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    Archive for November, 2007

    Numbers Game: Answer

    Which of the following provides the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids?

    a) 4 ounces of fresh cold-water salmon
    b) 4 ounces of canned sardines (in oil)
    c) 4 ounces of fresh lobster
    d) 4 ounces of canned salmon

    e) Trick question. They all provide the same amount!

    The correct answer is “d” — canned salmon. Four ounces pack in 2.2 grams of Omega-3 fatty acids!

    The remaining fish?

    4 ounces of fresh cold-water salmon provide 1.7 grams, sardines contribute 1.8 grams, and fresh lobster contains 0.1 grams.

    Omega-3’s are essential (meaning our bodies can not produce them) polyunsaturated fatty acids that have been linked in hundreds of studies to lower risks of heart disease, cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

    Recommendations are currently set at 1 to 2 grams a day (or 7 – 14 grams a week).

    Why does canned salmon edge out cold-water salmon? Simple — all canned salmon is wild.

    The figure for cold-water salmon, meanwhile, is an average that takes into account wild and farmed salmon.

    Farmed salmon offers lower levels of Omega-3 fatty acids since they are fed grains (rather than subsisting on a natural diet of small marine creatures).

    Although all salmon is a great source of Vitamin D (four ounces provide a day’s worth!), canned salmon offers an additional bonus — calcium. Turns out the cooking process softens the bones to such a degree that they can be eaten.

    The result? A quarter of your day’s calcium needs in a (lactose-free) four-ounce piece!


    Turn It On: Super Skinny Me

    “Turn It On” is a new section highlighting television shows relating to food and nutrition you won’t want to miss.

    I’m very excited for the premiere of Super Skinny Me on BBC America this Sunday, December 2 at 10 PM EST/PST.

    In it, two female British journalists come up with a new — and, I would say, scarier — twist on the 2004 classic documentary Supersize Me.

    For five weeks, they will emulate notorious celebrity diets in hopes of shedding five dress sizes.

    I’ll be watching it for the first time myself this Sunday and publishing a review Monday evening.


    In The News: Aspartame Is Safe (?)

    A few weeks ago, it was announced that an exhaustive study involving ten universities and medical schools and epidemiological studies dating back to the 1970s deemed aspartame an entirely safe alternative sweetener.

    Read the fine print carefully and you’ll notice that said study was funded by Ajinoto Company, Inc. — one of the world’s leading producers of aspartame!

    The critical thinker in me can’t say with absolute certainty that this latest study fully convinces me of aspartame’s safety.

    Let me be clear. A healthy adult having Diet Coke a few times a month does not classify as a huge concern.

    However, my personal jury is definitely still out on aspartame consumption and children.

    There may be three decades of research on aspartame consumption, but as far as I know, it all involves adults.

    Even when healthy adults are involved, I would much rather someone consume small amounts of real sugar than wolf down sugar-free products made with aspartame.


    You Ask, I Answer: Calories from Fiber

    Why [do] some food labels (Fiber One, gnu food bars, etc.) eliminate the calories that cannot be digested because they are from fiber in the overall calorie count, whereas other food labels may not?

    Isn’t there some FDA standard?

    — [Name Withheld]
    [Location Withheld]

    Actually, the Food & Drug Administration allows food manufacturers to not take grams of insoluble fiber into account when tallying up their caloric totals.

    Remember –- wheat bran is the only food that is 100% insoluble fiber.

    Thus, it is not surprising that cereals consisting solely of wheat bran — like Fiber One — do not count calories from this specific fiber.

    When it comes to foods containing a mixture of soluble and insoluble fibers – such as the lentils in a soup – fiber grams are not subtracted from total carbohydrates.

    Why doesn’t soluble fiber get the same free pass?

    Unlike its insoluble cousin which passes right on through our digestive system, soluble fiber is metabolized by bacteria in our colon.

    This results in the production of short-chain fatty acids, which are involved in many processes, including glycolysis (the breakdown of glucose).


    In The News: Rain, Taxes, Death…. and Contaminated Beef

    It’s time for another round of “ground beef recall“!

    You guessed it — E.Coli 0157:H7 has reared its ugly head once more.

    This, by the way, is the same strand that, back in 1993, caused the death of 4 children who consumed contaminated meat at fast food giant Jack in the Box.

    How do these outbreaks happen?

    It’s quite simply, really. Any healthy-looking cow can carry E.Coli in its intestinal tract.

    Once the animal is slaughtered and its meat is ground up, E. Coli germs intermingle with it and, voila, E.Coli-infested beef is shipped off to your local grocery store.

    To make matters more difficult, E.Coli-infested beef does not look, taste, or smell “funny”.

    This is why cooking beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit is crucial (it kills any living organisms).

