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    Archive for November, 2008

    Numbers Game: Drinking Money

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

    a) 298
    b) 492

    c) 364
    d) 601

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

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    You Ask, I Answer: Olive Oil Potato Chips

    What are your thoughts on potato chips fried in olive oil?

    I saw some at the store and wondered if you thought they were a better snack than regular potato chips.

    What oil are regular potato chips fried in, anyway?

    — Richard Faenza
    Los Angeles, CA

    Most commercial potato chips are fried in cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, or peanut oil.

    The reason behind that is simple — they have high smoke points. This means they can be heated at a higher temperature than other oils without their flavor being affected. Music to a cook’s ears!

    Regardless of the type of oil potato chips are cooked in, you usually get 10 grams of fat per 1 ounce serving.

    Potato chips fried in olive oil aren’t as great as they may sound.

    Sure, olive oil contains a higher percentage of monounsaturated fat than cottonseed oil, but you should not be looking to potato chips to increase your heart-healthy fat intake.

    Besides, from a caloric standpoint, they are identical to any other potato chip.

    If you enjoy the taste of these chips, enjoy them as a treat.

    Don’t, however, think of them as a “healthy” potato chip alternative. Extreme heat takes away a good percentage of olive oil’s antioxidant and healthful properties.

    This is not to say olive oil transforms into a “bad” oil, but rather that using olive oil for deep frying is not a heart-healthy move.

    If you are looking to incorporate more monounsaturated fats into your diet, I would much rather you chomp on some peanuts, add some avocados to your sandwich, or simply dress your salad with olive oil.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Olive Oil Potato Chips

    What are your thoughts on potato chips fried in olive oil?

    I saw some at the store and wondered if you thought they were a better snack than regular potato chips.

    What oil are regular potato chips fried in, anyway?

    — Richard Faenza
    Los Angeles, CA

    Most commercial potato chips are fried in cottonseed, sunflower, safflower, or peanut oil.

    The reason behind that is simple — they have high smoke points. This means they can be heated at a higher temperature than other oils without their flavor being affected. Music to a cook’s ears!

    Regardless of the type of oil potato chips are cooked in, you usually get 10 grams of fat per 1 ounce serving.

    Potato chips fried in olive oil aren’t as great as they may sound.

    Sure, olive oil contains a higher percentage of monounsaturated fat than cottonseed oil, but you should not be looking to potato chips to increase your heart-healthy fat intake.

    Besides, from a caloric standpoint, they are identical to any other potato chip.

    If you enjoy the taste of these chips, enjoy them as a treat.

    Don’t, however, think of them as a “healthy” potato chip alternative. Extreme heat takes away a good percentage of olive oil’s antioxidant and healthful properties.

    This is not to say olive oil transforms into a “bad” oil, but rather that using olive oil for deep frying is not a heart-healthy move.

    If you are looking to incorporate more monounsaturated fats into your diet, I would much rather you chomp on some peanuts, add some avocados to your sandwich, or simply dress your salad with olive oil.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    A half cup of canned peach slices in heavy syrup contains approximately 4.5 teaspoons of added sugar.

    Yikes.

    Not only does that tack on 72 completely worthless calories, it also offers one more teaspoon of added sugar than a glazed Dunkin’ Donuts concoction.

    As for the 10% of the potassium daily value offered in half a cup of natural peach slices? It decreases by half in its canned form.

    Vitamin C levels are also slashed by 50 percent when peaches undergo this kind of processing.

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    In The News: Eat Food, Not Vitamins

    I fear how some members of the mainstream media will report on the latest finding from the Physicians Health Study that “Vitamin C or E pills do not help prevent cancer in men.”

    I certainly hope I don’t come across any “why oranges may not be as healthy as you might think,” teasers on any news shows.

    I am actually quite glad these well-publicized studies are arriving at these firm conclusions.

    They make it absolutely clear that simply isolating nutrients in pill form and downing them with a glass of water every morning has very little to do with disease risk reduction.

    In fact, this is precisely why dietitians have been recommending the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains for decades.

    It is not just one vitamin or mineral that helps lower disease risk.

    Rather, it is the interaction and interplay between vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols, and other compounds in food that provide health benefits. An orange is much more than vitamin C in a refreshing package.

    Don’t expect the multivitamin companies to let you in on that tidbit anytime soon.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Food Allergies

    I have been feeling sluggish and bloated for almost 6 weeks now.

    One of my friends thinks it is probably a food allergy, either corn, wheat, or soy.

