February 29, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Cold Water/Weight Loss

I read today that drinking cold water (defined as less than 72 degrees) can actually help you burn more calories because it requires your body to use more energy to bring it to body temperature once ingested.

The article cited that one can lose from 5 to 10lbs a year. Any truth to this or is this just another myth for you to dispel?

-- Becky
Via the blog

Another interesting question. You're all getting good!

This is one of those true facts that is misrepresented – and rather impractical.

Drinking cold water (which, by the way, is set at approximately 32 – 38 degrees Fahrenheit, not any temperature below 72 degrees) DOES require energy from our bodies to warm it up to body temperature.

Therefore, calories are technically being burned.

Remember, calories measure energy.

And, as every nutrition student has learned at one point or another, a calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.

To further add to the confusion, these calories I just mentioned are “different” from the ones we talk about every day in nutrition and weight management.

The calories listed on food labels and recipes are really Kilocalories.

In other words, one layman’s calorie (technically a Kilocalorie) is equal to 1,000 “true” calories (the ones referred to when we talk about needing to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius).

In the end, you do the math and come up with such an insignificant number of calories (the ones everyone is accustomed to using) your body burns to heat up ice water (roughly 6 to 10 calories for every eight ounces of cold water) that it’s not really worth mentioning.

I suppose someone could make the case that if you drank eight 8-ounce glasses of ice cold water in a day, you would be burning as many as 80 calories.

Technically true, but we are talking about COLD (not "semi-chilled") water – the kind that gives you brain freeze if you take a long sip.

And does anyone really want to start getting neurotic about the temperature of their water?

I can just see it now. "Waiter, I need SIX ice cubes in my glass, and they need to be constantly refilled so I can burn ten more calories by the end of this dinner!"

In short, drinking countless glasses of ice cold liquids is NOT a weight-loss tip.

You Ask, I Answer: Iron/Vegetarianism

For women with low iron stores, [who therefore] need to consume beef, does [soy ground beef] contain iron that can help keep the stores up?

-- Micah and Katie

(Via the blog)

Great question!

Let’s start with a few basics.

Iron is located in hemoglobin, a protein within our red blood cells (pictured at left).

Hemoglobin is responsible for delivering oxygen from the lungs to various body tissues so other cells – which rely on oxygen -- can use it.

Low hemoglobin levels are therefore problematic, as they result in cells not having enough oxygen delivered to them to perform their required tasks.

The recommended dietary allowance for iron is set at 8 milligrams for men and women over 50, but vegetarian men of all ages and women over 50 should be consuming approximately 15 milligrams a day.

The reason? There are two types of iron – heme and non-heme.

Heme is found in animal sources of iron, non-heme in vegetarian contributors.

Non-heme iron is not absorbed as easily, so 10 milligrams of purely non-heme iron is not sufficient.

This is not to say that vegetarian diets are inadequate; simply that they require a higher intake of iron.

This is not too difficult to do, especially given the high amount of fortified vegetarian products that provide plenty of iron.

Beans and dried fruits are also great sources of this mineral.

Keep in mind that women who menstruate have higher iron needs.

Those on omnivore diets are recommended to consume 18 milligrams a day. Vegetarian women falling into this category should be taking in 30 to 35 milligrams a day.

The issue of low iron stores is an interesting one because it often gets mixed up with iron-deficiency anemia, although they are two very different things.

Iron stores run a gamut, from "inadequate" to "excessive".

In the middle of that spectrum lies the “adequate/healthy” point.

Anemia is actually the "end stage", or lowest point, of iron deficiency.

The condition of anemia is diagnosed by looking at hemoglobin, mentioned above, and hematocrit (the number and size of red blood cells).

In anemia, there simply isn’t enough iron present to form hemoglobin. In turn, cells are not receiving enough oxygen.

Now here's where things get interesting.

Someone falling in between adequate stores and anemia has what is known as “iron deficiency.”

Iron deficiency is diagnosed by looking at levels of the transferrin -- a protein that binds to and transports iron – receptor and transferrin saturation (in other words, the percentage of molecules of transferrin that are saturated with iron).

The bad news is that standard blood tests only show hemoglobin and hematocrit.

Hence, you could very well be iron deficient and not know it.

You need to specifically ask for transferrin receptor and transferrin saturation blood labs.

This is crucial because iron deficiency affects brain function, particularly short-term memory, concentration, and cognitive processes.

What is important to know is that iron deficiency has nothing to do with the type of iron you are consuming.

If anyone tells you you need to eat meat to increase your iron stores, feel confident to tell them to read the literature.

The solution to increasing iron reserves is simply to consume more iron.

In the case of soy ground beef, two ounces contain 2 milligrams of non-heme iron. That same amount of ground beef contains approximately 1.6 milligrams of the heme variety.

Another interesting tidbit: runners -- especially vegetarian ones -- need even MORE iron.

When we exercise, we undergo a miniscule amount of internal bleeding (which is normal), thereby increasing blood loss -- and our chances of developing anemia if we are already iron deficient.

Again, what is important thing to keep in mind is that increasing body stores can be done with animal or vegetarian sources as long as the right amounts are being consumed.

There are also certain food combinations worth keeping in mind.

Vitamin C helps with absorption of non-heme iron.

So, a soy-based meal accompanied by a tomato salad or glass of orange juice will be beneficial.

There are also some components of food that will have the reverse effect and inhibit the body’s ability to absorb non-heme iron.

These include oxalates (found in spinach, quinoa, collard greens, peanuts, and strawberries), tannins (found in tea and coffee) and, more strongly, phytates (found in whole grains).

Therefore, a soy patty in a whole wheat bun with a side of spinach salad isn’t the most efficient way to include more iron in your diet.

Here’s some good news, though. Since sprouted whole grains have lower levels of phytates, you're better off enjoying Ezekiel 4:9 bread products than standard whole wheat varieties.

Many, many thanks to Dr. Domingo PiƱero of New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health for providing a private iron 101 mini-lesson earlier today to help me answer this question as exhaustively -- and accurately -- as possible.

