April 30, 2008

Dieter Beware!

Forget The Hills, Grey’s Anatomy, and Gossip Girl – there is some intense drama happening on the World Wide Web.

It all revolves around a diet known as Kimkins.

Long story short, a woman known as “Kimmer” on various low-carb diet forums created her own version of Atkins, despite having no background in nutrition, science, or medicine.

Her diet, a very-low calorie, low-carb, and low-fat one dubbed “Kimkins,” quickly gained a strong following.

The hook? Apart from promising “no exercise” and “super fast weight loss,” Kimmer cited this “way of eating” as one that helped her lose a staggering 198 pounds in just 11 months five years ago -- and maintain it ever since!

As “proof”, her website featured a before and after photo of Kimmer, as well as pictures of other successful dieters.

In June of 2007, Woman’s World Magazine featured the diet on their cover, describing it as “better than gastric bypass!”

Membership sales climbed through the roof! In fact, it is estimated that over a million new members signed up in the month following that issue’s release.

A few things were beginning to “stand out”, though.

For one, Kimmer balked at the magazine reporter’s request for an in-person meeting, claiming she was “too shy.”

She instead submitted a photo of her new figure.

Additionally, some members began reporting disturbing symptoms after following the diet for several weeks, including dizziness, fainting spells, hair loss, and cardiac complications.

Finally, over the course of several months, the truth came out.

Kimmer’s “after” photo (as well as most of the other testimonials’) was actually lifted from a Russian “mail order bride” website.

Kimmer’s real identity? An obese woman (heavier than in her “before” photo) named Heidi Diaz.

This was the woman telling people who forked over $59.95 to join her website and follow her diet that they needed to “follow her example” and eat approximately 500 or less calories a day.

Diaz insisted time and time again, even when challenged, that she lost 198 pounds -- and maintained that loss -- solely because of Kimkins.

She even provided “tips” of low-calorie snacks she “loved” to eat whenever she got cravings (i.e.: a lettuce leaf topped with a slice of ham and a drizzle of mustard).

According to recent reports, Diaz recommended on her own website's forums that people take laxatives and not drink water to speed up weight loss (in what was dubbed “the plan behind the plan.”)

In some postings, she claimed that “starvation” does not exist.

According to Diaz, overweight people don’t even need calories because their bodies can get energy by “melting fat.”

Diaz often defended her diet’s safety, claiming it is what bariatric surgery patients are put on after their interventions.

She failed to mention that these people are also closely monitored by an entire medical team.

This saga is filled with all sorts of deceit, lies, and fraud.

If you are interested in learning all the details (I have but barely skimmed the surface in this posting and, trust me me, it is juicy), please visit this blog.

A quick YouTube search also pulled up a story Good Morning America did on Kimkins this past January.

As of this posting, a class action lawsuit has been filed against Diaz. I sincerely hope she is prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

While we are at it, here are some excellent guidelines for identifying unhealthy diets and diet scams.

Remember, your health comes first!

You Ask, I Answer: Low-Sugar Baking

I was wondering if you had any advice on recipe substitutions.

I have an excellent cookie recipe, but it calls for two cups of sugar - one cup white, and one cup brown.

As a diabetic and someone who's is nutritionally aware, I would like to reduce the sugar content, but I'm reluctant to use artificial sweeteners, and I don't want to ruin the recipe, either.

How do you go about doing that, or is it more of a trial and error sort of situation?

-- Kate (last name unknown)
Location Unknown

Wonderful question.

This situation is tricky, largely because unlike cooking (where you can experiment, taste, make the necessary adjustments, taste again, make more changes, etc.) baking is an exact science.

Every ingredient is needed, in certain quantities, for a specific reason.

Throw in too much flour or forget baking powder and you have a recipe for disaster.

Sugar, for instance, does more than simply sweeten the deal. It provides texture, browning properties (thanks to the Maillard Reaction), and tenderness.

Remember, too, that sugar is also one of the world’s oldest preservatives.

This is why chocolate chip cookies (or any food high in sugar, for that matter) can sit unrefrigerated for days and not be a source of foodborne illness (the sugar draws out moisture, thereby creating an unfriendly environment for bacteria).

The “good” news is that baking recipes in the United States tend to be higher in sugar than their international counterparts.

I always, as a rule of thumb, reduce sugar in cookie recipes by approximately a quarter or a third.

In my opinion, this actually enhances flavor.

So, you can feel free to reduce sugar by that amount without risking a botched batch of cookies.

Since brown sugar is specifically used to contribute softness, be sure to reduce each cup of designated sugar by half, rather than cut out an entire cup of either white or brown sugar.

Although there are substitutions for traditional sugar (ie: fruit purees), they are irrelevant to your question since they still provide grams of sugar, thereby not making a recipe any more “diabetic friendly.”

April 29, 2008

Smart Supplementation

Although getting nutrients from foods is optimal, there are times and situations in which supplementation is recommended.

Supplementation goes far beyond chewing or swallowing a pill upon waking up or before going to bed, though.

Take calcium, for example.

The best supplemental calcium is in the form of calcium citrate.

Taking a calcium supplement containing more than 500 milligrams? You're doing yourself a disservice.

Although the daily value for the majority of the population is set at 1,000 milligrams, our bodies can assimilate no more than half of that at one time.

If you are supplementing calcium, it is a smart move to consume it in 300 or 400 milligram quantities two or three times a day than to down a supplement containing more than 500 milligrams in one sitting.

It's also highly recommended you take your calcium supplement with a meal, as this reduces transit time, thereby resulting in more efficient absorption.

You Ask, I Answer: Whey Protein/Protein Needs

I was wondering about whey protein powder and your thoughts on protein needs.

Is whey protein really more "bio-available" or better than other protein sources?

How much protein does a person need?

Is more protein necessary for muscle recovery or building after working out?

Does whey protein improve our immune system?

