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    Archive for February, 2008

    You Ask, I Answer: Cold Water/Weight Loss

    I read today that drinking cold water (defined as less than 72 degrees) can actually help you burn more calories because it requires your body to use more energy to bring it to body temperature once ingested.

    The article cited that one can lose from 5 to 10lbs a year. Any truth to this or is this just another myth for you to dispel?

    — Becky
    Via the blog

    Another interesting question. You’re all getting good!

    This is one of those true facts that is misrepresented – and rather impractical.

    Drinking cold water (which, by the way, is set at approximately 32 – 38 degrees Fahrenheit, not any temperature below 72 degrees) DOES require energy from our bodies to warm it up to body temperature.

    Therefore, calories are technically being burned.

    Remember, calories measure energy.

    And, as every nutrition student has learned at one point or another, a calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius.

    To further add to the confusion, these calories I just mentioned are “different” from the ones we talk about every day in nutrition and weight management.

    The calories listed on food labels and recipes are really Kilocalories.

    In other words, one layman’s calorie (technically a Kilocalorie) is equal to 1,000 “true” calories (the ones referred to when we talk about needing to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius).

    In the end, you do the math and come up with such an insignificant number of calories (the ones everyone is accustomed to using) your body burns to heat up ice water (roughly 6 to 10 calories for every eight ounces of cold water) that it’s not really worth mentioning.

    I suppose someone could make the case that if you drank eight 8-ounce glasses of ice cold water in a day, you would be burning as many as 80 calories.

    Technically true, but we are talking about COLD (not “semi-chilled”) water – the kind that gives you brain freeze if you take a long sip.

    And does anyone really want to start getting neurotic about the temperature of their water?

    I can just see it now. “Waiter, I need SIX ice cubes in my glass, and they need to be constantly refilled so I can burn ten more calories by the end of this dinner!”

    In short, drinking countless glasses of ice cold liquids is NOT a weight-loss tip.


    You Ask, I Answer: Iron/Vegetarianism

    For women with low iron stores, [who therefore] need to consume beef, does [soy ground beef] contain iron that can help keep the stores up?

    — Micah and Katie
    (Via the blog)

    Great question!

    Let’s start with a few basics.

    Iron is located in hemoglobin, a protein within our red blood cells (pictured at left).

    Hemoglobin is responsible for delivering oxygen from the lungs to various body tissues so other cells – which rely on oxygen — can use it.

    Low hemoglobin levels are therefore problematic, as they result in cells not having enough oxygen delivered to them to perform their required tasks.

    The recommended dietary allowance for iron is set at 8 milligrams for men and women over 50, but vegetarian men of all ages and women over 50 should be consuming approximately 15 milligrams a day.

    The reason? There are two types of iron – heme and non-heme.

    Heme is found in animal sources of iron, non-heme in vegetarian contributors.

    Non-heme iron is not absorbed as easily, so 10 milligrams of purely non-heme iron is not sufficient.

    This is not to say that vegetarian diets are inadequate; simply that they require a higher intake of iron.

    This is not too difficult to do, especially given the high amount of fortified vegetarian products that provide plenty of iron.

    Beans and dried fruits are also great sources of this mineral.

    Keep in mind that women who menstruate have higher iron needs.

    Those on omnivore diets are recommended to consume 18 milligrams a day. Vegetarian women falling into this category should be taking in 30 to 35 milligrams a day.

    The issue of low iron stores is an interesting one because it often gets mixed up with iron-deficiency anemia, although they are two very different things.

    Iron stores run a gamut, from “inadequate” to “excessive”.

    In the middle of that spectrum lies the “adequate/healthy” point.

    Anemia is actually the “end stage”, or lowest point, of iron deficiency.

    The condition of anemia is diagnosed by looking at hemoglobin, mentioned above, and hematocrit (the number and size of red blood cells).

    In anemia, there simply isn’t enough iron present to form hemoglobin. In turn, cells are not receiving enough oxygen.

    Now here’s where things get interesting.

    Someone falling in between adequate stores and anemia has what is known as “iron deficiency.”

    Iron deficiency is diagnosed by looking at levels of the transferrin — a protein that binds to and transports iron – receptor and transferrin saturation (in other words, the percentage of molecules of transferrin that are saturated with iron).

    The bad news is that standard blood tests only show hemoglobin and hematocrit.

    Hence, you could very well be iron deficient and not know it.

    You need to specifically ask for transferrin receptor and transferrin saturation blood labs.

    This is crucial because iron deficiency affects brain function, particularly short-term memory, concentration, and cognitive processes.

