August 31, 2008

You "Ask", I Answer: Fruit

I don't think eliminating (or limiting significantly) fruit from one's diet is such a terrible idea, IF fruits are replaced by vegetables.

When comparing nutritional data for 100g of broccoli to 100g of apple, for example, broccoli clearly wins out.

Broccoli has a bit less calories(18 cals less per 100g), less sugar (8g less) and significantly more of every vitamin and mineral than an apple.

Analyzing 100g of sweet red pepper yields similar advantages over the apple.

Sure, there are other fruits out there, but this brief comparison shows that by replacing fruits with veggies, one would not miss out on vitamins/minerals, would cut down on calories a bit, and would most likely feel fuller per gram consumed.

As far as phytochemicals are concerned, veggies have plenty to offer. When I make a salad, I usually make sure it's as colorful as possible - greens (lettuce, spinach), tomatoes (red), bell peppers (red/yellow/orange/green), garlic, etc., so as to include a variety of phytonutrients.

I wouldn't swear off fruit for the rest of my life, but I can see how a dieter would feel she's getting more bang for her calories out of veggies vs. fruits, especially on a 1200 calorie diet.

Just my two cents.

-- Anna

Via the blog

The problem with the comparison like the one you make above (between apples and broccoli) is that it has very little, if any, significance.

Okay, so roughly three ounces of apples contain 18 less calories than roughly three ounces of broccoli. What is someone supposed to do with that information? Pack broccoli in their bag instead of an apple for an afternoon snack?

The sugar you mention is insignificant, since the apple contains fiber which helps stabilize blood glucose and insulin levels.

Besides, other comparisons would "show" that fruits are "better" than vegetables.

An ounce of raspberries, for instance, contains 15 calories and 1.8 grams of fiber. An ounce of sweet potato, meanwhile, provides 26 calories and 0.9 grams of fiber.

And if you compare 100 grams of bananas with 100 grams of raw cucumber, you'll find that the bananas offer more vitamin C, fiber, vitamin B6, folate, manganese, potassium, and magnesium and only 70 more calories.

That doesn't make raspberries "better" than sweet potatoes, or bananas worth eating and cucumbers "useless."

All fruits and vegetables (yes, that includes potatoes!) are healthy. Shunning particular ones under the guise of "more nutrition" is very silly. There is definitely room for fruit in all diets.

By the way, Britney Spears mentions shunning fruit, but in the same statement says she eats avocados. Back to Nutrition 101 for her!

August 30, 2008

Health Store Hazards

In some situations, supplements can be helpful (i.e.: DPA and EHA Omega-3 fatty acids for pregnant women who do not eat fish; vitamin D supplements for most people in Northern climates).

However, the supplement market mostly preys on consumer fear ("There aren't enough nutrients in the food I'm eating") and ignorance ("I won't gain muscle unless I down 300 grams of protein a day.")

You certainly can't rely on "health stores" for advice!

Watch the latest video on the YouTube Small Bites channel for more information.

August 29, 2008

Numbers Game: Big Breakfast

Au Bon Pain's "sausage, egg, and cheddar on an asiago bagel" breakfast menu item contains _______ calories and _________ percent of a day's worth of saturated fat (for a 2,000 calorie diet).

a) 810/115%

b) 612/81%

c) 739/150%

d) 531/92%

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

You Ask, I Answer: Nutella

Since returning from a recent trip to Paris, I have been craving this [Italian chocolate and hazelnut spread].

Could you touch on its positives and negatives?

I feel guilty eating it.

-- Robin Cameron
New York, NY

Though Nutella has a cult following in the United States, it is as common as peanut butter in many European countries.

The ingredients tell quite a tale.

They are -- in descending order of predominance by weight -- sugar, modified palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa powder, skim milk, lecithin, vanilla, and reduced mineral whey.

Interesting fact: vegetable oils replace modified palm oil in Nutella sold outside of the United States.

Meanwhile, this is what the nutrition label reveals:

Nutrition Facts For 1 serving (2 Tablespoons)

Calories: 200
Saturated fat: 2 grams
Sugar: 20 grams (5 teaspoons)

We are clearly looking at a dessert treat without much redeeming nutritional value.

That is not to say it can't be enjoyed in a certain context.

One tablespoon of Nutella (say, spread over a toasted slice of whole grain bread or some whole wheat crispbread) only adds 100 calories to your day.

So in that sense, it is possible to enjoy a little Nutella every day, if you so choose.

I firmly believe that in order to form healthy eating habits, guilt needs to be taken out of the equation.

Guilt over enjoying decadent food accomplishes nothing but making you more vulnerable to extreme dieting, which in turn usually sets you up for bingeing in the future.

Next thing you know, the guilt cycle starts all over again!

My proposal? Turn that self-flagellating emotion on its head.

Instead of feeling guilty about eating Nutella, allow yourself a certain amount a day and feel good about the fact that you can enjoy a food you love, in moderation, on a daily basis.

The moment you make the shift from the Nutella jar controlling you to you making that jar play by YOUR rules, you are on the right track.

To prevent the risk of starting off with a tablespoon and coming back for 6 more throughout the course of the night, make Nutella a post-dinner treat, rather than a pre-dinner snack.

Since you will feel fuller after finishing dinner than an hour before you sit down at the dining table, this reduces the risk of trying to quash your hunger with a delectable sweet spread that is fine in certain amounts.

August 28, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Salba

Do you know anything about Salba?

It seems to be getting quite popular (I accidentally ordered a raspberry salba square at my local coffee shop the other day), and I'm not sure whether it's a fad or not.

Is it actually a whole food or is it processed?

Where does it come from?

Is it as good as the makers of it claim?

-- Meredith (Last name unknown)
Via the blog

The folks at Core Naturals sure are working hard to hype up Salba.

No clue what I’m talking about? Let me break it down.

According to manufacturer Core Naturals, the salba seed is pretty much the greatest food ever created.

Dubbed by the company as “nature’s perfect whole food,” the press release pushes it as a one-stop shop for some of the highest quantities of fiber, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, folate, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Then there are statements such as this:

“Because of Salba's ability to absorb several times its weight in water, it may also help to curb hunger.”

That’s wonderful, but that’s simply what all soluble fibers do – the same ones found in oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

Core Naturals even make reference to one nutrition PhD at a Toronto-based university who, after conducting research, confirmed that Salba’s advertised properties truly exist.

You know something is slightly off, though, when the bragging rights about the doctor go something like this: “[He works at] the same university where in 1921, Dr. Frederic Banting discovered insulin and won the Nobel Prize for Medicine.”

Errrr.... okay?

Besides, there is something very suspect about having only one professional analyze your food. If Core Naturals is so sure that what they have is -- for all intents and purposes -- manna, why not send it out to a variety of independent food laboratories to have their goldmine validated?

Anyhow, Salba is just a white chia seed – with the exact same nutritional profile of all other chia seeds (which are usually black).

So, yes, it is an unprocessed whole food, in the same way that fruits, vegetables, nuts, and a plethora of other seeds are.

Don't get me wrong. Chia seeds have a neat nutritional profile – they are a good source of fiber, phosphorus, manganese and Alpha Linolenic Acid – but by no means is Salba a powerfood, nor does it offer the same Omega-3 profile as 28 ounces of salmon (as Core Naturals advertises.)

