June 30, 2008

Say What?: The "Coo Coo" Diet

I am always fascinated by people who take nutrition to an extreme, ultimately putting their health at risk.

And so I present to you: fruitarians (exhibit A and exhibit B.)

That's right -- these people advocate eating nothing but fruit for optimal health.

(Insert "Twilight Zone" theme song HERE.)

It's worth pointing out that this includes "avocado, cucumbers, tomatoes, paprika, olives and squash."

Although some fruitarians start out eating nuts and seeds, the goal is to eventually cut those out as well.

Right, because nuts and seeds are behind all our health problems. UGH.

Despite clearly lacking a multitude of nutrients (Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, calcium, and vitamin D, among others,) this movement has devout followers.

When it comes to dangerous diets such as fruitarianism, I leave political correctness at the door.

I am not going to sit here and say it's just a "different" diet that needs to be "carefully planned."

No. It's unhealthy, unbalanced, and as far as I'm concerned, an eating disorder disguised as a "natural" way to eat.

June 28, 2008

Numbers Game: Milling Mediocrity

Several nutrients are lost in the milling process.

For instance, "white" flour contains _______ percent less magnesium and _______ percent less vitamin E than whole wheat flour.

a) 54, 86

b) 92, 81

c) 72, 90
d) 68, 94

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

June 26, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Phytosterols

Can you tell us more about this phytosterol fad I'm seeing lately in yogurt and multi-vitamins?

What are phytosterols and why do we need them?

Don't we just get them from eating vegetables?

Why would we need a supplement?

-- "gd"

Via the blog

Whereas cholesterol is a sterol (that is a steroid with an alcohol group attached, for any chemistry geeks out there) essential in maintaining cell structures in animals, phytosterols play the same role in plant foods.

Not surprisingly, cholesterol is found only in animal products (meats and dairy) and phytosterols are exclusive to plant foods.

The term "phytosterols" is actually an umbrella one that includes sterols (the three main ones being beta sitosterol, campesterol, and sitgmasterol) as well as stanols (naturally occurring plant compounds.)

Clinical research has determined that 2 grams of phytosterols a day help reduce LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels by as much as 20%.

This is due to the fact that they compete with cholesterol for absorption in the digestive tract.

There are a few caveats, though.

Although phytosterols are present in plant foods (mainly nuts, seeds, and their respective oils), you need a LOT of calories to reach that 2 gram (2,000 milligram) goal.

For instance, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter contain 55 - 60 milligrams, and an ounce of pistachios adds up to roughly 35 milligrams.

And so came the development of functional foods (mainly yogurt drinks, like Promise Activ, and vegetable spreads) with high amounts of phytosterols added in.

Advertisers were in hog heaven -- now many of their products could be advertised as "cholesterol lowering."

However, phytosterols have only been proven effective in people with high cholesterol levels.

In other words, I don't see any reason why someone with a normal cholesterol profile would need to start consuming 2 grams of phytosterols a day.

Additionally, even people who benefit from their consumption need to realize that this is another situation where more is not better, since phytosterols interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and compounds like lycopene.

Remember, too, that nutrition is really about a combination of nutrients and components -- not just two or three.

I lean more towards the "the healthier your overall diet, the more nutrition you are getting" camp than the "eat whatever you want and down supplements and multi-vitamins" one.

June 25, 2008

Five Must-Have Foods

The latest video on the Small Bites YouTube Channel singles out five must-have foods.

Having these in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer will make healthy eating simple, quick, and convenient.

This is not an end-all-be-all "five healthiest foods on the planet" or "five superfoods that reverse aging" list, but rather just one of many practical ways in which nutrition can have a place in your kitchen.

You Ask, I Answer: Sodium/Processed Foods

Perhaps you can explain to me in lay terms why processed food packs so much sodium.

I think it is because sodium preserves food, or is it just to add flavor?

-- Anonymous
Via the blog

You are partially correct.

Salt (which isn't the same as sodium; table salt is a combination of sodium and chloride) and sugar were, really, the first two preservatives.

Before the age of refrigeration, meats were protected from spoiling with the help of generous layers of salt, and fruits were similarly drowned in sugar (thus the concept of jams).

The high sodium content in processed foods these days, though, isn't solely to retard spoilage.

Issues of flavor, texture, and mouthfeel come into play.

In baked goods, for instance, sodium emphasizes sweet flavors.

Additionally, it sucks out moisture, thereby adding crunchy textures to crackers and chips.

Sodium is also used as a binder and thickener in products like gravies and sauces.

You'll also find that many fortified products -- think protein bars and some cereals -- are fairly high in sodium, as it -- along with sugar -- helps mask the off-putting flavors of synthetic vitamins and minerals.

From a production standpoint, sodium is wonderful -- it's inexpensive and universally accepted!

From a public health perspective, however, it certainly appears to be the next trans fat...

June 24, 2008

In The News: Blood Pressure Just Says "No" To Drugs

The New York Times is reporting that "high blood pressure is becoming increasingly resistant to drugs that lower it."

Which begs the question -- why pop pills when you can just... eat?

Blood pressure is one of those conditions that I don't think is taken as seriously as it should be.

Everyone runs around with their cardiac health in mind, forgetting that high blood pressure is just as serious.

After all, "starting at a blood pressure of 115/80, research shows that the risk of a heart attack or stroke doubles with every 20-point increase of systolic pressure, the top number, or 10-point increase of diastolic pressure, the bottom number."

As someone who is aware of the therapeutic power of nutrition, it is very frustrating to see people spend so much money on these medications (not to mention put such a strain on some organs) when they could begin to tackle the problem with dietary management.

Consider this eye-popping example:

"Pat J. Dixon, 58, a nurse in Atlanta, takes five medications to lower her blood pressure. In many ways, Ms. Dixon is typical of a patient who develops resistant hypertension. At 5 feet and 172 pounds, she is obese, and her weight gain has caused mild Type 2 diabetes, for which she takes yet another drug. The diabetes is an extra strain on the kidneys, in turn worsening her blood pressure."

From a nutrition perspective, several nutrients are valuable tools in normalizing blood pressure.

First, sodium consumption should be kept to no more than 2,300 milligrams a day.

The best way to prevent excessive sodium intakes is to cut back on frozen, pickled, smoked, and canned foods.

In the case of canned beans, for example, opt for low-sodium varieties or rinse standard varieties for 10 to 15 seconds to remove excess sodium.

Potassium and magnesium are two minerals that are also crucial for blood pressure regulation.

Interestingly enough, the more processed a food, the higher the sodium content and the lower the potassium.

Consider these two examples:

A 3-ounce broiled porkchop contains 46 milligrams of sodium, whereas 3 ounces of ham pack in 1,117.

A medium baked potato contains a meager 8 milligrams of sodium, whereas a side of mashed potatoes at Kentucky Fried Chicken adds up to 360 milligrams!

Hence, the less processed the diet, the lower in sodium and higher in potassium.

Magnesium, meanwhile, is found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and some varieties of fish.

Research has also shown a definitive link between calcium and blood pressure regulation -- yet another reason to make sure you are getting enough of the "bone mineral."

