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Archive for November, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Mock Meats

From a nutritional standpoint, what do you think of fake meats like Tofurkey or Boca [soy-based] burgers?

Seems like they are a kind of vegetarian junk food.

– Christine (last name unknown)
Via the blog

Soy burgers, hot dogs, and turkeys can add protein to a meal while  keeping excess calories, and saturated fat at bay.

Depending on my mood, I sometimes throw in some soy beef crumbles into my chili recipe for a burst of meaty texture.

The main concern with these types of foods is that they are highly processed, and therefore contain quite a bit of sodium.

Remember, the more processed a food, the higher its sodium content (one exception to this rule is smoked fish, which is not processed, but simply has a high amount of salt added on.)

So, yes, it is fairly accurate to think of these foods as “vegetarian junk food” in the sense that they should not be daily staples, nor are they “healthy” simply by virtue of being vegetarian. There are far more nutritious choices out there.

Granted, not all mock meat offerings are very high in sodium.

One Boca Burger patty, for instance, contains 280 milligrams and just 70 calories.

If you are enjoying it with some steamed broccoli and a baked potato, the entire meal should not surpass the 450 or 500 milligram mark.

Other brands, however, can offer as much as 450 or 500 milligrams of sodium in just one patty.

As always, be sure to check the label. You want to choose varieties offering no more than 300 milligrams of sodium.

In the same way that an omnivore should not eat hamburgers on a daily basis, a similar principle can be applied to meatless alternatives.

Enjoying them occasionally is fine, but the bulk of the diet should not come from the frozen foods section or from processed soy products.

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Numbers Game: Answer

A 24-ounce limited edition Jack in the Box eggnog shake contains 1,450 calories, 225 percent of the daily saturated fat recommended limit, and 3 grams of trans fat.

(NOTE: Trans fat recommendations are set at 0 grams per day.)

If this “special edition” shake is available after December 31, they should change its name to “The Resolution Breaker.”

To put it in perspective, this beverage has more calories than an entire 12-inch Domino’s cheese pizza (with regular — not thin — crust)!

And if you thought the 3 grams of trans fat were bad, check out some of the other options on Jack in the Box’s menu.

A 10-piece order of mini churros delivers a jaw-dropping (and heart-stopping?) SEVEN grams of trans fat!

An order of French Fries from the children’s menu may seem innocent with its 220 calories, but it also delivers 3.5 grams of trans fat.

So, dear president-elect Obama, how about igniting heart-healthy change with a national trans fat ban?

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You Ask, I Answer: Carob

SunspireCarobChipsLgCan you tell me what, exactly, carob is?

I bought the wrong bag of trail mix by accident today and it has almonds, raisins, cashews, and carob.

The taste is okay. I just don’t know what I’m eating!

— Ray Amila
New York, NY

Although carob is a popular vegan substitute for milk chocolate, it is actually a legume!

It is made from the pulp of the pods of an evergreen tree indigenous to the Mediterranean Sea region (although it is now grown in many parts of the world.)

In some countries, like Israel, it is common to dunk the pods in hot water for about thirty seconds (just enough to soften them) and chew on them as a snack.

In the United States, carob pods are usually roasted, ground into powder, and then used to make things like carob chips (which can then go into vegan cookies, or used as toppings for vegan ice cream.)

I should note, though, that not ALL carob products are vegan. Some carob manufacturers add milk solids to them, so always be sure to read the ingredient label.

Some people seek out carob because it is naturally caffeine-free.

Others like it because it is a cocoa powder substitute that offers a good dose of calcium.

Two tablespoons of carob powder, for instance, provides almost a tenth of the mineral’s daily recommended intake (that same amount of cocoa powder only provides one percent.)

So don’t worry, you’re not eating some sort of Frankenfood!

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You Ask, I Answer: Cocoa Butter

I recently went vegan.

The other day I was reading chocolate bars’ ingredient labels and didn’t know if cocoa butter was an animal by-product or not.

Can you help?

– Laura Brenty
Chicago, IL

Sure!

