January 31, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Whole Grain Mustard

I feel silly asking this question, but since I can remain anonymous, I'll ask it anyway.

Is whole grain mustard an actual whole grain?

In other words, does one serving of it (two tablespoons) count as a whole grain?

-- (Name Withheld)
New York, NY

Whole grain mustard is not an actual whole grain.

The term is used to differentiate between mustard varieties made from ground-up seeds of the mustard plant (which, by the way, is in the same family of plants as broccoli and cauliflower) and those that contain the seeds in their whole, unadulterated form.

That said, mustard seeds can add a pinch of nutrition to a meal.

Two teaspoons, for instance, pack in 12 percent of the Daily Value of selenium and 6 percent of the manganese and phosphorus you need each day.

One easy way to enjoy mustard seeds in a dish is by crusting your protein of choice (tofu, tempeh, tuna steaks, etc.) with them.

January 30, 2009

Keeping It Real With Your Cereal

As someone who loves nutritious food, eye-catching websites, and freedom of choice, I must tell you about a new custom artisanal cereal company named [Me] & Goji.

Created by three socially and environmentally conscious twenty-something businessmen unhappy with the vast selection of unhealthy -- or healthy but tasteless -- cereals on the market, [Me] & Goji allows you to create your own cereal from thirty different nutritious, 100% organic ingredients ranging from oat bran flakes and wheat germ to dried mango, goldenberries, and almonds.

Your chosen ingredients are then hand-mixed and sent to you within a week in a sleek tube-shaped capsule (which, by the way, makes for a lovely and funky flower vase once empty!) that features your concoctions' name (as christened by you), a nutrition facts label, and an ingredient list.

Although the $11 price tag for an average capsule might seem hefty, it isn't quite as astronomical when you consider that each capsule contains 21 ounces of cereal (many organic cereals available at supermarkets come in 14 ounce boxes and retail for $4.99.)

Still, while more costly than buying a box of cereal at the supermarket, this is a wonderfully creative gift for a cherished healthy eater, cereal lover, or always-happy-to-get-some-free-food college student in your life.

Which begs the Barbara Walters-inspired question. If you were a cereal, what type of cereal would you be?

Numbers Game: Answer

A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health study published in the November 2007 issue of Obesity Research found that per capita total daily intake of liquid calories in the United States increased 94 percent from 1965 to 2002.

This means the average American is now getting a hefty 21 percent of his or her total calories exclusively from beverages.

Since we are talking about mostly caloric beverages (particularly sodas and fruit juices), this makes the 2002 figures 222 calories higher than those from 1965!

Add to that the fact that these 222 calories are not balanced out by a reduction in food intake (if anything, they are accompanied by an increase in calories from food!) and it becomes rather clear why rates of overweight and obesity have increased.

Let the accompanying photo also serve as a reminder that 7-11's 44 ounce Super Big Gulp and 64 ounce Double Gulp cups did not exist in 1965!

January 29, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Sugar Addiction

Is it true that sugar is addicting?

For example, if I am at a party and there is a whole box of [Dunkin' Donuts] munchkins it is very hard for me to only have one!

-- Laura Bulner

Miami, FL

That is one very popular myth.

Sucrose (table sugar, and what most people refer to when they say "sugar") is simply not an addictive substance.

When singled out and studied as an individual component, it has not been shown to induce physical or psychological addiction.

I do not believe any foods in and of themselves are addictive.

I think too many people jump to that conclusion by not recognizing the strong emotions that are behind many people's food choices.

The fact that someone may binge on Oreo cookies when feeling intense loneliness, sadness, or anxiety does not mean those cookies are addictive.

What it DOES point to is an addictive personality that, for whatever reason, uses food as an emotional release.

I also find that foods that get blamed as being addictive are ones that many people often severely restrict. Not surprisingly, these extreme positions then lead to overconsumption of the "forbidden" food, be it chocolate or fries.

What I always find semi-comical is that people are quick to attribute addictive qualities solely to high-calorie, sugar-laden foods, as if to make themselves appear helpless.

You never hear, for example, someone who loves celery and eats ten stalks every single day claim that "celery is addictive."

Besides, those who are somehow convinced that sugar is addictive only feel that way about the added sugar found in pastries, chocolate, and candies.

If this supposed addiction is as powerful as they claim, it makes you wonder why naturally sweet foods like fruits somehow don't "hit the spot."

Also, Laura, I am not sure why not being able to stop yourself at one individual piece of a particular food automatically makes it addictive, even more so in a situation where the food is in front of you for a long period of time.

The same thing you say about munchkins could be said about cheese, tortilla chips, sushi rolls, or blueberries!

January 28, 2009

In The News: Shakeup

As I predicted in late 2007, sodium is quickly becoming the new trans fat in terms of public awareness, advertising focus (the amount of product touting "now with less sodium!" stickers continues to grow), and nutrition policy.

Today's New York Times profiles "a new campaign to lower the amount of sodium America eats" developed by Dr. Thomas Frieden, the commissioner of New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Over a recent lunch with food company executives, Dr. Frieden made his wishes very clear: "identify the foods that are contributing the most sodium to people’s diets and cut the level of salt by 25 percent. Do it in unison with out competitor [and a decade after that], cut it by another 25 percent."

As optional as that may sound, Dr. Frieden did not shy away from proposing stricter legislation on sodium content in foods if companies did not appear to make an effort.

When this man talks, food companies tend to listen, particularly since he is one of the main brains behind trans fat bans and calorie labeling laws that are rapidly spreading throughout the United States.

"Under Dr. Frieden's plan, which is based on one in the United Kingdom, targets for sodium reduction will be set for certain food categories. The prime suspects include cheese, breakfast cereals, bread, macaroni and noodle products, cake mixes, condiments and soups. The final list of sodium targets will be based on a formula that takes into account the amount of sodium in a product as well as how much food in that category people eat."

It is not too surprising that sodium consumption is higher now than it was seventy years ago, considering the increasing amount of processed foods that make up the "typical American diet" (remember, the more processed a food, the higher its sodium content and the lower its potassium levels).

While recommendations call for no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium a day, the average adult in the United States consumes anywhere from 3,300 to 3,700 milligrams on a daily basis.

And while it is true that not everyone is equally sensitive to sodium, there is a large enough percentage of the population that is sensitive that justifies a concern surrounding the amounts of sodium in many products.

