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    Archive for March, 2009

    In The News: Is Sugar’s "Time Out" Over?

    The New York Times recently profiled sugar’s triumphant return.

    “Blamed for hyperactivity in children and studied as an addictive substance, sugar has had its share of image problems,” the paper reports, “but the widespread criticism of high-fructose corn syrup has made sugar look good by comparison.”

    As much as the The Sugar Association loves this shift in consumers’ attitudes, I am absolutely dismayed that the issue at stake is whether sugar is more nutritious than high fructose corn syrup.

    A much more accurate — and healthful — concept would be to simply decrease the intake of added sugars, period.

    I understand the political, economic, environmental, and farming business implications behind high-fructose corn syrup that make it a bigger threat than sugar, but the fact remains that eating 100 grams of added sugars each day — whether as high fructose corn syrup or sugar — adds up to 400 extra calories.

    Dr. Robert H. Lustig of the University of California, San Francisco Children’s Hospital sums it up perfectly: “The argument about which is better for you, sucrose or HFCS, is garbage. Both are equally bad for your health.”


    You Ask, I Answer: Wild Salmon

    If I don’t eat canned salmon (which I know is usually wild and not farmed), are there any ways to help me determine if the fresh salmon I am eating is farm-raised or not?

    — Elizabeth Isaacson
    Portland, OR

    Although some supermarkets label their fish accordingly (“farmed” or “wild-caught”), those descriptions are not always accurate.

    There are, however, certain clues you can keep in mind.

    Anytime you see the term “Atlantic salmon”, you are dealing with farm-raised fish. Anyone who tries to sell you Atlantic salmon as “wild-caught” is most likely lying through their teeth.

    On the flip side, “Pacific salmon” encompasses a variety of species (including chinook/king, chum, coho, sockeye, and pink) that are wild-caught.

    Texture can sometimes be a giveaway, too. Wild-caught salmon tends to have a thicker, meatier mouthfeel.

    I don’t consider price to be much of an indicator.

    Although you will never see wild-caught salmon at $5 a pound, some dishonest stores will sell farm-raised salmon at $14 a pound in an attempt to make consumers think they are paying for something wild-caught.

    On another disturbing note, the numbers of wild salmon are drastically reducing with each passing year. Please visit “Save Our (Wild) Salmon” for more information.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    A single-serve 11-ounce bottle of ready-to-drink Carnation Instant Breakfast Essentials contains 5.25 teaspoons of added sugar.

    I never understood Carnation Instant Breakfast’s reputation as a health product. It’s nothing more than fortified chocolate milk (the second ingredient is sugar).

    There is absolutely no difference between starting your day with Carnation Instant Breakfast and downing a multivitamin along with a glass of Nesquik.

    In fact, if your breakfast consisted of an 11 ounce glass of non-fat milk with a tablespoon of chocolate syrup, you would be consuming half the amount of sugar in a bottle of ready-to-drink Carnation Instant Breakfast.

    Depending on which way the wind is blowing, Carnation Instant Breakfast and rice cakes are at the top of my “nutritionally overrated foods” list.


    You Ask, I Answer: Wild Blueberries

    Are wild blueberries more nutritious than regular blueberries?

    — Sophia Durbitry
    [Location withheld]

    The main differences between wild blueberries and “regular” (planted) blueberries are their size (wild blueberries are smaller) and taste (wild blueberries are tangier and a little sweeter).

    From a nutritional standpoint, there isn’t a huge difference.

    Wild blueberries are reported to have higher levels of antioxidants, but I wonder if that is simply because they are smaller in size (a half cup of wild blueberries contains almost twice as much individual berries as half a cup of cultivated blueberries).

    Even if, ounce by ounce, the wild variety is higher in antioxidants, cultivated blueberries already contain a wide array.

    Incorporating blueberries — wild or otherwise — into your diet is a great move. As the popular idiom suggests, “don’t sweat the small stuff.”


    In The News: Michelle On A Mission

    Terrific news!

    “On Friday, Michelle Obama will begin digging up a patch of White House lawn to plant a vegetable garden, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden in World War II,” reports today’s New York Times.

    Alas, this is not a one-person job.

