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  • Archive for April, 2009

    Trailblazers

    youtrailmix_logo1Good news for those of you who appreciate healthy snacking and freedom of choice — the folks who brought you YouBars and YouShakes now offer YouTrailMix!

    As with their other products, you simply select the ingredients (as you choose them, the nutrition label for your trail mix is updated), christen your product, and have thirteen single-serving trail mixes delivered to your door.

    As always, even the finickiest customers are kept in mind.  You can request to have more pretzels than dried blueberries or more organic cacao nibs than cashews.

    Insert “perfect birthday gift for a health nut” lame joke HERE.

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    Numbers Game: Heavy Wake-Up Call

    cheesecake-factory2Order a Morning Quesadilla at The Cheesecake Factory and you’ll be served _______ calories and ______ milligrams of sodium on a plate.

    (NOTE: Daily sodium intake is recommended to not surpass 2,400 milligrams)

    a) 1,870/2,500
    b) 2,215/1,900
    c) 2,410/3,200
    d) 2,015/4,347

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

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    You Ask, I Answer: Meal Frequency

    825-mre-meals-ready-to-eat2I am in the military and often unable to keep to the five or six small meals a day diet I favor.

    This is usually because of obvious training or mission restrictions; sometimes, we’re only able to eat one meal a day, often very calorie-heavy and relatively unhealthy MRE (meal-ready-to-eat).

    Does the body burn or store calories differently depending on how often one is able to eat and when?  When I’m “stuffing my face” once-a-day versus eating 6 or even just 3 meals a day, does my body react differently in how it processes the food, even if it’s still the same number of calories overall per day?

    – (Name withheld)
    Fort Benning, Georgia

    Although your body digests food the same way whether it’s getting one or six meals a day (in the sense that, for instance, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are broken down by the same enzymes), it responds differently to different eating patterns.

    Recent studies have found that people who commonly — and consistently — eat one large meal a day are at higher risk for developing diabetes and hypertension.  Additionally, it is hard to sustain blood glucose levels on one meal a day, which can cause fatigue and dizziness.

    From a nutrition standpoint, it is impossible to meet daily nutrient needs on one meal a day.  This is one situation where you definitely want to supplement the diet with a multivitamin.

    If you consistently eat one meal a day (we are talking for at least 4 weeks or so), you can expect your metabolism to be negatively affected.  Your body will not burn calories as efficiently as if you were eating the same amount of calories in that one meal throughout the day.

    PS: Since very large meals take much longer to digest than smaller meals, you definitely want to wait approximately 90 minutes before engaging in any strenuous physical activity for optimal performance.

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    Good Morning, Unnecessary Products!

    productshotBehold CapriSun’s latest venture — CapriSun Sunrise.

    According to its advertisements, this juice drink blend “adds a little sunshine to breakfast” by providing children with calcium and Vitamin C in a “fun-for-them, no-fuss-for-you pouch.”

    Sigh.  This quite possibly deserves the “most unnecessary product award.”

    From a nutrition label and ingredient list standpoint, there is absolutely no difference between CapriSun Sunrise and regular CapriSun.  Water and sugar are the first two ingredients, followed by juice concentrates (more nutrition-void sugar!)  The highly-advertised vitamins and minerals are simply tacked on during processing.

    THIS is supposed to reassure parents that their children are starting off the morning nutritiously?  They might as well serve their children a glass of sugar water a with a chewable multivitamin on the side.

    Apparently, consumers are buying into the notion that certain products are strictly for the morning hours, despite being identical to their “any time of day” counterparts.  Luna Bars’ Sunrise bars (released in 2007) have sold well, and 2006′s Gatorade A.M. has managed to stay afloat in the sports drink arena.

    According to CapriSun, their Sunrise line “makes Mom sense.”  I think it’s NONsense.

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    The Numbers Are In!

    143230_dominoslogoLast week I told you about Domino’s Bread Bowl Pastas: your choice of penee entree (including three-cheese mac and cheese) inside a bowl comprised of Domino’s pizza crust.

    At that time, calorie information was not available on the Domino’s website, and the four calls I made to their corporate headquarters garnered apologies from customer service representatives for not knowing that particular piece of information, and promises of it being available “soon.”

    Alas, Small Bites reader Eleonora Roversi alerted me to the appearance of this product’s calorie values.

