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Archive for August, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Modified Corn Starch

What do you think of (modified) corn starch showing up on ingredient lists?

I know high fructose corn syrup is extremely concentrated in sugar and causes insulin spikes making one more prone to hunger/consuming more calories… what about corn starch?

I see this in a lot of foods and in Asian cuisine it’s used as a thickener in a lot of sauces.

– “Jenninat0r”
Via the blog

Modified cornstarch is basically an inexpensive way to keep tabs on moisture levels in a variety of foods.

It is mainly used as a gelling agent, as well as to ensure correct textures in foods that are frozen and then microwaved.

You will also generally spot it in fat-free (or reduced fat) dairy products as a thickening agent.

From a nutritional standpoint, it is harmless and, really, a “non issue.”

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You "Ask", I Answer: Fruit

I don’t think eliminating (or limiting significantly) fruit from one’s diet is such a terrible idea, IF fruits are replaced by vegetables.

When comparing nutritional data for 100g of broccoli to 100g of apple, for example, broccoli clearly wins out.

Broccoli has a bit less calories(18 cals less per 100g), less sugar (8g less) and significantly more of every vitamin and mineral than an apple.

Analyzing 100g of sweet red pepper yields similar advantages over the apple.

Sure, there are other fruits out there, but this brief comparison shows that by replacing fruits with veggies, one would not miss out on vitamins/minerals, would cut down on calories a bit, and would most likely feel fuller per gram consumed.

As far as phytochemicals are concerned, veggies have plenty to offer. When I make a salad, I usually make sure it’s as colorful as possible – greens (lettuce, spinach), tomatoes (red), bell peppers (red/yellow/orange/green), garlic, etc., so as to include a variety of phytonutrients.

I wouldn’t swear off fruit for the rest of my life, but I can see how a dieter would feel she’s getting more bang for her calories out of veggies vs. fruits, especially on a 1200 calorie diet.

Just my two cents.

– Anna
Via the blog

The problem with the comparison like the one you make above (between apples and broccoli) is that it has very little, if any, significance.

Okay, so roughly three ounces of apples contain 18 less calories than roughly three ounces of broccoli. What is someone supposed to do with that information? Pack broccoli in their bag instead of an apple for an afternoon snack?

The sugar you mention is insignificant, since the apple contains fiber which helps stabilize blood glucose and insulin levels.

Besides, other comparisons would “show” that fruits are “better” than vegetables.

An ounce of raspberries, for instance, contains 15 calories and 1.8 grams of fiber. An ounce of sweet potato, meanwhile, provides 26 calories and 0.9 grams of fiber.

And if you compare 100 grams of bananas with 100 grams of raw cucumber, you’ll find that the bananas offer more vitamin C, fiber, vitamin B6, folate, manganese, potassium, and magnesium and only 70 more calories.

That doesn’t make raspberries “better” than sweet potatoes, or bananas worth eating and cucumbers “useless.”

All fruits and vegetables (yes, that includes potatoes!) are healthy. Shunning particular ones under the guise of “more nutrition” is very silly. There is definitely room for fruit in all diets.

By the way, Britney Spears mentions shunning fruit, but in the same statement says she eats avocados. Back to Nutrition 101 for her!

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Health Store Hazards

In some situations, supplements can be helpful (i.e.: DPA and EHA Omega-3 fatty acids for pregnant women who do not eat fish; vitamin D supplements for most people in Northern climates).

However, the supplement market mostly preys on consumer fear (“There aren’t enough nutrients in the food I’m eating”) and ignorance (“I won’t gain muscle unless I down 300 grams of protein a day.”)

You certainly can’t rely on “health stores” for advice!

Watch the latest video on the YouTube Small Bites channel for more information.

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Numbers Game: Big Breakfast

Au Bon Pain’s “sausage, egg, and cheddar on an asiago bagel” breakfast menu item contains _______ calories and _________ percent of a day’s worth of saturated fat (for a 2,000 calorie diet).

a) 810/115%
b) 612/81%

c) 739/150%

d) 531/92%

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

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You Ask, I Answer: Nutella

Since returning from a recent trip to Paris, I have been craving this [Italian chocolate and hazelnut spread].