February 28, 2008

Numbers Game: Answer

A 12-ounce Cosi blueberry promeganate smoothie contains 544 calories.

(Note: a 12-ounce can of regular Coca Cola clocks in at 143 calories)

It goes to show -- high caloric values aren't just found in large portions.

(Sidenote: Get the 20-ounce "gigante", and sip away 1,087 calories!)

It's crazy to think that this 12-ounce beverage packs almost twice as many calories as a large fountain beverage from McDonald's.

Cosi advertises it as a "blend of frozen fruit with a green tea base," which helps to explain the astounding caloric value of this smoothie.

Bases are often sugar-loaded flavor agents.

They were smart in choosing a green tea one because it delivers sweet flavor while still sounding "healthy."

A lot of people have this concept that anything with green tea in it is automatically healthy or low-calorie. I'm afraid that ain't so.

Food companies know this, which is why I was not surprised to see Haagen Dazs' new green tea ice cream flavor at the store earlier this week.

The fact is, smoothies are not an optimal source of nutrition.

The overwhelming majority are excessively sugared (we're talking 6 to 8 tablespoons of sugar on average for a 12 ounce!) and don't deliver any of the fiber present in a piece of fruit.

Since liquid calories (particularly those from fruit smoothies, which are lacking fat, fiber, and protein) are not as effective at providing a sense of fullness, it's very likely you will be hungry soon after finishing such a concoction.

If they are one of your favorite beverages, feel free to have them, but keep in mind that save one or two exceptions, you are buying an overly sweetened, high-calorie treat, not liquid nutrition.

February 27, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Regularity/Constipation

Sorry if this is a strange question, but how many times a day should we "sit down in the bathroom"?

Is once a day "enough"?

(Name withheld)

San Antonio, TX

Ideal excretion of food shouldn’t solely be measured by the number of times it occurs each day or week.

As with anything else, there is a range of “normal” bowel movement frequency – usually from three times a day to once every other day.

Going an entire day without a bowel movement is not necessarily constipation, nor should it be cause for concern.

This is the kind of topic that needs to be analyzed in the appropriate context.

Two bowel movements a day might sound like good intestinal health, but if they involve straining, or dry and hard stools, it is a sign that something is not working properly.

What steps should you take if bowel movements are difficult or painful for you?

Generally, the first course of action is to increase insoluble fiber -- the kind found entirely in whole wheat products and partially in legumes, vegetables, and the skins of fruits -- and fluid intake (preferrably water).

It is no surprise that constipation is, for the most part, directly related to low fiber consumption.

Another recommendation that often times gets overlooked is exercise.

Physical activity stimulates peristalsis, the muscular contraction that keeps contents moving in waves through the digestive system.

Physical activity is also key because, as a result of making us produce sweat, usually results in higher water intake.

Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

It is worth pointing out that not all causes of constipation are diet-related.

There are often psychological causes as well (i.e.: stress, being in a bathroom other than the one we are accustomed to using, etc).

Some medications – including tranquilizers, antidepressants, and hypertension calcium blockers -- can also cause constipation, so do not be alarmed if your regularity is compromised when consuming them.

I’m actually glad you asked this question because this is a topic many people feel uncomfortable discussing.

However, it’s important to talk about it openly since there are a lot of concerns, myths, and health issues surrounding it.

As a result, too many people erroneously -- and dangerously! -- self-medicate with laxatives, thinking one bowel movement a day isn't enough, causing lots of harm to their digestive tracts.

Hopefully engaging in discourse about it can get the right information out there. After all, as the classic children’s book states – everyone poops!

February 26, 2008

In The News: Olive Oil and Aging

Mariam Amash is an Israeli woman who claims to be 120 years old.

If this factoid is validated, it would make her the oldest documented person in the world.

When asked about her longevity secrets, one of Mariam's daughters pointed out that her mother drinks "a glass of olive oil every day."

Very well then.

Yesterday afternoon, Mary Kearl of AOL Body & Mind asked me about that claim, as well as the beneficial properties of olive oil.

Read the article -- including my comments -- here.

PS: There is a slight "quoting error" I notified the author about.

I had mentioned that the Food & Drug Administration does not test imported oils, but the article erroneously identifies the United States Department of Agriculture as the organization.

You Ask, I Answer: Dried Cranberries

[I just read your posting on apple butter and had a question about] dried cranberries.

Are they any good for you because I was reading the nutritional info and it just seems like carbs!

-- Anonymous
Via the blog

All fruits, except for avocados, are basically pure carbohydrate.

I say basically because some might offer 0.2 or so grams of protein.

The fact that fruit is made exclusively of carbohydrates does not make it unhealthy or a bad choice.

When you eat a piece of fruit (not drink fruit juice or have gummy candy "with fruit" or eat fruit-flavored sherbet), you are consuming fiber, naturally occurring sugars, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

The word "carb" became akin to a curse word because it erroneously equated "empty carbohydrates", which are void of any nutrition (think donuts, cookies, and Goldfish crackers), with truly nourishing ones like oats, quinoa, brown rice, fruits, and vegetables.

It is interesting that you point out dried fruit, though, as it can be a bit tricky to decipher.

On one hand, raisins -- essentially grapes tha have been sunbathing for too long without UV protection -- are a very nutritious snack.

They are a good source of potassium, selenium, and iron, and offer fiber mainly in the form of inulin.

Cranberries run into a problem, though. When dried (i.e.: become Craisins), they become so tart that sucrose (table sugar) must be added.

And we're not talking a light sprinkling.

In turn, they become more candy-like and lose some of their awesomely healthy fruit properties.

If dried fruit is your choice of snack, reach for naturally sweet options like raisins, dried mangoes, dried apples, and dates (dried figs), which rely on their naturally-occurring sweetness to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Top of the Mocks

A mere decade ago, faux meats were mostly a fringe food, sought after at small health food stores by vegetarians and vegans.

Some tasted great, others were as appealing as dog food.

I remember my first veggie hot dog, back in 1997, purchased at a speciality vegetarian supermarket. It reminded me of potpourri with salt.

