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    Archive for February, 2008

    In The News: High-Tech Weight Loss

    Forbes Magazine recently highlighted new high-tech products in the nutrition and health field.

    Among them: personal digital coaches (includes meal recommendations, customized shopping lists, and daily motivational messages, such as “brush your teeth after dinner to fight dessert cravings”), hotel-room-friendly workouts for your IPod(you say ‘ten pound weight’, I say “nightstand lamp”), calorie burning trackers (they let you know exactly how many calories you’re burning by measuring, among other things, just how much you sweat), and instant nutritional information for hundreds of chain restaurants (should you get the quesadilla or soup and salad combo?).

    The two I am not too fond of are the “camera-phone food journaling” and “cell phone personal trainer.”

    When it comes to food journaling, photos are helpful for recalling portion sizes and extra details (“oh yeah, I guess there was avocado in that dish!”).

    However, they don’t reveal everything.

    That salad you ate for lunch can make for quite a healthy-looking photo, but what the lens isn’t showing — or helping you remember — is that you added five tablespoons of dressing to it.

    When it comes to personal training, nothing can replace an actual human being.

    It’s one thing to watch a professional do lunges and try to emulate the movement, but you need someone there — at least initially – to make sure you are performing the exercise correctly, maintaining your posture, and maximizing muscle utilization.

    What are your thoughts on these new technologies? Do any of them particularly catch your eye?

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    Say What?: Too Much of a Good Thing

    As regular readers of this column know, I am a big fan of fruit and nut bars like Clif Nectar, Lara, and Pure (basically, any bar that has five or less ingredients — usually dates, nuts, seeds, and, in some instances, cocoa powder).

    Not only are these bars delicious on-the-go snacks, they also provide healthy fats, fiber, potassium, and are free of added sugar, trans fats, and sodium.

    They make conventional “soy and rice crisp and 25 synthetic vitamins and minerals” snack bars taste like artificially sweetened cardboard.

    One aspect I am perplexed by, though, is the nutrition components some of these bars choose to feature on their packaging.

    Lara bars, for example, boast about the amount of Omega-6 essential fatty acids they contain.

    Don’t get me wrong; omega-6 essential fatty acids are certainly needed in the diet (remember, ‘essential’ means that our body is unable to produce it, so we must get it from external means).

    The issue, however, is that the standard US diet is extremely high in them — and too low in Omega-3 fatty acids.

    And it just so happens that excessive intakes of Omega-6 (which is pro-inflammatory) prevent the other essential fatty acid, Omega-3, from doing its anti-inflammatory work.

    This is why, when people get all excited about Omega-3′s and simply start eating more flaxseed meal or salmon, they don’t realize that this dietary change needs to simultaneously occur with a lower intake of Omega-6 for it to have beneficial effects.

    Here’s an eye-popping statistic:

    It is estimated that up until the 1950s, our Omega6 – Omega 3 ratio fell in the desired 2:1 ratio.

    These days? We’re looking at an absurd 20:1 ratio! This is bad news not only for heart health, but also in regards to risks of certain cancers.

    Omega-6 fatty acids are found in plants, nuts, and seeds (and their respective oils). No one in this country is deficient in Omega-6 fatty acids.

    As the movie King Corn pointed out, the United States’ high omega-6 intake is also related to the fact that the large majority of cows serving as sources of dairy and beef are fed corn, rather than grass.

    Grass-fed beef contains a respectable amount of Omega-3 fatty acids.

    Corn-fed beef? Not only is it high in Omega-6 and absent of Omega-3; it is also higher in saturated fat!

    I e-mailed the folks over at Lara Bar several months ago, pointing out how odd it was to advertise the Omega-6 grams in their bars as a health benefit. If you feel the same way, drop them a line!

    Let me again remind you that Omega-6 fats in and of themselves are not unhealthy. It is the Omega 6 : Omega 3 ratio that is problematic.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Salt

    What’s the difference between sea salt, kosher salt, and regular table salt?

    Is one lower in sodium?

    – Monica Greenspan
    New York, NY

    From a nutritional standpoint, there is no difference. Grain by grain, they contain the same amount of sodium.

    Table salt and kosher salt are made from mineral deposits, whereas sea salt is simply evaporated seawater.

    The three are processed differently, though, leading to varying textures and crystal sizes.

    One important difference is that table salt has iodine added to it. Iodized salt takes all the credit for drastically reducing cases of goiter in the United States and rest of the world.

    Kosher salt is often loved by cooks due to its large crystals that absorb more moisture (therefore making it ideal for curing meats).

    I personally prefer the taste of sea salt (especially when sprinkled over boiled edamame).