The most interesting thing about sodium is that our palates adapt rather quickly to higher or lower amounts.

After approximately 21 to 25 days on a lower sodium diet, foods that once seemed "moderately salty" tend to be perceived as "very salty."

Which brings me to another important point. Many people erroneously think that if a food doesn't taste salty, it does not contain sodium.

Not so. High amounts of sodium are often found in sweet foods.

A Baskin Robbins Oreo sundae, for example, contains 950 milligrams of sodium. That's 600 MORE milligrams than a large order of McDonald's fries.

January 27, 2009

In The News: Mercury In High Fructose Corn Syrup

Here's some unpleasant news.

The Washington Post is reporting on two recent studies published in Environmental Health which found that "almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or second-highest labeled ingredient."

Ranges varied from 0.005 to 0.57 micrograms of mercury per gram of high fructose corn syrup.

Keep in mind that Environmental Protection Agency figures, for instance, consider 0.1 micrograms per kilogram of body weight to be the upper limit for safe intakes.

This means, then that a 140 pound adult (63.6 kilograms) should consume no more than 6.36 micrograms a day.

The problem here comes with the high amount of high fructose corn syrup consumed by the average child, teenager, and adult in the United States -- 12 daily teaspoons on average.

Let's do some math.

Twelve teaspoons of HFCS equal 48 grams.

If those 48 grams came from the sample with the highest amount of mercury, that totals 27 micrograms of mercury in a single day!

Two more things worth pointing out.

First, sodas were found not to have any mercury in them despite consisting of mainly water and high fructose corn syrup. Perhaps this is due to some processing step?

Second, controversy is arising due to rumblings that the lead author of one study allegedly alerted the Food & Drug Administration about her findings several years ago but, for reasons not known to anyone, these findings were reportedly not followed up on.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy -- which participated in both studies -- is actively pushing for immediate changes in manufacturing that would not taint high fructose corn syrup with the infamous heavy metal.

Yet another bullet point for the ever-expanding "important issues in food safety" list...

And, more importantly, even more of a reason to limit the amount of processed, nutritionally inferior food (which is usually laden with added sugars, mainly in the form of high fructose corn syrup.)

PS: Thank you to reader Dennise O'Grady for providing me with the second link in this post.

Numbers Game: Drink Up

A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health study published in the November 2007 issue of Obesity Research found that per capita total daily intake of liquid calories in the United States increased _____ percent from 1965 to 2002.

a) 53

b) 71

c) 86

d) 94

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

In The News: Up Next... Indiana!

More positive news from the Midwest -- The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that "chain restaurants [with 10 or more locations] in Indiana would be required to make nutritional information available to customers at each location [either on a posted menu or printed documents] under legislation that has advanced in the Indiana House."


I am still looking forward to the day these policies become federal, though.

In the meantime, New York University's Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health is set to determine what effect, if any, calorie labeling has had on New York City's fast food customers.

Prior to the law going into effect, customers exiting various fast food restaurants were asked to submit their itemized receipts in exchange for a free subway pass.

At some point next year -- well over a year after calorie labeling went into effect -- the same survey method will be employed.

This should provide some insight as to whether or not this type of legislative strategy ultimately has a positive impact on consumer behavior (i.e.: are Starbucks customers now favoring 150-calorie biscotti over 390 calorie banana bread slices?).

You Ask, I Answer: Carbohydrate Needs

In Eat This, Not That For Kids, there is a table titled "What Our Kids Need Each Day" that shows what amount of different nutrients children should be getting on a daily basis.

For carbohydrate, every age group (from 1 to 18 years) has the same carbohydrate requirement: 130 grams.

That seem fishy to me?

-- Taryn (last name withheld)

Houston, TX

Uh oh. That figure is ripe for misinterpretation.

It would be much more accurate to express it as "at least 130 grams."

Without those two important words, I can imagine many people thinking they are not supposed to feed their child more than that amount of carbohydrates each day.

The 130 gram figure is important because it is the minimum amount of carbohydrate needed each day to spare body proteins.

This means that by consuming 130 grams of carbohydrates (520 calories' worth), you are ensuring that protein is used for building and maintaining muscle tissue, rather than for energy.

That figure is also calculated to be the amount necessary to support the production of red blood cells as well as keep the central nervous system working as efficiently as possible.

A much better recommendation is to get anywhere from 45 to 60 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates.

Readers, here is an example to help you figure out how many grams of carbohydrate you should be aiming for each day:

Let's assume you need 2,200 calories a day.

Some simple multiplication lets us know that a range of 45 to 60 percent of that figure is equal to 990 - 1,320 calories.

To figure out how many grams of carbohydrates those calorie values equal, divide them by 4 (remember, there are 4 calories in each gram of carbohydrate.)

Therefore, someone consuming 2,200 calories a day should take in anywhere from 247 to 330 grams of carbohydrates a day.

PS: Taryn just completed her Dietetic Internship at the University of Houston. If you are interested in learning what future dietitians learn in their DIs, please visit her blog!

You Ask, I Answer: Pasta

I've heard so many different things about pasta from a nutritional standpoint.

Is pasta from Italy enriched with vitamins and minerals [like it is in the United States]?

Is pasta cooked al dente better for you because it digests slower?

Some say [pasta] is no better than white refined bread, but others say differently?

What's the deal?

-- Carrie Watson

(via the blog)

What a great trilogy of questions! Let's taken them one by one.

White flour products in the United States are enriched with nutrients lost in the milling process (niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and iron) as a result of The Federal Enrichment Act of 1942.

In the United States, all white flour products are also fortified with folate.

Some countries have similar laws (in Argentina, the same nutrients are added back to flour, whereas in England white flour must be enriched with these nutrients AND fortified with calcium), but Italy is not one of them.

From a nutritional standpoint, cooking pasta al dente is recommended over mushy consistencies since the "al dente" texture has a lower glycemic index (meaning it does not spike blood glucose levels quite as much.)

However, remember that the glycemic load of a pasta meal is ultimately determined by what else you are eating with your pasta.

If, for example, your pasta dinner contains some protein, fat, and fiber (i.e.: whole wheat pasta with meatballs and parmesan cheese), those additional components will help slow down digestion and lessen the sharp spike in blood sugar levels.

