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    Archive for October, 2008

    You Ask, I Answer: Food Dyes

    I was trying to think of things that are artificially dyed red and salmon came to mind.

    Farmed salmon would be gray without the dye they are fed because they don’t eat their natural ocean diet of krill.

    I know some other meats are dyed red to make them look more appetizing to people.

    What are these dyes made of?

    — Kristin
    Via the blog

    For the most part, farmed salmon are simply fed synthetic versions of two pigments of the carotenoid family — astaxanthin and canthaxanthin.

    Wild salmon take in the naturally occuring versions of these carotenoids by virtue of their aquatic diet.

    Farmed salmon — subsisting mainly on grains and corn — need these dyes added to their feed so they can have a pleasing rosy color.

    This is mostly done for aesthetic purposes.

    Would you be interested in taking home a filet of salmon that was completely gray? No, you wouldn’t. And salmon farming companies know this very well.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    Cosi patrons, take note.

    Opting to have your salad of choice dressed with the house vinaigrette tacks on 357 calories.

    This partially explains why people sometimes express confusion when, despite substituting many of their regular foods with salad, weight loss does not occur.

    It is even more difficult to gauge how many calories you get from salad dressing at salad bars, where you use enormous ladles to dress your individual concoction (one full ladle can contain up to 600 calories of some dressings!)

    If you opt to have full-fat dressings, ask for them on the side, and aim to use no more than half of the amount you are provided.

    This is not to say that fat-free dressings can be poured liberally.

    Most dressings lacking fat provide flavor by throwing in higher amounts of sugar, thereby still containing a good number of calories.

    I suggest using a small amount of full-fat dressing and mixing it with other low-calorie ingredients (think balsamic vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon juice.)


    Food For Thought — Literally!

    Kellogg’s has just launched Live Bright — a “brain health bar.”

    What leads them to make this claim? The inclusion — through fortification, of course — of 100 milligrams of DocosaHexaenoic Acid (DHA, the same Omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines.)

    This is a perfect example of nutrient isolation gone awry.

    Does DHA play a role in cognitive health? It very much appears that way.

    Then again, so do vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, zinc, iron, and a variety of polyphenols and antioxidants.

    In other words — orange juice companies and blueberry farmers could, I suppose, also make brain health claims.

    As could the most sugary of cereals, for that matter, as long as it is fortified with the above mentioned nutrients.

    These types of health claims end up having very little meaning because they make up only portion of the total puzzle.

    While DHA can help with cognitive health, so does maintaining a healthy weight, keeping blood pressure at desired levels, and limiting saturated fat intake (neuroscience research studies have shown a link between high saturated fat intake and a decline in cognitive function over time.)

    Including one of these bars in a diet generally low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — and high in saturated fat and sodium — isn’t going to be much help.


    You Ask, I Answer: Omega-3 Fortified Eggs

    What is the process exactly in adding Omega-3 to eggs?

    How is this done?

    I know the eggs are “fortified” but what does this mean?

    — Lori (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Before I get to your actual question, this is a good time to point out the difference between fortification and enrichment.

    When enriching a food or ingredient (for instance, white flour,) food manufacturers are adding back nutrients that were already present in that food or ingredient prior to processing.

    Fortification, meanwhile, entails the addition of one or more nutrients that are not inherently part of that food or ingredient.

    Similarly, adding higher quantities of a nutrient than what is naturally present in a food or ingredient also falls under the “fortification” umbrella.

    As far as Omega-3 fortified eggs, it is very simply done by adding food sources of Omega-3 to chicken feed — usually fish oils or flax.


    In The News: An Odd Solution

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that skyrocketing obesity and diabetes rates in India are leaving citizens looking for healthier alternatives to mithai — “sweet, fudgy goodies rich with cardamom, pistachio and saffron… eagerly eaten, given as gifts, [or] offered to the gods]” during annual Diwali celebrations.

    Partially due to an improved economy, many Hindus are opting to replace the sugary treats with clothes, electronics, and jewelry.

    Two interesting points stand out here.

    Number one: sales of sugar-free mithai are improving.

    Number two: the government has taken action by releasing “millions of tons of sugar into the markets… in a bid to drive down prices.”

    As you may imagine, both of these developments leave me shaking my head.

    First of all, sugar-free varieties of candies are not necessarily lower in calories.

    The overwhelming majority of sugar-free candies contain higher amounts of fat than their standard counterparts, often times resulting in mere 10 or 20 calorie differences.