    As I predicted in my original post, we are looking at four-digit calorie values for each of these bread bowls!

    The chicken alfredo bowl, for example, clocks in at:

    • 1400 calories
    • Slightly over a day’s worth of saturated fat
    • 90% of a day’s worth of sodium

    Then there’s the chicken carbomania carbonara, which adds up to:

    • 1,480 calories
    • 120% of a day’s worth of saturated fat
    • 96% of a day’s worth of sodium
    • Two thirds of the daily carbohydrate recommendation

    My next prediction: Domino’s pasta bread bowls will go the way of blue ketchup and New Coke.

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    In The News: Empty Promises

    flnatcheetosThis month’s Food Product Design trade magazine shares consumer, media, and market research giant Mintel Solutions’s 2008 statistics on product development in the food industry.

    Much to my initial surprise, “during 2008, ‘natural’ was the most-frequent claim on new foods and beverages.  [In the United States,] one-third [of products sported] the claim, up 16% from 2007.”

    I scratched my head pondered over this factoid for a few minutes.  Why would food companies choose “natural” as a selling point?  Why not brag about Omega-3 fortification or whole grain inclusion?

    Then, it hit me.

    There is no legal definition for “natural.”  The Food & Drug Administration has not defined what products can — and can’t — use that term in their advertising.

    Much to food companies’ liking, consumers associate “natural” with healthy, low in calories, and nutritious.  While that is certainly true if you’re talking about pears or tomatoes, it doesn’t apply to other “100% natural” products like high fructose corn syrup, 7Up, and Cheetos white cheddar puffs.

    This phenomenon is not contained within the 50 states.  “On a global scale, ‘natural’ claims appeared on almost one in four (23%) new products.”

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    oreoA reduced-fat Oreo cookie contains 3 fewer calories than a regular Oreo cookie.

    This is precisely why the terms “low fat” and “reduced sugar” often mean absolutely nothing from a caloric standpoint.

    Part of the issue here is that carbohydrate-based fat replacers are tacked on during processing,  adding calories back in.

    In this scenario, “low fat” certainly does not give you license to eat twice as many cookies!

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    “Shop the Perimeter of the Supermarket”? I Don’t Think So!

    aisle1Earlier today at my dentist’s office, I flipped through a fitness and nutrition magazine and spotted this ever-prevalent food shopping tip — “stick to the perimeter of the store; that’s where the healthiest items are.”

    Alright, time out. I disagree.

    While the perimeters of most supermarkets offer fresh and frozen produce as well as lean protein (ranging from chicken breasts to tofu to shrimp), there are also plenty of healthy options waiting smack in the middle of all those aisles!

    Branding aisle shelves as “evil” is overly simplistic — and inaccurate. After all, that is where you’ll find these nutrition all-stars:

    * Canned beans
    * Lentils
    * Nuts and seeds
    * Nut and seed butters
    * Olive oil
    * Plain instant oatmeal
    * Quinoa
    * Brown rice
    * Whole grain pastas
    * Spices (a great way to reduce sodium in your cooking!)
    * Canned tuna and canned salmon

    So go ahead, check out what’s on sale in aisle four. Just be sure to glance over the nutrition facts — and take a peek at the ingredient list!

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    Quick & Healthy Recipes: Creamy Cashew-Vanilla Whip

    How’s this for a super easy recipe — the only skill needed is turning on a blender.

    One of my favorite ways to eat this is to layer it with berries, bananas, and raw buckwheat in a big bowl, especially in the Summer.  On cooler days, it’s also delectable as an oatmeal topping!

    YIELDS: 1.5 cups

    INGREDIENTS:

    • 1 cup raw cashews
    • 2 pitted dates
    • 1/2 cup cold water
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract/powder (or 1 vanilla bean)
    • 2 teaspoons coconut oil

    DIRECTIONS:

    Combine all ingredients in blender (or food processor) until a smooth consistency is reached.

    For best flavor and texture, refrigerate for a few hours before consuming.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per 2 Tablespoon serving):

    125 calories
    30 milligrams sodium
    3 grams protein

    Excellent Source of: Copper, magnesium, manganese

    Good Source of: Potassium, zinc

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    Speaking With…: Brian Wansink

    This past Friday, Cornell University John Dyson Professor of Consumer Behavior and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Laboratory Dr. Brian Wansink stopped by New York University after being tapped as the second featured speaker of a new lecture series on nutrition and chronic disease.

