frozen bagels made entirely of spelt flour and found them to be too dense.

If the flavor and texture of spelt suit your palate, though, there is nothing wrong with enjoying it.

However, think of it as a healthy option, rather than the "superfood" some proclaim it is.

It's also wise to keep spelt -- or any other whole grain -- within an appropriate framework.

recently saw chocolate chip cookies made with spelt flour, marketed as if they were the equivalent to a cup of plain of oatmeal. Nice try, but not quite.

In The News: Deja Vu

Here we go -- another E. Coli recall, this time involving frozen hamburger patties.

This one spans eight states and puts 165 tons of hamburger meat in the "shady" category.

Can't say I'm surprised. Just one mass-produced hamburger patty is made up of several cows' body parts. And, considering the deplorable conditions of most feedlots, it's no wonder so many cows get sick and end up in our food supply.

The best way to ensure the meat you're buying isn't tainted? For starters -- try to know the source. If you have a local butcher or meat market, head there first.

Although buying local isn't practical for everyone and everything, animal meat is so prone to a variety of infections and illnesses that relying on mega factories to provide you with safe food is a risk.

If possible, buy certified organic meat.

That reminds me -- in the next issue of the Small Bites newsletter (out in late October), I will discuss the benefits of organic food, as well as the myths and false sense of security that often accompanies their purchasing. Stay tuned.

Back to the topic at hand -- the fact that people in Florida are eating meat products produced in New Jersey sets up a tremendous barrier to solving the problem at hand. This unsafe meat has now made its way to 20 percent of the country, making it that much harder to control.

Simply Said: Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance occurs when our bodies are unable to digest lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in dairy.

The digestion of lactose falls under the responsibility of an enzyme called lactase, which breaks up lactose into two simple sugars – glucose and galactose.

These two sugars then travel through our digestive systems without problems.

However, if someone’s body does not produce enough lactase, lactose charges full-steam ahead… until it reaches the gut. Then, it just sits there, patiently waiting for lactase to come break it down so it can continue its travels.

Except lactase never arrives, so lactose is instead feverishly eaten up by bacteria in our gut, thereby causing gas, bloating, stomach cramps, and in some cases even diarrhea.

Lactose intolerance is mainly seen in Asian, Native American, Latin American, and African American populations.

Interestingly enough, regardless of your racial makeup, lactose intolerance becomes a more likely complication with each passing decade.

Turns out that as we age, our bodies produce less lactase.

The best way to know what you have for sure is simply by getting tested. While you can do this by undergoing an endoscopy, there is a much less invasive way – a breath test!

If your body is successfully breaking down lactose, you wouldn’t have much hydrogen present in your breath. However, if lactose is fermenting in your gut, its levels will certainly be detectable.

So what to do if you’re lacking lactase?

For starters, never eat dairy products on an empty stomach or by themselves.

You might also want to try lactose-free milk or take a lactase enzyme supplement before having dairy products.

Eat your bacteria. That’s right! If you’re having yogurt, aim for those with live cultures, which will aid digestion.

Play hard to get. Hard cheeses contain less lactose than soft varieties, so a Swiss cheese sandwich would go over better than a caprese salad with mozarella.

Don’t gloss over food labels. Just because a food doesn’t fall under the “dairy” umbrella does not mean it is 100% safe.

The biggest trap? An ingredient known as whey, which is derived from milk and contains lactose.

Food shouldn't be your only concern, either.

About a quarter of prescription drugs contain lactose, as do the majority of birth control pills.

September 25, 2007

Numbers Game: Answer

Approximately 40 million people in the United States fall into the "lactose intolerant" category.

Tomorrow night, I'll discuss what lactose intolerance is, how to determine if you truly have it, and what foods people with this intolerance should avoid (expect surprises!)

September 19, 2007

Trudeau In Hot Water

As many of you know, Kevin Trudeau is not someone I look to for sound nutritional advice and knowledge.

If this is your first time at the Small Bites blog, please click on the "Kevin Trudeau" link on the right-hand side of the main page and enjoy my various "Shame on You" postings in which I take great pleasure in deconstructing his New York Times bestseller Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You To Know About.

Although I have received 92 e-mails over the past few months from readers who love the section and share their own impressions of the book, I have also received a few strongly worded missives from fervent Trudeau supporters who tell me "I just don't get it."

Well, I think it's Mr. Trudeau who just doesn't get it. In case you haven't heard, the Federal Trade Commission is breathing down his neck again, this time for misrepresenting claims in his latest book, Weight Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You To Know About (which I was planning tackling after I got through Natural Cures...)

Turns out Trudeau calls his weight-loss plan "easy to follow" and "safe", yet "in court documents, the FTC pointed out that one required phase of the protocol requires that consumers get daily injections of a prescription drug that is not approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for weight loss."

It gets better! "To obtain the drug, a consumer would need to either go overseas, or find a doctor in the U.S. who will prescribe the drug for off-label use. The injections must be intramuscular, and Trudeau even instructs the dieter to do the injections under the care of a licensed physician. Besides the injections, this phase also requires a 500 calorie/day diet for 21 to 45 days, and the consumer cannot use any medicines, including over-the-counter and prescription drugs, most cosmetics, and no creams, lotions, or moisturizers."

Five hundred calories a day? Okay, allow me to give you some perspective. People imprisoned at Nazi concentration camps were fed approximately 800 calories a day. Think about that. Someone is telling you to go on a diet and consume less food than a victim of the Holocaust. Apart from being completely disturbing, it also goes to show you how unhealthy (and potentially lethal!) some of these ludicrous diets are.

Two big thumbs up to the hard working people at the Federal Trade Commission!

Numbers Game: Zero Tolerance

Approximately _______ million people in the United States fall into the "lactose intolerant" category.

a) 40
b) 5
c) 95
d) 65

Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Sunday for the answer as well as an explanation of what lactose intolerance is and how to determine if you truly have it.

Blog Updates Coming Soon!

