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    Archive for 2007

    Administrative Announcements: In Argentina

    I am spending the holidays in my hometown of Buenos Aires. Expect new blog posts on January 1.

    In the meantime, I am observing dietary trends, food marketing, and nutrition information in Argentina, noticing similarities and differences with those same concepts in the United States.

    In fact, earlier today I ventured out to a large supermarket and snapped photos of several things that caught my eye.

    Except plenty of new posts next week. In the meantime, enjoy your holidays!


    Numbers Game: Answer

    According to a 2007 study by health policy research agency The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 72 percent of televised food ads aimed at teenagers are for “candy, snacks, sugary cereals, or fast food”.

    Alarming? Yes. Surprising? Not really. The Pear Board has 1% of the advertising budget of multinational junk food giants.

    This is why nutrition and healthy eating are multi-layered problems. Many people are constantly bombared with advertisements for ultra-processed, sugar-laden foods.

    Ever notice how food advertisements aimed at mothers, in particular, encourage them to pop open a box of Rice A Roni or heat up Pepperoni Hot Pockets for the kids?

    Heating up a whole wheat tortilla with black beans, salsa, and some shredded cheese takes just as much time and is a lot more nutritious, but who would advertise that?


    In The News: All Corned Out

    The United States’ mind-blowing surplus of corn — largely encouraged by the government for ethanol production — was recently touched upon in this year’s superb documentary King Corn.

    Now, The New York Times’ Andrew Martin takes this issue one step further and reveals the latest crop battle: food vs. fuel.

    In fact, this might very well explain the reason behind the recent rising prices of everyday staples like milk, carrots, and broccoli.

    [Food manufacturers and livestock farmers] seethe at government mandates for ethanol production. The ethanol boom, they contend, is raising corn prices, driving up the cost of producing dairy products and meat, and causing farmers to plant so much corn as to crowd out other crops,” writes Martin.

    Certainly an eye-opening (and anger-inducing) read.


    In The News: A Soda Tax?

    Over in San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom is toying with the idea of imposing an anti-obesity tax on stores selling foods and beverages containing high-fructose corn syrup.

    Although I understand what he is attempting to achieve, I believe Mayor Newson is going about this the wrong way.

    Sweetened drinks undoubtedly add extra calories to anyone’s day, but I have a problem with foods being automatically branded as “bad” or “evil,” regardless of context.

    I don’t think the problem to tackle is soda itself as it is the ridiculous amounts of it people are used to drinking.

    Between unlimited refills, 20 ounce to-go bottles, and 64 ounce containers at 7-11, it is perfectly feasible to accompany any given meal with as much as 1,000 liquid calories!

    And while high fructose corn syrup is a dirt cheap man-made sweetener that is metabolized differently than real sugar (for one, it does not trigger our brain’s satiety center when consumed), eliminating it will not decrease an obesity problem.

    I have seen the graphs showing a correlation between high fructose corn syrup intake and rising obesity rates in the United States, but it is important to point out that increased high fructose corn syrup intake was also accompanied by exploding portion sizes and easier availability of sugar and fat-laden foods.

    It makes much more sense to attribute weight gain to extra calories in the form of more food (larger portions).

    Remember, high fructose corn syrup delivers just as many calories as any other sugar (fructose, honey, or table sugar) per teaspoon.

    I would hate for people to think that products made with real sugar automatically get a free pass.

    A Starbucks Venti vanilla latte accompanied by a banana chocolate-chip muffin adds up to over 1,000 calories and as much added sugar as a can of Coke.

    High fructose syrup might be missing from the equation, but that does not make this “meal” healthier or waist-friendly.

    A better initiative would be to help convenience stores (particularly those in low-income neighborhoods) offer healthier items (as attempted by New York City’s Healthy Bodega initiative).

    What do you think?


    Numbers Game: I Want My Junk TV!

    According to a 2007 study by health policy research agency The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, ______ percent of televised food ads aimed at teenagers are for “candy, snacks, sugary cereals, or fast food”.

    a) 64
    b) 53
    c) 89

    d) 72

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


    Sharpen Your Vocabulary, Feed the Hungry

    The fact that many of us can actively implement nutrition into our lives by purposefully choosing certain foods while avoiding others or seeking out particular higher-priced products is truly something to be thankful for.

