March 31, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Folate vs. Folic Acid

What is the difference between folate and folic acid?

Are they two different minerals?

-- (Name withheld)

Bridgeport, CT

Actually, they are the same vitamin!

Folate is a B vitamin (known in a small handful of scientific circles as "Vitamin B9") found primarily in beans, legumes, green vegetables, fruits, and, if organ meats are your "thing", beef liver.

Folic acid, meanwhile, is the the synthetic version of folate (i.e.: the type available in supplements).

In what I consider an odd turn of events, our bodies absorb folic acid more efficiently than folate.

You Ask, I Answer: Red Mango

When you blogged about Red Mango frozen yogurt, you endorsed it as a healthy treat.

I also saw that in your recent ConAgra children's frozen meal post, you commented negatively on the 18 grams of sugar it contained.

A small, original (plain) Red Mango yogurt also has 18 grams of sugar.

So now I'm slightly confused -- is Red Mango good or bad?
How can 18 grams be good in one thing, bad in another?

-- Lexi (last name withheld)

New York, NY

One of my biggest grips about food labels is that they do not differentiate between naturally-occurring sugars and added sugars.

Naturally-occurring sugars are found in fruits and vegetables (in the form of fructose) as well as dairy (as lactose).

Added sugars (mostly in the form of sucrose) are added on to foods during processing.

Although naturally-occurring and added sugars offer the same number of calories (4 per gram), naturally-occurring sugars are different in the sense they "come with the package."

When you bite into an apple, you are getting sugars along with vitamins, minerals, and a wide variety of health-promoting phytonutrients (some of which we have yet to discover!).

If you eat the same amount of sugar naturally found in an apple in the form of table sugar, you are getting empty calories (they are void of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.)

In the case of Red Mango, the 18 grams of sugar refer to naturally-occurring AND added sugars. Approximately 10 to 12 of those grams are naturally-occurring, so you're only getting 6 to 8 grams (1.5 to 2 teaspoons) of added sugar.

By the way, I have a slight problem with Red Mango referring to their original flavor as "plain", since plain flavors of regular (non-frozen) yogurt do not have any added sugar.

In any case, this is very different from that frozen meal I posted about, which got its 18 grams of sugar from the chewy candies it offered as dessert.

March 30, 2009

Numbers Game: Would You Like Some Tea With Your Sugar?

A 20 ounce bottle of Snapple Mixed-Up Berry Iced Tea contains ______ teaspoons of added sugar (in the form of high fructose corn syrup).

a) 13

b) 11
c) 15
d) 9

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

You Ask, I Answer: Egg Yolks (Part 2)

How unhealthy are egg yolks?

Is it true that some people have more of a chance (due to genes) of producing more LDL cholesterol and [that] only these individuals should eat egg yolks in moderation?

-- Lori (last name unknown)

Via the blog

Egg yolks are branded with an undeserving "unhealthy" label that has proven hard to shake off.

It was formerly believed that high intakes of dietary cholesterol resulted in high blood cholesterol levels. We now know, however, that blood cholesterol levels are linked to intakes of of trans fats and most saturated fats.

It is true that some individuals have a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol. Consequently, they are recommended to limit their intake of whole eggs to three per week.

If, however, you do not fall into that category, you can safely eat one egg a day.

As far as I'm concerned, the average healthy individual should concern themselves much more with saturated fat than cholesterol.

After all, very low intakes of cholesterol simply mean your liver makes up for it by creating more.

As I pointed out during Season 4 of Bravo's reality competition show Top Chef, people often make significant nutrition mistakes when avoiding meats high in cholesterol. These meats are usually much LOWER in saturated fat and, therefore, a healthier option than varieties low in cholesterol but high in saturated fat!

Your average large egg provides 77 calories and only 1.5 grams of saturated fat. It also doesn't hurt that it's a good way to add riboflavin, B12, selenium, and biotin to your diet!

March 29, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Food Pyramid

Do corn and potatoes fall into the "grains" or "vegetable" category in the food pyramid?

-- Tom O'Farrell

Boston, MA

As far as the United States Department of Agriculture is concerned, potatoes and corn are members of the vegetable group.

Remember, the food pyramid categorizes foods by nutrient profile.

Although corn and potatoes are higher in carbohydrates than other vegetables, their vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content is more similar to that of vegetables than grains (we are talking about corn-on-the-cob and baked potatoes here, not Fritos and Pringles!)

I understand the USDA's decision from a simplicity standpoint, but it is not completely accurate in the case of corn, which is both a vegetable AND a grain, depending on how it is harvested.

Although most people associate corn with processed junk (where it either shows up as high fructose corn syrup or corn oil in ingredient lists), it offers a good amount of nutrition when eaten fresh (off the cob) or simply popped and sprinkled with a little salt, parmesan cheese, or nutritional yeast for flavoring.

For what it's worth, a large ear of corn contributes 127 calories -- along with vitamin C, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, and most of the B vitamins -- to your day.

March 28, 2009

In The News: Kidney Believe It?

This article in The San Francisco Chronicle -- courtesy of the Associated Press -- sheds light on a disturbing trend among children: higher incidences of kidney stones.

"At Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, for example, the number of children treated for kidney stones since 2005 has climbed from about 10 a year to five patients a week now, said Dr. Pasquale Casale."

Although pediatric kidney stones are often attached to inborn metabolic defects, the majority of these new cases involve children who test negative for such disorders.

One very likely culprit? Processed diets (specifically the high levels of sodium they contribute) within the context of low fluid intake.

This demonstrates, as I have been saying for slightly over a year now, that sodium is well on its way to becoming the next "hot button" ingredient (following in the footsteps of trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, whole grains, and Omega-3 fatty acids).

Expect even more companies to offer low-sodium varieties of products -- particularly ones aimed at children.

The sugar lobbyists, I'm sure, are popping a bottle of champagne as I type these words!

March 27, 2009

Numbers Game: Answer

Vegetarians and vegans should aim to consume 50 percent more zinc than their meat-eating counterparts each day.

One of the problems with the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) is that they make a few assumptions (for example, that everyone eats meat).

In all fairness, they kind of have to since these figures are meant as average daily intakes sufficient for 97% of the population.

The issue with vegetable sources of zinc, as with iron, is their low bioavailability.

Therefore, if you are over the age of 18 and do not eat meat (by "meat" I mean beef, poultry, pork, and seafood), your requirement increases from 8 milligrams a day to approximately 12 or 13.

March 26, 2009

In The News: In The Zone

Today's New York Times reports the conclusion of an eight-year-long study of millions of schoolchildren completed by economists at the University of California and Columbia University: "ninth graders whose schools are within a block of a fast-food outlet are more likely to be obese than students whose schools are a quarter of a mile or more away."

This study is particularly significant since it adjusted for variables like income, education, and race, thereby making it easier to accurately pinpoint the effect of fast food restaurant proximity to weight.

More specifically, "obesity rates were 5 percent higher among the ninth graders whose schools were within one-tenth of a mile of a pizza, burger or other popular fast-food outlet, compared with students attending schools farther away from fast-food stores."

