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    Archive for October, 2007

    You Ask, I Answer: Corn Flakes/High Fructose Corn Syrup

    I was eating Corn Flakes and saw that HFCS is one of the main ingredients but, per serving, it only has 2g of sugar. Is this still an unhealthier choice for breakfast?

    — Anoymous (via the blog)

    I must say — I have been getting some really thought-provoking questions lately.

    One cup of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes contains a mere 1.8 grams of sugar (that’s half a teaspoon). When the amount is so small, I don’t think too much weight should be placed on the particular sweetener listed on the label.

    It’s also worth mentioning that when it comes to the artificial high-fructose corn syrup, it’s important to place it within the context of dietary patterns.

    If Corn Flakes are your only source of high fructose corn syrup each day, there is no need for concern.

    If, however, you are also having a few cans of regular soda and lots of processed sweet foods, I would recommend taking certain steps to cut back on your consumption of the infamous corn-based sweetener.

    My real issue with Corn Flakes is that they are far from nutritious. They aren’t “unhealthy”, but I can think of much more nutritious, filling — and tastier! — choices for breakfast.

    For starters, they are fat-free and contain an almost non-existent 1.3 grams of fiber and 1.9 grams of protein per serving. Why am I pointing this out? Remember: fat, fiber, and protein are the three pillars of satiety (“feeling full”).

    Foods like Corn Flakes — which lack these three nutrients — will not help you feel full. In fact, you’ll very likely be hungry again just one hour after having your bowl of cereal (unless it is an accompaniment to a more substantial breakfast).

    Anyone interested in weight loss — and maintenance — should think about consuming healthy and nutrition foods that, in small amounts, satiate.

    Nuts, for example, contain healthy fats, fiber, and protein. This is why a handful of nuts as a snack can hold you over much better than a handful of pretzels (which, lacking these nutrients, will not help you feel full until you have consumed a significant amount of calories).

    Another eyebrow-raising fact? A cup of Corn Flakes has more sodium than a one-ounce bag of Lay’s potato chips (266 milligrams vs. 180 milligrams)!

    As I mentioned in my Small Bites newsletter on sodium, one way to get an idea if something we are eating is heavily processed or closer to nature is by looking at the sodium to potassium ratio.

    The more processed/artificial the product, the more sodium (and less potassium) it has.

    Corn Flakes? 266 milligrams of sodium in one cup, and a feeble 24.6 milligrams of potassium (we should be aiming for approximately 4,000 milligrams of potassium each day).

    If you can’t live without your cereal in the morning, opt for a wheat-bran based type (wheat bran is high in potassium) and have it with a banana, mango, or raisins (three breakfast-friendly fruits also high in that mineral).


    Listen Up!

    Portion expert Lisa R. Young has kindly shared with me a very informative podcast on portion sizes and control she recently did for Wellcoaches.com.

    Find out how portions have grown over the past two decades, how this relates to rising obesity levels, tricks and tips to “smartsize” your life, what “trigger foods” are, and MUCH more.

    Click here to download the 35 minute-long interview in MP3 format — it’s definitely worth a listen!

    My suggestion? Zap it onto your Ipod and listen to it on your way to work tomorrow morning. I guarantee you’ll be making better choices by lunch time.


    You Ask, I Answer: Deceptively Delicious

    Did you catch Jessica Seinfeld on Oprah talking about her new book? What do you think?

    — Denise Wyler
    (location withheld)

    I did not watch the episode where Jessica Seinfeld (yes, Jerry’s wife) pitched her new book, Deceptively Delicious, in which she shares her recipes for many classic unhealthy foods (i.e.: especially kid favorites like mac and cheese, brownies) with a “healthy twist”.

    Said twist? Adding pureed vegetables. Oh, woopee… start throwing confetti, everybody!

    I managed to see a few nauseauting clips in which Oprah made it seem like Jessica was a culinary goddess for “coming up” with this concept.

