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    Archive for March, 2009

    You Ask, I Answer: Folate vs. Folic Acid

    What is the difference between folate and folic acid?

    Are they two different minerals?

    – (Name withheld)
    Bridgeport, CT

    Actually, they are the same vitamin!

    Folate is a B vitamin (known in a small handful of scientific circles as “Vitamin B9″) found primarily in beans, legumes, green vegetables, fruits, and, if organ meats are your “thing”, beef liver.

    Folic acid, meanwhile, is the the synthetic version of folate (i.e.: the type available in supplements).

    In what I consider an odd turn of events, our bodies absorb folic acid more efficiently than folate.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Red Mango

    When you blogged about Red Mango frozen yogurt, you endorsed it as a healthy treat.

    I also saw that in your recent ConAgra children’s frozen meal post, you commented negatively on the 18 grams of sugar it contained.

    A small, original (plain) Red Mango yogurt also has 18 grams of sugar.

    So now I’m slightly confused — is Red Mango good or bad? How can 18 grams be good in one thing, bad in another?

    – Lexi (last name withheld)
    New York, NY


    One of my biggest grips about food labels is that they do not differentiate between naturally-occurring sugars and added sugars.

    Naturally-occurring sugars are found in fruits and vegetables (in the form of fructose) as well as dairy (as lactose).

    Added sugars (mostly in the form of sucrose) are added on to foods during processing.

    Although naturally-occurring and added sugars offer the same number of calories (4 per gram), naturally-occurring sugars are different in the sense they “come with the package.”

    When you bite into an apple, you are getting sugars along with vitamins, minerals, and a wide variety of health-promoting phytonutrients (some of which we have yet to discover!).

    If you eat the same amount of sugar naturally found in an apple in the form of table sugar, you are getting empty calories (they are void of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.)

    In the case of Red Mango, the 18 grams of sugar refer to naturally-occurring AND added sugars. Approximately 10 to 12 of those grams are naturally-occurring, so you’re only getting 6 to 8 grams (1.5 to 2 teaspoons) of added sugar.

    By the way, I have a slight problem with Red Mango referring to their original flavor as “plain”, since plain flavors of regular (non-frozen) yogurt do not have any added sugar.

    In any case, this is very different from that frozen meal I posted about, which got its 18 grams of sugar from the chewy candies it offered as dessert.

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    Numbers Game: Would You Like Some Tea With Your Sugar?

    A 20 ounce bottle of Snapple Mixed-Up Berry Iced Tea contains ______ teaspoons of added sugar (in the form of high fructose corn syrup).

    a) 13
    b) 11
    .5
    c) 15
    d) 9

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

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    You Ask, I Answer: Egg Yolks (Part 2)

    How unhealthy are egg yolks?

    Is it true that some people have more of a chance (due to genes) of producing more LDL cholesterol and [that] only these individuals should eat egg yolks in moderation?

    – Lori (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Egg yolks are branded with an undeserving “unhealthy” label that has proven hard to shake off.

    It was formerly believed that high intakes of dietary cholesterol resulted in high blood cholesterol levels. We now know, however, that blood cholesterol levels are linked to intakes of of trans fats and most saturated fats.

    It is true that some individuals have a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol. Consequently, they are recommended to limit their intake of whole eggs to three per week.

    If, however, you do not fall into that category, you can safely eat one egg a day.

    As far as I’m concerned, the average healthy individual should concern themselves much more with saturated fat than cholesterol.

    After all, very low intakes of cholesterol simply mean your liver makes up for it by creating more.

    As I pointed out during Season 4 of Bravo’s reality competition show Top Chef, people often make significant nutrition mistakes when avoiding meats high in cholesterol. These meats are usually much LOWER in saturated fat and, therefore, a healthier option than varieties low in cholesterol but high in saturated fat!

    Your average large egg provides 77 calories and only 1.5 grams of saturated fat. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a good way to add riboflavin, B12, selenium, and biotin to your diet!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Food Pyramid

    Do corn and potatoes fall into the “grains” or “vegetable” category in the food pyramid?

    – Tom O’Farrell
    Boston, MA

    As far as the United States Department of Agriculture is concerned, potatoes and corn are members of the vegetable group.

    Remember, the food pyramid categorizes foods by nutrient profile.

    Although corn and potatoes are higher in carbohydrates than other vegetables, their vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content is more similar to that of vegetables than grains (we are talking about corn-on-the-cob and baked potatoes here, not Fritos and Pringles!)

    I understand the USDA’s decision from a simplicity standpoint, but it is not completely accurate in the case of corn, which is both a vegetable AND a grain, depending on how it is harvested.

