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Archive for April, 2008

Dieter Beware!

Forget The Hills, Grey’s Anatomy, and Gossip Girl – there is some intense drama happening on the World Wide Web.

It all revolves around a diet known as Kimkins.

Long story short, a woman known as “Kimmer” on various low-carb diet forums created her own version of Atkins, despite having no background in nutrition, science, or medicine.

Her diet, a very-low calorie, low-carb, and low-fat one dubbed “Kimkins,” quickly gained a strong following.

The hook? Apart from promising “no exercise” and “super fast weight loss,” Kimmer cited this “way of eating” as one that helped her lose a staggering 198 pounds in just 11 months five years ago — and maintain it ever since!

As “proof”, her website featured a before and after photo of Kimmer, as well as pictures of other successful dieters.

In June of 2007, Woman’s World Magazine featured the diet on their cover, describing it as “better than gastric bypass!”

Membership sales climbed through the roof! In fact, it is estimated that over a million new members signed up in the month following that issue’s release.

A few things were beginning to “stand out”, though.

For one, Kimmer balked at the magazine reporter’s request for an in-person meeting, claiming she was “too shy.”

She instead submitted a photo of her new figure.

Additionally, some members began reporting disturbing symptoms after following the diet for several weeks, including dizziness, fainting spells, hair loss, and cardiac complications.

Finally, over the course of several months, the truth came out.

Kimmer’s “after” photo (as well as most of the other testimonials’) was actually lifted from a Russian “mail order bride” website.

Kimmer’s real identity? An obese woman (heavier than in her “before” photo) named Heidi Diaz.

This was the woman telling people who forked over $59.95 to join her website and follow her diet that they needed to “follow her example” and eat approximately 500 or less calories a day.

Diaz insisted time and time again, even when challenged, that she lost 198 pounds — and maintained that loss — solely because of Kimkins.

She even provided “tips” of low-calorie snacks she “loved” to eat whenever she got cravings (i.e.: a lettuce leaf topped with a slice of ham and a drizzle of mustard).

According to recent reports, Diaz recommended on her own website’s forums that people take laxatives and not drink water to speed up weight loss (in what was dubbed “the plan behind the plan.”)

In some postings, she claimed that “starvation” does not exist.

According to Diaz, overweight people don’t even need calories because their bodies can get energy by “melting fat.”

Diaz often defended her diet’s safety, claiming it is what bariatric surgery patients are put on after their interventions.

She failed to mention that these people are also closely monitored by an entire medical team.

This saga is filled with all sorts of deceit, lies, and fraud.

If you are interested in learning all the details (I have but barely skimmed the surface in this posting and, trust me me, it is juicy), please visit this blog.

A quick YouTube search also pulled up a story Good Morning America did on Kimkins this past January.

As of this posting, a class action lawsuit has been filed against Diaz. I sincerely hope she is prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

While we are at it, here are some excellent guidelines for identifying unhealthy diets and diet scams.

Remember, your health comes first!

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You Ask, I Answer: Low-Sugar Baking

I was wondering if you had any advice on recipe substitutions.

I have an excellent cookie recipe, but it calls for two cups of sugar – one cup white, and one cup brown.

As a diabetic and someone who’s is nutritionally aware, I would like to reduce the sugar content, but I’m reluctant to use artificial sweeteners, and I don’t want to ruin the recipe, either.

How do you go about doing that, or is it more of a trial and error sort of situation?

– Kate (last name unknown)
Location Unknown

Wonderful question.

This situation is tricky, largely because unlike cooking (where you can experiment, taste, make the necessary adjustments, taste again, make more changes, etc.) baking is an exact science.

Every ingredient is needed, in certain quantities, for a specific reason.

Throw in too much flour or forget baking powder and you have a recipe for disaster.

Sugar, for instance, does more than simply sweeten the deal. It provides texture, browning properties (thanks to the Maillard Reaction), and tenderness.

Remember, too, that sugar is also one of the world’s oldest preservatives.

This is why chocolate chip cookies (or any food high in sugar, for that matter) can sit unrefrigerated for days and not be a source of foodborne illness (the sugar draws out moisture, thereby creating an unfriendly environment for bacteria).