-- Michael (last name withheld)
(City unknown), Illinois

The average healthy adult requires no more than 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (if you only know your weight in pounds, divide it by 2.2 to determine the kilogram equivalent).

The 0.8 grams figure solely represents the daily requirement -- you can consume up to 200% of that total and still be within a perfectly safe range.

It’s always amusing to me to see protein heavily advertised on certain products, almost as if it were a nutrient we were all severely lacking.

Far from it! The average adult in the United States consumes anywhere from 175 – 200 percent of their daily protein needs.

Let's break down this ever-persistent myth that athletes (or any regular person who lifts weights and wants to bulk up, for that matter) need to consume tons of protein.

Remember, the average adult requires 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

When it comes to athletes and others engaging in strenuous physical activity, protein needs ARE higher, but we are talking, at most, 1.5 or 1.6 grams per kilogram.

In other words, their needs fall within the “permissible” 200 percent range (which, again, corresponds to average protein intakes in the United States anyway).

A few things worth mentioning here.

Firstly, building muscle has more to do with consuming excess calories and performing weight-bearing exercises that challenge and shock the muscles appropriately.

Overloading on protein but consuming too few total calories and/or not performing the appropriate exercises at the appropriate intensity levels is completely futile.

What athletes and people performing strenuous exercise should focus on is protein quality, not quantity.

This is where biological value comes in.

Biological value is a term referring to how closely a protein matches the amino acid composition required by the body.

Complete proteins – all animal-derived ones as well as soy – contain all 8 essential amino acids.

Incomplete proteins – from vegetable sources – usually lack one or two.

This is not to say that vegetarians are not getting adequate protein.

See, Mother Nature is one smart cookie.

Proof? The amino acid lacking in grains is present in legumes (and vice versa). So, as long as a vegetarian has a diet containing various food groups, their amino acid needs are met.

In fact, many athletes as well as Olympic, Ironman, and Mr. Universe bodybuilding competitors and winners have been vegetarian.

Some names? Billie Jean King, Bruce Lee, Carl Lewis, Joe Namath, and Martina Navratilova.

Back to biological value. If we are speaking about foods, eggs are the absolute best (yes, even better than meat, chicken, and fish).

Whey protein, however, has an even higher score. So, technically, it is the most bio-available protein.

Since biological value also tells us the percentage of the protein used for muscle growth and repair, it is no surprise whey protein is the chosen favorite of weight-lifters.

Again, though, many people fail to realize that protein quality is more important than protein quantity.

Remember, except for extreme circumstances, protein is not used for energy; carbohydrates and fat are. Too much protein simply ends up being stored as fat.

So how about nutrition needs after a workout?

Again, many people immediately think, “protein.” While that is certainly one part, they often forget two other just as crucial nutrients: carbohydrates and water.

Countless studies have determined that consuming protein AND carbohydrates no more than 30 to 45 minutes after a strenuous (approximately 1 hour) workout are more efficient at muscle recovery than protein alone.

Think roughly 30 – 50 grams of carbohydrates.

Another tip: carbohydrates ranking higher in the glycemic index (such as watermelons, dates, potatoes, and cereals) are often preferred during this window of time, since they replenish fuel stores more quickly and aid in muscle repair.

In regards to whey protein's effects on the immune system, there is a good body of research showing a link between whey protein consumption and an increase in glutathione levels (a protein that plays a crucial role in human immune systems).

It is important to note, though, that other foods (spinach, walnuts, cauliflower, avocado, and broccoli, all in their raw forms) also have the same effect.

April 27, 2008

Numbers Game: Answer

Satisfy your sweet tooth with a regular Blow Pop rather than a 2.2 ounce (standard vending machine size) bag of Skittles and save 182 calories.

A regular Blow Pop -- and all other similarly sized lollipops for that matter -- clocks in at 68 calories, while the Skittles bag provides 250!

What's most interesting is that it takes more time to savor and finish those 68 calories than to simply "follow the rainbow" and munch away.

Lollipops are not oranges, apples, or bananas, but they are a decent replacement for anyone with a sweet tooth looking to cut back on calories and stay way from sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners.

NOTE: Sadly, many lollipops -- including Blow Pops -- contain high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring.

So, even if they are a lower-calorie (and longer-lasting) sweet treat, I don't feel entirely okay downright "recommending" them.

Luckily, a more "back to basics" version has been developed by YummyEarth -- their lollipops are available at Whole Foods as well as Amazon.com.

April 26, 2008

Down with Dieting

Over the next few weeks, I will share tips on establishing healthy eating protocols on YouTube.

Installment one is up (and featured at the end of this post).

In it, I summarize my concerns with most diets, and instead focus on fine tuning your eating habits and behaviors to make reaching your goals a healthier and more realistic process that takes into account hunger, food shopping, and emotional states.

By the way, in this video, I mention calorie tracking websites. One I highly recommend is My Calorie Counter. Free and very easy to use!

Enjoy and feel free to leave comments on this post or the YouTube page.

You "Ask", I Answer: Sugar and Satiety

[In regards to your Reuters.com interview about added sugar in the diet, some of your comments are inaccurate.]

There is no daily maximum recommendation for added sugars.

Based on insufficient evidence of links to dental caries, behaviour problems, cancer, risk of obesity and risk of hyperlipidemia, no upper limit (UL) was set within the Dietary Reference Intakes for added sugars.

However, although a UL was not set, a maximum intake level of 25% or less of energy was suggested based on the decreased intake of some micronutrients of American subpopulations exceeding this level.

25% or less of a 2,000 calorie diet is 125g of sugar.

[Also,] I am not sure how you can say that a muffin is not satiating.

A muffin contains more than sugar. It contains fat and some protein (more if it contains nuts) and, depending on the type of muffin, possibly fiber.

All of these components are strongly linked to satiety.

- Kristy [last name unknown]

Via the blog

There most certainly are maximum recommendations for added sugars.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that people consuming 2,000 calories consume no more than 40 grams per day.