    In the United States alone, 35.5 million citizens live in food-insecure households. Globally, current estimates categorize 800 million people as suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

    You can help people all over the world while improving your own vocabulary over at Free Rice.

    Developed by the same people who brought you The Hunger Site, Free Rice — through the United Nations — donates twenty grains of rice for every right answer you provide to an SAT-like “find the correct synonym” question.

    Happy Holidays!


    Weekend Fun

    Time for another cartoon!

    I am not a big fan of scales. Although necessary in tracking weight loss goals, they are often misinterpreted and misused.

    If your weight-loss plan includes exercise, you might lose fat and gain muscle, ultimately resulting in a higher weight than before, since muscle weighs more than fat.

    Better barometers of weight loss? The clothes you wear — especially if you are looking to shed just two or three pounds. If your 36-inch jeans are feeling looser and your weight hasn’t budged, screw the scale, I say.

    If you like keeping track of your weight, weigh yourself no more than twice a week. Be sure to weigh in at the same time of day each time, and be mindful of what your last meal was.

    Meals high in sodium will retain water and result in slightly higher numbers.


    You Ask, I Answer: Resveratrol

    What is your view on resveratrol? Are you opposed or open to the idea of taking resveratrol daily for its alleged significant benefits?

    — Guy Betterbid
    New York, NY

    Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in significant quantities in the skins of red grapes and, subsequently, in red wine.

    The popular “French paradox” claims that one reason why French adults have lower rates of cardiovascular disease despite consuming a high-fat diet is due to their consistent consumption of red wine.

    Touted by some as an anti-cancer agent, resveratrol (which is actually produced by plants’ immune systems when attacked by certain bacteria or fungi) soon became a hot supplement.

    I personally wouldn’t recommend you rush out to GNC and start buying it, though.

    I am always skeptical when one component of a food (in this case, resveratrol — found in grapes, raspberries, blueberries, etc.) is isolated and expected to function the same way as when it is accompanied in its original packaging (in this case, an actual grape).

    Remember that supplements are not regulated by any agency. Studies have shown that the amount of concentrated resveratrol is supplements widely ranges from one company to another.

    There truly isn’t enough research of this supplement on humans to recommend it. In fact, there are no long-term studies, and the short-term ones performed on rats appear to show that high concentrations of resveratrol might overwork the liver.

    You’re better off having a handful of grapes or berries every day (or, if you already drink, having a glass of red wine every day) to get your share of resveratrol.


    In The News: Corrupted Virginity

    Extra virgin olive oil is considered the champion of all oils thanks to its high amounts of polyphenols, antioxidants, and monounsaturated fats.

    This powerful combination has been shown to decrease risks of heart disease (by lowering ‘bad cholesterol’), high blood pressure, and even breast cancer, according to some promising research from the Canary Islands.

    Sounds great, doesn’t it?

    Well, here’s a reality check you might not be too keen on cashing — that “extra virgin” olive oil you have been buying might be anything but!

    Reader Chris Davis notified me of a lengthy article published by The New Yorker earlier this year which spotlights worldwide olive oil fraud, a market laden with corruption and political scandals that can produce as much money as cocaine trafficking.

    Since reading the article, I have done a bit more research and want to share the not too uplifting news with you.

    A lot of supposed extra-virgin olive oil is really soy or hazelnut oil that has been adulterated.

    Unfortunately, the words “imported from Italy” do not necessarily mean what you think.

    If low-quality oils from North Africa are shipped to Italy, where they are then tampered with and bottled, the packaging can legally claim that oil is an Italian import.

    You might take that to mean that Tuscan olives from a small farm are made into extra virgin olive oil. Wrong!

    The Food and Drug Administration does not test oils coming into the United States for adulteration.

    Although a group known as the North American Olive Oil Association takes care of that — and they have discovered several distributors selling inferior quality oils as extra virgin — their testing is nowhere near as rigorous as that f the International Olive Oil Council.

    There are currently several proactive anti-fraud ideas being floated around.

    One would require all bottles of extra virgin olive oil to list the acidity of their contents (to be considered extra virgin, olive oil must contain an acidity of no more than 0.8%).