    For some odd reason, many celebrities are bowing down to Jessica Seinfeld for doing nothing more than adding a handful of beets to chocolate cake.

    Kelly Ripa referred to Jessica as a “genius.” Well, considering the source that doesn’t mean much of anything.

    Interestingly, there is a serious plagiarism scandal surrounding this book, which you can read about here if you are interested.

    I don’t really see what the big hoopla is. For instance, Jessica’s carrot-spinach brownie recipe includes a mere cup of pureed vegetables for a batch of 12 brownies.

    In other words, a child would need to eat SIX of these brownies to get a mere half cup (just one serving!) of vegetables.

    In the process, they would be getting a boatload of sugar and no other nutrients to speak of. I’m supposed to be wowed by this? Well, I’m not.

    I’m actually pretty ticked off that, apparently, all you need is a well-known last name to get a multimillion dollar, multi-book deal.

    What credentials, exactly, does Mrs. Seinfeld have to start doling out ANY nutrition advice? None.

    Funny how this “hide pureed veggies in brownies” idea is found in books released before Deceptively Delicious, yet was completely ignored by the mass media until Mrs. Seinfeld came along.

    The blueberry oatmeal bars are described as “full of spinach”.

    Really? The recipe — which yields 12 bars — only calls for a half cup of pureed spinach. Your little one will need to eat all 12 bars to get just one serving of vegetables.

    Marion Nestle recently commented about this same subject on her blog — I completely agree with every word.

    This book sends out the completely wrong message on nutritious eating for children. Why should we be sneaking healthy food into kids’ meals? Is a carrot really THAT terrible? Give me a break.

    I was also extremely disappointed to find out that well-known nutritionist Joy Bauer approved all these recipes.  Two thumbs down from me.


    You Ask, I Answer: Unrefined Sugar

    I know you said in one of your newsletters that all sugar is the same in terms of calories and grams of sugar, but I still don’t understand what something like “unrefined sugar” means.

    — Natalie Leon
    Tampa, FL

    You are absolutely correct that, at the end of the day, sugar is sugar. Brown, white, unrefined, unbleached… it makes no difference — you are getting 16 calories (and four grams of sugar) per teaspoon.

    If you want to get really technical, though, unrefined sugars do not go through one step in the processing system — filtration with charcoal.

    Many strict vegans and vegetarians will look specifically for unrefined sugars since the charcoal used for filtering with standard “table sugar” is often made from animal bones.


    King Corn: I Ask, They Answer

    At the recent screening of King Corn I attended, three of the people involved with the documentary (the editor, director, and one of the two creators) held a question and answer session with the audience.

    Armed with my trusty notebook, I raised my hand. My question — and their answer — follows.

    ME: “[In the film, we don’t see any organic farming.] Did you come across any farmers [in Iowa] who grew organic crops? How do some of the farmers you spoke to feel about using pesticides on their crops? Do you know of any physical side effects from using these chemicals?

    KING CORN “CAST”: We absolutely saw a lot of people doing organic farming. We shot 500 hours of film and had to condense it to 82 minutes, so you can imagine all that was left out.

    Actually, what we call “organic” here in a place like New York City isn’t a novel concept to a lot of farmers. To them, that’s just normal “farming.”

    The issue of pesticides and chemicals used in farming is of huge concern to us. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but there is a 60 mile “dead” zone in the Gulf of Mexico where the water is completely deprived of oxygen.

    No life can grow or live there, and it’s because of runoff — waste water and fertilizer runoff — that travels down from farms in the Midwest. It’s terrible what these agricultural chemicals do.

    The impact goes beyond the immediate area around the farm, or even whoever ends up eating whatever is grown on that farm.

    From our research, it seemed that many of the women who farmed and were exposed to some pesticides and chemicals developed Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. This stuff can’t be good for you if you are literally surrounded by it every day.

    By the way, there’ s a great organization called the Practical Farmers of Iowa. They’re doing some really great stuff. They want to help farmers transition towards diversifying their crops and make them more profitable, and they are also interested in ecological preservation and keeping farming as an earth-friendly practice.