Cocoa butter is 100 percent vegan — it is a purely vegetable-based fat naturally found in cocoa beans.

Vegan chocolate is very easy to come by — a lot of the big drugstores, like Walgreen’s, carry it!

To make sure it is completely dairy-free, be on the lookout for milk solids and/or whey-based ingredients.

By the way, one of my favorite brands of vegan chocolate — actually, one of my favorite brands of ALL chocolate — is Endangered Species (pictured alongside this post.)

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In The News: Lean Times, Leaner Burger

Starting Monday, the double cheeseburger will disappear from McDonald’s dollar menu.

It’s not that customers don’t love it — it’s actually the chain’s best-selling $1 item!

In its place? The same burger with just one slice of cheese, a different name, and a slightly heftier price tag.

The McDouble — the end result of McDonald’s strategy to increase profits after the cost of commodities like wheat skyrocketed over the past year — is set to debut in 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants on December 1.

Retailing for $1.19, this new version offers 50 fewer calories (390) and 25 percent less saturated fat (8.5 grams, or roughly 42% of the recommended daily limit) than its predecessor.

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You Ask, I Answer: Food Labeling/Marinades

Having just tossed a jar of marinated mushrooms with shrimp for dinner, I wonder [the following:]

Does the “10 calories per serving” [figure] include both the marinade and the mushrooms, or just the mushrooms?

Would the answer be the same for all marinated foods and fruits in juice/syrup?

– Luis [last name unknown]
Fort Knox, KY

Whatever caloric — and nutrient — values appear on a food label apply to the sum of every ingredient in that product.

Unless the label has two separate columns (say, one labeled “mushrooms” and another titled “mushrooms and marinade”), you can assume the provided figures apply to both the mushrooms and the marinade.

Since these mushrooms clock in at just 10 calories per serving, I am assuming the marinade is fat-free and made up mostly of vinegar and spices.

Anyway, the same principle applies to fruits canned in heavy syrup — the values on that label are very different from those of peaches packed in water.

You often see the two-column food label with:

Cereal (one column lists values for the cereal, the other figures in a certain amount of non-fat milk)

Quick-cooking grains with accompanying flavor pouches (one column lists values for the grain, the other — usually VERY high in sodium — provides nutrition information once the flavor packet is factored in.)

And, most recently, with…

Some 20 ounce soda bottles and “single portion” chips (one column lists “a serving,” the other lists values for the entire container.)

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Quick & Healthy Recipes: Vegan Sweet Potato Mash

Here’s a super quick, tasty, and healthy recipe perfect for Thanksgiving dinner!

I made this last year for my guests and it received wonderful reviews.

YIELDS: 5 servings

INGREDIENTS

4 medium sweet potatoes
½ cup orange juice (ideally freshly squeezed from two whole oranges; if not, store-bought works)
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

INSTRUCTIONS

Rinse sweet potatoes and cut into medium to large cubes. Leave the skins on!

Steam until soft (approximately 30 – 40 minutes. You can also boil them, but steaming retains more nutrients)

Transfer steamed sweet potatoes to a medium bowl and mash with fork.

In a pot over medium heat, mix together the sweet potato mash with the orange juice, salt, and spices.

Once well mixed, transfer to bowl, top with extra virgin olive oil.

Mix lightly with spatula. Enjoy!

NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving):

190 calories
1.4 grams saturated fat

273 milligrams sodium

3 grams fiber

Excellent source of: Vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, potassium, monounsaturated fat

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You Ask, I Answer: Doughnuts

Is there any [nutritional] difference between regular doughnuts and cake doughnuts?

– Melissa Yeats
Boston, MA

Yes.

Cake doughnuts usually contain 30 to 50 percent more total — and saturated! — fat than regular (yeast-based) doughnuts.

As a result, these cake-like pastries usually provide anywhere from 50 to 100 more calories than their yeast-based counterparts.

This reminds me — don’t feel too safe ordering Dunkin’ Donuts munchkins. Some of them pack quite a punch.