    Of course, who is to say that these figures can’t be doctored with the exchange of cold hard cash?

    One interesting solution to this problem comes from the region of Andalucia in Spain (one of the world’s largest manufacturers of olive oil). There are talks of using molecular cell technology to determine if olive oil labeled as extra virgin matches the structure of the authetic product.

    In the meantime, what can you do as a consumer? From a label standpoint, look for any bottles bearing the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) stamp of approval.

    If this is absent, see if the label lists the acidity figures for the supposed extra virgin olive oil. Look for an acidity level of 0.8% or less.

    No luck? Look at the price tag. A liter of olive oil at $7.99 is highly unlikely to be extra virgin.

    For more information, check out the International Olive Oil Council’s website.


    Say What?: This Report Card is Brought To You By Mickey D’s

    Thank you to reader Chris Davis for sending me a link to the latest McDonald’s marketing campaign — report cards!

    That’s right — Ronald’s burger joint and The School Board of Seminole Country, Florida, have teamed up to offer free Happy Meals to students achieving good academic, conduct, and attendance scores.

    Some of you might expect me to be flabbergasted and start punching my computer screen. Well, color yourselves surprised.

    For starters — the Happy Meal offers the choice of apple dippers instead of fries and milk in place of soda. I have to give McDonald’s some credit for allowing customers to venture outside of the usual “soda and fries” mentality.

    I also think that frequency, and not a Happy Meal itself, should be the examined issue.

    If this free Happy Meal is a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence, I don’t interpret that as a public health menace.

    If anything, restricting unhealthy meals to certain events is better than placing them in the “grab whenever we’re in a rush” category or normalizing them as an authentic substitute for a home cooked meal.

    Yes, I know we are dealing with the issue of using food as reward, which brings its share of problems. And, no, I’m not comfortable with the idea of McDonald’s advertising on a report card.

    It is one thing if a parent chooses to grab a Happy Meal with their kids as a way of rewarding them for good grades, it’s another when children come home and say, “Mom, I got all A’s, can we go to McDonald’s? Look, we can go for free!”

    However, when I was an elementary school student in Connecticut, a local deli offered the exact same report card deal.

    Granted, it was not promoted by my school, but (surprisingly?), this is not a case of McDonald’s setting a new low standard.


    Celebrity Diet Secrets: Hillary Swank

    Oy. Here we go again with ridiculous nutrition statements by celebrities. This time, it’s Hillary Swank’s turn to talk nonsense.

    In a recent interview with W Magazine, Swank proudly boasts that she takes 45 supplements a day! That’s right, in 24 hours.

    This is my Aloe C, which I dissolve in water. Here’s my flax. This one’s for my immune system, and this one is my BrainWave — it’s great, like if I have a lot of lines to memorize,” she explains to the reporter.

    All this advice comes from Dr. Oz Garcia, nutritionist to the stars, who Hillary credits with changing her life.

    Before I go on to talk about Hillary’s pill regimen, allow me to shed some light on Dr. Garcia.

    Specializing in “progressive nutrition, life extension, and anti-aging”, Dr. Garcia caters to Hollywood’s A-list and has had his number of television appearances. He also oversees nutritional services for Equinox Fitness Clubs.

    Between that bio and his splashy website, you might think this guy knows his stuff.

    Well, as we all witnessed with the Dr. Jan Adams debacle (who, despite being a media darling and even having his own show on The Discovery Health network, turned out to lack board accreditation and had a long history of malpractice claims by several patients), not everything is as it appears.

    For starters, a 1987 Time magazine article describes Dr. Garcia as a “self-taught” nutritionist. That same article states that Dr. Garcia claims he can tell someone what to eat after analyzing a strand of their hair.

    As far as I know, a strand of hair does not give you the same information as a blood test. Would Dr. Garcia advocate a high-protein diet to someone simply based on a hair sample, not knowing one of their kidneys is malfunctioning (and, therefore, need to be on a low-protein diet)?

    Dr. Garcia predictably hawks his own water, described as “99.9%” pure and containing “three times the electrolytes found in sports drinks”.

    The electrolytes in drinks like Gatorade are two minerals you all have heard of — sodium and potassium. Since Gatorade provides approximately one percent of a day’s potassium requirement, then this special water contains, at most, 3 percent of the daily requirement.

