April 29, 2009


The new Small Bites is here!

CLICK HERE to be redirected to Small Bites 2.0 -- with a new look, its very own logo, and part of my new website, andybellatti.com.

Starting today, all future postings will be on the new Small Bites.

Every single post since Small Bites' inception in April of 2007 can also be found there, so go ahead and update your bookmarks and links.

This version of the blog will only stay up for redirecting purposes.

I look forward to seeing you on the new site!

PS: If you e-mailed me in the past week, you now know why you haven't heard from me yet! Going through my backlog of e-mails is at the top of my "to do" list now.

April 28, 2009

"Shop The Perimeter of the Supermarket"? I Don't Think So!

Earlier today at my dentist's office, I flipped through a fitness and nutrition magazine and spotted the ever-prevalent food shopping tip -- "stick to the perimeter of the store; that's where the healthiest items are."

Alright, time out. I disagree.

While the perimeters of most supermarkets offer fresh and frozen produce as well as lean protein (ranging from chicken breasts to tofu to shrimp), there are plenty of healthy options waiting smack in the middle of all those aisles!

Branding aisle shelves as "evil" is overly simplistic -- and inaccurate. After all, that is where you would find these nutrition all-stars:

* Canned beans
* Lentils
* Nuts and seeds
* Nut and seed butters
* Olive oil
* Plain instant oatmeal
* Quinoa
* Brown rice
* Whole grain pastas
* Spices (a great way to reduce sodium in your cooking!)
* Canned tuna and canned salmon

So go ahead, check out what's on sale in aisle four. Just be sure to glance over the nutrition facts -- and take a peek at the ingredient list!

April 27, 2009

Quick & Healthy Recipes: Easy Peezy (Healthy!) Sweet "Cream"

Now that high temperatures are finally back in the Northern hemisphere, the cold breakfasts that seemed so miserable a few months back are suddenly the perfect way to start the day.

I don't know about you, but I LOVE a bowl of fresh fruit and whipped cream. It makes for a great dessert, but it's certainly not the healthiest way to start your day.

Alas, here is my couldn't-be-any-easier recipe for a healthier cream that adds body, creaminess, and flavor to whatever you pair it with!

YIELDS: 1.5 cups


1 cup raw cashews
1 cup cold water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract


Combine all ingredients in food processor and mix until a smooth consistency is reached.

For best flavor and texture, refrigerate for at least 4 hours before consuming.

This tastes absolutely wonderful mixed with a cold bowl of fresh fruit!

NUTRITION INFORMATION (per 1/4 cup serving):

141 calories
6 grams fat
1 gram saturated fat
30 milligrams sodium
1.4 grams sugar (naturally occurring)
4.6 grams protein

Excellent Source of: copper, magnesium, manganese
Good Source of: potassium, zinc

April 26, 2009

Speaking With...: Brian Wansink

This past Friday, Cornell University John Dyson Professor of Consumer Behavior and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Laboratory Dr. Brian Wansink stopped by New York University after being tapped as the second featured speaker of a new lecture series on nutrition and chronic disease.

Taking off from his bestseller Mindless Eating, his talk was appropriately titled, "How To Turn Mindless Eating Into Healthy Eating."

With those prevously mentioned credentials, you might picture a stiff, "all business" type who solves complex equations in his head while half-listening to you.

Dr. Wansink, however, is reminiscent of the cool high school math teacher who wanted you to learn -- and have fun while doing so. His research explanations are peppered with personal anecdotes, comedy, and facial expressions that sometimes rival those of Jim Carrey.

A few hours before his afternoon presentation, I sat down with Dr. Wansink for a one-on-one interview.

If you are unfamiliar with Dr. Wansink's work, please click here to familiarize yourself with his research before reading the interview.

I get such a kick out of all your publicity shots for Mindless Eating [NOTE: see accompanying picture]. They're great! Have they all been photographers' ideas?

Ha! Thanks. Yeah, I've had some really creative photographers who set up these elaborate shoots. Some of those popcorn shots literally took twelve hours, from setup to cleanup. There was a LOT of popcorn all over the floor at the end that had to be cleaned up (laughs).

So, I recently read that all of this research started as a result of you wanting people in the United States to eat more vegetables.

That's right.

How did you go from that to your current line of research?

Yeah, before I started my dissertation [in the late 80s], I wanted to know: "why do you finish your vegetables sometimes and other times you leave them on your plate?". "Why are you hungry for them one night and not the next?" That then evolved into the idea of environmental factors that affect our overall eating patterns. It's a lot more complex than people think because so many of our eating behaviors are automatic. This is all about getting below that surface. One of my first research studies had to do with family serving behavior. We had people come in, eat, and then answer questions about what they ate.

Then, we showed them video footage of their meal. It is amazing how many people flat out deny, or are not aware of, their eating behavior. You'll say to someone, "you had three servings of peas." They'll tell you, "No, I only had one!" You feel like saying, "Well, unless you have an evil twin..."

It's not until you show them the videotape that they change their mind.
I once had a woman cry when she saw herself eating on camera! My research considers three angles. Not only what people are eating and how much of it, but also with what frequency.

How did all that research turn into Mindless Eating?

In 2004, I was in France and thought to myself, "I'd like to write a book, but I don't know if I want it to be academic or pop."

That year, Bonnie Liebman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest interviewed me for their Nutrition Action newsletter, and suddenly a lot of requests for book deal started coming in. Most of them were e-mails and, I don't know, nothing really stood out. Then I got a letter -- an actual letter! -- from Bantam Dell Books. One of the things I liked about them is that, as they told me, they are in the business of creating "real books that people read."

Interesting you say that, because I think that's definitely one of the factors behind the popularity of Mindless Eating. It is relatable for and interesting to the average consumer.

So at this point, it's been a few years since the book came out. I was wondering about recent developments. For example, have you conducted any research on the effects of calorie postings in fast food restaurants?

Oh yeah, I was involved in a VERY well-done study with Carnegie Mellon in regards to calorie labeling. We looked at McDonald's, Subway, and Starbucks in terms of what consumers were buying before and after calories went up. And, you know what? The results were indeterminant. They were all over the board. Some people consumed fewer calories, others didn't. I would actually be suspicious of anyone who told you they have seen a dramatic effect as a result of calorie labeling.

That strikes me as really odd. What are your theories regarding the results of that study?

There's a few things to consider. First of all, when it comes to weight loss, a lot of people think: Yeah, I wouldn't mind losing ten pounds, but I don't want to change a thing." Then there's reactance, which is a psychological term. It's basically resistance. Reactance is at play when you're in your car and the person behind you honks so you pull away more slowly than you would otherwise.

(Laughs) Or when you know someone at a restaurant is waiting for your table, so you sit there and take a little longer.