    What is important to know is that iron deficiency has nothing to do with the type of iron you are consuming.

    If anyone tells you you need to eat meat to increase your iron stores, feel confident to tell them to read the literature.

    The solution to increasing iron reserves is simply to consume more iron.

    In the case of soy ground beef, two ounces contain 2 milligrams of non-heme iron. That same amount of ground beef contains approximately 1.6 milligrams of the heme variety.

    Another interesting tidbit: runners — especially vegetarian ones — need even MORE iron.

    When we exercise, we undergo a miniscule amount of internal bleeding (which is normal), thereby increasing blood loss — and our chances of developing anemia if we are already iron deficient.

    Again, what is important thing to keep in mind is that increasing body stores can be done with animal or vegetarian sources as long as the right amounts are being consumed.

    There are also certain food combinations worth keeping in mind.

    Vitamin C helps with absorption of non-heme iron.

    So, a soy-based meal accompanied by a tomato salad or glass of orange juice will be beneficial.

    There are also some components of food that will have the reverse effect and inhibit the body’s ability to absorb non-heme iron.

    These include oxalates (found in spinach, quinoa, collard greens, peanuts, and strawberries), tannins (found in tea and coffee) and, more strongly, phytates (found in whole grains).

    Therefore, a soy patty in a whole wheat bun with a side of spinach salad isn’t the most efficient way to include more iron in your diet.

    Here’s some good news, though. Since sprouted whole grains have lower levels of phytates, you’re better off enjoying Ezekiel 4:9 bread products than standard whole wheat varieties.

    Many, many thanks to Dr. Domingo Piñero of New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health for providing a private iron 101 mini-lesson earlier today to help me answer this question as exhaustively — and accurately — as possible.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    A 12-ounce Cosi blueberry promeganate smoothie contains 544 calories.

    (Note: a 12-ounce can of regular Coca Cola clocks in at 143 calories)

    It goes to show — high caloric values aren’t just found in large portions.

    (Sidenote: Get the 20-ounce “gigante”, and sip away 1,087 calories!)

    It’s crazy to think that this 12-ounce beverage packs almost twice as many calories as a large fountain beverage from McDonald’s.

    Cosi advertises it as a “blend of frozen fruit with a green tea base,” which helps to explain the astounding caloric value of this smoothie.

    Bases are often sugar-loaded flavor agents.

    They were smart in choosing a green tea one because it delivers sweet flavor while still sounding “healthy.”

    A lot of people have this concept that anything with green tea in it is automatically healthy or low-calorie. I’m afraid that ain’t so.

    Food companies know this, which is why I was not surprised to see Haagen Dazs’ new green tea ice cream flavor at the store earlier this week.

    The fact is, smoothies are not an optimal source of nutrition.

    The overwhelming majority are excessively sugared (we’re talking 6 to 8 tablespoons of sugar on average for a 12 ounce!) and don’t deliver any of the fiber present in a piece of fruit.

    Since liquid calories (particularly those from fruit smoothies, which are lacking fat, fiber, and protein) are not as effective at providing a sense of fullness, it’s very likely you will be hungry soon after finishing such a concoction.

    If they are one of your favorite beverages, feel free to have them, but keep in mind that save one or two exceptions, you are buying an overly sweetened, high-calorie treat, not liquid nutrition.


    You Ask, I Answer: Regularity/Constipation

    Sorry if this is a strange question, but how many times a day should we “sit down in the bathroom”?

    Is once a day “enough”?

    (Name withheld)
    San Antonio, TX

    Ideal excretion of food shouldn’t solely be measured by the number of times it occurs each day or week.

    As with anything else, there is a range of “normal” bowel movement frequency – usually from three times a day to once every other day.

    Going an entire day without a bowel movement is not necessarily constipation, nor should it be cause for concern.

    This is the kind of topic that needs to be analyzed in the appropriate context.

    Two bowel movements a day might sound like good intestinal health, but if they involve straining, or dry and hard stools, it is a sign that something is not working properly.

    What steps should you take if bowel movements are difficult or painful for you?

    Generally, the first course of action is to increase insoluble fiber — the kind found entirely in whole wheat products and partially in legumes, vegetables, and the skins of fruits — and fluid intake (preferrably water).

    It is no surprise that constipation is, for the most part, directly related to low fiber consumption.

    Another recommendation that often times gets overlooked is exercise.

    Physical activity stimulates peristalsis, the muscular contraction that keeps contents moving in waves through the digestive system.

    Physical activity is also key because, as a result of making us produce sweat, usually results in higher water intake.

    Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

    It is worth pointing out that not all causes of constipation are diet-related.