Dear readers,

Expect plenty of new posts late Wednesday night.
Life has gotten in the way over the past few days, but things are resuming back to normal.

I'll catch up with all of you VERY soon.

September 15, 2007

You Ask, I Answer: Tofu

What is the difference between soft and hard tofu?

-- Maria (last name unknown)

Location Unknown

Soft tofu (also known as silken tofu) contains more water than hard tofu.

From a culinary standpoint, this makes them significantly different in the texture department (silken tofu is great for smoothies, but terrible for a stirfry, while the reverse holds true for the hard version of this vegetarian staple).

The differences in water content also make for quite a difference in the nutrition department.


Calories: 55 (soft) vs. 134 (hard)

Fat: 3.3 grams (soft) vs. 9 grams (hard)

Saturated Fat: .5 grams (soft) vs. 1.35 (hard)

Calcium: 100 milligrams (soft) vs. 315 milligrams (hard)

Protein: 6 grams (soft) vs. 12 grams (hard)

As you may have noticed, a very small percentage of tofu's fats are saturated. A good portion of its fats are heart-healthy Omega-3's, the same ones found in fish!

As a reminder – the recommended daily intake of calcium is 1,000 milligrams, so hard tofu is a most excellent source.

September 14, 2007

You Ask, I Answer: Pringles

Are Pringles better for you than regular potato chips? They feel a lot less greasier.

-- Brandon Freimner

Chicago, IL

When it comes to items like potato chips, it's rather misleading to think of one particular type of brand as "better for you". "A slightly healthier alternative" is a more accurate way of thinking.

Some foods don't offer much in terms of nutrition, and should be accepted as such. For instance, when I enjoy a bowl of ice cream, I choose the brand that provides the best flavor. I would much rather have just one scoop of decadent ice cream once in a while than an entire pint of fat-free, sugar-free fudge pops chock full of Splenda.

So, if you find yourself in the supermarket aisles looking for the "healthiest potato chip," I think you are doing yourself a diservice.

Anyhow, onto your question -- which I actually really liked, since Pringles are usually considered "less fattening" because, as the commercials used to proudly point out, they leave less greasy residue on your hands than a bunch of Ruffles or Lay's.

I will let the facts speak for themselves.

Here is how one serving of Pringles (14 crisps) compares to a serving of Ruffle's (12 chips):

Calories: 160 calories (both)
Fat: 10 grams (Ruffles) vs. 11 grams (Pringles)
Saturated Fat: 1 gram (Ruffles) vs. 3 grams (Pringles)

Sodium: 160 milligrams (Ruffles) vs. 170 milligrams (Pringles)
Potassium: 340 milligrams (Ruffles) vs. 0 milligrams (Pringles)

In essence, Pringles are potato chips in a tube, by no means a "healthy alternative". And, at least with conventional potato chips (Pringles are dehydrated potato flakes), you get some potassium, which many people do not get enough of.

September 13, 2007

Measly Metamucil

I can't wrap my head around the logic behind Metamucil.

What's stumping me? The idea that someone would choose to swallow six pills to get a mere three grams of fiber.

That same amount of fiber can be found in:

1 medium apple
1/4 of a medium avocado
1/2 cup cooked broccoli

1/2 cup cooked winter squash

1/2 cup cooked corn

6 Triscuit crackers
1/4 cup kidney beans

3/4 cup oatmeal
1 medium pear

1/2 cup raspberries or blackberries
1 slice whole grain bread

Not only does food taste better than fiber pills, it also provides vitamins and minerals absent from tablets.

Choose food first!

A Slice of... Hell

Pizza is one of my favorite foods. There is nothing I love more than a thin, crispy crust (preferably the nutty flavor of one made with whole grains), tomato sauce infused with oregano and roasted garlic, and a few pieces of fresh buffalo mozzarella and wilted spinach on top.

When made with fresh, healthy ingredients (and not smothered in cheese), pizza is far from the "junk food" category. When I make pizza at home, I buy a pre-made crust made entirely of whole grains and use unsalted tomato sauce and unsalted fresh mozarella.

When I made my first one, I was afraid my dinner guests would spit it out in disgust. Quite the contrary -- I got a number of compliments. See, the sodium in the crust provides enough salty flavor, and the variety of condiments (oregano, pepper, garlic, extra virgin olive oil) I used to condiment the sauce gave it a vivid taste.

Unfortunately, this inoffensive treat can become a nutritional nightmare when you leave it in the hands of a fast food company.

Consider Pizza Hut's Meat Lover's pizza.

Say you and your friends get together and order a 12" pie. One mere slice provides:

340 calories
35% of the recommended maximum daily intake of saturated fat

1 gram of trans fat (the limit is set at 2 grams a day)

50% of the recommended maximum daily intake of sodium

If what you're sharing is a 14" "stuffed crust" pie, then each slice contains:

520 calories
60% of the recommended maximum daily intake of saturated fat

2 grams of trans fat

75% of the recommended maximum daily intake of sodium

Meanwhile, if you're going solo and enjoying a 6" personal pan Meat Lover's pizza, you're taking in:

900 calories
90% of the recommended maximum daily intake of saturated fat

105% of the recommended maximum daily intake of sodium

What to do if you're craving a pizza and your only options are the fast food type?

First, let crust be crust. Stuffing it with cheese only provides more calories, saturated fat, and sodium.

If you have the option, select a thin crust. This will also help cut down on calories.

When it comes to toppings, aim for fresh vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, onions, or even extra garlic.

Start off with an appetizer. Since pizza can be eaten very quickly, it can be easy to down three or four 300-calorie slices before feeling full. Best option? Start off with a soup or salad and then enjoy your pizza.

You Ask, I Answer: Soy Protein

Does soy protein have the same number of calories per gram (4) as regular protein does?

-- Anonymous

Yes -- all proteins (in their pure form) provide four calories per gram.

Allow me to clarify something that has confused people in the past. If you are eating a breaded and fried food providing 30 grams of protein, you are getting 120 calories just from the protein, not total.