    “Twenty-three fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington will help her dig up the soil for the 1,100-square-foot plot in a spot visible to passers-by on E Street. Students from the school, which has had a garden since 2001, will also help plant, harvest and cook the vegetables, berries and herbs.”

    This is no small garden, either. Fifty-five vegetables will be planted, ranging from arugula to cilantro to kale and spinach; berries (and even honey!) will also have their place.

    Mrs. Obama’s parting words of dietary advice are music to my ears. Forget crash diets, low-carb nonsense, Master Cleanse ridiculousness, or “no food after 8 PM” hogwash.

    Mrs. Obama keeps it simple: ““You can begin by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, [and] trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables.”

    I love the message — eat more fruits and vegetables. Simple, concise, and relevant.



    Survey Results: The Farm Bill

    I can’t say I was surprised to learn that 70 percent of Small Bites’ latest poll respondents classify themselves as being “not at all” familiar with the Farm Bill and an additional 22 percent as “having heard of it, but not knowing any details.”

    The Farm Bill is, at its most basic, a document that dictates farm and food policy in the United States (ranging from food stamps to farm subsidies to conservation programs to the School Lunch Program).

    Of course, “basic” is an understatement when you consider that the latest Farm Bill spans almost 1,500 pages and is infamously verbose and convoluted.

    If you are interested in a “Farm Bill 101” lesson, I highly recommend this article.

    Up for review every five years, its latest revision took place in 2008.

    Although the entire Farm Bill affects food production, trade, and policy, the two most relevant sections to nutrition are title IV (Nutrition) and title X (Horticulture).

    Click here to see what has changed in title IV as a result of the 2008 Farm Bill
    , and check out this page to see what is new in title X.

    Lastly, this page succinctly highlights a variety of “good news” emerging from the 2008 Farm Bill as far as local foods and consumer benefits are concerned.


    You Ask, I Answer: Caffeine & Calcium

    Is it true that coffee causes osteoporosis?

    — Linda (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    Before I answer, allow me to get something off my chest.

    Statements like “[insert name of food here] causes [insert disease/condition here]” are tremendously inaccurate.

    If someone ever tells you that a food causes a particular disease, promise me your “BS” alarms will go off.

    Unless you are talking about foodborne illness issues, food as a whole does not cause disease.

    Rather, it is particular components in certain foods that, when consumed consistently over long periods of time, can elevate one’s risk of developing a certain condition.

    This reminds me of absurd statements like “ice cream makes you fat.”

    While a 600-calorie sundae every day after dinner will surely result in weight gain, a one-scoop ice cream cone every Saturday night is no cause for concern.

    “Ice cream makes you fat” wrongly categorizes 150 calories and 900 calories of the same food as nutritionally equal.

    Similarly, saying that “coffee causes osteoporosis” is too broad a statement. At the very least, whoever is making such a statement should identify what specific component in coffee is believed to affect bone mass.

    Which brings us to the question at hand.

    Since caffeine is a diuretic that results in a higher-than-normal excretion of calcium in urine and feces, some people jump to the conclusion that, therefore, caffeine intake is related to osteoporosis.

    However, studies have demonstrated that the average cup of coffee — 8 ounces and approximately 150 milligrams of caffeine — increases calcium excretion by a practically insignificant 5 milligrams (remember, you should be getting 1,000 milligrams a day).

    To balance this out, all you need to do is add a single teaspoon of milk to your coffee.

    Keep in mind that all the studies looking at caffeine’s effect on calcium levels assume people drink black coffee (an 8-ounce latte, meanwhile, contains two thirds of a cup of milk!).

    Another concern with caffeine is that it inhibits intestinal absorption of calcium. While true, our bodies are smart and make up for this by increasing calcium absorption at the next meal.


    Made With… Clogged Arteries in Mind?

    Baskin Robbins’ latest offerings include “Made With…” sundaes, which add popular candies to your ice cream experience.

    The “made with M&Ms” sundae, for example, consists of”three scoops of made with M&M’s ice cream, layered with hot fudge and M&M’s, topped with more hot fudge, marshmallow, whipped cream and more M&M’s.””