That is a very easy statement to debunk, by the way. Remember, salmon offers EPA and DHA, two Omega-3 fatty acids not present in seeds.

This situation with Salba and Core Naturals would be paramount to a company patenting Granny Smith Apples, calling them something different and claiming they were nutritionally superior any other apples.

Considering that Salba retails for anywhere from two to three times as much as standard chia seeds, I don’t really see a reason for purchasing it.

File it under "F" for fad. No, make that "FF" for... flimsy fad.

August 27, 2008

Numbers Game: Answer

Next time you're at Chipotle, keep in mind that you can save 230 calories and 65 percent of a day's worth of saturated fat by passing on the cheese and sour cream.

The main factor behind these high numbers is that what should really be a "dollop" of sour cream turns out being about 6 to 8 tablespoons' worth, depending on how scoop-happy your particular server is feeling that day.

Although Chipotle's mix and match system makes it quite easy to end up with calorie and sodium-laden meals (a burrito with chicken, rice, beans, sour cream, cheese, corn salsa, and tomato salsa adds up to 1,130 calories and 125% of the daily recommended sodium limit,) it is also possible to enjoy a nutritious meal that doesn't go quite as overboard.

For instance: substitute the above for three crispy tacos with black beans, onions and peppers, tomato salsa, cheese, and guacamole and you end up with 680 calories and 80% of a day's worth of sodium.

Alhough quite high on the sodium scale, it is 40% lower than the first option!

The best news? That meal alone delivers a whooping 25 grams of fiber -- 50% more than the first burrito option I presented.

That high fiber content, along with 24 grams of protein, and plentiful fats in the guacamole make for a satisfying and filling meal (I particularly point that out because I occassionally come across some people who equate meatless meals with birdfood that leaves you feeling hungry half an hour after finishing them.)

And whereas the chicken burrito adds up to 83 percent of the saturated fat limit, the crispy vegetarian taco shells lower that figure to 50 percent.

Surprisingly, three crispy taco shells offer 110 less calories and SIX HUNDRED less milligrams of sodium than the soft tortilla used to construct a burrito.

Easiest way to cut back on sodium? Stick to just one salsa.

The mild tomato and corn salsas each offer 500 - 600 milligrams (a quarter of a day's worth) of sodium per scoopful.

Another easy way to cut back on calories is by getting all ingredients in a bowl, rather than a taco or tortilla. At the very least, you'll save an additional 180 calories.

August 26, 2008

Celebrity Diet Secrets: Britney Spears

I could care less how a celebrity dresses on the red carpet or how their hair looks when they're buying Advil at their local drugstore at 1 AM.

I do, however, like to keep tabs on what they are telling the media about nutrition and health.

Not so much because I think I'll stumble upon some revolutionary new concept, but because many times their eating habits and "tips" -- which many people often apply to their own lives -- are far off the mark.

Take Britney Spears' latest statement to OK! Magazine:

"I'm the healthiest I've been all my life.

My diet has a lot to do with my getting into shape. I have no sugar. I don't eat fruit or even fruit juice because of the sugar.

I eat chicken and salmon and rice. I eat avocados. I'll have egg whites for breakfast and sometimes turkey burgers for lunch. I try to do just 1,200 calories a day. It may sound like it's
not much, but it's actually a lot of food if you eat the right things."

Some of those concepts are NOT OK with me.

Let's start with the positives. She has clearly realized that a daily intake of Cheetos and Frappuccinos won't do much to help her get back in shape.

Additionally, avocados and salmon are a great way to get healthy fats.

Now, onto the "not so great" attributes.

I'd like to think Britney is pointing out just a few of the foods she eats, rather than her daily staples. Otherwise, she is on the fast track to boredom with such a small selection.

And, hello, where's the fiber?

My main frustration, however, stems from her claim that, in order to keep a sugar-free diet, Britney has cut out fruits and fruit juice.

Fruit juice, I can understand. After all, most fruit juices are simply sugar (in this case, fructose) water with vitamins. Since they are in liquid form, they don't do much in terms of satiety, either.

But giving up fruit? I can't think of any reason to do that.

Think about it for a minute. Doesn't it sound slightly ridiculous to say, "I'm eating healthy, so no more fruit in MY fridge!"?

A medium sized apple only contains 90 calories, but also provides fiber, phytonutrients, and a variety of vitamins.

Please don't mistake that recent study about fructose intake and weight gain to mean you should never have fruit.

The fiber in whole fruit offsets the sharp rise in blood glucose you get when you drink pure fruit juice juice.

Besides, a whole orange provides significantly lower levels of fructose than a glass of OJ.

So, Britney, please don't fear. A banana in the morning or some kiwi in the afternoon will not lead you astray.

Thank you to reader Kristin MacBride for sending along Britney's quote.

Administrative Announcements: About the Author

Since Small Bites was launched in April of 2007, I have gotten several e-mails from readers wanting to know a little more about me (besides the fact that I am on the Registered-Dietitian track and a Clinical Nutrition Master's student New York University.)

Alright, today is the day.

We'll return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly, but allow me to share a few anecdotes with you.

Nutrition is not a subject that jumped out at me from a course booklet I flipped through one boring Sunday afternoon.

Nor is it something I decided to study because "it sounded interesting."

I decided to pursue nutrition as a career because of the powerful effect it had on me.

I do not have some incredible "I used to be 150 pounds heavier than I am now" makeover story, but my food journey surely has been interesting.

Family dinners at the Bellatti household were always healthy (my ancestry is Mediterranean, so olive oil and fish were staples,) but my meals away from home were an entirely different story.

Consider my middle school years.

I would arrive to school every day with a packed lunch from home.

At around 10:30 AM, when we had "snack time," I would munch on whatever treat my mother had packed for me that day (a small Ziploc bag of chips, or a single serving pack of cookies).

When lunch time came around, I would dispose of my remaining lunchbox contents (a sandwich, baby carrots, a piece of fruit) in the nearest garbage pail and instead purchase two chocolate ice cream bars.

Oh, and a soda. And maybe even a slice of pizza, if I had enough money leftover.

Then, I would get home and have another can of soda.

Dinner was healthy, but late at night -- while my parents were in slumber land -- I would usually tiptoe into the kitchen, grab another can of soda and bag of chips, retreat to my room, and enjoy a midnight snack.

Fiber? Sodium? Vitamins? Minerals? I didn't have the faintest clue.

Given that dietary recall, you may think I had to be rolled to school.

Quite the opposite -- I was skinny as a rail. And I absolutely hated it.

I also never quite felt in tip top shape. Physical fitness was the last thing on my mind.

Although I went pescatarian at 16 (a status I maintain to this day,) I still wasn't eating healthy.

Mozarella sticks, French fries, pizza, ice cream, and potato chips perfectly fit into my plan!

Finally, at 17 years of age, I approached my parents and told them I was interested in seeing a nutritionist.

Wow! Between her suggestions and a gym membership, within 4 months I felt like I had never felt before.

I had energy! And some muscle tone! And previously semi-permanent pesky colds and sore throats were a thing of the past!

That was my initiation to nutrition, and my passion for it only grew stronger with time.

It was during my undergraduate years -- as a journalism and gender & sexuality studies major at New York University -- that I began discovering the joys of tofu, whole grains, vegetables, plain yogurt, tempeh, seitan, edamame, fresh fruit, and cuisines from all over the world.

