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  • Archive for July, 2008

    In The News: A Different Kind of Beer Buzz

    Forget Redbull and Monster energy drinks. Mixing Red Bull and vodka at the club? Soooo 5 years ago.

    The latest fad consists of canned alcoholic energy drinks. In the past year alone, one such drink — Miller’s Sparks — “delivered strong full-year double-digit growth.”

    This is particularly puzzling to me since one sip of the cloyingly sweet and artificial fizzy concoction was enough to make me grimace and shudder.

    In their latest issue, Time Magazine profiles a newcomer to the scene: Joose — a malted energy drink that packs as much caffeine as a cup of coffee and almost twice the alcohol content of a can of Budweiser.

    Artificial repulsiveness aside, one problem with these hybrid caffeine and alcohol beverages is that they “trick [the] brain into believing you’re not as drunk as you are.”

    By the way, one 16-ounce can of Sparks adds up to 350 calories.

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    Numbers Game: Belly Busting Bistro

    Over at PF Chang’s China Bistro, an appetizer portion of spare ribs contains _____ calories, while the Great Wall of Chocolate dessert (“six layers of rich chocolate cake frosted with semi-sweet chocolate chips and raspberry sauce,” pictured at right) adds up to _______ calories.

    a) 972/1,760
    b) 1,251/1,854
    c) 1,762/1,603

    d) 1,386/2,237

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

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    You Ask, I Answer: Dairy Alternatives/Rice Milk

    I found recently that cows milk and I don’t get on, which is a pity since I love cheese.

    Anyway, I’ve been avoiding cheese while I try to lose weight.

    I have also switched from cow’s milk to rice milk, but I’m not sure if rice milk has more fat or calories, and I’m finding the labeling on my cartons a little confusing.

    Is rice milk okay, or should I be looking to other alternatives? (I’m not a big fan of the soy milk flavor).

    – Ryan Nelson
    Brighton, England

    Lactose intolerance can occur in varying degrees.

    Being unable to digest cow’s milk does not necessarily mean cheese and yogurts should also be off-limits.

    A slice of hard cheese – such as Swiss – offers a tenth of the lactose in a glass of milk.The active cultures in some yogurts, meanwhile, can also help avoid digestive problems.

    Let’s assume, though, that your intolerance to lactose is such that even the tiniest amount in any dairy product offsets problems.

    In that case, I don’t consider rice milk an equal alternative to cow’s milk.

    Whereas soy milk is a good source of protein and is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D, the same does not hold for rice milk.

    Consider the following:

    A cup (8 fluid ounces) of skim milk contains 91 calories, 8.7 grams of protein, and 30% of the daily calcium requirement.

    A cup of reduced-fat (2%) milk adds up to 123 calories, 8.1 grams of protein, and 28.5% of a day’s calcium needs.

    A cup of rice milk?120 calories, 1 gram of protein, and just 2% of the daily calcium requirement.

    If you opt for rice milk, make sure to consume foods high in calcium (kale, broccoli, calcium-fortified cereals) throughout the day.  The lower protein content is irrelevant; most of us get plenty of it already, seeing as how it is pervasive in the food supply.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Nighttime Snacking/Digestion

    My mom believes that eating right before bed is unhealthy and causes weight gain.

    I don’t believe that it causes weight gain because as you stress, what matters is how many calories are consumed [in one day], not when [you eat them].

    But, is [eating right before bed] unhealthy? My mom thinks [so, because she says] our digestive system needs to “sleep”.

    I always “need” to snack before bed (I think it’s more of a psychological thing), but keep my portions in check.

    She seems to think that fruit is “lighter” as opposed to bread which is “heavier” and harder on our bodies. Is it okay for me to have “heavy” foods like bread/cereal before I sleep as long as its within my caloric needs?

    – (Name Withheld)
    Kaoshiung, Taiwan

    One issue that can occur if you go to bed soon after eating is acid reflux, or heartburn (a condition in which stomach acid creeps up into the esophagus).