In a not-at-all surprising move, the National Restaurant Association is shrugging this off since "it did not take individual diet and exercise into account." The argument falls rather flat when you consider that the location of these fast food restaurants clearly had an effect on students' diets.

I have long been a supporter of zoning laws regarding fast food restaurants and schools, and this only strengthens my belief.

You Ask, I Answer: Egg Yolk

I heard somewhere that you should keep the yolk when eating eggs as you don't absorb the protein without it.

I know the yolk has the highest concentration of protein but I always assumed that egg whites are also a source of protein, albeit less than a whole egg.

Can you clarify?

-- Lori (last name withheld)

Ottawa, Ontario

Although egg yolks contain some protein (approximately 42% of an egg's total protein content), egg whites contain more.

Additionally, whereas egg yolks are a mix of protein and fat, egg whites are almost entirely made up of protein.

You do not need to eat egg yolk in order to absorb the protein in egg whites.

That is not to say the egg yolk is useless. It's a wonderful source of folate, vitamin A, choline, and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.

March 25, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Chunk Light Tuna

I generally eat about 4 cans of chunk light tuna a week. Reasoning: Omega-3's are good and mercury is low in chunk light tuna.

However, I just read an article saying that mercury was high even in canned tuna, although previous sources have said that mercury levels in canned tuna are low enough to be safe.

The same sources state that only the larger predatory fish such as shark and albacore tuna need be avoided.

What's your take?

-- Corey Clark

[Location unknown]

Chunk light tuna contains approximately one third of the mercury found in the same amount of albacore ("white") tuna.

According to current recommendations, adults can safely eat up to three cans of chunk light tuna a week (the suggestion for albacore tuna caps off weekly consumption at one can for adults).

Don't get too comfortable, though. You still need to glance at the ingredient list since some varieties of canned light tuna contain yellowfin tuna, which contains higher amounts of mercury.

You Ask, I Answer: Eating at Night

Why did you say [in your Michelle Obama post] that the principle of not eating late [at night] is hogwash?

Doesn't the digestive system interfere with sleep if it is still working full-time at bedtime?

-- Elsa (last name unknown)

Via the blog

The recommendation of not going to bed with a full stomach makes sense if you are talking about acid reflux or heartburn.

Finishing up a large dinner and falling asleep on the couch half an hour later can be problematic since acidic gastric compounds from the stomach can enter the esophagus and cause symptoms that disrupt sleep.

I was referring, though, to the common myth that not eating after a certain hour (usually 7 PM) leads to weight loss, as if there were a "magical" caloric bewitching hour.

Eating after 7 PM will only result in weight gain if whatever you consume puts you over your caloric needs. A piece of fruit or a cup of low-fat yogurt are no more fattening at 10 PM than they are at 2 PM.

What gets left out of these inane "weight loss rules" is that, very simply, the more hours you are awake, the more calories you are likely to consume. Hitting the sack an hour and a half after dinner doesn't leave as much room for hunger as staying up for another four hours.

March 24, 2009

When A Blood Test Isn't Enough

If you're looking to get a firm grasp on your iron status, a simple blood test won't do.

Standard blood tests tend to exclusively report levels of hemoglobin, which only help detect iron-deficiency anemia.

Remember: you can have iron deficiency without anemia, a condition which causes specific symptoms and certainly needs to be treated.

Keeping in mind that approximately 75 percent of the world's population is estimated to be iron deficient, it is a good idea to ask your doctor for a more accurate test.

Next time you are due for a blood test, request to have your transferrin saturation and ferritin levels tested.

Although ferritin is useful by itself, I strongly recommend you ask for both since ferritin can lead to false positives (inflammatory states affect its levels)

If these tests show you have iron deficiency, the solution is rather simple -- include more iron in your diet.

Fortunately, dietary interventions usually lead to improved iron levels in as little as three weeks.

In The News: Starstruck

In an article titled "Is Gwyneth Paltrow's Food Advice Perfect for the Recession?" published in this week's New York Magazine, writer Mark Adams preposterously hails "the Goopster" (my nickname for her, don't you like it?) as some sort of nutrition visionary.

"We’ve entered a moment in which it’s perfectly acceptable to talk, if not boast, about the purity of one’s digestive functions, as Diddy did when he recently Twittered minute-by-minute details of his “spiritual” 48-hour juice fast," Adams states in his opening paragraph.

I almost threw my copy of the magazine across the room after that sentence.

If we are going to use "Diddy" -- a record label executive with more flops than I care to count and bigger delusions of grandeur than your average reality show contestant -- as a thermometer of nutrition trends and sensibility, we're in trouble.

Alas, let's continue.

Adams explains that that during the Great Depression, a man named Bernarr Macfadden launched a magazine titled Physical Culture, which published recipes along with health and fitness tips.

Adams equates this to Gwyneth Paltrow's health and wellness- oriented website,, which is big on detoxing and cleansing (click here to read my impression of one of her recent postings).

"Macfadden’s main idea—one echoed by Gwyneth, Diddy, and anyone who has completed a Blueprint or Master cleanse—was that an empty stomach is the path to detoxification and wellness."

This notion that empty stomachs are somehow virtuous sets up a horrendously disturbing slippery slope that leads right into eating disorders.

"An empty stomach is the path to wellness" might as well be the mantra of someone living with anorexia nervosa.

Again, why are we looking to Gwyneth Paltrow and Diddy for health advice? Are people that blinded by fame that they consider celebrities to somehow know the answers to everything?

For that matter, Mr. Macfadden (who, in his defense, had some good ideas in terms of the virtues of whole grains) himself was a self-appointed nutrition expert (thus explaining his belief that 7-day fasts were healthy).

"Many more people are going to lose their health insurance before anything approaching universal coverage gets passed. Meanwhile, we might all be better off if we literally tightened our belts and followed the stars for a while instead," Adams feebly concludes.

No, Mr. Adams. We shouldn't follow the stars. We should simply use common sense. Cut back on processed junk, eat more fruits and vegetables, add whole grains to our diet, keep tabs on calories, and stop turning to celebrities for nutrition advice.

Numbers Game: Getting In Zinc

Vegetarians and vegans should aim to consume _____ percent more zinc than their meat-eating counterparts each day.

a) 17
b) 25
c) 50
d) 0

Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Friday for the answer -- and some little-known facts about this mineral.

March 23, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Protein On The Go

Got an idea for a source of protein for my daughter that I can take with me out and about during the day that doesn't require refrigeration?

-- "n/a"

Via the blog

Nuts are always great; peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pistachios are easily transportable sources of protein.

Although all nuts should be stored in the refrigerator (to slow down rancidity of fats), it is certainly okay to carry some with you throughout the day.

I am not a big fan of protein bars. The vast majority of them are loaded with added sugar and saturated fats.

In The News: Is Sugar's "Time Out" Over?

The New York Times recently profiled sugar's triumphant return.

"Blamed for hyperactivity in children and studied as an addictive substance, sugar has had its share of image problems," the paper reports, "but the widespread criticism of high-fructose corn syrup has made sugar look good by comparison."

As much as the The Sugar Association loves this shift in consumers' attitudes, I am absolutely dismayed that the issue at stake is whether sugar is more nutritious than high fructose corn syrup.