Food can have such an impact on blood pressure regulation that there is an actual eating plan specifically formulated for it: DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)

All You Need To Know About Antioxidants

Knowing my fondness for dark chocolate and almonds, a friend recently gifted me with, what else, a Perugina "dark chocolate & almonds" bar.

Later that day, prior to indulging in a post-dinner nibble, I scanned over the packaging.

Right above the nutrition facts was a small text box that read: "175 milligrams of antioxidants per serving."

You are already picturing my eyeballs rolling out of my eyes and down the kitchen floor, right?

Here's the thing. It's one thing to advertise certain chocolates as "healthier" by displaying their cocoa content, but displaying milligrams of antioxidants is really pushing it, for several reasons.

First of all, there is no set number for how many antioxidant milligrams should be consumed on a daily basis.

Secondly, the way most antioxidant content in food is measured is not in milligrams but by something known as ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity).

This is basically a test of how efficient a given food is at protecting cells from a radical known as the peroxyl radical.

As a sidenote, berries are among the highest ORAC scorers.

And then, of course, there's the whole "issue" of antioxidants. We are just now beginning to understand a little bit about them.

Many people, however, think they're doing themselves a favor by happily downing whatever antioxidant supplement drugstores or supplement shops are happily shilling.

Not so fast.

Let's start at the beginning.

Oxygen is a wonderful element that helps our cells function properly, but it also causes a problem.

When an atom or molecule in our body comes in direct contact with oxygen, it loses one electron (stick with me, I promise this won't turn into a chemistry lecture) and becomes "oxidized."

Although some oxidation is normal (remember, our cells are constantly dying and being replaced), free radicals are, basically, destructive atoms and molecules that are not happy about missing an electron.

They unleash their frustrations by running into cells and damaging them, unleashing a chain reaction of cell injury that can compromise DNA and set the stage for a variety of diseases and cancers.

What makes all of this even trickier is that a certain amount of free radicals in our body is actually a good thing, as they make up part of our immune system, fighting off any foreign substances.

When it comes to excess free radicals, though, this is where the approximately 6,000 current recognized antioxidants come into play.

Mind you, our body is able to produce some antioxidants. However, these are only able to take care of the free radicals that are the product of normal body functions.

They are certainly not equipped to handle the free radicals that are the product of environmental pollutants and smoking.

Antioxidants basically look for free radicals and give them an electron so they can go on their merry way and stop wreaking havoc.

Some are preventive, and stop a free radical cascade before it begins.

Others, known as "chain breaking," get in the middle of a free radical gang and break it up before more trouble ensues.

Antioxidants (including vitamins C and E) are pretty special because they can donate electrons and, rather than become free radicals, remain stable.

Believe it or not, antioxidant research is still fairly new, and a lot of questions still need to be answered.

What is known is that antioxidants are most effective when consumed in food (it is believed that they work better in combination with certain phytonutrients) and in conjunction with other antioxidants.

So, downing thousands of milligrams of Vitamin C doesn't automatically guarantee a free radical defeat.

This partially helps to explain why the issue of "variety" and "diversity" is often stressed in nutrition.

Red-colored fruits and vegetables offer very different antioxidants than green colored ones, which offer different ones from blue and purple ones.

This is why "eating the rainbow" is often encouraged -- it provides as diverse a nutrient and antioxidant pool as possible.

Similarly, the antioxidants in whole grains are different from the ones in legumes, which are different from the ones in fruits.

Clinical trials have shown that isolated antioxidants in pill form are not as effective as those in food; in fact, some preliminary studies have shown that high doses of supplemental antioxidants can actually cause further oxidation.

I know, my head is spinning too.

In the end, though, we come back to standard nutrition advice. Eat a diverse, mainly unprocessed plant-based diet. That never seems to be the culprit of anything.

And a note to the folks at Perugina chocolates: a single cup of coffee delivers about 750 milligrams of antioxidants, so 175 isn't exactly a mind-blowing figure...

June 23, 2008

Numbers Game: Answer

A Dunkin' Donuts corn muffin has 220 MORE calories than one of their blueberry cake donuts.

That's right.

The corn muffin provides 510 calories, while a blueberry cake donut adds up to 290.

The muffin also has 2 more grams of fat (18 to the donut's 16) and twice the sugar (32 grams of it, compared to the 16 grams in the donut).

Remember, a muffin is essentially a slice of cake for breakfast.

June 22, 2008

Oprah's Reality Check

When we last left Oprah and her "spiritual" vegan cleanse (all I'm saying is, my diet will often be vegan for several days, but that doesn't stop me from getting irritated at the slow person in front of me at the supermarket checkout line who sloooowly counts their pennies), she was enjoying the perks of having a vegan chef ship her foods to Las Vegas (because what's more spiritual than having a private jet deliver your cruelty-free meals?) and absolutely loving every second of her vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, alcohol-free life.

By now, Oprah has finished her 21 day journey. What happened in the last week and a half is certainly interesting.

No longer armed with a vegan chef, Oprah is forced to endure the rest of the "challenge" as any normal person would.

Off the bat, I notice her entries start to get shorter, and comments along the lines of "just two more days" or "I was really craving some cheese!" begin popping up.

Although Oprah later waxes poetic about what an eye-opening experience this was, and how it provided her with heightened awareness of her food, she forgets to mention a more important point -- that overly restrictive eating plans are doomed for failure.

This entire "project" felt like a silly crash diet. After twenty-one days of strict rules, old eating habits apparently returned, in large part due to constant cravings.

On her last day, Oprah's lunch consists of "a large baked potato with sautéed onions, herbs and olive oil, and [a] fresh green salad with avocado,tomato, lemon, garlic and olive oil."

As two side dishes, those are wonderful, filled with nutrition.

However, as a meal, they are inadequate.

In that same entry, Oprah considers it "progress" that she's just "wishfully thinking" about having some grilled sea bass with it.

Huh? Grilled sea bass would be a wonderful accompaniment to that potato and salad, offering lean protein, healthy fats, and zinc.

This idea that it is but an indulgent fantasy is rather twisted. We aren't talking about a Twinkie here.

Besides, being vegan is not about subsisting on vegetables. Why not accompany those side dishes with grilled tofu, roasted tempeh, a soy patty, or even some quinoa?

A few days prior to that entry, Oprah mentions craving wheat. I still feel like breaking through the computer monitor and saying, "What is so spiritual about denying yourself wheat? Just have some already!"

Anyhow, I hope her viewers and readers took away the most important lesson -- non-sensical strict rules and banning multiple food groups overnight is not healthy, spiritual, or smart.

June 21, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Inflammation

My mum asked me to look into foods that increase or decrease inflammation and related chronic pain conditions.

I don't know if such a thing is even possible, and Google leads me to thousands of quacks and charlatans. Can you help?

-- Rachelle T.
Location Unknown


Nutrition plays an important role in promoting -- and reducing -- inflammation.

Before we even get to actual foods, though, it's important to address weight.

Excess body fat heightens inflammation, so working towards shedding any extra pounds is the first step in my book.