Over the past decade, vegetarianism (even if occasional) has been adopted by millions of people around the world, consequently resulting in a wider variety of much tastier faux-meat products available at conventional supermarkets.

One of my absolute favorite products is soy beef crumbles, available from the folks over at Boca Burger and Morningstar Farms.

I especially like to add some to my vegan chili.

As I always like to say, you know a soy product is good when steak enthusiasts gobble it up, can't believe that's ground SOY beef they are eating, and ask for seconds!

Now, let's compare and contrast.

Two ounces (two thirds of a cup) of Boca ground soy beef crumbles contribute 60 calories, .5 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 270 milligrams of sodium, 3 grams of fiber, and 13 grams of protein.

The same amount of Morningstar farms soy crumbles adds up to 80 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 240 milligrams of sodium, 3 grams of fiber, and 10 grams of protein. They are also fortified with half of the daily B12 requirement!

If you were to use that same amount of 70 percent lean ground beef in a recipe, you would be adding 153 calories, 10 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, and 14.5 grams of protein to it.

Even if going for a 90 percent lean variety, you would still be having 100 calories, 5.7 grams of fat, 2.3 grams of saturated fat, and 11 grams of protein.

This is not to say all your animal meat dishes should be replaced with vegetarian options.

However, soy beef enables you to satiate your taste for red meat in a much healthier way.

I dare all of you to substitute regular beef for soy crumbles in your next recipe (sloppy Joes, chili, shepherd's pie) and notice a difference!

February 25, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Apple Butter

I moved to the United States four months ago and wanted to ask you about a food I hadn't heard of until yesterday.

Yesterday at a party I was at, someone brought homemade apple butter.

I don't like apples, so I didn't taste it.

But I was curious about what it was.

Is it fatty like peanut butter?

-- Estefania (last name withheld)

Los Angeles, CA

Apple butter is, for all intents and purposes, applesauce with less water.

There is no butter in it whatsoever.

If you were to make it at home (usually in a crock pot), you would add spices and sugar to applesauce and cook it down for anywhere from eight to 12 hours.

The cooking down process results in a thick texture akin to that of nut butters, hence the term "apple butter".

Two tablespoons contribute 58 calories to your day -- 99 percent in the form of carbohydrates.

February 24, 2008

Numbers Game: Can of Whoop-Ass

A 12-ounce Cosi blueberry promeganate smoothie contains _______ calories.

(Note: a 12-ounce can of regular Coca Cola clocks in at 143 calories)

a) 268
b) 329

c) 467
d) 544

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

February 23, 2008

The Pesticide Pack

Organic farming is gentler on the planet and minimizes our exposure to pesticides and other chemicals utilized in conventional farming to maximize growth conditions and output.

It's funny -- what we now call organic farming WAS conventional farming decades ago.

While ideally we would always have access to -- and money to spend on -- purely organic produce, I realize this is not the case for everyone.

Lucky for us, the non-profit Environmental Working Group conducted 43,000 tests over the course of five years (2000 - 2005) to determine what fruits and vegetables carry the highest pesticide load (AKA which ones you should always try to go organic for).

The top ten offenders, in order, are:

Sweet bell peppers
Imported Grapes

The safest?

Frozen sweet corn
Frozen sweet peas

You Ask, I Answer: Cholesterol

No one can explain WHY cholesterol builds up in our arteries around the heart and not in other veins in the body - after all aren't they all the same thing, just different sizes?

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that cholesterol is actually a healing agent - cholesterol is building up at points in the arteries because they are DAMAGED.

Why are they damaged? What causes this damage in the arteries?

If cholesterol is viewed as a healing agent to heal the damage points in the arteries, then the risk levels associated with high total cholesterol levels seems to diminish, if not disappear.

There is also a growing body of evidence to suggest that LOW cholesterol levels in the body is a risk factor for cancers and other diseases since the body is depleted of cholesterol as a healing agent.

Interested in your views on this.

-- David (last name unknown)

Via the blog

Great questions, David. Let’s take them one at a time.

Since this answer involves the nitty gritty, and often convoluted, world of nutritional biochemistry, I will try my hardest to make it easy to follow.

Let’s start at the beginning.

You are right; cholesterol is absolutely necessary.

We need it for arterial protection as well as vitamin D synthesis and the production of hormones, including testosterone and estrogen.

However, cholesterol is not essential. If we were never to get it from our diet it wouldn’t be an issue because our body produces it.

Just like with vitamins and minerals, though, a certain amount is beneficial and health-promoting, but excess amounts are detrimental.

The large majority of cholesterol is produced in the liver.

Since cholesterol is not water soluble, it can not freely travel to other tissues through the blood.

Remember, cholesterol needs to be transported to other tissues so it can help repair membranes and aid in hormone production and vitamin D synthesis.

Instead, it has different “cars” to choose from.

These “cars” are called lipoproteins. As the name states, they are proteins that carry lipids (fats) inside of them.

The two most famous lipoproteins are HDL (high-density lipoprotein, commonly referred to as ‘good cholesterol’) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein, commonly referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’).

What determines whether a lipoprotein is high or low in density is the amount of cholesterol it contains in relation to its protein content.

Low-density lipoproteins carry lots of cholesterol.

As low-density lipoprotein travels through the blood, it looks for LDL receptors (since we are using the car analogy, think of LDL receptors as designated parking spaces or garages).

In the same way that you can’t park your car where you please, LDL receptors can’t drop off cholesterol wherever they please.

It just so happens that one of the main sites of LDL receptors – other than the liver -- is coronary ("heart") artery endothelial tissue.

There's more.

Just like a parking garage has a “maximum capacity”, LDL receptors can only take up so much cholesterol.

Once LDL finds appropriate receptors, the liver knows to stop producing LDL.

Here's another twist.

High intakes of saturated fat decrease the number of LDL receptors.

A lack of receptors consequently increases hepatic (liver) production of LDL.

In turn, more LDL floats around in the blood, having nowhere to go.

