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Archive for October, 2008

An Appetizer A Day Can Bring Problems Your Way

Don’t let the term “starters” or “appetizers” lure you into a false sense of security.

Sometimes, these items are just as caloric — if not higher — than entrees.

Consider some of the following examples from Chili’s restaurant.

The buffalo wings appetizer (containing 9 pieces) adds up to 1,170 calories, 15 grams (75% of a day’s worth) of saturated fat, and 4,130 milligrams (two days’ worth) of sodium.

In the mood for classic nachos? Then I hope you are okay with ordering 1,450 calories, 57 grams (almost three days’ worth!) of saturated fat, and 2,730 milligrams (over a day’s worth) of sodium.

Oh, you want those with beef? That will be 1,740 calories, 65 grams of saturated fat, and 3,700 milligrams of sodium.

The Texas cheese fries appetizer, meanwhile, clocks in at 2,070 calories, 73 grams of saturated fat (almost FOUR days’ worth) and 3,730 milligrams of sodium.

Even if shared, these are nutritional bombs.

Let’s say the Texas cheese fries are split by a table of three.

Assuming each person gets an equal share of food, that’s 720 calories, 25 grams of saturated fat (more than a day’s worth) and half a day’s worth of sodium a piece!

Combine that with a sandwich or a ribs-centered entree (averaging 1,000 calories without the side of fries) and you have a day’s worth of calories.

Your best bet at this chain? First, swap an appetizer for a soup.

A cup of Southwestern vegetable soup contains 110 calories, the broccoli cheese variety clocks in at 160 calories, and a cup of baked potato soup adds up to 220 calories.

While not low in sodium, none offer more than 650 milligrams of sodium (that’s almost 85% less sodium than some of the monstruosities I previously pointed out.)

And stay away from any menu item labeled as bottomless. Eating 800 calories of corn chips before your meal comes out isn’t as impossible as you may think!

When it comes to your entree, stick to grilled fish dishes, pita sandwiches (no more than 500 calories) or grilled chicken sandwiches.

If you’re in the mood for anything else (burgers, ribs, fried chicken platters), satisfy your craving by splitting your meal with a friend. You’ll save some money — and anywhere from 600 to 950 calories!

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Numbers Game: Answer

How many pistachio nuts make up a 1-ounce, 158-calorie serving?

Answer: 49

That’s more than double the amount of almonds that make up a 1-ounce serving!

Although all nuts are wonderful additions to a diet and share similar caloric values per ounce (between 140 – 150 calories), pistachios stand out because it takes a LOT of them to add up to that weight.

They are particularly helpful for people cutting back on total calories who psychologically need to see a lot of food in front of them to feel “properly full.”

Consider this: you can get the same amount of calories in 49 pistachios in just three Oreo cookies! It also doesn’t hurt that you get 6 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 7% of the Daily Value of iron.

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FNCE 2008: Free of Gluten, Not Flavor

Although many European and South American countries sell a multitude of products geared to individuals with celiac disease, the United States is only recently beginning to cater to this growing market with tasty, healthy, widely available alternatives.

Many people with celiac disease have a hard time finding snack foods high in fiber and whole grains, which is why two manufacturers of gluten-free products stood out at the Food and Nutrition Conference & Expo: Mary’s Gone Crackers and Crunchmasters.

Mary’s Gone Crackers offers a variety of wonderfully crunchy (and delicious!) gluten-free 100% whole grain crackers and twig-shaped snacks.

Made from brown rice, amaranth, quinoa, sesame seeds, and millet, each 1-ounce serving offers anywhere from 3 to 5 grams of fiber and no more than 150 calories.

While some of the flavored twig snacks add up to a relatively high 300 milligrams of sodium per serving, all the crackers clock in at no more than 150 milligrams per 1-ounce serving.  In my personal cracker world, there is a definite “before” and “after” Mary’s Gone Crackers!

Crunchmasters, also sells crunchy and flavorful multigrain and multiseed whole grain crackers.

Each one-ounce serving provides 140 calories, 2 grams of fiber, and no more than 140 milligrams of sodium (the rosemary flavor manages to pack in a lot of taste in less than 100 milligrams of sodium per serving!)

No wheat? No problem.

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In The News: Taking Back "the C Word"

Let’s do this Vagina Monologues style. Ready?

Say it with me:

c-c-ca-ca-ca-calo…. calor-calor-caloriesssss!

How wonderfully liberating!

After a long period of foolishness where mainstream weight loss rhetoric focused on fat grams, carbohydrate grams, or what time of day you stopped eating, The New York Times — in an article beautifully titled “Calories Do Count” — reports that “good old calorie counting is coming back into fashion.”