If you take in 1,600 calories, that figures drops to 24 grams. Those of you on a 2,800 calorie plan can consume up to 72 grams.

I am not sure where the 25% of calories figure you mention comes from, as I have never seen it before.

Onto your muffin comment.

While these baked goods are certainly not pure sugar, the percentage of calories from the sweet stuff is quite high.

In the case of a Starbucks 360-calorie low-fat blueberry and apricot muffin, 12.5 percent of calories come from fat, 7 percent from protein, and a stunning 50 percent from sugar (not general carbohydrates, just sugar!)

Even the full-fat muffins get a full quarter of their calories from sugar!

In both cases, fiber barely registers at just 2 grams.

I never said that muffins "do not satiate".

Instead, I pointed out that the high amounts of sugar are troubling because absolutely none of those calories contribute to a feeling of fullness.

Satiety can be achieved with less calories by replacing sugar grams with ones of fiber.

Why achieve satiety with 500 calories when you can achieve it with 275 of oatmeal, milk, and fruit?

April 25, 2008

In The News: Unmasking the Monster

Thank you to New York University dietitian Mary Dye for pointing me to Vanity Fair's article on infamous agro business bully and genetically modified food darling Monsanto.

Regular readers of Small Bites may remember Monsanto from an earlier post on recombivant bovine growth hormone.

This exhaustive and brilliantly researched piece paints a stunningly accurate picture of Monsanto's repercussions on farming, the environment, and the overall food supply.

Enjoy (?).

April 24, 2008

Numbers Game: A Sucky Calorie Cutting Tip

Satisfy your sweet tooth with a regular Blow Pop rather than a 2.2 ounce (standard vending machine size) bag of Skittles and save _______ calories.

a) 76

b) 115
c) 153
d) 182

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

April 23, 2008

Perfect Pickings: Frozen Waffles

In a breakfast landscape full of high fiber cereals and “energy bars”, waffles are often thought as a nutritionally inferior twice removed cousin.

Not so!

Depending on what waffles you purchase – and what you top them off with – you could very well take care of a third of your daily fiber needs before noon.

When purchasing waffles, there are two values you want to pay special attention to: fiber and sugar.

Although calories can indeed vary between different products (anywhere from 130 to 240 calories per serving), it is usually what waffles are topped off with that significantly raises these figures.

Buying frozen waffles offering 130 calories per serving but drowning them in 400 calories' worth of syrup and whipped cream defeats the initial purpose of seeking a lower-calorie alternative.

Anyhow, a fiberless waffle (one or two grams per serving) is not much of a power breakfast. You might as well be eating a slice of white bread with some butter on top.

Aim for five or more grams of fiber and no more than six grams of sugar per serving (usually two waffles).

Always think of frozen waffles as simply – and literally! -- the base of a highly nutritious breakfast.

Here are some topping ideas:

To sneak some calcium into your day, cover each waffle with two tablespoons of non-fat or, even better, low-fat plain yogurt (vegans: soy yogurt also does the trick).

This is a great opportunity to get a fruit serving in. Think bananas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, peaches, kiwis – any fruit you like, really.

Not only do these toppings provide nutrition, they also offer such an array of flavors that you will need very little – or no – syrup on your waffles.

Ground flaxseed is something I think everybody should have in their refrigerator or freezer.

Since it is virtually tasteless, you can add it to anything! Sprinkle a tablespoon on your waffles to start your day off with lignans and some Omega-3’s.

Remember – flaxseeds must be ground up if you want to reap the full nutrition benefits.

You can either buy ready-to-eat flaxseed meal -- Bob’s Red Mill is a popular brand -- or purchase whole flaxseeds, which you should then demolish in a coffee grinder.

Therefore, don’t be fooled by frozen waffles containing whole flaxseeds you aren’t getting very much extra nutrition for the extra buck.

Quick and Healthy Recipe: Vegan Chili

I created this recipe (featured in the October 2007 issue of Oxygen magazine) two years ago when I decided I wanted to use my chickpeas and kidney beans for more than just salads.

I have often been disappointed by vegetarian chili at restaurants.

It's either too salty, gloopy, or a slightly superior alternative to refried beans.

This recipe is not only easy and nutritious, it is also chock full of taste.

I've had serious meat-eaters tell me this vegan chili surpasses many of the beef ones they've eaten!

Preparation Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup red or white onion, finely chopped

1 cup red pepper, cut into small chunks
1 cup green pepper, cut into small chunks
1 cup low-sodium chickpeas

1 cup low-sodium kidney beans
1 cup low-sodium black beans
Regular or sodium-free chili powder (to taste)
Paprika (to taste)
1/2 cup frozen sweet corn kernels

1.5 cans Del Monte petite-cut diced tomatoes with zesty jalapeƱo peppers

1/2 cup crumbled soy beef (optional; I recommend Boca or Morningstar Farms, both available in the frozen foods section of supermarkets)


1. Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot. When hot, add garlic and onions. Simmer for a few minutes. Stir frequently.
2. Add peppers and beans. Stir, add spices, and raise heat to high (this helps absorb the spices more efficiently). Stir frequently
3. Lower heat to medium-high. Add diced tomatoes, corn, and soy beef (if using).

4. Stir well and cook at high heat for 5 minutes.

NUTRITION INFORMATION (without crumbled soy beef):

450 calories
2g saturated fat

420 mg sodium

10g fiber
14g protein

NUTRITION INFORMATION (with crumbled soy beef):

530 calories
2g saturated fat

630 mg sodium

12g fiber

24g protein

You Ask, I Answer (On YouTube!): Healthy Eating Outside The Home

How do I start onto the path of eating and living more heathfully? Hopefully, there are others who, like myself, know what they "should" be doing, but don't know where to begin or what to pay attention to the "most."