Finally, in 2005, I realized nutrition was no longer just "a hobby"; it was my future.

I was committed to not only learning as much about it as I could, but also serving as a mouthpiece, vouching for its relevance and importance.

I wanted to be thoroughly trained to serve as a trustworthy guide in the treacherous jungle that is nutrition.

And, so, here we are. I thank you so much for being part of this ongoing journey.

My main reason for sharing this is to illustrate that no matter how horrible your eating habits may be now, change and growth are by no means out of the question.

My nutritional shifts certainly did not happen overnight. They were gradual, and I made some mistakes along the way (like shunning as many carbs as possible in the Summer of 2004!).

The most amazing thing is that the foods that once made me drool don't even register on my radar anymore.

My adolescence was defined by Doritos and PopTarts. Back then, I certainly never thought my idea of a delicious breakfast would be Greek yogurt with sliced bananas, chopped walnuts, ground flaxseed, oat bran, and wheat germ!

PS: An extra tidbit about me -- I'm a big fan of The Soup on E! (that's me with host Joel McHale in the accompanying photo. Click on it to see a MUCH larger version.)

A Sprinkle of Health

As regular Small Bites readers know, I'm a huge fan of what I like to call "nutritional sprinkling".

A tablespoon of ground flaxseeds in a smoothie, a tablespoon of wheat germ with yogurt, and a few teaspoons of oat bran in your cereal are wonderful ways of gradually integrating substantial nutrition to your day.

Now I introduce you to another all-star on my sprinkling team -- nutritional yeast.

Many vegans are familiar with it -- for the right reason!

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast naturally loaded with B vitamins and usually fortified with vitamin B12 (the one vegans have the hardest time getting in their food.)

Even better -- two tablespoons of it provide a whopping 5 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein, a practically non-existent 30 milligrams of sodium, and 375 milligrams of potassium (as much as a small banana)!

As if that weren't enough, it's also a great source of zinc and selenium.

If you have never tried nutritional yeast, I can best describe it as a delectable nutty/parmesan cheese-like flavor.

As far as initial experiences go, I recommend sprinkling it over popcorn, in soups and stir-fries, or over your favorite pasta dish.

Although most conventional supermarkets don't carry nutritional yeast, you can find it at Whole Foods, or your local health store.

It is by no means a wallet buster -- a 5 ounce (that's plenty!) container of Red Star Nutritional Yeast, for instance, retails for $5.19.

August 25, 2008

In The News: Recession & Health

Today's Los Angeles Times features an article suggesting that recession may lead to better health, due to people cutting down on risky health behaviors.

Although "medical science has accumulated a solid body of research showing that poverty and unemployment lead to higher rates of obesity and more cases of diabetes, asthma, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, [and] some cancers," recent economic research is concluding differently.

"This is about the macro picture, the health of entire societies. And their statistics show that as economics worsen, traffic accidents go down, as do industrial accidents, obesity, alcohol consumption and smoking. Population-wide, even deaths from heart disease go down during recessions."

I'm not very convinced -- at least not as far as the United States is concerned.

Although healthy eating can be financially viable, we are talking about a culture where instant access to an inexpensive meal often trumps its nutritional value. Consequently, picking up KFC on the way home or a $1 donut for breakfast is often chosen over spending 10 or 15 minutes in the kitchen whipping something up.

It also doesn't help that at many fast food establishments, an additional 50 or 75 cents can increase a meal by several hundred calories.

My particular concern is that economic recessions -- which include higher unemployment rates -- can be emotionally taxing.

And, as is the case with finances, eating is very much tied to emotions.

The formula is rather simple in my mind -- the worse you feel, the worse you eat. And the worse you eat, the worse you feel.

Panko Crumbs Power Up

Next time you're looking to make a breaded dish (i.e.: tofu, salmon, flounder, chicken, etc.) forget standard breadcrumb products loaded with sodium and void of whole grains

Instead, reach for Ian's whole wheat panko crumbs.

FYI -- the link I just provided lets you see what retailers in your state offer Ian's products.

Panko (Japanese for "bread crumbs") provides a crisper, coarser crunch and texture than regular bread crumbs.

And, the fact that this particular variety is 100% whole wheat is a big plus.

Consider this. A quarter cup of Progresso bread crumbs contain 220 milligrams of sodium. Ian's whole wheat panko? A mere 25.

Remember that you can enjoy delicious, crunchy breaded products without deep frying.

Let's assume it's flounder night at your home.

Once every piece of fish is appropriately covered in crumbs, place them all on a cookie sheet and lightly spray each one with Pam (or brush with a teaspoon of olive oil).

Then, simply place the cookie sheet in the oven (heated at 425 degrees) for approximately 20 minutes.

August 24, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Gelato

Are gelato (pictured, right) and ice cream the same thing with a different name?

What about in terms of calories?

-- Sara Stevens

(city withheld), FL

Although gelato is quickly becoming popular in the United States, it is what many countries (such Argentina) sell in their "ice cream" parlors ("true" ice cream is only available in pints at supermarkets)!

The main differences between the two is that what is known as "ice cream" in the United States has a higher milk fat percentage and more air than gelato.

Also, gelato usually does not contain cream as an ingredient.

I am partial to gelato's soft texture and sharp flavors (the lack of air makes for a denser product), since it is what I grew up with in Argentina.

As far as calories are concerned, this is a tough call due to the multitude of ice cream and gelato flavors out there.

The differences are by no means astronomical, though -- gelato is still made with whole milk and sugar.

Rather than get hung up on numbers, though, enjoy whichever of the two you like best in a small size.

FYI: gelato is easier to keep caloric tabs on, since, apart from the occasional almond, it does not contain mix-ins like brownie bits, fudge-covered cookie pieces, or chocolate candies -- all of which can add an additional 100 or 150 calories to a scoop of ice cream!

August 23, 2008

Numbers Game: Skip and Save

Next time you're at Chipotle, keep in mind that you can save ______ calories and ______________ of a day's worth of saturated fat by passing on the cheese and sour cream.

a) 92/19 percent
b) 137/34 percent
c) 194/51 percent
d) 230/65 percent

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

August 22, 2008

Advertising Gone Nuts!

A visit to my local CVS led to quite an interesting discovery -- Planters' new "NUTritious" line of products, advertised as "a distinctive line of snacking options that focus on specific wellness needs, all built with a better you in mind."

How sweet. Let's look beyond the sensitive copy, though.

Planters has always sold a variety of nuts -- good sources of fiber, heart-healthy fats, and nutrients like vitamin E, selenium, and magnesium.

So, nothing is broken and in need of getting fixed.

I was very curious to see how exactly this new line would improve over products as "non junky" as peanuts or cashews.

Let's begin.

First up -- the Heart Healthy Mix, which "may reduce the risk of heart disease."

Already my "BS" meter went off. Not only can that statement be applied to any nut product, it's also the kind of claim that is rally too vague to be of any use.

Sure, nuts may reduce the risk of heart disease assuming that they are part of a diet low in saturated and trans fats and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. And that you don't smoke. And that you're not 50 pounds overweight. I could go on...

What is so special about this product I do not know. It is simply a medley of nuts (almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, etc.) just as heart-healthy as the generic CVS brand.

Next we have the South Beach Diet Recommended Mix, consisting of cashews, almonds, and macadamia nuts.