    Remember that the biggest culprit of excess sodium in our diet is processed food (think frozen entrees, canned goods, powdered sauces and flavorings, etc).

    Abstaining from sprinkling salt over food does NOT mean you are on a “low sodium” diet.

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    Numbers Game: The Power of Six

    A six-piece chicken strip basket at Dairy Queen packs in _______ grams of trans fat and _____________ milligrams of sodium.

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

    a) 7/2,100
    b) 12/2,910

    c) 8/2,560
    d) 10/2,750

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

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    In The News: D-Mistifying D

    Vitamin D — affectionately called “Sunny D’, since sunlight is our primary source– is undoubtedly the hottest nutrient these days, so it is no surprise The New York Times is dedicating more space to it today.

    Not only is its importance in a variety of body functions consistently becoming more clear, traditional recommendations suggesting a daily intake of 400 International Units are being questioned.

    Recent research has led dietitians to establish a much-higher 1,000 International Units as the desired daily intake.

    Since Vitamin D is found very scarcely in foods (a cup of fortified milk provides 100 IU’s), it is one of the few nutrients I highly recommend people who do not get enough sun (either because of winters with little hours of sunlight or because of the use of UV protection creams) supplement in pill form.

    Research studies showing the benefits of sufficient Vitamin D intake is a dime a dozen:

    A Swiss study of women in their 80s found greater leg strength and half as many falls among those who took 800 I.U. of vitamin D a day for three months along with 1,200 milligrams of calcium, compared with women who took just calcium. Greater strength and better balance have been found in older people with high blood levels of vitamin D.

    And then there’s this one:

    Researchers at Creighton University in Omaha conducted a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial… among 1,179 community-living, healthy postmenopausal women. They reported last year in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that over the course of four years, those taking calcium and 1,100 I.U. of vitamin D3 each day developed about 80 percent fewer cancers than those who took just calcium or a placebo.

    According to current estimates, as much as 60 percent of the United States adult population is Vitamin D deficient — and that’s based on the starting-to-be-considered-low 400 IU figure!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Hexagonal Water

    Have you heard of these devices that transform the shape of water molecules?

    Supposedly if you change the shape, it hydrates you better, slows down aging, and can cure certain diseases.

    – Trevor Jaracz
    (location withheld)

    I have indeed heard of devices — such as the Vitalizer Plus – that proclaim to alter the structure of a water molecule into a hexagonal shape.

    Some companies go as far as claiming that hexagonal water is “living water” with “beneficial enzymes” that are not found in tap or bottled water.

    I have also heard the advertised benefits — a healthier immune system, less inflammation, better gastrointestinal health, etc, etc.

    The only positive thing I can muster to say about this is that whoever came up with this concept sure has an overly vidid imagination.

    I’ll spare everyone a tedious chemistry lesson and just say that the molecular structure of water is permanently fixed, and absolutely no biochemical changes can be made (by any person or machine) to turn it into a “healthier” or “better” beverage.

    It doesn’t need to be! No one is getting sick as a result of drinking conventional water.

    For all intents and purposes, hexagonal water should be placed in the same category as unicorns, fairies, and gnomes.

    I would be very happy if all companies selling hexagonal were heavily fined by the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising.

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    Administrative Announcements: Oxygen Magazine

    Please pick up the April 2007 issue of Robert Kennedy’s Oxygen Women’s Fitness and turn to page 106 to read an article I wrote (and meal plan I created) on healthy weight-loss for various short and long-term goals.

    The magazine did an amazing job of recreating my recipes and photographing them!

    You can find Oxygen at Barnes & Noble Booksellers and other bookstores in the “Women’s Interest” section.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin A

    I know this is going to sound weird, but I kind of have an aversion when it comes to eating anything orange or red.

    Even if it’s supposed to be red (like a tomato), I still get freaked out.

    Does this mean I’m not eating Vitamin A?

    Paula (last name withheld)
    St. Louis, MO

    I’m sorry to hear about your aversion, especially since you’re missing out on delicious foods like watermelon, strawberries, red peppers, and raspberries!

    The good news is, your vitamin A intake is not affected, since green vegetables are also a good source.

    Half a cup of cooked broccoli provides 24 percent of the daily requirement, a half cup of cooked peas will give you 34 percent, half a cup of cooked kale contains an excellent 177 percent, and a half cup of spinach packs a mighty 229 percent!

    Dairy items also contain vitamin A, although in lower amounts.

    A cup of milk fortified with vitamin A contains ten percent of the daily requirement, an ounce of mozarella cheese provides a mere three percent, and an egg contributes approximately seven percent of the daily requirement to your diet.

    The most concentrated source of vitamin A is animal liver. A mere ounce (53 calories’ worth) of beef liver holds 178 percent of a day’s worth!