    There are often psychological causes as well (i.e.: stress, being in a bathroom other than the one we are accustomed to using, etc).

    Some medications – including tranquilizers, antidepressants, and hypertension calcium blockers — can also cause constipation, so do not be alarmed if your regularity is compromised when consuming them.

    I’m actually glad you asked this question because this is a topic many people feel uncomfortable discussing.

    However, it’s important to talk about it openly since there are a lot of concerns, myths, and health issues surrounding it.

    As a result, too many people erroneously — and dangerously! — self-medicate with laxatives, thinking one bowel movement a day isn’t enough, causing lots of harm to their digestive tracts.

    Hopefully engaging in discourse about it can get the right information out there. After all, as the classic children’s book states – everyone poops!


    In The News: Olive Oil and Aging

    Mariam Amash is an Israeli woman who claims to be 120 years old.

    If this factoid is validated, it would make her the oldest documented person in the world.

    When asked about her longevity secrets, one of Mariam’s daughters pointed out that her mother drinks “a glass of olive oil every day.”

    Very well then.

    Yesterday afternoon, Mary Kearl of AOL Body & Mind asked me about that claim, as well as the beneficial properties of olive oil.

    Read the article — including my comments — here.

    PS: There is a slight “quoting error” I notified the author about.

    I had mentioned that the Food & Drug Administration does not test imported oils, but the article erroneously identifies the United States Department of Agriculture as the organization.


    Top of the Mocks

    A mere decade ago, faux meats were mostly a fringe food, sought after at small health food stores by vegetarians and vegans.

    Some tasted great, others were as appealing as dog food.

    I remember my first veggie hot dog, back in 1997, purchased at a speciality vegetarian supermarket. It reminded me of potpourri with salt.

    Over the past decade, vegetarianism (even if occasional) has been adopted by millions of people around the world, consequently resulting in a wider variety of much tastier faux-meat products available at conventional supermarkets.

    While they definitely fall into the “processed food” category and therefore should not be daily staples, they are okay to have once in a while.

    One of my absolute favorite products is the soy beef crumbles available from the folks over at Boca Burger and Morningstar Farms.

    I especially like to add some to my vegan chili.

    As I always like to say, you know a soy product is good when steak enthusiasts gobble it up, can’t believe that’s ground SOY beef they are eating, and ask for seconds!

    Now, let’s compare and contrast.

    Two ounces (two thirds of a cup) of Boca ground soy beef crumbles contribute:

    • 60 calories
    • 0 grams of saturated fat
    • 270 milligrams of sodium
    • 3 grams of fiber
    • 13 grams of protein

    The same amount of Morningstar farms soy crumbles adds up to:

    • 80 calories
    • 0 grams of saturated fat
    • 240 milligrams of sodium
    • 3 grams of fiber
    • 10 grams of protein
    • They are also fortified with half of the daily B12 requirement!

    If you were to use that same amount of 70 percent lean ground beef in a recipe, you would be adding:

    • 153 calories
    • 4 grams of saturated fat
    • 14.5 grams of protein

    This is not to say all your animal meat dishes should be replaced with vegetarian options.

    However, soy beef enables you to satiate your taste for red meat in a different way.


    You Ask, I Answer: Dried Cranberries

    [I just read your posting on apple butter and had a question about] dried cranberries.

    Are they any good for you because I was reading the nutritional info and it just seems like carbs!

    — Anonymous
    Via the blog

    All fruits, except for avocados, are basically pure carbohydrate.

    I say basically because some might offer 0.2 or so grams of protein.

    The fact that fruit is made exclusively of carbohydrates does not make it unhealthy or a bad choice.

    When you eat a piece of fruit (not drink fruit juice or have gummy candy “with fruit” or eat fruit-flavored sherbet), you are consuming fiber, naturally occurring sugars, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

    The word “carb” became akin to a curse word because it erroneously equated “empty carbohydrates”, which are void of any nutrition (think donuts, cookies, and Goldfish crackers), with truly nourishing ones like oats, quinoa, brown rice, fruits, and vegetables.

    It is interesting that you point out dried fruit, though, as it can be a bit tricky to decipher.

    On one hand, raisins — essentially grapes tha have been sunbathing for too long without UV protection — are a very nutritious snack.

    They are a good source of potassium, selenium, and iron, and offer fiber mainly in the form of inulin.

    Cranberries run into a problem, though. When dried (i.e.: become Craisins), they become so tart that sucrose (table sugar) must be added.

    And we’re not talking a light sprinkling.

    In turn, they become more candy-like and lose some of their awesomely healthy fruit properties.

