February 28, 2009

Numbers Game: Answer

92 to 98 percent of peak bone mass (the period by which all bone formation occurs) is achieved by age 20.

High peak bone density is one factor that helps decrease the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures later in life.

This is precisely why having adequate intakes of calcium -- as well as being physically active -- during childhood and adolescence is crucial.

The more "bone healthy" the diet is during childhood and adolescence (particularly by consuming sufficient amounts of calcium, vitamin K, vitamin D, phosphorus, and magnesium), the higher peak bone mass levels are.

This is not simply a matter of having your child pop a Flintstones chewable vitamin, though. Whole foods containing these nutrients are far superior sources.

February 27, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Soy Lecithin

What exactly is soy lecithin and why is it added to foods?

Should I be concerned about it?

-- Dennise O'Grady

Bay Head, NJ

Soy lecithin is a byproduct of refined soy or sunflower oils.

It is mainly used as an emulsifier and stabilizer in foods as well as to provide better textures to powdered beverage mixes, salad dressings, and low-fat packaged foods.

You'll usually see soy lecithin at the end of ingredient lists because it is used in such miniscule amounts (usually no more than 1.3 percent of the food product's total weight.)

The Food & Drug Administration places soy lecithin in their list of Generally Recognized as Safe foods.

Interestingly, allergy information is not consistent. Since soy lecithins contain negligible amounts of soy protein, most people with soy allergies can consume them without experiencing any side effects.

There have been, however, scattered reports of allergic reactions.

Some people -- particularly vegans -- like to sprinkle soy lecithin granules over soups, salads, and cereals as a way to add choline to their diet.

Makes sense to me.

The best sources of choline are beef and egg yolks, but a single tablespoon of soy lecithin granules provides half of the daily adequate intake figure (other vegan sources, like peanut butter and cauliflower, contribute anywhere from 6 to 12 percent of adequate intake value per serving).

In The News: That's More Like It

The Los Angeles Times shares encouraging news today -- "Coca-Cola Co. and joint-venture partner Nestle agreed to pay $650,000 in a settlement with 27 states over claims that Enviga green tea burns calories, resulting in weight loss."

If you are not familiar with Enviga, it is a flavored sparkling green tea in the Nestea line of products.

The claim? Drinking three cans per day helps burn anywhere from 60 to 100 calories.

Coca Cola based that claim on the presence of EGCG, an antioxidant in green tea which has been the focus of several metabolic and weight loss studies (here is my take on the research literature.)

The man behind this lawsuit is Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who added that moving forward, "any marketing of Enviga or a similar beverage that uses the terms "the calorie burner," "negative calories" or "drink negative" must clearly disclose that the product doesn't lead to weight loss without diet and exercise."

Small Bites salutes -- and thanks -- you, Mr. Blumenthal.

February 26, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Swimming & Digestion

Since I know you like to tackle myths, I have one I'm curious about.

Should you really wait an hour after eating a meal before you go swimming to prevent cramps?

-- Heidi Conprisi
New York, NY

Ah, one of those old wives' tales that will not go away.

Every Summer I still come across news articles warning beachgoers and pool enthusiasts to avoid the water for at least an hour after enjoying their lunch.

Let's lay this one to rest with some Human Physiology 101.

After a meal, blood is mainly "dispatched" to the digestive area to aid in nutrient absorption.

The "don't swim within an hour after eating a meal" assumes that getting in the water while this is happening leads to cramping.

Not quite. If you are simply immersing yourself in the ocean or engaging in some light swimming in the pool, your body can most certainly handle digestion all while providing blood to the muscles.

Unless you are planning on starting a 10 mile swim as you swallow your last morsel of lunch, there is absolutely no need for concern.

The only thing you may experience if you push yourself too hard -- as with any vigorous physical activity performed minutes after eating -- is an unpleasant queasy feeling.

In The News: Oh, Look... Calories!

CNN is reporting the findings of a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine comparing the efficacy of four diets -- high-carb, low-carb, high-fat, and high-protein.

Although not based on popular diets (the high-protein diet, for instance, does not provide the same distribution of nutrients as Atkins), the four eating plans had their particular distinctions (i.e: one offered 35 percent of calories from protein, while another increased the amount to 65 percent of calories from protein).

The conclusion? "All produced weight loss and improvements in lipids [as well as] reduction in insulin. The key really is that it's calories, not the content of fat or carbohydrates -- just calories," summarizes study co-author Dr. Frank Sacks of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Or, as the study itself beautifully encapsulates it: "reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize."

No matter which of the four diets the 811 overweight participants were on, they all "had a[n average] 750-calorie reduction per day."

Not surprisingly, they all lost weight.

Note that even the higher-in-fat diets followed American Heart Association guidelines (mainly sufficient fiber intakes and limited saturated and trans fat intake).

Let this be even further proof to the "saturated fat is the healthiest fat; everyone is lying to you!" camp that diets rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat do indeed lead to improved lipid profiles and weight loss.

Adding to the uniqueness of this study is that it is one of the few that tracked participants on these diets for two entire years.

How will "calories don't matter, it's all about limiting carbohydrates"enthusiasts explain yet another study showing weight loss can be accomplished while eating a substantial amount of carbohydrates?

You Ask, I Answer: Vegemite

[What can you tell me about] the nutritional content of vegemite?

Is it safe to eat some every day on top of toast, or should I be worried about preservatives/salt/etc?

-- Jade Miller
(location withheld)

Vegemite is a concentrated brewer's yeast extract mixed with spices and malt extract that is quite popular in Australia and New Zealand.

The Brits have their own version known as marmite, which replaces the sweeteners with salt and also adds vegetable extract.

Among connoiseurs, the general consensus is that marmite has a strong flavor.

Anyhow, vegemite offers a mere 9 calories per teaspoon (unless you are very fond of the substance, one teaspoon is all you need to spread on your toast) along with 1 gram of protein and 1 gram of carbohydrates.

It is a very good source of niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, and folate.

There is no need to be concerned with sodium, since that one-teaspoon serving only adds 152 milligrams to your day.

As far as I'm concerned, feel free to spread the vegemite love on your toast each morning!

February 25, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Calorie Discrepancies on Food Labels

Why does the nutritional information on labels of the (seemingly) same product, but from different companies, have different data?