The “good” news is that baking recipes in the United States tend to be higher in sugar than their international counterparts.

I always, as a rule of thumb, reduce sugar in cookie recipes by approximately a quarter or a third.

In my opinion, this actually enhances flavor.

So, you can feel free to reduce sugar by that amount without risking a botched batch of cookies.

Since brown sugar is specifically used to contribute softness, be sure to reduce each cup of designated sugar by half, rather than cut out an entire cup of either white or brown sugar.

Although there are substitutions for traditional sugar (ie: fruit purees), they are irrelevant to your question since they still provide grams of sugar, thereby not making a recipe any more “diabetic friendly.”

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Smart Supplementation

Although getting nutrients from foods is optimal, there are times and situations in which supplementation is recommended.

Supplementation goes far beyond chewing or swallowing a pill upon waking up or before going to bed, though.

Take calcium, for example.

The best supplemental calcium is in the form of calcium citrate.

Taking a calcium supplement containing more than 500 milligrams? You’re doing yourself a disservice.

Although the daily value for the majority of the population is set at 1,000 milligrams, our bodies can assimilate no more than half of that at one time.

If you are supplementing calcium, it is a smart move to consume it in 300 or 400 milligram quantities two or three times a day than to down a supplement containing more than 500 milligrams in one sitting.

It’s also highly recommended you take your calcium supplement with a meal, as this reduces transit time, thereby resulting in more efficient absorption.

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You Ask, I Answer: Whey Protein/Protein Needs

I was wondering about whey protein powder and your thoughts on protein needs.

Is whey protein really more “bio-available” or better than other protein sources?

How much protein does a person need?

Is more protein necessary for muscle recovery or building after working out?

Does whey protein improve our immune system?

– Michael (last name withheld)
(City unknown), Illinois

The average healthy adult requires no more than 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (if you only know your weight in pounds, divide it by 2.2 to determine the kilogram equivalent).

The 0.8 grams figure solely represents the daily requirement — you can consume up to 200% of that total and still be within a perfectly safe range.

It’s always amusing to me to see protein heavily advertised on certain products, almost as if it were a nutrient we were all severely lacking.

Far from it! The average adult in the United States consumes anywhere from 175 – 200 percent of their daily protein needs.

Let’s break down this ever-persistent myth that athletes (or any regular person who lifts weights and wants to bulk up, for that matter) need to consume tons of protein.

Remember, the average adult requires 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

When it comes to athletes and others engaging in strenuous physical activity, protein needs ARE higher, but we are talking, at most, 1.5 or 1.6 grams per kilogram.

In other words, their needs fall within the “permissible” 200 percent range (which, again, corresponds to average protein intakes in the United States anyway).

A few things worth mentioning here.

Firstly, building muscle has more to do with consuming excess calories and performing weight-bearing exercises that challenge and shock the muscles appropriately.

Overloading on protein but consuming too few total calories and/or not performing the appropriate exercises at the appropriate intensity levels is completely futile.

What athletes and people performing strenuous exercise should focus on is protein quality, not quantity.

This is where biological value comes in.

Biological value is a term referring to how closely a protein matches the amino acid composition required by the body.

Complete proteins – all animal-derived ones as well as soy – contain all 8 essential amino acids.

Incomplete proteins – from vegetable sources – usually lack one or two.

This is not to say that vegetarians are not getting adequate protein.

See, Mother Nature is one smart cookie.

Proof? The amino acid lacking in grains is present in legumes (and vice versa). So, as long as a vegetarian has a diet containing various food groups, their amino acid needs are met.

In fact, many athletes as well as Olympic, Ironman, and Mr. Universe bodybuilding competitors and winners have been vegetarian.

Some names? Billie Jean King, Bruce Lee, Carl Lewis, Joe Namath, and Martina Navratilova.

Back to biological value. If we are speaking about foods, eggs are the absolute best (yes, even better than meat, chicken, and fish).

Whey protein, however, has an even higher score. So, technically, it is the most bio-available protein.

Since biological value also tells us the percentage of the protein used for muscle growth and repair, it is no surprise whey protein is the chosen favorite of weight-lifters.

Again, though, many people fail to realize that protein quality is more important than protein quantity.