Could you touch on its positives and negatives?

I feel guilty eating it.

– Robin Cameron
New York, NY

Though Nutella has a cult following in the United States, it is as common as peanut butter in many European countries.

The ingredients tell quite a tale.

They are — in descending order of predominance by weight — sugar, modified palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa powder, skim milk, lecithin, vanilla, and reduced mineral whey.

Interesting fact: vegetable oils replace modified palm oil in Nutella sold outside of the United States.

Meanwhile, this is what the nutrition label reveals:

Nutrition Facts For 1 serving (2 Tablespoons)

Calories: 200
Saturated fat: 2 grams
Sugar: 20 grams (5 teaspoons)

We are clearly looking at a dessert treat without much redeeming nutritional value.

That is not to say it can’t be enjoyed in a certain context.

One tablespoon of Nutella (say, spread over a toasted slice of whole grain bread or some whole wheat crispbread) only adds 100 calories to your day.

So in that sense, it is possible to enjoy a little Nutella.

I firmly believe that in order to form healthy eating habits, guilt needs to be taken out of the equation.

Guilt over enjoying decadent food accomplishes nothing but making you more vulnerable to extreme dieting, which in turn usually sets you up for bingeing in the future.  Next thing you know, the guilt cycle starts all over again!

To prevent the risk of starting off with a tablespoon and coming back for 6 more throughout the course of the night, make Nutella a post-dinner treat, rather than a pre-dinner snack.

Since you will feel fuller after finishing dinner than an hour before you sit down at the dining table, this reduces the risk of trying to quash your hunger with a delectable sweet spread that is fine in certain amounts.

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You Ask, I Answer: Salba

Do you know anything about Salba?

It seems to be getting quite popular (I accidentally ordered a raspberry salba square at my local coffee shop the other day), and I’m not sure whether it’s a fad or not.

Is it actually a whole food or is it processed?

Where does it come from?

Is it as good as the makers of it claim?

– Meredith (Last name unknown)
Via the blog

The folks at Core Naturals sure are working hard to hype up Salba.

No clue what I’m talking about? Let me break it down.

According to manufacturer Core Naturals, the salba seed is pretty much the greatest food ever created.

Dubbed by the company as “nature’s perfect whole food,” the press release pushes it as a one-stop shop for some of the highest quantities of fiber, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, folate, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Then there are statements such as this:

“Because of Salba’s ability to absorb several times its weight in water, it may also help to curb hunger.”

That’s wonderful, but that’s simply what all soluble fibers do – the same ones found in oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

Core Naturals even make reference to one nutrition PhD at a Toronto-based university who, after conducting research, confirmed that Salba’s advertised properties truly exist.

You know something is slightly off, though, when the bragging rights about the doctor go something like this: “[He works at] the same university where in 1921, Dr. Frederic Banting discovered insulin and won the Nobel Prize for Medicine.”

Errrr…. okay?

Besides, there is something very suspect about having only one professional analyze your food. If Core Naturals is so sure that what they have is — for all intents and purposes — manna, why not send it out to a variety of independent food laboratories to have their goldmine validated?

Anyhow, Salba is just a white chia seed – with the exact same nutritional profile of all other chia seeds (which are usually black).

So, yes, it is an unprocessed whole food, in the same way that fruits, vegetables, nuts, and a plethora of other seeds are.

Don’t get me wrong. Chia seeds have a neat nutritional profile – they are a good source of fiber, phosphorus, manganese and Alpha Linolenic Acid – but by no means is Salba a powerfood, nor does it offer the same Omega-3 profile as 28 ounces of salmon (as Core Naturals advertises.)

That is a very easy statement to debunk, by the way. Remember, salmon offers EPA and DHA, two Omega-3 fatty acids not present in seeds.