That’s right — after being dismissed by the likes of Gary Taubes and his ilk, calories are the new black!

Consumers are simply beginning to re-embrace the idea that successful, long-lasting weight loss comes with familiarizing themselves with calorie contents of foods, as opposed to eating unlimited amounts of foods that are simpy very low in carbohydrates or fats.

It is worth pointing out that this heightened caloric awareness is a direct result of labeling laws that take the guesswork out of ordering at many restaurant and takeout chains.

Meanwhile, restaurants — profits firmly in mind — are “jumping on the latest bandwagon.”

“Dunkin’ Donuts recently added a low-calorie egg white breakfast sandwich, Così is using low-fat mayonnaise and McDonald’s large French fries have dropped to 500 calories this year from 570 last year.”

Additionally, “Quiznos is testing smaller sizes and less-caloric sandwich fillings in its New York stores. At Le Pain Quotidien, which has 17 outlets in New York… the popular quiche Lorraine was trimmed to 6 ounces from 11, with extra salad filling out the plate.”

Food manufacturers, meanwhile, will soon be catering to the “calorie trend” by printing calorie values on the front of their packaging.

Don’t be surprised if, a few years down the road, mandatory chain restaurant calorie labeling laws go national.

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You Ask, I Answer: Ostrich/Bison Meats

An “upscale” burger place I like to go to offers ostrich and bison meat.

I like the taste of both and have heard they are better for you than beef.

Is that true?

– Robert (last name withheld)
New York, NY

Ostrich (popular in Asia and Southern Africa) and bison/buffalo meats are considered a rarity in the United States.

In case you’re having a Jessica Simpson moment, remember that buffalo wings are made from chicken (they originated in the city of Buffalo, hence the name.)

Compared to traditional (cow’s) red meat, both of these options are healthier alternatives.

Whereas three ounces of beef clock in at 240 calories and 15 grams of fat, that same amount of ostrich adds up to 97 calories and 1.3 grams of fat, while three ounces of bison contain 140 calories and 2.5 grams of fat.

Since bison subsist only on grass — the overwhelming majority of cows in the United States are on a literally lethal corn-based diet — their meat offers low amounts of saturated fat and higher levels of Conjugated Linoleic Acid.

Although ostriches do not eat grass, their meat is very lean since fat builds up outside their muscle tissue, making it very easy to remove prior to cooking.

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FNCE 2008: Flavor Magic

One upcoming product that caught my eye was the Flavor Magic portion control sheets — dry marinade sheets that are pre-cut to reflect the recommended portion size of fish, chicken or beef.

Rather than weigh foods or eyeball portions, you tear a 4″ by 3″ sheet, place your protein of choice on it, and let it marinade for approximately 20 minutes (the time it takes for the spices on the sheet to transfer over to the piece of food.)

At that point, you simply rip the sheet off, throw it out, and cook your protein to your liking.

It’s quite an inventive tool, as it takes care of portion control and healthy flavoring in one easy step that does not require cleanup.

The sheets are available in a variety of flavors — each providing only four calories and one gram of sugar, and ranging in sodium content from 120 to 160 milligrams (a mere 5 percent of the recommended daily maximum value).

This is precisely the creativity that is desperately needed in the nutrition field.

For more information, please visit the Flavor Magic website (NOTE: You may begin ordering the product via the company’s website on November 17.)

I truly wish these innovators the best of luck and hope their product catches on.

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FNCE 2008: Diet Coke and Splenda Drop The F Bomb

Fiber and whole grains were undisputed royalty at this year’s American Dietetic Association Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo.

Cereals, corn chips, crackers, cookies, and protein powders breathlessly advertised their inclusion in ingredient lists.

I certainly was not expecting, however, to come across fiber in Splenda and Diet Coke.

The Splenda folks — who, oddly enough, suggest sprinkling their non-caloric sweetener over fresh fruit — are making the case that this is one easy way for Americans (who are currently getting, on average, half of their recommended fiber intake) to boost their fiber consumption.

With each packet containing 1 gram of fiber, two packets in your morning coffee and another over your breakfast cereal puts you at the 3 gram mark (as much as an apple, they exclaim.)

Coca Cola, meanwhile, will be releasing Diet Coke Plus With Fiber around March or April of 2010.

Apart from the vitamin and mineral combination found in Diet Coke Plus, this beverage will contain 5 grams of soluble fiber (all derived from corn) per 20 ounce bottle.

Splenda and Coca Cola have their marketing pitch perfected.