    Remember, whereas sugar adds 4 calories per gram, fat contribues 9 calories per gram.

    Of course, the average consumer is not aware of this, and often finds themselves thinking they can eat more simply because sugar is absent. Not quite.

    And lastly, why on Earth is the government’s solution providing more sugar at lower prices?

    If a large percentage of the country is concerned about obesity and diabetes, cheapening sugary food is not the optimal solution!

    Why not look into long-term policy that can begin to address some of the population’s needs (for instance, calorie labeling)?


    You Ask, I Answer: Nut Butters

    I am allergic to peanuts, so peanut butter is out of the question for me.

    Of all the other nut butters, which is the most nutritious?

    — Danielle Spolner
    San Francisco, CA

    All nut butters share similar nutritional profiles.

    Peanut, almond, cashew, sunflower seed, and soynut butters all offer protein, healthy fats, and between 175 and 200 calories in a 2 tablespoon serving.

    One big plus about almond, cashew, and sunflower seed butters is that they are only available in natural form (meaning they exclusively made of crushed nuts and, in some cases, salt), whereas some brands of peanut and soy butters add partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) and sugar.

    That said, there are a few differences worth pointing out.

    Almond butter is the most caloric, but it also offers the highest amount of monounsaturated (heart healthy) fat, vitamin E, and manganese. Of all the nut butters, it has the lowest protein content (4 grams per serving.)

    Cashew butter offers the same amount of calories as peanut butter but offers the least amount of vitamin E per serving (2 percent of the Daily Value.)

    Sunflowerseed butter is very similar to peanut butter, but offers half the monounsaturated fats.

    Soy butter is the highest in protein and lowest in calories. It also, however, provides the lowest value of monounsaturated fats.

    Since the differences are quite minimal, I suggest you simply pick the one you enjoy most.


    Numbers Game: Dress of Excess

    Cosi patrons, take note.

    Opting to have your salad of choice dressed with the house vinagreitte tacks on _______ calories.

    a) 196
    b) 238

    c) 310

    d) 357

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


    You Ask, I Answer: Protein/Abs

    One of my friends wants to lose some excess weight from his stomach and have visible abs, so last week he started eating pretty much nothing but lean protein, protein shakes, and steamed vegetables.

    He doesn’t work out or eat any kind of carbs (apart from the steamed vegetables.)

    He says he is already seeing results.

    What do you think?

    — Tom (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    I think your friend is absolutely misguided and approaching the situation with very little thought.

    While it is true that abs “are made in the kitchen” (meaning that your diet must be very carefully managed, since visible abs are the result of low body fat, rather than endless crunches), eating nothing but protein and steamed vegetables is not the answer.

    I don’t know what your friend’s diet was like prior to this, but it is very likely he will lose weight with this particular way of eating, as I am sure his total daily caloric intake has decreased.

    Remember, though, that low-carb diets get rid of water weight in the first few days, which is what I think he refers to when he claims he is “already seeing results.”

    The fact that he does not work out is a significant problem.

    Building muscle tone helps speed up metabolism, thereby facilitating weight loss while maintaining muscle mass (this way, you are losing mostly fat.)

    These kind of ultra low-carb diets are also impossible to sustain for more than a few weeks.

    If your friend wants to have visible abs, he has to keep a few things in mind:

    1) Genetics play a role. Some people have an easier time achieving a six pack, while others can “only” show off a “four-pack” with that same amount of effort.

    2) We all have abs. They are invisible, though, when they are hidden by a layer of fat. If you’d like to proudly display them, you must get your body fat down to approximately 6 or 7 percent. That absolutely requires vigorous physical activity several times a week.

    3) In order to engage in vigorous physical activity several times a week, he certainky needs to take in more carbs than he is now. Otherwise, he will not have sufficient endurance, and his body will start breaking down muscle to provide him with sufficient energy!

    His goal should be to increase physical activity, eat as few processed foods as possible, and maintain a pre-determined caloric range.

    Otherwise, I see him lasting two more weeks and then simply going to the other extreme — declaring this “too difficult” and “not worth it.”


    Numbers Game: Answer

    At McDonald’s, an order of small fries and a small soda contains 420 fewer calories than a large order of those same two items.

    The purpose of this particular “numbers game” was to show that no matter where you eat, there are ways to “soften the blow.”