    Taking off from his bestseller Mindless Eating, the talk was appropriately titled, “How To Turn Mindless Eating Into Healthy Eating.”

    With those prevously mentioned credentials, you might picture a stiff, “all business” type who solves complex equations in his head while half-listening to you.

    Dr. Wansink, however, is reminiscent of the cool high school math teacher who wanted you to learn — and have fun while doing so. His research explanations are peppered with personal anecdotes, comedy, and facial expressions that sometimes rival those of Jim Carrey.

    A few hours before his afternoon presentation, I sat down with Dr. Wansink for a one-on-one interview.

    If you are unfamiliar with Dr. Wansink’s work, please click here to familiarize yourself with his research before reading the interview.

    I get such a kick out of all your publicity shots for Mindless Eating [NOTE: see accompanying picture]. They’re great! Have they all been photographers’ ideas?

    Ha! Thanks. Yeah, I’ve had some really creative photographers who set up these elaborate shoots. Some of those popcorn shots literally took twelve hours, from setup to cleanup. There was a LOT of popcorn all over the floor at the end that had to be cleaned up (laughs).

    So, I recently read that all of this research started as a result of you wanting people in the United States to eat more vegetables.

    That’s right.

    How did you go from that to your current line of research?

    Yeah, before I started my dissertation [in the late 80s], I wanted to know: “why do you finish your vegetables sometimes and other times you leave them on your plate?”. “Why are you hungry for them one night and not the next?” That then evolved into the idea of environmental factors that affect our overall eating patterns. It’s a lot more complex than people think because so many of our eating behaviors are automatic. This is all about getting below that surface. One of my first research studies had to do with family serving behavior. We had people come in, eat, and then answer questions about what they ate.

    Then, we showed them video footage of their meal. It is amazing how many people flat out deny, or are not aware of, their eating behavior. You’ll say to someone, “you had three servings of peas.” They’ll tell you, “No, I only had one!” You feel like saying, “Well, unless you have an evil twin…”

    It’s not until you show them the videotape that they change their mind. I once had a woman cry when she saw herself eating on camera! My research considers three angles. Not only what people are eating and how much of it, but also with what frequency.

    How did all that research turn into Mindless Eating?

    In 2004, I was in France and thought to myself, “I’d like to write a book, but I don’t know if I want it to be academic or pop.”

    That year, Bonnie Liebman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest interviewed me for their Nutrition Action newsletter, and suddenly a lot of requests for book deal started coming in. Most of them were e-mails and, I don’t know, nothing really stood out. Then I got a letter — an actual letter! — from Bantam Dell Books. One of the things I liked about them is that, as they told me, they are in the business of creating “real books that people read.”

    Interesting you say that, because I think that’s definitely one of the factors behind the popularity of Mindless Eating. It is relatable for and interesting to the average consumer.

    So at this point, it’s been a few years since the book came out. I was wondering about recent developments. For example, have you conducted any research on the effects of calorie postings in fast food restaurants?

    Oh yeah, I was involved in a VERY well-done study with Carnegie Mellon in regards to calorie labeling. We looked at McDonald’s, Subway, and Starbucks in terms of what consumers were buying before and after calories went up. And, you know what? The results were indeterminate. They were all over the board. Some people consumed fewer calories, others didn’t. I would actually be suspicious of anyone who told you they have seen a dramatic effect as a result of calorie labeling.

    That strikes me as really odd. What are your theories regarding the results of that study?

    There’s a few things to consider. First of all, when it comes to weight loss, a lot of people think: Yeah, I wouldn’t mind losing ten pounds, but I don’t want to change a thing.” Then there’s reactance, which is a psychological term. It’s basically resistance. Reactance is at play when you’re in your car and the person behind you honks so you pull away more slowly than you would otherwise.

    (Laughs) Or when you know someone at a restaurant is waiting for your table, so you sit there and take a little longer.

    Yeah. So I think, in a way, some people are seeing these calories and thinking, “Oh yeah? Well, you’re not going to tell ME what to eat!” Something similar happened in a study I did with Cornell. So, Cornell has a huge dining hall that services about 1100 people at one time. I wanted to see what effect going tray-less would have. I thought it would have two positive effects — it would result in reduced waste and reduced calories.