Remember, except for extreme circumstances, protein is not used for energy; carbohydrates and fat are. Too much protein simply ends up being stored as fat.

So how about nutrition needs after a workout?

Again, many people immediately think, “protein.” While that is certainly one part, they often forget two other just as crucial nutrients: carbohydrates and water.

Countless studies have determined that consuming protein AND carbohydrates no more than 30 to 45 minutes after a strenuous (approximately 1 hour) workout are more efficient at muscle recovery than protein alone.

Think roughly 30 – 50 grams of carbohydrates.

Another tip: carbohydrates ranking higher in the glycemic index (such as watermelons, dates, potatoes, and cereals) are often preferred during this window of time, since they replenish fuel stores more quickly and aid in muscle repair.

In regards to whey protein’s effects on the immune system, there is a good body of research showing a link between whey protein consumption and an increase in glutathione levels (a protein that plays a crucial role in human immune systems).

It is important to note, though, that other foods (spinach, walnuts, cauliflower, avocado, and broccoli, all in their raw forms) also have the same effect.

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Numbers Game: Answer

Satisfy your sweet tooth with a regular Blow Pop rather than a 2.2 ounce (standard vending machine size) bag of Skittles and save 182 calories.

A regular Blow Pop — and all other similarly sized lollipops for that matter — clocks in at 68 calories, while the Skittles bag provides 250!

What’s most interesting is that it takes more time to savor and finish those 68 calories than to simply “follow the rainbow” and munch away.

Lollipops are not oranges, apples, or bananas, but they are a decent replacement for anyone with a sweet tooth looking to cut back on calories and stay way from sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners.

NOTE: Sadly, many lollipops — including Blow Pops — contain high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring.

So, even if they are a lower-calorie (and longer-lasting) sweet treat, I don’t feel entirely okay downright “recommending” them.

Luckily, a more “back to basics” version has been developed by YummyEarth — their lollipops are available at Whole Foods as well as Amazon.com.

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Down with Dieting

Over the next few weeks, I will share tips on establishing healthy eating protocols on YouTube.

Installment one is up (and featured at the end of this post).

In it, I summarize my concerns with most diets, and instead focus on fine tuning your eating habits and behaviors to make reaching your goals a healthier and more realistic process that takes into account hunger, food shopping, and emotional states.

By the way, in this video, I mention calorie tracking websites. One I highly recommend is My Calorie Counter. Free and very easy to use!

Enjoy and feel free to leave comments on this post or the YouTube page.

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You "Ask", I Answer: Sugar and Satiety

[In regards to your Reuters.com interview about added sugar in the diet, some of your comments are inaccurate.]

There is no daily maximum recommendation for added sugars.

Based on insufficient evidence of links to dental caries, behaviour problems, cancer, risk of obesity and risk of hyperlipidemia, no upper limit (UL) was set within the Dietary Reference Intakes for added sugars.

However, although a UL was not set, a maximum intake level of 25% or less of energy was suggested based on the decreased intake of some micronutrients of American subpopulations exceeding this level.

25% or less of a 2,000 calorie diet is 125g of sugar.

[Also,] I am not sure how you can say that a muffin is not satiating.

A muffin contains more than sugar. It contains fat and some protein (more if it contains nuts) and, depending on the type of muffin, possibly fiber.

All of these components are strongly linked to satiety.

- Kristy [last name unknown]
Via the blog

There most certainly are maximum recommendations for added sugars.

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that people consuming 2,000 calories consume no more than 40 grams per day.

If you take in 1,600 calories, that figures drops to 24 grams. Those of you on a 2,800 calorie plan can consume up to 72 grams.

I am not sure where the “25% of calories” figure you mention comes from.  I have never seen or heard of it.

Onto your muffin comment.

While these baked goods are certainly not pure sugar, the percentage of calories from the sweet stuff is quite high.

In the case of a Starbucks 360-calorie low-fat blueberry and apricot muffin, 12.5 percent of calories come from fat, 7 percent from protein, and a stunning 50 percent from sugar (not general carbohydrates, just sugar!)

Even the full-fat muffins get a full quarter of their calories from sugar!

In both cases, fiber barely registers at just 2 grams.

I never said that muffins “do not satiate”.