Example? Four glazed chocolate cake munchkins add up to 300 calories.

That same amount of jelly-filled yeast-based munchkins provides a more reasonable 192 calories.

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Numbers Game: Happy Heart Attack… Er, Holidays

A 24-ounce limited edition Jack in the Box eggnog shake contains _____ calories, _____ percent of the daily saturated fat recommended limit, and ____ grams of trans fat.

(NOTE: Trans fat recommendations are set at 0 grams per day.)

a) 1,290/170/1.8
b) 1,700/140/2.1

c) 1,450/225/3
d) 1,380/195/3.9

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

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You Ask, I Answer: Ice Milk

Have you heard of, or know much about, ice milk?

I think Weight Watchers promotes it.

– Katie P.
(Location unknown)

Ice milk is the outdated term for what we now call “low fat ice cream.”

The name change occurred as a result of new FDA labeling laws in 1994.

Four years later, milk underwent similar changes, with 2% officially changing its name to “reduced-fat” and 1% being renamed “low-fat.”

I don’t understand why Weight Watchers would specifically suggest participants seek out ice milk, since that term is literally extinct.

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Numbers Game: Answer

According to the latest Federal Trade Commission figures, food and beverage companies spent a total of $ 492 million in 2006 to advertise soda to children between the ages of 2 and 17.

That is a higher advertising budget than Apple Computers’!

Candy and gum advertising in 2006, you ask? Oh, in the $500 – $550 million range.


Meanwhile, the Five A Day campaign, which promoted eating five servings of vegetables on a daily basis, spent slightly less than $10 million in advertising the year before.

We are all susceptible to marketing, especially children. If something looks “cool,” they will want it.

Yes, that even applies to healthy foods. Remember the Dancing Raisins from the 1980s?

I sure do — it seemed every commercial break from Captain Planet had those raisins in it! If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I have provided an image with this post.

The clay-animated spots clearly worked. The California Raisin Board credits that campaign for increasing raisin sales by ten percent.

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In The News: Another One Bites the Dust… Yay!

Those of you who watched my YouTube video on appetite suppressants know how much I loathe them.

So, as you may imagine, I was pleased as punch to find out today that multi-national giant Unilever has canceled negotiations with Hoodia supplier Phytopharm to use the plant extract in Slimfast products, despite plunking down $25 million in research and developments costs over the last four years.

Unilever’s official statement is very PR-friendly: “the extract would not meet our safety and efficacy standards.”

In other words — the whole thing is bunk and they want nothing to do with it. Good!

By the way, Hoodia was one of the “magic indredients” in TrimSpa. We all know how THAT ended.

For those of you unfamiliar with Hoodia, it is a plant native to the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, which Natives have supposedly eaten for centuries to keep hunger at bay while on long treks.

The “magic” apparently occurs due to a molecule in the plant known as P57, which allegedly shuts off appetite by targeting the hypothalamus.

Mind you, there is absolutely no evidence that Hoodia works. All we have are anecdotal accounts (generously provided by companies selling the product, of course.)

It’s also silly to assume that processed parts of a plant, either in powder or capsule form, yield the same results as consuming it in unadulterated ways.

That’s like someone hawking fruit juice concentrates in pill form and claiming they offer the same health benefits as a piece of raw fruit.

Even if Hoodia did work, appetite suppresants are the worst thing you can do for long-term weight loss.

They don’t teach new behaviors and can have risky side-effects (remember, the term “appetite suppresant” is a euphemism for “amphetamines.”)

How about a pill that makes consumers immune to diet scams, frauds, and “magic bullets”?

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You Ask, I Answer: BRAT Diet

How legitimate is the BRAT (banana, rice, applesauce, toast) diet for relieving diarrhea?

– Celia (last name withheld)
New York, NY

The reasoning behind the BRAT “diet” is legitimate.

The idea is that, when consumed for approximately four consecutive days, these foods help thicken stools, thereby assuring a speedy recovery.