    If dried fruit is your choice of snack, reach for naturally sweet options like raisins, dried mangoes, dried apples, and dates (dried figs), which rely on their naturally-occurring sweetness to satisfy your sweet tooth.


    You Ask, I Answer: Apple Butter

    I moved to the United States four months ago and wanted to ask you about a food I hadn’t heard of until yesterday.

    Yesterday at a party I was at, someone brought homemade apple butter.

    I don’t like apples, so I didn’t taste it.

    But I was curious about what it was.

    Is it fatty like peanut butter?

    — Estefania (last name withheld)
    Los Angeles, CA

    Apple butter is, for all intents and purposes, applesauce with less water.

    There is no butter in it whatsoever.

    If you were to make it at home (usually in a crock pot), you would add spices and sugar to applesauce and cook it down for anywhere from eight to 12 hours.

    The cooking down process results in a thick texture akin to that of nut butters, hence the term “apple butter”.

    Two tablespoons contribute 58 calories to your day — 99 percent in the form of carbohydrates.


    Numbers Game: Can of Whoop-Ass

    A 12-ounce Cosi blueberry promeganate smoothie contains _______ calories.

    (Note: a 12-ounce can of regular Coca Cola clocks in at 143 calories)

    a) 268
    b) 329

    c) 467
    d) 544

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


    The Pesticide Pack

    Organic farming is gentler on the planet and minimizes our exposure to pesticides and other chemicals utilized in conventional farming to maximize growth conditions and output.

    It’s funny — what we now call organic farming WAS conventional farming decades ago.

    While ideally we would always have access to — and money to spend on — purely organic produce, I realize this is not the case for everyone.

    Lucky for us, the non-profit Environmental Working Group conducted 43,000 tests over the course of five years (2000 – 2005) to determine what fruits and vegetables carry the highest pesticide load (AKA which ones you should always try to go organic for).

    The top ten offenders, in order, are:

    Sweet bell peppers
    Imported Grapes

    The safest?

    Frozen sweet corn
    Frozen sweet peas


    You Ask, I Answer: Cholesterol

    No one can explain WHY cholesterol builds up in our arteries around the heart and not in other veins in the body – after all aren’t they all the same thing, just different sizes?

    There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that cholesterol is actually a healing agent – cholesterol is building up at points in the arteries because they are DAMAGED.

    Why are they damaged? What causes this damage in the arteries?

    If cholesterol is viewed as a healing agent to heal the damage points in the arteries, then the risk levels associated with high total cholesterol levels seems to diminish, if not disappear.

    There is also a growing body of evidence to suggest that LOW cholesterol levels in the body is a risk factor for cancers and other diseases since the body is depleted of cholesterol as a healing agent.

    Interested in your views on this.

    — David (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Great questions, David. Let’s take them one at a time.

    Since this answer involves the nitty gritty, and often convoluted, world of nutritional biochemistry, I will try my hardest to make it easy to follow.

    Let’s start at the beginning.

    You are right; cholesterol is absolutely necessary.

    We need it for arterial protection as well as vitamin D synthesis and the production of hormones, including testosterone and estrogen.

    However, cholesterol is not essential. If we were never to get it from our diet it wouldn’t be an issue because our body produces it.

    Just like with vitamins and minerals, though, a certain amount is beneficial and health-promoting, but excess amounts are detrimental.

    The large majority of cholesterol is produced in the liver.

    Since cholesterol is not water soluble, it can not freely travel to other tissues through the blood.

    Remember, cholesterol needs to be transported to other tissues so it can help repair membranes and aid in hormone production and vitamin D synthesis.

    Instead, it has different “cars” to choose from.

    These “cars” are called lipoproteins. As the name states, they are proteins that carry lipids (fats) inside of them.

    The two most famous lipoproteins are HDL (high-density lipoprotein, commonly referred to as ‘good cholesterol’) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein, commonly referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’).

    What determines whether a lipoprotein is high or low in density is the amount of cholesterol it contains in relation to its protein content.

    Low-density lipoproteins carry lots of cholesterol.

    As low-density lipoprotein travels through the blood, it looks for LDL receptors (since we are using the car analogy, think of LDL receptors as designated parking spaces or garages).

    In the same way that you can’t park your car where you please, LDL receptors can’t drop off cholesterol wherever they please.

    It just so happens that one of the main sites of LDL receptors – other than the liver — is coronary (“heart”) artery endothelial tissue.

    There’s more.

    Just like a parking garage has a “maximum capacity”, LDL receptors can only take up so much cholesterol.