    Do you agree?

    — (Name withheld)
    (Location withheld)

    Not really.

    Let’s first begin with some basic definitions.

    A food allergy means your body is developing antibodies in response to specific food proteins.

    This is different from a food intolerance, which has to do with the body’s inability to break down certain substances, often resulting in gastrointestinal distress.

    While wheat and soy allergies are common, corn allergies are not.

    Additionally, corn allergies trigger symptoms like wheezing, sneezing, and swelling of the throat and face almost immediately. They go far beyond simply feeling “sluggish.”

    Keep in mind, too, that feeling sluggish and bloated are not necessarily allergic reactions.

    Feeling sluggish can be a result of many other things — stress, iron-deficiency anemia, not consuming sufficient calories, etc.

    It concerns me that there is so much self-monitoring happening with allergies. To truly know what is going on, you need to see a specialist who has experience with food allergies.

    Otherwise, you run the risk of misdiagnosing or overlooking a more important issue.

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    Numbers Game: How Sweet Can It Get?

    A half cup of canned peach slices in heavy syrup contains approximately ______ teaspoons of added sugar.

    a) 3.5
    b) 2.75
    c) 4.5
    d) 2.25

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

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    You Ask, I Answer: Alfalfa Sprouts

    Are alfalfa sprouts full of nutrients?

    I was leafing through a book about juicing yesterday and the author claimed alfalfa sprouts offer more nutrients than oranges, spinach, and blueberries.

    True?

    — Morgan (last name withheld)
    Boston, MA

    Absolutely false.

    Although alfalfa sprouts contain an ample variety of nutrients, they exist in minimal — practically non-existent — amounts (a half cup contains roughly one to two percent of the daily value of most vitamins and minerals.)

    They aren’t even a good source of fiber!

    The nutrient these sprouts offer the most of is Vitamin K — and that’s at a decent, but by no means amazing, 13 percent per half cup serving.

    Alfalfa sprouts, much like a straight “C” student, don’t stand out as particularly great or horrible. They just…. are.

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    The Dirty Details

    The latest issue of Details magazine features a short health piece titled “How Hard Can You Play”, in which readers are informed of just how much of a good time they can potentially have with popular vices before guaranteeing themselves a nasty hangover.

    Included in this piece is the following question:

    “How do you bounce back from a hard night out?”

    Here is the first part of the answer:

    “Heather Sachs Blattman, a dietitian in New York, suggests combating the dehydration and impaired metabolism… by eating a meal rich in fiber, protein, and antioxidants…. and drinking lots of fluids, preferably with electrolytes. ‘Vitamin Water’s Revive is great to get you back in balance,’ she says.”

    Eyeroll, please! Of course she does.

    What I happen to know — that Details does not tell you — is that Ms. Sachs Blattman is the in-house dietitian for Glacéau, the company that just happens to make Vitamin Water.

    My my, what a coincidence!

    Advertisements — and shameless plugs — are truly everywhere.

    And, no, you don’t need Vitamin Water to bounce back from a “hard night out.”

    Water will do the trick just fine. While you’re at it, munch on a medium banana to get plenty of potassium (one of the main electrolytes in sports drinks.)

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    You Ask, I Answer/Perfect Pickings: Cereal

    I love cereal and eat it almost every morning but I often feel like the ones I eat are probably too sugary or not very substantial.

    Can you recommend a cereal or two that you consider healthy and nutritious?

    — Jenna Kozel
    Washington, DC

    Since the cereal market is so vast, I find it easier to recommend particular nutrient values and ingredients to look for in these products.

    The first thing to take note of is the serving size.

    Many brands of granola, for instance, use a quarter cup as their serving size, which is absolutely laughable.

    A lot of cereals, meanwhile, list their serving size as a half cup.

    If you have a measuring cup at home, please pour enough cereal into it to fill it to the brim. Yes, that tiny amount is what many companies use as a “serving.” Unreal!

    What I recommend you do as early as tomorrow morning is pour the amount of cereal you normally eat into a bowl.

    Then, use a measuring cup to determine the exact amount of cereal in that bowl.

    Keep that figure as a reference each time you read a cereal’s nutrition label, as it will help you make smarter choices when shopping.

    Let’s say you eat 1.5 cups of cereal every morning.

    If a cereal using half cup servings delivers 150 calories per serving, while another using 1 cup servings offers 200, you now know which is the better choice for you (in this case, the latter would add 300 calories to your day, while the first one would add up to 450.)