    The idea being that people couldn’t pile everything on at once but instead had to get up from their table each time they wanted more food?

    Yeah, exactly. Well, the results came in, and that night there was roughly 30 percent MORE plate waste! I think it comes back to that idea of reactance, where people saw this and thought, “Fine, I won’t use a tray, but I’m not going to eat less.” “font-style:italic;”>But that’s not to say that I think calorie labeling isn’t useful. Let me tell you something. The other day I went to Sbarro and saw that the slice of pizza I wanted was 787 calories. Aaaaaaaah!! So I think these calorie postings are going to serve as incentives for these food companies to say, “Alright, wait a minute, I want to turn that 787 into 690.” I think it’s going to nudge companies to drop the numbers, and that’s what will, in turn, affect consumers.

    Speaking of consumers, you recently finished your one-year post with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion working on the Dietary Gudelines. How did that go?

    Oh, it was great! I thought I was on a mission from God! My last day was January 20, when the new president took office. I was literally sending e-mails at 11:59 PM on January 19. I was still e-mailing at 12:05 AM on January 20, and I remember thinking “Wow, they didn’t shut off my inbox!” Then I got up to grab something to eat, and about ten minutes later I came back and I no longer had access.

    Any sneak peeks as to possible changes we may expect in the next round of Dietary Guidelines?

    I was involved with the selection of the 13 Dietary Guidelines committee members, and 11 of them have a behavioral focus. They operate where the rubber meets the road. That’s important, because they take pages upon pages of data and transform it into information for the masses that can be summarized in just a few sentences.

    So to wrap up, I’m interested in hearing about research you are in the process of conducting now.

    Oh yeah, sure. Well, we’re looking at what happens to people’s eating behaviors when they sit next to someone who has a much higher BMI than they do. We are also doing a study where we have someone wearing a fat suit and going through one side of a buffet very slowly, serving themselves a lot of food. Everyone on the other side of the salad bar takes a much lower amount of food compared to when that person is going through the salad bar without the fat suit on. It’s the whole concept of mimicking the attractive person. It’s terrible, because weight is the last acceptable prejudice in our society and it can really be crippling to a person’s self-esteem.

    Lately, the concept of “nature vs. nurture” has become central to the issue of childhood obesity. Do you have any thoughts on that from a behavioral standpoint?

    Well, we conducted a study with 4 year olds. We gave all the kids a questionnaire to take home. The point of the questionnaire was to determine to what extent parents forced their kids to eat everything that was on their plate. Of course, we disguised those questions among lots of filler like “what is your favorite TV show?”

    “What color are your curtains?”, etc.

    (Laughs) Exactly. So the parents, on a scale of one to nine, had to rate just how heavily they enforced “the clean plate club” at home. So, you know, nine was “my kids HAVE to finish everything on their plate or there is some kind of consequence” and one was “Ah, if they eat, they eat. If they don’t, they don’t.” We discovered that the children whose parents insisted they finish everything on their plate served themselves approximately 40 percent more cereal in our study.

    Wow! And based on what you talk about in Mindless Eating… the idea that, once food is in front of us, it is very easy to eat it all, that’s a significant finding.

    Yeah, the thinking is that children who are forced to clean their plate feel like the have no control when it comes to food, so they find ways to reassert their control and independence.

    Well, it looks like we’ve actually gone over time, but this has been fascinating. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you!

    Oh, absolutely. Thank you and best of luck with everything.

    Many thanks to Dr. Wansink for his time!

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    Coming Attractions

    Over the past ten days I have had the pleasure of watching two upcoming, vastly different food and nutrition documentaries.

    First up? Food, Inc — an incredibly engrossing and harrowing look at the state of farming and food processing in the United States from the people who brought you An Inconvenient Truth.

    To become familiar with the subject matter before its June release date, visit The Meatrix, where all the grizzly details of meat production are explained.

    I also recommend checking this link to see if Food, Inc. will be screened at a film festival near you before its limited big-screen debut later this Summer.

    This is a MUST-SEE for anyone interested in farm policy, agricultural subsidies, agro-business, and the current state of the United States’ food chain. You might want to bring some anxiety medication with you, since the tone of the movie is extremely “doomsday” (in my opinion, sometimes annoyingly so).