You need to add the calories from the breading and frying to calculate the total amount of calories in that piece of food.

September 11, 2007

Numbers Game: Answer

Which of the following provides eight grams of fiber (approximately 25% of the daily recommended amount for someone consuming 2,000 calories a day)?

Give it up for the cup of raspberries, ladies and gentlemen!

By the way, you would need to pop EIGHTEEN Metamucil pills to get that much fiber. I still don't understand why some people looking to increase their fiber intake resort to a measly amount in pill form than a delicious, whole food source.

For an extra fiber boost, add berries to a bowl of high fiber cereal or enjoy a berry fruit salad (combine blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries) as a side dish to your whole grain toast in the morning.

As for the other possible answers, here is how they rank on the fiber chart:

1 cup of oatmeal: 3 grams
1 medium orange: 3 grams
1 cup of steamed spinach: 4 grams

September 10, 2007

Quick and Healthy Recipe: Sizzling Seitan

For those of you unfamiliar with seitan (pictured to the left, on the right hand side of that stir-fry dish), it is a popular meat substitute made of wheat gluten. Its consistency is chewy without being gummy and very much akin to a chicken breast.

From a nutritional standpoint, it is a great lean protein -- very low in fat (2 to 3 grams for a 3 ounce serving), high in protein (18 to 20 grams per serving), and high in iron (25 - 30 % of the daily recommended intake per serving).

Seitan also offers 3 to 4 grams of fiber and approximately 8% of the calcium recommended daily amount in a three ounce serving.

Supermarkets like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's sell it, as do many conventional supermarkets in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Seattle, and Chicago. It is often located near produce, alongside tofu.

The following recipe is not only healthy, I can also say I have served it -- with much success! -- to people who would scoff at eating meat substitutes.

My only condition was that they had to taste the dish without knowing the ingredients, and tell me their honest opinion.

I'm happy to say that a few minutes later I had a handful of carnivores asking me where "they can get this stuff"!

Yield: 2 Servings


1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 container White Wave seitan (cut the seitan into bite-size chunks)
1 small orange pepper, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
Paprika powder, to taste
Salt, to taste (I did not include any, and no one asked for a salt shaker)
Pepper, to taste
2 cups quinoa (follow instructions on package; use 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water)
1 medium avocado


Heat the extra virgin olive oil at medium-high temperature in medium sized pot.

Once oil is sufficiently heated (you should see "waves" in the oil when you move it around the pot), throw in the diced garlic. Be sure to move it around often to prevent it from burning.

Once the garlic reaches a golden color, throw in the diced peppers and increase the heat to high.

Continue to heat for five minutes. Stir frequently.

Add in seitan chunks.

While stirring, add pepper and paprika powder, to taste.

Stir for two minutes and then lower heat back to medium for five more minutes, stirring frequently.

In a separate pot, make quinoa, following package directions.

Once the seitan-vegetable medley and quinoa are done, cut a ripe medium-sized avocado into thin slices.

Place a scoopful of quinoa in serving bowl. Top wih seitan-pepper chunks and avocado slices.


NUTRITION FACTS (per serving)

615 calories
27 grams fat

3.1 grams saturated fat

15 grams fiber

36 grams protein

This meal is extremely heart-healthy -- three quarters of its fats are of the monounsaturated kind, the absolute best for cardiovascular health!

That being said, if you are interested in a lower-fat variety containing less calories, only include half an avocado, rather than a whole one.
This results in 80 less calories and takes away seven grams of fat (as well as three grams of fiber, so be sure to throw in an extra vegetable like broccoli or shredded carrots to make that up!)

September 9, 2007

Diets, Deconstructed: The Best Life Diet

Sure, Bob Greene's diet plan has Oprah's approval, but does it pass NYU Professor Lisa Sasson's critical eye?

Let's see what she has to say.

What I Like:

"This book emphasizes the incorporation of physical activity into a healthy eating plan for optimal success. Even better, unlike some books that assume readers can jump right into complicated workouts, Bob Green somewhat individualizes exercise recommendations depending on people's physical state and ability.

Also, there is no universal caloric goal. Again, this is as personalized as a book for the masses can be.

I also really appreciate the mention of emotions, stress, and hunger awareness. Healthy eating isn't just about knowing that broccoli has vitamin C. There are other emotional, social, and psychological factors that affect our food choices."

What I'm Not So Sure Of:

"The phases last a little too long, and could cause people to lose motivation and abandon the diet. Also, different supplements are advocated from the beginning. I would rather he encourage people to get as many nutrients from real food as possible, rather than in pill form."

What I Don't Like:

"Bob Greene makes too big a deal of refined carbohydrates. Like a lot of other books out in the market now, he calls for their elimination during the first phase of his diet.

There are even statements suggesting that refined carbohydrates are addictive, and that shunning them for four weeks during phase one will help stop that addiction. This has absolutely no basis in reality. Many foods can be healthy in small amounts.

A dinner of grilled chicken, vegetables, and half a cup of regular pasta is a perfectly healthy meal. If someone doesn't like whole wheat pasta, they shouldn't be forced to eat it. Also, a plain baked potato, with its fiber, vitamin C, and potassium, should never be seen as a "diet buster".

I also think it's important to respect cultural sensitivity. Refined carbohydrates are a staple in many international cuisines, many of which don't have nearly the same obesity problem we do here. For example, I think it would be ridiculous to recommend that a Japanese person start having sushi rolls made of brown rice."

In Conclusion:

"Bob Greene's book goes beyond just dieting and food. I am glad physical activity and the emotional and social factors behind eating are discussed. Overall, the diet plan is well-rounded, but there are excessive restrictions that I don't think are necessary.

I wouldn't have a problem recommending this book to one of my clients because, overall, Bob Greene offers comprehensive nutrition information."

A big thank you to Lisa Sasson for sharing her time and opinion with us!