    You also want to pay attention to fiber content.

    I recommend anywhere from 4 to 7 grams of fiber per serving.

    Again, since the average person eats more than one serving of cereal in one sitting, I don’t think it’s necessary to track down cereals offering fiber in the double digits.

    Sugar values are also important. I consider up to 3 grams per serving to be the limit (especially since, again, most people eat two or three servings of cereal at a time).

    Be careful with cereals containing raisins or other fruit, as the naturally-occurring fruit sugars “unfairly” drive up sugar numbers.

    Twelve grams of sugar per serving from a cereal with marshmallows offers less nutrition than twelve grams of sugar from a cereal that contains raisins (which provide antioxidants and phytonutrients.)

    If you enjoy raisins in your cereal, you — and your wallet — are better off buying raisins separately and adding them yourself.

    Finally, take a look at the ingredient list. You want to this to be short and, ideally, be absent of refined grains (i.e.: enriched wheat flour.)

    When in doubt, look for the Whole Grains Council Stamp.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Stevia

    What’s your take on Stevia versus other no-calorie sweeteners (Splenda, etc)?

    I generally use Splenda, but started to use stevia since it is supposed to be more ‘natural’ and ‘unprocessed.”

    — Jean (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    I would rank Stevia as the most controversial no-calorie sweetener.

    Although it is plant-derived (thereby less artificial than Splenda, aspartame, or saccharin) and has been used in some countries (like Japan) for almost two decades, the United States was never open to it, citing concerns over rather shoddy animal studies showing apparent mutagenic properties of some components of the sweetener.

    It was banned in 1991, and when that ban was lifted three years later, the Food & Drug Administration refused to grant it GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status as a food additive, thereby only making it legal if sold as a supplement. Confused yet?

    I — and many others — suspect this had more to do with political motives than actual health concerns.

    Consider the fact that patented (hint: profitable) artificial sweeteners faced fewer legal roadblocks.

    Adding to that, once two multi-national bigshot corporations like Coca Cola and Cargill jointly developed — and patented — a Stevia-based sweetener (Truvia), the FDA had no problem granting them a green light.

    Although I don’t use it myself, I don’t have a problem with someone sweetening their morning coffee with a teaspoon or two of Stevia.

    What I want to point out about all these zero-calorie sweeteners, though, is that people are misguided if they think using them in place of sugar in the occasional beverage is an efficient weight-loss and overall health strategy.

    No one becomes overweight or obese as a result of the tablespoon of sugar they add to their morning coffee every day (two packets of sugar only contribute 32 calories.)

    It is the sodas, cookies, candies, muffins, and chocolate bars that are loaded with empty calories (in the form of sugar) that are more problematic. Although sodas are available in zero-calorie varieties, such is not the case with baked goods and other sweets.

    And, so, we once again come back to the concept of general eating patterns — and total calories — being at the core of health and weight goals.

    Using a non-caloric sweetener in coffee does not offset consuming too many calories throughout the day.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    An average 6-piece inside-out ‘uramaki’ sushi roll (rice on the outside, nori on the inside, as pictured at right) at a Japanese restaurant in the United States contains 1 cup of rice.

    (Note: 1 serving of rice = 1/2 cup)

    This is a perfect example of a relatively healthy, low-calorie Asian meal undergoing a monstrous caloric metamorphosis upon arriving to the United States.

    In Japan, the vast majority of sushi is eaten nigiri style (this is where rice is compacted into a small rectangle underneath each piece of fish) or maki style (nori/seaweed on the outside of each piece.)

    It’s also significant that maki rolls are approximately a half or a third of the size of inside out varieties common on this side of the Pacific Ocean.

    This figure means that 6 pieces of an inside-out roll pack in slightly less than 200 calories from the rice alone.

    Order two of those puppies and you are up to 4 servings of grains, per USDA pyramid standards.

    Another calorie shocker? Spicy rolls contain anywhere from 100 to 150 moe calories than their traditional counterparts — the special sauce is basically mayonnaise with a kick.

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    No Wonder Potatoes Have A Bad Reputation

    Arby’s is offering a new side item on their menu — loaded potato bites (pictured at left).

    Uh oh, the term “loaded” is generally code for “artery and waist busting.”

    This is no exception.

    These “yummy pieces of fluffy potato, deep fried and loaded with cheddar cheese and bits of bacon” are accompanied with a ranch sour cream dipping sauce.