For example (speaking only for myself here), here is a glimpse of all the food-related thoughts running through my mind daily:

"Watch your calories, fat, salt, refined sugar, and flour intake.... no fast food/chips/soda/Starbucks mocha whip lattes (sob!).... pay attention to the glycemic index/volumetrics/South Beach/Weight Watcher/Zone Plan... eat your largest meal early and your lightest meal later... get your daily serving of fruits and vegetables (ha!), fiber, and protein... don't forget to take your vitamin/calcium suppleent... and put down that ice cream/cookies/cake!!"

I currently work full-time and go to grad school part-time, so 3 days out of the week I leave my apartment at 8:30 am and don't get home until after 11:00 pm.

I work either Saturday or Sunday each week to make up my school hours.

My eating schedule is seriously out of whack -- many times I've eaten cold pizza at midnight.

I struggle with the "healthful vs. convenienc" battle every day.

And as for cooking? I use my oven as storage space for pots and pans that never get used -- I just don't have the time.

Any advice?

-- Amie Lemire
(Location Unknown)

Great question, Amie.

People tend to overcomplicate nutrition. If you focus on the basics, though, the rest of your concerns will fall into place.

Rather than write out a lengthy response, I thought I would use this as an opportunity to debut Small Bites on YouTube!

You can view my answer below. Be sure to bookmark the Small Bites channel on YouTube, too!

Readers: I would like to post a YouTube clip every 7 to 10 days.

Let me know what you would like to see on the channel. Product reviews? Questions and answers? Fad diet critiques? Let your voices be heard!

April 22, 2008

Best of the Worst

Yesterday evening I strolled the aisles of my local supermarket with a dual purpose.

First and foremost -- buy food.

Secondly -- seek out ideas for this blog.

One thing that immediately jumped out at me was the vast number of products bearing Bob Greene's "Best Life Diet" seal of approval.

As anyone with access to a television knows, Mr. Greene rose to fame as Oprah's trainer and diet guru.

Soon thereafter, Bob's Best Life Diet was created.

Over on Oprah's website, we find the following tidbit:

"Bob says one of his great passions is to change the way companies manufacture food -- but he emphasizes that the consumers are really in control."

In fact:

"This January, Bob Greene and Oprah launched the 2008 Best Life Challenge, encouraging people across the country to sign the contract and make today the day you finally commit to climb off the diet roller coaster and make a healthier lifestyle for yourself."

Wonderful initiative, but the execution falls short.

I randomly picked up four different products displaying the Best Life Diet Seal of Approval and spotted a few less-than-stellar ingredients:

Let's start with the Fiber One Oats & Chocolate bars.

A quick glance at the ingredient list reveals that they contain more chocolate chips, sugar, and hydrogenated coconut oil (hello trans fats) than actual oats.

Another red flag? The presence of high fructose corn syrup.

They contain nine grams of fiber and are fairly low in calories, so while they are not a pint of ice cream, I can't for the life of me understand why they get a Seal of Approval from someone claiming to help consumers track down healthy choices at the supermarket.

Why not award that seal to a truly healthy, simple, and deserving product like Lara or Clif Nectar bars?

Yoplait Yogurt, another highlighted product, contains added sugar and high fructose corn syrup

Why this gets a gold star over, say, plain yogurt that can be topped with real fruit pieces blows my mind.

Then we have Green Giant's Just for One Corn Niblets & Butter Sauce frozen trays.

The 120 calories and low-fat claims make a fairly decent first impression, but the 330 milligrams of sodium get a jeer from me. What's wrong with plain frozen corn sauteed in some olive oil?

Remember, these products are not under the "Not terrible, but there are definitely healthier options out there" column.

These products are ones Bob Greene has no qualms putting his name and seal on and describing as "the best" when it comes to nutrition.

I then picked up a can of Progresso Soup, the only soup recommended soup in the diet.

I'm supposed to be okay with the fact that a can of soup containing 1,500 milligrams of sodium is recommended to someone looking to live a healthier lifestyle?

In approximately 45 seconds I spotted two others brands offering soups with half that sodium amount!

This posting may very well shatter my chances of ever appearing on Oprah, but I can't sit back and be okay with the idea that nutritionally mediocre products are, for whatever reason, receiving undeserved endorsement.

April 21, 2008

Celebrity Diet Secrets: Mariah Carey

Us Weekly's feature on Mariah Carey's "back to her teen body" diet left me thinking, "Forget copy editors. Magazines should really consider hiring nonsense editors."

As great as it is to have copy editors catch spelling, grammar, and syntax errors, someone needs to step in, look at nutrition-focused articles and say, "Are you KIDDING me?"

Those are precisely the words I sighed when I read that Mariah's diet (the one behind her "hotter-than-ever body") "prohibits eating carbs and protein together."

Okay, first of all -- Mariah is a megastar. Does she really need to pick up Suzanne Sommers' weight-loss hand-me-downs to promote her new album?

I was even more surprised to see a quote from Registered Dietitian -- and New York University graduate -- Keri Glassman apparently lending credibility to the silly idea of "food combining" by saying:

"To digest [protein and carbohydrates] you need different enzymes. The theory is that if you eat them separately, you'll break down more foods more effectively and increase weight loss."

It is my opinion -- and sincere hope -- that Glassman was merely asked what her thoughts about food combining diets were, and the magazine erroneously attributed her support to them.

Anyway, it gets worse.

We then get a sample of Mariah's daily diet.

First up -- breakfast.

On the menu? Plain yogurt, sliced fruit, and a banana.

Is this a joke?

Let's go back a few lines and reread the following: "Carey's diet prohibits eating carbs and protein together."

Yogurt contains protein AND carbohydrates. Hello???

And this is no one-off typo.

Her lunch also mixes protein (grilled chicken) with carbohydrates (zucchini, squash, and spinach). As it should!

Food combining fanatics forget that the vast majority of foods are all a combination of fat, proteins, and carbohydrates.