The one that I noticed today was when I bought Hodgson Mill's oatbran.
It says 40 grams has 120 calories, but Mother's oat bran says 40g is 150 calories. Shouldn't these be the same?

They both state that the only ingredient in the box is oat bran.

Another example (that got me started on this) was canned black beans.

Again, the serving side listed on the can is always approximately the same (I've even checked the weight, not just the half cup measurement) and the calories listed can range from 90 to 130, depending on the brand.

Do you know why this is?

I understand that companies have some fudge-room for their nutritionals, but these examples seem like there shouldn't be that much of a difference.

-- Michelle Pope

(location withheld)

Ah, welcome to the twisted maze that is calorie labeling!

This is an excellent question, as it gives significant insight into labeling laws and regulations.

Come on in and sit a spell, though, because this can be initially confusing to the untrained eye.

First of all, remember that calorie figures higher than 50 can be rounded off to the nearest 10-calorie increment.

In other words, if a serving of cereal adds up to 134 calories, it can legally be displayed on the label as 130.

Similarly, a serving containing 156 calories is often shown as 160 calories for simplicity's sake.

Now we get to the more complicated issues.

Although you often see references to carbohydrates containing 4 calories per gram, they technically contain 3.6 calories per gram.

The "4 calories per gram" figure is commonly used -- and referred to everywhere, including this blog -- in order to facilitate in-your-head multiplication and estimation.

Additionally, since protein technically provides 4.2 calories per gram, the logic is that by portraying both those nutrients as containing 4 calories per gram, final estimates are very close to actual totals.

That said, some companies arrive at their calorie totals by allocating 4 calories to each gram of carbohydrate in their food, while others -- and this is completely legal, by the way -- allocate 3.6 calories per gram.

On top of that, all macronutrient figures are rounded off. In other words, a serving of food containing 29.5 grams of carbohydrates shows up as containing 30.

So, company #1 may choose to keep it simple and multiply that rounded figure (30 grams) by the rounded-up "calories per gram" figure (4 calories per gram) and come up with 120 calories.

Meanwhile, company #2 can instead opt to multiply the technical figures (29.5 grams of carbohydrate x 3.6 calories per gram) for a grand total of 106 calories!

Then we have the issue of fiber, which comes into play with both of your food examples.

If food companies choose to, they may leave out grams of carbohydrates from insoluble fibers in their final calculations.

Taking all that into consideration, you can see why the same amount of the same food does not always yield the same food label.

February 24, 2009

Oh, Dear...

It is findings such as these that can lead to substantial discouragement when thinking of school nutrition.

Take a look at this week's lunch menus for a handful of Pennsylvania schools.

Although some are better than others (offering carrot sticks and slices of real fruit), the vast majority of these meals are nutritionally pitiful.

Shouldn't parents send their children off to school with the guarantee that they are being fed relatively well?

Part of the issue here is how the National School Lunch Program defines a "balanced" meal.

The basic criteria is to offer a balanced meal by including all food groups.

However, a meal consisting of chicken nuggets, french fries, peaches in canned syrup, and chocolate milk is considered "balanced" -- the breading in the chicken nuggets counts as a serving of grains, the french fries meet the vegetable requirement, and the sugary peaches are accepted as fruit.

UPDATE: Thank you to Small Bites reader Jasmine for forwarding this February 20 New York Times op-ed piece by Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters that touches on this very topic!

Numbers Game: Critical Point

____ percent of peak bone mass (the period by which all bone formation occurs) is achieved by age 20.

a) 73 - 79
b) 92 - 98

c) 81 - 87

d) 100

Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Saturday for the answer (and to find out how this ties into osteoporosis and fracture risk).

February 23, 2009

Bursting The Bubble

Here's a twist on labeling issues -- sparkling wines masquerading as champagne.

"In December 2006, Congress passed legislation banning the future misuse of 16 wine place names, including Champagne. While that was a step in the right direction, the legislation did not address the grandfathering of labels currently misusing Champagne’s name and that of 15 other international wine regions," the Office of Champagne explains in their official press release.

As a supporter of stricter regulations on food labeling, I empathize.

My most pressing food labeling issue? Trans fats.

Rather than allowing foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving to be advertised as "0 grams of trans fat," I propose they be labeled as "less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving" and, below that, include the following statement: "NOT a trans fat-free food."

Gets the message across more clearly, don't you think?

You Ask, I Answer: Soaking Grains & Phytate Levels

I just ran across a website that advocates soaking or sprouting whole grains prior to using them to neutralize the phytic acid and make the nutrients in the grain more bioavailable.

Since the person blogging about this stuff is NOT a doctor, scientist, or nutritionist of any kind, I wanted to get a second opinion on the value of the methods described/benefits obtained, etc.

The article quotes someone by the name of Sally Fallon, who writes:

Grains require careful preparation because they contain a number of antinutrients that can cause serious health problems. Phytic acid acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in improperly prepared whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss.

Other antinutrients in whole grains include enzyme inhibitors which can inhibit digestion and put stress on the pancreas; irritating tannins; complex sugars which the body cannot break down; and gluten and related hard-to-digest proteins which may cause allergies, digestive disorders and even mental illness.

Is this true or mumbo-jumbo?

-- Kristina Hartman

Concord, NC

It is true that soaking and sprouting grains greatly reduces their phytate content.

However, I don't see any reason to soak grains prior to eating them, and here is why.

Number 1: simply cooking grains reduces their phytate content to some degree.

Keep in mind, too, that when you are cooking whole grains (whether it's brown rice, whole wheat cous cous, or quinoa), they are already immersed in water.

Number 2: phytates cause mineral deficiencies only when the diet is largely made up of grains (as is the case in many third world nations.)

Eating whole grains as part of a diet that also includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, meat/meat alternatives and dairy/daily alternatives is not a health concern.

Lastly, studies have shown that phytates offer some health benefits, including decreasing the risk of certain cancers (mainly colon, cervical, liver, and prostate) by slowing down and inhibiting maturation of cancer cells.

As for "complex sugars the body can not break down" and gluten causing mental illness, I have no clue how the author came to such conclusions.

Some people are allergic to gluten, but that does not make it a dangerous or unhealthy component in food for those who can eat it without experiencing symptoms.