    Many times, when people go to fast food restaurants (especially if it’s by choice), they resign themselves to large portions and high calorie amounts, thinking “hey, it’s not supposed to be healthy.”

    Similarly, a lot of people balk at the idea of calorie information being posted at fast food restaurants, claiming people don’t go to a burger and fries joint to eat healthy.

    The example provided in this answer is proof that while fries and soda are certainly not healthful options, they also don’t have to necessarily add 810 calories to your day (the chain’s large fries clock in at 500 calories, while a large soda contributes 310 calories.)


    You Ask, I Answer: Alpha Tocopherols

    I have seen alpha tocopherols on a lot of ingredient lists, especially for packaged products.

    What are they, and what purpose do they serve?

    — Andrea Chalen
    (city withheld), SC

    Alpha Tocopherols are a completely harmless form of Vitamin E.

    They are mainly added to human and pet foods to delay spoilage and prevent alterations in taste (that’s why “for freshness” is usually added after alpha tocopherols on an ingredient list.)

    Much like ascorbic acid (the fancy name for vitamin C), alpha tocopherols are a food additive you shouldn’t be concerned about.


    In The News: Missing In Action

    Ronald McDonald has some ‘splaining to do.

    His fast-food chain has been “awarded” the most violations for not posting calorie information on various of their New York City stores’ menu boards.

    In total, 682 violations have been handed out since April.

    “About 300 citations were issued during the first six weeks the rules took effect, which was considered a grace period, and did not carry fines. Since then, 388 violations were issued that carry fines between $200 and $2,000 each,” reports Crain’s New York Business.

    McDonald’s has acquired 103 violations, Dunkin’ Donuts is not far behind with 89, and local fried chicken chain Crown Fried Chicken rounds out the Top 3 with 39 violations to its name.

    “Some citations were given for non-compliance and others punished restaurants for not posting information the way the regulations require. For instance, a few restaurants were fined for putting the information in the wrong place or using lettering that was too small.”

    I notice the linked news article displays a sole comment from someone named “Joe” who claims calorie labeling is “nannying” and “a violation of… life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.”

    Considering the amount of people I have heard voice a similar statement, Joe is not joking.

    For the life of me, though, I have no clue what civil liberties are violated by asking restaurants to post calorie content information.

    I also fail to see how such a request can be considered “nannying.”

    Nobody is being forbidden from buying an 1,100 calorie milkshake. It isn’t taxed more heavily than a less caloric option. There isn’t a limit on how many times you can order it, or at what time of day.

    So where, exactly, is the “you can’t tell me what to eat!” defensiveness coming from?


    Man, Oh Man…

    Have you heard of Taco Bell’s Big Bell Box value meal?

    According to the nationwide chain, it’s “the meal that’s made for men”!

    Gender roles defined by fast food companies. How… evolved.

    Anyhow, for as little as $4.99 (or as much as $5.99, depending where you live), hungry men all over the United States can feast on a volcano taco, a burrito supreme, a crunch wrap supreme, a side order of cinnamon twists, and a large drink.

    Or, if you want to talk numbers:

    1,670 calories
    19 grams of saturated fat (suggested daily maximum*: 20 grams)
    2.5 grams of trans fat (no suggested daily maximum, guidelines call for 0 grams)
    3,470 milligrams of sodium (suggested daily maximum: 2,400 milligrams)

    * = for a 2,000 calorie diet

    Calorically speaking, this is equal to THREE Big Macs!

    You know, this could very well be the nutrition version of Pandora’s box…


    You Ask, I Answer: Fish Oil Supplements/Metal Toxicity Cleansings

    Yesterday I attended a talk given by an “applied clinical nutritionist” who works at a local pharmacy.

    She really advocated the use of supplements for everyone (probably because the pharmacy she works at generates a lot of revenue through the sale of herbs/supplements and homeopathic remedies).

    She recommended taking fish oil instead of flax because she said that flax requires an extra step to be processed by the body.

    She said that some people’s bodies aren’t able to perform this extra step and you would never know one way or another, so she just prefers to stick with fish oil.

    Since you often recommend flax, what are your thoughts?

    She also talked about “cleansing” (the colon in particular).

    Her recommendation wasn’t about losing weight, but rather to flush out toxins, no matter how healthy your diet.

    She said this is needed to flush out “toxins” that accumulate in our bodies from pesticides in food, air pollution, etc.