This is no secret -- read any food label!

You will see that pasta, milk, and bread contains carbs and protein.

Chickpeas and kidney beans, meanwhile, contain fat, carbohydrates, and protein.

The article finally -- about fifteen paragraphs later -- gets to Carey's weight loss "secret": cutting calories.

Turns out she takes in approximately 1,000 - 1,200 calories a day and eats less of her greasy favorites like mac 'n cheese and pizza.

Oh, dear, how... how... common!

I am increasingly becoming more irritated with the amount of deception and unnecessary complications surrounding weight loss and management in pop culture.

I guess "cutting calories" isn't A-list enough.

Instead, people are bombarded with inane advice like count your carbs, don't mix carbs with protein, get a coffee enema once a week, don't eat after 6 p.m., sprout your chickpeas, eat only raw foods, eat nothing but red fruits on Mondays while standing on your head and wearing polka-dotted socks .

Oh, please! Throw all that advice into the "macroneurotic" pile and start living life.

I am not going to sit here and claim to know "a secret" to weight loss.

I also refuse to start dictating obnoxiously high-maintenance rules you must follow to follow to achieve your weight and health goals.

I believe a dietitian's main responsibility is to help people develop strategies in order to make positive, feasible lifestyle changes. Nutrition is not -- and should never become -- a calculus 101 class with laws, rules, and inane theories.

That said, I'm off to make dinner: Peanut-ginger tofu (protein!), sweet potatoes (carbs!), brown rice (more carbs!) and avocado (fat!)

And I have the audacity to author a nutrition blog?

April 18, 2008

Administrative Announcement: Small Bites Turns One -- And Wants Your Feedback!

April 17 marked Small Bites' one-year anniversary on the web.

Thank you for your readership, interest and support! I'm excited to see what year two brings.

Usually, readers e-mail me questions; today, the tables are turned.

I want to know what you like about Small Bites, what you want to see more of, what you would like to start seeing, what you want to see less of, and what your thoughts are in general.

Consider this an annual performance review.

Please send comments to: andy.bellatti@gmail.com

Thank you.

In The News: Sneaky Sugar

Earlier this week I spoke with Terri Coles of Reuters.com about the prevalence of sugar in the standard U.S. diet.

In essence, my standpoint is as follows: sugar in and of itself in limited quantities is not a problem.

What raises the red flag are the massive amounts being consumed -- i.e.: a single muffin at Starbucks surpasses the daily maximum recommendation -- partially because they contribute nothing but excess empty calories that do not satiate.

It's a simple concept -- the less satiated you are after a meal, the sooner you will feel hungry and want to consume more calories.

Unfortunately, keeping added sugar intake to recommended levels is difficult since food manufacturers like to put it in everything (especially in its ultra cheap form -- high fructose corn syrup).

When consumed in moderate amounts, I don't have a problem with sugar (remember, "sugar" means regular white sugar, brown sugar, honey, evaporated cane juice crystals, or any other fancy synonym).

It is an ingredient that has been consumed for tens of thousands of years.

I definitely consider it safer than Splenda, aspartame, or any other Franken-sweetener concocted in a laboratory.

In fact, I never understood sugar phobia.

The fact that some people refuse to eat fruit (due to the naturally occurring sugars), but have no problem eating a bowl of heavy cream sprinkled with artificial sweetener absolutely blows my mind.

Before I started studying nutrition, I experimented with Atkins.

Their bars -- which use sugar alcohols as sweeteners -- not only taste awful, I also remember the not-so-pleasant gastric side effects.

These days, I'll gladly take three Hershey's kisses over any low carb faux sweet treat.

Numbers Game: Answer

I'm back!

As much as I love this blog, there are times of the year when a full-time job and three evening classes take up the bulk of my time and energy -- especially the last two weeks of the semester, when finals and papers abound.

Thanks to all of you for your patience and encouraging e-mails during this mini hiatus!

Alright, so let's reveal some numbers on lentils.

A half cup of cooked lentils (115 calories) contains 8 grams of fiber and 24 percent of the daily manganese requirement.

Lentils are undoubtedly a stealth food for anyone not meeting fiber recommendations.

All it takes is half a cup to get a third of a day's needs!

Last October, Oxygen Magazine published a vegetarian meal plan I concocted, which included this delicious lentil salad recipe:

Preparation time: 45 minutes (don't worry, most of that time is spent simmering lentils. A great time to catch up on with your Tivo)

Yield: Four 1/2 cup servings


2 cups dried lentils
1 cup carrots, chopped

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

5 garlic cloves, minced

Chopped cilantro, to taste

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste


1. Rinse dried lentils in water.
2. Put lentils into a large pot with 9 cups of water. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender.

3. In a large bowl, mix lentils with carrots and olive oil. Mix with minced garlic cloves, cilantro, salt, and pepper.

NUTRITION FACTS (per serving):

188 calories
7g fat

1g saturated fat

0g trans fat

0g cholesterol

24 mg sodium

9g fiber

9g protein

April 14, 2008

Administrative Announcements: Back Soon

A little thing called life has gotten in the way of blogging over the past few days.

Posting will resume no later than Wednesday.

Stay tuned! LOTS to come.

April 9, 2008

Perfect Pickings: Tuna

It may surprise you to learn that not all canned tuna is created equally.

First up: packed in water or oil?

Water is preferrable – for two reasons.

It results in less calories (60 calories per 2 ounce serving, rather than 110 or 120) and, since water and oil don't mix, the Omega-3 fatty acids present in tuna are not lost when water is drained.

The two more important issues surrounding canned tuna are sodium and mercury levels.

A standard 6 ounce can of tuna provides 750 - 850 milligrams of sodium (approximately a third of a day's needs) -- quite a bit for its low calorie contribution (roughly 150, if canned in water).

Look for low-sodium varieties that slash sodium by half, like Starkist's "low sodium tuna".