You Ask, I Answer: Tea & Coffee

I've read a lot about the supposed health benefits of tea (especially green) and coffee [in regards to] cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson's disease [risk].

Any hard data on this?

[If so, do the health benefits] apply to all kinds of teas and coffees?

What about decaf varieties?

-- Corey Clark

(location withheld)

There is plenty of data in the scientific literature showing the health benefits of coffee.

Coffee beans contain a wide array of antioxidants, polyphenols, and health-promoting compounds.

Consistent consumption of 16 to 24 ounces of coffee a day has been linked with decreased risk of Parkinson's disease, liver cancer, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, the antioxidants in coffee have been shown to reduce inflammation and inhibit cellular tumor growth.

What these studies basically show is that healthy individuals (these recommendations do not apply to pregnant women) who drink coffee regularly do not need to be concerned with cutting it out of their diet for health reasons.

That said, some percent of the population is sensitive to caffeine, so they are wise to avoid it.

Luckily, both caffeinated AND decaffeinated coffees and teas share the same amount of flavonoids and antioxidants.

Speaking of teas, all varieties (green, white, and black) offer plenty of flavonoids and antioxidants. Herbal teas, however, offer significantly lower amounts.

The biggest issue with these beverages is what people are putting into them (syrups, tablespoon upon tablespoon of sugar, mounds of whipped cream, etc.) that often turns them into calorie, sugar, and fat-laden drinks that do more harm than good.

February 22, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Himalayan Salt

Is Himalayan crystal salt worth the extra money?

Some of the literature claims it is the most nutritious salt in the world since it is all natural and free of preservatives.

-- Lorena Ibarra
(city withheld), FL

The literature you are referring to is written by companies that sell Himalayan salt -- not the most objective source.

I have read some of these pamphlets and the claims make absolutely no sense to me.

Makers of Himalayan salt, for instance, boast that their product contains all 84 chemical elements, lending it a "special harmonic vibration."

This is quite an odd statement, since that figure includes heavy metals like mercury and uranium. I certainly don't want them in my food!

And, what constitutes a "special" hamonic vibration? Who measures that? With what? How? And, above all, "so what?"

The most outlandish claim is that Himalayan salt is preservative-free. No salt has added preservatives because salt in itself is a preservative!

That's as absurd as saying that honey has no added sugar (sweeteners don't have added sugar because they already are a form of sugar.)

Himalayan salt is indeed "all natural." So are poisonous mushrooms.

In short -- salt is salt is salt.

In the case of Himalayan salt, you are looking at sodium chloride (aka table salt) and a small amount of naturally-occurring minerals that lend it a pinkish hue and subtly different flavor.

If you were thinking of purchasing Himalayan salt for health reasons, save your money and buy fresh fruits and vegetables instead.

Numbers Game: Answer

Apple skins contain approximately 65 percent of the fruit's fiber content.

They also contain 100 percent of an apple's quercetin content.

Quercetin is a phytochemical that has been linked with tumor cell inhibition, lower rates of cell proliferation in some cancers, and decreased levels of platelet aggregation (one of the factors behind heart disease.)

This is why I shed a silent tear whenever I see someone peel an apple and only eat the flesh.

FYI: When buying fruits with edible skins, my personal preference is to purchase organic varieties if possible.

Although quercetin can be purchased as a supplement by itself, remember that isolated phytonutrients are nowhere near as effective as when they work in tandem with other phytonutrients and antioxidants.

A medium-sized apple, for example, contains approximately 2,000 phytonutrients!

February 21, 2009

In The News: Opening Up A Can Of... Worms

Did any of you watch 20/20's investigative report on the children of Appalachia two weeks ago?

If not, you can watch it here. Truly eye-opening -- and heartbreaking.

I finally caught up with it last night (thank you, DVR!).

One segment focused on the dental health of children and adolescents in that area; more specifically, the problem of "Mountain Dew mouth."

As a result of extreme soda consumption (Mountain Dew is given to children in sippy cups and considered an ailment for depression), children as young as two years of age are developing cavities.

Some elementary school students have such damaged teeth that the simple act of brushing is painful -- too painful to be accomplished.

In an attempt to help, dentist Edwin Smith spent $150,000 of his savings to turn an 18 wheel truck into a mobile dental clinic.

This segment has set off a firestorm among the nutrition community. All sorts of questions are being asked -- and hotly debated.

Is it accurate to blame soda -- and a specific brand at that -- for cavities?

Or does the lack of dental hygiene awareness and access to dental care set the stage for problems regardless of the types of food eaten?

After all, starchy foods like bread, rice, and crackers are just as likely to increase cavity risk. And many people drink soda and don't get cavities.

What is most interesting is Pepsi's response to this. Make that responses -- three of them!

Here is the first one.

Notice the drastic change in tone in their second statement.

And, finally, here is the short third statement that followed.

As if that wasn't enough, Diane Sawyer gave further updates on Good Morning America last week. The big announcement? PepsiCo. decided to pay for a second mobile clinic.

What role -- if any -- should Pepsi play in this? Is their donation of a second mobile clinic a form of aid or just a publicity stunt for good PR?

What about local and federal government? Should they be involved?

Then we get to the hottest button issue of all. How does this problem begin to get addressed? Education? Policy? Some sort of hybrid?

I'm even more disturbed by the fact that, as a result of mountaintop mining for coal, tap water in much of the Appalachian region is contaminated and undrinkable.

Please weigh in with any opinion(s) you may have.

You Ask, I Answer: Cocoa

I always buy Hershey's Cocoa (natural unsweetened) in the 8 oz. container.

When I asked my husband to get some more, he came home with a package that was more expensive looking and said on the front: Hershey's Cocoa (100% cacao) and in a pretty section, red background, gold letters: "SPECIAL DARK [trademark symbol] A BLEND OF NATURAL AND DUTCHED COCOAS."

The ingredients list for the former product reads: cocoa (there is a U in a circle, no idea what that means).

The new product list reads: cocoa, cocoa processed with alkali.

They do include in the fine print on the side of the package the statement that "...HERSHEY'S SPECIAL DARK Cocoa provides fewer antioxidants than HERSHEY'S Natural Unsweetened Cocoa.)

What is going on?