    Shame On You: Blind Item

    For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘blind item’, it is what gossip columnists publish when they have a piece of gossip so hot — and damaging — that they don’t dare publish it with first and last name to avoid possible lawsuits.

    For instance, New York City’s infamous Page Six gossip column recently printed the following:

    WHICH reality star turned rocker recently had major work done after a minor weight loss? Following in the footsteps of her plastic surgery-addict mother, the young starlet got her tummy tightened and her breasts lifted.

    Believe it or not, I now have a blind item of my own, courtesy of a business and kitchen insider who knows firsthand of some terrible sneakiness taking place behind the scenes.

    WHICH popular “healthy” food delivery business — linked to a popular diet — is pulling the wool over some of its New York City customers? Even though your meal is supposed to be “heart healthy” and low in calories, many of the chefs who work for the outsourced company that makes the meals are known to add more butter, cream, and salt to any “healthy” dish that doesn’t taste good to them!

    I was absolutely flabbergasted to find this out. People are putting their trust in a company to deliver healthy, tasty food, and they are instead getting highly caloric, fattening meals.

    In all fairness, the popular diet company does not seem to be aware that this is going on. Negligent? Absolutely. If I was an executive member of this company, I would have someone from my staff supervising the chefs making these meals.

    To be absolutely sure of what you are eating, your best bet is to make it yourself at home. Or, at the very least, understand that when you eat out, even if it sounds mega healthy, you run the risk of consuming more calories than you would at home, or added ingredients you would never think of putting onto your dinner plate!

    PS: I know for a fact this has been happening in New York City. This service is national, though, so I don’t know if this is a national or regional problem. I’ll see what I find out.


    You Ask, I Answer: Chocolate

    What do you suggest to replace chocolate?

    — Anonymous (via the blog)

    That’s a hard question, mainly because “replacing” chocolate is an almost impossible task.

    If chocolate is on your mind, there isn’t much that can take its place.

    Additionally, I don’t think something as delicious as chocolate should be seen as an “evil” that needs to be replaced.

    A better question is, “how can I enjoy chocolate when I have a craving without overdoing the calories?

    Here are some suggestions.

    Incorporate small amounts of chocolate into a healthier snack. For example, make your own trail mix consisting of walnuts (the nut highest in Omega-3 fats), raisins, sunflower seeds, and half a handful of chocolate chips or M&M’s.

    Tantalize your tastebuds with more intense flavors. A few bites of a darker chocolate (70 or 85% cocoa) will satisfy your craving more quickly than milk chocolate.

    If a chocolate craving hits you at the checkout line or an airport newsstand (where candy surrounds you), opt for the smallest varieties. Unless you have exemplary self-control, you know you will eat the entire contents of what you buy. A King-Size Crunch bar, for example, has 200 more calories than the standard variety — that’s literally twice as much!

    Don’t attempt to ignore your chocolate craving by munching on carrot sticks instead. You won’t enjoy the carrot sticks, you’ll start thinking of healthy food as “punishment”, and you’ll still be craving chocolate.

    Don’t fall for the “low-carb” or “sugar-free” trap. Many people think that sugar-free varieties of popular chocolates like Reese’s Mini Peanut Butter Cups or Hershey Nuggets — intended for people living with diabetes — are a “diet food”. Far from it! On average, the sugar-free versions offer only 30 less calories per serving than the regular products and just as much — sometimes more — saturated fat.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    Just in time for Halloween: which of the following fun-size treats provides the least calories?

    a) Three Musketeers
    b) Skittles

    c) Snickers

    d) Milky Way

    The answer? Three Musketeers.

    One fun-size piece of this candy bar provides 63 calories.

    The rest? Milky Way’s fun-size delivers 75 calories, a fun-size bag of Skittles clocks in at 80, and the smallest of all Snickers bars adds 99 calories to your day.

    Missing a chocolatey coating, Skittles are by far the lowest in fat (.75 grams and 0 grams of saturated fat), but make up those calories by containing more sugar than the three sweet competitors.