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    Which of these functional food categories saw a 243 percent increase in new products last year?

    Answer: Cardiovascular Health

    Mintel, a consumer, media, and market research group, released some interesting sales figures earlier this week.

    2007 saw the release of 558 new functional food products, of which 148 where related to cardiovascular health.

    In turn, cardiovascular health saw the largest increase (in 2006, 43 new food items were released).

    Keep in mind that functional foods — processed foods with added nutrients for health benefits, such as Corazonas tortilla chips made with oat bran — are not necessarily the most nutritious choice.

    For instance, I recently saw potato chips cooked in avocado oil at a local grocery store.

    They were, of course, advertised as “heart healthy.”

    True, avocado oil is better than butter or lard, but these are still potato chips.

    The fact that they are fried in avocado oil does not make them as nutritious as eating an actual avocado.

    Food companies love functional foods, though.

    Sprinkle some vitamins on a gummy bear and suddenly parents start seeing it as a decent snack, rather than sugary candy — even if you jack up the price!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Carrots

    How many carrots do you have to eat before your skin turns orange?

    Or is this an old myth?

    – Anonymous
    Via the blog

    Although countless myths surround food and nutrition, it is indeed true that eating too many carrots will turn your skin temporarily yellow or orange.

    Remember, betacarotene (the plant form of Vitamin A) is fat-soluble, meaning it is stored in adipose tissue (fat cells).

    Our bodies can only store a given amount at a time. Unlike with a water-soluble vitamin (like C or B6) excess amounts of Vitamin A are not quickly eliminated in urine. Instead, they are contained in the body and begin to affect our pigmentation.

    There is actually a term for this condition – carotenaemia.

    So just how many carrots do you need to eat in order for color changes to take place.

    Consider this.

    The Recommended Daily Intake is set at 5,000 International Units. A cup of sliced carrots provides approximately 30,000 International Units!

    This is not to say that having a cup of steamed carrots with dinner once a week is cause for concern.

    However, a cup of carrots every day for several weeks will definitely result in an orange tint to your skin color.

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    In The News: Caloric Controversy

    Back in January I posted about the New York City Board of Health’s motion forcing chain restaurants to display caloric information in a conspicuous fashion (i.e.: on the menu, rather than the double cheeseburger wrapper you don’t see until AFTER you have paid for your order).

    Then, on February 4, I referred you to a link on Marion Nestle’s blog where she notified us that the National Restaurant Association was preparing to fire back with litigation claiming such a rule was unnecessary, unfounded, and detrimental to consumers.

    Now, The New York Times is providing details on the affidavit submitted to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

    And, oh, what interesting details they are!

    To begin with, the document is penned by Dr. David B. Allison.

    Allison is not a high-profile corporate lawyer.

    Oh no. Far from it. He’s a professor of nutrition at the University of Alabama — and the incoming president of the Obesity Society!

    That’s right. A man at the helm of an organization whose vision is to “be the leader in understanding, preventing and treating obesity and in improving the lives of those affected” is against calorie labeling and representing McDonald’s, Burger King, and other fast food restaurants.

    His arguments against the Board of Health’s motion?

    “Dr. Allison argues that the new rules could backfire — whether by adding to the forbidden-fruit allure of high-calorie foods or by sending patrons away hungry enough that they will later gorge themselves even more.”

    Sending away hungry patrons? Posting caloric information on a board is very different from armed guards threatening people with machine guns if they dare step inside a McDonald’s.

    The goal is simply to provide consumers with information allowing them to make healthier choices.

    I should point out that I have given talks and workshops in the past where I actually show people how they can go to McDonald’s for a meal and choose appropriately.

    I do not recommend McDonald’s be a daily staple, but I recognize that once in a while, whether out of personal preference or other reasons (i.e.: you’re on the road, starving, pressed for time, and your only option is fast food), people will be looking up at a fast food menu deciding what to order.

    Although it may be “so obvious” to some, many people aren’t aware that a Big Mac with large fries and a large Coke is a very different meal from a regular hamburger with small fries and a bottle of water.

    In fact, there is roughly a 900 calorie difference between those two options!

    In any case, Allison supports his theory that calorie labeling will drive away hungry patrons who will ultimately end up gorging by “citing research showing that birds put on weight when food is scarce.”

    Too bad food scarcity is completely irrelevant in this discussion.

    Consumers are not told to either order a 1,400 calorie meal or go home empty-handed. They can go ahead and order that 1,400 calorie meal, but now they’ll KNOW it is a 1,400 calorie meal.

    Allison proudly claims that he utilizes scientific evidence in his affidavit to prove his point.