    Additionally, be sure to use separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables so as to not cross-contaminate your raw salad greens with any bacteria present in raw meat.

    Of course, on a much larger scale, if our food production system was better regulated and not hell-bent on accruing profits while jeopardizing cattle and human health, we wouldn’t be constantly facing these outbreaks.

    Not only are cows in feedlots practically living on top of one another (significantly increasing the spread of disease among a single population), they are also on a completely unnatural corn diet, which appears to increase their chances of contracting E.Coli 0157:H7 (the corn diet makes for a more acid stomach environment, which the E.Coli strain loves).

    I believe the personal is often the political. Our hard-earned dollars are an extremely powerful vote.

    If you choose to eat meat, purchasing local organic grass-fed beef (if within your price range) can help bring some peace of mind to your health and support more natural and sustainable practices.


    You Ask, I Answer: Zinc and the Common Cold

    I really liked your post on Airborne. It was very enlightening! What about the zinc lozenges that supposedly are good to take when you have a cold? Are those also not worth it?

    — Ashley L.
    Rockford, IL

    Over-the-counter zinc remedies have risen in popularity over the past few years. At any given drugstore, you can buy lozenges, nasal sprays, dissolvable tablets, and even nasal gels (think a medicated QTip inserted into your nose for approximately ten seconds).

    Zinc is an important immunity-boosting mineral. Best sources include pumpkin seeds, peanuts, brown rice, beef, wheat germ, almonds, pork, oats, quinoa, lentils and barley.

    If your diet is generally low in zinc and other nutrients linked with a healthy immune system, you can certainly expect to catch more colds — and recover less quickly — than someone with a well-rounded diet.

    I now eat much healthier than I did five years ago. Not surprisingly, I get sick a lot less often (and, when I do, I am back on my feet much faster than before). I do not take multi-vitamins, supplements, or amino acids. I simply eat real food that contains the nutrients I need.

    Is it accurate, then, to assume that taking extra zinc when our nose is drippy and our throat is scratchy will have us back in tip top shape in no time?

    Studies on the efficacy of zinc remedies provide mixed results.

    Some suggest these products help shorten the duration and intensity of a cold, others conclude they perform no differently then a placebo.

    Meanwhile, a recent study conducted at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlotesville — and published in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases — argues that while zinc lozenges are futile against the common cold, zinc nasal gels might prove helpful.

    The reason? The cold virus thrives in our nose. By coming directly in contact with zinc, its strength and ability to replicate appears to be negatively impacted.

    On the flip side, some users of zinc-based nasal gels and sprays have experienced long-lasting anosmia (loss of smell) as a result of using these products.

    Best bets once you have a cold? Rest and make sure to drink liquids often and throughout the day.

    I also don’t see anything wrong with taking a decongestant or cough medicine, if necessary.

    As much as I believe people tend to almost instinctively reach for a pill upon the slightest of symptoms, I also think there are instances where standard medicine certainly provides more benefits than problems.


    Numbers Game: Awesome Omega-3

    Which of the following provides the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids?

    a) 4 ounces of fresh cold-water salmon
    b) 4 ounces of canned sardines (in oil)
    c) 4 ounces of fresh lobster
    d) 4 ounces of canned salmon

    e) Trick question. They all provide the same amount!

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Wednesday for the answer.


    Say What?: Fancy Package + Exotic Fruit = Snake Oil

    Last week I was flipping through New York magazine and came across one of the most ridiculous beverages — and obnoxious advertising campaigns — ever invented.

    Allow me to introduce you to Borba Skin Balance Water. Caution: you will be entering a website with chill-out trance music and excessively beautiful people.

    Per the advertisement, “Borba Skin Balance Water uses only the finest vitamins, minerals and botanicals to help you achieve a youthful, luminous appearance. All with no carbs or calories.”


    First of all — can someone please send out a memo to all advertisers notifying them that carb-phobia and the Atkins Diet are, thankfully, a thing of the past and that there is no need for them to tout the absence of carbs in their products?

    Moving on. The “finest” vitamins and minerals? All vitamins are created equal. There is no A-list reserve stowed away for luxury waters.

    Not to mention — these are the same vitamins and minerals naturally found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

    Anyhow, Borba Skin Water comes in four exotic (of course) flavors — lychee fruit (replenishing), guanabana fruit (firming), acai berry (age defying), and pomegranate (clarifying).

    I sincerely hope no one is chugging a $3 sixteen-ounce of water flavored with an exotic berry, truly believing the posh advertising campaign claiming it helps combat “oily skin, clogged pores and impurities.”

    Because it doesn’t.

    Although staying well-hydrated is one of many important factors in maintaining healthy skin, this is easily attained by drinking regular water.