    Other than that, there isn’t anything inherently unhealthy about having a slice of bread or a bowl of cereal an hour or so before going to bed as long as it isn’t a caloric overload.

    Heavy foods should be avoided before going to bed so as to not cause indigestion, so either fruit or cereal are smart options. I do not consider cereal or bread to be heavy, especially not if you’re just having a cup of a whole grain cereal low in added sugar.

    Keep in mind that even though we go to sleep, our organs do not.

    Full digestion of a meal, for instance, takes anywhere from 18 to 48 hours. So, our digestive tract works all day, every day.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Battle of the "Diets"

    Andy, are you going to blog about [the study that concluded that a low-carb diet was more successful at helping subjects achieve weight loss and healthier blood cholesterol profiles than Mediterranean or low-fat ones]?

    – Anonymous
    Via the blog

    I was most certainly planning on commenting on this study, mainly because of some very distracting flaws I noticed.

    Let’s begin with some basic information.

    The study — partially funded by the Robert and Veronica Atkins foundation (potential bias, anyone?) — took place over 2 years, during which 85% of the 322 participants stuck with their respectively assigned diets (low-fat, Mediterranean, and low-carb.)

    Now with some of my “uh, wait a minute” impressions.

    Firstly, when it came to weight loss, low-carb beat out low-fat by 4 pounds (10.3 lbs vs 6.3 lbs), but edged out a Mediterranean Diet (which includes higher carbohydrate consumption) only by 0.3 lbs.

    And although the low-carb diet resulted in the best blood cholesterol profiles, it’s important to note that for this study, researchers “urged [the] dieters [on the low-carb diet] to choose vegetarian sources of fat and protein.”

    In other words, although the low-carbers had the highest saturated fat intake out of the three groups, the majority of their fats came from plant sources.

    There isn’t anything groundbreaking here. Anyone keeping up with nutrition research knows that mono and polyunsaturated fats are recommended for heart health.

    Hence, this study calls into question the belief so many low-carb fanatics like Gary Taubes fervently hold on to — that saturated fat is the best for blood cholesterol levels.

    The study specifically mentions that the blood cholesterol levels of the low-carbers is due largely to the consumption of monounsaturated fats.

    Besides, I always wondered why low-carb enthusiasts even bother bragging about improved cholesterol profiles on their diets when, two seconds later, they turn around and say that the cholesterol-heart disease link is a lie and the result of “bad science.” Which is it?

    The study wasn’t entirely a “low carb diets RULE!” piece, either.

    For instance, the Mediterranean Diet — which was highest in fiber — proved to be the most effective at managing blood glucose levels.

    Yet again, this goes against traditional low-carb beliefs (and, once again, those Gary Taubes loves to pontificate) that the research on fiber is “inconclusive at best” and that there is no need to have it in the diet.

    Before anyone jumps down my throat about whether or not I read Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes himself said at his New York University talk in March of this year that he didn’t think high-fiber grains were any healthier than refined ones.

    Speaking of fiber, I noticed that the low-fat group was only asked to consume “low-fat grains.”

    This struck me as odd, mainly because it is hard to find grains high in fat — they are all low-fat.

    Additionally, it’s hard to overlook some bias.

    The study does not urge low-fat dieters to consume the healthiest grains (whole grains), yet specifically requests that low-carb dieters eat the healthiest fats.

    I also found it strange that for the majority of this study the low-carb group was consuming 120 grams of carbs a day. This is definitely higher than the much lower levels recommended by most low-carb advocates.

    Atkins, for instance, usually calls for no more than 100 grams of carbohydrates per day during the maintenance phase.

    Finally, take a look at the numbers and you see that although the low-carb group was not calorie-restricted, their caloric intake was lower compared to their pre-study diet.

    So, as always, we are talking about weight loss as a result of reduced caloric intake.

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    Mac and Cheese Grows (And Shapes!) Up

    After years of being labeled an unhealthy kids’ food, mac and cheese is receiving a glamorous, adult-friendly makeover from two fairly new companies — Road’s End Organics and Fiber Gourmet.