This situation with Salba and Core Naturals would be paramount to a company patenting Granny Smith Apples, calling them something different and claiming they were nutritionally superior any other apples.

Considering that Salba retails for anywhere from two to three times as much as standard chia seeds, I don’t really see a reason for purchasing it.

File it under “F” for fad. No, make that “FF” for… flimsy fad.

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Numbers Game: Answer

Next time you’re at Chipotle, keep in mind that you can save 230 calories and 65 percent of a day’s worth of saturated fat by passing on the cheese and sour cream.

The main factor behind these high numbers is that what should really be a “dollop” of sour cream turns out being about 6 to 8 tablespoons’ worth, depending on how scoop-happy your particular server is feeling that day.

Although Chipotle’s mix and match system makes it quite easy to end up with calorie and sodium-laden meals (a burrito with chicken, rice, beans, sour cream, cheese, corn salsa, and tomato salsa adds up to 1,130 calories and 125% of the daily recommended sodium limit,) it is also possible to enjoy a nutritious meal that doesn’t go quite as overboard.

For instance: substitute the above for three crispy tacos with black beans, onions and peppers, tomato salsa, cheese, and guacamole and you end up with 680 calories and 80% of a day’s worth of sodium.

Alhough quite high on the sodium scale, it is 40% lower than the first option!

The best news? That meal alone delivers a whooping 25 grams of fiber — 50% more than the first burrito option I presented.

That high fiber content, along with 24 grams of protein, and plentiful fats in the guacamole make for a satisfying and filling meal (I particularly point that out because I occassionally come across some people who equate meatless meals with birdfood that leaves you feeling hungry half an hour after finishing them.)

And whereas the chicken burrito adds up to 83 percent of the saturated fat limit, the crispy vegetarian taco shells lower that figure to 50 percent.

Surprisingly, three crispy taco shells offer 110 less calories and SIX HUNDRED less milligrams of sodium than the soft tortilla used to construct a burrito.

Easiest way to cut back on sodium? Stick to just one salsa.

The mild tomato and corn salsas each offer 500 – 600 milligrams (a quarter of a day’s worth) of sodium per scoopful.

Another easy way to cut back on calories is by getting all ingredients in a bowl, rather than a taco or tortilla. At the very least, you’ll save an additional 180 calories.

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Celebrity Diet Secrets: Britney Spears

I could care less how a celebrity dresses on the red carpet or how their hair looks when they’re buying Advil at their local drugstore at 1 AM.

I do, however, like to keep tabs on what they are telling the media about nutrition and health.

Not so much because I think I’ll stumble upon some revolutionary new concept, but because many times their eating habits and “tips” — which many people often apply to their own lives — are far off the mark.

Take Britney Spears’ latest statement to OK! Magazine:

I’m the healthiest I’ve been all my life.

My diet has a lot to do with my getting into shape. I have no sugar. I don’t eat fruit or even fruit juice because of the sugar.

I eat chicken and salmon and rice. I eat avocados. I’ll have egg whites for breakfast and sometimes turkey burgers for lunch. I try to do just 1,200 calories a day. It may sound like it’s not much, but it’s actually a lot of food if you eat the right things.”

Some of those concepts are NOT OK with me.

Let’s start with the positives. She has clearly realized that a daily intake of Cheetos and Frappuccinos won’t do much to help her get back in shape.

Additionally, avocados and salmon are a great way to get healthy fats.

Now, onto the “not so great” attributes.

I’d like to think Britney is pointing out just a few of the foods she eats, rather than her daily staples. Otherwise, she is on the fast track to boredom with such a small selection.

And, hello, where’s the fiber?

My main frustration, however, stems from her claim that, in order to keep a sugar-free diet, Britney has cut out fruits and fruit juice.

Fruit juice, I can understand. After all, most fruit juices are simply sugar (in this case, fructose) water with vitamins. Since they are in liquid form, they don’t do much in terms of satiety, either.