Foods that I suggest your mother eat sparingly include refined carbohydrates (mainly white flour and added sugars), saturated fats, trans fats, and Omega-6 fatty acids (found in most plant oils, nuts, and seeds.)

A point of clarity regarding Omega-6 fatty acids: although they absolutely serve a purpose (and are essential, meaning we can only get them from our diet), the traditional U.S. diet is overly abundant in them.

Moving on, then. There are also many foods that help manage -- and even decrease -- inflammation.

These include whole grains, monounsaturated fats (think avocados, olive oil, and peanut butter), Omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, tofu, wheat germ, and some legumes) and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

In the case of fruits and vegetables, the more variety the better.

Why? Research suggests that different compounds (i.e.: anthocyanins in blueberries, carotenoids in sweet potatoes, and phenolics in tart cherries) can aid in the reduction of inflammation.

Keep in mind, though, that for optimal results, these foods should be consumed on a daily basis for a prolonged period.

Additionally, the above mentioned foods should not be consumed with excess calories or sugars (putting a spoonful of walnuts into a Coldstone ice cream bowl or having a Reese's peanut butter cup are not effective ways to manage inflammation.)

June 20, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Smoked Foods

As a vegetarian I'm always looking for ways to get the umami flavor component into my food.
I have always liked smoked food -- smoked cheese, smoked dulse, smoked anything, really, and for me this flavor really satisfies the umami problem.

Is natural smoke in food healthy (or at least not especially unhealthy) and what is in "smoke flavor"?

-- Jennifer Armstrong
Saratoga Springs, FL

While I don't suggest you completely abstain from eating smoked foods, I strongly urge you minimize consumption as much as possible.

If you are buying them prepackaged, you will find sodium levels are quite high.

Take salmon, for instance.

A 3-ounce serving of broiled salmon only contains 52 milligrams of sodium. That same portion of smoked salmon? 666 milligrams!

If you are talking about natural smoke (i.e: charcoal grilling), the news aren't much better.

Turns out this method of cooking adds carcinogenic compounds to food; some studies have linked consistently high consumptions of smoked foods with a higher risk of stomach cancers.

So, if you like your soy burgers REALLY charred, you aren't doing yourself a great favor.

Smoke flavor, however, is pretty much harmless.

It is usually created by simply burning wood chips (usually hickory, although others can also be used) and then trapping that produced gas and chilling it to liquid form.

One great bonus is that this process filters out impurities -- including carcinogens.

Liquid smoke is also sodium (and calorie) free.

You Ask, I Answer: Dairy/Weight Loss/Body Temperature

I went to an acupuncturist who told me that my metabolism is partially slowed down because my liver temperature is too high.

He also suggested I cut out all dairy from my diet to lose weight.
Is any of this true?

-- Name Withheld
New York, NY

The question you just read was left on my voicemail by a dear friend of mine, whose name I am not revealing. I did ask her permission to post her question on here, though.

When she called me, she was at the supermarket buying soymilk, following her acupunturist's instructions.

Now, look, I do not have any issues with acupuncture. I respect it and am not quick to dismiss it as "quackery."

What I have a real problem with, though, is people without any sort of nutrition background freely -- and irresponsibly -- doling out advice that is rooted in absolute fantasy.

Also, since acupuncture is not regulated in the United States, anyone can call themselves an "acupuncturist," (in the same way that anyone can call themselves a "nutritionist") thereby discrediting what is an Eastern practice with tens of thousands of years behind it.

In any case -- internal body temperature is the same throughout the body. If your body temperature is 98.6 degrees, then so is your liver.

If any organ is at, say, 102 degrees, then so will the rest of your body.

In that case, you would know it -- and feel it: it's called having a fever.

Metabolism and weight loss has nothing to do with "cooling down" heated internal organs. Maybe your acupuncturist should dedicate himself to writing science-fiction novels.

Onto the dairy question.

Some people believe dairy products promote weight gain, others think they are helpful weight-loss tools.

I say -- it all simply depends on how many calories you are consuming from dairy.

If someone who eats 2 slices of cheesecake a day is asked to remove dairy from their diet, it is very likely they will lose weight because they are no longer having that rich, calorically dense dessert.

Any time you remove foods from your diet and either replace them with something lower in calories (or don't replace them with anything), you will obviously lose weight.

There is absolutely no evidence that removing dairy from the diet is beneficial for weight-loss purposes.

You could go the rest of your life without a sip or morsel of dairy products and still consume excessive calories, thereby gaining weight.

Note: My friend has three more sessions with this particular acupuncturist. I have asked her to keep me in the loop of any future nutrition "advice" she is given.

June 19, 2008

Numbers Game: Make Your Choice

A Dunkin' Donuts corn muffin has _____ _______ calories than one of their blueberry cake donuts.

a) 150 LESS
b) 220 MORE
c) 185 LESS
d) 140 MORE

Leave your guess in the "comments" section (no peeking at the Dunkin' Donuts nutrition information!) and come back on Monday for the answer.

June 18, 2008

In The News: The McDonald's "Diet"

In case you haven't heard, a Virginia man named Chris Coleson lost 70 pounds in 6 months eating nothing but McDonald's.

For whatever reason, several media outlets are having a field day with this one.

I, personally, don't see what's so newsworthy here.

Not only is this not new (a woman shed 37 pounds in 2005 by eating every single meal at the Golden Arches for 90 days), it's also simply the result of very standard nutrition advice: eat less calories and you will lose weight.

Works like a charm!

In Mr. Coleson's case, it is estimated that he reduced his daily intake from 3,000 - 3,500 calories to 1400.

Yup, that'll do it.

The fact that he accomplished this by only eating two meals a day doesn't sit well with me.

Between lowering his calories so drastically and eating only twice a day, I suspect his metabolism may have been affected negatively.

Remember, you could feasibly lose weight eating nothing but ice cream, Kit Kat bars, or French fries, as long as you lower your caloric intake to the required levels.

The problem, of course, is that it doesn't take that much ice cream (or that many French fries) to reach, say, 1500 calories.

Additionally, an ice-cream-only diet would provide a good amount of certain nutrients (fat and calcium) and leave you entirely deficient of others (vitamin C, fiber, vitamin E, potassium, etc.)

Choose wisely (vegetables, fruits, legumes, non/low-fat dairy, lean protein) and you can eat a larger quantity of food for that same amount of calories, all while meeting your nutrient needs.

Mr. Coleson's McDonald's diet -- which, fortunately, the fast food chain is not taking credit for -- is low in fiber, high in sodium, and devoid of whole grains and legumes.

Relying so heavily on one restaurant to lose weight is dangerous.

What happens when Mr. Coleson goes over to someone else's home for dinner, or has to cook for himself? If he hasn't learned any new skills or concepts that will allow him to keep the weight off once he stops visiting Ronald the Clown's house every day, he'll be back to square one.

I'm so f'ing tired of fad diets!

Quick & Healthy Recipes: Ultimate Yogurt Bowl

I came up with this concoction last year and it soon became one of my favorite breakfasts.