Yeah. So I think, in a way, some people are seeing these calories and thinking, "Oh yeah? Well, you're not going to tell ME what to eat!" Something similar happened in a study I did with Cornell. So, Cornell has a huge dining hall that services about 1100 people at one time. I wanted to see what effect going tray-less would have. I thought it would have two positive effects -- it would result in reduced waste and reduced calories.

The idea being that people couldn't pile everything on at once but instead had to get up from their table each time they wanted more food?

Yeah, exactly. Well, the results came in, and that night there was roughly 30 percent MORE plate waste! I think it comes back to that idea of reactance, where people saw this and thought, "Fine, I won't use a tray, but I'm not going to eat less." But that's not to say that I think calorie labeling isn't useful. Let me tell you something. The other day I went to Sbarro and saw that the slice of pizza I wanted was 787 calories. Aaaaaaaah!! So I think these calorie postings are going to serve as incentives for these food companies to say, "Alright, wait a minute, I want to turn that 787 into 690." I think it's going to nudge companies to drop the numbers, and that's what will, in turn, affect consumers.

Speaking of consumers, you recently finished your one-year post with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion working on the Dietary Gudelines. How did that go?

Oh, it was great! I thought I was on a mission from God! My last day was January 20, when the new president took office. I was literally sending e-mails at 11:59 PM on January 19. I was still e-mailing at 12:05 AM on January 20, and I remember thinking "Wow, they didn't shut off my inbox!" Then I got up to grab something to eat, and about ten minutes later I came back and I no longer had access.

Any sneak peeks as to possible changes we may expect in the next round of Dietary Guidelines?

I was involved with the selection of the 13 Dietary Guidelines committee members, and 11 of them have a behavioral focus. They operate where the rubber meets the road. That's important, because they take pages upon pages of data and transform it into information for the masses that can be summarized in just a few sentences.

So to wrap up, I'm interested in hearing about research you are in the process of conducting now.

Oh yeah, sure. Well, we're looking at what happens to people's eating behaviors when they sit next to someone who has a much higher BMI than they do. We are also doing a study where we have someone wearing a fat suit and going through one side of a buffet very slowly, serving themselves a lot of food. Everyone on the other side of the salad bar takes a much lower amount of food compared to when that person is going through the salad bar without the fat suit on. It's the whole concept of mimicking the attractive person. It's terrible, because weight is the last acceptable prejudice in our society and it can really be crippling to a person's self-esteem.

Lately, the concept of "nature vs. nurture" has become central to the issue of childhood obesity. Do you have any thoughts on that from a behavioral standpoint?

Well, we conducted a study with 4 year olds. We gave all the kids a questionnaire to take home. The point of the questionnaire was to determine to what extent parents forced their kids to eat everything that was on their plate. Of course, we disguised those questions among lots of filler like "what is your favorite TV show?"

"What color are your curtains?", etc.

(Laughs) Exactly. So the parents, on a scale of one to nine, had to rate just how heavily they enforced "the clean plate club" at home. So, you know, nine was "my kids HAVE to finish everything on their plate or there is some kind of consequence" and one was "Ah, if they eat, they eat. If they don't, they don't." We discovered that the children whose parents insisted they finish everything on their plate served themselves approximately 40 percent more cereal in our study.

Wow! And based on what you talk about in Mindless Eating... the idea that, once food is in front of us, it is very easy to eat it all, that's a significant finding.

Yeah, the thinking is that children who are forced to clean their plate feel like the have no control when it comes to food, so they find ways to reassert their control and independence.

Well, it looks like we've actually gone over time, but this has been fascinating. It's been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you!

Oh, absolutely. Thank you and best of luck with everything.

Many thanks to Dr. Wansink for his time!

Coming Attractions

Over the past ten days I have had the pleasure of watching two upcoming, vastly different food and nutrition documentaries.

First up? Food, Inc -- an incredibly engrossing and harrowing look at the state of farming and food processing in the United States from the people who brought you An Inconvenient Truth.

To become familiar with the subject matter before its June release date, visit The Meatrix, where all the grizzly details of meat production are explained.

I also recommend checking this link to see if Food, Inc. will be screened at a film festival near you before its limited big-screen debut later this Summer.

This is a MUST-SEE for anyone interested in farm policy, agricultural subsidies, agro-business, and the current state of the United States' food chain. You might want to bring some anxiety medication with you.

On a more lighthearted note, this past Thursday I had the pleasure of watching upcoming kid-friendly documentary What's On Your Plate?, "[which] follows two eleven-year-old African-American [New York City] kids as they explore their place in the food chain [and] talk to each other, food activists, farmers, new friends, storekeepers, their families, and the viewer, in their quest to understand what’s on all of our plates."

While certainly softer (and much easier for children to grasp) than Food, Inc., What's On Your Plate? showcases issues of local agriculture, school nutrition, and big business with very little preaching or finger wagging.

PS: I predict an Oscar nomination for Food, Inc.

April 25, 2009

Takeaways from Brian Wansink

I am in the process of transcribing the enthralling interview I conducted with Mindless Eating author Brian Wansink this past Friday morning.

In the meantime, I want to share a little bit of what Dr. Wansink presented later in the afternoon when he addressed 150 New York University students and faculty members about details of his research.

His talk, titled "How To Turn Mindless Eating Into Healthy Eating," encouraged professionals in the nutrition field to shake up the traditional research model that commences in isolation in a laboratory and instead begin by thinking about human application first (rather than leaving it for last).

It is precisely this alternative research model that led Dr. Wansink to become a pioneer in the science of consumer behavior as it relates to diet and nutrition.

One of the most important phenomena he encountered during his research was the ripple effect one small change can have on individuals.

In one recent study, Dr. Wansink and his team recruited individuals to take on one small nutrition-related change -- such as eating on smaller plates or not eating in front of the television -- for 90 days.

While collecting data, Dr. Wansink observed that the vast majority of these people (roughly 70 percent) were losing weight in increasing amounts each month. Weight loss was not occurring at a steady rate, but actually doubling -- and even quadrupling -- in many instances.

What was happening? Was the "small plate" group shrinking plate size even more? No -- they simply began to implement more changes when they saw how painless their first behavioral modification was!

A month into eating from smaller plates (and, therefore, almost mindlessly consuming less food), most of that cohort noticed the accompanying weight loss and thought, "Hey, this is painless! I'll keep doing this AND cut down my soda consumption."

As a result, Dr. Wansink has seen many individuals lose up to thirty pounds in the course of one year without ever feeling like they had "started a diet" or "sacrificed everything."

Stop by tomorrow to read my full interview with Dr. Wansink!

April 24, 2009

Say What?: Pasta... in a Bread Bowl?

Behold the latest creation from Domino's Pizza -- penne pasta entrees... served in a bread bowl!