    Although most people associate corn with processed junk (where it either shows up as high fructose corn syrup or corn oil in ingredient lists), it offers a good amount of nutrition when eaten fresh (off the cob) or simply popped and sprinkled with a little salt, parmesan cheese, or nutritional yeast for flavoring.

    For what it’s worth, a large ear of corn contributes 127 calories — along with vitamin C, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, and most of the B vitamins — to your day.

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    In The News: Kidney Believe It?

    This article in The San Francisco Chronicle — courtesy of the Associated Press — sheds light on a disturbing trend among children: higher incidences of kidney stones.

    “At Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, for example, the number of children treated for kidney stones since 2005 has climbed from about 10 a year to five patients a week now, said Dr. Pasquale Casale.”

    Although pediatric kidney stones are often attached to inborn metabolic defects, the majority of these new cases involve children who test negative for such disorders.

    One very likely culprit? Processed diets (specifically the high levels of sodium they contribute) within the context of low fluid intake.

    This demonstrates, as I have been saying for slightly over a year now, that sodium is well on its way to becoming the next “hot button” ingredient (following in the footsteps of trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, whole grains, and Omega-3 fatty acids).

    Expect even more companies to offer low-sodium varieties of products — particularly ones aimed at children.

    The sugar lobbyists, I’m sure, are popping a bottle of champagne as I type these words!

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    Vegetarians and vegans should aim to consume 50 percent more zinc than their meat-eating counterparts each day.

    One of the problems with the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) is that they make a few assumptions (for example, that everyone eats meat).

    In all fairness, they kind of have to since these figures are meant as average daily intakes sufficient for 97% of the population.

    The issue with vegetable sources of zinc, as with iron, is their low bioavailability.

    Therefore, if you are over the age of 18 and do not eat meat (by “meat” I mean beef, poultry, pork, and seafood), your requirement increases from 8 milligrams a day to approximately 12 or 13.

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    In The News: In The Zone

    Today’s New York Times reports the conclusion of an eight-year-long study of millions of schoolchildren completed by economists at the University of California and Columbia University: “ninth graders whose schools are within a block of a fast-food outlet are more likely to be obese than students whose schools are a quarter of a mile or more away.”

    This study is particularly significant since it adjusted for variables like income, education, and race, thereby making it easier to accurately pinpoint the effect of fast food restaurant proximity to weight.

    More specifically, “obesity rates were 5 percent higher among the ninth graders whose schools were within one-tenth of a mile of a pizza, burger or other popular fast-food outlet, compared with students attending schools farther away from fast-food stores.”

    In a not-at-all surprising move, the National Restaurant Association is shrugging this off since “it did not take individual diet and exercise into account.” The argument falls rather flat when you consider that the location of these fast food restaurants clearly had an effect on students’ diets.

    I have long been a supporter of zoning laws regarding fast food restaurants and schools, and this only strengthens my belief.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Egg Yolk

    I heard somewhere that you should keep the yolk when eating eggs as you don’t absorb the protein without it.

    I know the yolk has the highest concentration of protein but I always assumed that egg whites are also a source of protein, albeit less than a whole egg.

    Can you clarify?

    – Lori (last name withheld)
    Ottawa, Ontario

    Although egg yolks contain some protein (approximately 42% of an egg’s total protein content), egg whites contain more.

    Additionally, whereas egg yolks are a mix of protein and fat, egg whites are almost entirely made up of protein.

    You do not need to eat egg yolk in order to absorb the protein in egg whites.

    That is not to say the egg yolk is useless. It’s a wonderful source of folate, vitamin A, choline, and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Chunk Light Tuna

    I generally eat about 4 cans of chunk light tuna a week. Reasoning: Omega-3′s are good and mercury is low in chunk light tuna.

    However, I just read an article saying that mercury was high even in canned tuna, although previous sources have said that mercury levels in canned tuna are low enough to be safe.

    The same sources state that only the larger predatory fish such as shark and albacore tuna need be avoided.

    What’s your take?

    – Corey Clark
    [Location unknown]

    Chunk light tuna contains approximately one third of the mercury found in the same amount of albacore (“white”) tuna.

    According to current recommendations, adults can safely eat up to three cans of chunk light tuna a week (the suggestion for albacore tuna caps off weekly consumption at one can for adults).

    Don’t get too comfortable, though. You still need to glance at the ingredient list since some varieties of canned light tuna contain yellowfin tuna, which contains higher amounts of mercury.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Eating at Night

    Why did you say [in your Michelle Obama post] that the principle of not eating late [at night] is hogwash?

    Doesn’t the digestive system interfere with sleep if it is still working full-time at bedtime?

    – Elsa (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    The recommendation of not going to bed with a full stomach makes sense if you are talking about acid reflux or heartburn.