A much more accurate -- and healthful -- concept would be to simply decrease the intake of added sugars, period.

I understand the political, economic, environmental, and farming business implications behind high-fructose corn syrup that make it a bigger threat than sugar, but the fact remains that eating 100 grams of added sugars each day -- whether as high fructose corn syrup or sugar -- adds up to 400 extra calories.

Dr. Robert H. Lustig of the University of California, San Francisco Children’s Hospital sums it up perfectly: “The argument about which is better for you, sucrose or HFCS, is garbage. Both are equally bad for your health.”

March 22, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Wild Salmon

If I don't eat canned salmon (which I know is usually wild and not farmed), are there any ways to help me determine if the fresh salmon I am eating is farm-raised or not?

-- Elizabeth Isaacson

Portland, OR

Although some supermarkets label their fish accordingly ("farmed" or "wild-caught"), those descriptions are not always accurate.

There are, however, certain clues you can keep in mind.

Anytime you see the term "Atlantic salmon", you are dealing with farm-raised fish. Anyone who tries to sell you Atlantic salmon as "wild-caught" is most likely lying through their teeth.

On the flip side, "Pacific salmon" encompasses a variety of species (including chinook/king, chum, coho, sockeye, and pink) that are wild-caught.

Texture can sometimes be a giveaway, too. Wild-caught salmon tends to have a thicker, meatier mouthfeel.

I don't consider price to be much of an indicator.

Although you will never see wild-caught salmon at $5 a pound, some dishonest stores will sell farm-raised salmon at $14 a pound in an attempt to make consumers think they are paying for something wild-caught.

On another disturbing note, the numbers of wild salmon are drastically reducing with each passing year. Please visit "Save Our (Wild) Salmon" for more information.

March 21, 2009

Numbers Game: Answer

A single-serve 11-ounce bottle of ready-to-drink Carnation Instant Breakfast Essentials contains 5.25 teaspoons of added sugar.

I never understood Carnation Instant Breakfast's reputation as a health product. It's nothing more than fortified chocolate milk (the second ingredient is sugar).

There is absolutely no difference between starting your day with Carnation Instant Breakfast and downing a multivitamin along with a glass of Nesquik.

In fact, if your breakfast consisted of an 11 ounce glass of non-fat milk with a tablespoon of chocolate syrup, you would be consuming half the amount of sugar in a bottle of ready-to-drink Carnation Instant Breakfast.

Depending on which way the wind is blowing, Carnation Instant Breakfast and rice cakes are at the top of my "nutritionally overrated foods" list.

March 20, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Wild Blueberries

Are wild blueberries more nutritious than regular blueberries?

-- Sophia Durbitry

[Location withheld]

The main differences between wild blueberries and "regular" (planted) blueberries are their size (wild blueberries are smaller) and taste (wild blueberries are tangier and a little sweeter).

From a nutritional standpoint, there isn't a huge difference.

Wild blueberries are reported to have higher levels of antioxidants, but I wonder if that is simply because they are smaller in size (a half cup of wild blueberries contains almost twice as much individual berries as half a cup of cultivated blueberries).

Even if, ounce by ounce, the wild variety is higher in antioxidants, cultivated blueberries already contain a wide array.

Incorporating blueberries -- wild or otherwise -- into your diet is a great move. As the popular idiom suggests, "don't sweat the small stuff."

March 19, 2009

In The News: Michelle On A Mission

Terrific news!

"On Friday, Michelle Obama will begin digging up a patch of White House lawn to plant a vegetable garden, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden in World War II," reports today's New York Times.

Alas, this is not a one-person job.

"Twenty-three fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington will help her dig up the soil for the 1,100-square-foot plot in a spot visible to passers-by on E Street. Students from the school, which has had a garden since 2001, will also help plant, harvest and cook the vegetables, berries and herbs."

This is no small garden, either. Fifty-five vegetables will be planted, ranging from arugula to cilantro to kale and spinach; berries (and even honey!) will also have their place.

Mrs. Obama's parting words of dietary advice are music to my ears. Forget crash diets, low-carb nonsense, Master Cleanse ridiculousness, or "no food after 8 PM" hogwash.

Mrs. Obama keeps it simple: "“You can begin by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, [and] trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables."

I love the message -- eat more fruits and vegetables. Simple, concise, and relevant.


Survey Results: The Farm Bill

I can't say I was surprised to learn that 70 percent of Small Bites' latest poll respondents classify themselves as being "not at all" familiar with the Farm Bill and an additional 22 percent as "having heard of it, but not knowing any details."

The Farm Bill is, at its most basic, a document that dictates farm and food policy in the United States (ranging from food stamps to farm subsidies to conservation programs to the School Lunch Program).

Of course, "basic" is an understatement when you consider that the latest Farm Bill spans almost 1,500 pages and is infamously verbose and convoluted.

If you are interested in a "Farm Bill 101" lesson, I highly recommend this article.

Up for review every five years, its latest revision took place in 2008.

Although the entire Farm Bill affects food production, trade, and policy, the two most relevant sections to nutrition are title IV (Nutrition) and title X (Horticulture).

Click here to see what has changed in title IV as a result of the 2008 Farm Bill
, and check out this page to see what is new in title X.

Lastly, this page succinctly highlights a variety of "good news" emerging from the 2008 Farm Bill as far as local foods and consumer benefits are concerned.

You Ask, I Answer: Caffeine & Calcium

Is it true that coffee causes osteoporosis?

-- Linda (last name withheld)

New York, NY

Before I answer, allow me to get something off my chest.

Statements like "[insert name of food here] causes [insert disease/condition here]" are tremendously inaccurate.

If someone ever tells you that a food causes a particular disease, promise me your "BS" alarms will go off.

Unless you are talking about contamination issues, food as a whole does not cause disease.

Rather, it is particular components in certain foods that, when consumed often over long periods of time, can elevate one's risk of developing a certain condition.

This reminds me of absurd statements like "ice cream makes you fat."

While a 600-calorie sundae every day after dinner will surely result in weight gain, a one-scoop ice cream cone every Saturday night is no cause for concern.

"Ice cream makes you fat" wrongly categorizes 150 calories and 900 calories of the same food as nutritionally equal.

Similarly, saying that "coffee causes osteoporosis" is too broad a statement. At the very least, whoever is making such a statement should identify what specific component in coffee is believed to affect bone mass.

Which brings us to the question at hand.

Since caffeine is a diuretic that results in a higher-than-normal excretion of calcium in the urine and feces, some people jump to the conclusion that, therefore, caffeine intake is related to osteoporosis.

However, studies have demonstrated that the average cup of coffee -- 8 ounces and approximately 150 milligrams of caffeine -- increases calcium excretion by a practically insignificant 5 milligrams (remember, you should be getting 1,000 milligrams a day).

To balance this out, all you need to do is add a single teaspoon of milk to your coffee.

Keep in mind that all the studies looking at caffeine's effect on calcium levels assume people drink black coffee (an 8-ounce latte, meanwhile, contains two thirds of a cup of milk!).