As a matter of fact, the chain claims their "pasta is so good, you'll devour the bowl."

Not too surprisingly, calorie information is yet to be posted, and the four calls I made to their corporate headquarters proved unsuccessful.

It doesn't take many brain cells, though, to figure out that items like chicken carbonara, Italian sausage marinara, chicken alfredo, pasta primavera, and three cheese mac-n-cheese nestled inside a thick round piece of bread is far from a "light" option.

I'm willing to bet we are dealing with 4-figure calorie values. As soon as the reveal occurs, I will post it on Small Bites.

In the meantime, I'll meditate and see if I can come up with the answer to: "What higher-up at Domino's passionately believes Americans are clamoring for pasta in a bread bowl?"

April 23, 2009

Numbers Game: Unlocking the Secret

A reduced-fat Oreo cookie contains _______ fewer calories than a regular Oreo cookie.

a) 3

b) 12

c) 26

d) 51

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

April 22, 2009

Administrative Announcement: Taking Your Questions!

This Friday, Mindless Eating author (and professor of consumer nehavior at Cornell University) Brian Wansink will be visiting New York University -- and I have the opportunity to sit down with him, one-on-one, for thirty minutes!

This time around, I want to give you the chance to submit your questions for this upcoming "Speaking With..." segment.

Leave your questions for Brian in the "comments" section and come back next week to read a transcript of our interview!

As a reminder, "Wansink's award-winning academic research on food psychology and behavior change has been published in the world's top marketing, medical, and nutrition journals. It contributed to the introduction of smaller "100 calorie" packages (to prevent overeating), the use of taller glasses in some bars (to prevent the overpouring of alcohol), and the use of elaborate names and mouth-watering descriptions on some chain restaurant menus (to improve enjoyment of the food). "

April 21, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Breakfast

In Gwyneth Paltrow's new site she gives nutrition advice.

She recently said that a person should try to go 12 hours between finishing dinner and beginning breakfast.

She states that breakfast should be a "break from the fast" (12+ hours) to allow the system to rest and detoxify.

What do you think of this concept?

-- Sarah (last name unknown)

Via the blog

Gwyneth didn't have much nutritional credibility with me earlier this year when she blogged about the health miracles of detoxing. Let's find out if she has redeemed herself with her latest batch of advice.

No need for a drumroll -- the answer is NO, she has not redeemed herself.

The number of hours that pass between your last bite of food prior to hitting the sack and waking up the next morning are irrelevant.

There is nothing magical about twelve hours. Eating breakfast nine hours after finishing dinner has no negative effects on health or digestion.

Let's assume you had a late snack at 11:30 PM and went to bed an hour later, at 12:30 AM. Eight hours later (at 8:30 AM) you wake up. I find it absolutely ridiculous to expect you to wait three hours to eat breakfast!

If anything, by the time you have your first morsel of food, you'll be so famished you'll overeat.

I would much rather you focus on what you're eating for breakfast. Waiting twelve hours to load up on a breakfast low in fiber and nutrients but high in added sugars and calories makes no sense.

My other concern with this "health halo" surrounding fasting and spending hours without eating is that it is a half step away from glorifying anorexia nervosa.

Where did celebrities get the idea that an Oscar and a health credential are the same thing?

April 20, 2009

Different Day, Same Cow?

Would you ever eat the meat -- or drink the milk -- of a cloned cow?

Heck, why am I even asking? You really have no choice!

One of George W. Bush's last decisions as Commander-in-Chief included quietly passing legislation allowing the meat and milk of cloned animals to be sold to consumers without being labeled as such.

The Food and Drug Association's argument is that since food from cloned cattle is no less healthy than that of "conventional" cattle, there is no need to differentiate between the two.

In fact, some documentation quotes scientists as saying cloned meat can actually be better, since it often results in tender, juicier steaks (right, I am sure this was the driving force behind animal cloning).

The main line of reasoning behind cloning is to provide more food to the American public.

Really? The food industry is already supplying an average of 3,900 calories per person -- almost double the requirement for most people. Do we really need more food? And if we do, why is red meat the chosen one?

The chances of you having consumed food from a cloned animal is low, as the number of them is currently too low to enter the food supply.

However, don't expect any special announcements once this happens.

Industry response to concerns from consumers? "If you don't feel comfortable eating food from a cloned animal, buy organic."


April 19, 2009

Numbers Game: Answer

In the United States, a McDonald's Big Mac and order of large fries adds up to 1,040 calories. In the United Kingdom, those same two items add up to 950 calories.

You would think all McDonald's items would be standardized, no matter what corner of the world you were ordering them in.

Not so.

Why the caloric difference? Simple -- a container of large fries is slightly smaller, as are the beef patties.

Mind you, McDonald's USA only recently lowered the calories in their large fries from 550 to 500. Two years ago, this combo would have added up to 1,090 on this side of the Atlantic.

April 18, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Depression & Vitamin D

I just got my blood labs done to test for vitamin D deficiency.

My doctor said that my recent depression symptoms and joint pain could be resulting from that.

I knew about rickets and vitamin D deficiency in children, but what is this chronic pain/fatigue/depression stuff in adults?

How does vitamin D deficiency play a role in that?

-- Christine (last name unknown)

Via the blog

Thanks to more funding -- which means more research -- we are finally getting a glimpse at all of Vitamin D's important functions.

Many people don't realize that the term "vitamin" isn't even 100 years old (that anniversary will occur in 2012).

Vitamin D, meanwhile, wasn't discovered until 1922.

In any case, recent research on vitamin D status, depression, and joint pain appears promising (more studies are needed before any of this can be established as fact, though).

As far as depression is concerned, this is the reasoning:

* Blood samples of individuals experiencing clinical depression show lower levels of
25-hydroxyvitamin D (the active form of vitamin D measured in blood).

* The brain contains vitamin D receptors, which vitamin D uses in the synthesis of vital peptides and compounds.

* Recent studies on individuals suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) concluded that those who supplemented 600 International Units of vitamin D reported feeling better more quickly than those who did not supplement. It is worth noting that neither group used special UV lamps for the study.

This is not to say that vitamin D "cures" depression. The current line of thinking is that low vitamin D status can exacerbate some types of depression, and that correcting this inadequacy may be one factor than can help speed up recovery.

As for the second half of your question -- since Vitamin D is tightly linked with calcium and phosphorus in bone metabolism, it only makes sense that inadequate levels could have an effect on joints.

The latest studies theorize that deficiencies of vitamin D make it more difficult for the body to repair cartilage and joint damage from arthritis.

I completely side with scientists and researchers who recommend daily supplementation of 2,000 International Units of vitamin D for the following groups of people:

* Dark-skinned individuals
* Adults over the age of 65
* Anyone living north of Atlanta (from October to April)
* Anyone with limited sun exposure

April 17, 2009


Pistachio-almond is one of Baskin Robbin's classic 31 flavors.