    Even among its chocolate friends, the Three Musketeers prevail. A fun-size Milky Way packs 2 grams of saturated fat, Snickers is a close second with 1.8 grams, while the three amigos manage a not-so-bad 1.3 grams.

    This might surprise you, but, in my opinion, the worst treat to overindulge in on Halloween night is a virtually fat-free one like Skittles.

    The absence of fat (and, obviously, protein and fiber) don’t help us feel full, thereby make it easier to overeat and consume a large number of calories.

    Candies with slightly higher fat contents can help you feel full in lower quantities.


    In The News: Up, Up, and Away!

    All is not well in the land of tea and crumpets.

    Despite an increase in life expectancy, obesity and diabetes rates in the United Kingdom continue to grow.

    In the past ten years alone, the percentage of obese adult men in England has risen by forty percent. Children? Fifty percent!

    More obesity and diabetes but also longer lives? Not as surprising as you might think.

    After all, this study isn’t detailing the quality of this extended life expectancy. For all we know, people are living an extra four or five years with health complications, multiple doctor visits, and a fistful of medications to take every day.

    One especially disturbing statistic: “There are 2.2 million people in the UK living with the condition and up to… 750,000… who don’t know it.


    Sweets for the Heart

    Even the healthiest of eaters have a hard time compromising a sweet craving with nutrition and, most importantly, taste.

    A sugar-free Atkins bar is not a comparable replacement to real chocolate (which, even when made with 70% cocoa, needs sugar to taste good).

    Similarly, fat-free ice cream is a tasteless, watery concoction unworthy of the “ice cream” moniker.

    So where does one turn? Well, if you’re a caramel fiend like myself, look no further than Glenny’s Caramel “sweetheart” Soy Crisps.

    Although they are advertised as heart-shaped, that romantic notion appears to have gone out the door, as all the crisps are a more standard round shape.

    Each 1.3 ounce bag packs a mere 140 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 4 grams (1.3 teaspoons) of added sugar (no artificial sweeteners here!).

    Even better? They are completely free of saturated and trans fats!

    As an extra bonus, you get 3 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein.

    That’s what I call a sweet deal.


    You Ask, I Answer: Diet Soda

    I was debating [with a colleague] about whether diet soda is bad for you.

    I mentioned some folks believe the artificial sweeteners in them may be cancer-causing, but that it’s a step up from guzzling sugary sodas every day.

    She said something about the acid in the soda not being that bad for you, because our stomachs are already acidic.

    But I always thought the phosphoric acid in the soda wasn’t so good for the tum tum.

    What’s your verdict?

    — Judith (last name withheld)
    (location withheld)

    The problem with all soda — diet or not — is the phosphoric acid in it.

    Not so much because it’s bad for your stomach (it isn’t), but because of its effect on our calcium levels.

    Our bodies like to stay in balance (you might remember the term “homeostasis” from your high school biology class). Calcium and phosphate, in particular, are two minerals that are actually good buddies. In fact, they’re inseparable.

    If one’s level in our blood goes up, the other one wants to go up as well. So when you drink that can of diet soda, your body’s phosphate levels rise. Calcium sees this, and says, “Wait a second, I want to go up, too!”

    If you are like most people in the United States, your calcium intake isn’t as high as it needs to be, meaning you don’t have much available calcium floating around. So in order to up its levels, calcium, eager to join phosphate, starts leeching extra calcium from the first place where it can find it – our bones.

    Let me be very clear here – if your calcium intake is adequate, the occasional diet soda is not going to make you develop osteoporosis.

    But, in looking at teenagers, for instance (many of whom are already calcium deficient and on top of that are guzzling down two or three sodas a day) this is a huge problem.

    Phosphoric acid is also responsible for wearing away enamel (a protective layer) on our teeth, leading to an increased risk of tooth decay.