“We’re simply helping people get the amount of fiber they need!” they explain (with puppy dog eyes, I’m sure.)

I’m not as optimistic.

While the idea of including fiber in Diet Coke may appeal to some people, it serves as a complete deterrent to get it from unprocessed, whole foods that offer multitudes of other nutrients, phytochemicals, and health benefits.

As much as Splenda wants to make the case that three packets of their sweetener contain as much fiber as an apple, it’s a meaningless comparison.

An apple is more than just fiber in a round shape.

It contains vitamin C, potassium, and a significant number of antioxidants, among them quercetin and epicatechin (the former has been associated with reduced cellular damage, the latter with improved blood flow.)

By relying on fortified empty calorie foods for specific nutrients, you are missing out on hundreds of health-promoting components.

What’s most mind-boggling to me is that these products give the false idea that fiber is just so gosh darn hard to find, that there’s no choice but to stick it inside a soda bottle.

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Shame On You: The Blueprint Cleanse

After receiving favorable publicity in Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, and New York Magazine, the New York City based Blueprint Cleanse is increasing in popularity across the United States.

As you may imagine, I am not a fan.

Long story short: the founder of The Blueprint Cleanse had “a savage cold” on January 1, 2000, which she recuperated from a week later after following a seven-day juice cleanse.

Don’t most colds naturally run their course in a week? I digress.

As happy as she was to have her health back, she thought that particular cleanse was too extreme.

Well, lucky us — this inspired her to start a nutritional cleanse company “customized to [each client’s] level of nutritional awareness and dietary history.”

Mix that idea with a cutesy website, trendy advertising, and promises of “normalized weight” and “physical rejuvenation,” and the latest “wellness” nonsense is born.

Beginners can opt for a 3 day program, while more advanced folks looking to flush their hard-earned dollars down the toilet — oops, I mean, the toxins out of their system — can opt for 5, 7 or 10 day cleanses.

For $65 a day, the 6 beverages you need to drink each day are delivered to your home or office in the insulated cooler picture at top (as you may notice by looking at that photo, each juice is labeled in suggested order of consumption.)

Mind you, these are fruit and vegetable blends (as well as one cashew milk drink) that cost no more than $10 a day to make.

Despite Blueprint’s claim that this is different from other cleanses, we are dealing with the same flawed logic (except this time the intellectual excrement is covered in a glossy shimmer, kind of like an episode of MTV’s The Hills.)

A few choice examples:

Can we please finally put to rest the myth that if you don’t eat a lot, you’ll lack energy? Unless one is undergoing a water fast, which, should only be done with a coach, energy levels will skyrocket!

I suppose. But how about finally putting to rest these inane notions that we need to subsist on nothing but liquefied fruits and vegetables to cleanse our bodies?

While “we” are at it, can “we” please learn some basic human physiology and realize that the kidneys and pancreas already get rid of “toxins”?

Disturbingly, The Blueprint Cleanse folks claim it is absolutely possible to exercise while undergoing any of their fasts (3, 5, or 7 days.)

The energy that is usually spent on digestion is now yours for the taking, so grab it and go for a jog! Remember- you are feeding your cells, not stuffing your belly.

Newsflash — solids AND liquids go through the digestive system. Just because you are drinking six juices a day does not mean your body takes a break from digestion.

According to the creators, this cleanse contains nothing but “food that’s packed with enzymes [and] will allow your body to clean.

Oh, the enzyme argument. Cute. Too bad it’s baseless.

A three-day Cleanse helps the body rid itself of old built up matter and cleanses the blood. A five-day Cleanse starts the process of rebuilding and healing the immune system. A ten-day Cleanse will take care of problems before they arise and fight off degenerative diseases.

I would love to know how they came to this conclusion. Not to mention, how exactly does a cleanse “take care of problems before they arise?”

Am I supposed to believe that, magically, on the tenth day, I have enough power in my immune system to prevent a scratchy throat? If so, for how long?

Wondering when you should be cleansing? Here it is from the horse’s mouth:

A good rule of thumb is whenever you experience any of the following: fatigue/general lack of energy, sleeplessness, anxiety/depression, digestive problems, at the first sign of a cold and of course, before and after holidays or any special events that lead to overindulging.

Yes, because I am sure someone with depression is just itching to give up a hot plate of food and instead subsist on nothing but cold vegetable and fruit juices for a week.

Okay, okay, I’m being unfair. The Blueprint Cleanse allows you to cheat by sinking your teeth into…. celery sticks.

You might as well throw two ice cubes onto your plate and have yourself a party!!

Back to the suggested times of use — I’m very weary of attempting to correct issues of fatigue and lack of energy by going on a liquid diet that barely grazes the 1,000 calorie mark.