Another concern with caffeine is that it inhibits intestinal absorption of calcium. While true, our bodies are smart and make up for this by increasing calcium absorption at the next meal.

March 18, 2009

Made With... Clogged Arteries in Mind?

Baskin Robbins' latest offerings include "Made With..." sundaes, which add popular candies to your ice cream experience.

The "made with M&Ms" sundae, for example, consists of"three scoops of made with M&M's ice cream, layered with hot fudge and M&M's, topped with more hot fudge, marshmallow, whipped cream and more M&M's.""

Alas, this sundae is only available in one size, which adds up to:

1,090 calories
30 grams of saturated fat (approximately a day and a half's worth)
120 grams of added sugar (that's 30 teaspoons)

The "made with Snickers" sundae ("three scoops of made with Snickers ice cream, crushed Snickers pieces and caramel layers, topped with caramel, hot fudge, whipped cream and Snickers pieces", pictured at right) clocks in at:

1,000 calories
25 grams of saturated fat
93 grams of added sugar (approximately 23 teaspoons)
710 milligrams of sodium (70 more grams than a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish!)

What truly irritates me about these products is that if anyone happens to crave these sundaes, their only options are these nutritional horrors.

As we are all too aware, buying a sundae and throwing half of it out is not a reasonable expectation. Neither is having half and taking the rest home.

Why can't Baskin Robbins make this standard size a "large" and also offer a "small" sundae consisting of one scoop of ice cream and, consequently, a lot less of fudge, whipped cream, and candy pieces?

Why must an ice cream treat turn into a caloric abomination?

Food companies and fast food chains love to talk about "moderation", so how about offering it?

March 17, 2009

Numbers Game: A Few Spoonfuls of Sugar Make The Taste of Synthetic Vitamins Go Down Easier

A single-serve 11-ounce bottle of ready-to-drink Carnation Instant Breakfast Essentials contains _________ teaspoons of added sugar.

a) 4.5

b) 5.25
c) 6.75

d) 3.25

Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Saturday for the answer -- and to find out why I think Carnation Instant Breakfast is terribly over hyped.

More of the Same

Join me as I peruse the breakfast food aisle and analayze the newest offerings.

First up -- Kellogg's Raisin Bran Extra (traditional Kellogg's Raisin Bran with yogurt clusters, cranberries, and almonds.)

While points are scored for the exclusive use of whole wheat and presence of seven grams of fiber, not all is peachy.

The ingredient list displays sugar on six separate occasions, and a cup of this cereal contains as much sodium as two 1-ounce bags (think vending machine size) of Doritos!

Hannah Montana's gruesome invasion of pop culture now extends to cereal thanks to Kellogg's Hannah Montana cereal ("multi-grain secret star cereal with strawberry milkshake flavoring.")

The product's nutrition label, much like Miley Cyrus' vocal capability, is absolutely lackluster.

One cup offer a paltry gram of fiber, 2 grams of protein, and five times more sodium than potassium (the marker of a heavily processed food).

The ingredient list doesn't fare out much better. First up on the list? Corn meal.

Since the cereal is made from corn and oat, it is obnoxiously advertised as "multi grain" (literally meaning "more than one grain" and further proof that "multi grain" has nothing to do with fiber content!)

Let's move on to Pop Tarts' newest flavor, chocolate banana split ("white dough, banana/chocolate striped filling, white base frosting, and crunchlettes").

Just one of these toaster pastries (not exactly the most accurate serving size, especially since you get two per individual pack) clocks in at 200 calories, 200 milligrams of sodium, and 4 teaspoons of added sugar.

Despite the illustration of fresh banana slices on the packaging, bananas are missing from the ingredient list.

Underwhelming, yet not at all surprising.

Consider Me Amazed

I always like to taste products tailored to people on modified diets (i.e.: people living with diabetes, celiac disease, or lactose intolerance).

While I do not have a condition that requires me to avoid specific ingredients or keep my intake of a certain nutrient below a certain amount, I strongly believe that to get a firm grasp on the nutritional lifestyle of a given condition, I have to be familiar with what is available to that population.

Whenever I have tried sugar-free varieties of popular sweets (mainly meant for people who have diabetes and not anyone looking to lose weight since these products add more fat to balance out the absence of sugar, thereby being just as caloric as regular versions), I have been disappointed.

The presence of sugar alcohols usually imparts a strange aftertaste, and one too many bites of sugar-free chocolate often result in awful gastrointestinal effects.

I will never forget an incident where a "sugar-free" muffin (chock full of maltitol) had me bent over in pain for two hours from the absolutely horrible stomach pain.

Alas, my faith in diabetic-friendly desserts has been reawakened by So Delicious Sugar-Free ice cream bars.

These soy (yes, they are also lactose-free!) bars (available in fudge or vanilla bar varieties) are not only sugar-free, but also "artificial-sweetener free"!

Even better, they do not pump up the fat content to make up for the decrease in sugar.

A look at the ingredient list reveals: Organic soymilk, filtered water, vegetable glycerine, soybean/safflower oil, chicory root extract, cocoa (processed with alkali), gum acacia, erythritol (sugar alcohol from natural fermentation), vanilla extract, tricalcium phosphate (a natural source of calcium), guar gum, carrageenan, natural flavors.

Before having my first bite, I was skeptical. How on Earth, I thought, are they going to make ice cream taste good without any sweetness?

Well, the folks at So Delicious quickly won me over.

So much so that I recommend these 80-calorie bars to anyone looking for a low-calorie sweet treat to satisfy a chocolate craving.

March 16, 2009

In The News: More Is Not Better

Today's Sydney Morning Herald briefly touches upon the problem of vitamin mega dosing among pregnant women, particularly since extremely high doses of vitamins A, D and E during pregnancy have been linked with birth defects.

Historically, the field of nutrition looked at health problems from an "undernutrition" standpoint; that is, what can happen when we don't eat enough or get a sufficient amount of nutrients?

We are now starting to see an increasing amount of studies focus on the problem of overnutrition.

Whether it's too many calories, or too much of one specific vitamin, it is important for consumers to realize that the key to health, much like Goldilocks' dilemma, lies in getting just the right amount.

Although harmless, the last wave of overconsumption I witnessed -- at least here in the United States -- was the bottled water craze. It's almost as if people forgot that their bodies had thirst mechanisms!

Drinking three liters of water a day doesn't accomplish much of anything other than more frequent trips to the bathroom.

March 15, 2009

Numbers Game: Answer

A half cup of kidney beans contains 5 times more soluble fiber than a half cup of lentils.

(REMEMBER: Soluble fiber is helpful for achieving a feeling of fullness more quickly, while insoluble fiber helps speed up the transit of food in the digestive system).

A half cup of kidney beans provides 5.7 grams of fiber, of which 2.9 grams are soluble.

That same amount of lentils, meanwhile, offers a total of 7.8 grams of fiber, of which 0.6 grams are soluble.

Don't cast lentils aside, though. A mere half cup of them packs 7.2 grams of insoluble fiber -- significantly higher than kidney beans' 2.8 grams.

Although both types of fiber are beneficial and part of a healthy diet, it's wise to become familiar with foods that are good sources of each one.