High amounts of LDL in the blood have a propensity to build up in the inner walls of damaged arteries that feed into the heart and brain.

Why do arteries get damaged in the first place?

That is something that isn’t entirely known, but the main theories are cigarette smoke, high blood pressure, and high triglyceride levels.

For some reason, coronary arteries are more susceptible to damage.

When there is damage to an artery wall, LDL deposits, coalesces into liquid droplets, and becomes oxidized.

Macrophages (a type of white blood cell) take in the cholesterol and form fatty streaks.

As time goes on, more LDL collects, and the area grows in size.

Smooth muscle cells begin slipping into the area, forming a cap over the deposited LDL. This cap is what we know as plaque (the yellow substance you see in the photo accompanying this post; notice how clogged that artery is!).

With time, the cholesterol crystallizes, calcium starts to deposit at the area, and the vessel becomes rigid, thereby blocking blood flow.

Here’s another twist.

HDL (“good cholesterol”) can also bind to these LDL receptors.

This is why increasing your HDL levels (through exercise, consuming monounsaturated fats and soluble fiber, not smoking, and eliminating trans fat consumption) is so crucial.

Not only does HDL transport excess cholesterol back to the liver for excretion (via bile acids), it also -- and this is crucial -- prevents macrophages from engulfing LDL and saves LDL from oxidation (and thereby reducing plaque formation).

Thus, if not genetically predisposed to high cholesterol (due to insensitive LDL receptors), the healthier your diet and lifestyle, the higher your HDL -- and the more protection against plaque you have.

Research has provided strong evidence that weight loss itself increases HDL levels!

Hope this has shed some light on your questions.

Numbers Game: Answer

A six-piece chicken strip basket at Dairy Queen packs in 12 grams of trans fat and 2,910 milligrams of sodium.

(NOTE: Trans fat consumption is recommended at zero grams a day; maximum daily sodium intake is set at 2,400 milligrams)

That's what six chicken strips, a handful of fries, two slices of toast, and some gravy sauce add up to (in an entree many people have for lunch on any given day).

Think you can soften the blow by getting just four chicken strips, skimping on the fries, and starting with a bowl of cream of broccoli soup?

Think again!

That bowl sets you back 570 calories, five grams of trans fat and an outrageous 4,770 milligrams of sodium!

Yes, that's four THOUSAND -- not a typo of four hundred.

Hope you get a tall glass of water with that order...

February 22, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Cooking Chicken

Sometimes I take plain chicken tenders (boneless, skinless, etc) or plain ground turkey and nuke it [in the microwave] until its cooked through.

Every time, however, there is white residue that is gunky and all around the protein I just cooked.

What is it? Fat?

-- Samantha Jark
Via the blog

It's actually denatured (coagulated) protein.

When undergoing extreme heat, proteins are basically molecularly disassembled.

They then bond together and, in turn, you get white clumps on the surface of your food.

This does not mean the protein is of any lower quality; it is a natural food chemistry process.

If it wasn't for protein denaturation, chicken would always conserve its raw texture, no matter how long you cooked it for!

You "Ask", I Answer: You Bar

I was wondering if you've heard of You Bar, which is a company that lets you customize your own bar and only uses natural ingredients.

It sounds like a really cool idea.

-- Vincci Tsui

Via the blog

Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Vincci!

I had never heard of You Bar until I read your message. Sounds right up my alley, too.

You can basically make your own Lara/Clif Nectar/Pure bar by combining a variety of (mostly nutritious) ingredients to your liking (from dates to optional whey protein powders to dried fruits to a variety of nuts and seeds which you can specifically ask to be roasted, raw, or organic!)

Sounds like a deliciously unique gift idea for a foodie or nutritious snacker in your family or group of friends.

February 21, 2008

Administrative Announcements: Interview with Radio Live (New Zealand)

I received an e-mail tonight from Mark Wilson, producer of Radio Live New Zealand's current affairs morning radio show, Drive Show.

Mark read my Reuters article in the Sydney Morning Herald and asked if I was free late tonight to chat about it live on the radio.

I gladly accepted -- and here's the end result!

A HUGE thank you to Mark and the rest of the team at Drive Show for the warm reception (and providing an MP3 minutes later!)


In The News: High-Tech Weight Loss

Forbes Magazine recently highlighted new high-tech products in the nutrition and health field.

Among them: personal digital coaches (includes meal recommendations, customized shopping lists, and daily motivational messages, such as "brush your teeth after dinner to fight dessert cravings"), hotel-room-friendly workouts for your IPod(you say 'ten pound weight', I say "nightstand lamp"), calorie burning trackers (they let you know exactly how many calories you're burning by measuring, among other things, just how much you sweat), and instant nutritional information for hundreds of chain restaurants (should you get the quesadilla or soup and salad combo?).

The two I am not too fond of are the "camera-phone food journaling" and "cell phone personal trainer."

When it comes to food journaling, photos are helpful for recalling portion sizes and extra details ("oh yeah, I guess there was avocado in that dish!").

However, they don't reveal everything.

That salad you ate for lunch can make for quite a healthy-looking photo, but what the lens isn't showing -- or helping you remember -- is that you added five tablespoons of dressing to it.

When it comes to personal training, nothing can replace an actual human being.

It's one thing to watch a professional do lunges and try to emulate the movement, but you need someone there -- at least initially -- to make sure you are performing the exercise correctly, maintaining your posture, and maximizing muscle utilization.

What are your thoughts on these new technologies? Do any of them particularly catch your eye?

Say What?: Too Much of a Good Thing

As regular readers of this column know, I am a big fan of fruit and nut bars like Clif Nectar, Lara, and Pure (basically, any bar that has five or less ingredients -- usually dates, nuts, seeds, and, in some instances, cocoa powder).

Not only are these bars delicious on-the-go snacks, they also provide healthy fats, fiber, potassium, and are free of added sugar, trans fats, and sodium.

They make conventional "soy and rice crisp and 25 synthetic vitamins and minerals" snack bars taste like artificially sweetened cardboard.

One aspect I am perplexed by, though, is the nutrition components some of these bars choose to feature on their packaging.