As far as white bread and pasta made with refined flour are concerned -- yes, they are basically identical from a nutritional standpoint (the main exception being that one ounce of bread has roughly 150 to 200 milligrams of sodium, while most dry pasta is sodium-free.)

It's not that white bread and pasta are inherently unhealthy, but rather that, compared to whole wheat varieties, they are nutritionally inferior.

January 26, 2009

Numbers Game: Answer

Del Taco's "Macho" bacon-and-egg breakfast burrito starts the morning off with 1,030 calories, 100 percent of a day's worth of saturated fat, and 73 percent of a day's worth of sodium.

From a caloric standpoint, that's equivalent to almost three and a half Egg McMuffins!

Interestingly, consumer behavior reports are showing large increases in breakfast-to-go purchases.

According to the 2008 New American Diner Study twenty percent of consumers "always or often" eat breakfast away from home on weekdays.

On another note, isn't it rather pathetic that manliness is somehow equated to hyper-caloric, unhealthy eating?

January 25, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin B17

Yesterday I attended a talk by wellness coach who talked about vitamin B17 and its cancer curing properties.

This person was saying the government knows about B17's ability to cure cancer

I had never heard of it before and thought it was all sounded a little weird.

Are you familiar with it?

-- Deborah Yee
(Location withheld)

Oh dear.

"Vitamin B17" does not exist.

This all goes back to a gentleman named Ernest Krebs Jr., who in the early 1950s claimed that a chemical compound found mainly in apricot pits (known as laetrile) could cure cancer.

Seeing a potential profitable market, Krebs later contended that laetrile was actually vitamin B17 (despite the fact that laetrile does not have the necessary qualities from a chemical or molecular standpoint to be called a vitamin).

Despite federal lawsuits contending that these claims were false, laetrile continued to be sold in some health food stores (sometimes as "Vitamin B17.")

Fast forward to the early 1970s and you have G. Edward Griffin publishing a book titled World Without Cancer in which he claimed the terminal disease is caused by a vitamin B17 deficiency.

According to Griffin, this knowledge had been kept hidden from the general public due to massive conspiracies.

Quite a silly statement, considering that the first laetrile nonsense was first made public in the 1950s.

Scientific studies on laetrile make it absolutely clear that there is not one single reason to believe it has anything to do with cancer prevention.

However, some believers of this science fiction affirm that seven apricot seeds a day "guarantee a cancer free life." An absolutely shameful and false claim.

So-called "experts" on B17 claim that Alaskan Eskimos and Pakistani Hunza communities have high intakes of this "vitamin," thereby "explaining" why there are no recorded cases of cancer among their people.

That is another blatantly false statement, as scientific literature has recorded instances of cancer cases among those groups of people.

What raises my quackery red flag even more is that a look at the supposed list of foods "high in B17" (which consists only of plant foods and includes blueberries, peaches, and pears) does not in any way resemble your standard Eskimo diet.

Your question demonstrates precisely why people should be ware of credentials like "wellness coach." That is often a self-appointed title that does not guarantee expertise on -- or even basic knowledge of -- nutrition or human health.

January 24, 2009

In The News: Your Move, Minnesota

I'm crossing my fingers that parallel proposals -- to ban trans fats and provide nutritional information on menus -- currently making the rounds in Minneapolis and St. Paul become a reality in the near future.

Although there are no plans for for state-wide implementation of these public health nutrition policies, it's still quite exciting to see them pop up in more cities across the United States with each passing month.

For the record, "sixty-three percent of Minnesotans are either overweight or obese, according to the Department of Health."

The Minneapolis and St. Paul proposals, like most other cities', "affect only restaurant chains with 15 or more establishments."

I take issue with such distinctions.

Why should a fast food chain with 11 establishments not be held accountable?

And why should an order of fries containing 4 grams of trans fat be granted immunity if it is served at a "mom and pop" restaurant?

You Ask, I Answer: Sugar/Fruit

You often say that "sugar is sugar" when talking about calories from white sugar, brown sugar, or evaporated cane juice.

But then you point out that a Lara bar is a healthy snack choice because it has no added sugar.

They are made with dates, though, which have sugar.

So if "sugar is sugar," why don't you say that a Lara bar is essentially the same thing as a Snickers?

-- Raymond (last name withheld)

Brooklyn, NY

The three sweeteners you mention in your first sentence are commonly referred to as "empty calories."

This means they contribute nothing but calories to our diets. There are no "redeeming qualities" to them. Not only do they not offer a single vitamin or mineral, they also don't do anything in the way of satiety.

That is precisely why 600-calories of soda don't fill you up anywhere near as much as 600 calories of a meal containing some fat, protein, and fiber.

(Slight tangent: a semi-exception can be made for pure maple syrup in the 'mineral' category, since a single tablespoon provides a third of the daily value of manganese.)

In any case, snack bars made with dates -- such as Lara -- are different from bars that tack on extra calories via a sweetener.

The dates in these bars contribute naturally-occurring sugars which co-exist with potassium, fiber, and many phytochemicals and antioxidants in that fruit.

While brown sugar and white sugar are identical from a nutritional standpoint, those two sugars are nutritionally inferior to fresh or dry fruit.

Hence, a Lara bar and a Snickers bar are worlds apart.

The Snickers bar gets a large portion of its calories from sugar and certainly does not provide the same amount of potassium, fiber, or phytochemicals as its date-based counterpart.

This is why I would love food labels to differentiate between naturally occurring versus added sugars.

A Lara bar might seem to have almost as much sugar as a Snickers bar, but we are talking about two very different sources of sweetness.

January 23, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: "50 Worst Foods" List

What do you think about this list of 50 foods with almost zero nutritional value linked to on Serious Eats' Twitter page?

-- Kristin (last name withheld)
(Location withheld)

I have many, many problems with it.

Not only does it not present particularly new information, it is also poorly written and makes a significant number of inaccurate statements and sweeping generalizations.

For example:

"Potato Chips are fried and packed with tons of preservatives to keep them fresh for months."

Not quite. Many potato chips are made up of simply potatoes, oil, and salt (salt being the preservative!).

Therefore, it is absolutely inaccurate to say they are packed with "tons" of preservatives.

Additionally, while potato chips do not offer as much nutrition as a baked potato with its skin on, your typical serving does contain as much potassium as a medium banana.

This list also claims that pasta has "zero nutritional value".

Not so! Non-whole grain pasta may not be very high in fiber, but it still contains protein as well as some B vitamins and iron (as a result of enrichment.)