Therefore, if you're looking to fill yourself up more quickly with fewer calories, add kidney beans -- rather than lentils -- to salads, wraps, and chili recipes.

When you want to speed up movement in your digestive system, though, you are certainly better off with lentil-based dishes.

March 14, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Soda & Calcium

At 24, I was recently diagnosed with osteopenia.

I know you've said that soda can cause calcium to be leached from your bones because of the phosphoric acid in it, but does this apply to all carbonated beverages?

What about sparkling water?

I want to make sure I'm getting enough calcium from my diet.

-- Sarah (last name withheld)

New York, NY

As you state, sodas can cause calcium to be leached from bones due to the presence of phosphoric acid (if this is news to you, please see this post for details).

Not all carbonated beverages contain phosphoric acid; you'll usually find that particular ingredient in cola beverages (rather than lemon-lime sodas or club sodas).

In any case, it is always wise to take a peek at the ingredient list for reassurance.

Keep in mind that phosphoric acid in soda calcium leaching is only a problem if your calcium consumption is insufficient.

Someone who meets their daily calcium requirement and drinks one can of soda a day is in a very different -- and much less worrisome -- situation from someone who only gets 40 percent of their daily calcium requirement and drinks three cans of soda on a daily basis.

March 13, 2009

In The News: Cardiovascular Precociousness

Troubling news courtesy of the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey: "overweight children as young as age 3 can begin to show signs of cardiovascular disease risk factors."


The study specifically analyzed levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and C-reactive protein (an inflammation marker that accurately predicts cardiovascular disease) in 3,098 children between the ages of 3 and 6.

Results? Low HDL and high C-reactive protein levels were found in children with high BMIs and large waist circumferences.

This is particularly disturbing since 24 percent of children in the United States between the ages of 2 and 5 are overweight, and 12 percent classify as obese.

Additionally, while it is common knowledge that heart disease is a "pediatric" disease in the sense that the damage often begins in childhood, many people don't see clinical markers until later in life. This certainly begs for a different viewpoint.

One also can't help but wonder about possible health consequences when obesity begins as early as age three.

You Ask, I Answer: Cabbage, Radishes, Calcium

My family eats a ton of red cabbage.

Is this a fairly healthy, cruciferous vegetable and a good source of calcium?

What about radishes?

-- Dennise O'Grady

Bay Head, NJ

Like all other cruciferous vegetables, red cabbage offers a wonderful array of unique phytonutrients and flavonoids that have been shown to help reduce the risk of a variety of cancers, particularly colorectal and bladder).

It is not, however, a good source of calcium. Unlike some of its calcium-powerful relatives (bok choy, broccoli, kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens), its absorption rate is quite low.

Whereas slightly less than one cup of kale steamed kale provides the same amount of calcium as a half cup of milk, you need three cups of steamed cabbage to reach that same amount.

Slight aside: For maximum absorption of all nutrients and components, opt for steamed, rather than raw, cabbage.

Radishes do not particularly stand out from a nutrient composition standpoint. Although they offer almost every single vitamin and mineral, each one occurs in small amount.

Alas, nutrition isn't solely about vitamins and minerals. The antioxidants that give radishes their natural hue are very beneficial to health.

As with cabbage, radishes are not your best source of calcium. Due to their low absorptive qualities, it takes four and a half cups to match the amount of absorbable calcium in a half cup of milk.

Where Do I Begin?

The folks at ConAgra appear to be quite proud of their Kid Cuisine products.

Aimed at elementary school students, these ready-to-eat lunches are -- believe it or not -- advertised as healthy items.

Let's analyze one variety. How about the Dip & Dunk Toasted Ravioli?

The initial descriptive sentence says it all: "This meal features breaded real-cheese ravioli..."

Beside the slightly disturbing fact that we have to be assured this product contains "real" cheese (as opposed to... cheez?), I find the breading of ravioli rather odd -- and unnecessary.

The nutrition label displays 9 grams of fiber (good!) and one tenth of the daily potassium requirement (not bad!), but also a third of a day's worth of sodium (yikes!) and 18 grams -- 4 and a half teaspoons' worth -- of sugar.

Oddly enough, Conagra advertises this product as containing 20 percent of MyPyramid's suggested daily servings of grains. How this is a selling point beats me; no one in this country has any problem getting their recommended servings of that food group!

The ingredient list, not surprisingly, is very long (the cheese ravioli, for instance, contain a garlic puree made with high fructose corn syrup) and includes one of my pet peeves: unnecessary sweetening.

It turns out the side of corn isn't simply corn kernels. Nope, it's corn with water and sugar.

Sugar? Added to corn?

Then there's the "fruit shaped and fruit flavored" snacks. In other words, it looks like a fruit and tastes like a fruit, but it's just sugar.

This product could easily be tweaked to provide similar flavors with a superior nutrition profile. My suggestions:

* Replace the breaded ravioli with baked, 100% whole grain cheese-and-broccoli bites.

* Offer corn kernels in their naturally sweet state.

* Replace the fruit snacks with unpeeled apple slices.

Those three changes could slash the sugar content approximately by half and lower the sodium by roughly 150 milligrams.

March 12, 2009

Things That Make You Go... "Oh No, They Didn't!"

Food advertising is always.... interesting.

That's not to say it can't also be horrifying and disturbing.

Consider, for instance, this McDonald's advertisement that was prominently featured in Austrian billboard a few years ago.

Yes, this was a real advertisement!

Once your eyebrows return to their original position, feel free to post your thoughts.

You Ask, I Answer: Iron Cookware

Any data out there on the amount of iron transferred into food when cooking with cast iron cook ware?

Does the act of seasoning the cast iron (coating it in oil) prevent or diminish iron's capacity to leach into food during cooking?

-- Nicole Journault
[City Unknown], Canada

One of the most thorough studies on this topic, conducted by Brittin and Nossaman, was published in 1986 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The conclusion? "Acidity, moisture content, and cooking time of food significantly affected the iron content of food cooked in iron utensils."

It is a well established fact that cooking in cast iron cookware will transfer some iron into your food, especially if the food contains high amounts of vitamin C and moisture and is stirred or turned over frequently.

In terms of figures, cooking half a cup of spaghetti sauce in an iron pot for 15 minutes increases its iron content by approximately 800 percent. Foods low in moisture and vitamin C, however, increase by anywhere from 80 to 150 percent.

Keep in mind that these figures depend on how long you cook these foods for.

The "catch 22" is that iron cookware often imparts a strong metallic taste to foods -- especially those high in vitamin C and moisture cooked for long periods of time!

Three more important points:

1) Coating the cookware in oil prevents iron's leaching capacities.

2) Iron absorption gradually decreases with each passing use.

3) Since iron cookware only increases the iron content of non-heme iron, meats are unaffected.

March 11, 2009

Numbers Game: Legume Lowdown

A half cup of kidney beans contains ____ times more soluble fiber than a half cup of lentils.

(REMEMBER: Soluble fiber is helpful for achieving a feeling of fullness more quickly, while insoluble fiber helps speed up the transit of food in the digestive system)

a) 2.5
b) 3

c) 4
d) 5

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

You Ask, I Answer: Iron Absorption

I found your post about calcium absorption from different foods really interesting.