Here are my two cents:

I was rather surprised by some of Bob Greene's suggested buys. For example, he recommends Yoplait yogurt, which contains high fructose corn syrup and, in some varieties, artificial sweeteners.

Why doesn't he recommend plain unsweetened yogurt -- regardless of the brand -- which can be sweetened with fresh fruits? There is nothing special in Yoplait yogurts that can't be found in other brands.

Lastly, I wish diet book authors would respect their readers a little more and not ask them to log on to their websites and pay extra money for advice and tips that could have very well been included in the text.

On a more positive note, I agree with Lisa Sasson that, for the most part, Bob Greene offers sound nutritional advice for the most part that can help people improve their dietary patterns.

In my grade book, Bob Greene's Best Life Diet scores a B+.

'Tis the Season

Summer's last days are upon us, and a new season of fruits and vegetables is around the corner.

If you are thinking about eating more seasonally this fall, look for the following fruits and vegetables (availability varies on geographic region, of course):

Vegetables: beets, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard greens, corn, eggplant, garlic, kale, leeks, lettuce, mesclun, onions, parsnips, peas, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin, scallions, spinach, winter squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and turnips.

Fruits: apples, blueberries, cranberries, grapes, pears, raspberries, and watermelon.

Those of you visiting from the Southern Hemisphere have the following goodies to pick from when Spring begins in less than two weeks.

Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collard greens, fennel, garlic, kale, lettuce, mesclun, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, scallions, shallots, turnips.

Fruits: apples, apricots, avocado, mango, strawberries

You Ask, I Answer: Water

When did [the "8 glasses of water a day" myth] get started and how? Seems like for the past 7 years, [my] friends started talking about it.

But, just before that, bottled water became a trend to carry around. Please tell me it wasn't the bottle water companies who started this! You're suggesting, "drink water when you're thirsty" sounds unique, but hey, that's how I grew up.

-- "R from Ohio" (via the blog)

Dr. Heinz Valtin of Dartmouth's Medical School -- a kidney and water balance expert -- had that same question back in 2002 and decided to do a little investigating.

His conclusion? You can partially blame the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council for starting this trend.

In a report, they recommended people take in a milliliter of water per calorie of food. If we apply that to a daily intake of 2,000 calories a day, we get two liters (or eight eight-ounce glasses) of water.

Why just partial blame? Well, that same recommendation also read, "most of this quantitiy is contained in prepared foods."

Pardon the cliche, but blame the media for spreading incorrect information. The water bottle, companies, of course, remained mum on the gaffe. Thus, here we are in the era of Vitamin/Smart/Protein water (some of which have almost as much sugar as a can of soda!)

This is not to say you shouldn't drink water. However, it should be a matter of drinking when you are thirsty (whether that adds up to four or nine glasses a day), not "because it's good for you."

September 8, 2007

Numbers Game: Finding Fiber

Which of the following provides eight grams of fiber (approximately 25% of the daily recommended amount for someone consuming 2,000 calories a day)?

a) 1 medium orange
b) 1 cup oatmeal
c) 1 cup raspberries
d) 1 cup steamed spinach

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

You Ask, I Answer: Breakfast & Metabolism

I know that you should eat breakfast to get your metabolism started, but what is enough? A handful of cereal? A cup of tea?

-- Anonymous

Great question! Let's start with the basics.

We all have what is known as a basal metabolic rate (BMR), which reflects how rapidly our bodies burn calories through a variety of biochemical processes.

Our metabolism is never turned off. Even while you sleep, your metabolism is up and running.

If you are looking to lose weight, you want to increase your BMR so your body is able to burn more calories.

How do you do this? The best way is by engaging in physical activity.

Why? The more muscle mass you have, the higher your BMR.

There's more. When you starve your body, it has no idea when its next meal will be.

If you go a whole day consuming only 800 calories, your body doesn’t know you are doing that on purpose. It thinks you are in shortage of food and in fear of starvation! So, it goes into self-preservation mode and slows everything down in order to store energy, including your BMR.

Similarly, if your last bite of food is at 10 PM and you wake up at 8 AM the next day, that's a ten hour period where your body's metabolic state is in fasting mode (hence the word breakfast, literally meaning "breaking the fast").

This is why diets very low in calories are counter-productive to weight loss in the longrun.

See, once your BMR slows down and you go back to your regular way of eating, you will very likely gain weight, since your BMR needs to warm up from its mini-vacation before it can kick into high gear and burn calories as effectively as before.

There isn't a specific quantity of food needed to get your metabolism up and running. Even gulping down a glass of orange juice as you rush out the door in the morning is better than starting your day off on an empty stomach.

Additionally, skipping breakfast is an easy way to end up overeating at lunch or stopping by your office's vending machine at 11 AM for a "quick pick me up", often in the form of a King Size Snicker's bar.

Celebrity Diet Secrets: Marc Jacobs

Marc Jacobs is often on the lips of the world's leading fashionistas, thanks to his famous collections of men and women's clothes and accesories.

Recently, though, it's his body that has been making headlines. If you haven't seen for yourself, this is Marc last year, and this is him now.

In a recent interview, the designer explained his transformation the following way:

"I’m eating a totally organic diet, which has no flour, no sugar, no dairy, and no caffeine, and I lost weight because of that diet and because of a two and a half hour exercise regimen seven days a week."

Let's decostruct and analyze.

"I'm eating a totally organic diet..."

As I have mentioned in the past, while organic food lacks pesticides, it has the same nutritional composition as conventional food. An organic banana does not have more vitamins or minerals than a non-organic one, and organic ice cream has the same amount of calories and added sugar as a conventional type.

Eating organic in and of itself isn't always healthy. These days, you can buy heavily processed foods (potato chips, cookies) that, despite being made with 100% organic ingredients, are basically empty calories.

If we're talking about weight loss exclusively, eating organically is not very relevant.

"... which has no flour..."

None!?!? Whenever someone swears the secret to weight loss is eliminating flour from the diet, I want to hit the roof.