    A much smarter idea would be to get this mineral in much higher quantities from food. A cup of cantaloupes provides 10 percent, as does half a cup of Swiss chard or butternut squash. Throwing in half a cup of black beans into a salad provides 9 percent.

    Dr. Garcia also sells colon cleansing, fat-burning, and even anti-aging products, all in pill form.

    If this is the man Hillary Swank looks up to, it’s no wonder she thinks nothing of swallowing 45 pills a day.

    The excess of vitamins and minerals she is consuming is simply being excreted.

    Just for the record, let me note that there are no mentally-sharpening magic pills that help anyone with memory.

    Lastly, why is Hillary Swank taking flax in pill form? How about just sprinkling some milled flaxseed into a smoothie, salad, soup, or cereal bowl?

    The wonderfully healthy properties of flaxseed (i.e.: phytochemicals known as lignans, which have been linked to a decrease in bad cholesterol) are not replicated in a flax pill.

    And then we wonder why Kevin Trudeau’s books become bestsellers….


    Making the Nutrition Grade

    A group known as The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine have published a 2007 school lunch report card, grading 22 elementary schools from the 100 largest educational districts in the United States.

    Final scores were tallied by evaluating offerings via the following categories — obesity & chronic disease prevention, health prmotion, and nutrition initiatives.

    You can see the results here.

    You may remember that back in mid August I reviewed several schools’ lunch menus on this blog — and was absolutely horrified.


    In The News: Poor, Innocent McDonald’s

    The January 2008 issue of Reason magazine includes a controversial article on the “unfair” double standards suffered by fast food restaurants.

    According to author Greg Beato, McDonald’s and other greasy food meccas bear the brunt of unhealthy offerings and public health policies despite even worse fare available at some local mom ‘n pop stores or delis.

    Before America fell in love with cheap, convenient, standardized junk food, it loved cheap, convenient, independently deep-fried junk food,” writes Beato.

    While it is true that so-called traditional “American” fare consists of hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pie, fast food restaurants take traditional comfort food and turn it into an artery-clogging equation.

    Think about the following. McDonald’s originally only offered one size of fries — the 250-calorie version currently found inside a Happy Meal!

    These companies have chosen to inflate their portions to such a degree that we now have four beef patties, eight strips of bacon, and six slices of cheese in between two buns.

    You can get 2 liters of soda in a cup or, in the case of Hardee’s new breakfast burrito, a day’s worth of fat first thing in the morning.

    A large order of McDonald’s fries will set you back 800 calories (and provide 400% of the recommended maximum intake of trans fats for one day!)

    Additionally, fast food chains are basically accessible any place at any time. More locations are increasingly keeping their doors open 24 hours a day, and a road trip down any major (or not so major) highway in the United States reveals a landscape littered with Domino’s, KFC, Wendy, Burger King, and more.

    And while delis offer their share of fat-laden bombs, truly healthy choices are available. In the case of fast food establishments, it is always about choosing the “lesser of the evils.”

    What do you think?


    Say What?: The 4,886 Calorie Challenge

    The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, TX is home of the “Free” 72 Oz. Steak Challenge.

    To become a winner, simply eat a 72 ounce (that’s four and a half pounds!) top sirloin steak, shrimp cocktail appetizer, baked potato, salad, and dinner roll in 60 minutes or less.

    The “incentives” include getting your name on a list of champions, having your $72.00 bill refunded, and receiving a T-shirt, mug, and certificate.

    Amazingly, 8,000 people have successfully consumed 4,886 calories, 140.4 grams of fat (216% of a day ‘s worth), 51.1 grams of saturated fat (255% of the daily maximum limit), and 4,882 milligrams of sodium (203% of the daily limit) in under one hour.

    The accompanying photo illustrates all components of the challenge!


    In The News: Small Bites

    A big thank you to Vincci Tsui, Editor of Cornucopia, the Dietitians of Canada Student Network Newsletter.

    In a piece titled “Nutrition in the Blogosphere”, Vincci mentions Small Bites along with a handful of other high-profile nutrition blogs, including Marion Nestle’s.

    Take a look at the article here.

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