What makes these three nuts more South Beach Diet "friendly" than, say, hazelnuts and walnuts? Beats me.

The third product in the NUTrition line is the Energy Mix -- "a natural source of energy." So is Planters claiming that the other products don't provide energy?

This one includes a medley of nuts along with chocolate covered soynuts and honey roasted sesame sticks.

Seeing as how all calories are a source of "natural energy" (you could make the case that a 1,200 calorie triple milkshake is "a natural source of energy,") I have absolutely no clue what the point of this product is.

The Digestive Health Mix (I hope you are rolling your eyes along with me by this point) "keeps everything moving" by combining "pistachios, almonds, tart cranberries, crunchy granola clusters, and sweet cherries."

Fair enough -- but the fiber in any of the other mixes (or any serving of nuts, for that matter, no matter what the brand) also keeps things moving.

What is completely absurd is the presence of high fructose corn syrup. How does that fall into Planters' creating this with a better "me" in mind?

I suppose companies will always be looking for the next great way to boost sales, but whoever thought up this new Planters line is, quite frankly, a nut!

In The News: The Least Newsworthy Item Ever

CNN is reporting the results of a study by the University of Copenhagen which concluded that "organic foods contained no more nutrients than non-organic foods grown with the use of pesticides."

More specifically, "researchers studied five different crops -- carrots, kale, mature peas, apples and potatoes -- which were cultivated both organically (without pesticides) and conventionally (with the use of pesticides) and found that there was no higher level of trace elements in the food grown organically."

How is this news? Organic foods have never been touted as "more nutritious," simply pesticide-free, easier to substain, and gentler on the environment.

As far as nutrition is concerned, an organic orange has just as much vitamin C and fiber as a conventional one.

If we're talking solely about lowering pesticide consumption from fruits and vegetables, organic choices are best suited to ones with thin skins or that you eat in their entirety (i.e.: raspberries, as opposed to pineapples.)

Let's not lose track of what is truly important -- eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day provides many health benefits.

You're guaranteed several nutrients and phytochemicals, regardless of how they are grown.

Thank you to Patricia D. for forwarding along the CNN article.

August 21, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Stress & Weight Gain

Can stress alone cause weight gain?

I've been dieting and exercising great but I actually gained weight and I think it could be because I've been under a lot of stress lately.

-- "Chai"

Via the blog

I can't provide as detailed of an answer as I would like since I do not know what you classify as "dieting and exercising great."

Healthier eating does not necessarily lead to weight loss.

Some people, for instance, think that substituting soda for fruit juice is a great switch, not realizing that the fruit juice delivers just as many calories -- if not more -- than the soda!

Similarly, replacing French fries with stir fried garlic broccoli drenched in three tablespoons of olive oil provides healthier fats, but not less calories.

Anyhow, the issue of stress and weight gain is a little tricky.

For starters, stress affects people differently.

In the same way that some individuals can develop insomnia while others would rather sleep all day, some completely lose their appetite, and others want to eat an entire sleeve of Oreos in one sitting.

I am sure you have heard of the product CortiSlim, which promises to get rid of "stubborn belly fat" that is a result of a hormone known as cortisol.

The belief is that cortisol -- which the body releases in response to stress in order to get you moving (say, if you are riding your bike and about to get hit by a moving car) -- is overproduced during long periods of stress, in turn stimulating appetite and promoting adipose tissue storage in the abdominal area.

It's worth pointing out that CortiSlim was initially in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission for making unsubstantiated claims.

I personally don't think stress as an individual factor universally leads to weight gain.

Cortisol production varies between people; not everyone undergoing stress produces an abundance of cortisol.

I am sure you know many people who, when undergoing long periods of stress (i.e.: a turbulent breakup or the death of a family member,) can lose significant amounts of weight.

Additionally, a study conducted by New England Research Institutes and published in the April 2007 issue of the Journal of Endocrinology did not find a strong link between cortisol production and obesity.

"Circulating cortisol concentrations are somewhat lower in obese than in nonobese community-dwelling men," the study concludes.

Another interesting observation? "Age-related weight loss - and not gain - was associated with simultaneous increases in serum cortisol concentrations."

Where I do think stress plays a role is in making some people more vulnerable to reaching for high-calorie comfort foods.

I know that, in my experience, an ice cream cone is a lot more appealing than a cup of Greek yogurt on a sad day.

Ultimately, though, we come back to the concept of choice. Of course, some people can have a harder time resisting high-calorie foods when they are stressed, but it is ultimately the consumption of these foods -- as opposed to stress itself -- that can lead to weight gain.

In The News: Michael Phelps & Tony The Tiger Make It Official

So Michael Phelps (perhaps you've heard of him?) has apparently angered a few nutritionists for agreeing to appear on boxes of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes cereal.

Really? I can't believe some people in the nutrition field are up in arms over this when there are more serious issues worth devoting time to.

How about stepping back a little and loosening up? It's not as if he's the face of Burger King or Ben & Jerry's.

No, Frosted Flakes are not a nutrition powerhouse, but the recently launched lower sugar variety only delivers 120 calories and 8 grams (2 teaspoons) of added sugar in a 1 cup serving. It's not THAT horrible -- and certainly not the culprit of obesity.

A cup of Frosted Flakes as part of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is no reason to hit the panic button.

The most ironic part of this whole "controversy" is that "health experts [are] worried about the message he'll be sending to children across America."

How so? Isn't his main message all about exercising and being in shape?

This is a man who achieved fame by being the fastest swimmer at the Olympics. His career is all about burning calories!

I find the mental junk food provided by any given episode of The Hills to be much more worrisome.

August 20, 2008

Say What?: Alkaline "Diets"

Earlier today I co-taught a nutrition workshop at New York Presbyterian Hospital's oncology unit, in which a patient inquired about cancer and alkaline diets.

Apparently, one of his family members sent him a list of foods that people living with cancer should refrain from eating because they are highly acidic and, therefore, exacerbate the condition.

Some of the foods he was "advised" not to eat? Bananas and oranges!

Alas, his question brought back memories of many inane ramblings I've listened to -- and read -- by proponents of alkaline diets.

These people -- Dr. Robert Young is particularly notorious for his book, The pH Miracle (which I absolutely refuse to provide a link to Amazon for) -- refer to themselves as "nutritionists" or "naturopaths," but have apparently never read a single page of an elementary human physiology and anatomy book.

Let's review.

The "alkaline diet" theory goes a little like this:

1. Diseases are the end result of our blood becoming more acidic (damaged cells can not survive in alkaline environments).

2. Our diet can determine if our bodies are in an 'acidic' or 'alkaline' state.

3. Eating foods that promote “alkanility” prevents certain diseases (like cancer) from ever developing.

Now let’s discuss why that’s a big steaming pile of… nonsense.

First of all, much like our body takes care of detoxifying (thanks to the liver,) we also have organs that ensure acid-base balance is taking place.

The two main players are the lungs (which pitch in by releasing carbon dioxide) and kidneys (if blood pH is not where it should be, the body will correct it by getting rid of whatever is extraneous in our urine.)

Our blood’s pH always falls in the 7.35 to 7.45 range (mainly because the body has buffer systems that work all day to make sure levels do not fall above, or below, that range).
If your pH level is below that range, something is SERIOUSLY wrong. Literally being in an "alkaline" state is life threatening, not a utopia.