Even if someone chose to limit their intake of white flour, at least they would be consuming whole grain flours, which offer a variety of nutrients, have high fiber contents, and, in my opinions, are delicious (one of my favorite breakfast foods is a toasted whole grain English muffin topped with peanut butter).

Yes, many foods made with flour are often highly caloric (i.e: cookies, cakes, pizza), but it is not the flour that's the culprit. Cookies and cakes contain high amounts of butter and sugar, while the majority of calories in pizza can be attributed to cheese and toppings like sausage and pepperoni.

It does not help that refined white flour offers almost no fiber (thereby not providing a feeling of satiety quickly), but let's not forget that flour is one of the oldest ingredients in the world. People around the world have been eating it for thousands of years, long before type 2 diabetes became prevalent and body mass indexes soared.

Granted, if Marc Jacobs previously ate 3 cups of pasta, 2 brownies, and 9 slices of bread a day, he was obviously getting too many calories from products made with flour, but there is absolutely no need to get rid of it in your diet.

"... no sugar..."

Why the absolute elimination? It is true that foods high in added sugar contribute many calories, and the average adult in the United States eats roughly three times the recommended daily amount (120 grams to the 40 stated in dietary guidelines).

However, putting a packet of sugar in your coffee, enjoying an ice cream cone once a week, or occassionaly sharing a slice of pie with a friend after dinner is not going to make you obese.

Labeling a single nutrient as "bad" is a common mistake many dieters make.
A more realistic (and easier to maintain) goal is to lower the intake of added sugars and increase consumption of natural sources like fresh fruit.

Again, I don't know what Marc Jacobs' diet used to be like. If ice cream sundaes were a daily staple, and his breakfast consisted of two donuts, there was obviously an overload of sugar and calories that needed to be modified.

"... no dairy..."

This is completely unrelated to Marc's body makeover. Unless someone is lactose intolerant, there is no connection between shunning dairy and losing weight.

Again, it's important to think about the wide range of foods that fall into the "dairy" category. Putting eight slices of swiss cheese into a sandwich or downing half a pint of Ben & Jerry's after dinner every night is obviously a source of concentrated calories, but healthier options are not hard to find.

For example, plain, unsweetened yogurt is a tremendously healthy food thanks to its gut-friendly (and immune-system boosting) bacteria.

Even enjoying an iced latte with skim or low-fat milk on a hot summer day is a great beverage choice, thanks to its significant amounts of calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, and vitamin B12.

"... and no caffeine..."

Many health food fanatics shun caffeine, and, frankly, I don't understand why.

Countless clinical research trials have concluded there is no link between caffeine consumption and a higher risk of any disease. Well, let me phrase that better -- there is no evidence linking moderate caffeine consumption with a higher risk of any disease.

Besides, if we're talking about Marc Jacobs' weight loss and improved fitness, caffeine is irrelevant.

"... and two and a half hour exercise regimen seven days a week."

Bingo! Here is the most important factor behind Marc's new look. Healthy eating helps, of course. But, someone working out two and a half hours a day, every day (which, to me, sounds excessive and bordering on overkill) is approximately burning an additional 1,200 calories a day!

Add that to a reduced calorie diet (which doesn't take much thought if you are removing entire food groups like Marc Jacobs) and, voila, there is your weight loss and added muscle tonification.

So, at the end of the day, what we have is someone who is consuming less calories, eating less processed food, and performing a lot more physical activity than before. Smart? Yes! Groundbreaking? No.

September 7, 2007

Food for Thought: Extreme Makeover (School Lunch Edition)

Yesterday's New York Times contained an interesting article on a new trend towards healthier choices in some school cafeterias across the country (others, like the ones I featured in a recent blog post on school "junketerias", have their work cut out for them!).

My take? I think removing fryers from schools and reducing portion sizes are excellent initiatives. There is absolutely no need to offer French fries to children every day.

Should they be a very occassional treat? Absolutely. However, the notion than an eight year old can potentially be eating pizza, french fries, and a brownie for lunch every day is disturbing.

As for the appearance of chocolate chip cookies with whole wheat flour and other similar "healthy" desserts, my enthusiasm is more cautious.

Whole grains are very healthy, and many people in the United States are still shutting them out and opting for diets consisting mainly of refined carbohydrates.

That being said -- let's not fool ourselves. A cookie is not, will never be, and shouldn't be health food. Yes, you can make healthier variations, but I certainly hope these students' only source of whole grains does not come from a cookie.

A whole wheat chocolate chip cookie does not come close to the nutrition of a bowl of oatmeal or a banana.

It's crucial to maintain a sense of perspective. Eating two small cookies with white flour is not going to cause obesity or make anyone develop diabetes.

A four ounce cookie, however, is an overload of calories, regardless of the kind of flour it is made with. It should not get the green light because it contains an extra three grams of fiber.

According to the article, some schools are going as far as banning cupcakes from birthday celebrations. I must say I side with the flabbergasted PTA members on this one.

If a class has a monthly birthday celebration, I have absolutely no problems with each child eating a small cupcake.
This idea of demonizing foods and banning them is not dealing with the real problem.

It would be much wiser to teach children that certain foods should be eaten daily (fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes) while others should be reserved only for special occassions (brownies, cupcakes, French fries, etc.).

The most eye-catching part of the article for me?

"...under the federal guidelines, jelly beans and Popsicles are banned because they have “minimal nutritional value.” But Snickers and Dove bars are not because they contain some nutrients."

Doh! This is precisely why simply focusing on a handful of nutrients results in faulty judgment.

A popsicle might not provide any vitamins or minerals, but it is not an unhealthy snack. The average frozen fruit stick provides 50 calories and two teaspoons of sugar.

Meanwhile, a Dove bar provides 30% of the daily saturated fat recommended limit and almost 5 teaspoons of sugar! Allowing it in schools solely on the basis that it contains four percent of the daily value of calcium is ludicrous.