Are there other vitamins or minerals where that happens?

-- Nancy (last name withheld)

Coral Gables, FL

Yes -- let's talk about iron!

The highest iron absorption rate occurs with beef -- of which our bodies absorb approximately 20 percent.

Poultry and pork are relatively close, averaging anywhere from 15 to 18 percent absorption.

When it comes to foods like beans and spinach, though, our bodies only take up 2 percent!

Fish falls somewhere in between -- roughly eight percent of the iron in boiled fish is absorbed, but that figure is slightly increased if you're talking about canned tuna fish.

Remember -- heme iron (found in animal products) is more absorbable than non-heme iron (from plant foods).

Here is some interesting -- and little-known -- iron trivia:

The Dietary Reference Intake for iron is 8 milligrams for adult men ages 19 - 50 and 18 milligrams for adult women in that same age group, but those figures tell very little of the real story.

Truth is, we only need anywhere from 0.5 to 2 milligrams of iron a day.

However, to absorb those amounts, we need to consume anywhere from 8 to 18 milligrams of iron in our food.

Since food labels only display the total iron in a food (rather than what is actually absorbable), the Dietary Reference Intakes take this into account.

More importantly, though, those DRIs are strictly for omnivores.

Vegetarian men ages 19 to 50 should aim for 14 milligrams a day (remember, we are talking total/food label figures here), while women of that same age should be getting 33 milligrams per day!

A vegetarian diet does not in and of itself cause anemia; vegetarians simply need to eat higher amounts of non-heme iron to supply the body with sufficient quantities of this mineral.

March 10, 2009

Measure It Out

One of the greater challenges of weight management is keeping accurate track of calories.

At the salad bar, you grab a container of salad dressing and sprinkle some over your dish. Doesn't look like a lot, especially in that huge bowl filled with healthy vegetables!

When you sauteƩ vegetables, you pour some oil into the pot for what appears to be no more than a single second.

Spreading peanut butter on your morning toast is a matter of dipping the knife in the jar and getting just enough to cover the entire slice of bread.

Raisins are good for you, so you figure two handfuls in your morning oatmeal are no big deal.

I do not expect anyone to walk around with measuring spoons and cups on them or take all enjoyment out of eating by fretting over 15 calories.

In fact, that is the LAST thing I want you to do!

However, I strongly suggest that, just for a one-week period, you familiarize yourself with measurements.

Next time you pour yourself cereal, pour it into a half cup measure first, and then into your bowl.
Become aware of what a half cup of cereal actually LOOKS like.

Serve yourself the amount you normally eat for breakfast, but keep in mind the half cup reference point -- as well as how many of those half cups make it to your bowl.

Do the same thing with your milk. You may think you're getting a good amount of calcium every morning, but if you are merely adding a quarter cup to your cereal, you're getting less than 10 percent of a day's worth.

I also recommend you have measuring spoons handy when you cook.

Before pouring oil into a pot to sauteƩ garlic and onions, pour the oil into a tablespoon measurement and then into the pot. Is that what you usually pour? If so, that's 120 calories.

If what you usually pour is equivalent to five tablespoons, that's 600 calories.

This is a great exercise because, in the event that you are looking to lose some weight, it pinpoints what particular foods or meals you can feasibly make some adjustments to.

Once you devote a week to this, you will have a clearer mental picture of what a tablespoon or a quarter cup of different foods look like. I'm sure you'll find this helpful down the road when it comes to accurately gauging calories as you go through your day.

Consider it a lifetime investment!

Shame On You/Say What?: Intruder Alert!

A reader by the name of Rachelle recently left a comment on this blog notifying me about author John Gray's foray into nutrition.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because Mr. Gray is the author of Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus.

Despite a lack of nutrition credentials, Mr. Gray now considers himself knowledgeable enough to dole out nutrition advice. Oh, joy.

Perhaps it is the "PhD" after his name that gave him this confidence, although that credential has been severely questioned.

In any case, Mr. Gray offers nutritional cleanses retreats (red flag, anyone?) and hawks -- are you ready for it? -- Mars & Venus shakes.

According to Mr. Gray, these shakes offer the "ideal balance of nutrients" for men and women. Don't you love vague pseudo-science catch phrases?

You do? Great, because here's another one: "the shakes are designed to assist the brain in functioning in a more balanced and harmonious manner."

Mr. Gray also claims these shakes get you to your ideal weight. If you need to lose, you will lose. If you need to gain weight, you will gain. I would love to see the randomized double-blind control trials that confirm this (because I'm so sure he conducted them.)

Despite having the exact same ingredients in different amounts, Mr. Gray claims the Mars shake produces more dopamine in the brain, while the Venus shake produces more serotonin.

Huh? Both shakes contain a protein powder. Protein-rich foods cause a surge of dopamine. So, how then, does the Venus shake differ?

If you're looking to lose weight, Mr. Gray has you covered!

All you have to do is buy his shake powder (of course!) and have it as your breakfast and dinner.

For lunch, you can eat a salad "with as many raw vegetables and avocado as you wish" as well as some form of protein, all topped with olive oil and either lemon juice or vinegar.

Although Mr. Gray claims the "effortless weight loss" (15 pounds a week, he claims!) is due to the magic ingredients in his shake, it's clear that the "magic" is simple caloric deprivation.

How can you NOT lose weight if your only solid meal of the day is a salad and your other two meals each consist of one scoop of powder and eight ounces of water?

Despite all the fantastic claims, the small print at the bottom of his website reads "John Gray's Mars & Venus LLC does NOT guarantee weight loss."

Hmmmm... interesting how he never mentions that in his breathless infomercials where he mentions how "life changing" his shakes have been!

Now we come to my favorite part -- the head-scratching nutrition-related statements:

* The weight loss cleanse prohibits the intake of any dairy, yet the shakes -- which are a significant part of the cleanse -- contain whey protein!

Newsflash, Mr. Gray, whey protein is a dairy protein!

* Mr. Gray on Omega-3's: "A couple of tablespoons of flaxseed [have as many Omega-3's] as a meal of salmon."

Firstly, how big is a "meal of salmon"?

Additionally, can you say "back to Nutrition 101 for you"? The Omega 3's in flaxseed consist of alpha linolenic acid, whereas salmon offers Docosahexaonoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

It is not an equal comparison!

* Mr. Gray hates soy, mainly due to its phytate content, which blocks mineral absorption.

Had he bothered to research the topic, he would have realized that although phytates interfere with the absorption of some minerals, they also offer a variety of well-documented health benefits.

Tannins in coffee and tea interfere with iron absorption, but that doesn't mean coffee and tea are "bad" beverages.

* Mr. Gray refers to a food that contains a certain amount of cholesterol as one that provides "3% of the daily requirement."

Wrong again! There is no daily requirement for cholesterol; it is not an essential nutrient. The 300 milligram figure is considered a "limit," not a requirement.

* Mr. Gray claims coconut is the only food that contains lauric acid.

Not so! Goat's milk, cow's milk, and palm kernel oil also contain the fatty acid.

These examples merely scratch the non-sense surface.