    Road’s End Organics offers a delectable vegan and organic whole wheat elbow macaroni “Mac and Chreese” (yes, that is ‘cheese’ with an extra ‘r’) that is also free of soy and nuts.

    The sauce gets most of its flavor from nutritional yeast, a popular vegan alternative to cheese.

    The best part? Each serving (half the box) adds up to:

    340 calories
    0 grams of saturated fat
    400 milligrams of sodium
    8 grams of fiber

    14 grams of protein

    25% of the Vitamin B12 Daily Value (I mention this since we are referring to a vegan product)

    This passed not only my taste test with flying colors, but also those of traditional Mac ‘n Cheese eaters (some of which asked me, “Are you SURE this isn’t real cheese?”)

    That is quite a feat, considering I used unsweetened soymilk as a base for the “cheese” sauce. If you are not of the vegan persuasion, you can certainly use cow’s milk if you so choose — preferably skim or 2%.

    Fiber Gourmet meanwhile, is keeping the dairy in mac and cheese but adding fiber in plentiful amounts.

    One serving (1 cup) of their new kosher-friendly, free-of-artificial-colors Mac and Cheese product contains a whooping 18 grams of fiber!

    A few things worth noting:

    First of all, the fiber comes from — yay! — actual food (modified wheat starch and wheat gluten, to be exact) rather than synthetic dust.

    Secondly, the folks at Fiber Gourmet have done an amazing job of creating a high-fiber pasta with top-notch taste and texture.

    There isn’t the slightest hint of graininess, nor does the pasta quickly congeal into a great big ball of mush like those awful low-carb soy pastas that were the rage for all of eight seconds in 2003. Are we SURE that wasn’t really fussilli shaped cardboard?

    Because the fiber content is so high, I would recommend having half a cup in one sitting (as a tasty side dish that delivers a reasonable 330 milligrams of sodium, more than respectable 9 grams of fiber, and only 90 calories!), especially if your current diet is not very high in fiber (in which case, too much too soon causes an intestinal revolt).

    Also, keep in mind that children’s fiber needs are different from adults. For children ages 3 to 16, fiber needs are determined by taking the child’s age and adding 5 to it.

    Hence, the 18 grams of fiber in each serving is too much for a 9 year old.

    With pre-teens, for instance, I would suggest mixing half a cup of Fiber Gourmet’s mac and cheese with another half cup of a “regular” variety.

    In any case, this is a wonderful way to boost fiber intake in a tasty, low-calorie way.

    Mac and cheese. It’s not just for kids anymore.

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    In The News: The Case for Calories (Part Two!)

    Calories sure are a hot commodity this week.

    Marion Nestle’s new question and answer column in The San Francisco Chronicle even identifies them as “the most pressing nutrition issue today.”

    As she so simply puts it, “Eat too many calories for the number you use, and on come the pounds. Food tempts us everywhere, even in places like business supply stores, bookstores and libraries. It comes in larger and larger portions. And we are expected to snack all day long. “

    Clearly, policy makers also agree.

    After all, fast food chain menus in New York City are displaying calories, not carbohydrate or fat grams.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Soy Frozen Desserts

    What’s your opinion on soy frozen desserts, like Turtle Mountain Purely Decadent Dairy Free Ice Cream?

    Are they any healthier than real ice cream?

    – Anonymous
    Via the blog

    Although many people view soy desserts as “healthy”, this isn’t always the case.

    As far as the Purely Decadent brand you mention is concerned, it is definitely lower in saturated fat (about 65% lower) and higher in fiber (chicory root extract boosts the fiber content to 5 grams per serving) than most standard dairy premium ice creams.

    However, the sugar content is the exact same as that of Ben & Jerry’s or Haagen Dazs — approximately 22 grams (or 5 teaspoons’ worth) per serving.