-- Maria (last name withheld)
(city withheld), AZ

The first distinction that needs to be made here is between cocoa powder and chocolate; too many people get them confused!

In order to make cocoa powder, cocoa beans are first fermented, roasted, and shelled.

Inside that shell are cacao nibs, which undergo a heated grinding process to be converted into a liquid known as chocolate liquor (a misnomer, since it contains no alcohol.)

Chocolate liquor is then divided into cocoa butter and cocoa solids via compression.

The grinding of cocoa solids results in cocoa powder, which is naturally fat-free (as a result of being separated from cocoa butter) and sugar-free.

This is all very different from chocolate -- which, at its most basic, is a combination of cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, milk, and sugar.

Let's now talk about the difference in the two products you mention.

The standard 8-ounce container of cocoa you buy is pure cocoa powder.

The special variety your husband bought is a mixture of the cocoa powder sold in the 8-ounce container and some Dutched cocoa (cocoa powder that is mixed with an alkali in order to remove some of its acidity and bitterness.)

Since the processing of Dutch cocoa results in a loss of antioxidants and flavonoids, the fine print on the "Special Dark" product makes perfect sense.

In order to get the most benefit from the antioxidants and flavonoids in cocoa powder, have it in its natural form.

One suggestion? Make a smoothie with your milk of choice (dairy, soy, nut, etc.), one ripe medium banana, and a tablespoon of cocoa powder.

Or plug in your food processor and try my no-bake "brownie" recipe!

As for that U symbol -- it simply means the product is certified kosher.

In The News: Not-so-Extreme Makeover

The New York Times reports that Snapple is not only changing their tea's label font as well as the shape of their bottles -- they are also axing high fructose corn syrup and replacing it with sugar.

Although both sweeteners are equal from a caloric standpoint, high fructose corn syrup brings other issues to the table -- genetically modified crops, unbalanced farm subsidies, and such low prices for corn that it's no wonder you can get 24 more ounces of soda for two additional pennies!

What's most interesting is that Snapple is also slightly decreasing the sweetness of its tea.

"The old ingredient list for Lemon Snapple Iced Tea: “water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, tea, natural flavors.” Calories: 200.

The new ingredient list: “filtered water, sugar, citric acid, tea, natural flavors.” Calories: 160."

FYI: The above quote appears to suggest that sugar is less caloric than high fructose syrup. It's not. This new Snapple formula simply contains fewer grams of added sweeteners.

Unfortunately, thee lower-calorie news is counter-balanced by developments that bother me -- the new Snapple bottles have the words "All natural" and "Made from green & black tea leaves" in larger font.

Meanwhile, PepsiCo will roll out limited quantities of Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback in April.

The selling point? A notalgic logo and the replacement of high fructose corn syrup with sugar.

Although calories -- and sugar grams -- will go unchanged, at least mercury contamination won't be a concern.

By the way, Pepsi Throwback is not a brand new idea -- it takes several pages from England's Pepsi Raw.

The impetus behind all this? Easy -- company executives are seeing consumer backlash to high fructose corn syrup and this is one way to prevent profit margins from shrinking.

February 20, 2009

Quick & Healthy Recipes: Oven-Roasted Chickpeas

With their sparkling nutritional profile, chickpeas -- and all their wonderful phytonutrients -- are a wonderful addition to salads, casseroles, and pilafs.

This recipe changes up their usual texture, creating a savory and delicious side dish that also makes for a fun finger food.

3 servings (1/2 cup each)


1 15.5 ounce can chickpeas (drained and rinsed; preferably low sodium)
1.5 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon chili powder (for an extra kick, try 1/2 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon salt

NOTE: This is only one variety. I encourage you to experiment with different spices and flavorings (i.e.: curry powder, ground ginger, black pepper, tamari, thyme, oregano, cumin, etc.)


Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

Transfer mixture to roasting pan and heat in oven for 20 minutes.


253 calories
330 milligrams sodium
5.5 grams fiber
6 grams protein

Excellent Source of: Vitamin B6, folate, manganese

Good Source of: fiber, iron, monounsaturated fats

You Ask, I Answer: Liquid Calories

There's been quite a lot written about liquid calories in the last couple of years. Specifically, Nutrition Action (published by CSPI) has repeatedly warned that too many calories from milk, juice, and soda can lead to weight gain

I don't drink any of these things, but I do enjoy pureed whole foods.

If I make a smoothie from yogurt and whole fruit, or if I blend my vegetable and bean soup into a smooth puree, does my body read that as liquid or solid calories?

It's not clear to me if the problem with liquid calories is that they lack fiber and therefore don't fill you up, or if being pureed makes the sugars in food hit the bloodstream too quickly.

Or some other explanation entirely.

-- Rachelle Thibodeau
Ottawa, Canada

The type of liquid calories you refer to are different than juice and soda because they contain fiber and, therefore, take longer to digest.

That said, since smoothies are quickly consumed (more so than soups, which are hot and can take some time to finish), it can be very easy to down an 800 calorie one (i,e: a blend of milk, peanut butter, flax oil, and weight gaining powders) in a matter of minutes.

I should also note that a homemade smoothie with yogurt and whole fruits is different than many commercial ones made with fruit-flavored syrups or juice concentrates.

As for your blended soups: a pureed version of a food raises blood sugars more quickly than those same foods in their whole form, but since you are dealing with vegetables and beans, the fiber content is still high -- and will be helpful in filling you up quickly.

I refrain from putting milk in the same category as soda and juice drinks.

A glass of milk (whether dairy, soy, or nut) contains protein, a variety of nutrients, and some fat (depending on the variety of milk you drink). It is not liquid candy.

The concern with milk and weight gain has more to do with sugar-laden milk-based concoctions like milkshakes, flavored milks, and yogurt beverages that have as much sugar as a can of soda.

February 19, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Oxygenated Water

My local health food store now has a pretty big display case for a brand of oxygenated water.

It's supposed to have 25 times more oxygen than regular water and help with energy levels, cellular health, and endurance.

One of the company's pamphlets also said that since a lot of bacteria and pathogens are anaerobic, having lots of oxygen in your blood would prevent you from getting sick.

This was all new to me, I had never heard any of it before.

What do you think?

-- Jessica Deanly

New York, NY

What do I think? I think it is absolutely astounding -- and disturbing -- to see the amount of nutrition-related quackery out there.

