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    Archive for September, 2008

    Also Going Bananas? Teddy Grahams!

    I suppose bananas are having “the best week ever.”

    A few hours after posting about the inane “morning banana diet” that has taken grip of Japanese dieters, I was browsing the aisles of a local supermarket when I came across… banana Teddy Grahams (so new they aren’t even mentioned on the Teddy Graham website!).

    For those of you visiting Small Bites from outside the United States, all you need to know is that Teddy Grahams are teddy bear-shaped cookies that are a big hit with young children.

    Although the actual product may be for kids, the advertising sure targets the parent/caretaker contingent.

    I noticed that plastered on each of these boxes, in very large font, was the statement: “Made with real fruit!”

    Oh, goodie. Real fruit! Nutrition! Vitamins! Minerals! Health!

    (Insert sound of record coming to abrupt halt HERE.)

    Not so fast.

    Sure enough, the third ingredient — before high fructose corn syrup, but after sugar and white flour — was dried bananas.

    “Well, they’re trying to make their cookies more nutritious,” some of you may think.

    Except that there is absolutely no point of putting real fruit into a product that is going to undergo that much processing.

    Remember, the more processed a food, the more nutrients it loses. This is why eating a baked potato with its skin provides more nutrition than a handful of Pringles.

    This particular flavor of Teddy Grahamas offers 80 milligrams of potassium and almost twice that amount of sodium (food label hint: the more processed a food product, the higher the sodium and the lower the potassium.)

    Keep in mind that a small (six-inch long) banana provides 362 milligrams of potassium!

    In essence, these dehydrated bananas are simply there to add flavor as well as an illusion of health and the “made with real fruit” tagline.

    If parents are looking to make a typically cookie-filled snack time healthier, I recommend gving a child half a serving of regular Teddy Grahams (that’s approximately 10 teddies) and a small banana.

    There is no reason why children should not be exposed to real pieces of fruit, especially when they have fun mushy textures.


    Say What?: Japanese Dieters Go Bananas

    And you thought the Master Cleanse diet was as ridiculous as it could get?

    CBS-3 in Philadelphia is reporting that Japan’s “morning banana diet” fad has led to shortages of the yellow-skinned tropical fruit.

    What exactly does the morning banana diet entail, you ask?

    Oh, just the usual nonsense.

    Apparently, you can eat whatever you want –in unlimited quantities, no less — for lunch and dinner (although dinner should preferably be no later than 6 p.m.) as long as you consume one raw, unfrozen banana for breakfast.

    That’s right, feel free to wolf down cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes — the bananas will magically help you lose weight!

    Two other rules — you may only drink water and exercise is completely optional!

    The diet’s “official website,” which credits a “white-collar worked named Hitoshi Watanabe” as creating the diet, provides some laughable theories as to why this weight-loss plan “works.”

    My favorites?

    * “Bananas contain enzymes that assist in digestion, speeding it up and thus reducing the amount of time the intestines need to work to digest food, resulting in a metabolism more suited to losing weight. These enzymes only exist if the bananas are eaten in their raw state.

    Oh, look, the digestive enzyme myth again!

    Humans already have necessary digestive enzymes; we do not need any from our food supply.

    Additionally, speeding up digestion sounds like a dieter’s nightmare, as it would mean faster gastric emptying (and thus feeling hungry more quickly!)

    * “Laying off the manditory[sic] exercise and allowing afternoon sweets reduces stress, which would otherwise lead to overeating.

    There’s a new one! So popping bonbons at four in the afternoon creates as many “feel good” endorphins as lifting some weights or jogging?

    Who knew nutrition could be so comical?


    In The News: California Counts Calories

    Congratulations to California on being the first state to pass a calorie labeling law.

    Unlike other cities and counties that have passed a similar bill, California is taking a two-step approach.

    First, “beginning July 1, 2009, [restaurants] will be required to provide brochures containing nutritional information including number of calories and grams of saturated fat.”

    Calorie information on menu boards, meanwhile, must be implemented by January 1, 2011.

    “The new law applies to restaurants with 20 or more locations in California, which includes more than 17,000 eateries.”


    Numbers Game: Answer

    A 16 ounce can of energy drink SoBe Adrenaline Rush contains 16.5 teaspoons of added sugar — all in the form of high fructose corn syrup.


    By comparison, 16 ounces of Coca Cola offer 13.5 teaspoons of added sugar.

    And since this energy drink — like all others — does not contain fat or protein, its entire caloric content (264 calories) is derived from high fructose corn syrup.

    We’re basically talking about soda infused with caffeine, amino acids, and vitamin B12.

    I find that many people are unaware of the caloric punch these drinks can pack.