Lara bars, for example, boast about the amount of Omega-6 essential fatty acids they contain.

Don't get me wrong; omega-6 essential fatty acids are certainly needed in the diet (remember, 'essential' means that our body is unable to produce it, so we must get it from external means).

The issue, however, is that the standard US diet is extremely high in them -- and too low in Omega-3 fatty acids.

And it just so happens that excessive intakes of Omega-6 (which is pro-inflammatory) prevent the other essential fatty acid, Omega-3, from doing its anti-inflammatory work.

This is why, when people get all excited about Omega-3's and simply start eating more flaxseed meal or salmon, they don't realize that this dietary change needs to simultaneously occur with a lower intake of Omega-6 for it to have beneficial effects.

Here's an eye-popping statistic:

It is estimated that up until the 1950s, our Omega6 - Omega 3 ratio fell in the desired 2:1 ratio.

These days? We're looking at an absurd 20:1 ratio! This is bad news not only for heart health, but also in regards to risks of certain cancers.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in plants, nuts, and seeds (and their respective oils). No one in this country is deficient in Omega-6 fatty acids.

As the movie King Corn pointed out, the United States' high omega-6 intake is also related to the fact that the large majority of cows serving as sources of dairy and beef are fed corn, rather than grass.

Grass-fed beef contains a respectable amount of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Corn-fed beef? Not only is it high in Omega-6 and absent of Omega-3; it is also higher in saturated fat!

I e-mailed the folks over at Lara Bar several months ago, pointing out how odd it was to advertise the Omega-6 grams in their bars as a health benefit. If you feel the same way, drop them a line!

Let me again remind you that Omega-6 fats in and of themselves are not unhealthy. It is the Omega 6 : Omega 3 ratio that is problematic.

February 20, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Salt

What's the difference between sea salt, kosher salt, and regular table salt?

Is one lower in sodium?

-- Monica Greenspan

New York, NY

From a nutritional standpoint, there is no difference. Grain by grain, they contain the same amount of sodium.

Table salt and kosher salt are made from mineral deposits, whereas sea salt is simply evaporated seawater.

The three are processed differently, though, leading to varying textures and crystal sizes.

One important difference is that table salt has iodine added to it. Iodized salt takes all the credit for drastically reducing cases of goiter in the United States and rest of the world.

Kosher salt is often loved by cooks due to its large crystals that absorb more moisture (therefore making it ideal for curing meats).

I personally prefer the taste of sea salt (especially when sprinkled over boiled edamame).

Remember that the biggest culprit of excess sodium in our diet is processed food (think frozen entrees, canned goods, powdered sauces and flavorings, etc).

Abstaining from sprinkling salt over food does NOT mean you are on a "low sodium" diet.

Numbers Game: The Power of Six

A six-piece chicken strip basket at Dairy Queen packs in _______ grams of trans fat and _____________ milligrams of sodium.

(NOTE: Trans fat consumption is recommended at zero grams a day; maximum daily sodium intake is set at 2,400 milligrams)

a) 7/2,100
b) 12/2,910

c) 8/2,560
d) 10/2,750

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

February 19, 2008

In The News: D-Mistifying D

Vitamin D -- affectionately called "Sunny D', since sunlight is our primary source-- is undoubtedly the hottest nutrient these days, so it is no surprise The New York Times is dedicating more space to it today.

Not only is its importance in a variety of body functions consistently becoming more clear, traditional recommendations suggesting a daily intake of 400 International Units are being questioned.

Recent research has led dietitians to establish a much-higher 1,000 International Units as the desired daily intake.

Since Vitamin D is found very scarcely in foods (a cup of fortified milk provides 100 IU's), it is one of the few nutrients I highly recommend people who do not get enough sun (either because of winters with little hours of sunlight or because of the use of UV protection creams) supplement in pill form.

Research studies showing the benefits of sufficient Vitamin D intake is a dime a dozen:

"A Swiss study of women in their 80s found greater leg strength and half as many falls among those who took 800 I.U. of vitamin D a day for three months along with 1,200 milligrams of calcium, compared with women who took just calcium. Greater strength and better balance have been found in older people with high blood levels of vitamin D."

And then there's this one:

"Researchers at Creighton University in Omaha conducted a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial... among 1,179 community-living, healthy postmenopausal women. They reported last year in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that over the course of four years, those taking calcium and 1,100 I.U. of vitamin D3 each day developed about 80 percent fewer cancers than those who took just calcium or a placebo."

According to current estimates, as much as 60 percent of the United States adult population is Vitamin D deficient -- and that's based on the starting-to-be-considered-low 400 IU figure!

February 18, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Hexagonal Water

Have you heard of these devices that transform the shape of water molecules?

Supposedly if you change the shape, it hydrates you better, slows down aging, and can cure certain diseases.

-- Trevor Jaracz
(location withheld)

I have indeed heard of devices -- such as the Vitalizer Plus -- that proclaim to alter the structure of a water molecule into a hexagonal shape.

Some companies go as far as claiming that hexagonal water is "living water" with "beneficial enzymes" that are not found in tap or bottled water.

I have also heard the advertised benefits -- a healthier immune system, less inflammation, better gastrointestinal health, etc, etc.

The only positive thing I can muster to say about this is that whoever came up with this concept sure has an overly vidid imagination.

I'll spare everyone a tedious chemistry lesson and just say that the molecular structure of water is permanently fixed, and absolutely no biochemical changes can be made (by any person or machine) to turn it into a "healthier" or "better" beverage.

It doesn't need to be! No one is getting sick as a result of drinking conventional water.

For all intents and purposes, hexagonal water should be placed in the same category as unicorns, fairies, and gnomes.

I would be very happy if all companies selling hexagonal were heavily fined by the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising.

Administrative Announcements: Oxygen Magazine

Please pick up the April 2007 issue of Robert Kennedy's Oxygen Women's Fitness and turn to page 106 to read an article I wrote (and meal plan I created) on healthy weight-loss for various short and long-term goals.