    The cleanse involves eating certain kinds of foods (she wasn’t specific) and taking some sort of supplements that help flush your colon, like magnesium (I think).

    All of this sounded sort of unnecessary to me.

    Is there any evidence that this type of cleanse is beneficial for people whose diets are already consist of nutritious, whole foods?

    — Kristin (last name withheld)
    Austin, TX

    Before I begin, let me thank Kristin for following up her question with an e-mail revealing the results of her own investigative research.

    Turns out that acquiring the “applied clinical nutritionist” title is a simple task.

    “It’s a self paced certificate program through the Texas Chiropractic College. To earn the certificate, you must be a health care professional, or the staff or student of a health care professional (I suppose you could be a dental receptionist). You have to attend 7 seminars (100 hrs), take a test and pay $1400. In return, you get a shiny wall plaque,” writes Kristin.

    Sigh. Anyhow, onto Kristin’s question.

    As far as the fish vs. flax issue, I agree with the speaker, to a point.

    It is true that the Omega-3 fats found in flaxseed (ALA) need to be converted by the body to DPA and EHA.

    It is also accurate to say that the majority of people do not convert ALA efficiently.

    A significant factor inhibiting conversion is that Omega 6 fatty acids compete with Omega 3 fatty acids for the same desaturase (conversion) enzymes.

    Keeping in mind that our current food supply contributes an abundance of Omega 6, you can see why ALA –> DHA/EPA conversion isn’t happening as optimally as we would expect.

    That being said, I still recommend ground flax simply because most people don’t consume much of ANY Omega-3’s.

    Simply put, ground flaxseeds are an effortless way to add some Omega 3’s to a variety of foods (not everyone likes fish or wants to eat it.)

    I also hope that the speaker’s recommendation of taking fish oil supplements was mainly targeted at people who do not consume fish (or sea vegetables, which offer the same omega-3 fatty acids).

    I would much rather you get your DHA and EPA from actual food first, and consider supplements a “second best” choice.

    Furthermore, I hope she stressed that non-DHA/EPA sources of Omega-3’s offer a wide array of nutrients.

    Ditching walnuts and flaxseed and instead swallowing a spoonful of fish oil every morning isn’t necessarily a smart swap.

    What I COMPLETELY disagree with her on (and why I doubt she is an RD) is her colon cleanse recommendation. It is unnecessary and not particularly healthy. If people want to “flush out” their colons, all they need to do is consume more insoluble fiber and liquids. Plain and simple.

    Not to mention, I would love to ask this expert how, exactly, toxins accumulate in a body with a regularly functioning liver and kidneys. There is no evidence whatsoever supporting the belief that we need to cleanse ourselves of toxins.

    What I find most illogical is that people who furiously support colon cleanses apparently fail to realize that colon cleansing eliminates all the HEALTHY bacteria in the human gut and can cause electrolyte imbalances!

    If you’ll excuse me, I now need to go center myself.


    Stop the Proteinsanity!

    Think food manufacturers had run out of places to add soy protein? Guess again!

    Say hello to Kosmo Protein Coffee, “a specialty [performance] coffee with 4 grams of plant-based soy protein per serving to keep your muscles strong.”

    Did I mention it was created by a Registered Dietitian??

    I am amazed at how strongly the “you need tons of protein every day!” marketing has stuck, even half a decade after the low carb 2.0 craze.

    I simply don’t get what audience this product is aimed at. Protein-obsessed bodybuilders? Atkins addicts?

    If you want an extra 4 grams of protein with your coffee, simply add half a cup of soy or dairy milk to it.

    Or, accompany it with a toasted slice of whole grain bread (for an EXTRA four grams, spread 1 tablespoon of peanut butter on it).

    Although protein is an essential nutrient, the average person in the United States is getting more than they need.

    Besides, extra protein doesn’t necessarily mean extra healthy. It simply tacks on a few extra calories.


    Numbers Game: Go Small, Lose Big

    There you are, driving down the highway.

    You zoom by one McDonald’s, two McDonald’s, three McDonald’s. ENOUGH! The craving for fries and a Coke can no longer be silenced.

    You pull up to the drive-thru window.

    You’re not that hungry, but you figure, if you’re going to have fries, you might as well go all out and get the large size, right?

    Well, consider the following:

    Satisfy your craving with a small order of fries and a small soda (rather than large fries and a large soda) and save _______ calories.

    a) 198
    b) 275

    c) 362

    d) 420

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

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