Instead, I pointed out that the high amounts of sugar are troubling because absolutely none of those calories contribute to a feeling of fullness.

Satiety can be achieved with less calories by replacing sugar grams with ones of fiber.

Why achieve satiety with 500 calories when you can achieve it with 275 of oatmeal, milk, and fruit?

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In The News: Unmasking the Monster

Thank you to New York University dietitian Mary Dye for pointing me to Vanity Fair‘s article on infamous agro business bully and genetically modified food darling Monsanto.

Regular readers of Small Bites may remember Monsanto from an earlier post on recombinant bovine growth hormone.

This exhaustive and brilliantly researched piece paints a stunningly accurate picture of Monsanto’s repercussions on farming, the environment, and the overall food supply.

Enjoy (?).

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Numbers Game: A Sucky Calorie Cutting Tip

Satisfy your sweet tooth with a regular Blow Pop rather than a 2.2 ounce (standard vending machine size) bag of Skittles and save _______ calories.

a) 76
b) 115
c) 153
d) 182

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

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Perfect Pickings: Frozen Waffles

In a breakfast landscape full of high fiber cereals and “energy bars”, waffles are often thought as a nutritionally inferior twice removed cousin.

Not so!

Depending on what waffles you purchase – and what you top them off with – you could very well take care of a third of your daily fiber needs before noon.

When purchasing waffles, there are two values you want to pay special attention to: fiber and sugar.

Although calories can indeed vary between different products (anywhere from 130 to 240 calories per serving), it is usually what waffles are topped off with that significantly raises these figures.

Buying frozen waffles offering 130 calories per serving but drowning them in 400 calories’ worth of syrup and whipped cream defeats the initial purpose of seeking a lower-calorie alternative.

Anyhow, a fiberless waffle (one or two grams per serving) is not much of a power breakfast. You might as well be eating a slice of white bread with some butter on top.

Aim for five or more grams of fiber and no more than six grams of sugar per serving (usually two waffles).

Always think of frozen waffles as simply – and literally! – the base of a highly nutritious breakfast.

Here are some topping ideas:

To sneak some calcium into your day, cover each waffle with two tablespoons of non-fat or, even better, low-fat plain yogurt (vegans: soy yogurt also does the trick).

This is a great opportunity to get a fruit serving in. Think bananas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples, peaches, kiwis – any fruit you like, really.

Not only do these toppings provide nutrition, they also offer such an array of flavors that you will need very little – or no – syrup on your waffles.

Ground flaxseed is something I think everybody should have in their refrigerator or freezer.

Since it is virtually tasteless, you can add it to anything! Sprinkle a tablespoon on your waffles to start your day off with lignans and some Omega-3’s.

Remember – flaxseeds must be ground up if you want to reap the full nutrition benefits.

You can either buy ready-to-eat flaxseed meal — Bob’s Red Mill is a popular brand — or purchase whole flaxseeds, which you should then demolish in a coffee grinder.

Therefore, don’t be fooled by frozen waffles containing whole flaxseeds you aren’t getting very much extra nutrition for the extra buck.

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Quick and Healthy Recipe: Vegan Chili

I created this recipe two years ago when I decided I wanted to use my chickpeas and kidney beans for more than just salads.

I have often been disappointed by vegetarian chili at restaurants. It’s either too salty, gloopy, or a slightly superior alternative to refried beans.

This recipe is not only easy and nutritious, it is also chock full of taste.

Preparation Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup red or white onion, finely chopped
1 cup red pepper, cut into small chunks
1 cup green pepper, cut into small chunks
1 cup low-sodium chickpeas
1 cup low-sodium kidney beans
1 cup low-sodium black beans
Regular or sodium-free chili powder (to taste)
Paprika (to taste)
1/2 cup frozen sweet corn kernels
1.5 cans petite-cut diced tomatoes (I recommend a variety that contains jalapeño peppers)
INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Heat olive oil in a medium-sized pot. When hot, add garlic and onions. Simmer for a few minutes. Stir frequently.
2. Add peppers and beans. Stir, add spices, and raise heat to high (this helps absorb the spices more efficiently). Stir CONSTANTLY for two minutes.
3. Lower heat to medium-high. Add diced tomatoes and corn.
4. Stir well and cook at high heat for 5 minutes.

