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  • Archive for January, 2008

    Say What?: Pica, The New Hot Trend

    Ugh. And so we have the first stupid trend of the year — chewable ice!

    Am I in a parallel universe? Hasn’t ice ALWAYS been chewable? Or are they talking about long-lasting gum chewability? I digress.

    Despite warnings from the American Dental Association that this practice (commonly known as a condition named ‘pica’) can have a detrimental effect on teeth (and the medical community linking compulsive ice chewing with iron deficiency), ice manufacturers are eager to get everyone munching on frozen water cubes.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, “ice-machine makers are competing to make the best chewable ice, with names like Chewblet, Nugget Ice and Pearl Ice. One manufacturer calls the ice-loving South the “Chew Belt.

    Was this supposed to be published in The Onion?

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    In The News: The Big Fish Exposé

    Last week’s report on the alarmingly high mercury content of tuna sushi served in various New York City restaurants made consumer and industry ears perk up.

    Remember, “a chain of five stores in New York, Gourmet Garage, sold tuna that in the New York Times test had mercury concentrations above one part per million, the Food and Drug Administration’s “action level,” at which the fish can be taken off the market.”

    Consumers are undoubtedly taking the issue seriously.

    “At Eli’s Manhattan, on New York’s Upper East Side, sales of tuna sushi were down 30 percent in the past week,” the New York Times reports in this follow-up article.

    Now the Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in and beginning to test the mercury levels of the 20 most consumed fish in the New York City area.

    I’m looking forward to reading the results.

    In the meantime, please do not view discard something as wonderful healthy as seafood as high-mercury poison.

    The real “red flag” is raised with large fish (that accumulate mercury in their system through consuming smaller fish).

    Smaller species such as salmon, tilapia, flounder, sardines, and sole are among the lowest in mercury.

    Remember, too, that mollusks and crustaceans such as shrimp, scallops, prawns, and crab are healthy low-mercury options.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Jelly

    Nutritionally speaking, what is the “best” jelly to pair with my natural peanut butter?

    I buy Smucker’s “Simply Fruit” blackberry because it seems to have less sugar and a reasonable amount of calories (40 per Tbsp.).

    Are all jellies considered discretionary calories, though?

    – Ali (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Great question!

    Jellies indeed fall into the discretionary “fats, sugars, and condiments” category.

    Scary condiment sidenote — current government guidelines make it perfectly legitimate for a school to claim the ketchup it serves with its fries as the “vegetable of the day”.

    Now that we’re all done cringing and looking repulsed, let’s return to Ali’s question.

    If you go by MyPyramid, jelly falls in the narrow tip at the top reserved for foods that are nutritionally insignificant.

    It makes sense. After all, jelly is basically sugar.

    It is not a source of fiber, vitamins, or minerals (unless these are added synthetically), so it does not compare to the members of the “fruit” group.

    Additionally, the standard amount of jelly people eat in a day (a tablespoon or two) isn’t enough to contribute much to the diet.

    This is not to say all jellies are the same.

    Avoid ones with high fructose corn syrup.

    Instead, reach for low-sugar varieties.

    I’m not a big fan of the Smuckers Simply Fruit line of products because I find their name to be misleading.

    One would think a jar of Simply Fruit apricot jelly contains nothing but mashed apricots, for example.

    Not so. This line is made from a combination of fruit syrups and lemon juice concentrates.

    I would instead recommend their low-sugar varieties that clock in at 25 calories and a mere 5 grams of sugar per tablespoon (that’s roughly as much sugar as a small pack of sugar at a coffeeshop).

    Sugar-free jellies are also an option, but there’s something about the thought of fruit and Splenda getting intimate with each other that gives me the willies.

    I personally do not like jelly, so from a taste standpoint, I am going on assumptions and not actual experiences.

    To make your sandwich even healthier, drop the “J” and add another “B” — tried and true sliced bananas!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Fruit Juice/Sugar

    Thanks for answering my first question on fruit juice and sugar content.