    Once LDL finds appropriate receptors, the liver knows to stop producing LDL.

    Here’s another twist.

    High intakes of saturated fat decrease the number of LDL receptors.

    A lack of receptors consequently increases hepatic (liver) production of LDL.

    In turn, more LDL floats around in the blood, having nowhere to go.

    High amounts of LDL in the blood have a propensity to build up in the inner walls of damaged arteries that feed into the heart and brain.

    Why do arteries get damaged in the first place?

    That is something that isn’t entirely known, but the main theories are cigarette smoke, high blood pressure, and high triglyceride levels.

    For some reason, coronary arteries are more susceptible to damage.

    When there is damage to an artery wall, LDL deposits, coalesces into liquid droplets, and becomes oxidized.

    Macrophages (a type of white blood cell) take in the cholesterol and form fatty streaks.

    As time goes on, more LDL collects, and the area grows in size.

    Smooth muscle cells begin slipping into the area, forming a cap over the deposited LDL. This cap is what we know as plaque (the yellow substance you see in the photo accompanying this post; notice how clogged that artery is!).

    With time, the cholesterol crystallizes, calcium starts to deposit at the area, and the vessel becomes rigid, thereby blocking blood flow.

    Here’s another twist.

    HDL (“good cholesterol”) can also bind to these LDL receptors.

    This is why increasing your HDL levels (through exercise, consuming monounsaturated fats and soluble fiber, not smoking, and eliminating trans fat consumption) is so crucial.

    Not only does HDL transport excess cholesterol back to the liver for excretion (via bile acids), it also — and this is crucial — prevents macrophages from engulfing LDL and saves LDL from oxidation (and thereby reducing plaque formation).

    Thus, if not genetically predisposed to high cholesterol (due to insensitive LDL receptors), the healthier your diet and lifestyle, the higher your HDL — and the more protection against plaque you have.

    Research has provided strong evidence that weight loss itself increases HDL levels!

    Hope this has shed some light on your questions.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    A six-piece chicken strip basket at Dairy Queen packs in 12 grams of trans fat and 2,910 milligrams of sodium.

    (NOTE: Trans fat consumption is recommended at zero grams a day; maximum daily sodium intake is set at 2,400 milligrams)

    That’s what six chicken strips, a handful of fries, two slices of toast, and some gravy sauce add up to (in an entree many people have for lunch on any given day).

    Think you can soften the blow by getting just four chicken strips, skimping on the fries, and starting with a bowl of cream of broccoli soup?

    Think again!

    That bowl sets you back 570 calories, five grams of trans fat and an outrageous 4,770 milligrams of sodium!

    Yes, that’s four THOUSANDnot a typo of four hundred.

    Hope you get a tall glass of water with that order…


    You Ask, I Answer: Cooking Chicken

    Sometimes I take plain chicken tenders (boneless, skinless, etc) or plain ground turkey and nuke it [in the microwave] until its cooked through.

    Every time, however, there is white residue that is gunky and all around the protein I just cooked.

    What is it? Fat?

    — Samantha Jark
    Via the blog

    It’s actually denatured (coagulated) protein.

    When undergoing extreme heat, proteins are basically molecularly disassembled.

    They then bond together and, in turn, you get white clumps on the surface of your food.

    This does not mean the protein is of any lower quality; it is a natural food chemistry process.

    If it wasn’t for protein denaturation, chicken would always conserve its raw texture, no matter how long you cooked it for!


    You "Ask", I Answer: You Bar

    I was wondering if you’ve heard of You Bar, which is a company that lets you customize your own bar and only uses natural ingredients.

    It sounds like a really cool idea.

    — Vincci Tsui
    Via the blog

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Vincci!

    I had never heard of You Bar until I read your message. Sounds right up my alley, too.

    You can basically make your own Lara/Clif Nectar/Pure bar by combining a variety of (mostly nutritious) ingredients to your liking (from dates to optional whey protein powders to dried fruits to a variety of nuts and seeds which you can specifically ask to be roasted, raw, or organic!)

    Sounds like a deliciously unique gift idea for a foodie or nutritious snacker in your family or group of friends.


    Administrative Announcements: Interview with Radio Live (New Zealand)

    I received an e-mail tonight from Mark Wilson, producer of Radio Live New Zealand‘s current affairs morning radio show, Drive Show.

    Mark read my Reuters article in the Sydney Morning Herald and asked if I was free late tonight to chat about it live on the radio.

    I gladly accepted — and here’s the end result!

    A HUGE thank you to Mark and the rest of the team at Drive Show for the warm reception (and providing an MP3 minutes later!)


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