But giving up fruit? I can’t think of any reason to do that.

Think about it for a minute. Doesn’t it sound slightly ridiculous to say, “I’m eating healthy, so no more fruit in MY fridge!”?

A medium sized apple only contains 90 calories, but also provides fiber, phytonutrients, and a variety of vitamins.

Please don’t mistake that recent study about fructose intake and weight gain to mean you should never have fruit.

The fiber in whole fruit offsets the sharp rise in blood glucose you get when you drink pure fruit juice juice.

Besides, a whole orange provides significantly lower levels of fructose than a glass of OJ.

So, Britney, please don’t fear. A banana in the morning or some kiwi in the afternoon will not lead you astray.

Thank you to reader Kristin MacBride for sending along Britney’s quote.

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Administrative Announcements: About the Author

Since Small Bites was launched in April of 2007, I have gotten several e-mails from readers wanting to know a little more about me (besides the fact that I am on the Registered-Dietitian track and a Clinical Nutrition Master’s student New York University.)

Alright, today is the day.

We’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming shortly, but allow me to share a few anecdotes with you.

Nutrition is not a subject that jumped out at me from a course booklet I flipped through one boring Sunday afternoon.

Nor is it something I decided to study because “it sounded interesting.”

I decided to pursue nutrition as a career because of the powerful effect it had on me.

I do not have some incredible “I used to be 150 pounds heavier than I am now” makeover story, but my food journey surely has been interesting.

Family dinners at the Bellatti household were always healthy (my ancestry is Mediterranean, so olive oil and fish were staples,) but my meals away from home were an entirely different story.

Consider my middle school years.

I would arrive to school every day with a packed lunch from home.

At around 10:30 AM, when we had “snack time,” I would munch on whatever treat my mother had packed for me that day (a small Ziploc bag of chips, or a single serving pack of cookies).

When lunch time came around, I would dispose of my remaining lunchbox contents (a sandwich, baby carrots, a piece of fruit) in the nearest garbage pail and instead purchase two chocolate ice cream bars.

Oh, and a soda. And maybe even a slice of pizza, if I had enough money leftover.

Then, I would get home and have another can of soda.

Dinner was healthy, but late at night — while my parents were in slumber land — I would usually tiptoe into the kitchen, grab another can of soda and bag of chips, retreat to my room, and enjoy a midnight snack.

Fiber? Sodium? Vitamins? Minerals? I didn’t have the faintest clue.

Given that dietary recall, you may think I had to be rolled to school.

Quite the opposite — I was skinny as a rail. And I absolutely hated it.

I also never quite felt in tip top shape. Physical fitness was the last thing on my mind.

Although I went pescatarian at 16 (a status I maintain to this day,) I still wasn’t eating healthy.

Mozarella sticks, French fries, pizza, ice cream, and potato chips perfectly fit into my plan!

Finally, at 17 years of age, I approached my parents and told them I was interested in seeing a nutritionist.

Wow! Between her suggestions and a gym membership, within 4 months I felt like I had never felt before.

I had energy! And some muscle tone! And previously semi-permanent pesky colds and sore throats were a thing of the past!

That was my initiation to nutrition, and my passion for it only grew stronger with time.

It was during my undergraduate years — as a journalism and gender & sexuality studies major at New York University — that I began discovering the joys of tofu, whole grains, vegetables, plain yogurt, tempeh, seitan, edamame, fresh fruit, and cuisines from all over the world.

Finally, in 2005, I realized nutrition was no longer just “a hobby”; it was my future.

I was committed to not only learning as much about it as I could, but also serving as a mouthpiece, vouching for its relevance and importance.

I wanted to be thoroughly trained to serve as a trustworthy guide in the treacherous jungle that is nutrition.

And, so, here we are. I thank you so much for being part of this ongoing journey.

My main reason for sharing this is to illustrate that no matter how horrible your eating habits may be now, change and growth are by no means out of the question.