Depending on your caloric requirements, you may opt to have it as a weekend brunch item or have it as your weekday breakfast with a few modifications (detailed at the end of the post).

Either way, it's a delicious source of calcium, Omega-3 Alpha Linolenic Fatty Acids, heart-healthy fats, and fiber (including a spectacular 3 grams of the soluble, cholesterol-lowering variety).

6 oz. non-fat plain dairy or soy yogurt (I prefer Greek yogurt's taste and texture)
6 oz. low-fat plain dairy or soy yogurt (see parenthetical comment above)

1/2 cup strawberries, chopped
1 medium banana, sliced

1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

1/4 cup oat bran
3 Tablespoons ground flaxseed

Get all the ingredients into a bowl and mix them together. Yum!


646 calories
23 grams fat
3 grams saturated fat
16.6 grams fiber
40 grams protein
300 milligrams calcium (30% of the Daily Value)

Note: If you are preparing this with "regular" (non-Greek) yogurt, protein adds up to 29 grams and calcium totals 700 milligrams!

If you need to lower the calories, try one -- or more -- of the following options:

Omit the banana and save 105 calories (fiber total decreases to a still excellent 13.1 grams)
Omit the walnuts and save 131 calories (the ground flaxseeds still deliver Omega-3 fatty acids, and you only lose 1.3 grams of fiber)
Lower the ground flaxseed to 1.5 tablespoons and save 55 calories (the end result will contain 13 grams of fiber).

June 17, 2008

In The News: For A Healthy Heart, Watch Your Waist

Tim Russert's death last week was shocking on many levels.

From a health standpoint, the NBC news anchor -- who had been diagnosed with coronary artery disease -- certainly didn't appear to be a high-risk patient.

He didn't have any troubling symptoms and, as The New York Times reports, "he was doing nearly all he could to lower his risk. He took blood pressure pills and a statin drug to control his cholesterol, he worked out every day on an exercise bike, and he was trying to lose weight."

Pay special attention to the last six words of that quote.

As much as Mr. Russert was medicated and his LDL cholesterol was kept in check, the main risk factor here was, simply, his weight.

Dr. Michael A. Newman, Mr. Russert's internist, tells the Times that “if there’s one number that’s a predictor of mortality, it’s waist circumference.”

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

This is why weight control is at the pinnacle of health promotion.

It's simple. Plenty of evidence supports that when overweight people reduce those excess pounds, they also lower the risk and prevalence of a variety of diseases, including diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease.

What is frightening is that many people with heart disease appear to incorrectly think that taking cholesterol-lowering medications are "sufficient," forgetting that reaching their desirable body weight is crucial.

Also, although many cardiologists -- and their patients -- become fixated on lowering LDL's (the "bad" cholesterol), many of them forget that increasing HDL's (protective, "good" cholesterol) is just as important.

In Mr. Russert's case, autopsy findings revealed that his HDL figures were low.

The procedure also concluded that there were "significant blockages in several coronary arteries."

This is why heart disease, in my opinion, should be in parents' minds as they help develop their children's eating habits.

These conditions develop over decades. Mr. Russert's health was not the product of the last 5 years, but of 25, 30, 35 years of consistent dietary patterns.

Many people often comment that nutrition and health are complicated subjects, full of rules, numbers, facts, and figures.

However, the best dietary advice is usually quite simple. In my case, one of the best recommendations I can make is to always be mindful of your ideal body weight and stay as close to it (no more than 5% above or below) as possible while consuming little junk food.

In The News: A Little Processing Never Hurts

Today's Chicago Tribune reports that tomato paste (made by rehydrating tomato powder) appears to be more beneficial in lowering prostate cancer risk than actual tomatoes.

Researchers believe this is due not only to a higher lycopene content in cooked tomatoes, but also the presence of "FruHis—a carbohydrate present in dehydrated tomato products."

The studies have thus far only been done on rats, but investigators would like to see clinical trials on humans next.

Although the article appears to make the point that this goes against commonly held beliefs that "natural is best," I don't consider tomato paste to be a processed food.

Yes, technically it undergoes processing (hence the addition of some sodium, although sodium-free varieties are available), but my idea of a tomato-based processed food would be "veggie chips" with tomatoes in them.

After all, tomato paste is made from... tomatoes (as opposed to, say, tomato-flavored corn starch).

What this article unmistakably shows is that heating vegetables often unlocks higher amounts of nutrients and antioxidants.

You Ask, I Answer: Fiber Intake & Dieting

Andy, You've hit it. I don't have a lot of calories to spare.

I'm trying to do 1200 cal per day (it's been a real struggle) and usually really consume about 1400+ per day. I'll try the flax seed, everything else I already do.

-- Laura Lafata

Miami Beach, FL

I am assuming 1200 calories is a number a health professional (such as a Registered Dietitian) came up with for you.

If it isn't, make sure you have it double-checked by someone with a background in nutrition to ensure that you are not slowing down your metabolism unnecessarily.

In situations where calorie intake is in the 1200 - 1400 range, it is important to have high-fiber foods throughout the day.

Here are some examples:

A half cup of chickpeas adds up to 5.3 grams of fiber and 143 calories.

A 2/3 cup serving of a high-fiber cereal (like Barbara's Bakery's Puffins) offers 6 grams of fiber and just 100 calories.

A Dr. Praeger sweet potato pancake clocks in at 60 calories and 3 grams of fiber.

A 1-ounce serving of Triscuits (that comes out to 6 crackers) add 3 grams of fiber and just 120 calories to your day.

A medium banana contains 105 calories and 3 grams of fiber.

A half cup of raspberries offers 4 grams of fiber and only 32 calories.

If you included all of the above-mentioned foods in your meals tomorrow, you are getting 24.3 grams of fiber from just 560 calories!

You Ask, I Answer: Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber

I've become aware now (with your help) on how to find fiber and foods that are high in fiber but I'm wondering about the amount of soluble fiber and insoluble fiber in a lot of common "high fiber" foods.

I would love for you to explain a little bit the different things each does and if you really need to try to balance between the two for the best health benefits or if, as long as you get enough fiber, you don't really have to worry about the two different types.

I ask this because I notice a lot of foods just state how much fiber they have but some bars (especially Gnu) go the extra mile to break down and show how much of each type they contain.

-- Andrew Carney

Richmond, VA

Great question.

Remember that fiber is solely found in plant foods -- meats and dairy do not provide it.

With that in mind, let's break it down.

Soluble fiber is helpful with cholesterol reduction, providing a feeling of fullness for a significant amount of time, and stabilizing blood glucose levels.

Insoluble fiber, meanwhile, keeps things moving through the digestive tract, making it an important factor in reducing the risk of colon cancer.

Both are important and necessary.

Oat bran is the best source of soluble fiber, while wheat bran is composed of solely insoluble fiber.

Legumes, beans, and nuts are a mix of insoluble and soluble, as are fruits and vegetables (in the case of fruits, skins contain insoluble fiber and the actual fruit contains soluble).

So, as long as you have a varied diet, you are getting sufficient amounts of both.

The important goal to keep in mind is to have 25 - 35 grams of fiber a day from your diet.