The best thing that can result from this trend towards healthier eating at school is that children will hopefully be exposed to new foods, textures, tastes, and ingredients they are not getting at home, thereby expanding their palates and nutrition habits.

September 6, 2007

You Ask, I Answer: Fruit Juices/Smoothies

I am trying to eat healthy, and trying to lower my cholesterol. In the mornings, I blend a smoothie (strawberries, banana, and a little OJ). Someone mentioned to me that this is very high in sugar, and subsequently puts a strain on my pancreas as well as other organs. Can you help me understand the difference table sugar and sugar that I find in fruit.

-- Mike McDonald

New York, NY

Your question is actually two in one, because high cholesterol and sugar intake are unrelated. So, the "good" news is, your sweet tooth is not worsening your cholesterol problem.

Let's start at the beginning.

One of the most important cholesterol-lowering tools in the nutrition box is dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber.

Oat bran is 100% soluble fiber, wheat bran offers 100% insoluble fiber (which is still good, but does not help with lower cholesterol) and fruits and vegetables offer a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber).

It is also important to know that whole fruits offer more fiber than their juiced counterparts. For instance, a medium orange offers 4.5 grams of fiber, while a cup of orange juice provides zilch.

While we're talking cholesterol, allow me to say this: your worst enemies are saturated fats (the type of fat prevalent in animal products and whole dairy foods).

If smoothies are your absolute favorite food and you can't imagine starting off your morning without one, then I recommend buying ready-to-eat unsweetened oatmeal and adding a few tablespoons to your smoothie. It won't affect the flavor. If anything, it will give the finished product a slightly thicker consistency.

Now, let's talk sugar.

All fruits contain fructose -- a naturally occurring sugar. When you eat a fruit, the fiber in it helps "lower the effect" of fructose (the fiber helps revent a sharp spike of your blood glucose levels).

Smoothies lack fiber, so you don't have this blood sugar stabilizing tool. That being said, if you accompany a smoothie with a high fiber cereal, whole wheat toast, or a bowl of oatmeal, you are providing your body with fiber.

If you are making your smoothies at home consisting of fresh fruits and orange juice, I wouldn't be too concerned about your sugar intake (unless you have diabetes, and then we have other issues to discuss).

If, however, you are buying these smoothies at stores, I would raise the red flag slightly, since a many of them have added sucrose (table sugar) and an extra bundle of calories.

The difference between natural and added sugars? I like to think of naturally-occurring sugars as sweet bonuses in nutritious packages. For example, watermelon has fructose, but also offers antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Added sugar, on the other hand, only provides calories.

You Ask, I Answer: Cheese

I'd love to hear your thoughts on cheese. I'm pretty sure that having it for breakfast about 4 days a week and enjoy cheese plates about twice a week in addition to that might be overdoing it. What are your thoughts about cheeses to avoid in large quantities, and which to have occassionally?

--Antonella Montagna

Key Largo, FL

Cheese sure is delicious, but its high fat content also results provides a large number of calories in a small package. Remember, each gram of fat contains nine calories, while a gram of protein or carbohydrates contributes four calories.

Additionally, the kind of fat found in cheese is the saturated kind -- the type associated with raising our bad cholesterol, risk of heart disease, and contributing to atherosclerosis.

This is not to say you should cut cheese out of your diet. However, being aware of your portions is very important here.

If you are at a party, for instance, you should know that four cheese cubes count as one serving (containing anywhere from 85 to 130 calories, depending on the specific type you are eating).

As a rule of thumb, soft, creamy cheeses contain less fat (and, thus, less calories) than harder types. The reason? Simple -- soft cheeses contain more water, wherehas the hard varieties have their fat more concentrated.

So, if your three favorite cheeses are Swiss, cheddar, and manchego, I would suggest introducing some softer ones to your breakfast and cheese plates.

I should point out, though, that even soft cheeses have considerable amounts of saturated fat.

For instance, while an ounce of cheddar (just four little cubes!) provides 30 percent of our daily recommended saturated fat limit, an ounce of whole milk mozzarella still contributes 20 percent.

Here are my suggestions to you.

On the days you start off your morning with cheese, be mindful of your portions, especially if you are consuming hard cheeses. You can be a little more lenient if you are having a caprese salad containing part-skim mozzarella, though, which contains half the saturated fat found in its whole milk counterpart.

Similarly, on days when you have cheese for breakfast, make food choices for lunch, snacks, and dinner that are low in saturated fat (i.e.: have shrimp instead of steak, pour skim milk into your latte in place of whole milk, and replace butter with vegetable oils in your cooking).

As you may have noticed, I make no mention of fat-free cheese. The reason? That entire concept is blasphemy! Cheese is naturally meant to have fat in it. Whereas I find that skim milk adds flavor to coffee or cereal, fat-free cheese is yellow cardboard.

That being said, Cabot makes a tasty reduced-fat cheddar cheese that I often enjoy.

September 5, 2007

Shame on You: Kevin Trudeau (Part 7)

I recently received a handful of e-mails from eager readers wondering when the next installment of "Shame on You" featuring Kevin Trudeau would be up. Rejoice, that day has come upon us!

When we last left our best-selling author, he was sharing earth-shattering weight-loss secrets like "eat organic grapefruits all day" and "do not eat after six p.m."

Let's see how Mr. Trudeau rocks our nutrition world this time around.

"No white sugar or white flour."

The reason? They make us fat, according to Trudeau! In fact, "if you want to sweeten something... sugar should be your last option," he states.

It gets worse! "As I have mentioned previously, [white flour], when mixed with water, makes paste." Yes, and if you overcook a piece of salmon, it becomes overly chewy and dry. So what?

This idea that white sugar and white flour make us fat is pure hysteria.

What always bothers me about this kind of comment is that white flour and white sugar have been around for centuries, long before obesity rates skyrocketed to current levels.

As NYU professor Lisa Sasson recently shared with us, the much respected Mediterranean Diet -- followed by many people looking to shed some pounds -- includes white flour products!