    I don’t see anything wrong with having a soda here or there as a treat (i.e.: once or twice a month), but definitely take issue with soda being someone’s main source of fluids on a daily — or almost-daily — basis.


    In The News: Eat Less, Feel Full

    This article published in today’s New York Times reports back on a study by the Obesity Society, in which” 26 children at a child-care center [were fed] breakfast, lunch and snack, and [given] take-home dinners and snacks. The same menu was served each week, but one week the kids were given low-fat and low-sugar versions of the foods as well as more vegetables. The changes included 1 percent milk instead of whole, fruit served in juice instead of syrup, and pasta made with low-fat dairy and pureed vegetables.”

    The result? They consumed 400 less calories over the two days in which they were served healthier fare.

    In essence, they had the same amount (by weight) of food — but less calories — and still felt full.

    I suspect this has to do with the healthier fare containing more fiber (which helps promote feelings of satiety) and, above all, tasting good.

    These children don’t know what ‘calories’ are; their food choices are made exclusively on taste. Make nutritious, lower-calorie meals tasty and appealing to the palate (i.e: blend cauliflower, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor and pour it over pasta, rather than give a 5-year-old a side of steamed cauliflower) and they will be eaten.


    Numbers Game: Pick Your Treat

    Just in time for Halloween: which of the following fun-size treats provides the least calories?

    a) Three Musketeers
    b) Skittles

    c) Snickers

    d) Milky Way

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


    You Ask, I Answer: Milk from Corn-Fed Cows

    What is the impact of Omega-6 fatty acid [from a cow’s diet] on [the milk it produces]?

    — Pauline Guzek
    Via the blog

    In a recent post , I explained that corn-fed cows’ meat contains higher levels of unhealthy fats than that of their counterparts who munch on grass all their lives.

    A similar concept occurs with milk, except this time around, as you’ll soon find out, corn-fed cows’ milk is LACKING an important nutrient.

    This is one of the main reasons why many people are starting to specifically look for commercial milk that comes from grassfed cows.

    Caution! Simply buying “organic” milk does not guarantee the cows that produce it have been subsisting on the green stuff all their life.

    Under the current organic guidelines by the United States Department of Agriculture, milk can be labeled ‘organic’ if the cows that produce it have “access to pasture.”

    Technically, the cows do not have to eat said pasture. So, a huge farm could potentially fatten up all its cows on corn and grains but let them spend an hour a day outside and legally label their milk as “organic.”

    Be sure to look for the words “grass-fed” on the container.

    The main draw of milk from grass-fed cows is a higher amount of a polyunsaturated fat known as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA.)

    The current research on CLA is promising. Several studies have shown promising links between its consumption and cancer cell growth inhibition as well as lowering of triglyceride levels and even a boost in the immune system.

    Milk from corn-fed cows is not only lacking CLA, it is also the byproduct of a body that has taken in copious amounts of antibiotics and hormones.

    If it fits within your budget, I would recommend purchasing milk from grass-fed cows.

    In many countries, this is the only milk they know, as the notion of having cows eat corn and antibiotics all day seems not only bizarre, but also unhealthy. I completely agree.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    According to research by the Food and Drug Administration, the average adult in the United States consumes 8.1 grams of trans fats a day.

    NOTE: While avoiding trans fats altogether is the most advisable suggestion, the recommended maximum daily intake is set at two grams.

    An average daily intake four hundred percent above the established limit is certainly cause for concern.

    Trans fats — fats that are partially hydrogenated, making them more shelf-stable — have been linked to higher levels of bad cholesterol and elevated risk of coronary heart disease.

    The main culprits? Baked goods. Commercial cakes, pies, cookies, and cupcakes often contain shortening, the king of partial hydrogenation.

    Although some fast-food establishments — like Chik-Fil-A — do not fry in partially hydrogenated oils, the same can’t be said for some of its counterparts.

    A medium order of McDonald’s french fries packs in 5.4 grams of trans fats! That same order at Burger King still provides a disturbing 200% of the “Danger! do not cross” trans fat limit.

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