You will barely tell the difference, especially if you are eating canned tuna as part of a salad or sandwich.

Albacore tuna -- the white, meatier, less fishy tasting of the bunch -- happens to be one of the largest fish.

Therefore, its mercury content is approximately 3 times higher than that of smaller fish -- mainly skipjack -- used for chunk light varieties.

Some companies, like King of the Sea, sell authentically low-mercury -- chunk light is "lower mercury"-- tuna . The secret? Using yellowfin tuna!

Here's a tidbit that surprises many people.

Those of you with a milk protein (casein) allergy must read canned tuna labels carefully, since some of them are processed by adding hydrolyzed casein!

Lastly, be mindful of what you're putting on your tuna. If it's a few tablespoons of mayo, it's time to do some modifying.

I find, for instance, that hummus -- especially a red pepper variety -- is a wonderfully tasty replacement for mayonnaise when making tuna salad.

You "Ask", I Answer: Jared's Subway Diet

It's important to note that when Jared went on his Subway diet, his overall consumption of carbohydrates dropped way down, despite the fact that the relative amount may have been 60% of total calories.

Jared's weight loss is consistent with [Gary] Taubes' ["obesity is caused by high carbohydrate intake"] views.

-- Anonymous

(Via the blog)

I do not intend for Small Bites to turn into a "low carb vs. calorie cutting" blog (that would have been "hot" five years ago).

Alas, many low-carb advocates and Gary Taubes worshippers have found this blog and love to leave, what else, anonymous comments.

I initially thought it made for great discussion, but the postings -- and my subsequent answers -- are starting to rehash previous Small Bites content.

The last thing I want to do is repeat myself, especially when archives of all previous posts are available.

So, unless there is a major development or news story relating to low-carbohydrate diets, this will be my last post actively refuting low-carb claims.

Although readers are more than welcome to
leave comments and debate amongst themselves, consider this a closing statement of sorts from my end.

Jared's carbohydrate consumption decreased, but, more importantly, so did his calories.

Had he dropped his carbs to roughly 130 grams a day (as he did when he went on the Subway diet) but still consumed 10,000 calories, he would not have lost weight.

Based on the comments I have received, it seems like the Taubes supporters aren't too sure of their own views.

On the one hand, you say Jared would have lose weight while eating 130 grams of carbs since these 130 grams were lower than what he normally consumed.

However, a large number of Taubes fans have harshly criticized research studies showing low-carb dieting isn't effective because the carb amount used in these studies (45 or so grams) is "too high."

According to these people, true low carb diets consist of no more than 30 grams of carbs a day (anything else, they say, is "not low carb" and therefore does not have much of an impact on weight loss).

So, which is it?

Like I have said before, this is a case of flawed logic.

It's equivalent to somebody saying, "It rains because the sky turns gray."

No, it rains when air rises, expands, and cools (as air cools, it is unable to hold much water; this water often condenses and becomes rain).

Gray clouds themselves do not cause rain.

In that analogy, cutting calories is the equivalent to air rising, expanding, and cooling (the real cause of something), while cutting carbohydrates is parallel to gray clouds (a consequence that people erroneously attribute as a cause).

Jared's case is very simple: calories decreased, and, consequently, so did his weight.

You can attempt to make the "his carbs also decreased" argument, but don't you see that an advocate of a low fat or even a low protein diet could say the same thing? After all, almost every single nutrient decreased.

Someone could even attempt to make the argument that Jared lost weight "because he didn't eat fruits" or "only ate at restaurants starting with the letter S".

So, no, Jared's case (a hundred grams of carbohydrates a day for someone with a propensity to be obese resulting in weight loss) is not consistent with Taubes' views.

April 7, 2008

In The News: A Decade of Jared

Think back to 1998.

Britney Spears was a newcomer on the music scene, an intern named Monica dominated the headlines, the tech bubble was in full force, and a guy named Jared became an overnight sensation -- and new Subway spokesperson -- after losing 245 pounds eating nothing but the chain's sandwiches for several years.

Sally Squires dedicates her latest Lean Plate Club column to Jared, mainly because he is now on his tenth year of sustained weight loss!

"Jared supports our findings in the registry that it is possible to achieve and maintain triple-digit losses using behavior changes," says Rena Wing, Brown University psychologist and one of the founders of the National Weight Control Registry.

Do Subway sandwiches hold a weight loss secret? Not at all – Jared just found it easy to cut back on calories while eating one six inch and one twelve-inch sub every day.

Although his approach was far from perfect (he didn’t consume fruits, dairy, or Omega-3 fatty acids for a long period of time, and variety was completely lacking from his diet), Jared is a testament to the simple “eat less, move more” philosophy behind weight loss.

His successful weight-loss plan was composed of approximately 60 percent carbs, 15 percent fat, and 25 percent protein.

It was foolproof, though.

Why? He cut calories! Imagine that.

“At his peak of about 425 pounds, Jared figures that he consumed about 10,000 calories daily.”

A September 2004 48 Hours feature on Jared detailed his eating plan back when his waist size was 60 inches.

Every day for breakfast, he’d have two bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, with a large order of hash browns, a large coffee with cream and 10 packets of sugar.

Lunch was an entire pizza -- extra meat, extra cheese, and, of course, dessert.

Believe it or not, he would need a mid-afternoon snack, usually two large bean burritos with extra cheese.

And dinner? That usually consisted of not one or two, but three trips to the Chinese buffet, and ice cream for dessert.

Then, he topped off each day with a late-night snack – not a warm glass of milk, but usually a hamburger, French fries and some kind of dessert.”

Once he replaced regular soda with diet and ate two sandwiches (and an accompanying bag of Baked Lays’) every day, the calorie total plummeted to approximately 1200.

“The first month, he lost about 30 pounds. At three months, he had shed 94 pounds. When he lost 100 pounds, Jared began to walk 30 minutes daily.”

In a 2003 interview with The Washington Post, Jared was asked what his eating plan is like now.