The concept of oxygenated water -- and its supposed health benefits -- is absolutely ludicrous.

Taking in more oxygen in water accomplishes nothing other than provide expensive burps.

The only way oxygen gets into our bloodstream is through the lungs.

Oxygenated water, on the other hand, ends up in the small intestine, an organ that does not absorb oxygen -- much less carry it to the blood.

Besides, even if a company managed to inject lots of free-floating oxygen into their water, all of it would escape the second you unscrewed the cap!

In 2003, the Journal of the American Medical Association addressed this issue and summed up the research showing that all claims regarding oxygenated water are completely unsubstantiated.

Please do not spend your hard-earned money on this.

You Ask, I Answer: Polyunsaturated Oils

Have you ever heard of any danger in polyunsaturated vegetable oils from the way they are refined?

Mainly that they are already rancid [and bad for you] before they leave the factory?

What do you think?

-- Jade (last name withheld)

Istanbul, Turkey

Conventional refined oils undergo lengthy processes involving heat and chemical solvents.

In the case of polyunsaturated oils, this is mostly done to make them suitable for high-heat cooking (i.e.: deep frying) as they are easily degraded by heat in their unrefined state.

Several nutrition extremists online -- none of whom appear to have any nutrition credentials -- claim refined polyunsaturated oils are "cancer-causing."

Let's return to reality.

The issue with refined oils isn't so much that they are already rancid -- at some point in the processing, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or tocopherols (vitamin E) are added to lengthen their shelf life -- but that they are nutritionally inferior to unrefined oils due to high amounts of phytonutrients and antioxidants being lost in the refining process.

This is why, when it comes to polyunsaturated fats, the recommendations are mainly to consume whole foods containing these heart-healthy oils (i.e.: nuts, seeds, fatty fish) as opposed to the oils themselves.

Unrefined polyunsaturated oils consumed at room temperature (i.e.: drizzling walnut oil over a salad) contain more antioxidants and phytonutrients than refined oils, but are still somewheat nutritionally inferior to whole foods.

Some Internet health extremists (the type who believe nutrition experts are part of a giant "conspiracy") go as far as saying that polyunsaturated fats are inherently unhealthy and unnecessary for human health. Quite a laughable claim, since Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids (which we must get through diet since our our bodies can not produce them) are both polyunsaturated fats.

So while an unopened bottle of corn oil is not cancer-causing and rancid, there are better ways of adding polyunsaturated fats to your diet.

February 18, 2009

Numbers Game: Skintastic

Apple skins contain approximately _______ percent of the fruit's fiber content.

a) 24

b) 39

c) 50

d) 65

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

In The News: The Perils of Homemade

The Boston Globe is reporting on Brian Wansink's latest study (published in the Annals of Internal Medicine) -- caloric increases in The Joy of Cooking cookbooks over the past eight decades.

"The study, which looked at how classic recipes have changed during the past 70 years, found a nearly 40 percent increase in calories per serving for nearly every recipe reviewed."

Adding to the problem? It doesn't appear anyone is complaining -- or noticing!

Considering that the average dinner plate's diameter increased 36 percent between 1965 and 2005, I can't say I'm very surprised.

My two favorite bits of trivia?

"The chicken gumbo... went from making 14 servings at 228 calories each in the 1936 edition, to making 10 servings at 576 calories each in the 2006 version."

And then there's my dear colleague Lisa Young, who notes that the same exact brownie recipe yielded 30 brownie squares in the 1970s -- but only 15 in a 1997 edition of the book!

As an aside, from my own personal experience, I have found that baking recipes in Argentina tend to use approximately 25 percent less sugar than their US-based counterparts.

February 17, 2009

Numbers Game: Answer

Next time you make tuna salad, replace two tablespoons of mayonnaise with two tablespoons of hummus (preferably a flavored variety, like roasted red pepper) and save 130 calories.

I admit -- I would have never thought to mix tuna, celery, tomatoes, a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and hummus, but upon finding nothing but those ingredients in my kitchen late at night several years ago after finishing an arduous move, I whipped up this alternative tuna salad.

I loved it so much it has now become my traditional tuna salad!

Most commercial hummus brands offer anywhere from 50 to 80 calories and anywhere from 3.5 to 4.5 grams of fat per two-tablespoon serving.

That same amount of mayonnaise, meanwhile, adds up to 200 calories and 22 grams of fat.

A Problematic Solution

Although Kraft's self-created Sensible Solutions sticker (used to denote healthy products) can point consumers in the right direction (like with 100% whole grain Triscuit crackers), it is also used in some questionable manners.

One example? Lunchables Maxed Out Pepperoni Pizza.

This item boasts a "Sensible Solutions" sticker on the basis of being "a good source of protein" and "a good source of calcium."

The latter nutritional claim is valid, but the first one is irrelevant in a country where protein deficiency is practically unheard of.

The average child's lunchbox may be low in fiber and potassium, but with protein being found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy, soy products, meats, and even vegetables, I don't think parents need to start scouting supermarket aisles for high-protein foods.

What truly puzzles me, though, is the presence of a Sensible Solutions sticker on a product that contains 850 milligrams of a sodium (a third of a day's worth), 35 grams of added sugar (thanks to the inclusion of an Airhead candy and a Kool Aid flavor pouch meant to be mixed with the included bottle of water) and a paltry two grams of fiber!

This is the problem with self-defined corporate criteria -- no one is overseeing the rubric to ensure it only pertains to healthier options.

My suggestion? Set up these criteria so that, in order to carry a Sensible Solutions sticker, a product needs to have at least 'x' amount of nutrient "A" while simultaneously limiting nutrient 'B' to 'y' amount.

Otherwise, as I saw for myself at the grocery store yesterday, KoolAid can carry a Sensible Solutions sticker simply because it is fortified with vitamin A and vitamin E!

Right, because nothing says "sensible" like 16 grams (4 teaspoons) of added sugar per 8-ounce serving.

February 16, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Wasabi

Does wasabi contain any healthful properties?

-- Peter Aitken

(city withheld), MA

Depends on which wasabi you are referring to.

Traditional wasabi (pictured at right) is obtained from the wasabia japonica plant.

Its underground stem is grated moments before consumption, since exposure to air significantly decreases its powerful taste.