It is ridiculous to claim that a food with that sort of nutritional profile has "almost zero" nutritional value.

Then there's this odd inclusion:

"Fried seafood like shrimp, clams, and lobster contain high trans fat. They also contain mercury and possibly parasites."

Awkward phrasing aside, this is plain wrong.

Trans fat is only an issue if those foods are fried in an oil high in trans fats. As far as mercury is concerned, it is the large predatory fish that are a concern, not bottom-of-the-sea dwellers.

And as far as parasites are concerned -- that may be an issue from a food safety perspective depending on how these foods are eaten (although who eats raw lobster??), but that has nothing to do with the nutritional quality of a food.

How about this vague tidbit:

"Breakfast or cereal bars are low in fat but high in sugar. They offer very little in vitamins, minerals, and fiber."

This greatly varies on the brand. Many cereal bars offer 4 or 5 grams of fiber, little added sugar, and a handful of vitamins and minerals.

Another example that left me scratching my head:

"Oreo Cookies contain about 60% of fat and extremely high in Tran's [sic] fat. The filling packs on an additional 160 calories per cookie."

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

First of all, a single Oreo cookie contains 53 calories. The "Double Stuf" variety adds up to 70 calories per cookie. Hence, this notion that the filling alone contains 160 calories is absolutely off-base.

It is also inaccurate to claim that Oreos are "extremely high in trans fats."

Although partially hydrogenated oil is included on the ingredient list, the food label lists 0 grams per serving. This means that, at most, Oreos contain 0.4 grams of trans fat per serving (for all we know, it could be 0.09 grams).

I do not consider that to be "extremely high."

I could go on and on. Alas, I can't fathom why a website like Serious Eats would find that list worthy of linking to.

Numbers Game: A Little Too Much-O

Del Taco's "Macho" bacon-and-egg breakfast burrito (pictured at right) starts the morning off with _____ calories, _____ percent of a day's worth of saturated fat, and _____ percent of a day's worth of sodium.

a) 1,200/76/91
b) 1,030/100/73
c) 980/62/84

d) 870/120/67

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

January 22, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Cilantro

I have heard that something in cilantro is supposed to help prevent food borne illness?

-- Kristin
(via the blog)

A few years ago, food scientists discovered a compound in cilantro (this includes fresh leaves as well seeds, more commonly known as coriander) called dodecenal which was found to be quite effective at killing the Salmonella virus.

That is not to say, however, that cilantro guarantees you a foodborne illness-free meal.

Turns out you need to eat the same amount (weight wise) of cilantro as the offending food to offset food poisoning.

So, if your six-ounce chicken breast contains salmonella, you would theoretically need to eat six ounces of cilantro to experience any protective effects.

A fun fact, nevertheless!

You Ask, I Answer: Palm Fruit Oil/Vegan Baking

What's your take on palm fruit oil in general, and spreads like Earth Balance in particular?

I'm interested in trying vegan baking, but I want to keep my saturated fat intake low.

The Earth Balance Web site makes palm fruit oil sound like health food, but I'm

What do you think?

-- Lisa (last name withheld)

Phoenix, AZ

Although palm fruit oil is a healthier choice than palm kernel oil (I am amazed at how often people interchange the two!), I wouldn't classify it as a health food.

Whereas 85 percent of palm kernel oil's are saturated, palm fruit oil's fat content is divided 50/50 between saturated fats and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Additionally, palm fruit oil provides higher levels of vitamin E than palm kernel oil. This is significant since one of vitamin E's roles consists of inhibiting LDL cholesterol oxidation (believed to be a considerable risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease.)

Even though palm fruit oil is one of the healthier trans-fat-free vegan alternatives for baking, you can still take further steps to decrease the amount of saturated fat in your recipes.

One of the best things you can do is substitute some of Earth Balance called for in a recipe with applesauce.

Applesauce makes for a perfect fat substitute since it cuts calories while providing a good deal of moistness (low-fat baking that simply cuts fat without using a suitable replacement tends to be dry and dense.)

Luckily, you don't need to do any math in your head -- it is a 1:1 swap!

If, for instance, your recipe calls for one cup of Earth Balance, I would recommend using half a cup of Earth Balance and a half cup of applesauce (even a 60/40 ratio would be fine.)

Have fun with your vegan creations!

PS: In the accompanying image, the palm kernel is the white center; the surrounding orange-colored fleshy part is the actual palm fruit.

Numbers Game: Answer

According to statistics from the World Health Organization, low intake of fruits and vegetables is estimated to be the major factor behind 19 percent of gastrointestinal cancer cases and 31 percent of ischaemic heart disease in the world.

In their World Health Report -- a highly reputable summary of several facets of global health, including nutrition -- The World Health Organization specifies that "low fruit and vegetable intake is among the top 10 risk factors contributing to attributable mortality."

This 2002 Danish study published in Public Health Nutrition goes further into detail on this matter.

This is why I like to think of meeting your daily vegetable servings as a contribution to your nutritional retirement account!

The earlier you start and the more you contribute to it, the better off you are more likely to be in your later years.

January 21, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Salmonella in Peanut Butter

Okay, [I always thought] salmonella is usually [related to eating] eggs or meat.

Peanut butter is primarily three things: peanuts, oil, salt.

Sometimes [they add] sugar or another sweetener.

How, then, does salmonella end up in peanut butter?

-- Corey Clark

(Location withheld)

The ingredient list can even be shorter! Remember, many brands of peanut butter consist of nothing but peanuts.

Your question -- which is excellent, by the way -- is one that many food safety experts are asking themselves (while vividly remembering the eerily similar E.Coli-infested spinach outbreak of 2007.)

Part of the issue here is that the United States does not have one central agency overseeing issues of food safety.

Consequently, sources of contamination are hard to track and contain.

Additionally, most of the focus on food safety (from random inspections to consistent monitoring) is relegated to meat processing plants, as they are considered "high risk" operations.

In short, the vague answer to your question is: "unsanitary plant conditions."

This could mean anything from animal feces somehow ending up in the peanut butter (think a bird or two somehow getting inside the facility) or dirty equipment being used in the processing of peanut butter.

What is practically a given is that the contamination had to have occurred after the roasting and grinding process (both of these use extremely high temperatures that kill all strands of the salmonella virus.)