    On a more lighthearted note, this past Thursday I had the pleasure of watching upcoming kid-friendly documentary What’s On Your Plate?, “[which] follows two eleven-year-old African-American [New York City] kids as they explore their place in the food chain [and] talk to each other, food activists, farmers, new friends, storekeepers, their families, and the viewer, in their quest to understand what’s on all of our plates.”

    While certainly softer (and much easier for children to grasp) than Food, Inc., What’s On Your Plate? showcases issues of local agriculture, school nutrition, and big business with very little preaching or finger wagging.

    PS: I predict an Oscar nomination for Food, Inc.

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    Takeaways from Brian Wansink

    I am in the process of transcribing the enthralling interview I conducted with Mindless Eating author Brian Wansink this past Friday morning.

    In the meantime, I want to share a little bit of what Dr. Wansink presented later in the afternoon when he addressed 150 New York University students and faculty members about details of his research.

    His talk, titled “How To Turn Mindless Eating Into Healthy Eating,” encouraged professionals in the nutrition field to shake up the traditional research model that commences in isolation in a laboratory and instead begin by thinking about human application first (rather than leaving it for last).

    It is precisely this alternative research model that led Dr. Wansink to become a pioneer in the science of consumer behavior as it relates to diet and nutrition.

    One of the most important phenomena he encountered during his research was the ripple effect one small change can have on individuals.

    In one recent study, Dr. Wansink and his team recruited individuals to take on one small nutrition-related change — such as eating on smaller plates or not eating in front of the television — for 90 days.

    While collecting data, Dr. Wansink observed that the vast majority of these people (roughly 70 percent) were losing weight in increasing amounts each month. Weight loss was not occurring at a steady rate, but actually doubling — and even quadrupling — in many instances.

    What was happening? Was the “small plate” group shrinking plate size even more? No — they simply began to implement more changes when they saw how painless their first behavioral modification was!

    A month into eating from smaller plates (and, therefore, almost mindlessly consuming less food), most of that cohort noticed the accompanying weight loss and thought, “Hey, this is painless! I’ll keep doing this AND cut down my soda consumption.”

    As a result, Dr. Wansink has seen many individuals lose up to thirty pounds in the course of one year without ever feeling like they had “started a diet” or “sacrificed everything.”

    Stop by tomorrow to read my full interview with Dr. Wansink!

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    Say What?: Pasta… in a Bread Bowl?

    Behold the latest creation from Domino’s Pizza — penne pasta entrees… served in a bread bowl!

    As a matter of fact, the chain claims their “pasta is so good, you’ll devour the bowl.”

    Not too surprisingly, calorie information is yet to be posted, and the four calls I made to their corporate headquarters proved unsuccessful.

    It doesn’t take many brain cells, though, to figure out that items like chicken carbonara, Italian sausage marinara, chicken alfredo, pasta primavera, and three cheese mac-n-cheese nestled inside a thick round piece of bread are far from “light” options.

    I’m willing to bet we are dealing with 4-figure calorie values. As soon as the reveal occurs, I will post it on Small Bites.

    In the meantime, I’ll meditate and see if I can come up with the answer to: “What higher-up at Domino’s passionately believes Americans are clamoring for pasta in a bread bowl?”

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    Numbers Game: Unlocking the Secret

    A reduced-fat Oreo cookie contains _______ fewer calories than a regular Oreo cookie.

    a) 3
    b) 12

    c) 26

    d) 51

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

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    Administrative Announcement: Taking Your Questions!

    This Friday, Mindless Eating author (and professor of consumer nehavior at Cornell University) Brian Wansink will be visiting New York University — and I have the opportunity to sit down with him, one-on-one, for thirty minutes!

    This time around, I want to give you the chance to submit your questions for this upcoming “Speaking With…” segment.

    Leave your questions for Brian in the “comments” section and come back next week to read a transcript of our interview!

    As a reminder, “Wansink’s award-winning academic research on food psychology and behavior change has been published in the world’s top marketing, medical, and nutrition journals. It contributed to the introduction of smaller “100 calorie” packages (to prevent overeating), the use of taller glasses in some bars (to prevent the overpouring of alcohol), and the use of elaborate names and mouth-watering descriptions on some chain restaurant menus (to improve enjoyment of the food). “

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