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    Archive for April, 2009

    You Ask, I Answer: Breakfast

    In Gwyneth Paltrow’s new site she gives nutrition advice.

    She recently said that a person should try to go 12 hours between finishing dinner and beginning breakfast.

    She states that breakfast should be a “break from the fast” (12+ hours) to allow the system to rest and detoxify.

    What do you think of this concept?

    — Sarah (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Gwyneth didn’t have much nutritional credibility with me earlier this year when she blogged about the health miracles of detoxing. Let’s find out if she has redeemed herself with her latest batch of advice.

    No need for a drumroll — the answer is NO, she has not redeemed herself.

    The number of hours that pass between your last bite of food prior to hitting the sack and waking up the next morning are irrelevant.

    There is nothing magical about twelve hours. Eating breakfast nine hours after finishing dinner has no negative effects on health or digestion.

    Let’s assume you had a late snack at 11:30 PM and went to bed an hour later, at 12:30 AM. Eight hours later (at 8:30 AM) you wake up. I find it absolutely ridiculous to expect you to wait three hours to eat breakfast!

    If anything, by the time you have your first morsel of food, you’ll be so famished you’ll overeat.

    I would much rather you focus on what you’re eating for breakfast. Waiting twelve hours to load up on a breakfast low in fiber and nutrients but high in added sugars and calories makes no sense.

    My other concern with this “health halo” surrounding fasting and spending hours without eating is that it is a half step away from glorifying anorexia nervosa.

    Where did celebrities get the idea that an Oscar and a health credential are the same thing?


    Different Day, Same Cow?

    Would you ever eat the meat — or drink the milk — of a cloned cow?

    Heck, why am I even asking? You really have no choice!

    One of George W. Bush’s last decisions as Commander-in-Chief included quietly passing legislation allowing the meat and milk of cloned animals to be sold to consumers without being labeled as such.

    The Food and Drug Association’s argument is that since food from cloned cattle is no less healthy than that of “conventional” cattle, there is no need to differentiate between the two.

    In fact, some documentation quotes scientists as saying cloned meat can actually be better, since it often results in tender, juicier steaks (right, I am sure this was the driving force behind animal cloning).

    The main line of reasoning behind cloning is to provide more food to the American public.

    Really? The food industry is already supplying an average of 3,900 calories per person — almost double the requirement for most people. Do we really need more food? And if we do, why is red meat the chosen one?

    The chances of you having consumed food from a cloned animal is low, as the number of them is currently too low to enter the food supply.

    However, don’t expect any special announcements once this happens.

    Industry response to concerns from consumers? “If you don’t feel comfortable eating food from a cloned animal, buy organic.”



    Numbers Game: Answer

    In the United States, a McDonald’s Big Mac and order of large fries adds up to 1,040 calories. In the United Kingdom, those same two items add up to 950 calories.

    You would think all McDonald’s items would be standardized, no matter what corner of the world you were ordering them in.

    Not so.

    Why the caloric difference? Simple — a container of large fries is slightly smaller, as are the beef patties.

    Mind you, McDonald’s USA only recently lowered the calories in their large fries from 550 to 500. Two years ago, this combo would have added up to 1,090 on this side of the Atlantic.


    You Ask, I Answer: Depression & Vitamin D

    I just got my blood labs done to test for vitamin D deficiency.

    My doctor said that my recent depression symptoms and joint pain could be resulting from that.

    I knew about rickets and vitamin D deficiency in children, but what is this chronic pain/fatigue/depression stuff in adults?

    How does vitamin D deficiency play a role in that?

    — Christine (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Thanks to more funding — which means more research — we are finally getting a glimpse at all of Vitamin D’s important functions.

    Many people don’t realize that the term “vitamin” isn’t even 100 years old (that anniversary will occur in 2012).

    Vitamin D, meanwhile, wasn’t discovered until 1922.

    In any case, recent research on vitamin D status, depression, and joint pain appears promising (more studies are needed before any of this can be established as fact, though).

    As far as depression is concerned, this is the reasoning:

    * Blood samples of individuals experiencing clinical depression show lower levels of
    25-hydroxyvitamin D (the active form of vitamin D measured in blood).

    * The brain contains vitamin D receptors, which vitamin D uses in the synthesis of vital peptides and compounds.

