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    Archive for June, 2008

    Say What?: The "Coo Coo" Diet

    I am always fascinated by people who take nutrition to an extreme, ultimately putting their health at risk.

    And so I present to you: fruitarians (exhibit A and exhibit B.)

    That’s right — these people advocate eating nothing but fruit for optimal health.

    (Insert “Twilight Zone” theme song HERE.)

    It’s worth pointing out that this includes “avocado, cucumbers, tomatoes, paprika, olives and squash.”

    Although some fruitarians start out eating nuts and seeds, the goal is to eventually cut those out as well.

    Right, because nuts and seeds are behind all our health problems. UGH.

    Despite clearly lacking a multitude of nutrients (Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, calcium, and vitamin D, among others,) this movement has devout followers.

    When it comes to dangerous diets such as fruitarianism, I leave political correctness at the door.

    I am not going to sit here and say it’s just a “different” diet that needs to be “carefully planned.”

    No. It’s unhealthy, unbalanced, and as far as I’m concerned, an eating disorder disguised as a “natural” way to eat.

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    Numbers Game: Milling Mediocrity

    Several nutrients are lost in the milling process.

    For instance, “white” flour contains _______ percent less magnesium and _______ percent less vitamin E than whole wheat flour.

    a) 54, 86
    b) 92, 81

    c) 72, 90
    d) 68, 94

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

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    You Ask, I Answer: Phytosterols

    Can you tell us more about this phytosterol fad I’m seeing lately in yogurt and multi-vitamins?

    What are phytosterols and why do we need them?

    Don’t we just get them from eating vegetables?

    Why would we need a supplement?

    – “gd”
    Via the blog

    Whereas cholesterol is a sterol (that is a steroid with an alcohol group attached, for any chemistry geeks out there) essential in maintaining cell structures in animals, phytosterols play the same role in plant foods.

    Not surprisingly, cholesterol is found only in animal products (meats and dairy) and phytosterols are exclusive to plant foods.

    The term “phytosterols” is actually an umbrella one that includes sterols (the three main ones being beta sitosterol, campesterol, and sitgmasterol) as well as stanols (naturally occurring plant compounds.)

    Clinical research has determined that 2 grams of phytosterols a day help reduce LDL (“bad” cholesterol) levels by as much as 20%.

    This is due to the fact that they compete with cholesterol for absorption in the digestive tract.

    There are a few caveats, though.

    Although phytosterols are present in plant foods (mainly nuts, seeds, and their respective oils), you need a LOT of calories to reach that 2 gram (2,000 milligram) goal.

    For instance, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter contain 55 – 60 milligrams, and an ounce of pistachios adds up to roughly 35 milligrams.

    And so came the development of functional foods (mainly yogurt drinks, like Promise Activ, and vegetable spreads) with high amounts of phytosterols added in.

    Advertisers were in hog heaven — now many of their products could be advertised as “cholesterol lowering.”

    However, phytosterols have only been proven effective in people with high cholesterol levels.

    In other words, I don’t see any reason why someone with a normal cholesterol profile would need to start consuming 2 grams of phytosterols a day.

    Additionally, even people who benefit from their consumption need to realize that this is another situation where more is not better, since phytosterols interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and compounds like lycopene.

    Remember, too, that nutrition is really about a combination of nutrients and components — not just two or three.

    I lean more towards the “the healthier your overall diet, the more nutrition you are getting” camp than the “eat whatever you want and down supplements and multi-vitamins” one.

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    Five Must-Have Foods

    The latest video on the Small Bites YouTube Channel singles out five must-have foods.

    Having these in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer will make healthy eating simple, quick, and convenient.

    This is not an end-all-be-all “five healthiest foods on the planet” or “five superfoods that reverse aging” list, but rather just one of many practical ways in which nutrition can have a place in your kitchen.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Sodium/Processed Foods

    Perhaps you can explain to me in lay terms why processed food packs so much sodium.