Now, allow me to explain something. It is indeed true that I recommend people try to make the large majority of their grain intake come from whole sources such as oatmeal, barley, quinoa, amaranth, and whole wheat.

As explained in issue 1 of the Small Bites newsletter, this is largely due to the fact that the high amounts of fiber found in these foods helps us feel full faster (and thus consume less calories). Whole grain foods also contain a larger amount of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

However, white flour (or sugar, for that matter) in and of itself does not "make you fat." True, many of the nutrient-void, high-caloric snacks people consume contain white flour and/or white sugar, but that does not mean these two ingredients are to blame for obesity.

Dunking a slice of delicious fresh-baked white bread into a small plate of olive oil at a restaurant will not make you gain weight. More than likely, it will be the ridiculously large size of your entree that will contribute as much as 70% of your day's caloric needs!

Mr. Trudeau also falls prey to the ridiculous myth that brown sugar is "healthier" than white sugar. Bull! All sugars contain 4 calories per gram, and are metabolized and digested the exact same way, regardless of color. Our digestive system is anything but racist!

"Eat organic apples all day."

"Apples are loaded with fiber and nutrients," Trudeau explains. Yes, true. So is every other fruit known to mankind. Why not make a more reasonable suggestion like, "eat two or three pieces of fresh fruit every day."?

I'll attribute this particularly random tip to Trudeau's editors telling him his first manuscript was 20 pages too short, and he needed more tips for his weight-loss chapter. Or, at least, that's how I can attempt to rationalize how such a clueless statement managed to get published.

What is with this "eat x food all day" advice? In my last installment I showcased a similar weight loss tip he shared: "eat organic grapefruits all day." Huh???

If you were to take Trudeau's advice and have six apples a day, you'd be adding 431 calories to your day -- the same amount you would get from a McDonald's double cheeseburger.

True, 431 calories from apples contain more vitamins, minerals, and fiber (and a lot less saturated fat and sodium) than a Mickey D's cheeseburger, but if we are just looking at calories, there is absolutely no difference.

And, as I never get tired of saying, weight gain is directly related to consuming more calories than you are burning.

"Eat only organic meat, poultry, and fish."

In and of itself, not a bad piece of advice for those who can afford such foods.

However, here's where my BS detector goes off (and my blood pressure skyrockets): "If you want to lose weight, eat as much meat and poultry as you like as long as it is organic, grass fed, ideally kosher, and most importantly, has not been given growth hormones."

I agree that it is best to consume animal products free of growth hormones. However, here is the bottom line: organic products have the exact same amount of calories as their conventional (non-organic) counterparts.

I recently had a reader write me and wonder why she gained weight in spite of substituting foods with high fructose corn syrup for those with real sugar. Repeat after me, everyone: it's all about calories in, calories out!

I can't believe Mr. Trudeau would be so irresponsible as to urge readers to eat unlimited amounts of certain foods -- especially in a chapter dedicated to "losing weight effortlessly"!

"Do a liver cleanse."

ANOTHER cleanse? This is the sixth one Trudeau recommends!

His reasoning? "If you are overweight, your liver is most definitely clogged." He won't say with what, but he's certainly quick to direct you to his website for more information (at a price, of course).

There is absolutely no reason to believe that "cleansing" one's internal organs with pills and potions does any benefit to the body. If anything, you are ridding your body of necessary minerals and electrolytes.

Besides, the liver is a self-cleansing organ! In fact, a lot of these "juice only" diets meant to clean your insides end up messing with our body's self-regulating processes and often weaken the liver, reducing its self-cleaning powers.

"Eat a big, huge salad at lunch and dinner."

Trudeau shamelessly says, "I don't care if your lunch is a cheeseburger, french fries, and a pint of ice cream. Add to it a big, huge salad and eat that first. You'll be amazed at how you lose weight."

What a concept! Clearly, if you stuff yourself with nutritious food first, you'll be satisfied long before you finish half that cheeseburger or even a quarter cup of that pint of ice cream.

The fiber in the salad will help bring on feelings of satiety, especially if you've drizzled some healthy fat (like olive oil) over the veggies and added a source of lean protein on top (i.e.: canned tuna, grilled chicken, etc.)

What he's basically saying is to have salad for lunch and dinner every day to "miraculously" lose weight. That miracle? Less calories!


I'm saving the best for last.

In this specific tidbit of advice, Trudeau is referring to jumping on a mini trampoline ten minutes a day, which he claims increases metabolism and is "effective for weight loss."

I would love to see what study he got this from. I have a strong suspicion this specific tip was pulled out of somewhere, and I'm not referring to the pages of a nutrition research journal.

Numbers Game: Answer

Which of the following provides slightly more than a solid gram of sodium (roughly 50% of the maximum recommended daily intake)?

Three slices of deli ham -- which add up to 1,020 milligrams of sodium (dietary guidelines call for no more than 2,400 milligrams a day).

As for the other foods:

An Auntie Anne's pretzel contributes 930 milligrams of sodium, a medium dill pickle clocks in at 833 milligrams, and 40 Lay's potato chips are the least salty option, containing only 360 milligrams (less than 20% of the daily limit!)

In other words, a sandwich containing three ounces of sliced deli ham accompanied by a medium dill pickle and 20 Lay's potato chips contains 90% of a day's worth of sodium!

You Ask, I Answer: Sugar & Starbucks

I'm hoping you can help settle a bet. My friend and I were wondering what's the least healthy option at Starbucks as far as an iced skim latte is concerned. Is it worse to add caramel on top, get whipped cream on it, or put 2 packs of sugar into it? I think the caramel is the worst, he says the two packs of sugar is. Who wins?

-- Natalie Taylor
Aurora, CO

And so I answer the third e-mail I've received in the past 24 hours concerning sugar.

Well, Natalie, neither of you can be declared a winner. Allow me to break this down.