    So if you’re drinking 3 or 4 big glasses of some kind of fruit juice instead of 3 or 4 sodas a day you [are] still taking in empty calories and large amounts of sugar like with the soda, right?

    So if you need something to drink while surfing the Internet or just watching TV fruit juice wouldn’t be the best improvement over soda.

    What about PowerAid or something like that, would it be better than both soda and bottled fruit juice? Or should we really only be reaching for a water bottle to actually get any kind of improvement?

    – Andrew Carney
    Spokane, WA

    Yes, four glasses of conventional fruit juice are pretty much equal to 3 or 4 sodas.

    I say “pretty much” and not “exactly equal to” because although calorie content is not too difference, fruit juice does not contain phosphoric acid, (which can leech calcium from your bones) and in many occasions does provide naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals not present in soda.

    That being said, consider that four cups (a cup being eight ounces) of juice a day can add as much as 640 calories to your day!

    That’s a LOT of extra calories a day — more than a Big Mac!

    Replacing soda with juice isn’t the best swap. PowerAid, meanwhile, is still basically empty calories.

    This is not to say you should never have juice.

    I don’t know how large your glasses are, but let’s assume each glass you pour is about 8 ounces. I would have no more than 2 a day (keep in mind, that is still 320 calories); ideally, one.

    What can you do instead? Water is one solution, but there are other more flavorful alternatives, if that is what you seek:

    Canada Dry flavored seltzer water

    Hint Water

    Sugar-free (by this I don’t mean “full of artificial sweeteners”, I mean “without any sweetener”) or low-sugar teas like Teany, Teas’ Tea, or Honest Tea.

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    Numbers Game: Ignorance is Not Always Bliss

    An 2007 Internet survey of 20,000 adults in the United States by the National Lipid Association found that ______ percent were able to identify the desired values for total cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol and triglycerides.

    a) 10
    b) 3
    c) 5
    d) 7.5

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Saturday for the answer — and the correct values!

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    Turn It On: Your Reactions to Too Young To Be So Fat

    Small Bites reader Richard had this to say about Corina’s case:

    “[She] was on vacation with her mother and cousin in a casino and [the two] were left alone [to eat lunch] (with the filming crew i guess) while the mom was gambling.

    She eats fried chicken with fried fish and a lot of dessert. I found it disgusting that the crew left the girl eat that [when] they knew she had a morbid weight problem. Just for the show I guess.”

    The scene Richard refers to is particularly memorable because the complexity of factors behind Corina’s obesity are on full display.

    We see the loneliness she experiences, her denial about her weight problem, her self-resignation, and the sad truth that there doesn’t appear to be anyone around to teach and help guide her when it comes to making decisions about what she eats.

    At the same time, Corina seems to only be interested in the quick fix (liposuction) and does not appear very open to “slow and steady” approaches.

    I don’t see anything wrong with the crew not intervening. They are not counselors or dietitians. They are simply there to document Corina’s reality.

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    Turn It On: Too Young To Be So Fat

    A busier week than I predicted didn’t allow me to catch up on my recorded shows until last night, including Wednesday night’s “Too Young To Be So Fat” on TLC.

    The documentary, part of the “My Shocking Story” series, follows three obese teenagers.

    Dexter is 16 and weighs 340 pounds.

    Corina is 13 and weighs 230 pounds (she is three times the size of an average 13 year old girl).

    Garrett is 14 and weighs almost 400 pounds.

    Dexter and Garrett both enroll in the Academy of the Sierras, the world’s only boarding school for obese teenagers.

    Integrated with a regular academic curriculum covering science, history, and art are weight maintenance and eating behavior classes, recreational sports, counseling sessions, and a daily pre-breakfast 3 mile walk.

    At the academy, students are put on a low-fat (20 grams a day) 1,200 calorie diet.

    Five weeks later, Dexter and Garrett’s BMIs decrease by twenty and thirty percent, respectively.