    I think it is because sodium preserves food, or is it just to add flavor?

    – Anonymous
    Via the blog

    You are partially correct.

    Salt (which isn’t the same as sodium; table salt is a combination of sodium and chloride) and sugar were, really, the first two preservatives.

    Before the age of refrigeration, meats were protected from spoiling with the help of generous layers of salt, and fruits were similarly drowned in sugar (thus the concept of jams).

    The high sodium content in processed foods these days, though, isn’t solely to retard spoilage.

    Issues of flavor, texture, and mouthfeel come into play.

    In baked goods, for instance, sodium emphasizes sweet flavors.

    Additionally, it sucks out moisture, thereby adding crunchy textures to crackers and chips.

    Sodium is also used as a binder and thickener in products like gravies and sauces.

    You’ll also find that many fortified products — think protein bars and some cereals — are fairly high in sodium, as it — along with sugar — helps mask the off-putting flavors of all those synthetic vitamins and minerals that are tacked on during processing.

    From a production standpoint, sodium is wonderful — it’s inexpensive and universally accepted!

    From a public health perspective, however, it certainly appears to be the next trans fat…

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    In The News: Blood Pressure Just Says "No" To Drugs

    The New York Times is reporting that “high blood pressure is becoming increasingly resistant to drugs that lower it.”

    Which begs the question — why pop pills when you can just… eat?

    Blood pressure is one of those conditions that I don’t think is taken as seriously as it should be.

    Everyone runs around with their cardiac health in mind, forgetting that high blood pressure is just as serious.

    After all, “starting at a blood pressure of 115/80, research shows that the risk of a heart attack or stroke doubles with every 20-point increase of systolic pressure, the top number, or 10-point increase of diastolic pressure, the bottom number.”

    As someone who is aware of the therapeutic power of nutrition, it is very frustrating to see people spend so much money on these medications (not to mention put such a strain on some organs) when they could begin to tackle the problem with dietary management.

    Consider this eye-popping example:

    “Pat J. Dixon, 58, a nurse in Atlanta, takes five medications to lower her blood pressure. In many ways, Ms. Dixon is typical of a patient who develops resistant hypertension. At 5 feet and 172 pounds, she is obese, and her weight gain has caused mild Type 2 diabetes, for which she takes yet another drug. The diabetes is an extra strain on the kidneys, in turn worsening her blood pressure.”

    From a nutrition perspective, several nutrients are valuable tools in normalizing blood pressure.

    First, sodium consumption should be kept to no more than 2,300 milligrams a day.

    The best way to prevent excessive sodium intakes is to cut back on frozen, pickled, smoked, and canned foods.

    In the case of canned beans, for example, opt for low-sodium varieties or rinse standard varieties for 10 to 15 seconds to remove excess sodium.

    Potassium and magnesium are two minerals that are also crucial for blood pressure regulation.

    Interestingly enough, the more processed a food, the higher the sodium content and the lower the potassium.

    Consider these two examples:

    A 3-ounce broiled porkchop contains 46 milligrams of sodium, whereas 3 ounces of ham pack in 1,117.

    A medium baked potato contains a meager 8 milligrams of sodium, whereas a side of mashed potatoes at Kentucky Fried Chicken adds up to 360 milligrams!

    Hence, the less processed the diet, the lower in sodium and higher in potassium.

    Magnesium, meanwhile, is found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and some varieties of fish.

    Research has also shown a definitive link between calcium and blood pressure regulation — yet another reason to make sure you are getting enough of the “bone mineral.”

    Food can have such an impact on blood pressure regulation that there is an actual eating plan specifically formulated for it: DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)

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    All You Need To Know About Antioxidants

    Knowing my fondness for dark chocolate and almonds, a friend recently gifted me with, what else, a Perugina “dark chocolate & almonds” bar.

    Later that day, prior to indulging in a post-dinner nibble, I scanned over the packaging.