You Ask, I Answer: Caffeine and Pregnancy

My friend and I are both pregnant, but the advice we have gotten about caffeine [intake] during our pregnancy is very different.

My doctor was vague. He said that caffeine "once in a while" was okay.

Her doctor said she should refrain from having any.

Isn't that too strict?

-- Marcia (last name withheld)

(location withheld)

Unless there are specific conditions that put your friend at a high risk for miscarrying, I am not sure I understand the reasoning behind the "completely abstain from caffeine" recommendation.

Although liberal consumption is not recommended for pregnant women, it is believed they can safely consume up to 200 milligrams of caffeine per day without placing their developing fetus' health at risk (the main concerns being a higher risk for miscarriages as well as problems with cellular development).

Sticking to less than 200 milligrams of caffeine each day isn't really too difficult.

A 12 ounce can of Coca Cola, for instance, only contains 35 milligrams.

Your average 8 ounce cup of green tea adds 50 milligrams to your day, and a 16 ounce latte (that's "grande" if you speak Starbucks) clocks in at 150 milligrams.

For those who like a stronger cup of Joe, the average 8 ounce cup of percolated coffee clocks in at anywhere from 130 to 200 milligrams of caffeine.

Other sources -- like coffee ice cream or a chocolate bar -- offer very little caffeine (anywhere from 10 to 25 milligrams per serving.)

January 20, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Dunkin' Donuts Healthier Options

Dunkin' Donuts recently came out with their new line of "DDSmart" options.

I am wondering what you think of them.

-- Dennise O'Grady

Bay Head, NJ

Dunkin' Donuts defines its DDSmart options as those that are "reduced in calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar, or sodium by at least 25 percent compared to base product or other appropriate reference product" and/or "contain ingredients that are nutritionally beneficial."

Technically, then, a 600 calorie muffin laden with sugar and saturated fat could be labeled "DDSmart" if it meets criteria #2 (healthful ingredients) by adding a sprinkle of ground flaxseed.

In essence, they are setting up guidelines that enable them to label some not-so-great options as "DDSmart."

This is why corporate, self-imposed nutrition criteria is always slightly suspect.

Consider, for instance, the inclusion of a 450 calorie blueberry muffin. It's a "DDSmart" option simply because it contains a quarter less fat than a traditional blueberry muffin.

What you aren't being told is that there is only a sixty calorie difference between the two muffins.

Dunkin' Donuts is counting on people to think "oh, it's a low fat muffin! It must be low-calorie, too!"

This nebulous advertising clearly demonstrates why calorie labeling is so crucial.

Another odd DDSmart choice? The egg and cheese English muffin, which provides a quarter of a day's worth of saturated fat and a third of the sodium daily limit.

If healthful ingredients is what they are looking for, why not at least bump the fiber content up by using 100% whole wheat English muffins?

The least offensive item -- apart from low-calorie coffees made with skim milk -- is the egg white and vegetable flatbread sandwich.

The multigrain bread contains some whole wheat flour and the entire sandwich clocks in at 290 calories. Still, you're looking at 680 milligrams of sodium.

The smartest thing you can do is not depend on fast food companies for your daily breakfast needs.

You Ask, I Answer: Skim vs. 2% Milk

I'm still confused about which kind [of milk] to buy.

[Reduced fat, or 2%] tastes better than skim, but is it too high in fat for daily consumption?

-- Anonymous
Via the blog

"Reduced fat" (2%) milk isn't really that high in total fat.

An eight-ounce cup of it contains 123 calories and five grams of fat.

This certainly isn't as high as the 13.5 grams of fat in a tablespoon of olive oil or the 164 calories and 14.3 grams of fat in a serving of almonds.

The main concern with reduced fat and whole milk is the amount of saturated, not total, fat.

Whereas that serving of almonds I mentioned above only provides 1.1 grams of saturated fat, the cup of reduced fat milk contains 3.1 grams of saturated fat.

That said, I think there is too much milk hysteria.

It is one thing to worry about using whole milk in a 24 ounce latte (where half the beverage consists of milk).

However, someone who only drinks one cup of coffee with two tablespoons of milk in it each day should not be that worried about the type of milk they use.

Consider the facts below:

Two tablespoons of skim milk contain 12 calories and 0.1 grams of saturated fat.

Two tablespoons of reduced fat (2%) milk contain 16 calories and 0.4 grams of saturated fat.

Two tablespoons of whole milk contain 19 calories and 0.6 grams of saturated fat.

That is one situation where I suggest using two tablespoons of whatever milk you like best, since the differences are rather minimal.

Additionally, if someone is already cutting calories, drinking their sole cup of coffee with whole -- rather than skim -- milk may help feel less deprived and, therefore, stay more motivated with the rest of their new eating regimen.

January 19, 2009

In The News: Get In Shape! Yes, Sir!

Here's one example of childhood and adolescent obesity having consequences one might not initially think of: "the Army has been dismissing so many overweight applicants that its top recruiter, trying to keep troop numbers up in wartime, is considering starting a program to transform chubby trainees into svelte soldier,"reports The Washington Post.

Obesity tops the list of reasons preventing applicants from entering the military -- more so than "a lack of a GED or high school diploma, misconduct or criminal behavior, and other health issues such as eye or ear problems."

Recruiters estimate that 30 percent of all applicants are considered, pardon the pun, "unfit" as a result of their overweight or obese status.

And it's not just the military feeling this crunch -- firefighting department across the country are finding themselves with an increasingly larger number of young, overweight applicants unable to pass the necessary fitness tests.

And so come to the usual question: how do we remedy this situation?

We know that obesity is a multi-layered issue that calls, among other things, targeted public policy, education, and access to healthy foods.

In the meantime, how about mandatory physical education through twelfth grade?

The "stay active" part of the formula appears to be missing in too many places.

January 18, 2009

In The News: The Chopsticks Diet

Japanese chef Kimiko Barber's The Chopsticks Diet is the latest weight-loss book to hit bookstore shelves in England.

Part of the logic behind the book is that, as the author told London's Daily Telegraph, "the human brain takes 20 minutes to register what the stomach contains, so using chopsticks slows a person's consumption, leaving them feeling satisfied while eating less."

True, but there are a few caveats.

All of the recipes in the book are high in fiber and low in calories, making them suitable for weight loss whether eaten with a fork or chopsticks.