If you want to get a bit more technical, it is recommended you get at least 3 grams of soluble fiber a day for maximum cholesterol-lowering benefits.

This isn't all that much -- a quarter cup of oat bran does the trick.

Similarly, a medium pear provides 1.7 grams of soluble fiber, a peach 0.8, a mango 0.76, and a banana 0.6.

Later today I will post a yogurt bowl recipe that meets the daily soluble fiber recommendation.

June 16, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Fiber

I eat fresh veggies and hardly any processed food, whole wheat bread, fruit, salad, etc.

Since logging my food intake daily on the Daily Plate.com,
I see I am significantly under my daily requirements for fiber.

How can I increase fiber without adding a lot of extra calories? I already know about eating brown rice, whole grains, etc. I also eat steel cut oatmeal often as well too.

-- Laura Lafata
Miami Beach, FL

Since fiber is free of calories, replacing low-fiber carbohydrates with ones higher in fiber will not increase your caloric intake up.

I am not sure what your totals are, but I will say that if your diet is low in calories, you will find it difficult to reach your fiber goals.

However, here are some tips on increasing your daily fiber intake.

If you are a cereal person, grab one that provides 4 or 5 grams of fiber per serving.

When it comes to bread (whether it's for toast or a sandwich), always go for whole grain varieties offering at least 3 grams of fiber per slice.

For quick on-the-go snacks, try out Lara, Clif Nectar, Pure, or Gnu bars (Gnu bars offer 12 grams of fiber; this may be too much at once for some people, so you can try having half a bar with breakfast and the other half after lunch.)

Beans and legumes are great sources of fiber. If you're having soup, opt for black bean or lentil rather than minestrone, tomato, or chicken noodle.

Similarly, add half a cup of chickpeas or kidney beans to salads and wraps.

For an extra fiber boost throughout the day, sprinkle ground flaxseed on soups, salads, yogurt, smoothies, and cereal.

Two tablespoons provide 4 grams of fiber and more than a day's worth of Omega -3 Alpha Linolenic Fatty Acids in a 70-calorie package.

Due to the presence of these polyunsaturated fats, be sure to keep ground flaxseed meal in the refrigerator to slow down rancidity.

June 15, 2008

Numbers Game: Answer

A 2004 pooled analysis of 10 prospective studies on fiber intake and heart disease risk (led by Dr. Mark Pereira, at the time working for Harvard University, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association's Archives of Internal Medicine) found that "coronary heart disease event" (i.e.: heart attacks) risk was lowered by 14 percent for every 10 grams of fiber consumed per day.

Yet another reason to be mindful of your fiber intake and shoot for 25 - 30 grams a day.

Interestingly enough, fiber from whole grains (such as brown rice, pictured at left) proved to be most powerful in lowering heart disease risk.

June 14, 2008

This Is The 21st Century, Right?

Not really a nutrition topic, but a food-related one I want to rant about.

Can Family Circle please retire the "potential First Lady cookie contest" they initially created in 1992 in response to Hillary Clinton's "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies," quip to a reporter?

It was cute -- and culturally relevant -- at the time, but now the whole thing just reeks of "oh, you're savvy about foreign affairs? That's cute, now go into that kitchen and whip up some cookies."

Besides, you know some poor unpaid intern is coming up with these recipes.

In case you're interested, this year it's Cindy McCain's Oatmeal-Butterscotch cookies vs. Michelle Obama's Shortbread cookies.

I'm still waiting for our current president to cook up a solid economic plan.

An Experiment to Remember

In November of 1944, Physiologist Ancel Keys and some colleagues at the University of Minnesota conducted a fascinating study known as The Minnesota Experiment.

It consisted of 36 healthy anti-war young males in good mental and physical health who were put on starvation diets to the point of losing a quarter of their body weight, and then refed.

Although the original intent was to examine how starvation, and subsequent refeeding, affected World War II soldiers, this study shed fascinating light on what happens on semi-starvation diets.

For the first 3 months, participants consumed 3,200 - 3,500 calories a day (the amount needed to maintain their weight at the time), eventually cutting down to 1800.

The last 3 months, men were assigned different caloric levels to observe what changes the body undergoes during refeeding.

Keep in mind that throughout the entire study, regardless of how many calories they were taking in, the men burned approximately 3,000 calories a day.

By the way, when these men significantly cut their caloric intake -- resulting in losing a quarter of their body weight, as evidenced by photos in which their ribcages stick out -- their diet consisted mainly of carbohydrates, including white bread, potatoes, and jello.

I would love to hear how Gary Taubes and his fervent low-carb supporters explain this within their framework of "carbohydrates make you fat, calories are irrelevant, and exercise has nothing to do with weight loss."

Anyhow, back to reality.

The results of The Minnesota Experiment were published in 1950 in a 1,385-page tome titled The Biology of Human Starvation.

It clearly demonstrates the immense psychical and psychological toll that starvation diets took on these men.

Anemia, edema, dizziness, guilt, self-inflicted harm, shoplifting, loss of sex drive, and "semi-starvation neurosis" were experienced pretty much across the board.

The more repressed food was, the more it was on these men's minds, to the point of unhealthy obsession.

It took at least a year for most of the participants to truly feel physically and psychologically recovered.

For more information on this fascinating study, I highly recommend reading this summary.

June 13, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Health Consequences of Master Cleanse

Amidst all my warnful cries, my coworker and two friends, like martyrs, trudged their way through Stanley Burrough's ten day "cleanse".

One friend reported to me on day 9 that she almost fainted on the subway, and had to get off only to ensue in dry heaving on the platform.

I naturally suggested she eat something, to which she declined. [She instead] went home to rest.

She said she has 50+ bruises all over her body. I asked if she thought it had anything to do with the cleanse, and possibly being malnourished.

What are your thoughts regarding this bruising issue, iron deficiencies, etc?

-- Brooke Green
Brooklyn, NY


I can't say I'm too surprised that your co-worker felt nauseous and weak after subsisting on nothing but water, maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne peppers for 9 consecutive days. Who wouldn't?

Of course, the people who profit from the Master cleanse (none of which have any nutrition credentials, of course) claim that fainting is normal, simply a consequence of your body going through the "detox" process.

No. Fainting is a consequence of your body not getting enough nourishment, plain and simple. If anyone tells you otherwise, run away. Fast.

What's truly disturbing about the Master Cleanse and similar "regimens" is that many people with a variety of health problems (i.e.: hypoglycemia, diabetes) go on it without ever consulting a physician or dietitian, thereby exacerbating their conditions.

Even people in perfectly good health, for whatever reason, think that those four foods will perform some sort of magic on their internal organs.

In any case, as I have explained before, the Master Cleanse is deficient in almost every nutrient, and the weight loss incurred from it is due to loss of water and muscle mass.

Losing muscle mass and consuming such few calories results in metabolism slowing down, thereby making true weight loss even harder.

There is absolutely nothing about the Master Cleanse that I find even remotely healthy, valid, or sane, and I can't believe millions of people are being deluded by such quackery.