    For example, I am often greeted with surprise when I tell someone that one SoBe Adrenaline Rush drink and two shots of hard liquor add up to 460 calories.


    In The News: The Dark Side of Calorie Labeling?

    How is this for an interesting spin on calorie labeling?

    “After students and parents raised concerns about displayed calorie counts leading to or worsening eating disorders, Harvard University Dining Services removed the index cards detailing nutritional information from dining halls this year,” CNN.com reports.

    Interestingly, Harvard was going above and beyond, listing calorie, serving size, carbohydrate, and fat information for their dining hall menu options.

    Although these values can still be found on the dining hall’s website, they are no longer displayed at the actual eating establishment.

    This decision makes absolutely no sense to me.

    I simply do not see the effectiveness of removing a public health information service that has the potential to benefit a large percentage of the student body because it can be harmful to a smaller contingent of individuals (although eating disorder rates in college campuses are high, we are certainly talking about less than half of the total population.)

    Besides, people living with eating disorders are usually hyper aware of caloric content out of their own valition.

    If anything, they are more likely to seek out that information online than someone with a passing interest in maybe, perhaps, somehow wanting to manage their weight more efficiently.

    Someone struggling with anorexia is already following an extremely regimented and restrictive diet.

    It is highly probable that they walk into a dining hall with a pre-established harsh caloric limit on their mind (rather than finding out as they stand in line that, oh, the sandwich they were thinking of getting adds up to 900 calories.)

    Although “Dining Services will continue to promote healthy eating among students through forums and information sessions,” it is a shame that calorie displays will be eliminated.

    If displaying actual numbers is out of the question, why not develop a color-coded range?

    For instance, a yellow sticker next to an item signifies “0 – 200” calories, a blue one signifies “200 – 400,” etc.

    And if the administration is looking to convey an overall message of wellness rather than strict calorie counting, how about displaying health-promoting banners and signs throughout the dining hall (i.e.: “Whole wheat pasta is a great source of fiber,” “Olive oil is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats,” etc.)?

    What is your opinion?


    You Ask, I Answer: Hydrogenated/Interesterified Fats

    Thanks for explaining all about trans fats.

    I have a question, though.

    I have recently seen hydrogenated oils on Crisco food labels (not “partially hydrogenated”, but “hydrogenated”.)

    Are these also trans fats?

    — Patrick Altug
    Boulder, CO

    No, they are not.

    Whereas the partial hydrogenation of a liquid oil transforms its chemical structure in such a way that yields a solid, yet pliable texture (i.e.: easy to spread on toast,) full hydrogenation results in a solid mass that you can’t do much with.

    So, in an attempt to remove trans fat from their formulations, many products will interesterify fats.

    In this process, solid oils and liquid oils are combined in vats, hydrogenated, broken down to their most basic form (triglycerides) and later manipulated/reconstructed in order to achieve a desired consistency.

    Unfortunately, these fats come at a price.

    Recent research studies in the United Kingdom and Malaysia have found that interesterified fats decrease HDL (“good” cholesterol), raise blood sugar, and, perhaps more worrying, suppress the secretion of insulin.

    Why the worry?

    Raising blood sugar while lowering levels of insulin (the hormone that moves glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells) is certainly a rather powerful risk factor for the development of Type 2 diabetes.

    Although many people roll their eyes at this bit of news and often make statements like, “Are these dietitians EVER satisfied with anything? If it’s not trans fats, it’s something else,” there is an important lesson in all of this — stick with unadulterated fats!

    Whether partially or fully hydrogenated, those fat molecules have been chemically altered.

    A diet rich in minimally processed foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and heart-healthy fats) won’t include either type of hydrogenated oils.


    Crunch Away!

    A few days ago, a friend was picking my brain for portable, nutritious, and tasty snack ideas.

    He specifically mentioned that while he enjoys the taste of my standby bar recommendations (Lara, Clif Nectar, Gnu Flavor & Fiber, Pure), they are all missing “crunch” — his favorite texture.

    Crackers don’t really do it, he explained, because he likes a tinge of sweetness to his snacks.

    I suggested Kashi TLC (Tasty Little Crunchies) granola bars — and was just told it’s exactly the type of snack my friend was looking for!

    One individually wrapped container offers two bars and provides:

    180 calories
    4 grams of fiber (3 of which are soluble)

    8 grams (2 teaspoons) of added sugar
    6 grams of protein

    100% whole grains

    I specifically point out the presence of soluble fiber as that is the type of fiber that has been linked with reductions in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.


    You Ask, I Answer: Trans Fat Labeling/Margarines

    I read somewhere that manufacturers can claim “no trans fat” only if there is absolutely [zero grams of] trans fat in the product. Is that true [or are there loopholes]?

    Also, are there new means of hydrogenation that don’t create trans fats?