Upon closer inspection, two oddities emerge.

First, the product's official description is: "a nutty combination of pistachio-flavored ice cream and roasted almonds."

That's right, the nut pieces you see are almonds, not pistachios.

Then there's the ingredient list, from which pistachios are entirely missing:

"Cream, nonfat milk, almonds, sugar, corn syrup, natural & artificial flavor, blue 1, yellow 5, cellulose gum, mono and diglycerides, guar gum, carrageenan, polysorbate 80."

It's not just ice cream chains pulling this trick.

I recently stopped by a well-known New York City vegan restaurant and ordered a delicious-sounding spinach-almond-banana-soy milk smoothie to go.

As I watched the smoothie man concoct my beverage, I was slightly crushed to see it didn't contain actual almonds, but rather a few drops of almond extract.

I think I now understand how Milli Vanilli fans felt when the lip-syncing scandal broke...

Administrative Announcements: Small Bites Turns Two!

Today is Small Bites' second birthday!

I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who has ever visited this blog, recommended it to a friend, left a comment, submitted a question, forwarded a nutrition news item my way, voted in a survey, and generally supported this ongoing project.

Here's some fun trivia. In the past two years:

1,148 posts have been uploaded
343 reader questions have been answered
Readers in 91 different countries have visited

WOW! Here's a toast to further growth in the coming years.

PS: Expect BIG news the last week of April. There has been quite a bit happening behind the scenes...

In The News: "For The First Time"??!!

Encouraging -- yet disturbing -- news courtesy of The Washington Post: "The Environmental Protection Agency for the first time will require pesticide manufacturers to test 67 chemicals contained in their products to determine whether they disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates animals' and humans' growth, metabolism and reproduction, the agency said yesterday."

Two thoughts immediately came to mind.

First? "Victory!"

Second? "For the first time?? What have they been waiting for??"

Well, I suppose the article gives some indication of what they might have been waiting for -- science-fiction turned reality.

After all, "researchers have raised concerns that chemicals released into the environment interfere with animals' hormone systems, citing problems such as male fish in the Potomac River that are bearing eggs."

That's what I call a substantial "oops!".

Oh, there's even more jaw-dropping material.

"Pesticide industry officials said they had anticipated the move, which was set into motion in 1996 by the passage of the Food Quality Protection Act, and they planned to cooperate on the matter."

Well, gee, pesticide industry officials. I certainly hope that after 13 years of contemplation you are willing to cooperate with the matter.

How, exactly, did it take over a decade for this act to take effect?

This is certainly one to watch. Testing is set to begin this summer, and results are expected by 2011.

April 16, 2009

Three Useless "Facts"

Bite-sized nutrition trivia is not limited to Registered Dietitian Jeopardy!

Magazines of all sorts (ranging from Us Weekly to Details to Forbes) occasionally pepper sidebars or "Did You Know...?" features with short bursts of "diet-friendly" tips.

Television shows, e-mail chain letters, news broadcasts, and even advertising campaigns often rely on nutrition "facts" to captivate their audiences.

Alas, here are three often-mentioned facts I consider useless, irrelevant, and better off erased from the collective consciousness.

"If you put a nail in a glass of Coke for four days, it dissolves because of all the acids!"

The "logic" here is that if Coke can corrode metal, just imagine what it does to our stomachs!

Although all soda is nutrition-void sugar water (and the phosphoric acid in it can contribute to osteoporosis in individuals with insufficient calcium intake), it is not corroding our gastrointestinal system -- particularly when you keep in mind that stomach acids are more acidic than anything in Coke.

If you put a nail in a glass of our stomach acids, that sucker would probably disintegrate in just TWO days.

Initially shocking fact? Check.
Completely irrelevant? Check.
Absolutely useless? Double check

"I lost weight by cooking with olive oil instead of butter and choosing healthy fats, like avocado."

It seems like every other "celebrity who lost weight shares diet secrets!" (it seems to me that celebrity magazine editors think the only two secrets are to eat lots of fish and hire a personal trainer) article I read contains this quote.

Yes, olive oil and avocados are heart-healthy fats that, if consumed regularly, can benefit cardiovascular health. However, all fats -- regardless of how heart-healthy -- contain nine calories per gram.

I suppose I can somehow "vouch" for the avocado reasoning since they offer a good deal of fiber (thereby contributing to quicker satiety).

However, a tablespoon of butter contains approximately twenty fewer calories than a tablespoon of olive oil.

From a weight loss standpoint, replacing two tablespoons of butter with two tablespoons of olive oil in a dish serves no purpose.

"Twinkies are so processed they have a shelf life of 20 years!"

You need the exclamation mark at the end of that one for complete pearl-clutching effect.

Twinkies are by no means a health food, but they will not outlast a nuclear explosion (that honor only belongs to cockroaches and Cher).

While Twinkies have a longer shelf life than many other mass-produced baked goods (mainly thanks to their dairy-free ingredient list), expect them to start spoiling after a month.

PS: although foods with long shelf lives are usually highly processed and offer plenty of sodium, sugar, trans fats, and/or artificial preservatives, they do not take that same amount of time to be digested.

April 15, 2009

Numbers Game: McCounting

In the United States, a McDonald's Big Mac and order of large fries adds up to 1,040 calories. In the United Kingdom, those same two items add up to __________ calories.

a) 1,125

b) 950
c) 800
d) 1,040

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

April 14, 2009

In The News: Game On!

Today's Los Angeles Times reports on the subtle nutritional shift occurring at Dodger Stadium and other massive ballparks across the country -- healthier food!

Although 1,000-calorie nacho plates and 300-calorie cups of beer are still present, they are now joined by "wholesome new neighbors: curried chicken salad made with low-fat mayonnaise, turkey sandwiches on whole wheat, and fruit and yogurt parfaits."

And, oh, be still my heart. Not only will fresh fruit skewers soon be available, but "for the first time, a registered dietitian, also part of the Kaiser link-up, had a hand in fine-tuning the items."

This nutritional "aha" moment isn't just limited to the City of Angels.

"This year, the [San Diego] Padres are expanding their FriarFit program... which includes $1.50 healthful menu items for kids such as whole wheat animal cookies, a fruit cup, and 1% milk, plus a FriarFit cart offering fruit salad, sushi, veggie burgers and dogs, and a mandarin salad. This food, too, was created with the help of a nutritionist, from UC San Diego."

Now it's time for zoos and amusement parks to step up to the plate. Keep the curly fries, cheeseburgers, and jumbo hot dogs on the menu if you want, but also offer options for health-conscious patrons.

April 13, 2009

Survey Results: Make Room For Spongebob

The latest Small Bites survey asked visitors if they supported the use of popular cartoon characters to advertise fruit and vegetable products like "baby carrots" and frozen spinach to children.