    Finishing up a large dinner and falling asleep on the couch half an hour later can be problematic since acidic gastric compounds from the stomach can enter the esophagus and cause symptoms that disrupt sleep.

    I was referring, though, to the common myth that not eating after a certain hour (usually 7 PM) leads to weight loss, as if there were a “magical” caloric bewitching hour.

    Eating after 7 PM will only result in weight gain if whatever you consume puts you over your caloric needs. A piece of fruit or a cup of low-fat yogurt are no more fattening at 10 PM than they are at 2 PM.

    What gets left out of these inane “weight loss rules” is that, very simply, the more hours you are awake, the more calories you are likely to consume. Hitting the sack an hour and a half after dinner doesn’t leave as much room for hunger as staying up for another four hours.

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    When A Blood Test Isn’t Enough

    If you’re looking to get a firm grasp on your iron status, a simple blood test won’t do.

    Most routine blood tests exclusively report levels of hemoglobin, which only help detect iron-deficiency anemia.

    Remember: you can have iron deficiency without anemia.  Whie iron deficiency is a less-serious condition, it nevertheless causes specific symptoms and certainly needs to be treated.

    Keeping in mind that approximately 75 percent of the world’s population is estimated to be iron deficient, it is a good idea to ask your doctor for a more accurate test.

    Next time you are due for a blood test, request to have your transferrin saturation and ferritin levels tested.

    Although ferritin is useful by itself, I strongly recommend you ask for both since ferritin can lead to false positives (inflammatory states can affect values).

    If these tests show you have iron deficiency, the solution is rather simple — include more iron in your diet.

    Fortunately, dietary interventions usually lead to improved iron levels in as little as three weeks.

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    In The News: Starstruck

    In an article titled “Is Gwyneth Paltrow’s Food Advice Perfect for the Recession?” published in this week’s New York Magazine, writer Mark Adams preposterously hails “the Goopster” (my nickname for her, don’t you like it?) as some sort of nutrition visionary.

    “We’ve entered a moment in which it’s perfectly acceptable to talk, if not boast, about the purity of one’s digestive functions, as Diddy did when he recently Twittered minute-by-minute details of his “spiritual” 48-hour juice fast,” Adams states in his opening paragraph.

    I almost threw my copy of the magazine across the room after that sentence.

    If we are going to use “Diddy” — a record label executive with more flops than I care to count and bigger delusions of grandeur than your average reality show contestant — as a thermometer of nutrition trends and sensibility, we’re in trouble.

    Alas, let’s continue.

    Adams explains that that during the Great Depression, a man named Bernarr Macfadden launched a magazine titled Physical Culture, which published recipes along with health and fitness tips.

    Adams equates this to Gwyneth Paltrow’s health and wellness- oriented website, Goop.com, which is big on detoxing and cleansing (click here to read my impression of one of her recent postings).

    “Macfadden’s main idea—one echoed by Gwyneth, Diddy, and anyone who has completed a Blueprint or Master cleanse—was that an empty stomach is the path to detoxification and wellness.”

    This notion that empty stomachs are somehow virtuous sets up a horrendously disturbing slippery slope that leads right into eating disorders.

    “An empty stomach is the path to wellness” might as well be the mantra of someone living with anorexia nervosa.

    Again, why are we looking to Gwyneth Paltrow and Diddy for health advice? Are people that blinded by fame that they consider celebrities to somehow know the answers to everything?

    For that matter, Mr. Macfadden (who, in his defense, had some good ideas in terms of the virtues of whole grains) himself was a self-appointed nutrition expert (thus explaining his belief that 7-day fasts were healthy).

    “Many more people are going to lose their health insurance before anything approaching universal coverage gets passed. Meanwhile, we might all be better off if we literally tightened our belts and followed the stars for a while instead,” Adams feebly concludes.

    No, Mr. Adams. We shouldn’t follow the stars. We should simply use common sense. Cut back on processed junk, eat more fruits and vegetables, add whole grains to our diet, keep tabs on calories, and stop turning to celebrities for nutrition advice.

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    Numbers Game: Getting In Zinc

    Vegetarians and vegans should aim to consume _____ percent more zinc than their meat-eating counterparts each day.

    a) 17
    b) 25
    c) 50
    d) 0

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Friday for the answer — and some little-known facts about this mineral.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Protein On The Go

    Got an idea for a source of protein for my daughter that I can take with me out and about during the day that doesn’t require refrigeration?

    – “n/a”
    Via the blog

    Nuts are always great; peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pistachios are easily transportable sources of protein.

    Although all nuts should be stored in the refrigerator (to slow down rancidity of fats), it is certainly okay to carry some with you throughout the day.

    I am not a big fan of protein bars. The vast majority of them are loaded with added sugar and saturated fats.

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