    In that relatively short time periods, they learned the basics of eating healthy and smart. Even better, they both enjoy the taste of healthier snacks.

    Corina, meanwhile, is aiming to be one of the youngest liposuction patients in the world.

    However, she needs to boost her blood iron levels to reduce post-surgery complications.

    As the show progresses, we find that despite supplementing her diet with iron pills and multivitamins, Corina’s bloodwork does not provide the required safety net.

    As a result, she is unable to undergo liposuction.

    WHAT I LIKED: The show demonstrated that the only path to successful weight loss and maintenance is a gradual change in dietary habits and patterns.

    It goes without saying that this change must also include less calories and more physical activity, but it was through portion awareness, tasty food, and enjoyment of healthy food that Dexter and Garrett successfully started shedding pounds.

    A few scenes at the Academy of the Sierras made it clear that at this institution, food is not an enemy. It is a friend that hasn’t been discovered.

    Students are not made to feel guilty about eating, nor are they told to avoid food groups altogether. Instead, they are given skills to help them navigate the food landscape and make healthy choices.

    The show acknowledges that a deep emotional void lies at the root of all three subjects’ obesity. I appreciated this picture of obesity as a mind-body-spirit triad.

    In fact, all three teenagers’ weights began to skyrocket soon after an emotionally traumatic event (coincidentally, all three cases involved divorce or the abandonment of a parent at an early age).

    In Corina’s case, this facet of her obesity is fully explored.

    Her mother works night and sleeps in the morning, allowing the two of them approximately two hours a day of interaction.

    In turn, Corina’s eating goes unmonitored.

    One particularly painful segment follows Corina, her mother, and her cousin as they take a short vacation to a nearby casino.

    While Corina’s mother is off at the slot machines for hours, Corina and her cousin head off to the buffet.

    We then see Corina, who in previous confessionals states she puts effort into eating right and losing weight but it just “doesn’t work for her”, pile on fried chicken, fried fish, and macaroni and cheese onto her plate.

    That is then followed by slices of cake and cookies.

    It is clear that what Corina needs is not liposuction but a therapist and dietitian to help unravel her motivations and behaviors.

    One unforgettable scene has her eating grilled steak and salad, a meal she says she has never had. Corina literally gags on a cherry tomato (first time she’s ever tried one) and says her meal is disgusting!

    WHAT I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO SEE MORE OF: The confines of a one-hour (44 minutes without commercials) documentary tracking the lives of three separate people make it difficult to truly dig into any given “storyline.”

    Although we delve into Corina’s psyche, some of the other teenagers are left in the dark.

    In Dexter’s case, we see a short in which, during parents’ weekend at his school, he feels comfortable and secure enough to express his frustration with his father’s overly high expectations in a family counseling session.

    As far as Garrett is concerned, he admits to turning to food as an emotional refuge, but we never see him altering — or attempting to alter — these coping skills.

    The ending of the documentary was rather abrupt.

    A “six months later” followup segment would have been a treat, particularly since I was interested in all three teenagers’ stories.

    I was particularly intrigued to know if Corina made an effort to change her diet after she was rejected as a liposuction patient.

    WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN LEFT OUT: A scene showing Garrett’s grandmother visiting the Sierra Academy hinted at the teenager’s truancy problems as well as issues with obeying authority.

    This seemed out of place because, prior to this, Garrett was portrayed as a motivated willing participant who enjoyed his time there.

    IN CONCLUSION: “Too Young To Be So Fat” takes a multi-layered look at obesity and demonstrates that a combination of healthier eating, behavior modification, and psychological counseling provides the most effective results.

    Two thumbs up to TLC!

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    You "Ask", I Answer: Evaporated Cane Juice

    [Evaporated cane juice] has the same energy content [as sugar] but its glycemic index is lower, meaning it won’t spike your blood sugar as much. It is healthier.