Sixty-three percent of respondents supported that form of advertising, eight percent did not, and the remaining twenty-seven percent did not have a strong opinion either way.

I strongly favor that sort of advertising.

Many nutrition advocates do not, claiming it confuses children to see Spongebob on baby carrots as well as a box of sugary fruit snacks.

My main concern with that argument is that it attempts to view the world through the eyes of a child who has the marketing awareness of an adult.

Six-year-olds are not aware of nutrition. They don't understand the difference in nutrients between a fruit snack and a real fruit. Seeing their favorite cartoon character on different products doesn't confuse them -- it simply draws their eyes and attention to them!

In my opinion, too many nutrition advocates make the crucial mistake of forgetting that they, too, can implement the same tactics used by food companies.

Getting children interested in eating healthier food by simply branding it with cartoon characters is certainly far from utopian, but it's a significant step forward we need to pursue.

April 12, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Exercise

Is exercise enough?

I know plenty of long distance runners that subsist on ice cream and candy bars, even well into their middle-age, and have perfect health.

Can exercise overcome poor dietary choices? If so, to what degree?

-- Corey Clark
(Location withheld)

Exercise in itself is NOT enough.

Sure, exercise can help with cardiovascular heath, respiratory health, and musculoskeletal maintenance, but you also need proper nutrition to keep all systems running properly.

Exercise does not provide Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, monounsaturated fats, or phytonutrients.

How do you know these long-distance runners who subsist on junk are in perfect health? Have you seen their blood labs?

Just because someone is thin and has a six pack does not necessarily mean they are in perfect health. They could have high blood pressure, low bone density, and low intakes of most vitamins and minerals.

April 11, 2009

Eating Out? Don't Wrap It Up!

Wraps and sandwich bread happily co-exist in many food establishments across the United States.

I, however, consider them two very different creatures.

If you're eating out and in the mood for a handful of ingredients contained within a bread product, you are better off selecting sliced bread (preferably 100% whole grain).

Although you can find healthy -- and calorically-reasonable -- wraps at your local supermarket, you need to tread more carefully with restaurants.

Many establishments use wraps that double the calories -- and sodium -- found in two slices of bread.

Additionally, since large wraps offer more surface area in which to spread condiments, dressings, and sauces, caloric values are often driven up further.

PS: At Chipotle and Qdoba, ask for your burrito in a bowl (rather than a tortilla) and instantly save 290 (Chipotle) or 330 (Qdoba) calories!

April 10, 2009

Numbers Game: Answer

When comparing an Au Bon Pain double chocolate chunk muffin with a large order of McDonald's french fries, the muffin provides 70 MORE calories (570 calories vs. the large fries' 500 calories).

That's not all, folks.

This muffin also provides double the saturated fat of those large fries -- and 100 MORE milligrams of sodium!

Oh, and then there are those 11 teaspoons of added sugar.

These gigantic muffins truly irritate me because they suck away all the enjoyment from savoring a chocolatey baked good.

Why can't these simply be half the size (and calories)?
A 285 calorie muffin sounds more reasonable -- and easier to justify as an occasional treat.

And anyone who says "just don't eat the whole thing!" needs to go up to their bedroom and read Brian Wansink's amazing book, Mindless Eating.

April 9, 2009

You Ask, I Answer:BHT/BHA

I bought some gum today and the last items on the ingredient list are "BHT and BHA to preserve freshness."

Do you have any idea what that is? It sounds freaky and "chemical"-y.

-- Lori Echter
[Location withheld]

Chewing gum ingredient lists -- especially those of sugarfree gums -- are always fascinating. Artificial sweeteners and dyes abound! But, hey, at least they whiten your teeth, right?

Since BHT and BHA are antioxidants (they prevent the oxidation of oils and fats), their presence increases the shelf life of gum and many other packaged foods.

Yes, gum contains oils (in the form of glycerol, which impart a waxy texture).

You are correct when you say that these two ingredients sound "chemical"-y. They ARE chemicals. BHT stands for butylated hydroxytoluene, while BHA is an acronym for butylated hydroxyanisole.

Although the United States considers them safe to include in food processing, the European Union has banned BHA from all cosmetic products. BHT, meanwhile, is banned from the British food supply amidst reports of its carcinogenic risks and harmful renal effects.

A significant problem here is not so much that the miniscule amounts of BHA or BHT in food are deadly, but rather that because so many people eat heavily processed diets, the amounts of BHA and BHT being consumed worry some researchers.

For what it's worth, the Food & Drug Administration claims to be conducting "further research" on BHT (they have been saying this for at least a decade).

Whenever possible, I suggest you purchase products that use natural antioxidants to preserve freshness (i.e. tocopherols, also known as vitamin E).

You Ask, I Answer: Coconuts/Coconut Oil

I have a question about coconut oil and lauric acid.

[A] co-worker was doing some research online, and found out that coconut oil is supposedly antimicrobial.

The main fatty acid is lauric acid, which supposedly helps boost metabolism by activating the thyroid.

Is there any truth to those statements?

-- Brandon
(via the blog)

Coconut is a controversial fruit. Although almost entirely made up of saturated fats, there are plenty of books and websites dedicated to its "miraculous" weight-loss and healing properties.

However, two red flags immediately go up.

Number one? Most websites that hail coconut oil as a holy food that cures you of all ills while simultaneously helping you look years younger inevitably -- and predictably -- end up hawking some sort of coconut product.

Number two? My "BS" radar always beeps loudly when one food is referred to as a "miracle" or "cure-all".

The links between coconut oil and thyroid function have never been even remotely established in any studies. I believe that "fact" stems from an article in health and diet supermarket trash tabloid Woman's World, which is as reputable as a Vegas used car salesman.

Although lauric acid is one of the "least unhealthy" saturated fats, it certainly doesn't justify including massive amounts of coconut oil in your diet.

Before I continue, let me share one of my biggest nutritional pet-peeves. I always find myself counting to ten and taking deep breaths when I hear someone say something along the lines of, "but there are tribes in Polynesia that LIVE on coconuts and their heart disease rates are really low!"

The problem with that statement is that those Polynesian tribes also have extremely different lifestyles, dietary patterns, and environmental factors affecting their health.

Extracting only the coconut eating and adapting it to a traditional United States diet does not guarantee YOUR risk of heart disease is suddenly going to match that of a random member of that Polynesian tribe.

With that out of the way, let's continue.

My verdict on coconut oil? For the time being, treat it like you would all other saturated fats. Don't shun it, but do keep it to a certain limit (if eating 2,000 calories, aim to consume no more than 20 grams of saturated fat a day).

Also, I would much rather you consume coconut meat (or shredded unsweetened coconut) rather than coconut oil, as the actual fruit provides more nutrients.