In a nut shell, moderation is my diet today. I pretty much eat whatever I want. I just don't eat the quantity that I used to eat. For instance, if I wanted pizza back when I was heavy, it would have been an entire pizza. Now, it's a couple slices and maybe a salad to go with it.

Jared's "cold turkey" method (slashing caloric intake by 90 percent literally overnight), lack of variety, and non-integration of all food groups is not recommended, but he certainly demonstrates that cutting calories, engaging in some physical activity, and staying committed go a long way in helping people reach their weight-loss goals.

April 6, 2008

Numbers Game: Lentil Love

A half cup of cooked lentils (115 calories) contains ______ grams of fiber and ______ of the daily manganese requirement.

a) 4, 18
b) 5, 20
c) 8, 24
d) 7, 31

Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Wednesday for the answer (and an easy lentil salad recipe)!

The Case Against Low Carb

Ever since I posted about low-carb fanatic and journalist Gary Taubes' talk at New York University, I have been receiving many e-mails and comments from low-carb advocates apparently eager to prove that there is no solid research demonstrating that all calories are created equal.

I direct you to Atkins Exposed -- a website started by Dr. Michael Greger, a semi-controversial player in the field of nutrition.

There are some positions Dr. Greger takes that I do not entirely agree with, but his website does have a rather interesting section that compiles several statements and studies that do not consider low carb diets to be the best thing since, pardon the pun, sliced bread.

I also want to remind you of Michael Fumento's excellent 2003 Reason article.

Perfect Pickings: Yogurt

I love yogurt but I hate the fat free varieties for three reasons: taste, texture, and gelatin (I’m a vegetarian and fat free yogurt almost always has gelatin).

What’s the calorie/fat gram count I should be looking for in a “regular” yogurt?

-- Anonymous
Via the blog

I'll address regular yogurt in a second, but allow me to first recommend nonfat Greek yogurt to you as an alternative.
Its texture is thick and creamy, it is gelatin-free, and it tastes much better than standard fat-free yogurt.

On its own, it can be a bit of an acquired taste -- it is rather tart -- but it is the perfect base for a homemade oat, fruit, and flaxseed parfait.

Let's focus on your actual question, though, which is how to spot healthy yogurts at the supermarket.

The first thing may sound odd, but I must say it -- buy yogurt.

In other words, forget about recent products that also include an additional small container of M&M's or crushed Oreos, contributing nothing but empty calories.

The overwhelming majority of yogurts -- unless they are specifically low-carb or low-sugar -- will fall between 120 and 200 calories, so finding a good yogurt has more to do with other values on the label.

First, look at saturated fat.

Aim for no more than 3 grams per serving.

Sugar is another important value to keep an eye on.
Since milk-based yogurts contain lactose -- a naturally-occurring sugar -- even plain, unsweetened varieties will contain 12 - 16 grams per serving.

When buying flavored yogurts, look for no more than 8 additional grams
(two teaspoons) of sugar .

Some yogurts contain an additional 16 grams of sugar -- that's equivalent to buying plain yogurt and pouring in slightly more than a tablespoon of sugar!

Don't be fooled by "fruit on the bottom" yogurts -- you are better off buying fruit and mixing it in yourself.

Ideally, yogurt should really just be fermented milk. This will include certain strains of bacteria known as probiotics.

Probiotics are living microbes that, research has shown, help stabilize gut flora and strengthen our immune system.

Despite some marketing claims, they do not prevent or revert any diseases!

In any case, healthy as they are, many probiotics are present prior to yogurt undergoing pasteurization, so although they are listed on the label, you aren't ingesting any.

One way to guarantee that you are getting probiotics added after heat treatment is to read the label.

Either look for the words "live active cultures" and/or make sure the bacteria names come after all the ingredients are listed.

Keep in mind, though, that labels do not tell us just how many of these bacteria are present.

In other words, live and active cultures are a great bonus in yogurt, but until more information is revealed on food labels, we don't know exactly how great of a deal -- or not -- that is.

Also, once you start seeing modified corn starch, high fructose corn syrup, and a crop of other add-ons that indicate heavy processing, you might as well eat chocolate pudding.

As for low-carb varieties, I find it discouraging that people would snub a healthy, wholesome food like yogurt for an artificial version injected with Splenda.

My pick? Low-fat (2%) Greek yogurt.

After you taste it, I highly doubt you'll ever consider buying another brand of yogurt again.

Pizza For One; Saturated Fat and Sodium for More!

The folks at DiGiorno -- those of the "it's not delivery, it's DiGiorno" commercials -- have launched individual-sized frozen pizzas.


They appear to have no problem with someone consuming:

590 calories
11 grams of saturated fat (55% of a day's worth)
1,170 milligrams of sodium (half a day's worth)

... in one sitting.

Not surprisingly, fiber shows up at a paltry 3 grams (that's basically one gram per 200 calories!)

Those values are equivalent to what you get from three slices of Domino's pepperoni pizza.

I am not a huge fan of frozen pizzas (I like to buy ready-to-bake Rustic Crust whole grain crust and make my own), if single-person ones are on your grocery list, I recommend:

Earth's Best (380 calories, 6 grams saturated fat, 760 milligrams sodium, 8 grams fiber)

Lean Cuisine (320 calories, 2.5 grams saturated fat, 540 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber).

April 5, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Jules Hirsch/Rudolph Leibel Obesity Research

I can't find [their studies].

I do have access to medical and nutrition journals - they are all online, and anyone can access them for about $8 per article - and I still can't find this report.

Nothing from Hirsch and Leibel in 1950s or 1960s.

I have just basic questions about the study - how big was the study (how many people tested) etc - but I can't find that out without finding the original report.

Have you read it?

-- "RicoVado"
Via the blog

I first came across the study two years ago, and was able to find it online for you to peruse -- be sure to download the PDF, rather than simply read the abstract.