Besides, eating “acidic” or “basic” foods is completely irrelevant to blood pH levels.

To make matters more confusing, “acidic” foods have nothing to do with how they taste (meaning, lemons are considered extremely basic, not extremely acidic.)

Take a look at this completely absurd list (bonus points for making sense of it!):

According to it, the following foods are “acidic” and should therefore be consumed in very minimal amounts, and possibly not at all, to ensure optimal health: corn, lentils, blueberries, oats, quinoa, egg whites, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, walnuts, peanut butter, shrimp, salmon, tuna, olive oil, bananas, and oranges.

Wow, this is certainly news to me! So fruits, fish, beans, legumes, whole grains, vegetable oils, and nuts are the source of disease?

I’m so tired of the endless parade of quacks that somehow get paid to spew garbage in a book that somehow ends up on the bestseller list.
And I find it incredibly irritating that all this nonsense ends up confusing people even more on issues of nutrition and healthy eating.

I don't know how acid or alkaline it is, but my blood certainly boils when I hear someone tell me that "this really interesting book written by a doctor" says that fruit "A" is good for you, but fruit "B" actually "causes disease."

Publishers, take note.

August 19, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Omega-3 Supplements

I'm taking fish oil supplements (two 1000mg capsules with my prenatal vitamin, taken with food) because I can't eat fish without getting nauseous.

Am I absorbing even close to the same amounts of EPA/DHA as my body would get from a serving of cold water fish?

-- Anonymous

Via the blog

Fish oil supplements greatly vary.

Remember, the values to be on the lookout for are EPA and DHA.

I have seen 1000 milligram products that offer anywhere from 180 to 1,000 milligrams of DHA and 120 to 400 milligrams of EPA pero two capsule serving.

Since supplements are not regulated by the FDA (a direct result of the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act), you'll find that some "1,000 milligram" capsules offer that amount of fish oil per two capsule serving, whereas others contain that in each individual capsule.

In any case, you want to aim for 1.5 to 2 grams grams of combined EPA and DHA per day.

A 3-ounce piece of wild salmon (as large as the palm of your hand and no wider than your pinkie finger) delivers approximately 400 milligrams of EPA and 1.3 grams of DHA.

Remember that as wonderfully protective of cardiac health as Omega-3 fatty acids are, more is certainly not better -- overconsumption can overly thin the blood.

There is a good deal of evidence that absorption of these fatty acids is higher in food, so although supplements are fine for the time being, I encourage you to resume eating fish once the nauseous reaction stops.

You Ask, I Answer: Michael Phelps

I was a little surprised when I visited your site tonight and couldn't find anything on Michael Phelps, or more specifically his much talked about 8,000-10,000 calorie a day diet.

Yes, he is an athlete who trains 5 hours a day and probably burns calories just getting dressed in the morning (due to his muscle mass).

But this "olympic phenomenon" could choose better/healthier choices than his daily consumption of 2 fried egg sandwiches, 2 pizzas, 2 ham sandwiches on white bread (the list goes on).

Yes, he is a mean lean calorie burning machine, but can't these poor diet choices still lead to potential health risks such as high cholesterol.

Or what about his sugar levels with all those large portions in one meal?

And doesn't his eating habits give substance to the public notion out there that you can eat whatever you want as long as you're exercising

Just curious what your thoughts on the subject are.

-- Becky (last name unknown)
Via the blog

You raise some very good points, Becky.

By the way, for those of you not familiar with Phelps' "diet," The New York Post breaks it down:

"[Breakfast is] three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise.

He follows that up with two cups of coffee, a five-egg omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar and three chocolate-chip pancakes.

At lunch, Phelps gobbles up a pound of enriched pasta and two large ham and cheese sandwiches slathered with mayo on white bread - capping off the meal by chugging about 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks.

For dinner, Phelps really loads up on the carbs - what he needs to give him plenty of energy for his five-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week regimen - with a pound of pasta and an entire pizza."

Let's keep a few things in mind.

We are not just talking about "an athlete." Mr. Phelps is an Olympic athlete, which means heavy-duty, constant, hardcore training.

This is not someone swimming for 45 minutes three days a week at the local YMCA.

Mr. Phelps trains by swimming approximately five HOURS a day. Then there's the additional weight lifting he needs to do to keep his muscles in top shape!

Add to that youth (he is, after all, 23 years old,) a super fast metabolism that is the product of genetics, and plenty of muscle mass (and very little body fat,) and you have a body that needs pretty extraordinary amounts of fuel (food) to operate the way it does.

I suspect that part of the reason why Mr. Phelps' diet is low in fiber is to prevent him from getting full too quickly and not eating as many calories as he should.

I also suspect there are appetite stimulants involved here.

What also makes Mr. Phelps a special case is that although his diet isn't necessarily "heart healthy," his lifestyle certainly is.

Remember, physical activity -- which Mr. Phelps is getting PLENTY of -- increases HDL cholesterol, lowers LDL cholesterol, and reduces the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

I certainly hope no one is taking away that you can eat as much as you want as long as you're exercising. Mr. Phelps is not "exercising," he is devoting every second of his life to an athletic career.

He is the very definition of a "special case."

Numbers Game: Answer

A slice of Domino's deep dish cheese pizza contains 95 more calories than a slice of their thin crust cheese pizza.

I purposefully posted this item to prove the point that even when faced with fast food options, there is always a healthier choice.

If we're talking about eating two slices of pizza, the deep dish variety contributes a total of 190 extra calories than a thin crust version!

And what to do if your next office meeting offers nothing but deep dish pizza?

Make another smart choice -- leave the end crust (about 50 - 60 calories per slice) on your plate.

August 18, 2008

In The News: The Obesity Law

Obesity is the "talk of the town" in my home country of Argentina these days -- "the obesity law" went into effect late last week, "declaring obesity and other eating disorders diseases covered by the nation's public and private health care programs."

Another ruling? Much like cigarrettes -- and some alcoholic beverages -- foods high in calories must carry a sticker, warning that overeating is bad for general health.

The most interesting tidbit for me is the law's specific demand that advetised diets must be authorized by a medical professional.

This isn't too encouraging, though, since Argentine doctor Maximo Ravenna has hit the jackpot with a senseless, dangerous, and reckless very low calorie diet (we're talking 600 to 700 calories a day!)

Besides, many diets are created by doctors with little to no nutrition background, as perfectly evidenced right here in the US of A by Dr. D'Adamo and his very.... creative (?) Blood Type Diet.

One very encouraging result of this law is that nutrition education will begin to be implemented at the elementary, middle, and high school level.

That's really how I think significant change can be achieved.

After all, many people struggling to lose weight erroneously think that in order to reach their health goals they need to eat lettuce leaves drizzled in vinegar, or that the best way to shed the pounds is by never eating another slice of bread or avocado.

I do have to wonder, though, if the current healthcare system in Argentina can handle the increasing overweight and obese population.

Would you want a similar law passed in your country?

August 17, 2008

Survey Results: Calorie Labeling

The latest Small Bites survey asked visitors if they thought it should be legally required for all chain restaurants to display calorie information on their menus in all 50 states.

90 percent voted "yes," and 10 percent went with "no."

I say: "Absolutely!"

Opponents of calorie labeling tend to fall into two camps.