    * Recent studies on individuals suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) concluded that those who supplemented 600 International Units of vitamin D reported feeling better more quickly than those who did not supplement. It is worth noting that neither group used special UV lamps for the study.

    This is not to say that vitamin D “cures” depression. The current line of thinking is that low vitamin D status can exacerbate some types of depression, and that correcting this inadequacy may be one factor than can help speed up recovery.

    As for the second half of your question — since Vitamin D is tightly linked with calcium and phosphorus in bone metabolism, it only makes sense that inadequate levels could have an effect on joints.

    The latest studies theorize that deficiencies of vitamin D make it more difficult for the body to repair cartilage and joint damage from arthritis.

    I completely side with scientists and researchers who recommend daily supplementation of 2,000 International Units of vitamin D for the following groups of people:

    * Dark-skinned individuals
    * Adults over the age of 65
    * Anyone living north of Atlanta (from October to April)
    * Anyone with limited sun exposure



    Pistachio-almond is one of Baskin Robbin’s classic 31 flavors.

    Upon closer inspection, two oddities emerge.

    First, the product’s official description is: “a nutty combination of pistachio-flavored ice cream and roasted almonds.”

    That’s right, the nut pieces you see are almonds, not pistachios.

    Then there’s the ingredient list, from which pistachios are entirely missing:

    “Cream, nonfat milk, almonds, sugar, corn syrup, natural & artificial flavor, blue 1, yellow 5, cellulose gum, mono and diglycerides, guar gum, carrageenan, polysorbate 80.”

    It’s not just ice cream chains pulling this trick.

    I recently stopped by a well-known New York City vegan restaurant and ordered a delicious-sounding spinach-almond-banana-soy milk smoothie to go.

    As I watched the smoothie man concoct my beverage, I was slightly crushed to see it didn’t contain actual almonds, but rather a few drops of almond extract.

    I think I now understand how Milli Vanilli fans felt when the lip-syncing scandal broke…


    Administrative Announcements: Small Bites Turns Two!

    Today is Small Bites’ second birthday!

    I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who has ever visited this blog, recommended it to a friend, left a comment, submitted a question, forwarded a nutrition news item my way, voted in a survey, and generally supported this ongoing project.

    Here’s some fun trivia. In the past two years:

    1,148 posts have been uploaded
    343 reader questions have been answered
    Readers in 91 different countries have visited

    WOW! Here’s a toast to further growth in the coming years.

    PS: Expect BIG news the last week of April. There has been quite a bit happening behind the scenes…


    In The News: "For The First Time"??!!

    Encouraging — yet disturbing — news courtesy of The Washington Post: “The Environmental Protection Agency for the first time will require pesticide manufacturers to test 67 chemicals contained in their products to determine whether they disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates animals’ and humans’ growth, metabolism and reproduction, the agency said yesterday.”

    Two thoughts immediately came to mind.

    First? “Victory!”

    Second? “For the first time?? What have they been waiting for??”

    Well, I suppose the article gives some indication of what they might have been waiting for — science-fiction turned reality.

    After all, “researchers have raised concerns that chemicals released into the environment interfere with animals’ hormone systems, citing problems such as male fish in the Potomac River that are bearing eggs.”

    That’s what I call a substantial “oops!”.

    Oh, there’s even more jaw-dropping material.

    “Pesticide industry officials said they had anticipated the move, which was set into motion in 1996 by the passage of the Food Quality Protection Act, and they planned to cooperate on the matter.”

    Well, gee, pesticide industry officials. I certainly hope that after 13 years of contemplation you are willing to cooperate with the matter.

    How, exactly, did it take over a decade for this act to take effect?

    This is certainly one to watch. Testing is set to begin this summer, and results are expected by 2011.


    Three Useless "Facts"

    Bite-size nutrition trivia is not limited to Registered Dietitian Jeopardy!

    Magazines of all sorts (rom Us Weekly to Details to Forbes) occasionally pepper sidebars or “Did You Know…?” features with short bursts of “diet-friendly” tips.

    Television shows, e-mail chain letters, news broadcasts, and even advertising campaigns often rely on nutrition “facts” to captivate their audiences.

    Alas, here are three often-mentioned facts I consider useless, irrelevant, and better off erased from the collective consciousness.