However, as I have been learning with this blog, people will hold on to unsubstantiated nutrition ideas no matter how much evidence or reasoning you attempt to provide.

As for her bruising, I don't attribute it to the cleanse because iron-deficiency symptoms do not show up after 9 days of low iron consumption.

If her iron intake has been low for several months, it very well may be coincidental timing.

In any case, she should definitely get some bloodwork. The sooner, the better.

June 12, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: V8

Does a glass of V8 truly count as a serving of vegetables?

-- Greg M.
Los Angeles, CA

An 8-ounce glass of V8 -- a blend of tomatoes, carrots, celery, beets, pasley, lettuce, watercress, and spinach -- actually counts as two vegetable servings.

Well, at least technically it does.

If it comes down to having a V8 versus no vegetables at all, I would definitely suggest the V8.

However, I have a few issues with replacing actual vegetables with this beverage.

Firstly, the sodium content in standard V8 is moderately high -- 480 milligrams (approximately 25% of a day's worth) per 8 ounce glass.

The accompanying 480 milligrams of potassium -- one of two key nutrients in regulating blood pressure -- serves as some consolation, though.

My real concern with this drink comes from the absence of fat, which impairs the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and some antioxidants (i.e.: lycopene).

This can easily be remedied by accompanying your V8 with some fat, like a handful of nuts or a salad with avocado slices.

V8 also does not provide as much fiber -- or as many phytonutrients -- as actual vegetables.

It's a very middle of the road product, in my opinion. Nothing fantastic, but also not a heinous creation.

June 11, 2008

Numbers Game: I Heart Fiber

A 2004 pooled analysis of 10 prospective studies on fiber intake and heart disease risk (led by Dr. Mark Pereira of Harvard University and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association's Archives of Internal Medicine) found that "coronary heart disease event" (i.e.: heart attacks) risk was lowered by _________ percent for every 10 grams of fiber consumed per day.

a) 4
b) 7

c) 11

d) 14

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

June 10, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Gaining Weight

I recently lost weight and ended up losing more than I should have. I need to put back on about 5 lbs. (I’m currently 5’11” and 135 lbs.)

How do I go about doing this without sabotaging all of my hard work?

I do 60 minutes of cardio everyday and am unsure how to gradually go about gaining 5 pounds and then maintaining that weight rather than continuing to gain.

-- Rita (last name withheld)

New York, NY

I'm assuming you are a small frame woman. If so, gaining 5 pounds will set you at a good target weight.

If you fall into the "medium frame" category, though, you need to be in the 155-pound vicinity.

I am also assuming you are looking to gain general weight back, as oppose to gain 5 pounds of pure muscle.

In any case, gaining back some of the weight you lost isn't really as daunting as it might seem.

I understand that, initially, there may be a fear of regaining ALL the lost weight back, but that will not happen if you stick to the same slow and steady approach that is recommended for weight loss.

You have a few options. One is to increase calories (by about 500 a day) and keep your activity level the same.

Another is to increase your calories by slightly less (say, 300 or 350 calories) while simultaneously decreasing the intensity of your aerobic workout.

It's ultimately a decision you will arrive to after determining what works best for your body and mind.

The trap some people fall into is equating weight gain with ice cream, fries, soda, and other junk food.

Stick to a mainly unprocessed, "clean" diet and get extra calories mainly from nuts, seeds, and oils.

This handy dandy calculator lets you determine approximately how many calories YOU need to gain these 5 pounds -- and stay there.

Once you reach your desired weight, take note of what your average daily caloric intake is as well as how much physical activity you engage in -- there's your new benchmark.

Let's assume you need to consume an extra 300 calories a day.

This can easily be achieved, for instance, by adding two tablespoons of olive oil (an extra tablespoon to a salad at lunch and an extra tablespoon to a baked sweet potato for dinner) and a dozen almonds to your day.

In The News: Three Cheers for the Mediterranean Medley

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal offers great news for those of you who mainly adhere to a Mediterranean "Diet" like the one pictured at right -- it appears to be quite effective at lowering your risk of diabetes.

The New York Times reports that the study, which "followed 13,380 healthy Spanish university graduates for an average of four and a half years, tracking their dietary habits and confirming new cases of diabetes through medical records" determined that "higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, plant based foods (fruits, vegetables, and legumes) and fiber but low in meats was inversely associated with incidence of Type 2 diabetes among initially healthy participants."

I'm personally a huge fan of The Mediterranean way of eating (I hate the term "Mediterranean Diet").

I consider it not only delicious, but also a beautiful -- and healthy -- array of protein, fats, and carbohydrates.

It is not about hunting down ice cream made with Splenda, chowing down on egg and bacon breakfasts, or munching on convenience snacks low in fat but loaded with sugar.

Instead, you base your meals on mainly unprocessed food: nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, low-fat dairy, and olive oil, all with a healthy dose of portion control.

Sounds -- and tastes -- good to me.

Pyramid image © 2000 Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust. Visit their website (http://www.oldwayspt.org) for a wealth of educational materials relating to the Mediterranean Pyramid and other current nutrition topics.

You Ask, I Answer: Farmed Salmon/PCBs

I read on your blog that farmed salmon are fed grains and get their color by eating dye pellets. Yuck.

I have also heard that farmed salmon isn’t good for you because of PCBs. What is that all about?

-- (Name withheld)

San Francisco, CA

Although salmon is universally touted as a healthy food, its environmentally -- and nutritionally -- toxic profile differs depending on whether that fillet you are eating comes from a wild–caught or farmed specimen.

Whereas wild salmon freely roam ocean waters, farmed salmon share open-water netted pens (pictured at left) with thousands of other cohorts.

I suppose you could call them the “Manhattan”-ites of marine animals -- happily (or seemingly so) living in a shoebox.

Salmon farms are the equivalent of cattle feedlots -- they produce enormous volumes of waste (think nitrogen and fecal matter) that usually end up contaminating surrounding waters.

Where do polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) come in?

Well, you can thank the human species for that. PCBs were mainly used as lubricants, adhesives, and coverings for electrical wirings several decades ago.

They were banned in 1976 due to health and environmental concerns.

What concerns, you ask?

From a health standpoint, PCBs have specifically been linked to a variety of cancers, nervous system damage, and fetal abnormalities.

Mother Earth doesn't fare much better. Turns out PCBs accumulate in the environment very quickly, since they disintegrate at a snail's pace.

No, make that a snail moving through cement's pace.

Since, literally, hundreds of tons of PCBs were dumped into various waterways by companies and treatment plants in the 50s and 60s, the damage has certainly been done.

But if this affects many waterways, how come farmed salmon have higher PCB levels than their wild counterparts?

First, their diet is different.

As you said, farmed salmon are fed large quantities of grains. Ah, but that's not all -- they are also provided plenty of fish oil to snack on.

See, PCB’s accumulate in the fatty deposits and oils of fish. Farmed salmon have that freely available to them; wild salmon don't.

Since farmed salmon are overfed, they weigh more (have more fat) than their wild counterparts. In other words, more deposits for PCBs.