    Calorically speaking, a half cup serving of Purely Decadent’s chocolate flavor clocks in at 210, slightly lower than Haagen Dazs’ 270 calories and Ben & Jerry’s 260.

    However, dairy ice cream varieties, like Edy’s, offer 150 calories and 15 grams of sugar per half cup serving (the “light” version adds up to a mere 120 calories per cup.)

    My main rule with ice cream is that consumers should choose it based on taste preferences, not health.

    If the ice cream you happen to like is high in calories and saturated fat, be mindful of your portions or, even better, have it only at the ice cream parlor (rather than in your freezer.)

    If Purely Decadent is your treat of choice (I can understand why, all varieties are delicious!), savor and enjoy, but for all intents and purposes, when it comes to how much (and often) you eat, treat it like real ice cream.

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    In The News: Nutritional Sensationalism

    “Tofu ‘may raise risk of dementia,” BBC’s headline cries out.

    Well, read further and you discover that’s a bit of a stretch.

    A recent study published in the journal Dementias and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders discovered that “high tofu consumption – at least once a day – was associated with worse memory, particularly among [men and women over the age of 68.]”

    It’s worth pointing out that this study only had 719 participants, all of whom lived in the urban and rural regions of Java, Indonesia.

    In other words, this isn’t the type of research study that pulls too much weight.

    According to the research, “phytoestrogens – in high quantity – may actually heighten the risk of dementia” among adults over the age of 65.

    More specifically, it is believed that “phytoestrogens tend to promote growth among cells, not necessarily a good thing in the ageing brain.”

    Very well.

    But then we get to this jewel:

    “A third theory is that damage is caused not by the tofu, but by formaldehyde, which is sometimes used in Indonesia as a preservative.”

    I have read the study, which specifically mentions that formaldehyde “can induce oxidative damage to fontal cortex and hippocampal tissue.”

    Interestingly, damage to the the frontal cortex manifests as the classic Alzheimer’s action of performing an action repeatedly several times, as well as a deterioration in complex reasoning.

    Hippocampal tissue, meanwhile, is damaged by Alzheimer’s disease.

    I really dislike the way the media presents these studies because they leave out crucial details and often times unfairly demonize a food that doesn’t deserve such a horrid reputation.

    Even the lead researcher Professor Eef Hogervorst raises the “Don’t be too tough on tofu” flag.

    “[She] stressed that there was no suggestion that eating tofu in moderation posed a problem.”

    Lastly, the overwhelming majority of research of nutrition and dementia points to plant-based diets rich in phytonutrients and whole grains to be the most effective at reducing risk.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    One medium sweet potato offers 37 percent of the daily vitamin C requirement and 438 percent of the daily vitamin A requirement.

    This very well exemplifies why I don’t think everyone needs to be downing multivitamins every single day. Foods offer vitamins and minerals in plentiful amounts!

    This single food (in its mere 105-calorie package which also packs 4 grams of fiber) contains not only the above mentioned nutrients, but also a fair share of manganese (28%), copper (16%), potassium (15%), vitamin B6 (9%), and magnesium (8%).

    Part of the problem with the overly broad protein/fat/carbohydrate categorizing of foods so prevalent in the media is that nutrients get overlooked.

    Ask a random person on the street to name three popular diets and they’ll quickly spit them out. Then inquire if they can name 3 sources of vitamin C (other than oranges) and you’ll probably be met with an “Ummm…” and an answer ending with a question mark, rather than a period.

    It also doesn’t help that multivitamin companies have convinced millions of people that they are either deficient in many nutrients or don’t need to worry about them as long as they pop that pill.

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    In The News: A Case for Calories

    Oh, what a great morning!

    The weather is absolutely beautiful in New York City and I wake up to a story from Time Magazine in which Harvard School of Public Health Chair Walter Willett (pictured at left) reminds us what matters most when it comes to weight gain and weight loss — calories!

    I have never been a fan of the scapegoating targeted at specific nutrients.