So, really, what we have is what the majority of diet books are: tried and true, decades-old advice wrapped in a new and shiny cover.

Although the advice of slowing down by eating with chopsticks makes sense within the context of, say, obscene large portions of fried rice or noodle dishes, it is not applicable to the main sources of excess calories in people's diets (try having soda, ice cream, or chips with chopsticks.)

It's also important to be aware of what you are putting between those chopsticks. Sushi rolls with tempura (fried) fish and globs of mayonnaise are no recipe for weight loss!

Numbers Game: Global Nutrition

According to statistics from the World Health Organization, low intake of fruits and vegetables is estimated to be the major factor behind ______ percent of gastrointestinal cancer cases and _______ percent of ischaemic heart disease in the world.

a) 14/22

b) 41/8

c) 19/31

d) 22/26

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

January 17, 2009

You Ask, I Aswer: Kefir

[For whatever reason,] it seems that the only dairy I can somehow tolerate is kefir.

Is it simply liquefied yogurt?

-- Dennise O'Grady

Bay Head, NJ

There's a rather simple explanation as to why kefir is the only dairy you can somehow tolerate -- it contains a significant number of probiotic bacteria that help break down lactose!

Probiotic bacteria is the same reason why people who can not tolerate milk can often enjoy yogurt with active cultures.

That said, kefir and yogurt are two different foods.

Unlike yogurt, kefir contains kefir grains (which house all that healthy bacteria), which are then left to ferment in milk.

Although plain kefir is a healthy addition to a diet thanks to its share of calcium and potassium, beware of "kefir-based" ready-to-drink smoothies which contain teaspoon upon teaspoon of added sugars (AKA extra calories).

Numbers Game: Answer

The surface area of an average dinner plate in the United States increased 36 percent from 1960 to 2005.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink.

This is particularly problematic for "visual eaters" for whom the amount of food on a plate plays a role in their psychological satiety, as well as for those individuals cutting calories.

A lower-calorie eating plan in and of itself is a big enough enough adjustment for most people; seeing large plates with small amounts of food on them certainly doesn't help matters.

I know from my own experience, for example, that a single scoop of ice cream looks paltry in a soup bowl, but just right when served in a coffee cup.

The times when I have scooped ice cream into a soup bowl, I always end up piling on another scoop because that bowl seems empty!

Take a look at the image accompanying this post. Doesn't the plate on the left make you feel somewhat less satisfied than the one on the right?

Imagine the following. You are on a buffet line, filling your plate with food.

Isn't it very probable that since a larger plate holds more food, you are more likely to pile more food on it than if you were provided with a smaller plate?

And, going off of Brian Wansink's research that it is very easy to lose track of calories when large amounts of food are sitting in front of us, isn't it also very probable that the use of a larger plate is very likely to result in a higher caloric intake?

I certainly think so.

Just one more factor to consider when thinking about weight management.

January 16, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Serving Sizes

I looked at the nutrition label for Jif To Go and I am extremely confused.

The label lists two serving sizes.

One is for the whole cup, [which contains] 390 calories.

The [other serving size is for] "1/2 cup (32g)" which has 190 calories.

Okay, fine. But then I look at the regular standard jar of Jif peanut butter, and its label says:"2 Tablespoons(32g)=190 calories

[What I can't understand] is how, according to these two labels, a half cup of peanut butter weighs as much as two tablespoons?

-- Corey Clark

(location withheld)

Ah, good ol' serving size puzzles.

Let's work this one out.

The "1 cup" mentioned on the Jif-to-Go food label is not a literal 1 cup measurement, but rather refers to container (AKA "cup") of Jif-to-Go, which contains four tablespoons of peanut butter.

In other words, one Jif to Go cup (notice my wording -- it is very different from saying "a cup of Jif To Go") contains a quarter cup of peanut butter.

Therefore, half a container of Jif To Go offers the standard two-tablespoon serving you see on peanut butter jars.

Dizzy yet?

You Ask, I Answer: Olive Oil Regulations

Your post on the adulteration of olive oil freaks me out as I had no idea about this.

I recently mentioned this to a friend who told me that she didn't quite buy into this.

[She said] food was tested and regulated by the government.

[Since that] post is from a year ago, [do you have] any updates, Andy?

-- Dennise O'Grady

Bay Head, NJ

I'm afraid there aren't many updates to that posting.

The United States still has not joined the International Olive Oil Council, and olive oil adulteration is alive and well throughout the world.

I'm not too sure what your friend isn't buying into. After all, The Food & Drug Administration performs random tests on olive oil entering the United States.

Adulterated oils making their way in from abroad -- and being produced nationally! -- is not a far-fetched idea.

There simply are not enough resources to test every single bottle. Hence, high-profile cases of olive oil adulteration come to light once these products are on supermarket shelves -- NOT when they arrive to US shores.

Additionally, dishonest manufacturers know how to play the game.

They know how to make these lower-quality oils pass as genuine olive oil in the administered tests. That is precisely why many olive oil experts are calling for more detailed biochemical examination of samples.

Olive oil adulteration is not an undocumented urban legend.

Your friend might be interested in reading this. Or this. And this.

In the meantime, if this is a concern for you, I recommend purchasing your olive oil from any of the California Olive Oil Council's approved producers.

You Ask, I Answer: Rice Paper/Summer Rolls

One of my favorite Thai appetizers is summer rolls.

I notice that the rice paper they use to make them is chewy and dense.

Is that because it has a lot of fat in it?

-- Virginia Alston
New York, NY

I share your sentiment, Virginia. I can't go to a Thai restaurant and not order summer rolls!

Not only are they delicious (the ones I had tonight were filled with lettuce, mango, avocado, carrot, cucumber, and cilantro), but also healthy.

Unlike spring rolls, summer rolls are not deep fried. Instead, all the ingredients are simply enclosed in rice paper.

Apart from being a tasty way to add some vegetables to your day, you also get some heart-healthy monounsaturated fat if they contain avocado or are accompanied by a peanut sauce dip.

Your average appetizer order of summer rolls provides a mere 45 to 50 calories from the rice paper alone.

About 95 percent of these calories are derived from carbohydrates.

For comparison purposes, one medium sheet of rice paper contains a third of the carbohydrates in one regular slice of bread.

The reason behind its chewiness is not lots of fat, but the inclusion of tapioca.

The other ingredients are simply rice flour, water, and a pinch of salt.