We're not just talking twice as many PCBs, either. Studies by a variety of environmental groups have concluded that the levels of PCBs in farmed salmon are anywhere from 12 to 18 times higher than wild salmon!

It is for this reason that farmed salmon intake is recommended to not surpass one meal a month.

It doesn’t help that wild salmon is more expensive and, as Marian Burros of the New York Times discovered a few years ago, a lot of “wild salmon” is actually farmed.

What is a health conscious shopper to do? Besides realize that humans have been treating the planet like absolute crap for the past few decades?

Well, I suggest buying canned sockeye salmon or, if your budget permits, frozen Alaskan salmon, both of which are always wild.

That's right -- canned salmon labeled “Atlantic salmon” is often farmed.

In any case, salmon is not the only fish in the sea.

Many other delicious species offer plentiful Omega-3 fatty acids, including black cod, halibut, catfish, pollock, and mackerel.

June 9, 2008

Numbers Game: Answer

Researchers at England’s Institute of Food Research concluded that our bodies absorb 500 times more betacarotene from cooked carrots than raw carrots.

(NOTE: “Cooked” mainly refers to steaming, which retains more nutrients than boiling).

Although certain cooking processes -- mainly boiling and frying -- can deplete some nutrients, quicker methods which do not place food directly in contact with water, like steaming, increase many nutrients' absorbability.

Phytonutrients like lutein and lycopene, for instance, are more absorbable in cooked, rather than raw, vegetables.

It is believed this is due to cell walls -- which contain many of these compounds -- breaking down when exposed to high temperatures.

Don't get me wrong. Raw vegetables are still nutritious and should be part of a healthy diet.

However, the raw food's movement claim that cooked vegetables are "nutritionally inferior" is completely misguided.

June 8, 2008

The Missing Link

The latest video uploaded to the Small Bites YouTube channel is a short and not-so-sweet one.

In it, I briefly mention a concern of mine with many medical schools in the United States -- their lack of nutrition education.

Doctors who are knowledgeable about about nutrition had to seek out that information elsewhere, mainly by spending even more time in school and getting the appropriate degrees and accreditations.

This explains why so many general practitioners prescribe fiber pills to constipated patients (rather than explain how this can be managed through food or at the very least rprovide a referral Registered Dietitian) or deal with high blood pressure by immediately recommending medication (instead of initially considerig appropriate appropriate dietary changes).

Surveys of incoming medical students to various universities show that they are interested in learning about the topic, so why are so few institutions doing anything about it?

June 7, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin K

What does Vitamin K do? What foods is it in?

-- Name Withheld

Brooklyn, NY

You kind of have to feel sorry for Vitamin K. It appears to be the least popular vitamin, and many people don't even appear interested in getting to know it better.

If Vitamin D is the life of the party, Vitamin K is standing by the punchbowl, futilely attempting to make small talk with other guests.

I would definitely suggest being familiar with it, though, since this nutrient plays a very important role in blood clotting and bone density.

You may wonder why its blood clotting properties are perceived as beneficial, particularly when one of the outed benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids is their blood thinning properties.

We come back to the ever-present ideal of balance.

Over-thinning of the blood is problematic, as it increases the risk of internal bleeding.

Additionally, without blood clotting factors, something a small cut could result in excessive blood loss.

Vitamin K helps with bone density by regulating calcitonin, a protein that locks calcium in the bone matrix, thereby making it more difficult for cells known as osteoclasts from breaking it down.

If osteoclasts are more active than osteoblasts (which help create new bone tissue), your risk of osteoporisis increases significantly.

What's interesting about this nutrient is that we get it two different ways.

K2, the more biologically active form, is synthesized by beneficial bacteria in our intestinal tract.

Since babies start off with bacteria-free intestines, they are given a Vitamin K shot within hours of being born.

The plant form -- K1 -- is found abundantly in leafy green vegetables. Although our intestinal bacteria produce some Vitamin K, we still need to get some from our diet.

A mere half cup of steamed kale, spinach, and collard greens each pack in six times the Daily Value!

A single cup of raw romaine lettuce provides three quarters of a day's worth.

Anyone who has ever been on blood-thinning medication (i.e.: warfarin, more commonly known as Coumadin) has been told to be mindful of their Vitamin K intake so as to prevent unwanted drug-nutrient interactions.

Here's why.

Warfarin, an anticoagulant, decreases clotting (this is why it is mostly prescribed to heart disease patients.)

A lot of people inaccurately think that the best thing to do when put on warfarin is completely eliminate Vitamin K from the diet.

Not so! The key is to keep vitamin K intake consistent.

Suddenly increasing Vitamin K consumption renders Coumadin ineffective, whereas decreasing it too much in a short amount of time will overly thin the blood.

Remember, too, that antibiotics kill all flora in the gut -- the negative AND positive bacteria (this includes the one that produces Vitamin K.)

Therefore, when on antibiotics, do not drastically alter your Vitamin K intake.

A clinical dietitian I know at New York City's Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital recently told a most interesting anecdote about a patient who was put on coumadin.

A dietary recall revealed that her diet was very high in Vitamin K. Not a problem, but definitely important in the scheme of things.

Soon thereafter, she fell very ill, to the point where she stopped eating. Mind you, she was still on Coumadin.

In other words, her vitamin K drastically decreased (from about 1200% of the Daily Value a day to absolutely nothing).

To counteract the illness, she was given antibiotics (remember, she is still on Coumadin).

The antiobiotics wiped out gut flora.

So, she now had a high Coumadin dose (based on her standard Vitamin K intake) but no Vitamin K from her diet OR her intestinal tract.

Not surprisingly, she bled internally and had to be rushed into surgery.

Real Women, Real Misinformation

Time to scan through the celebrity magazines -- and get into my zen "irritability rolls off my back" mode -- to see what they’re saying about nutrition.

This time, I turn my attention to People Magazine’s June 2 issue, which contains a feature on five “normal women” who each lost 100 – or more -- pounds.

Jessica, 22, has been on Slimfast for almost three years.

Alright, first problem. The Slimfast plan – two shakes a day plus dinner and small snacks – doesn’t teach many nutrition principles; it simply restricts calories.

I don't necessarily have a problem with it in a "need to shed five pounds quickly" short-term situation, but three years drinking that twice a day?

What is Jessica supposed to do when she lunch or brunch with friends? Take a can of Slimfast with her?

And whatever happened to variety?

Then there’s Nichole, who “eats [a can of tuna] as a protein boost on her way to the gym.”

By the way, the article has the above quote aside as an "FYI," almost a recommendation for readers.

Except there is no need for a "protein boost" on your way to the gym.

If you choose to have a pre-workout snack, it should be approximately 2 hours before exerciseing, and should consist of low-calorie, easy to digest carbohydrates (think a piece of fruit).

The body does not use protein for energy unless it is in a severely critical situation, so that can of tuna serves no value as a pre-workout snack.

Nichole also claims to carry a 3-liter jug of water with her. That volume of water is absolutely excessive and results in nothing but extraneous urination.

While we’re on the topic of water, let’s talk about the most disturbing comment of the piece, courtesy of Katherine, who resorts to that it to fill herself up if her stomach is still growling.