If antimicrobial properties of food are your thing, coconut oil is not the only source. Garlic, green tea, cumin, and cayenne pepper also have antimicrobial components.

April 8, 2009

Numbers Game: Compare and Contrast

When comparing An Au Bon Pain double chocolate chunk muffin with a large order of McDonald's french fries, the muffin provides _____ ______ calories.

a) 70 MORE

b) 50 FEWER


d) 120 MORE

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

The Most Useless Part of a Food Label

Although food labels provide a significant amount of information that can help us compare the nutrient composition of different products, there is one part of these labels I pay absolutely no attention to -- and I suggest you do the same.

The "waste of space" culprit? "Calories from fat."

Not only is that figure useless, it also ends up confusing most consumers.

The only thing "calories from fat" tells you is how many of a given product's total calories per serving come from fat. Why does that matter?

This, by the way, is no secret formula. You can determine that yourself simply by multiplying the fat grams on a food label by 9 (remember, there are 9 calories in one gram of fat).

Similarly, to estimate the amount of calories from protein, multiply the grams of protein in a serving of a given product by 4.

My main issue with "calories from fat" is that it is clearly a remnant from the early 1990s "low-fat" craze.

Allow me to illustrate the inefficacy of "calories from fat."

A two-tablespoon serving of peanut butter, for example, contains 200 calories, of which 140 are from fat.

A bag of Skittles from a vending machine packs in 250 calories, of which 22.5 are from fat.

Do you see, then, how "calories from fat" is absolutely meaningless?

I say it's time to revise the food label. Drop 'calories from fat', differentiate between naturally-occurring and "added" sugars, and substitute Vitamin A (a mandatory micronutrient on food labels practically no one is deficient in) with a nutrient people should be more aware of, like potassium.

April 7, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Supplements

Do you object to supplementation in general via a basic multivitamin/mineral product?

I recall [reading in the Center for Science in the Public Interest's] Nutrition Action Healthletter that adult males [should] avoid iron supplementation (perhaps due to a possible link between excessive iron intake and the development of a certain type of cancer?).

Is iron something that adult males should indeed avoid in a supplement?

[Lastly,] do you see any merit to taking curcumin or cumin supplements (especially for someone with an inflammatory disease such as asthma)?

Obviously, a whole food is preferable, but I think that massive amounts of curry would need to be ingested in order to derive any possible benefits.

-- Rob White

Boston, MA

My stance on supplementation varies depending on context.

I despise the notion that as long as you take a multivitamin once a day, you don't need to worry about the nutrient composition of what you eat the rest of the day.

Multivitamins do not offer the vast amount -- literally THOUSANDS -- of healthy phytonutrients and other compounds naturally found in foods.

Additionally, absorption from multivitamins is often lower -- and less effective -- than if that same nutrient is derived from actual foods that contain those nutrients.

I do, however, fully support the supplementation of Vitamin D. Unless you live near the Equator, your body can not synthesize this nutrient from sunlight between the months of October and April.

For the record, I recommend supplementing 2,000 International Units of Vitamin D a day.

I also don't have a problem with individuals supplementing a specific vitamin or mineral that they would otherwise be deficient in (i.e.: vegans without access to fortified foods and B12).

The issue of iron supplementation and men can also apply to post-menopausal women. Since iron is very hard for the body to excrete (menstruation being the exception), supplementation in these two populations raises the risk of a condition known as iron overload.

Iron overload can cause a variety of symptoms and problems, from heart arrhythmia and hypothyroidism to impotence and arthritis.

This is why, if you examine the label on a "men's formula" multivitamin, you will find that iron is MIA.

As far as curcumin supplements in regards to asthma, it gets complicated. There is very little data on the efficacy of these supplements. Consequently, dosage values have not been clearly determined.

Additionally, certain individuals (those with weakened immune systems, diabetes, and stomach ulcers) are advised to steer clear of these supplements, as they can aggravate those conditions.

I think you are better off implenting more curry-spiced dishes into your diet. After all, populations that are believed to benefit from this spice include it in their recipes, not swallow it in pill form.

Numbers Game: Answer

According to a 2007 study published in Health Economics, the percentage of high schools in the United States offering physical education on a daily basis declined from 41.6 percent in 1991 to 28.4 percent in 2003.

In that same time period -- in which massive budget cuts caused many school districts to succumb to dire economic conditions -- the number of vending machines in high schools increased by almost 100 percent.

You don't need an 'A' in algebra to figure out that is a worrisome equation.

April 6, 2009

Pistachio SOS

This handy website -- courtesy of the Food & Drug Administration and California pistachio growers -- provides a list of pistachio products and brands that are safe to consume in light of last week's recall.

I briefly corresponded with Marion Nestle late last week about the peanut butter recall, and specifically asked her when she thought it would become a thing of the past.

Citing the ingredient's long shelf life (certainly much longer than, say, beef), she predicted several more months of careful treading until supermarket shelves are in the clear.

In The News: Supplementing Their Way Through The Recession

I'm slightly alarmed by this New York Times article that details the surge in supplement and multivitamin sales since last October's infamous stock market crash.

"Sales of vitamins and nutritional supplements, which have grown consistently for years, have surged in recent months. The Vitamin Shoppe has tracked a rise in new customers of about 20 percent over the last six months," the paper reports.

Facing unemployment and rising healthcare costs, some of the consumers interviewed for the piece are turning to echinacea, oregano oil capsules, and protein supplements to stay healthy.

One woman even repeats a classic myth, explaining how "energetic" and "strong" she feels as a result of taking vitamins.

Eek! I am most disturbed by the notion that people in financial hardship are throwing away their money on products that have not been shown to promote health.

The vast majority of studies on echinacea, for example, have not shown much of a benefit compared to a placebo.

Oregano oil? There have been no human studies, and at best it is touted as a way to possibly, perhaps, maybe minimize the symptoms of sinus infections.

Protein supplements, meanwhile, have absolutely nothing to do with health.

As I have said before, there is no reason why anyone consuming enough calories from many food groups should be concerned with getting more protein.

And then there's this: "Amy Breslin, who is 33 and studying to be a physician’s assistant, has pared back on fresh fruits and vegetables and stocked up instead on fish oil capsules and antioxidant supplements."

Her reasoning? Organics are expensive, so she gets a better "bang for her buck" with capsules and supplements.

I hear this line of logic many times. Here are my problems with it:

* While the lack of pesticides used in organic farming is wonderful , conventional fruits and vegetables offer plenty of nutrition. Many people erroneously think that conventional produce is akin to eating rat poison.

* Fish oil capsules and antioxidant supplements do not offer the same health benefits as eating actual fish and produce.

* Eating fruits and vegetables does not need to be expensive. Store-brand frozen fruits and vegetables are inexpensive.