First we have the "thats' policing! Who are you to tell me what to eat?" camp, which is completely nonsensical.

No one is calling for foods to be banned or shrunk to less caloric versions.

All that's being asked is to provide customers with information that will help them make better choices, if that interests them.

Then we have the pessimists, who say, "what good is this going to do? Calorie information is available on packaged food and the obesity rate just keeps on climbing."

Except that calorie information for fast food items is more realistic because it assumes customers are eating the entire dish.

A bag of Doritos available at 7-11, for instance, lists information for just one third of the bag, even though the vast majority of people purchasing such an item finish the contents in one sitting.

Or, take pasta.

Most people throw their idea of a "portion" into a boiling pot, but don't really know if they are eating one, two, three, or four servings.

Same thing with breakfast cereals. Many of them list nutrition information for half a cup, and the average person fails to realize that they start their day with one and a half cup's worth (meaning they need to multiply that caloric value by three!)

It's too easy for "calories per serving" to be misconstrued or misunderstood.

If anything, some great developments are emerging from all of this. Dunkin' Donuts, for instance, has started offering sandwiches that clock in at less than 300 calories (up until now, their offerings started at the 400-calorie mark.)

August 15, 2008

Numbers Game: Depth Is Better Suited For Poets and Musicians

A slice of Domino's deep dish cheese pizza contains _____ more calories than a slice of their thin crust cheese pizza.

a) 47
b) 82
c) 95
d) 121

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

August 14, 2008

One Size Does Not Fit All

Walking around New York City's West Village yesterday, I came across one of local smoothie chain Juice Generation's branches.

The establishment looked pristine, and many of the offerings sounded delicious.

I walked in, figuring a fruit-based beverage would hit the spot on a hot August day.

Except for one problem. Their smoothies are available in just one size -- 24 ounces.

I was in the mood for a light, refreshing drink -- 12 ounces would have been perfect.

Why is the "standard" size equivalent to three cups' worth? Whatever happened to having a choice? Why can't I opt for a small, medium, or large?

As a result, a peanut butter and banana smoothie (which would clock in at a reasonable 260 calories for a 12 oz serving) is only available in a much heftier 520 calorie package.

We all know too well (mainly from Brian Wansink's research) that when food -- or beverages, in this scenario -- is in front of us, we finish it, regardless of how large the portion is or how hungry we truly are.

Ordering a 24 ounce and throwing half of it away was out of the question, and since I wasn't planning on being home for another 2 hours, there was no chance of saving the rest in the fridge for the next morning.

It's a real shame, too, because in many ways this place is a cut above the rest -- their smoothies are syrup and puree free, as much of the fruit as possible comes from local farms, and they are well-known for always passing food safety and health inspection checks with flying colors.

Same Mess, Different Name

Burger King and Wendy's have launched new burgers and chicken sandwiches. I can barely contain myself!

First up, Burger King's Cheesy Bacon Tendercrisp -- "premium crispy white meat chicken breast, three kinds of cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise on a corn-dusted bun".

Don't you love the usage of "crispy" as opposed to "deep fried"?

Anyhow, this gem (which, actually, is being relaunched) adds up to 1,179 calories, 26 grams of saturated fat (more than a day's worth) and 2,312 of sodium (95% of a day 's worth).

Over at Wendy's, the "Baconator" (can't you just smell the oozing testosterone?) awaits.

This concoction -- pictured alongside this post -- contains half a pound of ground beef, 6 bacon strips, 2 slices of cheese, mayonnaise, and ketchup.

That's right -- not even a measly lettuce leaf.

And so you end up with 830 calories, 23 grams of saturated fat, 1,880 milligrams of sodium, 1 (yes, ONE) gram of fiber, and really bad breath.

Oh, here's a fun Wendy's fact: their cheese sauce is made from 25 different ingredients, including corn syrup solids.

Quick & Health(ier) Recipes: Vegan Peanut Butter Pie

Standard peanut butter pie recipes call for generous amounts of cream cheese and frozen whipped topping, resulting in rather decadent nutrition values.

You're usually looking at 455 calories, 8 grams of saturated fat (40% of a day's worth!) and 30 grams (almost 8 teaspoons) of added sugar per slice.

As much as I love a decadent dessert, wouldn't it be nice to savor a rich, silky slice of pie that doesn't pack quite a stomach blow?

Well, feast your eyes on the following recipe for a vegan peanut butter pie which cuts back on calories, sugar, and saturated fat -- but certainly not on taste.

Before anyone scrunches up their nose and declares it "gross," you should know that peanut butter pie lovers are shocked when I tell them the slice of pie they are raving about doesn't contain a single drop of cream cheese or Cool Whip!

Yields: 1 pie (8 slices)


1 16-ounce package of silken tofu
3/4 cup smooth, natural peanut butter
2 Tablespoons soymilk (unsweetened or plain is best)
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract


Add ingredients to food processor and blend until smooth.

Scoop onto 9" pie shell (bonus points if it's oat-based or 100% whole wheat!) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.


335 calories
2.5 grams saturated fat
12 grams sugar
11 grams protein

That's 120 less calories, two thirds less saturated fat, and half the sugar of a standard recipe.

Better yet -- the peanut butter is a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.


August 13, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Weight Loss & Support

When the year started, I was at my highest weight ever [25 pounds overweight.]

I tried to diet as a New Year's resolution, but it was really strict, almost no carbs except for salad vegetables, and it was hard to keep up. I was eating about 950 calories a day, it was so hard.

A few months later I tried again, but healthier.

Since May I have lost 18 pounds and I'm really happy. I'm mainly doing it by watching portions of a lot of foods I like, so I don't feel deprived of anything. I'm eating about 1,700 calories a day and I also go to the gym a few times a week.

What is hard now is that I feel I am not getting much support from my boyfriend and my friends.

Over the past month, my boyfriend has been buying me lots of sweets and chocolates, which I don't like to have in my house because it's hard for me to watch my portions.

I met him about two weeks before I started dieting (May 2nd) and lately it's as if he wants me to gain weight again. It's weird.

Some of my friends also comment on what I eat when I am at restaurants, too. Like if I choose to eat a salad as an appetizer and then an appetizer for my entree there are two friends of mine who will always be on my case about how I'm probably starving or something.

I don't know if you answer these sorts of questions, but what should I do about this?

-- Natalie (last name withheld)
(city withheld), VT

Natalie -- and everyone else interested in this question -- please watch the latest video on the Small Bites YouTube channel (also embedded below):

August 12, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

I'm pregnant and my OB/GYN has suggested that I eat a lot of wild salmon for the health and nutritional benefits of the Omega-3's.

Only problem is, I gag at the smell and sight of fish right now.

So I've been trying to use ground flax seed sprinkled in other foods I can manage, like yogurt, fruit salad, toaster waffles and cereal.

I know the flax seed needs to be ground in order to be absorbed, but how much do I need to consume each day in order to get the same benefits as eating a serving of fish?

Are there other good sources of omega-3's that I should try?

-- “My Eggo is Preggo”
White Plains, NY

First of all -- congratulations!

Your question is a great one, since it deals with the different varieties of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Although we often refer to "Omega 3 fats" as one general category, there are three different types -- Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), EicosoPentaenoic Acid (EPA), and DocosaHexaenoic Acid (DHA).

ALA is found exclusively in vegetable sources, including walnuts and flaxseeds.