    A large side order (10 pieces) adds 707 calories, 14 grams of saturated fat (almost three quarters of a day’s worth), and 1,600 milligrams of sodium (two thirds of a day’s worth) to your tray.

    The ranch dip, meanwhile, contributes an additional 158 calories, 4 grams of saturated fat, and 277 milligrams of sodium.

    This is calorically equal to two orders of large fries at McDonald’s.

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    Red, White, and Blue — And Good For You

    With patriotic spirits soaring over the past few days, I thought it would be perfect timing to discuss U.S. Mills’ cereal and instant oatmeal products — easy and very tasty ways to increase your whole grain and fiber intake.

    Three quarters of a cup of Uncle Sam’s original cereal offers 10 grams of fiber (all derived from the ingredients, not added on for fortification), 7 grams of protein, and 0.5 grams of sugar in a 190 calorie package.

    I do wish, however, that this cereal included ground flaxseed (as opposed to whole) for even more of a nutrition boost.

    In any case, throw in some sliced bananas, add your milk of choice (dairy, soy, rice, etc.) and you have a filling, wholesome breakfast.

    Their instant oatmeal with non-genetically modified soymilk, meanwhile, makes for a wonderfully convenient vegan breakfast.

    Simply add water and enjoy…

    160 calories
    50 milligrams of sodium
    (that’s 220 fewer milligrams than the same amount of Quaker instant flavored oatmeal)
    5 grams of fiber
    6 grams — a mere teaspoon and a half — of added sugar (50% less than Quaker flavored oatmeals)
    7 grams of protein

    … per packet.

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    In The News: Sweet Detention

    An article in yesterday’s New York Times reports on the nutritional metamorphosis taking place in several hundred school districts across the country.

    A California law that passed in 2005 and went into effect last July set “strict new state nutrition standards for public schools, [requiring] that snacks sold during the school day [including at bake sales] contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat.”

    Some schools are taking this further and applying it to birthday celebrations in the classroom.

    “In Guilford, CT, the school district’s health advisory committee has decided that birthday parties belong at home. At A. W. Cox Elementary, birthdays are celebrated with an extra 15 minutes of recess, special pencils or a “birthday book club” with commemorative inserts.”

    I applaud these innovative concepts.

    While there is nothing wrong with celebrating a birthday at school with cupcakes, I find it critical to instill in children that it is possible to enjoy these moments without highly caloric food.

    After all, it is precisely this behavior that is later replicated in adulthood and can become problematic.

    I am consistently surprised by the amount of people who will eat a slice of cake handed to them at an office birthday celebration even if they are not hungry or in the mood for cake.

    It can be very difficult to undo the “you always eat a slice of cake at a birthday party” reflex when it is perpetuated several times a year from preschool on.

    At the same time, a few of the images and anecdotes shared in this story worry me.

    First, the mention that “Piedmont High School [in Piedmont, CA] banned homemade brownies and cookies” from bake sales.

    Does this mean commercial varieties are allowed? If so, what is the logic behind that? I would much rather have a cookie simply made with flour, butter, sugar, and vanilla than one out of a box listing 20 ingredients.

    If the lack of information about included ingredients (and amounts) is troublesome, why not cut up each brownie square into two triangular halves and sell them that way?

    Lastly, am I supposed to believe that whatever else is being sold at these bake sales is somehow healthier than a brownie or a cookie? A lemon square or oatmeal raisin cookie can have just as many calories, sugar, and saturated fat.

    Then we have a photograph of teacher Anna X. L. Wong of Berkeley, CA, reviewing “good foods” versus “bad foods” with her kindergarteners.

    In the photograph, we can see that candy, cake, bubblegum, ice cream, and soda fall in the “bad” category, while a variety of fruits and vegetables make the “good” column.

    I am not arguing that candy, ice cream, and soda are healthy (although I do think that labeling bubblegum as bad is ridiculous), but I really hate the overly simplistic good food/bad food dichotomy.

    I find that it often leads to obsessive thinking, guilt, and can inaccurately be perceived as “foods that should never be eaten.”

    I would find it much more helpful if kids learned about foods from a consumption model (“foods to eat every day/once a week/only occassionally.”)

    What confuses me most is that many of these schools so intent on banning homemade baked goods for “health concerns” still allow sugary sports drinks and vitamin-enhanced drinks (which often contain just as much sugar as soda) to be stocked in their vending machines.

    I guess it’s hard to turn down those companies when they offer to build you a football field, huh?

    Very interested in hearing your thoughts.

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