And then there’s the most extreme cleanse – “the excavation cleanse” – which does away with most fruits and instead “focuses on foods that trigger detox and elimination, such as citrus (spicy lemonade), which act as “cleaners” and green vegetable tonics which act as “healers.

And, clearly, this cleanse goes in the “complete and utter nonsense” category.

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Numbers Game: Strength In Numbers

How many pistachio nuts make up a 1-ounce, 158-calorie serving?

a) 17
b) 49

c) 26
d) 30

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

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You Ask, I Answer/Quick & Easy Recipes: Vegan Alfredo Sauce

I became vegan about two months ago.

I don’t really miss many things since I find perfectly tasty substitutes, but yesterday night I found myself craving alfredo sauce (maybe it’s the cold weather).

Since I have seen some vegan recipes on the blog, I wondered if you had any ideas as to how I can have alfredo sauce without dairy?

– Shannon Gibson
St. Paul, MN

You’ve come to the right place, Shannon!

Although I am not vegan, I love vegan cooking — it is creative, healthy, and always offers a new experience for the tastebuds.

After several experiments, I crafted this delicious dairy-free alfredo sauce:

YIELDS: 6 servings (1 serving = 1/2 cup)

INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup raw cashews
1 cup water
3 garlic cloves
2 Tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed preferred)
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper (optional)
2 or 3 large basil leaves (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

Place cashews in food processor. Pulse for 20 – 30 seconds.

Add water and pulse until cashews and water are evenly mixed.

Combine rest of ingredients in food processor until blended.

NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving)

150 calories
1.5 grams saturated fat
380 milligrams sodium
4 grams fiber
8.5 grams protein

Good source of: B vitamins (including B12!), magnesium, copper, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, iron

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Administrative Announcements: Chicago Update

Whew! I am absolutely exhausted.

I have just spent four and a half hours at the 2008 American Dietetic Association Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo visting hundreds of stands from a variety of companies.

I should mention that I am also lugging around forty pounds of food samples. Yes, forty pounds.

The samples range from individual size bags of walnuts to a pound of Barilla Plus pasta to a new line of alternative potato chips from a company by the name of Brothers All Natural.

I have LOTS to blog about when I return to New York City late Monday evening.

There is, however, one little tidbit I must share with you right now.

Guess what the buzz was at the Coca Cola booth? None other than their new variety of Diet Coke set to be released in 2010 — Diet Coke Plus with Fiber!

That’s right — 5 grams of soluble corn fiber per 20 ounce bottle. Oy.

Although the product will not be released for another year and a half, they had tasting samples. Taste wise, it is the exact same as a non-fortified Diet Coke.

I will detail my issues with adding fiber to Diet Coke in a future posting.

Oh, did I mention that the high fructose corn syrup folks also had a stand here? Wait until I tell you about THEIR “educational materials.”

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Administrative Announcements: In Chicago

Dear readers,

Greetings from Chicago!

I am in the Windy City for the American Dietetic Association’s Annual Food & Nutrition Conference and Expo.

Last year, you may recall my postings from the 2007 FNCE (held in Philadelphia),which included such gems as the Beer Board trying to make the case that their beverage is a smart caloric option.

Beer at a nutrition conference. Anyone else find that to be more than a little odd?

Anyhow, I will provide full reports during the coming week on what foods companies are pushing as their latest healthy products, so stay tuned!

PS: Last night I saw a television commercial for Splenda with fiber. Oh, boy. Watch for a posting on that very, very soon.
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You Ask, I Answer: Dyes/Farmed Salmon

Are the synthetic dyes [fed to farmed salmon] harmful?

I googled astaxanthin and found a website talking about how it’s an antioxidant and prevents cancer and is necessary for the healthy growth of the farmed salmon.

Surely that can’t be true.

– Kristin
Via the blog

That is technically true, but there is more to this story.

While both astaxanthin and canthaxanthin are deemed safe by the Food & Drug Administration (although people trust that organization to varying degrees), certain concentrations of canthaxanthin have been associated with eye defects.

Interestingly, different countries have different ideas of how many parts per million of that synthetic dye are “safe.”

That being said, the vast majority of salmon farmed in the United States and Europe is only fed astaxanthin.

In other parts of the world, though, farmed salmon is only fed canthaxanthin (it is the cheaper of the two dyes.)

I still would not be too worried. You would need to be eating a LOT of salmon dyed with canthaxanthin to be affected.

What all of this ties into, though, is another controversial topic – COOL (Country of Origin Labeling.)