January 15, 2009

In The News: Vitamin Water Called To The Mat

Less than two hours ago, Reuters reported that The Center for Science in the Public Interest "filed a class action lawsuit against Coca-Cola Co, accusing the company of making deceptive health claims about its Vitamin Water beverages."

Can't say I disagree.

It is precisely Vitamin Water's cutesy and health-oriented advertising that has resulted in "I don't drink soda" types buying into what is, essentially, vitamin-fortified sugar water.

For more information on this beverage, please read this "You Ask/I Answer" post
from August of 2007.

Coca Cola, meanwhile, is dismissing this as an attention-seeking move by CSPI, claiming their nutrition facts label tells an accurate tale.

Okay, but that is not what CSPI is challenging.

Rather, it is "the company's claims [that] the drinks reduce the risk of chronic disease and eye disease, promote healthy joints and support immune function" that are being called out as deceptive.

There is also the issue of the particular names attributed to each flavor (including "defense", "energy", and "rescue").

Obviously, Vitamin Water depends on those healthy-sounding terms for sales.

Otherwise, their fruit punch flavor would simply be named "fruit punch" rather than "revive."

I strongly support more regulation surrounding health claims on these types of products. What are your thoughts?

You Ask, I Answer: White Vegetables

Last night there was a nutritionist on the news talking about how the more color a vegetable has, the healthier it is for you.

For example, she recommended buying peppers that are dark red instead of light red.

Does all this mean that white vegetables (like cauliflowers and onions) have the least amount of nutrients?

-- Damian Handster
(location withheld)

Not at all.

Many people erroneously think that white is not a color -- it most certainly is!

Therefore, white vegetables offer many health benefits.

Onions and garlic, for instance, contain organosulfur compounds that appear promising for blood pressure and reduced blood clotting.

Cauliflower is in the same family of vegetables as broccoli, meaning it is also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and folatee.

Like broccoli, cauliflower also contains glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that have been shown to help decrease the risk of certain cancers.

Turnips, another white vegetable, also provide their share of nutrition.

And don't forget mushrooms -- the white button variety offers a wider variety of phytonutrients and antioxidants than cremini or portabella.

January 14, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Reduced Fat Milk

I'm REALLY confused.

I know that "reduced fat" milk is a newer term for what used to be called "2 percent" milk, but why was it called 2 percent?

I can't figure it out!
If you look at the nutrition label on a carton of "reduced fat" milk, it says that one cup has 123 calories and 5 grams of fat, which equals 8 percent of the Daily Value of fat.

So how did they ever get the "2 percent" figure?

-- Helen Berry
Seattle, WA

Your question perfectly demonstrates some of the reasoning behind the 1998 milk name-change -- most people had no clue what "two percent" meant!

Or, if they did, they were incorrect (i.e.: thinking each cup of "two percent" milk only contained "two percent" of the daily value of fat.)

Alas, the two percent figure is the product of dividing the grams of fat per serving by the total grams of everything (the rest of what is in milk, including protein, carbohydrates, and water) in that same serving.

Using real numbers, you simply divide the 5 grams of total fat in one cup of reduced-fat milk by the 244 grams of everything that make up that cup of reduced-fat milk and you get the magical 2 percent figure.

A useless figure, as far as I'm concerned. Daily Values are far more informative -- and important.

You Ask, I Answer: Protein Bars

I eat Zone Perfect Dark Chocolate nutrition bars, mainly for the protein intake but also because compared to most other Zone bars, they seemed to be less plentiful in sugar content and higher in protein.

However, I am now wondering if these are not the best option for me?
I eat one about an hour prior to walking/running.

Sometimes I follow up my walks/runs with some light weights, so I feel like I need the protein more on those days.

Are there other nutrition bars that I should be eating for protein instead?

-- Annemarie F.
(location withheld)

I would much rather you choose a different pre-workout snack, for a variety of reasons.

A Zone bar is basically a candy bar with a little extra protein as well and a variety of vitamins and minerals tacked on so it can be advertised as containing "19 vitamins and minerals."

In theory, the same could be said for Doritos if Frito Lay decided to fortify their nacho cheese flavored chips.

I much prefer you get nutrients from foods that naturally contain them.

Keep in mind, too, that a single dark chocolate Zone bar has as much sugar as three Oreo cookies.

As far as pre-workout foods go, they should be high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat. Hence, a Zone protein bar isn't the best choice.

The key is to choose high-quality carbohydrates. Refined varieties that offer little nutrition (pretzels, Skittles, animal crackers, etc.) are not the best options.

However, something like an apple, a tangerine, a handful of baby carrots, some plain oatmeal prepared with water, or a toasted slice of 100% whole grain bread are good snacks to eat 45 - 60 minutes before exercising.

Even if you do some weight training, protein is a nutrient that better suited after exercise, not directly before.

Ideally, a post-exercise food should contain a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

Some examples here would be two or three celery stalks with a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter or one low-fat mozarella string cheese accompanied by a handful of grapes.

The important thing is to always keep caloric intake in mind.

Too many times I see people doing light exercise (i.e: walking at a fast pace on a treadmill for twenty minutes) and erroneously thinking that has to be followed up by a high-calorie protein shake that doesn't accomplish much (other than tack on a few hundred calories).

When it comes to optimal nutrition, think "real food" first.

As far as I'm concerned, Zone bars belong in the "sweet treat" category.

In The News: Coming To A Supermarket Near You.... Health Foods??

I can't help but roll my eyes at the news of "a start-up that helps pharmaceutical companies discover new drugs [signing] a deal with Kraft Foods Inc. to help develop foods that offer specific health benefits."

I'm assuming this means that certain phytochemicals naturally found in certain fruits and vegetables or lignans in flaxseed might possibly be tacked on to Oreos or ready-to-eat mac and cheese.

What this is supposed to accomplish -- other than provide higher profit margins for Kraft -- beats me.

If health foods are what people seek, how about starting out with the produce -- rather than cookie -- aisle of their supermarket?

January 13, 2009

In The News: Vitamin Zzzzzz...

I have recently received a handful of e-mails asking for nutrition-related immunity-boosting tips to prevent -- or fight off already existing -- colds.

Would an extra glass of orange juice help? What about some yogurt with probiotics? Zinc lozenges?

My answer is usually the same: "The most important you can do is get sufficient sleep. Zinc capsules and vitamin C do not override exhaustion."