    I do not think eating fat causes people to become fat, nor do I think carbohydrates are sent up on an express elevator from hell.

    This is why, if you are a reader of Small Bites, you know that the recipes I share are not “low fat” or “low carb.”

    “From many kinds of studies conducted over years, we are quite confident now that a calorie from fat will cause a similar amount of weight gain as a calorie from carbohydrate,” Willett affirms.

    And, no, he isn’t pulling this theory out of thin air; there are plenty of studies showing that diet composition isn’t as important as caloric intake in determining weight.

    “The best way to get to the bottom line is to look at long-term studies where we randomize people to a high-fat/low-carb diet or to a low-fat/high-carb diet and follow them for at least a year or more.

    That kind of study takes into account the possibility that one kind of diet provides more satiety; so, over the long run you would see more weight loss on that diet.

    But those studies — half a dozen or more such studies have been done — show quite clearly that the percentage of calories from fat has very little effect on long-term weight loss.”

    What Dr. Willett does stress is that the quality of fats and carbohydrates are important (i.e.: whole grains, monounsaturated fats, and Omega-3 fatty acids are nutritionally superior to refined grains, saturated fats, and trans fats).

    Let’s cap this off with another great quote: “We’ve now looked at over 250,000 men and women for up to 30 years, and we [also] haven’t seen that the percentage of calories from fat or from carbohydrates in your diet makes any difference in relation to heart attacks, various cancers, or stroke.”

    Let the Gary Taubes fanclub hatemail begin…

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    In The News: California Dreamin’ Becomes A Reality

    A spirited high five to California (with a special mention to Assemblyman Tony Mendoza of Los Angeles) for being thisclose to banning trans fats throughout the entire state.

    Not surprisingly, “restaurant groups have offered a lukewarm response.”

    Some further details:

    Mendoza’s bill would require restaurants, hospitals and facilities with food-preparation areas to remove oils, shortenings and margarines with trans fats by Jan. 1, 2010.”

    Bakers get an extra year so as to have sufficient time to find suitable substitutes for pastries, breads, and other goods.

    I particularly love this caveat: “The bill exempts public school cafeterias, which must be trans-fat free under a law that takes effect January 1.”

    Some legislators are clutching at their pearlstrings and attempting to make the feeble argument that this law takes away consumers’ freedom.

    How, exactly? Trans-fat-free baked goods taste exactly the same as those containing trans fats.

    It’s not as if muffins, bagels, and donuts will cease to exist.

    Besides, let’s remember that partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) are a relatively new invention. They were not in the food supply in the 1940s, yet baked goods were produced on a daily basis.

    Although the elimination of trans fats is progress, remember that a trans-fat-free donut has just as many calories and sugar as one with trans fats.

    This is by no means a green light to consume baked goods in higher quantities.

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    In The News: A Case for Calories

    Oh, what a great morning!

    The weather is absolutely beautiful in New York City and I wake up to a story from Time Magazine in which Harvard School of Public Health Chair Walter Willett (pictured at left) reminds us what matters most when it comes to weight gain and weight loss — calories!

    I have never been a fan of the scapegoating targeted at specific nutrients.

    I do not think eating fat causes people to become fat, nor do I think carbohydrates are sent up on an express elevator from hell.

    This is why, if you are a reader of Small Bites, you know that the recipes I share are not “low fat” or “low carb.”

    “From many kinds of studies conducted over years, we are quite confident now that a calorie from fat will cause a similar amount of weight gain as a calorie from carbohydrate,” Willett affirms.

    And, no, he isn’t pulling this theory out of thin air; there are plenty of studies showing that diet composition isn’t as important as caloric intake in determining weight.

    “The best way to get to the bottom line is to look at long-term studies where we randomize people to a high-fat/low-carb diet or to a low-fat/high-carb diet and follow them for at least a year or more.

    That kind of study takes into account the possibility that one kind of diet provides more satiety; so, over the long run you would see more weight loss on that diet.