Although it is required for all fish sold in the United States, I have seen it very sparingly in supermarkets.

As far as I am concerned, the core issue surrounding these food dyes isn’t so much possible health repercussions, but rather truthful advertising to consumers.

If farmed salmon were to either remain gray or be dyed another color (say, white), then consumers would immediately know they are not purchasing a wild variety, and there would be no room for mislabeling (remember this infamous study by Marian Burros of The New York Times?).

Since farmed salmon is nutritionally inferior to its wild counterpart (more saturated fat, higher Omega 6 fatty acid content, lower Omega 3 fatty acid content), people should not be left in the dark.

This is not to say farmed salmon should completed avoided or viewed in the same light as deep fried fish nuggets, but consumers have a right to know exactly what they are putting on their plates.

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Twisted Logic

For many people, “yogurt” equals “health food.”

Although there are cases where this is far from true (i.e.: flavored yogurts that, despite already being sweetened with two tablespoons of added sugar, provide crushed Oreos or tiny M&M’s to be added as toppings), plain yogurt is a wonderful source of calcium, protein, and — in most cases — probiotic bacteria.

It is no surprise that food companies are always eager to add a pinch of a healthy (or at least healthy sounding) ingredient to their own proucts in hopes of attracting the eyes — and wallets — of health-conscious consumers.

Case in point: yogurt pretzels.

Let’s begin by keeping in mind that an ounce of regular pretzels adds up to:

110 calories
0 grams of saturated fat

0.5 grams of sugar

Now, consider the nutrition values — and ingredients — offered by the yogurt-covered variety.

A 1-ounce serving of Flipz (a prototypical brand of yogurt pretzels) contains:

130 calories
4.5 grams of saturated fat

13 grams of sugar

Although the caloric difference is minimal, we are talking about 20% of a day’s worth of saturated fat and a tablespoon of added sugar.

And if you think the yogurt provides calcium, think again.

A serving of Flipz only offers two percent of the calcium daily value — only as much as one and a half tablespoons of actual yogurt.

It all makes sense when you look at the ingredient list and see that the first ingredient in these pretzels is “yogurt coating,” which is mainly made up of sugar and palm kernel oil — a saturated fat.

Alas, yogurt pretzels undoubtedly fall into the “sweet treat” category.

Consider this: eight Nabisco Nilla Wafers (that’s considered one serving) contain only 10 more calories than a serving of yogurt pretzels, as well as a third of the saturated fat and a few less grams of sugar.

Some more food for thought?

Four Nilla Wafers accompanied by a cup of skim milk provide just 40 more calories than a serving of yogurt pretzels, but also half the added sugar, one tenth of the saturated fat, and a third of the calcium daily value.

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Twisted Logic

For many people, “yogurt” equals “health food.”

Although there are cases where this is far from true (i.e.: flavored yogurts that, despite already being sweetened with two tablespoons of added sugar, provide crushed Oreos or tiny M&M’s to be added as toppings), plain yogurt is a wonderful source of calcium, protein, and — in most cases — probiotic bacteria.

It is no surprise that food companies are always eager to add a pinch of a healthy (or at least healthy sounding) ingredient to their own proucts in hopes of attracting the eyes — and wallets — of health-conscious consumers.

Case in point: yogurt pretzels.

Let’s begin by keeping in mind that an ounce of regular pretzels adds up to:

110 calories
0 grams of saturated fat

0.5 grams of sugar

Now, consider the nutrition values — and ingredients — offered by the yogurt-covered variety.

A 1-ounce serving of Flipz (a prototypical brand of yogurt pretzels) contains:

130 calories
4.5 grams of saturated fat

13 grams of sugar

Although the caloric difference is minimal, we are talking about 20% of a day’s worth of saturated fat and a tablespoon of added sugar.

And if you think the yogurt provides calcium, think again.

A serving of Flipz only offers two percent of the calcium daily value — only as much as one and a half tablespoons of actual yogurt.

It all makes sense when you look at the ingredient list and see that the first ingredient in these pretzels is “yogurt coating,” which is mainly made up of sugar and palm kernel oil — a saturated fat.

Alas, yogurt pretzels undoubtedly fall into the “sweet treat” category.

Consider this: eight Nabisco Nilla Wafers (that’s considered one serving) contain only 10 more calories than a serving of yogurt pretzels, as well as a third of the saturated fat and a few less grams of sugar.

Some more food for thought?

Four Nilla Wafers accompanied by a cup of skim milk provide just 40 more calories than a serving of yogurt pretzels, but also half the added sugar, one tenth of the saturated fat, and a third of the calcium daily value.

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