    [I ask because] some margarines claim [to have] no trans fats [and I don’t see how that can be].

    — Hemi W.
    Via the blog

    Since “no trans fat,” “trans fat free,” and “0 grams of trans fat per serving” all fall under the same loophole (watch the latest Small Bites YouTube video for more information,) you can’t always trust what a food product’s packaging says.

    The best way to find out if a given food contains trans fats is to scan the ingredient list for “shortening” and/or any “partially hydrogenated” oils.

    As far as new margarine products that truly ARE trans-fat free, they are made by a process known as fractionation, in which liquid oils are chilled until a solid part crystallizes and then filtrated for food processing purposes.

    Although fractionation does not result in the formation of any trans fats, fractionated forms of oils have higher levels of saturated fat than their non-fractionated counterparts.

    I know, I know — it’s always something, right?

    The truth is, an additional gram of saturated fat in a serving of cookies is certainly the lesser evil to a gram of trans fat.

    But here’s the takeaway lesson. Processed foods – whether they contain trans fat or fractionated oils – are best consumed as outliers in (rather than central components of) our diets.


    In The News: Raw Redux

    Grrr. Here we go again.

    CNN.com is currently profiling 30-year-old Angela Stokes, who lost 160 pounds in 2 years as a result of going vegan and raw.

    As Stokes explains it, “it’s simple and natural, eating food straight from the earth. There’s no rocket science, no mystery. Once you understand the simple principle that no other animal in the wild eats cooked or processed foods, that’s it.”

    Although the article shares some of Stokes’ tips — she has authored books on raw dieting, despite limited nutrition knowledge — for interested readers (such as going “at least 50% raw,” a number that is thrown out there without any explanation), there is absolutely no mention of possible concerns when adopting such a way of eating.

    For example — why doesn’t the article mention that some nutrients in food are more available when cooked?

    Or that the reason why animals in the wild don’t eat cooked foods is because they simply don’t know how to start a fire or turn an oven on?

    Using wild animals to exemplify ideal dietary patterns is absurd.  My usual response to “wild animals don’t eat potatoes!” is “wild animals also don’t read books or drive cars, what’s your point?”

    Besides, if I put some broiled salmon or a splash of milk in a dish for my cat, you better believe he’s lapping that down in seconds, licking his whiskers, and meowing for more.  His body doesn’t have a problem digesting either of those foods.

    I also take issue with the idea that both a can of Pringes and a simple baked potato are categorized as “unhealthy” by most raw foodists by the mere fact that they are cooked foods.

    Dont’ get me wrong.  I enjoy making raw recipes at home, and have had some delicious dishes at raw restaurants, so this is far from an “anti-raw” rant.  I can honestly say that some of the most delicious dishes I have ever tasted  have been at raw restaurants.

    Additionally, many raw dishes are very healthy, since they use whole, nutrient-rich foods.  From a nutritional standpoint, a diet high in raw foods is absolutely fine.

    My gripe here isn’t that eating raw dishes is unhealthy, but rather that cooked food is not inherently unhealthy by virtue of being heated above 116 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Like many other weight-loss articles, this one completely overlooks the elephant in the room — calories!

    Going vegan and raw does not hold the magic key to weight loss. It’s simply that raw, vegan diets are higher in fiber (and healthy fats)  and lower in calories than the diet Angela used to have (“eating junk food all time.”)

    Therefore, these diets make it easy to feel satisfied with fewer calories.

    Angela could have still shed the weight while including a cup of yogurt, roasted sweet potatoes, or a brown rice and seitan stir fry in her eating plan.


    Numbers Game: Sugar Rush

    A 16 ounce can of energy drink SoBe Adrenaline Rush contains ______ teaspoons of added sugar — all in the form of high fructose corn syrup.

    a) 16.5
    b) 12

    c) 14

    d) 22.5

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


    You Ask, I Answer: McDonald’s

    While I do not refute that McDonald’s is not very appealing to me, do you think this article written by a “nutritional consult” has any value?

    — Kate Redfern
    Alberta, Canada

    The article Kate refers to is written by a “wellness educator” and nutrition consultant who argues that “[a] McDonald’s [hamburger] fills an empty space in your belly. It does nothing to nourish the cell, it is not a nutritious food.”

    The author comes to this conclusion after pointing out that a hamburger she purchased at the Golden Arches 12 years ago and has since kept at her home has not decayed one bit and looks exactly like one someone ordered 5 minutes ago.

    While that demonstrates that this hamburger contains plenty of preservatives, it does not negate its nutritional profile (which I will explain a few paragraphs later.)

    One particularly confusing part of her argument is that “a [McDonald’s] hamburger [in the United States] tastes exactly the same in China or some around the world place.”