As I said in an earlier post -- enough is enough! The last thing anyone needs is more inaccurate nutrition advice from individuals who don't possess even the most basic knowledge!

This Earthling is not amused.

March 9, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Quorn

I've seen Quorn products in supermarkets for a while in the same section as frozen veggie and soy burgers.

Do you know anything about them?

-- Doris Kinley

(city withheld), ME

Quorn is a highly popular meat-free alternative in Great Britain that appears to finally be catching on with consumers on this side of the Atlantic.

The main ingredient is a fermented mycroprotein (that means it's fungus/mushroom-related) that provide tastes and textures similar to those of poultry.

Quorn products are not a vegan alternative, though, as they are also concocted with egg protein.

Like soy, this particular mycoprotein is a complete protein and a good source of polyunsaturated fat.

Quorn also happens to be a decent source of fiber, and has been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol levels in some studies.

Keep in mind, though, that your average quorn "chicken breast" contains roughly a quarter of a day's worth of sodium.

March 8, 2009

Numbers Game: Answer

According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, 79 percent of adults living in the United States do not meet the required daily intake of magnesium.

Although these intake levels are not low enough to result in clinical deficiencies, they are worrying when you look at calcium-to-magnesium ratios in the United States.

High calcium to magnesium ratios have been linked with higher risks of colorectal cancer and, in some studies, heart disease.

This is largely due to the fact that calcium and magnesium compete for absorption (high ratios don't allow magnesium to do its job properly).

Diets with high calcium:magnesium ratio put individuals at a higher risk for oxidative damage (one of the most significant causes behind the development many diseases).

The ratio should ideally be approximately 2:1 (hence the calcium DRI of 1,000 milligrams and the magnesium DRI of 500 milligrams).

Nuts, beans, potatoes, whole grains, and spinach are the best sources of magnesium.

March 7, 2009

The Lowdown on Calcium

Calcium is one of the most misunderstood nutrients.

The range of confusion varies from those who think dairy products contain the most absorbable type of this mineral to people who think spinach is a great source of calcium.

Let's clarify these points.

Are dairy products a good source of calcium? Yes. After all, eight ounces of milk provide a third of the daily value of calcium.

Are dairy products the only way to get calcium? Absolutely not.

Do dairy products provide calcium with the highest bioavailability? No.

Consider the following:

Eight ounces (one cup) of milk contain 300 milligrams of calcium.

A half cup of cooked bok choy provides 79 milligrams of calcium.

To someone unfamiliar with nutrition, the conclusion might seem obvious: "I need two cups of bok choy to get as much calcium as a cup of milk!"

Alas, nutrition science isn't always as obvious as it seems.

You actually only need one and a quarter cups of cooked bok choy to match the calcium you would get from a cup of milk since the calcium in bok choy is more absorbable than the one in dairy products.

The same thing happens with Chinese cabbage. A half cup of this cooked vegetable offers 239 milligrams of calcium, but that equals the amount of absorbable calcium in a cup of milk.

Let's now turn our attention to spinach. I am continually amazed by the amount of self-touted (though, clearly, not really) nutritione experts who list this vegetable as a good source of calcium.

A half cup of cooked spinach offers 115 milligrams of calcium. However, due to its high amount of oxalates (organic acids naturally found in spinach that inhibit calcium absorption), it takes EIGHT cups of cooked spinach to equal the amount of absorbable calcium in one cup of milk.

It just so happens that unlike spinach, the Brassica family of plants -- including broccoli, kale, bok choy, cabbage, and mustard greens) does not accumulate oxalate, thereby providing highly absorbable calcium.

I know some people like their nutrition advice in absolute form ("NEVER eat this, ALWAYS eat this), it's not my style.

My suggestions provide you with plenty of choices. If you like milk, drink it -- it provides a significant amount of calcium.

If you don't like it or don't want to include it in your diet, no need to worry about calcium as long as you include greens from the Brassica family and other non-dairy sources (tofu, tempeh, almonds, calcium-fortified alternative milks, etc.) in your diet.

March 6, 2009

When 100% Isn't Really 100%

The new boxes of Total cereal proudly exclaim:

"NOW! The most calcium and Vitamin D of any leading cereal!"

(Although I couldn't find a photograph of these boxes, the slightly outdated one on the left boasts the 100% calcium claim).

A cup of this retooled version provides a day's worth of calcium (1,000 milligrams) -- too bad our bodies can only metabolize approximately 500 milligrams at a time.

In other words, that bowl of cereal actually provides, at most, half a day's worth of calcium.

Not bad by any means, but not quite what the food label says.

I am also concerned about a cereal that attempts to provide a day's worth of iron and calcium in the same serving, since high amounts of calcium (anything above 300 milligrams, per the research literature) are known to interfere with the absorption of non-heme iron.

In The News: Aisle-Worthy

An interesting piece of legislature passed in my home country of Argentina yesterday.

All supermarkets in Buenos Aires are now required by law to house healthier options and diet-specific products in clearly marked aisles.

This means, for instance, that all gluten-free products must be in the same aisle (as opposed to spread out in different aisles depending on what food category they belong to.)

Additionally, product varieties that classify as "lower in fat/calories/sugar" must all be housed in one aisle. Under this new law, low-fat mayo, lower-in-sodium soups, and reduced-sugar cereals would be clustered together.

Legislators say the goal is to "facilitate consumers' search for products that meet their dietary needs."

I like this idea quite a bit.

While by no means a perfect solution (ie: how about housing 100% whole grain products? Who decides what makes a product "healthy" enough to be placed in these aisles? What if a product is lower in fat but has the same amount of -- or more -- calories?), it's a start.

I also appreciate the decision to make food shopping slightly easier -- especially for those avoiding certain ingredients due to allergies and intolerances.

March 5, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Weston Price Organization

What do you know about the Weston Price Foundation?

-- Dennise O'Grady

Bay Head, NJ

Let's start with the positive -- they advocate for small farmers, and particularly strengthening farmer-to-consumer relationships.

Other than that, I view them as an extremist group that tends to border on silliness. That's their logo, by the way, which, they explain, illustrates Western societies' narrow-mindedness towards food.

An odd choice, since the "narrow vision" includes everything from Houston to Peruvian highlands to the Caribbean. Meanwhile, a lot of the nations in the "wide" circles have just as many problems with obesity, diabetes, and junk food consumption as the United States. I don't get it.

Their core belief? Full-fat raw dairy, butter, red meat, and soaked grains are the answer to a healthy life, while plant-based diets are the root of all health problems.

I'll let their writing speak for itself.

Exhibit A:

"According to an article in the Washington Post ("Don't have a cow, Mom," October 31, 2006) vegetarianism among teenagers is increasing. Vegetarian families eat a more varied diet, we are told, which includes such yummies as rutabaga and tofu. Not to worry, Mom, says the American Dietetic Association, ". . . a well-planned all-veggie diet for children and adolescents can be nutritionally sound. . . " as long as teens consume soy beverages and cereals fortified with vitamin D and B12. The dietitians claim teens can get adequate calcium, iron, zinc and protein from vegetables, grains, fruit, and, of course, soy foods. No mention is made of vitamin A, so necessary for reproductive health, nor of the downside of all those soy foods. So, don't have a cow, Mom. Just don't expect to have any grandchildren."