In summary, Hirsch and Leibel published a paper in 1992 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in which they reviewed the records of patients at Rockefeller University's Lipid Laboratory between 1955 and 1965.

They specifically targeted patients -- a total of 16 -- fed different liquid formulas (for at least two weeks) containing an equal amount of calories, but varying fat:carbohydrate ratios.

Although 16 patients might not seem like a very large sample size, the confidence intervals, odds ratios, and power -- a statistical term -- figures of this study demonstrate statistically significant results.

It is worth nothing that none of the patients underwent significant weight changes when their formula was replaced by one of the same caloric amount but a much different (either higher or lower) carbohydrate content.

Gary Taubes has casted off this study as useless in rebutting his argument since none of the patients were obese (he claims to use carbs as the explanation for obesity in individuals already predisposed to it, although that was certainly not made clear in his talk at New York University last month).

Well, Hirsch and Leibel reference several other studies that came to similar conclusions.

Of particular importance is one from 1990 -- also published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition -- in which Gilbert Forbes concludes that "although obese individuals appear to deposit a larger proportion of excess intake energy as fat, the energy cost in either lean or obese subjects was not significantly influenced by the composition" of their diet.

Have a slice of whole wheat toast on me tomorrow morning!

April 4, 2008

Numbers Game: Answer

According to the United States Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee, 93 percent of the United States population does not meet the daily requirement for Vitamin E.

Since Vitamin E plays an important role as an antioxidant, low intake levels allow free radicals more of an opportunity to advance cellular damage.

It is worth nothing that this statistic is not relaying that 93 percent of the population has a vitamin E deficiency.

However, failing to meet daily requirements still has health consequences.

Adults need 15 milligrams (22 International Units) a day, and can rely on seeds, nuts, oils, and vegetables as good sources.

Take a look at this table, outlining the percentage of the daily value contributed by some foods:

Fortified cereals (1 cup): 50 - 70%
Almonds (1 oz.): 40%

Sunflower seeds (1 oz.): 30%
Peanut buter (2 Tbsp.): 20%

Tomato sauce (1/2 cup): 15%
Avocado (1 whole): 15%

Olive oil (1 Tbsp.): 12/5%
Broccoli (cooked, 1/2 cup): 6%

Spinach (cooked, 1/2 cup): 6%
Mango slices (1/2 cup): 6%

Collard greens (cooked, 1/2 cup): 5%

Why swallow a pill when you can eat delicious foods in the name of health?

You Ask, I Answer: Gary Taubes/Obesity

I was impressed by your line by line refutation of the Taubes supporter.

You quote Gina Kolata of the NYTimes - "[Gary Taubes] ignores definitive studies done in the 1950s and ’60s by Jules Hirsch of Rockefeller University and Rudolph Leibel of Columbia."

Maybe my research skills stink but I can't find any study done by Hirsch and Leibel dating to the 1950s or 1960s.

Have you read it yourself?

-- "RicoVado"
Via the blog

Allow me to point you in the right direction.

The actual studies are a little hard to access unless you have access to various medical and nutrition journals, but there are other ways to get informed.

This 2007 International Herald Tribune article excellently summarizes Hirsch's (pictured at left) research from the late 1950s.

This short article from the National Institutes of Health archives
discusses Leibel's findings (the quintessential "a calorie is a calorie" philosophy that Taubes loves to refute).

April 3, 2008

Say What?: Oh, Kevin

It's been a while since I've written about our friend Kevin Trudeau.

Earlier today I leafed through his bestseller Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About and came across a truly eyebrow-raising sentence I had previously missed but had to share here.

In his chapter titled "Reading Food Labels", Trudeau briefly discusses the nutritional impact of home cooked meals versus prepackaged food.

Rather than discuss, say, higher sodium and fat amounts in ready-to-eat or frozen meals, Trudeau judges these two on how much love they offer.

Cooked food, he claims, allows you to put love into your food, whereas major food companies sell products "where no love has been added."

Okay, I guess I can kind of follow his train of thought.

I can see how someone might feel emotionally "better" eating something they conconcted in their kitchen, being familiar with the ingredients and "enjoying the fruits of their labor," so to speak.

It was the next sentence that I had to reread three times to make sure my eyes weren't playing a belated April Fool's joke on me:

"The energy a person adds to food by preparing it himself actually causes the electrons in the food to spin in different directions, causing a much healthier product for the body."

Maybe Trudeau got bored and decided to play Mad Libs while writing his book?

That's the only explanation I have for such far-fetched, faux-scientific ("insert the world electron to make it sound intelligent") ridiculousness.

Perfect Pickings: Nut Butters

Wonderful as spreads on English muffins or dips for Granny Smith apples and celery, nut butters are delicious and pack a good deal of nutrition.

All varieties -- peanut, almond, cashew -- provide 180 - 200 calories and 8 grams of protein per 2 tablespoon serving.

They are also good sources of vitamin E, niacin (Vitamin B3), manganese, and phosphorus.

Reduced fat nut butters are simply marketing gimmicks. On average, they offer a mere ten less calories than their regular counterparts.

How so? The small amount of fat that is taken away is replaced with extra carbohydrates (usually double that of regular nut butter).

The key to finding the healthiest, least processed nut butters is to read the label.

Brands like Jif and Skippy lis the following ingredients:

"Roasted Peanuts, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Oils, Salt."

In essence, crushed peanuts with sugar and trans fat.

No, thanks.

You can do better than that by reaching for natural nut butters. Their labels tell the tale:

"Peanuts, Salt."

Wow, imagine that!

If you are buying no-salt-added varieties (which I prefer solely from taste perspective; nut butters with salt offer a very decent 140 milligrams per serving, far from a high-sodium food), the sole ingredient is peanuts.

Natural nut butters need to be mixed when you first open them,
as the oil separates from the solid nut paste.

After mixing, store in the refrigerator to delay spoilage.