NUTRITION INFORMATION:

450 calories
420 mg sodium
10g fiber
14g protein

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You Ask, I Answer (On YouTube!): Healthy Eating Outside The Home

How do I start onto the path of eating and living more heathfully? Hopefully, there are others who, like myself, know what they “should” be doing, but don’t know where to begin or what to pay attention to the “most.”

For example (speaking only for myself here), here is a glimpse of all the food-related thoughts running through my mind daily:

“Watch your calories, fat, salt, refined sugar, and flour intake…. no fast food/chips/soda/Starbucks mocha whip lattes (sob!)…. pay attention to the glycemic index/volumetrics/South Beach/Weight Watcher/Zone Plan… eat your largest meal early and your lightest meal later… get your daily serving of fruits and vegetables (ha!), fiber, and protein… don’t forget to take your vitamin/calcium suppleent… and put down that ice cream/cookies/cake!!”

I currently work full-time and go to grad school part-time, so 3 days out of the week I leave my apartment at 8:30 am and don’t get home until after 11:00 pm.

I work either Saturday or Sunday each week to make up my school hours.

My eating schedule is seriously out of whack — many times I’ve eaten cold pizza at midnight.

I struggle with the “healthful vs. convenienc” battle every day.

And as for cooking? I use my oven as storage space for pots and pans that never get used — I just don’t have the time.

Any advice?

– Amie Lemire
(Location Unknown)

Great question, Amie.

People tend to overcomplicate nutrition. If you focus on the basics, though, the rest of your concerns will fall into place.

Rather than write out a lengthy response, I thought I would use this as an opportunity to debut Small Bites on YouTube!

You can view my answer below. Be sure to bookmark the Small Bites channel on YouTube, too!

Readers: I would like to post a YouTube clip every 7 to 10 days.

Let me know what you would like to see on the channel. Product reviews? Questions and answers? Fad diet critiques? Let your voices be heard!


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Best of the Worst

Yesterday evening I strolled the aisles of my local supermarket with a dual purpose.

First and foremost — buy food.

Secondly — seek out ideas for this blog.

One thing that immediately jumped out at me was the vast number of products bearing Bob Greene’s “Best Life Diet” seal of approval.

As anyone with access to a television knows, Mr. Greene rose to fame as Oprah’s trainer and diet guru.

Soon thereafter, Bob’s Best Life Diet was created.

Over on Oprah’s website, we find the following tidbit:

“Bob says one of his great passions is to change the way companies manufacture food — but he emphasizes that the consumers are really in control.”

In fact:

“This January, Bob Greene and Oprah launched the 2008 Best Life Challenge, encouraging people across the country to sign the contract and make today the day you finally commit to climb off the diet roller coaster and make a healthier lifestyle for yourself.”

Wonderful initiative, but the execution falls short.

I randomly picked up four different products displaying the Best Life Diet Seal of Approval and spotted a few less-than-stellar ingredients:

Let’s start with the Fiber One Oats & Chocolate bars.

A quick glance at the ingredient list reveals that they contain more chocolate chips, sugar, and hydrogenated coconut oil (hello trans fats) than actual oats.

Another red flag? The presence of high fructose corn syrup.

They contain nine grams of fiber and are fairly low in calories, so while they are not a pint of ice cream, I can’t for the life of me understand why they get a Seal of Approval from someone claiming to help consumers track down healthy choices at the supermarket.

Why not award that seal to a truly healthy, simple, and deserving product like Lara or Clif Nectar bars?

Yoplait Yogurt, another highlighted product, contains added sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

Why this gets a gold star over, say, plain yogurt that can be topped with real fruit pieces blows my mind.

Then we have Green Giant’s Just for One Corn Niblets & Butter Sauce frozen trays.

The 120 calories and low-fat claims make a fairly decent first impression, but the 330 milligrams of sodium get a jeer from me. What’s wrong with plain frozen corn sauteed in some olive oil?

Remember, these products are not under the “Not terrible, but there are definitely healthier options out there” column.

These products are ones Bob Greene has no qualms putting his name and seal on and describing as “the best” when it comes to nutrition.

I then picked up a can of Progresso Soup, the only soup recommended soup in the diet.