    – Paul (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    The glycemic index is the Paris Hilton of nutrition — it gets way more press and attention than it really deserves.

    Firstly, the difference between sugar and evaporated cane juice’s glycemic index number isn’t too drastically different.

    Besides, relying on the glycemic index to determine what foods are healthy (the lower the number, “the better”) is not entirely accurate.

    If you go by that criteria, potato chips (with a GI number of 51) are a better food than watermelon (72), unsweetened oatmeal (58), lentils (52), or kidney beans (52).

    The glycemic index is an important tool for people living with diabetes, whose blood sugar needs to be meticulously controlled.

    However, it should not be used to determine the healthfulness of foods.

    Remember, too, that the glycemic index of a food is affected by how it is consumed.  Al dente pasta, for example, has a lower glycemic index than overcooked pasta.  Similarly, a potato topped with olive oil and eaten with a food high in protein has a lower glycemic effect than one sprayed with fat-free artificial butter and unaccompanied by any other food.

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    The King of Junk

    Behold one of the newest dessert offerings at Burger King – the Sundae Shake (because ordering one or the other is no longer sufficient?)

    The lack of a large size initially struck me as a socially conscious move from the fast food chain.

    I quickly crashed back to Earth when I glanced at the nutrition figures and realized the small and medium sizes already inflict plenty of damage.

    Order a small and slurp down 680 calories, 15 grams (75% of a day’s worth) of saturated fat, 480 milligrams of sodium (slightly more than what a small side of their fries offers), and 95 grams (almost 24 teaspoons) of added sugar.

    Ask for a medium and you’ll be getting 960 calories, 20 grams (an entire day’s worth) of saturated fat, 720 milligrams of sodium (almost as much as an order of large fries), and 138 grams (34.5 teaspoons) of added sugar.

    The syrup alone adds 27 grams and 47 grams of sugar to the small and medium sizes, respectively.

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    In The News: Big, Burly Vegan

    The Wall Street Journal recently featured 247-pound Kansas City Chiefs football player Tony Gonzalez.

    The interesting/”different” angle? Gonzalez is practically vegan (remember, this means no animal flesh and no byproducts, such as eggs, dairy, and honey).

    I say “practically” because the article mentions him eating salmon and chicken once a week. Those are his only two non-vegan foods, though.

    I also refer you to Marion Nestle’s brief (but excellent) commentary on this article.

    Over on her blog, she writes:

    Why anyone is surprised that people can do well on vegetarian and vegan diets is beyond me.

    Plant foods have plenty of protein and calories if you eat enough of them.

    If he is following a strict vegan diet–no animal products at all–he will need to find a source of vitamin B12 (it’s made by bacteria and incorporated into animal tissues), but supplements work just fine. I just don’t see this as any big deal.

    Many different dietary patterns promote health and this one can too.

    I suppose people will attribute any missed block or dropped pass to his diet, but cheeseburgers are not essential nutrients.

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    In The News: Exotically Expensive

    The Center for Science in the Public Interests’ Nutrition Action newsletter is one of my favorite publications.

    I received the January/February issue in the mail yesterday and wanted to share a “right on!” tidbit on exotic juices from a larger feature article on health claims and juice.

    The article begins by asking, want to make a million dollars?”

    It then instructs readers to “find an exotic fruit,” “turn it into juice,” attribute extraordinary healing powers” to it, and then “get Whole Foods to carry it and charge what the market will bear.

    This last point is expanded upon even further.

    “Don’t be shy. Start with four or five times what regular juices go for,” they advise.

    The article makes the excellent point that the antioxidants and phytochemicals billed so highly in these juices can be found in those of more conventional (and less expensive!) fruits’.

    Yes, I am aware that acai juice contains the highest antioxidant levels of any fruit.

    That alone, however, is not necessarily a testament to it being “healthier” or “better”.

    CSPI took a look at the research backing up these products and found that with both acai and goji berry juice, “not a single study published has looked at whether people who drink it are any healthier than people who don’t.