Alas, The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting on a study that reveals just how important sleep is for fighting off colds.

Lead author Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University confirms that "the longer you sleep, the better off you are [and] the less susceptible you are to colds."

Volunteer subjects were handsomely paid to "have cold viruses sprayed up their noses, then wait five days in a hotel to see if they got sick."

I hope it was a five-star one with all perks included!

Since sleep is one of the top immunity boosters, it is not too surprising that "the people who slept less than seven hours a night in the weeks before they were exposed to the virus were three times more likely to catch a cold than those who slept eight hours or more."

In The News: Flushing Out The Facts

Unfortunately, detox craziness isn't limited to the United States.

Over in Australia, these programs are also heavily promoted at the beginning of every year, hoping to empty out the wallets of gullible individuals high on New Year's resolutions of weight loss and overall health.

The Sydney Morning Herald briefly touches on them in a short article brilliantly titled "Put Down Detox Kit, Let Body Do Its Thing."

In it, one professor of complementary medicine at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology mentions that "there have been no robust clinical trials of any detox programs," and thinks "detox is more sales pitch than science."

My kind of guy!

Meanwhile, Simone Strasser, "a liver specialist and chairwoman of the Digestive Health Foundation, said the liver, kidneys and colon effectively converted toxic substances into harmless byproducts and flushed chemicals out through urination and sweating."

Music to my ears.

Numbers Game: Objects on Plate May Be Larger Than They Appear

The surface area of an average dinner plate in the United States increased ______ percent from 1960 to 2005.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink.

a) 9

b) 17
c) 28
d) 36

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

You Ask, I Answer: Celery & Negative Calories

Does celery really have negative calories?

Ted Allen's new show Food Detectives recently tackled this question.

They claim [it is true, since]the process of digesting the "tough to digest" fiber present in celery takes more calories than the 8 calories per stalk of celery.

-- Nicole (last name withheld)
Alberta, Canada

I disagree.

Although cellulose (the "tough to digest" fiber the show refers to) can not be broken down by humans, it does not make celery a "calorie-negative" food.

The Mayo Clinic specifically looked into this nine years ago and concluded that celery does not result in negative calorie deficit.

Simply put, its thermic effect (the amount of energy it takes for the body to digest it) does not surpass its caloric content, especially given that its thermic effect burns approximately 0.5 calories.

Even if celery was discovered to be a negative calorie food, it wouldn't be a life-changing discovery.

If each stalk resulted in a two calorie deficit, that would mean it would take 25 stalks of it (plain -- no dips allowed!) to simply burn an additional 50 calories.

Or, you could quickly slash 50 calories from your day by replacing your standard Starbucks Venti beverage with a Grande, or starting off your morning with a medium orange rather than a cup of orange juice.

January 12, 2009

Another Dark Side of Lighting Up

Many discussions on the health effects of cigarette smoking leave out a very important fact -- it can speed up the development of osteoporosis.

Several studies -- here is one example -- have found a link between cigarette consumption and decreased bone density.

Although one could argue that it may be behaviors and lifestyle choices common in smokers (i.e.: lack of physical activity) and not cigarettes themselves that may be the actual cause, there is no denying that smoking in and itself has a detrimental effect on bone health.

Nicotine, for example, inhibits calcitonin, a hormone that inhibits the dissolution of bone tissue.

Additionally, the massive amounts of free radicals created by smoking decrease levels of estrogen, consequently accelerating bone loss in women.

You Ask, I Answer: Raw Honey

I thought that the claims about honey being an "immune enhancer" were referring primarily to raw/unprocessed honey.

Is there enough difference between processed and unprocessed honey to make a difference?

-- Kristin

Via the blog

The topic of raw honey is quite convoluted.

For one, there is no legal definition of what raw honey is, meaning there is no set of criteria manufacturers must meet to label their honey as "raw."

The consensus among raw honey enthusiasts, however, is that raw honey is completely unfiltered and unheated, and sold as it exists in the beehive (wax and the occasional bee leg included).

Apart from offering a much different taste from the honey sold in conventional supermarkets, advocates claim raw honey is healthier due to the presence of pollen and living enzymes.

This is where the "unheated" part becomes controversial. After all, raw honey crystallizes and must be heated in order to liquify for consumption.

The raw honey crowd claims this is irrelevant, since
they make sure not to heat raw honey past the 105 degrees Fahrenheit mark (the "magic number" for raw foodists, since this is the temperature where the enzymes they so desperately crave are killed.)

Let's discuss.

First up, pollen. Raw honey-ers believe the flower pollen found in local raw honey is great for allergy control, as it allows the consumer to create a tolerance -- and not develop allergies to -- local pollen.

However, the vast majority of pollen allergies in humans relate to grass, not flowers.

As far as living enzymes in raw honey, I simply don't see the relevance to human nutrition.

Enzymes creates by bees don't play any role in human physiology or metabolism.

Besides, enzymes are proteins, so they get broken down during digestion anyway.

For what it's worth, this small, 36-subject study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in 2002 didn't find any difference between raw honey and a placebo when treating symptoms of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis.

January 11, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Almond Milk

I am trying out almond milk and wondering why calcium is listed [on the nutrition label] as 0% [per serving] when it is made from almond base made from almonds.

What are your thoughts about almond milk, anyway?

-- Dennise O'Grady
Bay Head, NJ

"Almond base" is basically a combination of almonds and water.

In order to save money, many companies that sell almond milk use a pretty high water to almond ratio.

Consider the following: 23 almonds contain 7% of the Daily Value calcium.

Thereby, if your brand of almond milk contains zero percent of the calcium Daily Value per serving, it's fair to conclude that each serving probably contains two or three actual almonds (eleven almonds provide 3.3 percent of the Daily Value, 6 almonds provide 1.82 percent, and three almonds provide .91 percent.)

Almond butter, meanwhile, lists almond as its sole ingredient.

It is no surprise, then, to see that two tablespoons provide ten percent of the calcium daily value (this means that it takes approximately 35 almonds to make two tablespoons of almond butter!)

My thoughts on almond milk aren't particularly strong either way.

I enjoy the taste quite a bit myself, but I wouldn't suggest that anyone specifically seek it out or avoid it.

I do, however, recommend that people choose varieties fortified with calcium and vitamin D, particularly if they are vegan.