One serving of caramel sauce at Starbucks clocks in at 0.5 ounces, 15 calories, and 2 grams of sugar. Even if we assume the barista is in a giving, upbeat mood and squirts twice that much into your coffee, you're only looking at an extra 30 calories and 4 grams of sugar (the equivalent of 1 sugar packet).

The two packets of sugar add up to 32 extra calories and 8 grams of sugar (approximately 20% of the maximum amount you should be having each day).

The real doozy here is the whipped cream. If this iced latte you are referring to is a tall, we're talking 79 calories and 1.4 grams of sugar. Grande or venti? Then that's 110 extra calories and 2 grams of sugar added to your drink.

"Doozy? That sounds harmless to me," you might think.

Well, I'm afraid it doesn't stop there.

The whipped cream added to your tall drink also contains 5 grams of saturated fat, or 25% of the recommended daily limit! The grande or venti? 7 grams! That's one more gram of artery clogging fat than a McDonald's cheeseburger.

My advice? If you're looking to add some sweetness to your java, stick to sugar or a little caramel drizzle and pass on the whipped cream.

September 4, 2007

You Ask, I Answer: Agave Nectar/Syrup

One of my friends swears by agave nectar.

She says it’s the best sweetener to use because it doesn’t spike your blood sugar and isn’t refined.

What do you think?

-- Leah Strentle
Palo Alto, CA

A few years ago, agave nectar became a trendy health food, mainly for the reasons you cite.

Vegans have long known about it, as it is a plant-based sweetener used in place of honey or white sugar (which is usually filtered with charcoal made from animal bones).

It is indeed diabetic friendly since it does not spike blood glucose levels as much as pure sucrose (table sugar).

Keep in mind, though, that if managing blood glucose levels is a concern, you can also think about pairing "high glycemic" foods with lower ones.

For instance, drizzling some olive oil over a potato (a food with a high glycemic index) and eating it alongside a grilled chicken breast (a food with a low glycemic index) will not spike your blood sugar as much as if you were eating the potato completely by itself.

At the end of the day, agave nectar is a sweetener.

Remember, all sweeteners have 4 calories per gram. So, dowsing your pancakes in 4 tablespoons of agave syrup (or any non-diet sweetener, for that matter) will add 192 calories to your meal.

Agave nectar's advantage, though, is that since it is sweeter than table sugar, you need less agave than you would sugar to achieve the same level of sweetness.

When baking, I find that when a recipe calls for a certain amount of table sugar, I can instead use half that amount of agave nectar without sacrificing taste (resulting in a finished product with several hundred fewer calories.)

It is also worth pointing out that the reason why agave nectar ranks so low on the glycemic index is because it is mainly composed of fructose.

Earlier this summer, researchers at the University of California at Davis compared the effects of drinking fructose-based versus sucrose-based beverages over a 10 week period on overweight adults.

The results? Those drinking fructose-based beverages had higher triglyceriude and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels than those drinking beverages with a higher percentage of sucrose.

I am not “knocking” agave nectar (again, I use it often when baking) but rather evening out the sweetener playing field.

At the end of the day, keep this in mind: humans have been eating white table sugar for thousands of years. We know very well what sugar does to the body, since we’ve had the chance to study it for so long.

Sugar in and of itself is not the devil. After all, it has been around for much longer than skyrocketing obesity rates, so rationalizing a strict avoidance of it as a "health issue" seems extreme to me.

The problem is that people are eating too much of it!

My thoughts? If you like the taste of sugar and have it in small amounts (no more than 30 or so grams a day), keep enjoying it.

Similarly, if agave is your sweetener of choice, go ahead and enjoy it -- but always be mindful of how much you use.

It should not get the label of a "health food" simply because it is less refined than table sugar.

You Ask, I Answer: High Fructose Corn Syrup & Weight Loss

For the past three months, I stopped eating any food that contains high fructose corn syrup.

The only kind of sugar I eat is is in the form of cane juice.

Sounds healthy, except that I've actually gained eight pounds.

What am I doing wrong?

-- Anonymous (per the writer's request)
Providence, RI

I can tell you exactly what you're doing wrong -- trying to make a connection between weight loss and the type of sugar you eat. That's like trying to figure out why your headache won't go away no matter how many shots of Pepto Bismol you take.

Remember, weight loss ultimately comes down to calories in versus calories out.

Sugar -- whether it's brown, white, or in the form of raw honey -- clocks in at 4 calories per gram. In other words, a slice of apple pie containing 30 grams of sugar will contribute 120 calories from this source of sweetness, be it granulated sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

It's very likely that your caloric intake has increased since taking away HFCS from your diet.

Perhaps you felt like you could eat more freely as long as all your food was natural? Remember, if you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight, whether you're eating homemade organic chocolate chip cookies or Chips Ahoy! from a vending machine.

September 2, 2007

Numbers Game: Sneaky Sodium

Which of the following provides slightly more than a solid gram of sodium (roughly 50% of the maximum recommended daily intake)?

a) 3 slices of deli ham
b) 1 medium dill pickle
c) 2 ounces of Lay's potato chips (about 40 chips)
d) 1 Auntie Anne's pretzel

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

You Ask, I Answer: Fruit Juice Concentrate

I bought some gummy bears the other day. The label said, "Made with real fruit juice!" I looked at the back and the only ingredient that came close to that was "apple juice concentrate." What is that?

-- Joanne Lubek
Berlin, Germany

Oh, the things manufacturers can get away with on their food labels!

Fruit juice concentrate is the result of taking all the water out of fruit juice and then adding sugar to whatever is left behind. It is, simply put, an added sugar (not a natural one, like you would get from biting into an actual apple).

I always find it funny when manufacturers put "nutritious" statements on food that isn't supposed to be healthy. Even if a gummy bear is made with fruit juice, it is still candy.

Why do we need to assuage our guilt? It is perfectly OK to eat gummy bears not made with real fruit juice, as long as they are an occasional treat and you don't eat the whole bag.