    That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  My local juice bar has standardized recipes for their juices and smoothies (ie: 1 cup of almond milk + 1/2 cup frozen bananas + 1 TBSP almond butter, etc); that is part of a good business model.  I know that when I go to buy my green juice, it will taste a certain way.

    Standardized recipes and formulas are common practices in the restaurant business. They are there to ensure customer loyalty.  Sure, in some cases it means that 50 artificial ingredients are mixed together in a laboratory to make crop subsidy byproducts taste like real food; but in other cases, it’s simply a good business practice.

    While I do not disagree with the idea that McDonald’s food is heavily processed and not healthy, this notion that one of their hamburgers “do not nourish” is inaccurate (by the way, I’m still trying to figure out what the author means when she specifically mentions “cell nourishment.”)

    The plain and simple fact is that a McDonald’s beef patty contains iron, protein, B vitamins, and a little vitamin A. The bun, meanwhile, offers iron, folate, niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin.

    Is the hamburger high in sodium? Absolutely. Devoid of fiber? Yes — but that’s the case with ANY hamburger, not just a McDonald’s one.

    And, yes, the sourcing of ingredients is questionable, and one can rightfully assume that a good percentage of the ingredients are genetically modified.  I am by no means saying McDonald’s is “healthy” and no different than an organic grass-fed beef patty in a whole-grain, organic bun.

    What I do object to, though, are articles that make it seem as if a McDonald’s hamburger will sit in your colon for 12 years, or that it offers zero nutrients.  There is plenty to object to about McDonald’s; no need to resort to so much hyperbole.


    Administrative Announcements: Internet Explorer Issues

    Dear Readers,

    It has come to my attention that if Small Bites is viewed with Internet Explorer, some posts do not show up!

    In particular, posts published between September 21 and September 24 are MIA for Internet Explorer users.

    You can always keep track of what has been published by scrolling down a little bit from the top of the page and viewing the blog archive on the right-hand margin.

    Alternatively, I suggest using Mozilla Firefox as your web browser.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    According to a research article in the April 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine conducted in part by the Harvard School of Public Health Department of Nutrition (lead author: D. Mozaffarian), “eliminating trans fats from the United States’ food supply could prevent up to [20 percent] of heart attacks and related deaths.

    As much as food companies love partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) for the crispy textures and long shelf lives they offer, they are a nutritional enemy.

    As evidenced by recipe modifications following trans fat bans in some parts of the country, it is perfectly possible to create a variety of snacks and baked goods that are trans-fat free (without altering flavor in the slightest).

    However, thousands of products on United States supermarket shelves continue to list partially hydrogenated oils as an ingredient.

    And if you’re not living in a city or county that passed a trans fat ban for restaurants, you can bet you are getting a fair share of this man-made fat from French fries and baked goods.

    Many European countries were able to completely remove partially hydrogenated oils from their food supply, so why not follow suit?


    Buyer, Beware (And Be Smart)!

    The latest video on the Small Bites YouTube channel discusses four popular deceptive advertising techniques relating to nutrition:

    • “A daily dose of antioxidants”
    • “Cholesterol-free”
    • “0 grams of trans fat per serving!”
    • “Made with fruit”

    Once you’re familiar with these tricks, you won’t be a sucker at the supermarket!


    You Ask, I Answer: Tea & Iron Absorption

    The macrobiotic way of eating includes hojicha and kukicha (2 different kinds of teas) as a main beverage usually around meals, [so in light of your posting about tea affecting iron absorption,] is this a problem?

    Are there studies as to which types of tea have high amounts of phytates or iron inhibitors?

    — “gd”

    Via the blog

    The issue of phytates and tannins in tea reducing iron absorption is only problematic for people with borderline iron consumption and/or whose only sources of iron are of the non-heme variety.

    After all, it is only that kind of iron –found in plants, eggs, and dairy — which tea binds (heme iron, found in meat, actually helps absorb non-heme iron.)

    If the two teas you mention are recommended as accompaniments to meals, it will certainly cause a higher reduction of iron absorption than if they are consumed between meals.

    I recommend playing it safe and separating “tea time” and “meal time” by at least 45 minutes.

    I want to make it clear that total tea consumption does not affect non-heme iron absorption; it is the TIMING of the consumption that matters.

    Remember, too, that vitamin C aids in the absorption of non-heme iron.

    So, squeezing a wedge of lemon into tea, or including potent sources of vitamin C in our meal (i.e.: tomatoes, red bell peppers, kale, and broccoli, to name a few) can help counteract some of tea’s iron-blocking properties.

    Although all teas contain phytates and tannins and affect non-heme iron absorption, black tea contains the highest levels of these inhibitors, while herbal varieties contain lower amounts.

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