My nutritional shifts certainly did not happen overnight. They were gradual, and I made some mistakes along the way (like shunning as many carbs as possible in the Summer of 2004!).

The most amazing thing is that the foods that once made me drool don’t even register on my radar anymore.

My adolescence was defined by Doritos and PopTarts. Back then, I certainly never thought my idea of a delicious breakfast would be Greek yogurt with sliced bananas, chopped walnuts, ground flaxseed, oat bran, and wheat germ!

PS: An extra tidbit about me — I’m a big fan of The Soup on E! (that’s me with host Joel McHale in the accompanying photo. Click on it to see a MUCH larger version.)

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A Sprinkle of Health

As regular Small Bites readers know, I’m a huge fan of what I like to call “nutritional sprinkling”.

A tablespoon of ground flaxseeds in a smoothie, a tablespoon of wheat germ with yogurt, and a few teaspoons of oat bran in your cereal are wonderful ways of gradually integrating substantial nutrition to your day.

Now I introduce you to another all-star on my sprinkling team — nutritional yeast.

Many vegans are familiar with it — for the right reason!

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast naturally loaded with B vitamins and usually fortified with vitamin B12 (the one vegans have the hardest time getting in their food.)

Even better — two tablespoons of it provide a whopping 5 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein, a practically non-existent 30 milligrams of sodium, and 375 milligrams of potassium (as much as a small banana)!

As if that weren’t enough, it’s also a great source of zinc and selenium.

If you have never tried nutritional yeast, I can best describe it as a delectable nutty/parmesan cheese-like flavor.

As far as initial experiences go, I recommend sprinkling it over popcorn, in soups and stir-fries, or over your favorite pasta dish.

Although most conventional supermarkets don’t carry nutritional yeast, you can find it at Whole Foods, or your local health store.

It is by no means a wallet buster — a 5 ounce (that’s plenty!) container of Red Star Nutritional Yeast, for instance, retails for $5.19.

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In The News: Recession & Health

Today’s Los Angeles Times features an article suggesting that recession may lead to better health, due to people cutting down on risky health behaviors.

Although “medical science has accumulated a solid body of research showing that poverty and unemployment lead to higher rates of obesity and more cases of diabetes, asthma, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, [and] some cancers,” recent economic research is concluding differently.

“This is about the macro picture, the health of entire societies. And their statistics show that as economics worsen, traffic accidents go down, as do industrial accidents, obesity, alcohol consumption and smoking. Population-wide, even deaths from heart disease go down during recessions.”

I’m not very convinced — at least not as far as the United States is concerned.

Although healthy eating can be financially viable, we are talking about a culture where instant access to an inexpensive meal often trumps its nutritional value. Consequently, picking up KFC on the way home or a $1 donut for breakfast is often chosen over spending 10 or 15 minutes in the kitchen whipping something up.

It also doesn’t help that at many fast food establishments, an additional 50 or 75 cents can increase a meal by several hundred calories.

My particular concern is that economic recessions — which include higher unemployment rates — can be emotionally taxing.

And, as is the case with finances, eating is very much tied to emotions.

The formula is rather simple in my mind — the worse you feel, the worse you eat. And the worse you eat, the worse you feel.

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Panko Crumbs Power Up

Next time you’re looking to make a breaded dish (i.e.: tofu, salmon, flounder, chicken, etc.) forget standard breadcrumb products loaded with sodium and void of whole grains

Instead, reach for Ian’s whole wheat panko crumbs.

FYI — the link I just provided lets you see what retailers in your state offer Ian’s products.

Panko (Japanese for “bread crumbs”) provides a crisper, coarser crunch and texture than regular bread crumbs.

And, the fact that this particular variety is 100% whole wheat is a big plus.

Consider this. A quarter cup of Progresso bread crumbs contain 220 milligrams of sodium. Ian’s whole wheat panko? A mere 25.

Remember that you can enjoy delicious, crunchy breaded products without deep frying.

Let’s assume it’s flounder night at your home.