This form of wasabi -- commonly referred to as "wasabi root" -- is a good source of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, betacarotene, and quite a bit of phytonutrients and antioxidants.

Wasabi root is also a source of isothiocyanates -- compounds found in relatively high quantities in raw broccoli and raw cabbage that have been linked with tumor inhibition.

However, the wasabi served alongside sushi at practically every Japanese restaurant in the United States is the end result of mixing water and a dry powder made up of horseradish, dry mustard, and some food coloring.

There is nothing inherently unhealthy about this knockoff, but it also lacks the nutrition of the real deal.

Faux wasabi is higher in sodium, though. Two teaspoons of the mean green machine add 200 milligrams of the mineral to your meal. That same amount of real wasabi would only add up to 2 milligrams.

Say What?: I Think I May Be Speechless!

Let's wrap up this three-day weekend with a chuckle and a big "Huh????".

I think you'll get a kick out of this; I sure did!

There is a man by the name of Wiley Brooks who runs the Breatharian Institute of America.

In case you are not familiar with the concept, breatharians do not believe foods and liquids are necessary for human survival.

They -- the handful of them that exist around the world -- claim to simply live off of air and sunlight.

I know. Just stick with me for a minute-- this gets really good, I promise.

For the mere cost of $10,000,000 (yes, all those zeros belong there), Mr. Brooks will take you on a five-day spiritual journey to Southern Utah and teach you the secrets to living the rest of your life without a bite of food or drop of liquids.

According to Mr. Brooks, this not only makes you healty and strong -- it also heightens your productivity. In his mind, the more you eat, the more you sleep (as a result of being breatharian, he claims to sleep just one hour a day and never feel tired.)

There is also some overly vague and convoluted promise of leaving the third dimension behind and entering a fifth one.

The kicker? Prior to taking on your breatharian lifestyle, Mr. Brooks needs you to meditate and subsist on nothing but McDonald's Quarter Pounders and Diet Coke (something about these foods having the perfect harmonic convergence)!

If you're in need of some laughter, you can view his overly detailed instructions here.

Believe it or not, Mr. Wiley had his share of followers in the 1980s.

Oh, and this is his retort to skeptics: "if food is good for you, why does the body excrete it?"

February 15, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Grilling

Can you explain why some people think grilling food is unhealthy?

-- Laura (last name withheld)

Brooklyn, NY

I assume you are referring to the grilling of meats, poultry, and seafood being linked to increased risks of certain cancers.

We know that when these foods are exposed to high temperatures (as they are when grilled) they produce heterocyclic amines (HCAs).

High consumption of HCAs has been linked to increased risks of stomach, colorectal, and pancreatic cancer.

Some recent research has also tied high HCA intake with increased risks of heart disease and Alzheimer's.

The good news? You can take steps to lower HCA formation.

This study in the Journal of Food Science, for instance, found that meats marinaded in antioxidant-rich spices had significantly decreased levels of HCAs.

Other research has concluded that microwaving red meat for one to two minutes prior to grilling also reduces HCA formation.

Another way to lower your exposure? Use a gas, rather than charcoal, grill.

It is worth noting that HCA levels are mainly a concern for people who eat grilled meats cooked until "well done" on an almost daily basis.

If your intake of grilled foods only occurs at a handful of barbecues in the summer, you shouldn't be too concerned.

And here's another reason to throw some veggies on that grill: they do not form HCAs.

Say What?: JELL-O With Antioxidants

Behold JELL-O's latest creation: sugar-free, vitamin fortified gelatin snack packs.

Relying on trendy fruit flavors (raspberry-goji berry and strawberry-acai berry), this new product contains 10% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of two antioxidants: vitamin A and vitamin E.

Since these two vitamins are simply tacked on (and not naturally contained in an ingredient), you might as well be eating regular JELL-O and chasing it down with a multivitamin.

More importantly, vitamin A and vitamin E are fat-soluble, meaning they need to be consumed with some fat in order to be absorbed in the small intestine.

Their presence in a fat-free product like Jell-O completely boggles my mind.

February 14, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin D/Sunshine

Can we synthesize D with sunblock on? Doctors these days recommend NO unprotected sun exposure.

How much sun exposure is required for our daily dose of Vitamin D? If I take a 30 minute walk outside every day is that sufficient or do I still have to supplement?

How much skin has to be available to the sun to do the job?

I always wear sunblock on my face, and at this time of year (in upstate NY) that's the only skin that sees sunshine.

The rest is sunblocked, windblocked, coldblocked, snowblocked with multiple layers of clothing!

-- Jennifer Armstrong

Saratoga Springs, NY

We are unable to synthesize vitamin D with sunblock on because all products on the market act as barriers against either solely UVB rays or, if advertised as "full spectrum," both UVA and UVB rays.

Remember -- only UVB rays are associated with Vitamin D synthesis.

From an exposure standpoint, all you need is 10 minutes a day, three days a week, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky.

Even though these 10 minutes are without sunblock, it is believed that the benefits of adequate vitamin D levels outweigh the risks of soaking up sunrays without protection for such a short amount of time.

That said, people who live north of Florida -- like you, Jennifer -- must supplement from October to March, as the sun is too low in the sky for its UVB rays to penetrate the atmosphere.

Although current Vitamin D Daily Values for adults are set at 400 International Units, it is becoming increasingly clear that people should be supplementing with approximately 800 IUs a day.

Since the elderly and darker-skinned individuals synthesize lower amounts of this vitamin from the sun, it is recommended they supplement even during Summer months so as to not expose their unprotected skin to the sun for longer amounts of time.

February 13, 2009

Numbers Game: Holy Hummus!

Next time you make tuna salad, replace two tablespoons of mayonnaise with two tablespoons of hummus (preferably a flavored variety, like roasted red pepper) and save ___________ calories.

a) 130

b) 59

c) 97

d) 102

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

Administrative Announcements: Follow Me On Twitter!

Want to enhance your Small Bites experience?

Follow me on Twitter
for some extra nibbles of information and opinion.

I look forward to interacting with all of you.

Stay tuned to this blog for more exciting developments. Quite a bit has been going on behind the scenes of Small Bites that I can't wait to share!