Many people also forget that one of the most important things you can do for your immune system is FREE -- get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night!

In any case, I need to send my crystal ball in for repairs. A few months ago I "predicted" to friends that The Vitamin Shoppe and/or GNC would suffer as a result of the recession.

April 5, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Skinny Bitch

What do you think of the book Skinny Bitch?

-- Jamie Pierce

Salt Lake City, UT

Skinny Bitch advertises itself as "a no-nonsense tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous!"

While I do give the book credit for rightfully criticizing the treatment of farm animals and dedicating a Marion Nestle-inspired chapter to the politics behind the approval process of artificial sweeteners and other substances, I summarize it as "an often inaccurate, wannabe-"shocking" nutrition book that sometimes spouts crap and is under the impression that insulting the reader is fabulous!"

Skinny Bitch claims to "finally tell you the truth about what you're feeding yourself."

However, despite its "hip" title and grrrrl-power writing style that launched it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, it is riddled with faulty facts, hyperbolic pronouncements, and silly suggestions.

One of the authors is a former agent for Ford Models. First red flag.

Why do people who have never studied nutrition science consider themselves authorities? Would you trust a dentist who never studied dentistry? Would you trust a surgeon who never set foot in medical school? I certainly wouldn't. So why take nutrition advice from someone who hasn't dedicated time to studying it -- especially someone who works in an industry obsessed with unhealthy body shapes?

Author number two is a former model who holds a Masters degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health. Not surprisingly, the quality and reputation of this institution are highly questioned.

There's two red flags before you even open the book.

In any case, Skinny Bitch makes the argument that the only way to be healthy is by becoming a vegan who shuns alcohol, white flour, and caffeine.

The authors repeat this over and over and particularly enjoy cursing at the reader for ever thinking they could be healthy by including any sort of meat or dairy product in their diet.

Even more disturbingly, they prey on readers' body image fears by making the case that not only does any amount of meat and dairy make you sick, it also makes you -- gasp! -- fat.

Allow me to share some passages that resulted in an "ugh!" and an eyeroll from me.

* "Soda's high level of phosphorus can increase calcium loss from the body, as can its sodium and caffeine."

While phosphoric acid in soda has indeed been linked with leached calcium from bones, it is only an issue for individuals who are not getting sufficient amounts of calcium in their diets.

Have these two ever bothered to look at the nutrition facts on a can of soda, though? Soda is very low in sodium.

A can of Coca Cola, for example, contains 35 milligrams (that's 1.4% of the suggested daily maximum intake). Ironically, the frozen vegan burger products the authors endorse contain as much as 500 milligrams of sodium per serving!

As for the caffeine-calcium link -- that's also weak, at best.

* The authors make several references to drinking 8 glasses of water a day. As I have explained in the past, this recommendation stems from a huge misunderstanding by the mainstream media.

* "One study even links caffeine to an increased susceptibility to diabetes."

Bad science alert!

Had the authors bothered to thoroughly research the literature on caffeine and diabetes, they would have discovered that caffeine consumption is linked to a lower risk of diabetes among healthy individuals. The studies they refer to are ones suggesting that people who already have diabetes may benefit from cutting back on caffeine in order to improve their blood sugar levels.

* "Acidic foods cause your body to produce fat cells..."

They apparently believe in one of the biggest -- and off-base -- nutrition myths. Lentils, blueberries, and chickpeas, for example, are categorized as "acidic foods." They now make you fat? Wow, and to think silly uninformed me considered them healthy all this time!

* "When we eat fruit with other foods... it rots and ferments in our stomach."

Not surprisingly, that ludicrous statement is not attributed to any source. Right, because it's science fiction!

* "We have food rotting, decomposing, and fermenting in our intestinal tracts and colons, hence the need for colonics."

Did the author with the Masters degree ever take a human physiology course? Clearly not! Otherwise, she would know that nothing can cling to the colon and "rot away" since the cells that line that organ slough off several times a day.

* "You don't see many tigers getting colonics, do you?"

No. Fortunately for them, rip-off artists don't exist in their species.

* "Your body can't handle animal fat, so it settles like lumpy shit all over your ass, thighs, sides, arms and stomach."

I'll let that ridiculous quote speak for itself. Is this what holistic nutritonists are being taught? Sigh...

* "If you want to get skinny, you've got to be a vegetarian."

Before I comment, let me remind you that I am a pescatarian who follows a strictly vegetarian diet 90% of the time. I am by no means a meat enthusiast, nor do I have stock in the beef industry.

That said, the idea that vegetarian = skinny is ludicrous. After all, vegetarians can eat ice cream, cakes, cookies, muffins, pizza, french fries. They can consume more calories than they need and, consequently, gain weight.

Once again, I can't help but wonder: THIS is the nonsense that passes for a #1 New York Times bestseller these days?

* "Dairy products produce mucus."

Another myth these authors clearly didn't research.

* "[Dairy products] are the perfect thing to eat if you want to be sick and have a diseased body."

As much as I dislike the narrow-minded notions that dairy products are the only way to get calcium and absolutely necessary for human health, I am also irritated by the frantic and inaccurate warnings that dairy products are equivalent to chugging Draino.

* "Consuming high amounts of dairy blocks iron absorption, contributing to iron deficiency."

Ugh. The same can be said about phytates in whole grains. In fact, the extremists folks at the Weston A. Price Organization make that very argument -- which, like this one, has very little relevance.

There is severely faulty logic at work here. Yes, calcium inhibits iron absorption, but this applies to all sources of calcium (i.e.: broccoli, bok choy, mustard greens, and tempeh) -- not just dairy.

* "Eggs are high in saturated fat."

Absolutely untrue. One egg contains approximately 1.5 grams of saturated fat -- that's 0.4 fewer grams than a tablespoon of olive oil!

* "You will pee in your pants when you see how much weight you lose from giving up dairy."

If you give up any food and don't replace the calories with something else, you will obviously lose weight. If, however, you replace the 91 calories in a cup of skim milk with 91 calories from soymilk, don't count on any changes.

* "Do you really believe milk can be made fat-free? Get your had out of your ass. Milk = fat. Butter = fat. Cheese = fat. People who think these products can be low fat or fat free = fucking morons."

The f-word! How "edgy"!

First of all, there is no such thing as low-fat or fat-free butter, so that particular example makes no sense.

Additionally, skim milk is not a mythical food item that only exists in supermarkets operated by unicorns and mermaids. So, yes, milk CAN be made fat-free.

* After pages upon pages of criticizing processed foods and sugar, the authors go on to recommend a variety of frozen vegetarian burgers, soy ice creams, and tofu hot dogs. HUH? Frozen vegetarian foods, like other frozen items, are high in sodium. Vegan hamburgers are processed food. Soy ice creams, like dairy-based ones, contain added sugars.