    As far as pomegranate juice is concerned, they refer to a preliminary study done by the University of California in Los Angeles in which 46 men consumed 8 ounces of pomegranate juice for three years.

    End result? 38 of them had their PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels — rising levels “can indicate a growing tumor” — slowed down.

    However, the folks at CSPI are quick to point out that “the study didn’t include a placebo group.” Oops!

    The article does not mention noni juice, another supposedly miraculous beverage that supposedly helps with everything from impotence to arthritis to Alzheimer’s, if you believe the press releases.

    No need to fork over $40 for a 32 ounce bottle, though, since no studies have shown any health benefits from drinking noni juice.

    Besides, I remember trying noni juice several years back and thinking I had accidentally poured myself a glass of red wine vinegar. It’s absolutely repulsive.

    If it is health benefits you seek, you’re better off biting into a real piece of fruit (anything from a peach to a blueberry to a kiwi or even a handful of goji berries — your choice!) than downing most store-bought juices.

    No matter how exotic, many contain added sugars.

    And, while some foods are certainly healthier than others (and offer unique combinations of key nutrients), I don’t believe in the concept of “miracle” foods.

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    The Great Chameleon

    A comfort food classic like pasta and meatballs might make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it won’t be as well received by your internal organs.

    The saturated-fat laden meatballs, in particular, deliver significant calories in their own right.

    Say hello to the power of soy.

    Nate’s soy meatballs come in three different delicious flavors and perfectly emulate the taste of meatballs in a lower calorie (and saturated fat) package.

    Consider the following:

    Three Purdue frozen turkey meatballs contain 135 calories, 7.5 grams of fat, 2.6 grams of saturated fat, and 390 milligrams of sodium.

    Three Mama Lucia frozen chicken meatballs add up to 210 calories, 17.3 grams of fat, 7.5 grams of saturated fat (almost half a day’s worth!) and 480 milligrams of sodium.

    Meanwhile, three of Nate’s vegetarian meatballs provide 90 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, and 340 milligrams of sodium. They also pack in a solid nine grams of protein.

    Throw some into your next pasta dish and prepared to be surprised by the versatility of the little bean that could.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Sugar/Fruit Juices

    I was recently drinking some of Welch’s “100% White Grape Juice” (from concentrate unfortunately) and it boldly states “No Sugar Added” on the bottle.

    The nutrition facts label on the back states that there are 50g of sugar in the 10oz bottle!

    They mention that it’s all natural fruit sugars but I was wondering, does your body react to the sugar in this bottle of grape juice the same way it would in, say, a tall (12oz) Starbucks Vanilla Bean Frappuccino (44g sugar)?

    Is the sugar in my “healthy” grape juice having the same effect on my body as the sugar in the Starbucks “treat”?

    – Andrew Carney
    Spokane, WA

    Our bodies react the same way to fructose (the sugar in fruit) and sucrose (“table sugar”).

    Why, then, you might be wondering, is a Starbucks frappuccino with whipped cream “bad” while a banana is “good”?

    It really has to do with what those two options offer besides sugar.

    In the frappuccino case, you are getting quite a bit of saturated fat from the whipped cream (half a day’s worth!) as well as a pretty significant amount of empty calories (324, to be exact).

    The banana — or any whole fruit for that matter — provides fiber (which helps keep blood sugar levels steady), phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals (one of them being potassium, which the typical US diet is rather low in).

    It goes without saying that the Starbucks concoction offers a significantly higher amount of sugar than a fruit.

    Fruit juices are tricky because the “no sugar added” marketing is very misleading.

    As you know, fruits contain naturally-occurring fructose.

    A juice made with juice concentrate (basically the result of fruit sugar being boiled down to a thicker consistency) doesn’t have additional sucrose (table sugar), hence the “valid” claim that your grape juice has “no added sugar”.

    However, unlike with an actual piece of fruit, you aren’t taking in fiber.