Apples, for example, are part of the diet because they are high in pectin, a soluble fiber that helps solidify the stool.

That said, carrots, peas, and peaches contain higher levels of pectin.

Although thousands of pediatricians still recommend it to parents whose children are going through gastrointestinal distress, I don’t find adherence to BRAT to be of such critical importance.

When someone is sick, nutrition plays a very important role in terms of consuming all the nutrients we need.

The BRAT diet, however, falls short for me because it is very low in protein, zinc, calcium, and other vitamins and minerals.

Besides, other foods can be just as effective at treating diarrhea — particularly oat-based products.

Remember, oat bran contains soluble fiber (the type that, apart from helping lower cholesterol levels, thickens stools).  Other great sources of soluble fiber include nuts, legumes, beans, fruits, and vegetables.

Insoluble fiber — found in high amounts in whole wheat products — keeps things moving through our digestive system.  Definitely a plus, but not when you’re dealing with these symptoms.

Plain yogurt — particularly if it contains live and active cultures — is another great food for battling these symptoms, since the live and active cultures help boost healthy bacteria in our gut.

I don’t think anyone should be restricted to the four foods suggested by the BRAT diet when looking to get their digestive system back on track.

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You Ask, I Answer: Ostrich Eggs

Do ostrich eggs offer the same nutrients as eggs laid by hens?

– Joelle Numberg
(city withheld), AZ

Let me guess — this question was inspired by this week’s Top Chef episode?

For those of you who don’t watch that wonderful Bravo reality show, contestants were asked to reinvent classic American dishes, and one not-too-methodical participant decided to make a quiche with ostrich eggs despite never having cooked with them.

This move led to her elimination at the end of the episode.

So, apart from destroying reality show contestants’ runs, what else do ostrich eggs offer?

The main selling point is that they are significantly lower in cholesterol — and a bit lower in saturated fat — than their chicken counterparts.

Keep in mind that one ostrich egg is equal to two dozen of the chicken variety, so you must always remember to divide.

The 2,000 calories contained on a single ostrich egg isn’t at all outrageous when you divide by 24 and get 83 calories — a mere six more calories than your standard chicken egg.

Vitamin and mineral composition is nearly identical, although ostrich eggs offer lower levels of vitamin A and slightly more magnesium.

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You Ask, I Answer: Aflatoxins

I’m concerned about aflatoxin risk associated with consuming nut butters.

Is there legitimate cause for concern?

Are aflatoxins only present in peanut butter, but not almond, cashew or other nut butters?

– Tom T.
Boston, MA

For those of you not familiar with aflatoxins, allow me to introduce you. You might not want to shake hands, though.

Aflatoxins are highly poisonous varieties of mycotoxins. In biochemical jargon, we are talking about the metabolic byproduct of a particular fungus.

It just so happens that this fungus has a tendency to grow on certain crops — especially corn and peanuts.

Like any good fungus, it thrives in damp, warm environments.

Hence, if such conditions present themselves at any point of the transit or storage of these crops you can bet there will be fungal growth — and high aflatoxin levels.

Yeah, not so ideal.

Apart from providing a funky flavor, aflatoxins can cause a variety of liver disorders, as well as significantly increase liver cancer risk when consumed in high amounts..

No need to start peanut panic just yet, though.

Most countries, particularly the “developed” nations (I put that in quotations because I find that term to be so outdated and elitist) have set limits on just how many parts per billion of aflatoxins can be permitted in crops entering their food supply.

So, if a particular peanut crop registers as too high, it will certainly not end up in your peanut butter.

In the United States, the National Peanut Administrative Committee has taken this issue very seriously. There is no worse PR for a food than intoxication risks.

To answer your second question: yes, peanut butter is the only nut butter to contain aflatoxins, but not the only nut. Walnuts and pecans also register teeny, tiny, insignificant amounts (the commercial walnut and pecan butters I’ve seen are mixed with some cashew butter).

PS: I know a peanut is technically a legume and not a nut. For simplicity purposes, though, it’s a nut. Capiche?

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