EPA and DHA, meanwhile, are found in large quantities in cold water fish. Grass-fed beef also contains a little.

One concern with getting Omega-3's solely from vegetable sources is that many people are unable to convert ALA to EPA and DHA.

Fetuses are absolutely unable to make this conversion, so they must get EPA and DHA directly from the mother (DHA is particularly necessary for eye and brain development.)

Even if you, as the mother, are able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA, you need approximately 10 grams of ALA just to make 600 milligrams of EPA and 400 of DHA.

To put that into perspective, 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains slightly less than 2 grams of ALA.

One tablespoon of flax oil, meanwhile, delivers 7 grams (one good way to incorporate that into your diet is by adding it into a smoothie).

It's also important to realize that as good for us as Omega 3 fats are, they do not work alone. Vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium are involved in the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA.

If you are not consuming enough of those nutrients, your will not convert quite as efficiently (so, say, you might need 15 or 17 grams of ALA to make the quantities of EPA and DHA mentioned above.)

In your situation, I suggest taking an EPA/DHA supplement.

That doesn't mean you should stop eating ground flaxseeds, though -- they are a nutrition all-star!

Numbers Game: Answer

In 1980, average per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup in the United States clocked in at 19 pounds. In 2005? 59 pounds.

That's a 310 percent increase in 25 years!

A few other figures jump out for less than stellar reasons.

Shortening (trans fat central!) consumption jumped from 18.2 pounds to 32.6 pounds in that same amount of time, and sour cream/dips more than doubled (from 3.4 half pints in 1980 to 7.9 half pints 25 years later.)

It goes without saying that increased consumption also means increased caloric intake.

And the increasing obesity rate over the past two decades is a mystery because...?

August 11, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Ground Vs. Whole Flaxseeds

My question is about Kashi and Nature's Path products that claim to have Omega 3’s from flaxseed, but clearly only have whole flaxseeds in their products.

Don't they need to be ground for our bodies to receive [nutritional benefit[s]?

I've always been puzzled by this. Thanks!

-- “Glidingcalm”
Via the blog

Yes, only the ground-up form provides all the wonderful nutrition packed inside those tiny seeds.

If you were to thoroughly chew each flaxseed you would theoretically also be getting the same amount of nutrition, but it is very easy to swallow them whole (particularly when they are part of a waffle or cracker), in which case they pass right through the digestive system without contributing their Omega-3 fatty acids or lignans.

To ensure you are getting the most out of this great seed, have ground flaxseed ready to go in your refrigerator or buy whole ones and pulverize them in a coffee grinder.

Keep in mind, though, that many Kashi products (i.e.: their thin crust pizzas) are made with ground flaxseeds.

Similarly, some Nature's Path cereals (like their flax plus cold cereal with raisins) list "flax meal" as an ingredient, which refers to ground flaxseed.

And so it comes down to a common theme on Small Bites: always read the ingredient list!

The Numbers Speak for Themselves

Kraft's latest snack product is Mac 'n Cheese baked crackers available in three varieties: cheddar, mild cheedar, and white cheddar.

"Made with real cheddar cheese!" the boxes proudly display.

Let's get down to the facts.

150: the calories in a 1-ounce serving. This is the exact same caloric content of an ounce of Lay's potato chips or Cheetos.

300: the milligrams of sodium in a 1-ounce serving of the cheddar flavor. This is almost twice as much as the same amount of Lay's potato chips and 10 more milligrams than 1 ounce of Cheetos.

380: the milligrams of sodium contained in a 1-ounce serving of the white cheddar flavor.

35: the number of ingredients that make up the cheddar and white cheddar flavors.

Swap: 1 ounce of whole grain crackers and one stick of string cheese pretty much delivers the same calories with more substantial nutrition.

August 10, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Pinkberry/Red Mango

I really like the new batch of frozen yogurt stores that are popping up, like Pinkberry and Red Mango.

What do you think of them?

-- Alicia M.
Bellevue, WA

Frozen yogurt is back in a big way.

The newer chains you mention specifically pride themselves on serving frozen plain yogurt containing live, active bacteria (both Pinkberry and Red Mango have seals of approval from the National Yogurt Association asserting their live bacteria count qualifies their product as true yogurt, although Pinkberry had to change their original formula to receive this distinction.)

My opinion? They are a legitimately healthy and tasty treat.

I have yet to try Pinkberry, but have been very happy with all my Red Mango experiences.

As with everything else, keep portions in check and you'll do just fine.

A small order of either chain's yogurt provides 80 - 90 calories, about 1 teaspoon of added sugar, and 10% of the calcium daily value.

Make smart choices with toppings (i.e.: fresh fruit and sliced almonds rather than sugary cereals and Oreo cookies) to add vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.

I love that the fruit toppings are fresh, rather than canned and drowning in heavy syrup.

That said, there is nothing magical about these places. Plain yogurt with strawberries from your refrigerator is just as nutritious.

In The News: France's Fast Food Tax

Over in France (where “two thirds of French men and half of all women aged 35 to 74 are thought to be overweight, while one fifth of all adults are obese,”) a controversial new law is being mulled over which would “increase tax on extra-fatty, salty or sugary products to 19.6 percent (from 5.5 per cent now.)

I don’t see the point – or understand the logic.

First of all, I would hate for products high in healthy fats (i.e.: roasted peanuts, avocadoes, almond butters) to be lumped together with deep fried onion rings, particularly since this bill is going beyond burgers and fries and targeting sandwiches.

Additionally, a healthy and refreshing fruit smoothie -- made solely with actual fruit and, say, skim milk -- is high in sugars, but offers a different nutritional profile than a can of Sprite.

The main problem I have with this initiative is that it perpetuates this idea of “good foods” and “bad foods.”

Of course some foods are much healthier than others, but it’s not so much the foods themselves that are behind the increasing obesity rate, but how much of them people are eating.

A small side of potato chips (roughly 100 calories) with a sandwich is not a recipe for flab. It’s the ridiculously large, 500-calorie portions that take the blame.

Similarly, a small 80 calorie croissant is a great way to indulge in a tasty treat without going overboard. There's no reason why it should be highly taxed.

My suggestion? If they're hell-bent on implementing a tax, it should only apply to large portions.

It would at least prevent the now-familiar "for an additional 25 cents you can get three times as much food!" offers.

This is definitely a story to keep our eyes on – “the plans are expected to be put before legislators in September, who will vote on whether they should be implemented."

August 9, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Flaxseeds

I have been looking at the articles you've tagged with flaxseed and it looks like you wholeheartedly encourage the addition of ground flaxseed meal to foods.

However, I wonder if doing this is ultimately beneficial - as you point out, men at risk for prostate cancer should watch their consumption of ALA [alpha linolenic acid].

Additionally, omega-3 or not, adding fat to foods will increase the calories... for those watching their weight, is this really a smart decision?

On the other hand, as a vegan, I can attest to difficulty getting nutrients like vitamin B12.

Do you think that, for vegans, the addition of flax meal is a good idea (even with a diet that incorporates a lot of nuts [in particular, walnuts] and -for cooking- canola oil)?

-- Christine (last name unknown)
Via the blog

Keep in mind that most of the findings about high ALA intakes and prostate cancer risk mostly relate to flaxseed oil (which contains very high levels of ALA -- approximately twice that of fish oil, and certainly much more than a tablespoon ground flaxseed), not flaxseeds themselves.