    If that’s too boring for you, I recommend Hint Water, which delivers a pleasant fruity taste without sugar or hyperbolic promises.

    Actually, one of the best things you can do for your skin is eat a varied diet containing different fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and foods high in Omega-3, like sea vegetables, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and fatty fish.

    In fact, if the above mentioned foods make up a large majority of what you eat, you are getting the same vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants the Borba folks want you to believe are exclusive to their water.

    More importantly, you will be eating real food, rather than relying on extracts or flavorings, which do not contain the same health benefits.

    Similarly, it is also important to keep the consumption of added sugars and processed foods low, as these foods can trigger cellular inflammation associated with various skin problems.

    Water flavored with pomegranates or lychee fruit might quench your thirst, but it is far from being the fountain of youth.


    You Ask, I Answer: Caramelized Onions

    Are caramelized onions high in sugar?

    One of my friends told me she read somewhere that they can have up to a tablespoon of sugar in them.

    — Kristin Potok
    Jacksonville, FL

    Although their name might make you think so, there is no added sugar in caramelized onions.

    Caramelization occurs when the naturally-occurring sugars present in the onion break down and a large majority of the water dehydrates, leading to a sweeter taste, softer texture, and browning.

    In fact, this is very easy to do at home. Simply dice up some onions, heat up olive oil in a pan, sautee the onions over medium heat, cover the pot for 5 minutes, uncover and stir frequently for approximately twenty to thirty minutes.

    No sugar needed!


    Say What?: A Whole Lot of Nothing

    Now that whole grains have earned the respect they deserve, food companies are using their name in vain to get your dollars.

    In the past few months, I have seen several new products promising whole grains (usually followed by an exclamation point) and failing to deliver.

    One of the most common tricks lies in using the tagline “made with whole grains!”

    What the food manufacturers fail to tell you is that the product contains a mere five percent of whole grains (and ninety-five percent refined flour).

    Hence, it is made with whole grains, but is not a whole-grain food. Catch the subtlety?

    The best way to catch this lie is by looking at the ingredients list. If the first item you see is “unbleached wheat flour,” you know the product contains mostly refined carbohydrates.

    However, if the words “whole (insert type of grain here) flour” are first, you have a whole grain item in your hands.

    By the way, “stoneground wheat flour” is still a processed fiberless flour. If the words “whole” do not appear, it is NOT a whole grain.

    Another commonly used misleading tactic? Listing the grams of whole grains per serving. Teddy Grahams boasts about this figure on their new cookie package (“five grams of whole grains per serving!”).

    They are counting on consumers to be confused and equate that with “five grams of fiber”, which is VERY different.

    Don’t start worrying about whole grains vs. refined grain grams. Instead, focus simply on fiber grams. You want to look for at least three grams of fiber per serving for any bread product, for example.

    Finally, keep in mind that if it comes in a bag and contains 25 ingredients (19 of which you can’t pronounce), the promise of whole grains doesn’t mean much.

    I recently saw a new line of chips called Riceworks boast about the presence of brown rice (and “whole grains”) in its ingredient list.

    Well, each 1-ounce bag contains a mere 1 gram of fiber. It is such a processed food that the little amount of brown rice contained in each chip barely registers.

    Stay smart. Don’t let some high-salary-earning, nutritionally-clueless guy in a suit fool you with empty promises.


    In The News: The Newest Public Enemy

    Prepare for the next nutrition war.

    Now that the trans fat battle has ended, the focus turns to sodium (which I discussed at length in issue 3 of the Small Bites newsletter).

    Unlike trans fats, we need sodium in our diets to keep several crucial body processes running.

    Unfortunately, we are getting, on average, twice as much as we need.

    I think sodium has largely gone by unnoticed by the general public because it does not contribute extra calories to our diet (“so what if this has three quarters of the recommended sodium limit? At least it won’t make me fat!”)

    Until now. The American Medical Association is pressuring the Food & Drug Administration to get food companies to lower the amount of sodium in many of their products.

    The biggest industry at risk? Frozen and non-perishable processed foods. It is not rare to see TV dinners or tomato sauce containing 40% or more of the daily sodium limit.

    Some brands — like Amy’s — are ahead of the curve, recently launching lower-sodium versions of their soups. Expect many others to follow in 2008…


    You Ask, I Answer: Tofu Spreads

    I haven’t been able to find any nutritional info on the tofu spreads offered at bagel stores.

    I have been using the tofu spreads as an alternative to light or fat free cream cheese, but I don’t know if I am making the best nutritional decision.

    — Jean M.
    New York, NY

    Great question! Often times, we automatically relegate something made with tofu or soy to the “healthy” category. Are we right to do so?