    Alas, this sundae is only available in one size, which adds up to:

    1,090 calories
    30 grams of saturated fat (approximately a day and a half’s worth)
    120 grams of added sugar (that’s 30 teaspoons)

    The “made with Snickers” sundae (“three scoops of made with Snickers ice cream, crushed Snickers pieces and caramel layers, topped with caramel, hot fudge, whipped cream and Snickers pieces”, pictured at right) clocks in at:

    1,000 calories
    25 grams of saturated fat
    93 grams of added sugar (approximately 23 teaspoons)
    710 milligrams of sodium (70 more grams than a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish!)

    What truly irritates me about these products is that if anyone happens to crave these sundaes, their only options are these nutritional horrors.

    As we are all too aware, buying a sundae and throwing half of it out is not a reasonable expectation. Neither is having half and taking the rest home.

    Why can’t Baskin Robbins make this standard size a “large” and also offer a “small” sundae consisting of one scoop of ice cream and, consequently, a lot less of fudge, whipped cream, and candy pieces?

    Why must an ice cream treat turn into a caloric abomination?

    Food companies and fast food chains love to talk about “moderation”, so how about offering it?


    Numbers Game: A Few Spoonfuls of Sugar Make The Taste of Synthetic Vitamins Go Down Easier

    A single-serve 11-ounce bottle of ready-to-drink Carnation Instant Breakfast Essentials contains _________ teaspoons of added sugar.

    a) 4.5
    b) 5.25
    c) 6.75

    d) 3.25

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Saturday for the answer — and to find out why I think Carnation Instant Breakfast is terribly over hyped.


    More of the Same

    Join me as I peruse the breakfast food aisle and analayze the newest offerings.

    First up — Kellogg’s Raisin Bran Extra (traditional Kellogg’s Raisin Bran with yogurt clusters, cranberries, and almonds.)

    While points are scored for the exclusive use of whole wheat and presence of seven grams of fiber, not all is peachy.

    The ingredient list displays sugar on six separate occasions, and a cup of this cereal contains as much sodium as two 1-ounce bags (think vending machine size) of Doritos!

    Hannah Montana’s gruesome invasion of pop culture now extends to cereal thanks to Kellogg’s Hannah Montana cereal (“multi-grain secret star cereal with strawberry milkshake flavoring.”)

    The product’s nutrition label, much like Miley Cyrus’ vocal capability, is absolutely lackluster.

    One cup offer a paltry gram of fiber, 2 grams of protein, and five times more sodium than potassium (the marker of a heavily processed food).

    The ingredient list doesn’t fare out much better. First up on the list? Corn meal.

    Since the cereal is made from corn and oat, it is obnoxiously advertised as “multi grain” (literally meaning “more than one grain” and further proof that “multi grain” has nothing to do with fiber content!)

    Let’s move on to Pop Tarts’ newest flavor, chocolate banana split (“white dough, banana/chocolate striped filling, white base frosting, and crunchlettes”).

    Just one of these toaster pastries (not exactly the most accurate serving size, especially since you get two per individual pack) clocks in at 200 calories, 200 milligrams of sodium, and 4 teaspoons of added sugar.

    Despite the illustration of fresh banana slices on the packaging, bananas are missing from the ingredient list.

    Underwhelming, yet not at all surprising.


    In The News: More Is Not Better

    Today’s Sydney Morning Herald briefly touches upon the problem of vitamin mega dosing among pregnant women, particularly since extremely high doses of vitamins A, D and E during pregnancy have been linked with birth defects.

    Historically, the field of nutrition looked at health problems from an “undernutrition” standpoint; that is, what can happen when we don’t eat enough or get a sufficient amount of nutrients?

    We are now starting to see an increasing amount of studies focus on the problem of overnutrition.

    Whether it’s too many calories, or too much of one specific vitamin, it is important for consumers to realize that the key to health, much like Goldilocks’ dilemma, lies in getting just the right amount.

    Although harmless, the last wave of overconsumption I witnessed — at least here in the United States — was the bottled water craze. It’s almost as if people forgot that their bodies had thirst mechanisms!

    Drinking three liters of water a day doesn’t accomplish much of anything other than more frequent trips to the bathroom.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    A half cup of kidney beans contains 5 times more soluble fiber than a half cup of lentils.