    Right above the nutrition facts was a small text box that read: “175 milligrams of antioxidants per serving.”

    You are already picturing my eyeballs rolling out of my eyes and down the kitchen floor, right?

    Here’s the thing. It’s one thing to advertise certain chocolates as “healthier” by displaying their cocoa content, but displaying milligrams of antioxidants is really pushing it, for several reasons.

    First of all, there is no set number for how many antioxidant milligrams should be consumed on a daily basis.

    Secondly, the way most antioxidant content in food is measured is not in milligrams but by something known as ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity).

    This is basically a test of how efficient a given food is at protecting cells from a radical known as the peroxyl radical.

    (Sidenote: berries are among the highest ORAC scorers.)

    And then, of course, there’s the whole “issue” of antioxidants. We are just now beginning to understand a little bit about them.

    Many people, however, think they’re doing themselves a favor by happily downing whatever antioxidant supplement drugstores or supplement shops are happily shilling.

    Not so fast.

    Let’s start at the beginning.

    Oxygen is a wonderful element that helps our cells function properly, but it also causes a problem.

    When an atom or molecule in our body comes in direct contact with oxygen, it loses one electron (stick with me, I promise this won’t turn into a chemistry lecture) and becomes “oxidized.”

    Although some oxidation is normal (remember, our cells are constantly dying and being replaced), free radicals are, basically, destructive atoms and molecules that are not happy about missing an electron.

    They unleash their frustrations by running into cells and damaging them, unleashing a chain reaction of cell injury that can compromise DNA and set the stage for a variety of diseases and cancers.

    What makes all of this even trickier is that a certain amount of free radicals in our body is actually a good thing, as they make up part of our immune system, fighting off any foreign substances.

    When it comes to excess free radicals, though, this is where the approximately 6,000 current recognized antioxidants come into play.

    Mind you, our body is able to produce some antioxidants. However, these are only able to take care of the free radicals that are the product of normal body functions.

    They are certainly not equipped to handle the free radicals that are the product of environmental pollutants and smoking.

    Antioxidants basically look for free radicals and give them an electron so they can go on their merry way and stop wreaking havoc.

    Some are preventive, and stop a free radical cascade before it begins.

    Others, known as “chain breaking,” get in the middle of a free radical gang and break it up before more trouble ensues.

    Antioxidants (including vitamins C and E) are pretty special because they can donate electrons and, rather than become free radicals, remain stable.

    Believe it or not, antioxidant research is still fairly new, and a lot of questions still need to be answered.

    What is known is that antioxidants are most effective when consumed in food (it is believed that they work better in combination with certain phytonutrients) and in conjunction with other antioxidants.

    So, downing thousands of milligrams of Vitamin C doesn’t automatically guarantee a free radical defeat.

    This partially helps to explain why the issue of “variety” and “diversity” is often stressed in nutrition.

    Red-colored fruits and vegetables offer very different antioxidants than green colored ones, which offer different ones from blue and purple ones.

    This is why “eating the rainbow” is often encouraged — it provides as diverse a nutrient and antioxidant pool as possible.

    Similarly, the antioxidants in whole grains are different from the ones in legumes, which are different from the ones in fruits.

    Clinical trials have shown that isolated antioxidants in pill form are not as effective as those in food; in fact, some preliminary studies have shown that high doses of supplemental antioxidants can actually cause further oxidation.

    I know, my head is spinning too.

    In the end, though, we come back to standard nutrition advice. Eat a diverse, mainly unprocessed plant-based diet. That never seems to be the culprit of anything.

    And a note to the folks at Perugina chocolates: a single cup of coffee delivers about 750 milligrams of antioxidants, so 175 milligrams isn’t exactly a mind-blowing figure…

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    A Dunkin’ Donuts corn muffin has 220 MORE calories than one of their blueberry cake donuts.

    That’s right.