    Let’s consider your question by comparing two tablespoons of regular, low-fat, non-fat, and tofu cream cheese in different categories:

    CALORIES: 101 for regular, 69 for low-fat, 29 for non-fat, and 90 for tofu.

    SATURATED FAT: 6.4 grams for regular, 5.3 for low-fat, 0.4 for non-fat, and 2 for tofu.

    SODIUM: 86 milligrams for regular, 89 for low-fat, 164 for non-fat (remember, if you are completely taking out fat, you need something else for flavor’s sake!), and 115 for tofu.

    CALCIUM: Despite popular belief, cream cheese is not a good source of calcium. 23.2 milligrams for regular, 33.6 for low-fat, 55.5 for non-fat, and 60 for tofu. You should aim for 1,000 milligrams (1 gram) per day.

    As you can see, they are all pretty equal.

    Keep in mind that the average bagel contains 300 – 400 calories and approximately 650 milligrams of sodium (25% of the recommended daily limit).

    If you are looking to add some extra nutrition to it, though, I recommend a tablespoon of peanut/almond/cashew butter, which contains protein (which helps keep you full for longer, especially if your bagel is not made with whole grains and therefore lacking this nutrient), heart-healthy fats, and vitamin E in a 94 calorie package.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    According to figures by Consumer Insight, the average Thanksgiving dinner (three ounces of turkey with gravy + one serving of mashed potatoes + one serving of cranberry sauce + one serving of candied yams + one serving of green bean casserole + a slice of pumpkin pie + two bread rolls with butter) adds up to 2,777 calories and 90 grams of fat.

    Yes, just one meal provides approximately a day and a half’s worth of calories and fat for most people.

    It isn’t too far-fetched, then, to say that on Thanksgiving Day, many people can take in almost 4,000 calories.

    One huge mistake I see many people make on holidays like Thanksgiving is starving all day (or follow non-sensical rules like “I will eat nothing but celery sticks until dinner”) in anticipation of a huge meal where high-calorie foods are at their disposal.

    End result? Gorging and bingeing all through dinner (and taking in more calories in one sitting than they would have had they eaten sensibly throughout the day) followed by some unrealistic diet goal announcement like, “that’s it. Tomorrow it’s nothing but chicken broth and grapes.”

    The best thing you can do before sitting down to a meal where overindulgence seems imminent is to prepare yourself.

    Approximately forty five minutes to an hour before dinner, snack on foods containing fiber, healthy fats, and protein.

    Some good pre-Thanksgiving dinner snacks include a handful of nuts, a Lara/Clif Nectar/Pure bar, whole grain crackers with hummus, and a bowl of whole grain cereal with raisins or a banana.

    If you can make it to the dinner table without starving and wanting seconds of everything, you can enjoy your meal without overloading on calories.

    Besides, you know as well as I do that slices of those tempting pies — along with every other dish — will be in the fridge tomorrow (and the day after, and the week after that). There is no need to shove it down if, by the end of dinner, you already feel like a Macy’s parade balloon.

    Also, find ways to make classic dishes healthier.

    Serve whole wheat rolls with trans-fat-free margarine, opt for oven-roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes drizzled with olive oil and topped with chopped rosemary in place of mashed potatoes, and check out this delicious low-fat pumpkin recipe made with a whole grain crust!


    Chocolate: A Forbidden Sweet (Literally!)

    Thank you to reader SJ Simon for sending me this interesting link about chocolate’s forbidden past in Switzerland, of all places.


    You "Ask", I Answer: Vegetarianism

    You should not avoid red meat completely, it might hurt your health.

    — “Vedo” (via the blog)
    Location Unknown

    Not true.

    While red meat is by no means junk food (it is a good source of vitamins B12 and B6 as well as iron, zinc, and protein), certain cuts can be very high in artery-clogging and bad-cholesterol-raising saturated fat.

    A statement like “avoiding red meat might hurt your health” is entirely inaccurate.

    If fish and poultry are your only sources of animal protein, for example, you are not missing out on any nutrients present in red meat.

    Aditionally, well-planned vegetarian diets provide complete and balanced nutrition, with no need for supplementation.

    Even though animal proteins are considered “complete” in that they contain all nine essential amino acids, soy protein is a complete plant protein.

    As for the others? It’s all about complementing. It turns out that the amino acids missing in grains are present in nuts. Thereby, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich provides all essential amino acids.

    Vegetarianism is not dangerous, unhealthy or risky.

    Many times, actually, vegetarian diets (that include all food groups and are not just a medley of pizza, French fries, ice cream, and soy chicken nuggets) end up being healthier than those of omnivores’.

    The reason? Vegetarian diets tend to be higher in fiber and phytonutrients while clocking in lower amounts of saturated fat.

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