It is one thing to satisfy hunger with low calorie snacks, but downing glasses of water when the body is craving calories is not a wise – or healthy – idea.

Finally, there’s Kim, who has replaced her old dessert – a bowl of ice cream with brownies -- with “sugar-free Jell-O with a tablespoon of fat-free whipped cream.”

Although her customary dessert certainly needed a makeunder, I am not too happy with her new choice.

The "diet-friendly" dessert provides no fat, fiber, or protein. In other words, it’s just not satisfying or filling.

I also don't approve of the synthetic nature of it all. It's practically a Franken-snack.

I would suggest having an actual piece of fruit or a cup of fat-free or low-fat yogurt sprinkled with ground flaxseed meal.

The two “desserts” I just mentioned provide plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients not present in sugar-free gelatin or fat-free whipped cream.

Although I commend these women on achieving their health goals, I can't say I condone some of their methods.

What bothers me most is that People appears to use these women as an example and, by doing so, gets some major nutrition points confused.

If these magazines want to start featuring pieces on weight loss and management, I strongly suggest they form a nutrition advisory board consisting of registered dietitians and medical professionals so as to ensure that readers are getting valid information.

June 6, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Pasteurization

Is it true that orange juice loses some of its micronutrient value through pasteurization?

If so, do these nutrients get added back into the juice following pasteurization?

And lastly, if pasteurization does effect the nutrient content, what does that mean for milk?

Please help me clear up this confusion.

-- Anonymous
Via the blog

Since pasteurization involves heat, some of the Vitamin C (a nutrient sensitive to heat) in orange juice is lost in the process – approximately fifteen to twenty percent.

It’s actually not a big deal, since 8 ounces of pasteurized orange juice still deliver more than a day’s worth of Vitamin C.

Unlike the Enrichment Act of 1942 (which mandates that nutrients originally found in grain products but lost in the milling process be added back in), there is no such law for fruit juices.

Regardless, I am a proponent of opting for a whole fruit over a juice. Not only do you get slightly higher vitamin and mineral values -- you also get more fiber!

As far as milk is concerned, nutrient losses as a result of pasteurization (simply heating it at 161.5 Degrees Fahrenheit for a 15 seconds) are not very significant.

Since the B vitamins present in milk (riboflavin and niacin) are heat sensitive, there are some small losses, but these vitamins are enriched in grain products and otherwise easily accessible in the diet.

It would take a VERY limited diet to be deficient in either of those two nutrients.

I do not think of pasteurization as a process that is majorly depriving us of nutrients.

Many raw milk enthusiasts will spout off statistics about pasteurized milk offering less absorbable calcium, although I have yet to see any of this information published in any respectable journals.

They will also talk about valuable enzymes "being destroyed" by pasteurization, not realizing we don't need to get digestive enzymes from food -- our bodies naturally produce them.

Back to the absorption issue.

Research has demonstrated that we absorb approximately one third of calcium in milk -- raw or pasteurized.

If high-quality, "junk-free" milk is on your mind, I would be more concerned with getting it from non-hormone-treated, grass-fed cows rather than worry about pasteurization.

I can't think of any particular health benefits associated with raw milk.

Survey Results: Top of the Morning

The latest Small Bites survey reveals that 90% of respondents eat breakfast every day, 8% do so occassionally, and 1% never do.

Although it is pretty much an established fact that breakfast-skipping children's cognitive thinking is inferior to that of their classmates who eat prior to the beginning of the school day, dietitians don't all agree on the importance of this meal for the 18 and over crowd.

I plant myself in the "eating breakfast every day is a good thing" camp.

No, scratch that -- eating a healthy breakfast every day is a good thing.

One advantage to eating breakfast is that it is the easiest meal to make high in fiber.

Consider the options: high-fiber/whole-grain/low-sugar cereals, oatmeal, whole or sprouted grain toast, fruit-walnut-ground flaxseed parfaits, whole grain waffles, and more!

Breakfast is also a great opportunity to get a good deal of calcium, whether it's milk (dairy or soy) in your latte or cereal, or simply enjoying a bowl of yogurt (again, dairy or soy both do the trick).

Many people think skipping breakfast is a smart calorie-cutting strategy. Wrong. Insert Family Feud "your answer is not on the board" buzzer sound HERE.

Here's the problem. Say you wake up at 7 AM and decide to cut calories by going straight to work with nothing but a Diet Snapple in your belly.

By the time lunchtime rolls around, you will very likely be ravenous.

Not surprisingly, we do not make the smartest nutrition choices when we have to eat. RIGHT. NOW.

This being said, breakfast is not the magic bullet.

I agree with Marion Nestle who, in her book What To Eat, writes, "what you eat -- and how much -- matters more to your health than when you eat."

Chomping down on two Pop-Tarts every day, or sipping a Venti caramel Frappuccino, does not constitute a nutritious breakfast. It simply adds extra empty calories... who wants those?

Similarly, starting your day with a caloric overload -- think a 740 calorie Wendy's breakfast burrito -- is certainly not setting you on the right track for the rest of the day.

Do you really want half of your recommended maxium sodium intake before noon?

But what about the studies showing that breakfast eaters have lower BMIs?

They make some interesting connections, although I can't help but wonder if this is a case of those who eat breakfast every day simply being more health conscious and, therefore, keeping a more careful eye on their food consumption in general (thereby managing their weight better).

June 5, 2008

In The News: Color Me Scared

Although the link between food dyes and hyperactivity in children has not made huge headlines in the United States, it is of paramount importance among British consumers (largely because the latest studies emerge from the United Kingdom).

It appears, though, that food dyes may very well be "the next trans fats" on this side of the Atlantic.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Center for Science in the Public Interest "called on federal regulators to ban several colorings, claiming they're linked to hyperactivity in children."

These concerns sure proved effective in the UK, where "[the] Mars [company] banished artificial colors from its well-known Starburst and Skittles candies... [and] Kraft did the same in early 2007 with its British version of Lunchables."

Whether this stems from a sense of social responsibility or simply a ploy to not keep profit margins steady will never be known, but this public outcry certainly did not fall on deaf ears.

Over in the US of A, the CSPI is calling for the ban of six particular artificial colorings, among them Red 40 and Yellow 5, found in cereals, chips, and baked goods.

Although the FDA doesn't believe a link between food colorings and hyperactivity in children can be substantiated, they have banned certain ones in the past (i.e.: "Red Dye No. 3, which in high doses caused cancer in lab animals, in 1990").

I predict thiswill be the "hot" public health and nutrition issue in about two years.

Over in Britain, meanwhile, they are taking no chances. "McDonald's uses natural colorings for strawberry shakes and sundaes sold in the UK, while it uses artificial dyes for the same in the U.S."


Numbers Game: Friendly Fire

Researchers at England’s Institute of Food Research concluded that our bodies absorb ____________ times more betacarotene from cooked carrots than raw carrots.

(NOTE: “Cooked” mainly refers to steaming, which retains more nutrients than boiling).

a) 85%
b) 500%

c) 275%

d) 100%

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