* From the FYI chapter: "Donate blood. You can save a life and lose weight at the same time."

I think that was when my eyebrows hit the ceiling.

Alas, I could go on (trust me, I could!), but I think you get the point.

To "make up" for their verbal abuse at the reader, the authors conclude the book with positive-thinking mantras lifted right out of The Secret ("every day in every way my stomach is getting flatter") and a clearly-tacked-on-by-a-public-relations-friendly-editor reminder that, despite the title of the book, unrealistically thin illustrations on the front and back cover, and constant references to weight, "they couldn't care less about being skinny."

You Ask, I Answer: Gummy Bear Food Label

Here's a mystery for you.

I am looking at a bag of Haribo gummy bears. According to the food label, there are 3 grams of protein per serving.

How can that be? I thought candy was just sugar?

-- Marilyn (last name withheld)
New York, NY

I sought out a bag of these gummy bears and immediately looked at the ingredient list: "corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, dextrose, citric acid, starch, artificial and natural flavors, fractionated coconut oil, carnauba wax, beeswax coating, artificial colors: Yellow 5, Red 10, Blue 1."

The answer to your question comes courtesy of the third ingredient -- gelatin.

Remember, gelatin is made from the jelly-like protein substance that remains after dissolving animal tendons, ligaments, skin, and bones in boiling water. Consequently, gelatin is approximately 85% protein.

All gelatin is animal-derived. "Vegetarian candies", meanwhile, use plant-based thickeners.

April 4, 2009

Numbers Game: Fleeting Fitness

According to a 2007 study published in Health Economics, the percentage of high schools in the United States offering physical education on a daily basis declined from 41.6 percent in 1991 to __________ percent in 2003.

a) 34.9
b) 38.2

c) 28.4
d) 30.7

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

April 3, 2009

So Much for Moderation

I don't know what the weather is like in your corner of the world right now, but New York City's is currently grey and rainy.

Alas, here is a perfect website for such a day -- This Is Why You're Fat.

Crass name aside, it's a grotesquely fascinating photo gallery of real, gasp-worthy, "you've GOT to be kidding me!" dishes (many of them served at restaurants).

Take, for instance, "the Thunderdome's three stacks of bacon, sausage, elk meat, onions and cheese between tortillas all topped with sour cream, two fried eggs and scallions."

Then there's the blasphemous "Snack Pizza Bomb: pizza topped with french fries, sliced corn dogs, popcorn chicken and Doritos" pictured alongside this post.

Anyone up for figuring out calorie totals?

You Ask, I Answer: Grapes vs. Wine

Out of curiosity, how many grapes would someone have to eat to equal a serving (how many ounces is that?) of wine?

Also, is grape juice just as healthy as wine?

-- Patricia (last name unknown)
Berkeley, CA

Is it only red
grapes that offer health benefits?

-- "WifeMomChocoholic"

Via the blog

As I mentioned in a previous post, the same buzz-worthy components in red wine are available in red grapes. One slight exception to the rule is resveratrol, which is simply more concentrated in wine.

One reason you don't hear quite as much about white wine, by the way, is because the production process separates the grape's flesh from the skin (for red wine, the whole fruit is used).

If you want to talk numbers, your average bottle of wine is made from approximately 600 grapes.

Now, let's do some math.

A standard wine bottle contains roughly 25 ounces. According to MyPyramid guidelines, one serving of wine is equal to 5 ounces.

Therefore, one serving of wine contains 120 grapes. That helps us better understand the recommendations of drinking, rather than eating, the fruit.

That is not to say, of course, that you need to eat 120 grapes to get health benefits (FYI -- one serving of fresh grapes is made up of 15 individual pieces).

As far as grape juice is concerned -- the health benefits are not quite up to those of wine.

Remember, the vast majority of grape juices are made from concentrate (which is largely made up of the naturally-occurring sugars). Consequently, a lot of the polyphenols and antioxidants found in grape skins do not make it to the final product.

Although red wine (and, therefore, red grapes) offers a wider variety of healthful components in larger amounts, don't cast off white grapes. Even though white wine is not made from grape skins, the fruit's flesh offers a fair share of polyphenols and antioxidants.

April 2, 2009

Numbers Game: Answer

A 20 ounce bottle of Snapple Mixed-Up Berry Iced Tea contains 13 teaspoons of added sugar (in the form of high fructose corn syrup).

The truly frightening part is that sugar appears before tea in the ingredient list (meaning that, by weight,
there is more sugar than tea.)

The Snapple website, meanwhile, devotes an entire section to the health benefits of tea. That's akin to talking about the healthful properties of broccoli and sweet potatoes only to deep fry them in tempura batter!

Thirteen teaspoons of high fructose corn syrup in tea? They might want to rethink the "made from the best stuff on Earth" slogan.

April 1, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Iron & Athletes

I know women who menstruate need more iron than men and postmenopausal women.

What about male athletes?

I have seen some literature that suggests they need more iron [than men who are not athletes], but my coach said he has never heard of that.

-- Scott Julin

(Location unknown)

Athletes of all sexes and ages require higher iron intakes than the average population.

The term "athlete", by the way, refers to people who train for significant amounts of time at high intensity.

I am often surprised at the amount of people who jog for 20 minutes three days a week and think they suddenly have the nutrition requirements of an Olympic medalist!

The reason for this higher requirement (roughly equal to that of vegans and vegetarians)? Athletes -- especially long-distance runners -- experience microscopic intestinal bleeding as a result of their intense physical activity.

You Ask, I Answer: Popular Healthy Foods

Why is it that there is much talk about eating olive oil, wine, and tomato products and not simply olives, grapes, and tomatoes?

Surely the benefits of the processed forms are even more present in the whole form of the food.

Or is that not the case?

-- Corey Clark

(Location withheld)

I love this "thinking cap turned on" question!

Here is my take on each of the pairings:

Olive oil vs. olives: Everyone cooks with some sort of fat; not everyone eats olives.

So, in order to have as many people as possible reap the benefits of olives, it makes more sense to suggest they use olive oil in their cooking/salad dressings rather than eat olives.

Also, olives have a much stronger taste than olive oil. Many people who enjoy the flavor of olive oil do not find olives palatable.

Although olives offer more vitamins and minerals than olive oil, 120 calories of olives (equal to 1 tablespoon of olive oil) offers almost half of the daily recommended limit of sodium!

Tomato products vs. whole tomatoes: Cooked tomatoes offer higher levels of lycopene than their raw counterparts.

Wine vs. grapes: This is one I never understood. Grapes offer the same healthy compounds as wine. This is why I always tell people that if they regularly eat grapes but do not drink wine, they are not missing out on any health benefits!

I personally think this comes back to the "reaching as many people as possible" goal that applies to olive oil.