The magazine did an amazing job of recreating my recipes and photographing them!

You can find Oxygen at Barnes & Noble Booksellers and other bookstores in the "Women's Interest" section.

February 17, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin A

I know this is going to sound weird, but I kind of have an aversion when it comes to eating anything orange or red.

Even if it's supposed to be red (like a tomato), I still get freaked out.

Does this mean I'm not eating Vitamin A?

Paula (last name withheld)

St. Louis, MO

I'm sorry to hear about your aversion, especially since you're missing out on delicious foods like watermelon, strawberries, red peppers, and raspberries!

The good news is, your vitamin A intake is not affected, since green vegetables are also a good source.

Half a cup of cooked broccoli provides 24 percent of the daily requirement, a half cup of cooked peas will give you 34 percent, half a cup of cooked kale contains an excellent 177 percent, and a half cup of spinach packs a mighty 229 percent!

Dairy items also contain vitamin A, although in lower amounts.

A cup of milk fortified with vitamin A contains ten percent of the daily requirement, an ounce of mozarella cheese provides a mere three percent, and an egg contributes approximately seven percent of the daily requirement to your diet.

The most concentrated source of vitamin A is animal liver. A mere ounce (53 calories' worth) of beef liver holds 178 percent of a day's worth!

Numbers Game: Answer

Which of these functional food categories saw a 243 percent increase in new products last year?

Answer: Cardiovascular Health

Mintel, a consumer, media, and market research group, released some interesting sales figures earlier this week.

2007 saw the release of 558 new functional food products, of which 148 where related to cardiovascular health.

In turn, cardiovascular health saw the largest increase (in 2006, 43 new food items were released).

Keep in mind that functional foods -- processed foods with added nutrients for health benefits, such as Corazonas tortilla chips made with oat bran -- are not necessarily the most nutritious choice.

For instance, I recently saw potato chips cooked in avocado oil at a local grocery store.

They were, of course, advertised as "heart healthy."

True, avocado oil is better than butter or lard, but these are still potato chips.

The fact that they are fried in avocado oil does not make them as nutritious as eating an actual avocado.

Food companies love functional foods, though.

Sprinkle some vitamins on a gummy bear and suddenly parents start seeing it as a decent snack, rather than sugary candy -- even if you jack up the price!

February 16, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Carrots

How many carrots do you have to eat before your skin turns orange?

Or is this an old myth?

-- Anonymous
Via the blog

Although countless myths surround food and nutrition, it is indeed true that eating too many carrots will turn your skin temporarily yellow or orange.

Remember, betacarotene (the plant form of Vitamin A) is fat-soluble, meaning it is stored in adipose tissue (fat cells).

Our bodies can only store a given amount at a time. Unlike with a water-soluble vitamin (like C or B6) excess amounts of Vitamin A are not quickly eliminated in urine. Instead, they are contained in the body and begin to affect our pigmentation.

There is actually a term for this condition – carotenaemia.

So just how many carrots do you need to eat in order for color changes to take place.

Consider this.

The Recommended Daily Intake is set at 5,000 International Units. A cup of sliced carrots provides approximately 30,000 International Units!

This is not to say that having a cup of steamed carrots with dinner once a week is cause for concern.

However, a cup of carrots every day for several weeks will definitely result in an orange tint to your skin color.

In The News: Caloric Controversy

Back in January I posted about the New York City Board of Health's motion forcing chain restaurants to display caloric information in a conspicuous fashion (i.e.: on the menu, rather than the double cheeseburger wrapper you don't see until AFTER you have paid for your order).

Then, on February 4, I referred you to a link on Marion Nestle's blog where she notified us that the National Restaurant Association was preparing to fire back with litigation claiming such a rule was unnecessary, unfounded, and detrimental to consumers.

Now, The New York Times is providing details on the affidavit submitted to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

And, oh, what interesting details they are!

To begin with, the document is penned by Dr. David B. Allison.

Allison is not a high-profile corporate lawyer.

Oh no. Far from it. He's a professor of nutrition at the University of Alabama -- and the incoming president of the Obesity Society!

That's right. A man at the helm of an organization whose vision is to "be the leader in understanding, preventing and treating obesity and in improving the lives of those affected" is against calorie labeling and representing McDonald's, Burger King, and other fast food restaurants.

His arguments against the Board of Health's motion?

"Dr. Allison argues that the new rules could backfire — whether by adding to the forbidden-fruit allure of high-calorie foods or by sending patrons away hungry enough that they will later gorge themselves even more."

Sending away hungry patrons? Posting caloric information on a board is very different from armed guards threatening people with machine guns if they dare step inside a McDonald's.

The goal is simply to provide consumers with information allowing them to make healthier choices.

I should point out that I have given talks and workshops in the past where I actually show people how they can go to McDonald's for a meal and choose appropriately.

I do not recommend McDonald's be a daily staple, but I recognize that once in a while, whether out of personal preference or other reasons (i.e.: you're on the road, starving, pressed for time, and your only option is fast food), people will be looking up at a fast food menu deciding what to order.

Although it may be "so obvious" to some, many people aren't aware that a Big Mac with large fries and a large Coke is a very different meal from a regular hamburger with small fries and a bottle of water.

In fact, there is roughly a 900 calorie difference between those two options!

In any case, Allison supports his theory that calorie labeling will drive away hungry patrons who will ultimately end up gorging by "citing research showing that birds put on weight when food is scarce."

Too bad food scarcity is completely irrelevant in this discussion.

Consumers are not told to either order a 1,400 calorie meal or go home empty-handed. They can go ahead and order that 1,400 calorie meal, but now they'll KNOW it is a 1,400 calorie meal.

Allison proudly claims that he utilizes scientific evidence in his affidavit to prove his point.

Specifically, he "cites a study that found that dieters who were distracted while eating and presented with information that food was high in calories were more likely to overeat."

I love how people throw around the term "scientific evidence" as if that automatically means what they are about to say is a universal truth.

The study he points at mentions dieters being distracted while eating. How, exactly, would calorie labeling distract people as they eat? The information only comes to play while they are ordering.