    (REMEMBER: Soluble fiber is helpful for achieving a feeling of fullness more quickly, while insoluble fiber helps speed up the transit of food in the digestive system).

    A half cup of kidney beans provides 5.7 grams of fiber, of which 2.9 grams are soluble.

    That same amount of lentils, meanwhile, offers a total of 7.8 grams of fiber, of which 0.6 grams are soluble.

    Don’t cast lentils aside, though. A mere half cup of them packs 7.2 grams of insoluble fiber — significantly higher than kidney beans’ 2.8 grams.

    Although both types of fiber are beneficial and part of a healthy diet, it’s wise to become familiar with foods that are good sources of each one.

    Therefore, if you’re looking to fill yourself up more quickly with fewer calories, add kidney beans — rather than lentils — to salads, wraps, and chili recipes.

    When you want to speed up movement in your digestive system, though, you are certainly better off with lentil-based dishes.


    You Ask, I Answer: Soda & Calcium

    At 24, I was recently diagnosed with osteopenia.

    I know you’ve said that soda can cause calcium to be leached from your bones because of the phosphoric acid in it, but does this apply to all carbonated beverages?

    What about sparkling water?

    I want to make sure I’m getting enough calcium from my diet.

    — Sarah (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    As you state, sodas can cause calcium to be leached from bones due to the presence of phosphoric acid (if this is news to you, please see this post for details).

    Not all carbonated beverages contain phosphoric acid; you’ll usually find that particular ingredient in cola beverages (rather than lemon-lime sodas or club sodas).

    In any case, it is always wise to take a peek at the ingredient list for reassurance.

    Keep in mind that phosphoric acid in soda calcium leaching is only a problem if your calcium consumption is insufficient.

    Someone who meets their daily calcium requirement and drinks one can of soda a day is in a very different — and much less worrisome — situation from someone who only gets 40 percent of their daily calcium requirement and drinks three cans of soda on a daily basis.


    In The News: Cardiovascular Precociousness

    Troubling news courtesy of the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey: “overweight children as young as age 3 can begin to show signs of cardiovascular disease risk factors.”


    The study specifically analyzed levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and C-reactive protein (an inflammation marker that accurately predicts cardiovascular disease) in 3,098 children between the ages of 3 and 6.

    Results? Low HDL and high C-reactive protein levels were found in children with high BMIs and large waist circumferences.

    This is particularly disturbing since 24 percent of children in the United States between the ages of 2 and 5 are overweight, and 12 percent classify as obese.

    Additionally, while it is common knowledge that heart disease is a “pediatric” disease in the sense that the damage often begins in childhood, many people don’t see clinical markers until later in life. This certainly begs for a different viewpoint.

    One also can’t help but wonder about possible health consequences when obesity begins as early as age three.


    You Ask, I Answer: Cabbage, Radishes, Calcium

    My family eats a ton of red cabbage.

    Is this a fairly healthy, cruciferous vegetable and a good source of calcium?

    What about radishes?

    — Dennise O’Grady
    Bay Head, NJ

    Like all other cruciferous vegetables, red cabbage offers a wonderful array of unique phytonutrients and flavonoids that have been shown to help reduce the risk of a variety of cancers, particularly colorectal and bladder).

    It is not, however, a good source of calcium. Unlike some of its calcium-powerful relatives (bok choy, broccoli, kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens), its absorption rate is quite low.

    Whereas slightly less than one cup of kale steamed kale provides the same amount of calcium as a half cup of milk, you need three cups of steamed cabbage to reach that same amount.

    Slight aside: For maximum absorption of all nutrients and components, opt for steamed, rather than raw, cabbage.

    Radishes do not particularly stand out from a nutrient composition standpoint. Although they offer almost every single vitamin and mineral, each one occurs in small amount.

    Alas, nutrition isn’t solely about vitamins and minerals. The antioxidants that give radishes their natural hue are very beneficial to health.

    As with cabbage, radishes are not your best source of calcium. Due to their low absorptive qualities, it takes four and a half cups to match the amount of absorbable calcium in a half cup of milk.

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