February 12, 2009

In The News: "Second Hand" Obesity

Today's New York Times reports on a new pooled analysis study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which concluded that "obese women are more likely to have babies with rare but serious birth defects, including spina bifida and other neural tube defects."

Although spina bifida is generally associated with insufficient maternal intake of folic acid, lead study author Dr. Judith Rankin theorizes that in the case of obese women, "insulin resistance and undiagnosed diabetes may be playing a causative role in birth defects... though the precise mechanism is not known."

This new study gives further credence to weight-loss recommendations given to obese women planning to start a family.

You Ask, I Answer: White Whole Wheat Flour

I just bought some white whole wheat flour.

I was puzzled! Will this provide me the same nutritional benefits as whole wheat flour?

I read that white whole wheat flour was made from albino wheat, so it requires less bleaching than red wheat flours.

Nonetheless, is it still bleached?

-- Christine
(last name unknown)
Via the blog

White whole wheat flour offers the same nutritional benefits as whole wheat flour.

However, many bakers prefer this albino strand of wheat since it boosts fiber and phytonutrient levels while providing a milder flavor and texture (not to mention a lighter color!) than standard whole wheat flour.

White whole wheat flour does not undergo bleaching.

Numbers Game: Answer

The world renowned Framingham study concluded that a 2 point decrease in BMI reduces the risk of developing osteoarthritis (a loss of cartilage) in the knee by approximately 50 percent.

(NOTE: Using a 5 foot, 10 inch tall man weighing 190 pounds as an example, a 2 point decrease in BMI is achieved by losing 10 pounds.)

According to World Health Organization statistics, osteoarthritis is the fourth leading cause of disability in the world.

The research literature clearly identifies obesity as the most influential factor in the development -- and subsequent progression -- of this condition.

One of the more problematic aspects of osteoarthritis is that it makes implementation of most sorts of physical activity and movement significantly challenging, thereby adding more difficulty to weight loss efforts.

February 11, 2009

Administrative Announcements: Seeking Vegans!

If you are vegan, over the age of 18, and would like to be part of a small study I am conducting for a graduate research course at New York University, please e-mail me at: andy.bellatti@gmail.com.

In the subject line, please write: "Vegan Research Study".

Your sole obligation? Fill out a survey I concocted and e-mail it back to me.

I am hoping to survey anywhere between 25 and 35 vegans.

I ask that you only contact me if you are absolutely sure you can commit approximately 20 minutes to filling out a survey.

Much appreciation in advance.

You Ask, I Answer: Phenylketoneuria/Phenylalanine

Every time I pick up a pack of gum, I see a warning that says "phenylketoneurics: contains phenylalanine"

What IS phenylalanine and why would it need to have a warning associated with it?

I'm concerned because I enjoy chewing gum while I'm working out but haven't been lately because of this additive.

Any insight you could give me on this would be really helpful

-- Leigh Simpson

Clarksboro, NJ

There is a genetic condition known as phenylketoneuria (PKU) in which people lack an enzyme called phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH).

PAH is necessary to convert phenylalanine (an essential amino acid) into tyrosine (a non-essential amino acid).

Just to be clear: phenylalanine is NOT an artificial additive.

Without that enzyme, phenylalanine accumulates in the body and, rather than get converted into tyrosine, is metabolized into phenylpyruvate.

Adults diagnoses PKU who do not their phenylalanine intake put themselves at great risk for seizures, concentration problems, mental confusion, and impaired memory.

Pregnant women with PKU need to be particularly careful, as an improper diet will negatively effect the brain development of the fetus.

Newborn babies are screened for PKU since an inadequate diet (high in phenylalanine) causes irreversible mental disability.

The only way to treat this is through diet modification; specifically, limiting phenylalanine intake.

Food sources high in phenylalanine include whole grains, fish, dairy, soybeans, nuts, and dark green leafy vegetables. In a PKU diet, all of these foods must be completely avoided.

Although some small companies now sell low-protein breads and cookies for the PKU population, most affected individuals rely on prescribed phenylalanine-free protein mixtures and formulas that can be incorporated into their diet.

Since aspartame also contains high levels of phenylalanine, products containing the artificial sweetener (including diet sodas and sugar-free chewing gum) must carry a warning label.

The only people who should be concerned with phenylalanine are those with PKU; otherwise, you have absolutely no reason to worry.

February 10, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Almond Butter

Any idea how much almond butter you need to eat to get the same benefits in one ounce of almonds?

Oddly, I love almond butter but don't care for whole almonds.

-- "wife2abadge"

Via the blog

Yes, slightly less than an ounce (or two tablespoons.)

The nutritional profile of an ounce of pure almond butter is equal to 1.1 ounces of whole almonds.

Another way to think about it: it takes approximately 25 or 26 individual almonds to make one ounce/two tablespoons of almond butter.

Our Bodies Are Smart: Example 1,456,973

As anyone with basic nutrition knowledge is aware, humans can synthesize Vitamin D from sunlight.

Specifically, UVB rays convert a cholesterol precursor on the skin known as 7-dehydrocholesterol into previtamin D3.

Previtamin D3 is then converted into Vitamin D3 -- the active form -- with the simple "application" of heat (luckily, sunlight takes care of that!)

As with other vitamins and minerals, there is an tolerable upper limit for the "sunshine vitamin."

The latest data considers daily intakes higher than 10,000 International Units a day to be excessive, as they can result in nausea, fatigue, high calcium levels in blood, and calcinosis (a condition in which calcium deposits form in soft tissue).

Which begs the question: do humans run the risk of making too much Vitamin D if they are exposed to sunlight for hours with no protection?

Not at all, thanks to our incredibly smart bodies.

Turns out the cutaneous photoactivation and synthesis of vitamin D (that's a lofty way of saying "the process by which we create vitamin D from sunlight") is self-regulating.

Consistent exposure to heat photodegrades, or destroys, previtamin D3.

Therefore, once sufficient amounts of D3 have been created, subsequent amounts of previtamin D3 turn into inactive metabolites that are not converted into vitamin D3.

February 9, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Soy Cheese

This weekend I had brunch at a vegetarian restaurant.

Since I am lactose intolerant, I asked the waitress if they had any vegan cheese.

She told me they had soy cheese, but it wasn't vegan.

It was very busy and I didn't want to keep her, but that didn't make sense to me.