Once every piece of fish is appropriately covered in crumbs, place them all on a cookie sheet and lightly spray each one with Pam (or brush with a teaspoon of olive oil).

Then, simply place the cookie sheet in the oven (heated at 425 degrees) for approximately 20 minutes.

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You Ask, I Answer: Gelato

Are gelato (pictured, right) and ice cream the same thing with a different name?

What about in terms of calories?

– Sara Stevens
(city withheld), FL

Although gelato is quickly becoming popular in the United States, it is what many countries (such Argentina) sell in their “ice cream” parlors (“true” ice cream is only available in pints at supermarkets)!

The main differences between the two is that what is known as “ice cream” in the United States has a higher milk fat percentage and more air than gelato.

Also, gelato usually does not contain cream as an ingredient.

I am partial to gelato’s soft texture and sharp flavors (the lack of air makes for a denser product), since it is what I grew up with in Argentina.

As far as calories are concerned, this is a tough call due to the multitude of ice cream and gelato flavors out there.

The differences are by no means astronomical, though — gelato is still made with whole milk and sugar.

Rather than get hung up on numbers, though, enjoy whichever of the two you like best in a small size.

FYI: gelato is easier to keep caloric tabs on, since, apart from the occasional almond, it does not contain mix-ins like brownie bits, fudge-covered cookie pieces, or chocolate candies — all of which can add an additional 100 or 150 calories to a scoop of ice cream!

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Numbers Game: Skip and Save

Next time you’re at Chipotle, keep in mind that you can save ______ calories and ______________ of a day’s worth of saturated fat by passing on the cheese and sour cream.

a) 92/19 percent
b) 137/34 percent
c) 194/51 percent
d) 230/65 percent

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

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Advertising Gone Nuts!

A visit to my local CVS led to quite an interesting discovery — Planters’ new “NUTritious” line of products, advertised as “a distinctive line of snacking options that focus on specific wellness needs, all built with a better you in mind.”

How sweet. Let’s look beyond the sensitive copy, though.

Planters has always sold a variety of nuts — good sources of fiber, heart-healthy fats, and nutrients like vitamin E, selenium, and magnesium.

So, nothing is broken and in need of getting fixed.

I was very curious to see how exactly this new line would improve over products as “non junky” as peanuts or cashews.

Let’s begin.

First up — the Heart Healthy Mix, which “may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Already my “BS” meter went off. Not only can that statement be applied to any nut product, it’s also the kind of claim that is rally too vague to be of any use.

Sure, nuts may reduce the risk of heart disease assuming that they are part of a diet low in saturated and trans fats and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. And that you don’t smoke. And that you’re not 50 pounds overweight. I could go on…

What is so special about this product I do not know. It is simply a medley of nuts (almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, etc.) just as heart-healthy as the generic CVS brand.

Next we have the South Beach Diet Recommended Mix, consisting of cashews, almonds, and macadamia nuts.

What makes these three nuts more South Beach Diet “friendly” than, say, hazelnuts and walnuts? Beats me.

The third product in the NUTrition line is the Energy Mix — “a natural source of energy.” So is Planters claiming that the other products don’t provide energy?

This one includes a medley of nuts along with chocolate covered soynuts and honey roasted sesame sticks.

Seeing as how all calories are a source of “natural energy” (you could make the case that a 1,200 calorie triple milkshake is “a natural source of energy,”) I have absolutely no clue what the point of this product is.

The Digestive Health Mix (I hope you are rolling your eyes along with me by this point) “keeps everything moving” by combining “pistachios, almonds, tart cranberries, crunchy granola clusters, and sweet cherries.”

Fair enough — but the fiber in any of the other mixes (or any serving of nuts, for that matter, no matter what the brand) also keeps things moving.

What is completely absurd is the presence of high fructose corn syrup. How does that fall into Planters’ creating this with a better “me” in mind?

I suppose companies will always be looking for the next great way to boost sales, but whoever thought up this new Planters line is, quite frankly, a nut!

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