    The corn muffin provides 510 calories, while a blueberry cake donut adds up to 290.

    The muffin also has 2 more grams of fat (18 to the donut’s 16) and twice the sugar (32 grams of it, compared to the 16 grams in the donut).

    Remember, a muffin is essentially a slice of cake for breakfast.

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    Oprah’s Reality Check

    When we last left Oprah and her “spiritual” vegan cleanse (all I’m saying is, my diet will often be vegan for several days, but that doesn’t stop me from getting irritated at the slow person in front of me at the supermarket checkout line who sloooowly counts their pennies), she was enjoying the perks of having a vegan chef ship her foods to Las Vegas (because what’s more spiritual than having a private jet deliver your cruelty-free meals?) and absolutely loving every second of her vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free, alcohol-free life.

    By now, Oprah has finished her 21 day journey. What happened in the last week and a half is certainly interesting.

    No longer armed with a vegan chef, Oprah is forced to endure the rest of the “challenge” as any normal person would.

    Off the bat, I notice her entries start to get shorter, and comments along the lines of “just two more days” or “I was really craving some cheese!” begin popping up.

    Although Oprah later waxes poetic about what an eye-opening experience this was, and how it provided her with heightened awareness of her food, she forgets to mention a more important point — that overly restrictive eating plans are doomed for failure.

    This entire “project” felt like a silly crash diet. After twenty-one days of strict rules, old eating habits apparently returned, in large part due to constant cravings.

    On her last day, Oprah’s lunch consists of “a large baked potato with sautéed onions, herbs and olive oil, and [a] fresh green salad with avocado,tomato, lemon, garlic and olive oil.”

    As two side dishes, those are wonderful, filled with nutrition.

    However, as a meal, they are inadequate.

    In that same entry, Oprah considers it “progress” that she’s just “wishfully thinking” about having some grilled sea bass with it.

    Huh? Grilled sea bass would be a wonderful accompaniment to that potato and salad, offering lean protein, healthy fats, and zinc.

    This idea that it is but an indulgent fantasy is rather twisted. We aren’t talking about a Twinkie here.

    Besides, being vegan is not about subsisting on vegetables. Why not accompany those side dishes with grilled tofu, roasted tempeh, a soy patty, or even some quinoa?

    A few days prior to that entry, Oprah mentions craving wheat. I still feel like breaking through the computer monitor and saying, “What is so spiritual about denying yourself wheat? Just have some already!”

    Anyhow, I hope her viewers and readers took away the most important lesson — non-sensical strict rules and banning multiple food groups overnight is not healthy, spiritual, or smart.
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    You Ask, I Answer: Inflammation

    My mum asked me to look into foods that increase or decrease inflammation and related chronic pain conditions.

    I don’t know if such a thing is even possible, and Google leads me to thousands of quacks and charlatans. Can you help?

    – Rachelle T.
    Location Unknown

    Nutrition plays an important role in promoting — and reducing — inflammation.

    Before we even get to actual foods, though, it’s important to address weight.

    Excess body fat heightens inflammation, so working towards shedding any extra pounds is the first step in my book.

    Foods that I suggest your mother eat sparingly include refined carbohydrates (mainly white flour and added sugars), trans fats, and Omega-6 fatty acids (found in most processed plant oils)

    A point of clarity regarding Omega-6 fatty acids: although they absolutely serve a purpose (and are essential, meaning we can only get them from our diet), the traditional U.S. diet is overly abundant in them.

    Moving on, then. There are also many foods that help manage — and even decrease — inflammation.

    These include whole grains, monounsaturated fats (think avocados, olive oil, peanut butter, and almond butter), Omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, tofu, wheat germ, and some legumes) and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

    In the case of fruits and vegetables, the more variety the better.

    Why? Research suggests that different compounds (i.e.: anthocyanins in blueberries, carotenoids in sweet potatoes, and phenolics in tart cherries) can aid in the reduction of inflammation.