In the end, I decided not to get it. I am not vegan, but I was afraid the cheese they had was some sort of soy and lactose mix.

Does that make sense to you?

How can soy cheese not be vegan?

-- Jaime (last name withheld)
(city withheld), MI

A good number of soy cheeses contain casein, a milk protein.

This is usually done to better emulate the dairy-based product's texture and taste.

Although perfectly acceptable and appropriate for someone with a lactose intolerance like yourself (all soy cheeses are lactose free), the same can not be said for vegans, who omit all animal byproducts -- including casein -- from their diets.

In the event that your request was related to veganism, she had your interests in mind. Good for her.

You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin D Fortification

I have seen some foods fortified with Vitamin D2, and others with Vitamin D3.

Which is better?

-- Tom (last name withheld)

(City withheld), TX

From a fortification standpoint, they are both equal.

Ergocalciferol ("vitamin D2") is a vitamin D precursor that extracted from a yeast sterol, while cholecalciferol ("vitamin D3") is usually synthesized from fish oils or lamb's wool.

Not surprisingly, you will find that vegan alternatives tend to be fortified with the former, while other foods usually rely on the latter.

Both D2 and D3 raise vitamin D levels in the blood equally, although there was always conflicting research on whether or not their half-lives (how long their effects last) are the same.

However, the latest research (a 2008 study out of Boston University) found that doses of both D2 and D3 took the same amount of time to plateau to baseline levels.

Regardless, if you consume Vitamin D on a daily basis (and get some exposure to the sun), half-lives become rather irrelevant.

Numbers Game: A Load Off Your Knees

The world renowned Framingham study concluded that a 2 point decrease in BMI reduced the risk of developing osteoarthritis (a loss of cartilage) in the knee by approximately ______ percent.

(NOTE: Using a 5 foot, 10 inch tall man weighing 190 pounds as an example, a 2 point decrease in BMI is achieved by losing 10 pounds.)

a) 27
b) 50
c) 16
d) 38

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

February 8, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Flour

If I'm looking to make my pastry recipes a little healthier, should I use unbleached flour instead of the bleached kind?

-- Sarah Sholter

Montecito, CA

Those two flours will yield the exact same nutritional profile for your recipes.

The difference between them simply lies in their processing.

Bleached flour is whitened with a variety of chemicals, while unbleached flour retains its off-white color and is only matured by the addition of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and exposure to air.

Maturation is the term used to describe the "aging process" in which flour is stored after undergoing milling.

It is during this period that flour gains its structural properties that make it most suitable for baking.

Bleached flours' maturation times are significantly sped up due to the usage of chemicals. Whereas unbleached varieties may take four weeks to fully mature, bleached flours can mature in as little as 48 hours.

Although neither is nutritionally superior to the others, some consumers prefer unbleached flour as it is not in contact with a variety of chemicals.

If you are looking to boost the fiber content of your pastries, I suggest using whole wheat pastry flour (either as the only source of flour in your recipes or as a subtitute for half the amount of traditional pastry flour.)

In The News: Nutrition 101

Thank you to Small Bites reader Vincci Tsui for alerting me to this study published in the latest issue of Health Education & Behavior.

The conclusion of the 4-year-long randomized dietary intervention study?

"Without specific efforts to reduce total energy intake, dietary modification does not reduce obesity or result in long-term weight loss."

Well, knock me over with a feather! I am absolutely SHOCKED.


Believe it or not, my acknowledging that calories play a role in weight management has resulted in some bloggers (who I refuse to link to) labeling me as "way out there" and putting me in the same category as those who advocate eating only raw foods or adopting a fruitarian lifestyle.

According to these people, I'm apparently part of a vast conspiracy to make people overweight and unhealthy.

Does having detractors mean I officially "arrived"?

February 7, 2009

Quick & Healthy Recipe: No-Bake Brownie Truffle Bites

I can't think of an easier, quicker recipe.

My favorite part of serving these is telling people the rich dessert they are enjoying takes no more than five minutes to prepare!

Added bonus: each bite is a good source of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients!

YIELDS: 12 bites/balls


1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
5 tablespoons cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder (pictured at left)
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt


1 1/2 tablespoons ground flaxseed/oat bran/wheat germ
1 1/2 teaspoons coconut extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon


Grind walnuts in food processor.

Add raisins and blend.

Add remaining ingredients and process again.

Scoop out mixture, in the shape of small truffle-like balls, onto baking sheet.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.


NUTRITION INFORMATION (for 3 "bites" without add-ons):

205 calories
3 grams saturated fat
5 grams fiber
5 grams protein

Excellent source of: copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium

Good source of: fiber, folate, monounsaturated fat, thiamin, vitamin B6, vitamin C

February 6, 2009

Numbers Game: Answer

One ounce of dry roasted almonds contains 5 more calories than one ounce of raw almonds.

Remember, the dry roasting process does not add any fat.

The additional five calories are
most likely due to slight changes in nutrient composition as a result of exposure to heat.

Vitamin and mineral contents are also identical, so the "raw versus roasted" question has a very simple answer: eat whichever type you enjoy most.

February 5, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Aspartame/Chewing Gum

How much aspartame is in chewing gum, specifically Eclipse gum?

Should one stick to a limited number per day or can we chew to our heart's content?

-- "MC"

Via the blog

The average stick of gum contains 6 to 8 milligrams of aspartame (a 12 ounce can of Diet Coke, meanwhile, provides 180 milligrams.)

According to current guidelines, humans can safely consume 50 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight per day.

Based on recent studies, however, a growing body of scientists are calling for this number to be lowered to as little as 10 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight per day.

Even with the more conservative 10 milligram guidelines, though, a 130 pound individual (59 kilograms) can still safely consume 590 milligrams of aspartame per day (the equivalent of three 12-ounce cans of Diet Coke.)

That said, I don't like the notion of "chewing to your heart's content."

Sugarless gums -- including Eclipse -- contain other sweeteners beside aspartame.

One of these -- which appears well before aspartame on the ingredient list, meaning it is included in higher quantities -- is sorbitol.

Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that, when consumed in large amounts, results in undesirable gastrointestinal effects, including diarrhea, acute intestinal cramps, and even unintended weight loss.

To play it safe, I suggest capping your gum intake at 4 or 6 sticks/pieces a day.