    “If you put a nail in a glass of Coke for four days, it dissolves because of all the acids!”

    The “logic” here is that if Coke can corrode metal, just imagine what it does to our stomachs!

    Although all soda is nutrition-void sugar water (and the phosphoric acid in it can contribute to osteoporosis in individuals with insufficient calcium intake), it is not corroding our gastrointestinal system — particularly when you keep in mind that stomach acids are more acidic than anything in Coke.

    If you put a nail in a glass of our stomach acids, that sucker would probably disintegrate in just TWO days.

    Initially shocking fact? Check.
    Completely irrelevant? Check.
    Absolutely useless? Double check

    “I lost weight by cooking with olive oil instead of butter and choosing healthy fats, like avocado.”

    It seems like every other “celebrity who lost weight shares diet secrets!” (it seems to me that celebrity magazine editors think the only two secrets are to eat lots of fish and hire a personal trainer) article I read contains this quote.

    Yes, olive oil and avocados are heart-healthy fats that, if consumed regularly, can benefit cardiovascular health. However, all fats — regardless of how heart-healthy — contain nine calories per gram.

    I suppose I can somehow “vouch” for the avocado logic since they also offer a good deal of fiber (contributing to a quicker feeling of fullness and lowering total caloric intake).

    However, a tablespoon of butter actually contains approximately twenty fewer calories than a tablespoon of olive oil.

    From a weight loss standpoint, replacing two tablespoons of butter with two tablespoons of olive oil in a dish serves no purpose.

    “Twinkies are so processed they have a shelf life of 20 years!”

    You need the exclamation mark at the end of that one for complete pearl-clutching effect.

    Twinkies are by no means a health food, but they will not outlast a nuclear explosion (that honor only belongs to cockroaches and Cher).

    While Twinkies have a longer shelf life than many other mass-produced baked goods (mainly thanks to their dairy-free ingredient list), expect them to start spoiling after a month.

    PS: although foods with long shelf lives are usually highly processed and offer plenty of sodium, sugar, trans fats, and/or artificial preservatives, they do not take that same amount of time to be digested.


    Numbers Game: McCounting

    In the United States, a McDonald’s Big Mac and order of large fries adds up to 1,040 calories. In the United Kingdom, those same two items add up to __________ calories.

    a) 1,125
    b) 950
    c) 800
    d) 1,040

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


    In The News: Game On!

    Today’s Los Angeles Times reports on the subtle nutritional shift occurring at Dodger Stadium and other massive ballparks across the country — healthier food!

    Although 1,000-calorie nacho plates and 300-calorie cups of beer are still present, they are now joined by “wholesome new neighbors: curried chicken salad made with low-fat mayonnaise, turkey sandwiches on whole wheat, and fruit and yogurt parfaits.”

    And, oh, be still my heart. Not only will fresh fruit skewers soon be available, but “for the first time, a registered dietitian, also part of the Kaiser link-up, had a hand in fine-tuning the items.”

    This nutritional “aha” moment isn’t just limited to the City of Angels.

    “This year, the [San Diego] Padres are expanding their FriarFit program… which includes $1.50 healthful menu items for kids such as whole wheat animal cookies, a fruit cup, and 1% milk, plus a FriarFit cart offering fruit salad, sushi, veggie burgers and dogs, and a mandarin salad. This food, too, was created with the help of a nutritionist, from UC San Diego.”

    Now it’s time for zoos and amusement parks to step up to the plate. Keep the curly fries, cheeseburgers, and jumbo hot dogs on the menu if you want, but also offer options for health-conscious patrons.


    Survey Results: Make Room For Spongebob

    The latest Small Bites survey asked visitors if they supported the use of popular cartoon characters to advertise fruit and vegetable products like “baby carrots” and frozen spinach to children.

    Sixty-three percent of respondents supported that form of advertising, eight percent did not, and the remaining twenty-seven percent did not have a strong opinion either way.

    I strongly favor that sort of advertising.

    Many nutrition advocates do not, claiming it confuses children to see Spongebob on baby carrots as well as a box of sugary fruit snacks.

    My main concern with that argument is that it attempts to view the world through the eyes of a child who has the marketing awareness of an adult.