    Keep in mind, though, that for optimal results, these foods should be consumed on a daily basis for a prolonged period.

    Additionally, the above mentioned foods should not be consumed with excess calories or sugars (putting a spoonful of walnuts into a Coldstone ice cream bowl or having a Reese’s peanut butter cup are not effective ways to manage inflammation.)

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    You Ask, I Answer: Smoked Foods

    As a vegetarian I’m always looking for ways to get the umami flavor component into my food.

    I have always liked smoked food — smoked cheese, smoked dulse, smoked anything, really, and for me this flavor really satisfies the umami problem.

    Is natural smoke in food healthy (or at least not especially unhealthy) and what is in “smoke flavor”?

    – Jennifer Armstrong
    Saratoga Springs, FL

    While I don’t suggest you completely abstain from eating smoked foods, I strongly urge you to minimize consumption as much as possible.

    If you are buying them prepackaged, you will find sodium levels are quite high.

    Take salmon, for instance.

    A 3-ounce serving of broiled salmon only contains 52 milligrams of sodium. That same portion of smoked salmon? 666 milligrams!

    If you are talking about natural smoke (i.e: charcoal grilling), the news aren’t much better.

    Turns out this method of cooking adds carcinogenic compounds to food; some studies have linked consistently high consumptions of smoked foods with a higher risk of stomach cancers.

    So, if you like your soy burgers REALLY charred, you aren’t doing yourself a great favor.

    Smoke flavor, however, is pretty much harmless.  It is usually created by simply burning wood chips (usually hickory, although others can also be used), trapping that newly-produced gas and then chilling it to liquid form.

    One great bonus is that this process filters out impurities — including carcinogens.

    Liquid smoke is also sodium (and calorie) free.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Dairy/Weight Loss/Body Temperature

    I went to an acupuncturist who told me that my metabolism is partially slowed down because my liver temperature is too high.

    He also suggested I cut out all dairy from my diet to lose weight.

    Is any of this true?

    – Name Withheld
    New York, NY

    The question you just read was left on my voicemail by a dear friend of mine, whose name I am not revealing. I did ask her permission to post her question on here, though.

    When she called me, she was at the supermarket buying soymilk, following her acupunturist’s instructions.

    Now, look, I do not have any issues with acupuncture. I respect it and am not quick to dismiss it as “quackery.”

    What I have a real problem with, though, is people without any sort of nutrition background freely — and irresponsibly — doling out advice that is rooted in absolute fantasy.

    Also, since acupuncture is not regulated in the United States, anyone can call themselves an “acupuncturist,” (in the same way that anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist”) thereby discrediting what is an Eastern practice with tens of thousands of years behind it.

    In any case — internal body temperature is the same throughout the body. If your body temperature is 98.6 degrees, then so is your liver.

    If any organ is at, say, 102 degrees, then so will the rest of your body.

    In that case, you would know it — and feel it: it’s called having a fever.

    Metabolism and weight loss has nothing to do with “cooling down” heated internal organs. Maybe your acupuncturist should dedicate himself to writing science-fiction novels.

    Onto the dairy question.

    Some people believe dairy products promote weight gain, others think they are helpful weight-loss tools.

    I say — it all simply depends on how many calories you are consuming from dairy.

    If someone who eats 2 slices of cheesecake a day is asked to remove dairy from their diet, it is very likely they will lose weight because they are no longer having that rich, calorically dense dessert.

    Any time you remove foods from your diet and either replace them with something lower in calories (or don’t replace them with anything), you will obviously lose weight.

    There is absolutely no evidence that removing dairy from the diet is beneficial for weight-loss purposes.

    You could go the rest of your life without a sip or morsel of dairy products and still consume excessive calories, thereby gaining weight.

    Note: My friend has three more sessions with this particular acupuncturist. I have asked her to keep me in the loop of any future nutrition “advice” she is given.