    Specifically, he “cites a study that found that dieters who were distracted while eating and presented with information that food was high in calories were more likely to overeat.”

    I love how people throw around the term “scientific evidence” as if that automatically means what they are about to say is a universal truth.

    The study he points at mentions dieters being distracted while eating. How, exactly, would calorie labeling distract people as they eat? The information only comes to play while they are ordering.

    A Board of Health representative will not be sitting across from them as they bite into their Big Mac notifying them of how many calories they just paid for.

    Luckily, the Obesity Society is not standing behind Allison.

    “The obesity group released a statement on Tuesday supporting calorie labeling on menus. “The Obesity Society believes that more information on the caloric content of restaurant servings, not less, is in the interests of consumers,” said the statement by the society, which is based in Silver Spring, Md.”

    I am surprised the Obesity Society is still permitting Dr. Allison to come in as president.

    Isn’t his support of the National Restaurant Association akin to the head of the National Rifle Association supporting strict gun control laws?

    Share

    You Ask, I Answer: Carrots

    How many carrots do you have to eat before your skin turns orange?

    Or is this an old myth?

    – Anonymous
    Via the blog

    Although countless myths surround food and nutrition, it is indeed true that eating too many carrots will turn your skin temporarily yellow or orange.

    Remember, betacarotene (the plant form of Vitamin A) is fat-soluble, meaning it is stored in adipose tissue (fat cells).

    Our bodies can only store a given amount at a time. Unlike with a water-soluble vitamin (like C or B6) excess amounts of Vitamin A are not quickly eliminated in urine. Instead, they are contained in the body and begin to affect our pigmentation.

    There is actually a term for this condition – carotenaemia.

    So just how many carrots do you need to eat in order for color changes to take place.

    Consider this.

    The Recommended Daily Intake is set at 5,000 International Units. A cup of sliced carrots provides approximately 30,000 International Units!

    This is not to say that having a cup of steamed carrots with dinner once a week is cause for concern.

    However, a cup of carrots every day for several weeks will definitely result in an orange tint to your skin color.

    Share

    In The News: Lower Your Cholesterol… and Brain Function?

    Interesting tidbit over at Tara Parker-Pope’s health blog on the New York Times website.

    On February 13 she referred to a Wall Street Journal article about the effect of statins (cholesterol-lowing drugs, such as Lipitor) on brain function.

    Turns out these medications cross the blood-brain barrier, thereby affecting the central nervous system.

    There are even documented instances of people on statins testing positive for pre-Alzheimer’s and then “miraculously recovering” once they stop consuming the drug.

    This is one of the many reasons why I strongly advocate people resort to diet and physical activity first to lower their total — AND LDL (“bad”) — cholesterol.

    Not only are they effective methods; they also deliver other benefits (i.e.: nutrients) helpful with other conditions and disease risks.

    Of course, the select group of people who genetically produce high cholesterol need to be on statins (diet plays a very little role in determining their lipid profile), but there’s too many people who directly contribute to their hypercholesteremia by eating poorly.

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    In The News: Valentine’s Day/Small Bites

    Last Friday, Terri Coles of Reuters.com interviewed me for a special Valentine’s Day article on the health benefits of common romantic staples like chocolate and wine.

    We also talked about healthy foods often dismissed as “empty calories.”

    She did a wonderful job with the piece, which came out earler this afternoon. Read it here!

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    Pocket Full of Junk

    This weekend I saw an advertisement for Hot Pockets Calzone, the company’s “heartiest sandwich yet.”

    “This is more of what you’re hungry for,” it exclaimed.

    So I went ahead and investigated just what Hot Pockets offers and, if anything, my hunger immediately disappeared.

    Per the box for the four meat and four cheese calzone, one filled pastry pocket is enclosed.

    It is illustrated as two halves on the box, so we can truly appreciated the myriad of melted processed cheeses oozing out.

    Oh, but there’s another crafty reason for that illustration.

    Although you are buying one calzone, the nutrition information on the back defines one serving as HALF a calzone.

    Do they truly expect someone to heat one of these up and eat the other half another day?

    This is the kind of food that becomes a horribly textured mess after sitting out for too long. Imagine it undergoing reheating?

    In any case, all the nutrition values on the back need to be multiplied by two.

    Alas, here is what you get when you eat “two halves” of this “hearty” new sandwich (which, mind you, is advertised mainly as a snack, rather than a meal):

    600 calories
    26 grams of fat
    10 grams of saturated fat (half a day’s worth)
    1500 milligrams of sodium (two third of a day’s worth)

    A pathetic four grams of fiber
    (pathetic for a 600-calorie food)
    26 grams of sugar (assuming ten or so are naturally occurring in the cheese, that’s still a tablespoon of added sugar!)

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