A Board of Health representative will not be sitting across from them as they bite into their Big Mac notifying them of how many calories they just paid for.

Luckily, the Obesity Society is not standing behind Allison.

"The obesity group released a statement on Tuesday supporting calorie labeling on menus. “The Obesity Society believes that more information on the caloric content of restaurant servings, not less, is in the interests of consumers,” said the statement by the society, which is based in Silver Spring, Md."

I am surprised the Obesity Society is still permitting Dr. Allison to come in as president.

Isn't his support of the National Restaurant Association akin to the head of the National Rifle Association supporting strict gun control laws?

February 15, 2008

In The News: Lower Your Cholesterol... and Brain Function?

Interesting tidbit over at Tara Parker-Pope's health blog on the New York Times website.

On February 13 she referred to a Wall Street Journal article about the effect of statins (cholesterol-lowing drugs, such as Lipitor) on brain function.

Turns out these medications cross the blood-brain barrier, thereby affecting the central nervous system.

There are even documented instances of people on statins testing positive for pre-Alzheimer's and then "miraculously recovering" once they stop consuming the drug.

This is one of the many reasons why I strongly advocate people resort to diet and physical activity first to lower their total -- AND LDL ("bad") -- cholesterol.

Not only are they effective methods; they also deliver other benefits (i.e.: nutrients) helpful with other conditions and disease risks.

Of course, the select group of people who genetically produce high cholesterol need to be on statins (diet plays a very little role in determining their lipid profile), but there's too many people who directly contribute to their hypercholesteremia by eating poorly.

February 14, 2008

In The News: Valentine's Day/Small Bites

Last Friday, Terri Coles of Reuters.com interviewed me for a special Valentine's Day article on the health benefits of common romantic staples like chocolate and wine.

We also talked about healthy foods often dismissed as "empty calories."

She did a wonderful job with the piece, which came out earler this afternoon. Read it here!

Pocket Full of Junk

This weekend I saw an advertisement for Hot Pockets Calzone, the company's "heartiest sandwich yet."

"This is more of what you're hungry for," it exclaimed.

So I went ahead and investigated just what Hot Pockets offers and, if anything, my hunger immediately disappeared.

Per the box for the four meat and four cheese calzone, one filled pastry pocket is enclosed.

It is illustrated as two halves on the box, so we can truly appreciated the myriad of melted processed cheeses oozing out.

Oh, but there's another crafty reason for that illustration.

Although you are buying one calzone, the nutrition information on the back defines one serving as HALF a calzone.

Do they truly expect someone to heat one of these up and eat the other half another day?

This is the kind of food that becomes a horribly textured mess after sitting out for too long. Imagine it undergoing reheating?

In any case, all the nutrition values on the back need to be multiplied by two.

Alas, here is what you get when you eat "two halves" of this "hearty" new sandwich (which, mind you, is advertised mainly as a snack, rather than a meal):

600 calories
26 grams of fat
10 grams of saturated fat (half a day's worth)
1500 milligrams of sodium (two third of a day's worth)

A pathetic four grams of fiber
(pathetic for a 600-calorie food)
26 grams of sugar (assuming ten or so are naturally occurring in the cheese, that's still a tablespoon of added sugar!)

Numbers Game: Functional Boom

Which of these functional food categories saw a 243 percent increase in new products last year?

(NOTE: a functional food is one with added benefits. For example, Vitamin Water, which is basically sugar water with vitamins and minerals tacked on).

a) Bone and joint health
b) Gastrointestinal health
c) Memory boosters

d) Cardiovascular health

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

February 13, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Splenda

[I just read your posting on sorbitol and am wondering:] what about Splenda?

I have about a tablespoon (not full) a day with coffee.

Is it just better to have sugar and forget about it?

-- Anonymous

Via the blog

Splenda -- the brand name for sucralose -- was first launched during the peak of the Atkins revival in 2004.

Originally appearing in low-carb sweet treats like granola bars and ice cream, it was launched in supermarkets across the country for at-home beverage sweetening and baking.

So, how safe is it?

Well, on the one hand, the Food & Drug Administration has approved it as a GRAS (generally regarded as safe) food additive.

As I mentioned in a December 2007 posting about fat-replacer Olestra, though, the FDA seal of approval isn't always the most reassuring.

All we know for sure at this point is that Splenda doesn't appear to cause immediate harm.

Since it is a relatively new mass-consumed alternative sweetener, there are no long-term studies indicating what happens if it is consumed every day for 20 years.

There isn't even a study detailing the effects of regular Splenda consumption over a FIVE year period.

Interestingly enough, the Japanese Food Sanitation Council reported that some sucralose is actually absorbed by the body and hones in on the liver and kidneys. Consequently, they theorize that regular intake of Splenda could result in the enlargement of these organs.

My strategy with sucralose is to tread cautiously.

Having three cups of coffee with two packs of Splenda in each day in, day out is not the smartest of choices.

However, having two teaspoons with your morning coffee each day -- and no additional amounts in other foods -- doesn't strike me as particularly alarming.

Keep in mind that obesity rates and ridiculously high sugar intakes in the United States are not coming from people stirring a teaspoon of sugar in their latte every morning.

Rather, they are the result of the cookies, brownies, cakes, pies, flavored lattes, and monstruous ice cream sundaes that are constantly available to us.

Your overall goal should be decrease your sugar consumption to roughly 30 - 40 grams a day (one pack of sugar contains four), not to replace high sugar intake with high artificial sweetener consumption.

Simply Said: Expeller-Pressed Oil

Pick up a random box of whole grain crackers at a health food store and you’re bound to see “expeller pressed oil” as one of the ingredients.

What is it, exactly ? Is it lower in calories? Is it a healthier fat?

An oil is considered expeller-pressed when it is extracted from its source – a seed or nut – solely through a crushing mechanism (using a device similar to what is pictured on the right).

Consider it a less-processed end product.

Standard oils (i.e: the oil used for Doritos) are extracted chemically with the aid of hexane, a petrochemical also used as a paint diluent and solvent.