It's also interesting to note that lignans -- the phytochemicals present in flaxseeds but not in flaxseed oil -- are believed to play a protective role against some cancers.

In any case, I stand by my suggestion of adding a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseed to one meal or snack every day.

It's worth stressing that the benefits of ground flaxseed far outweigh any caloric concerns.

If someone is interested in cutting calories, flaxseed should be at the absolute bottom of that totem pole, since two tablespoons -- which pack in a lot of nutrition -- only add up to 70 calories.

It is always important to keep the concept of "nutrient density" in mind.

In other words -- consider the caloric content of a food in relation to everything else it offers.

Those 70 calories in two tablespoons of flaxseed are keepers -- they contain a lot of vital nutrients not commonly found in a lot of other foods!

Instead of cutting out the flaxseed, have a few less bites of a less nutritious food eaten later in the day.

Trust me, you won't find too many other "real" foods that provide 4 grams of fiber in just 70 calories!

As far as veganism is concerned, if walnuts and canola oil are consumed on a regular basis, then there is a decent intake of ALA and there isn't a need to also consume ground flaxseeds.

That is certainly a minority we are talking about, since 98% of the United States population is not consuming the recommended amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids?

So, yes, you bet I am a proponent of adding ground flaxseed to foods.

It's, at the very least, a start for some people whose Omega-3 intake is currently at zero.

I am glad you asked this question, though, because it once again goes back to the idea that "more is not better."

ALA is a wonderful thing to have in the diet, but overdoing is not healthier than getting the necessary amounts.

August 8, 2008

Numbers Game: The Syrup Spike

In 1980, average per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup in the United States clocked in at _______ pounds. In 2005? ________ pounds.

(Source: US Census Bureau)

a) 19, 59

b) 10, 31

c) 5, 48
d) 25, 38

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

August 7, 2008

Say What?: All That For A T-Shirt??

Eating contests have always fascinated me, especially the over-the-top portion sizes and nutrition figures that accompany some of these foods.

Over at Hillbilly Hot Dogs in Huttington, West Virginia, two challenges await adventurous eaters.

First, the 3.5 pound Homewrecker (pictured at right):

"The biggest, baddest of all the weenies! One full pounder of beef weenie, deep fried in pure canola oil, piled high with sauteed peppers and onions. Then covered with nacho cheese, our homemade sopicy chili sauce, jalapeños, mustard, ketchup, slaw, 'maters, lettuce, and shredded cheese. All of it, slammin' on a grilled bun."

Nutrition numbers, you ask?

My calculations total 3,100 calories, 65 grams of saturated fat (3 days' worth) and 6,380 milligrams of sodium (also 3 days' worth!)

The thing is 15 inches long and can be yours for just $14.99.

Oh, chow it down in 12 minutes or less and win... a T-shirt.

If that's too amateurish, why not attempt to scarf down a Hillbilly 5 pound burger?

We're talking about a "five pound patty topped with 12 slices of cheese, 12 slices of tomatoes, a head of lettuce, one whole onion, and a pound of pickles".

In this case, per my calculations, you're looking at 8,601 calories, 245 grams of saturated fat (TEN days' worth!), and 5,295 milligrams of sodium.

I spoke with the manager of the establishment a few minutes ago, who told me that one customer has eaten the single wide 5 pound burger in SIXTEEN MINUTES and the Homewrecker in just four!

In fact, to get a T-shirt AND their money refunded, Homewrecker contenders have to beat his 4 minute record.

Although "a lot of people" have finished the humongous hot dog in under 12 minutes, I was told "only two or three" other people have downed the single wide burger in one sitting (unlike the 16-minute maniac, they took "several hours.")

By the way, there IS a 10 pound hillbilly burger (with double the nutrition figures of the 5-pounder), but no one has ever tried to eat that in one sitting.

I wonder if you can get the Homewrecker with the chili sauce on the side?

Another Kashi Knockout

Kashi continues to crank out tasty and convenient whole grain products.

Their latest outing is savory 100% whole grain rice pilaf side dishes available in three flavors -- original, Moroccan spice, and fiery fiesta.

Each packet contains two servings, each offering 7 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein.

While the original flavor is sodium-free, the other two varieties contain 400 milligrams of sodium per serving (due to the presence of additional flavorings.)

In all fairness, that amount is roughly 40% lower than that of average ready-to-eat pilaf products.

Additionally, in the context of a meal otherwise low in sodium (i.e.: tuna or salmon steak, grilled tofu, sauteéd shrimp, grilled chicken breast) this is not a huge concern.

I appreciate the existence of an original flavor that lets customers exercise their culinary creativity. I highly recommend adding chopped nuts and raisins or chickpeas, red peppers, and cilantro.

The best part? The only cooking required is adding 2 tablespoons of water, mixing, and microwaving for 90 seconds.

You Ask, I Answer: Carrageenan

Here is another food label question for you.

The soy milk I drink (Silk unsweetened) has carrageenan listed as an ingredient. What is that?

Someone I work with told me it causes cancer.

-- Miriam Scorfi

Chicago, IL

Carrageenan is an extract from a red seaweed species native to the coast of Ireland.

It does not add to -- or detract from -- the nutrient content of a given food, but is primarily used to thicken and emulsify.

In your soy milk's case, carrageenan is used to give it a creamy mouthfeel (this is why an iced latté made with Silk unsweetened soymilk has a much creamier texture than one with non-fat cow's milk).

Mind you, it is not simply vegan alternatives to milk that contain this extract.

It is found in condensed milk as well as in some ice creams, yogurts, baked goods, and toothpastes.

Let's now talk about your coworker's alarming cancer claim.

He or she must be referring to a literature review of 45 studies penned by Dr. Joanne Tobacman (assistant professor of clinical internal medicine at the University of Iowa at the time) that was published in the October 2001 issue of the Environmental Health Perspectives journal.

Dr. Tobacman concluded that carrageenan was not entirely safe and could cause gastrointestinal disorders (as well as increase risk for stomach cancers), since applied heat during preparation -- as well stomach acid during digestion -- can degrade it into a substance known as poligeenan.

However, two years later, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives concluded that carrageenan was safe for consumption.

Mind you, JECFA originally came to that conclusion in 1998, but reopened the case after reading Dr. Tobacman's paper.

One sticking point was that when the dosage of carrageenan fed to rats in the literature Dr. Tobacman reviewed was converted to an equivalent measurement for humans, it was an outrageously high figure that would be impossible to consume on a daily basis.

The report downright concludes that "in long-term bioassays, carrageenan has not been found to be carcinogenic, and there is no credible evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect or tumor-promoting effect on the colon in rodents."

Some scientists have also theorized that the intestinal bacteria of rats (different from that of humans) may have been a significant factor in the degradation of carrageenan witnessed in the literature reviewed by Dr. Tobacman.

By the way, JECFA is made up of toxicologists and other scientists from 10 different countries (including Norway, Japan, Australia, and the United States.)

When carrageenan is used in its unadulterated form, it is perfectly safe. Therefore, I don't perceive a glass of Silk soymilk -- or a splash of it in your cereal -- to be a health hazard. There are far more important things to worry about.

I suggest your co-worker look up the word "hyperbole" in the dictionary.