Gee,I must have missed all the headlines about vegetarian women being physically incapable of having children!

I have so many problems with that paragraph I don't even know where to begin.

First of all, vegetarianism does not necessarily translate into a high consumption of soy foods.

Additionally, the term "soy foods" is too broad. Adding nutrient-packed soy foods like tempeh or tofu to a dish is very different from eating two bags of processed soy chips every day.

As for vitamin A: we know that 12 micrograms of beta-carotene equal 1 microgram of Vitamin A. We also know that women need 700 micrograms of vitamin A a day.

Let's do some math. A half cup of cooked sweet potato provides approximately 7,000 micrograms of beta carotene, which translates into roughly 580 micrograms of vitamin A (more than three quarters of a day's worth!)

If this women were to then eat some carrots, an orange, an egg, some vitamin A-fortified milk, or a grapefruit that same day, they would easily meet their vitamin A requirement. So, what is the problem?

Exhibit B:

"George Rene Francis of Sacramento, who turned 110 this year, enjoys "tons of milk, tons of eggs, lard on bread and salt pork sandwiches." He avoids visits to the doctor but smokes cigars. He credits his virility to a combination of fresh camel's milk, daily walks and plenty of meat—rabbit, lamb, chicken and wild animals, which he still hunts himself (, August 24, 2007)."

This is what you call bad science. No, make that horrendous science. Using an anomaly as proof of something is ludicruous. It's akin to a tobacco company using this news item to show that, hey, smoking is harmless!

Exhibit C:

"Today's dietary gurus tell us that we must eat vegetables and fruit to obtain vitamins and minerals. Per Magnuson, an astute member from Sweden, points out that fruits and vegetables cannot compare in nutrient levels with animal foods, especially nutrient-dense animal foods like liver. Here's what we came up with as a way of assessing the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables versus meat and liver. Note that every nutrient in red meat except for vitamin C surpasses those in apples and carrots, and every nutrient-including vitamin C-in beef liver occurs in exceedingly higher levels in beef liver compared to apple and carrots."

What a riot! How can someone in the nutrition field expect to be taken seriously when they don't take into account phytonutrients (which, by mere definition, are only available in plant foods)?

Good luck getting fiber from liver, too.

I also can't comprehend how so-called "experts" don't mention that one of the causes of hypervitaminosis A (vitamin A toxicity) is frequent consumption of liver!

Exhibit D:

"According to government and media health pundits, the top best 14 foods are:
  1. Beans
  2. Blueberries
  3. Broccoli
  4. Oats
  5. Oranges
  6. Pumpkin
  7. Salmon
  8. Soy
  9. Spinach
  10. Tea (green or black)
  11. Tomatoes
  12. Turkey
  13. Walnuts
  14. Yogurt

This uninspiring list reflects the current establishment angels (anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids) and demons (saturated fats and animal foods).

Our list of the 14 best top foods, foods that supply vital nutrients including the fat-soluble vitamins, looks like this:

  1. Butter from grass-fed cows (preferably raw)
  2. Oysters
  3. Liver from grass-fed animals
  4. Eggs from grass-fed hens
  5. Cod liver oil
  6. Fish eggs
  7. Whole raw milk from grass-fed cows
  8. Bone broth
  9. Shrimp
  10. Wild salmon
  11. Whole yogurt or kefir
  12. Beef from grass-fed steers
  13. Sauerkraut
  14. Organic Beets

A diet containing only these foods will confer lifelong good health; a diet containing only the foods in the first list is the fast track to nutritional deficiencies."

Except that no one is saying people should limit themselves to the first fourteen items; rather, the recommendation is to include as many of them in your diet as you can. Making an argument based on erroneous pretenses is futile.

And what is up with the feeble "uninspiring list" diss? If anything, the first list has more variety and color than Weston A Price's!

Besides, does anyone really believe that a diet rich in tea, fruits, and vegetables causes nutritional deficiencies?

And where did the list attributed to "government and media pundits" come from? That list is not nutrition dogma by any means; any dietitian will tell you that you can be perfectly healthy without ever eating a tomato or a pumpkin as long as your overall diet patterns are healthy.

Again, illogical conclusions based on bad science.

I rest my case.

UPDATE: Since this post went up, I have received many comments on other (non-related) postings from "anonymous" sources who, ever-so-coincidentally, suggest I take a look at the Weston Price Organization's website for the "truth."

March 4, 2009

Numbers Game: A New Low

According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, ______ percent of adults living in the United States do not meet the required daily intake of magnesium.

a) 79
b) 41

c) 62

d) 58

Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Sunday for the answer -- and what it means for your health.

You Ask, I Answer: Muscle Milk

There is a supplement drink called Muscle Milk that everybody at my gym (including trainers) seem to be raving about.

It contains protein of course, but focuses more on it's revolutionary fat content (which they coin as Lean Lipids).

[They claim] they help burn fats more efficiently.
Being an avid reader of your site, I'm sure this is just another gimmick but is there any truth to the types of fats ingested and improving fat burning?

-- Bexx

Via the blog

Muscle Milk has been the darling of protein supplements for many years.

Can't say I'm surprised, given the aggressive marketing, the taste that closely mimics a milkshake, and the scientific-sounding hype about "fat burning", "lean muscle-promoting" properties.

Before I address my issues with the product, let me say a word about personal trainers.

I have met many personal trainers who are knowledgeable about nutrition and have studied the science appropriately, but also met a fair share who consider themselves experts simply because they subscribe to muscle magazines (most of which, by the way, take generous amounts of advertising dollars from protein-supplement manufacturers).

Before you take nutrition advice from a personal trainer, find out what their credentials are.

Onto Muscle Milk.

The claim that Muscle Milk "burns" fat rather than store it is inaccurate.

Downing three Muscle Milk shakes a day (as the company recommends) in conjunction with a sedentary lifestyle will undoubtedly result in weight gain and stored fat.

Remember: excess calories that are not burned off are stored as fat no matter what their source is.

I do not deny that liquid calories can be helpful for building mass in conjunction with weight lifting, since it is easy to add hundreds to your day with just a few gulps.

However, rather than spending money on powders filled with artificial sweeteners and various chemicals, opt for real food. Blending skim milk, peanut butter, a banana, and some ice cubes provides an appropriate balance of nutrients for a post-workout snack.

I am even more baffled by Muscle Milk's boast that it is a "low-carb" formula. If recovering from a workout is the goal, you need equal amounts of protein and carbohydrate, which is why you are better off having a glass of skim milk and a slice of whole wheat toast or fresh fruit with some cottage cheese.

Restricting carbohydrates after a workout makes no sense.

Remember, too, that muscle growth is ONLY achieved by stressing a muscle. People would benefit more from learning proper weight-lifting techniques and movements than chugging down hundreds of grams a protein per day which simply get excreted in urine.

It is products like this that inspired my recent "Enough is Enough!" posting.

People who claim to see "results" from Muscle Milk don't realize that the credit should simply be given to efficient workouts and excess calories, not "magic ingredients" in a supplement.