    Six-year-olds are not aware of nutrition. They don’t understand the difference in nutrients between a fruit snack and a real fruit. Seeing their favorite cartoon character on different products doesn’t confuse them — it simply draws their eyes and attention to them!

    In my opinion, too many nutrition advocates make the crucial mistake of forgetting that they, too, can implement the same tactics used by food companies.

    Getting children interested in eating healthier food by simply branding it with cartoon characters is certainly far from utopian, but it’s a significant step forward we need to pursue.


    You Ask, I Answer: Exercise

    Is exercise enough?

    I know plenty of long distance runners that subsist on ice cream and candy bars, even well into their middle-age, and have perfect health.

    Can exercise overcome poor dietary choices? If so, to what degree?

    — Corey Clark
    (Location withheld)

    Exercise in itself is NOT enough.

    Sure, exercise can help with cardiovascular heath, respiratory health, and musculoskeletal maintenance, but you also need proper nutrition to keep all systems running properly.

    Exercise does not provide Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, monounsaturated fats, or phytonutrients.

    How do you know these long-distance runners who subsist on junk are in perfect health? Have you seen their blood labs?

    Just because someone is thin and has a six pack does not necessarily mean they are in perfect health. They could have high blood pressure, low bone density, and low intakes of most vitamins and minerals.


    Eating Out? Don’t Wrap It Up!

    Wraps and sandwich bread happily co-exist in many food establishments across the United States.

    I, however, consider them two very different creatures.

    If you’re eating out and in the mood for a handful of ingredients contained within a bread product, you are better off selecting sliced bread (preferably 100% whole grain).

    Although you can find healthy — and calorically-reasonable — wraps at your local supermarket, you need to tread more carefully with restaurants.

    Many establishments use wraps that double the calories — and sodium — found in two slices of bread.

    Additionally, since large wraps offer more surface area in which to spread condiments, dressings, and sauces, caloric values are often driven up further.

    PS: At Chipotle and Qdoba, ask for your burrito in a bowl (rather than a tortilla) and instantly save 290 (Chipotle) or 330 (Qdoba) calories!


    Numbers Game: Answer

    When comparing an Au Bon Pain double chocolate chunk muffin with a large order of McDonald’s french fries, the muffin provides 70 MORE calories (570 calories vs. the large fries’ 500 calories).

    That’s not all, folks.

    This muffin also provides double the saturated fat of those large fries — and 100 MORE milligrams of sodium!

    Oh, and then there are those 11 teaspoons of added sugar.

    These gigantic muffins truly irritate me because they suck away all the enjoyment from savoring a chocolatey baked good.

    Why can’t these simply be half the size (and calories)? A 285 calorie muffin sounds more reasonable — and easier to justify as an occasional treat.

    And anyone who says “just don’t eat the whole thing!” needs to go up to their bedroom and read Brian Wansink’s amazing book, Mindless Eating.


    You Ask, I Answer:BHT/BHA

    I bought some gum today and the last items on the ingredient list are “BHT and BHA to preserve freshness.”

    Do you have any idea what that is? It sounds freaky and “chemical”-y.

    — Lori Echter
    [Location withheld]

    Chewing gum ingredient lists — especially those of sugarfree gums — are always fascinating. Artificial sweeteners and dyes abound! But, hey, at least they whiten your teeth, right?

    Since BHT and BHA are antioxidants (they prevent the oxidation of oils and fats), their presence increases the shelf life of gum and many other packaged foods.

    Yes, gum contains oils (in the form of glycerol, which impart a waxy texture).

    You are correct when you say that these two ingredients sound “chemical”-y. They ARE chemicals. BHT stands for butylated hydroxytoluene, while BHA is an acronym for butylated hydroxyanisole.

    Although the United States considers them safe to include in food processing, the European Union has banned BHA from all cosmetic products. BHT, meanwhile, is banned from the British food supply amidst reports of its carcinogenic risks and harmful renal effects.

    A significant problem here is not so much that the miniscule amounts of BHA or BHT in food are deadly, but rather that because so many people eat heavily processed diets, the amounts of BHA and BHT being consumed worry some researchers.

    For what it’s worth, the Food & Drug Administration claims to be conducting “further research” on BHT (they have been saying this for at least a decade).

    Whenever possible, I suggest you purchase products that use natural antioxidants to preserve freshness (i.e. tocopherols, also known as vitamin E).

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