Hexane was actually classified as a Hazardous Air Pollutant in 1993 by the Environmental Protection Agency, and can lead to serious health complications if inhaled.

There are currently studies being done on hexane consumption in the diet, mainly to determine if any links can be made between its consumption and higher risks of cancer.

What is known is that the release of hexane into the atmosphere by conventional oil processing methods ultimately creates greenhouse gases.

From a nutrition standpoint, though, expeller pressed oil is still a fat clocking in at nine calories per gram.

February 12, 2008

Quick and Healthy Recipe: Oat Bran Pancakes

I received this recipe in my e-mail today from the American Institute for Cancer Research.

It sounds delicious -- and has a nice nutritional profile to boot -- so I figured I would post it here for all of you to make at home and enjoy!


1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup oat bran
1 Tbsp. sugar

1/4 tsp. baking soda

1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 cup plus
2 Tbsp. nonfat buttermilk

1 egg

1 Tbsp. canola oil

1 cup fresh blueberries

1 medium banana, thinly sliced
Powdered sugar, as garnish
Fresh mint sprigs, as garnish


In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oat bran, sugar, baking soda and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and oil until well combined. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients. Mix with a fork until they are just combined. The batter should have the thickness of yogurt.

Spray a griddle or large, nonstick skillet very lightly with cooking spray and place it over medium heat.

When it is hot, ladle about 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan, spreading it to make a 5 inch pancake.

Cook until small holes appear and the bottom of the pancake is brown, about 2 minutes.

Carefully flip and cook until the pancake is brown on the second side.

Place the finished pancakes on a baking sheet (without overlapping) and set in a warm oven while the rest of the pancakes are cooked.

To serve, top with the fruit and a dusting of powdered sugar. Garnish with a mint sprig, if desired.

Makes 3 servings (2 pancakes each).

Per serving: 300 calories, 8 g total fat (1 g saturated fat), 56 g carbohydrate, 10 g protein, 5 g dietary fiber, 260 mg sodium

Numbers Game: Answer

Since 1982, the standard size of a hamburger in Canada has increased 112 percent. Pasta servings have expanded by 480 percent.

(Source: Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion)


That certainly helps explain rising obesity rates in Canada.

In 1978, 14 percent of the Canadian adult population was obese. In 2004? 23 percent.

That's a 64 percent increase, simultaneous with the above-mentioned exploding portions.

In The News: The "C" Word

The glycemic index is fortunately starting to take a backseat in the realm of weight loss.

The potato board is, of course, gleefully promoting the findings of a recent study published in the September 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded what dietitians have been saying for decades: when it comes to losing weight, it is calories -- not the glycemic index of foods -- that ultimately makes the difference.

"Researchers from Harvard and the State University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil who worked independently from any food industry sponsors, sought to determine if a low GI diet would be more effective than a high GI diet for long-term weight loss in 203 overweight and obese women.

Both diets included a mild energy restriction
(i.e., 100-300 fewer calories per day) and had similar macronutrient distributions (i.e., carbohydrate, protein and fat); all that distinguished the two diets were the GIs of the foods.

The high GI diet contained a hefty dose of... commonly identified high GI foods (e.g., [potatoes], bananas, watermelon, rice and white bread) while the low GI diet contained large amounts of beans and other low GI foods (e.g., apples, pears, oats, and sweet potatoes).

At the end of the 18-month period both groups had lost weight and there were no significant differences in weight loss between the two groups."

Some people might think, "So if it's all about calories, why do you and other nutritionists always talk about how important is to eat whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes? Why not just tell people to eat whatever they want as long as they are reducing calories?"

Simple -- nutrition isn't just about weight loss.

Eating healthy is about feeding our bodies adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

Someone consuming 2,000 calories a day would certainly lose weight eating 1,500 calories' worth of ice cream, soda, and Doritos.

However, they would be deficient in a plethora of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber, Omega-3 fatty acids, and high-quality protein.

The advantage of low-glycemic foods, though, is that, for the most part, they help stabilize our blood sugar and energy levels.

They also tend to satiate us faster than foods with higher numbers, thereby making it easier to consume less calories.

The one instance in which the glycemic index plays a major role is when planning the diet of someone living with diabetes,
as keeping accurate track of blood sugar levels is key for successful maintenance.

It's a shame to eliminate nutritious and delicious foods like potatoes, bananas, and watermelon out of your diet only because of their ranking in the glycemic index.

February 11, 2008

With Sweetness Comes Pain

If you are an avid chewer of sugarfree gum like myself, take a moment to read this post.

As some of you may already know, the overwhelming majority of sugarfree products – from coffee syrups to gum to yogurt – contain a sugar alcohol and natural laxative known as sorbitol.

Sorbitol in and of itself is not worrisome, but, when consumed in large amounts, it can do quite a number on your digestive system.

A stick or two of sugarfree gum a day is no cause for concern, but I am increasingly seeing people consume a variety of sugarfree products throughout the day, thereby obtaining a significant amount of sorbitol from their diet.

Research over the past twenty years has repeatedly shown that even just ten grams of sorbitol a day can have detrimental effects on our stomachs and intestinal tracts.

To put this into an easy-to-relate context: one stick of sugarfree gum contains one gram, sugarfree candies provide between two and three grams a piece, and a large coffee with sugarfree syrup can contain up to eight grams!

Of particular note is a small, but still significant, 1985 study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology which concluded that approximately one third of adults suffer from sorbitol intolerance, further exacerbating symptoms.

What exactly happens?

As a calorie-free sweetener, sorbitol is undigested.

It consequently sits in our small intestine, where bacteria eat it up, producing hydrogen gas in the process. That hydrogen gas causes flatulence, stomach aches, and significant bloating.

When consumed in very large amounts, diarrhea is a common side effect.

Keep in mind that some of these symptoms often do not appear until hours after consumption. And although chewing gum is not swallowed, the sorbitol is certainly ingested.

Sugarfree is not a green light for unlimited consumption. Not only can you end up consuming too much sorbitol; these products still have calories!