    This means that a cup of juice raises your blood sugar at a faster level than a piece of fruit and doesn’t provide as many health benefits.

    One way to get around that is by having your juice with a good source of fiber like almonds, whole grain crackers, whole wheat bread, or a food bar like Clif Nectar or Lara.

    Keep in mind, though, that this results in you taking in more calories than if you just ate an actual fruit.

    A cup of Welch’s No Sugar Added grape juice and one ounce of almonds (about 21 of them) adds up to 324 calories and 3.3 grams of fiber.

    A medium sized apple gives you that EXACT amount of fiber in a 78 calorie package.

    This is why the term “all natural” should not be perceived as a synonym for “healthy or “nutritious”.

    As far I’m concerned, fruit juice is much closer to the “soda” end of the beverage spectrum than the “glass of water” end.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    A single-serve pouch of Capri Sun juice contains 7 teaspoons of added sugar.

    It, like all other children’s juice drinks, is sugar water (with vitamins thrown in as a desperate attempt to “healthify” it).

    That said, the folks at the advertising department sure try their hardest to spin the lunchbox-ready drink as a wholesome beverage.

    According to the company’s website, “[Capri Sun] an excellent source of protective Antioxidant Vitamins C and E to help support a healthy immune system. And with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives—CAPRI SUN is better than ever.

    While the presence of vitamins C and E is real, this does not mean Capri Sun should automically be considered healthy or nutritious.

    These two nutrients are not naturally occurring in any of the ingredients; rather, they are synthetically added, in the same way that they can be sprinkled onto bacon or ice cream, if necessary.

    It is possible to fulfill all the criteria highlighted by that press-kit-friendly ready description of CapriSun and still be empty calories in the form of sugar water.

    Capri Sun also offers four flavors in its “100% juice” line. Color me confused.

    The ingredients of those juices — just like the conventional flavors — are juice concentrates.

    In other words, take fruit juice and boil it down to a sweet, almost syrup-like concoction.

    That means no fiber and very low remaining amounts of phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals.

    The best way to get all the health benefits of a fruit is to eat a piece of an actual one or to use an expensive juicer like Vitamix, which uses every part of the fruit to make the drink.

    From a nutrition standpoint, Capri Sun and the overwhelming majority of its competitors are nothing more than fruit-flavored, flat Coke.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Food Storage and Plastic

    I have a question about food preservation.

    I’ve been trying to cut down on the amount of plastic storage I use, but since I like to make my own stocks and soups and stews from scratch, I do a lot of freezing.

    Is storing frozen food in plastic as bad as storing refrigerated or room temperature food in plastic?

    I also freeze vegetables when they are fresh and plentiful, and I don’t know any other way to save corn on the cob except in plastic bags. I’d have to take out a second mortgage to buy enough Pyrex storage containers…

    – Jennifer Armstrong
    Saratoga Springs, NY

    The often-mentioned problem with storing food in plastic containers comes up when microwaving, not freezing.

    Microwaving food in a plastic container leads to some potentially toxic substances leaking into your meal, particularly if it is liquidy and/or high in fat.

    I am sure you have seen “microwave safe” plastic containers in stores.

    These have been tested by the Food & Drug Administration and have met certain chemical requirements rendering them non-toxic.

    Many people, though, are still wary of using them.

    While microwaving leftovers in a non microwave-safe container is absolutely not recommended, doing so in “authorized” containers is up to you and your comfort level.

    Number three plastics (vinyl/PVC) are definitely ones to avoid when it comes to any type of food storage.

    They are also environmental disasters, as they can not be recycled and end up taking space in landfills.

    If you’re looking for a safer plastic option, I suggest Ziploc Freezer Guard bags. They are made of number four plastic, which, from a health standpoint, does not appear to be problematic.

    If you are looking for plastic alternatives, though, try non-porous materials like glass or stainless steel. For freezing purposes, be sure to get glass containers that are freezer-safe to prevent cracking or shattering.

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