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    Numbers Game: Make Your Choice

    A Dunkin’ Donuts corn muffin has _____ _______ calories than one of their blueberry cake donuts.

    a) 150 LESS
    b) 220 MORE
    c) 185 LESS
    d) 140 MORE

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section (no peeking at the Dunkin’ Donuts nutrition information!) and come back on Monday for the answer.

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    In The News: The McDonald’s "Diet"

    In case you haven’t heard, a Virginia man named Chris Coleson lost 70 pounds in 6 months eating nothing but McDonald’s.

    For whatever reason, several media outlets are having a field day with this one.

    I, personally, don’t see what’s so newsworthy here.

    Not only is this not new (a woman shed 37 pounds in 2005 by eating every single meal at the Golden Arches for 90 days), it’s also simply the result of very standard nutrition advice: eat less calories and you will lose weight.

    Works like a charm!

    In Mr. Coleson’s case, it is estimated that he reduced his daily intake from 3,000 – 3,500 calories to 1400.

    Yup, that’ll do it.

    The fact that he accomplished this by only eating two meals a day doesn’t sit well with me.

    Between lowering his calories so drastically and eating only twice a day, I suspect his metabolism may have been affected negatively.

    Remember, you could feasibly lose weight eating nothing but ice cream, Kit Kat bars, or French fries, as long as you lower your caloric intake to the required levels.

    The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t take that much ice cream (or that many French fries) to reach, say, 1500 calories.

    Additionally, an ice-cream-only diet would provide a good amount of certain nutrients (fat and calcium) and leave you entirely deficient of others (vitamin C, fiber, vitamin E, potassium, etc.)

    Choose wisely (vegetables, fruits, legumes, non/low-fat dairy, lean protein) and you can eat a larger quantity of food for that same amount of calories, all while meeting your nutrient needs.

    Mr. Coleson’s McDonald’s diet — which, fortunately, the fast food chain is not taking credit for — is low in fiber, high in sodium, and devoid of whole grains and legumes.

    Relying so heavily on one restaurant to lose weight is dangerous.

    What happens when Mr. Coleson goes over to someone else’s home for dinner, or has to cook for himself? If he hasn’t learned any new skills or concepts that will allow him to keep the weight off once he stops visiting Ronald the Clown’s house every day, he’ll be back to square one.

    I’m so f’ing tired of fad diets!

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    Quick & Healthy Recipes: Ultimate Yogurt Bowl

    I came up with this concoction last year and it soon became one of my favorite breakfasts.

    Depending on your caloric requirements, you may opt to have it as a weekend brunch item or have it as your weekday breakfast with a few modifications (detailed at the end of the post).

    Either way, it’s a delicious source of calcium, Omega-3 Alpha Linolenic Fatty Acids, heart-healthy fats, and fiber (including a spectacular 3 grams of the soluble, cholesterol-lowering variety).

    6 oz. low-fat plain dairy or soy yogurt (I love Greek yogurt’s taste and texture)
    1/2 cup strawberries, chopped
    1 medium banana, sliced

    1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

    1/4 cup oat bran
    3 Tablespoons ground flaxseed

    Get all the ingredients into a bowl and mix them together. Yum!

    NUTRITION FACTS

    646 calories
    23 grams fat
    3 grams saturated fat
    16.6 grams fiber
    40 grams protein
    300 milligrams calcium (30% of the Daily Value)

    Note: If you are preparing this with “regular” (non-Greek) yogurt, protein adds up to 29 grams and calcium totals 700 milligrams!

    If you need to lower the calories, try one — or more — of the following options:

    Omit the banana and save 105 calories (fiber total decreases to a still excellent 13.1 grams)
    Omit the walnuts and save 131 calories (the ground flaxseeds still deliver Omega-3 fatty acids, and you only lose 1.3 grams of fiber)
    Lower the ground flaxseed to 1.5 tablespoons and save 55 calories (the end result will contain 13 grams of fiber).

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