I’m supposed to be okay with the fact that a can of soup containing 1,500 milligrams of sodium is recommended to someone looking to live a healthier lifestyle?

In approximately 45 seconds I spotted two others brands offering soups with half that sodium amount!

This posting may very well shatter my chances of ever appearing on Oprah, but I can’t sit back and be okay with the idea that nutritionally mediocre products are, for whatever reason, receiving undeserved endorsement.

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Celebrity Diet Secrets: Mariah Carey

Us Weekly‘s feature on Mariah Carey’s “back to her teen body” diet left me thinking, “Forget copy editors. Magazines should really consider hiring nonsense editors.”

As great as it is to have copy editors catch spelling, grammar, and syntax errors, someone needs to step in, look at nutrition-focused articles and say, “Are you KIDDING me?”

Those are precisely the words I sighed when I read that Mariah’s diet (the one behind her “hotter-than-ever body”) “prohibits eating carbs and protein together.”

Okay, first of all — Mariah is a megastar. Does she really need to pick up Suzanne Sommers’ weight-loss hand-me-downs to promote her new album?

I was even more surprised to see a quote from Registered Dietitian — and New York University graduate — Keri Glassman apparently lending credibility to the silly idea of “food combining” by saying:

“To digest [protein and carbohydrates] you need different enzymes. The theory is that if you eat them separately, you’ll break down more foods more effectively and increase weight loss.”

It is my opinion — and sincere hope — that Glassman was merely asked what her thoughts about food combining diets were, and the magazine erroneously attributed her support to them.

Anyway, it gets worse.

We then get a sample of Mariah’s daily diet.

First up — breakfast.

On the menu? Plain yogurt, sliced fruit, and a banana.

Is this a joke?

Let’s go back a few lines and reread the following: “Carey’s diet prohibits eating carbs and protein together.”

Yogurt contains protein AND carbohydrates. Hello???

And this is no one-off typo.

Her lunch also mixes protein (grilled chicken) with carbohydrates (zucchini, squash, and spinach). As it should!

Food combining fanatics forget that the vast majority of foods are all a combination of fat, proteins, and carbohydrates.

This is no secret — read any food label!

You will see that pasta, milk, and bread contains carbs and protein.

Chickpeas and kidney beans, meanwhile, contain fat, carbohydrates, and protein.

The article finally — about fifteen paragraphs later — gets to Carey’s weight loss “secret”: cutting calories.

Turns out she takes in approximately 1,000 – 1,200 calories a day and eats less of her greasy favorites like mac ‘n cheese and pizza.

Oh, dear, how… how… common!

I am increasingly becoming more irritated with the amount of deception and unnecessary complications surrounding weight loss and management in pop culture.

I guess “cutting calories” isn’t A-list enough.

Instead, people are bombarded with inane advice like count your carbs, don’t mix carbs with protein, get a coffee enema once a week, don’t eat after 6 p.m., sprout your chickpeas, eat only raw foods, eat nothing but red fruits on Mondays while standing on your head and wearing polka-dotted socks .

Oh, please! Throw all that advice into the “macroneurotic” pile and start living life.

I am not going to sit here and claim to know “a secret” to weight loss.

I also refuse to start dictating obnoxiously high-maintenance rules you must follow to follow to achieve your weight and health goals.

I believe a dietitian’s main responsibility is to help people develop strategies in order to make positive, feasible lifestyle changes. Nutrition is not — and should never become — a calculus 101 class with laws, rules, and inane theories.

That said, I’m off to make dinner: Peanut-ginger tofu (protein!), sweet potatoes (carbs!), brown rice (more carbs!) and avocado (fat!)

And I have the audacity to author a nutrition blog?

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Administrative Announcement: Small Bites Turns One — And Wants Your Feedback!

April 17 marked Small Bites’ one-year anniversary on the web.

Thank you for your readership, interest and support! I’m excited to see what year two brings.

Usually, readers e-mail me questions; today, the tables are turned.

I want to know what you like about Small Bites, what you want to see more of, what you would like to start seeing, what you want to see less of, and what your thoughts are in general.

Consider this an annual performance review.

Please send comments to: andy.bellatti@gmail.com

Thank you.

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