    But those studies — half a dozen or more such studies have been done — show quite clearly that the percentage of calories from fat has very little effect on long-term weight loss.”

    What Dr. Willett does stress is that the quality of fats and carbohydrates are important (i.e.: whole grains, monounsaturated fats, and Omega-3 fatty acids are nutritionally superior to refined grains, saturated fats, and trans fats).

    Let’s cap this off with another great quote: “We’ve now looked at over 250,000 men and women for up to 30 years, and we [also] haven’t seen that the percentage of calories from fat or from carbohydrates in your diet makes any difference in relation to heart attacks, various cancers, or stroke.”

    Let the Gary Taubes fanclub hatemail begin…

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    You Ask, I Answer: Vital Cookies

    I found this Canadian cookie company, and I have to say, I am completely addicted to their whole oat and cranberry cookies.

    Two cookies (26 g, they’re pretty small) [add up to] 120 calories, 5 g of fat (0.5 g saturated), 80 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrates with 2 g of fiber and 2 g of protein.

    Are these cookies worth how excited I am over them, or are they just as terrible as other cookies?

    – Kate Redfern
    (Location Unknown)

    The exciting thing here isn’t so much the figures you mention in your question (yes, you could potentially do worse, but this isn’t precisely a health food), but the fact that you feel satisfied eating just two 60-calorie cookies!

    The problem with cookies isn’t that some varieties offer 500 calories in that same size (in this case, 26 grams, which is slightly less than one ounce,) it’s the fact that people have a very hard time just having one… or two… or three… or six.

    I must say — it is quite refreshing to know that a 120 calorie package of cookies is available for sale. Figures it’s not a product made in the US of A.

    Anytime I walk into a deli in New York City and jonesing for a cookie I am faced with frisbee sized concoctions (closer to 100 grams!) that pack 400 – 500 calories a pop.

    Keep in mind, I am not disappointed that these cookies aren’t offering more nutrition. Nor do I think you should be seeking out “healthier cookies.”

    I don’t think every single morsel of food we eat needs to be rich in phytoestrogens, high in fiber, and devoid of added sugars.

    If these cookies are a treat in a mostly healthy and well-rounded diet, go ahead and enjoy them!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Book Recommendations

    Is there a current diet/cookbook you can recommend for health and weight loss?

    – Greg (last name withheld)
    (City withheld), IA

    I don’t like the term “diet book,” so let’s make this a list of cookbooks and “health books”, shall we?

    Books that teach actual nutrition principles and lifelong healthy eating patterns are more useful than the latest diet fad telling you to clear your cupboards of anything with sugar and spend the first two weeks on “phase/wave” one, where you basically spend 14 days craving all the foods you are now FORBIDDEN to even have a single bite of.

    Anyhow, What To Eat by Marion Nestle is a great book for anyone looking to delve deeper into the food industry and how marketing and advertisement play a huge role in what we are eating.

    Don’t be confused by the title — this book does not tell you what to eat to lose weight. However, it helps you separate marketing hype from reality, a very useful skill to have when navigating the extensive supermarket aisles.

    Lisa Young’s The Portion Teller is a fascinating read. Not only does it highlight the increasing “portion distortion” epidemic that has increased caloric intake over the past few decades, it also communicates a pleasant message. If you’re looking to lose weight, don’t think so much about WHAT you’re eating, but how much of it!

    I have mentioned Buff Dad on this website before (click here to read my interview with author Mike Levinson). I appreciate its “no nonsense” approach rooted in nutrition science as well as its particular tailoring to men (too many weight loss books specifically target a female demographic).

    Linda Arpino, MA, RD, CDN, released a wonderful book titled Eat Fit, Be Fit: Health and Weight Management Solutions (pictured right.) It explains nutrition concepts simply yet thoroughly, and provides over 250 healthy — and very tasty — recipes.

    I also think Eat This, Not That by the Men’s Health team is a great guide to have handy when it comes to eating fast food. It can help you replace a 1,200 calorie lunch with one containing 500 fewer calories!

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