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Archive for May, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Irradiation

radura_medWhat [can you tell us] about irradiated food?

– Dave (last name unknown)
Via the blog

When food is irradiated, it is treated with high amounts of X-rays (in some instances, electron beams or gamma rays).

Just how high?  As much as the amount of radiation in 700 chest X-rays.

Irradiation is commonly done on spices and produce; millions of dollars are currently spent researching how to use it on meat without altering taste (current irradiated meats have an instantly recognizable and unpleasant flavor to them).

Why irradiate, you ask?  To eliminate pathogens and bacteria.  While irradiation supporters point to this practice as a way to guarantee the safety of the food supply, there are several aspects that don’t put me at ease:

  1. While irradiated food does not “become radioactive”, research studies have demonstrated that when fat-containing foods (like meat) are irradiated, carcinogenic compounds are formed
  2. Irradiation may kill pathogens, but it does not protect a food from being contaminated after it is irradiated.  It doesn’t guarantee much of anything
  3. Research on irradiation is limited; we have no idea of the long-term effects

It’s no secret that irradiation is one way to sell products that would otherwise be considered unsafe (ie: products from unsanitary factories). For example, meat that would otherwise be “unfit” for sale (and, therefore, human consumption!) can potentially be irradiated and sold at your local supermarket.

Here’s a suggestion — deal with the actual issue!  Rather than rely on irradiation, hold food processing plants and factories accountable and let them know in clear terms that failure to abide by sanitation laws results in dire financial consequences — like no inventory to sell.

The Food & Drug Administration isn’t doing much to help consumers avoid irradiated foods, if they so choose. Although irradiated products (i.e.: oregano) must be labeled as such, irradiated ingredients in non-irradiated food products do not have to be labeled.

By the way, the image accompanying this post is the official irradiation logo, also known as the Radura symbol.  Why does it look like a harmless plant basking in sunlight?

The European Union, always ahead of the curve when it comes to food issues, has deemed the irradiation of meat illegal.

I am rather concerned about the United States’ allowance of irradiated meats.  Although, as previously stated, it is not common practice at the moment due to the creation of unpleasant flavors, if someone comes up with the technology to mask that, you can bet irradiated meat (along with its carcinogenic compounds) will be widely available.

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Tempeh: The Fast and Easy Way

p_prod_tempeh20Poor, poor tempeh.  So tasty and nutritious, yet virtually unknown.

Granted, its technical description — fermented soybeans — doesn’t do it many favors with unfamiliar consumers.  And, to the untrained eye, a package of tempeh looks like a bland, moldy rectangle of blah.

Fortunately, the folks at Turtle Island Foods are here to help with their marinated tempeh strips.

Available in three flavors (coconut curry — my favorite –, sesame garlic, and lemon pepper), it is a ridiculously simple way to give this nutrition powerhouse a try.  Simply heat the strips in a lightly greased pan for three to four minutes and you’re good to go.

A 5-slice serving provides:

  • 120 calories
  • 280 milligrams sodium (slightly over 10% of the recommended daily limit)
  • 5 grams fiber
  • 12 grams protein

As an added bonus, Turtle Island uses 100% non-genetically modified, organic soybeans and REAL spices (none of that vague “natural and artificial flavors” here).

Serve this over brown rice with a baked sweet potato on the side (topped with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil) for a delectable meal that will have you looking at soy in a whole new different way.

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Someone Didn’t Get The Trans Fat Memo…

totinosOver the past few years, food companies scrambled to remove trans fat from as many of their products as possible (or, at the very least, get it below 0.5 grams per serving so the nutrition label can display a shopper-friendly, yet deceptive, zero.)

The folks at General Mills, however, took a different route with their Totino/Jeno’s line of frozen pizzas.

Three years ago, they  tacked on additional trans fat to their product by replacing real cheese with a synthetic-and-real-cheese combo.

As a result, a single serve frozen “Crisp ‘n Tasty” cheese pizza packs in SIX grams of trans fat.  The Supreme variety, meanwhile, contributes 4.5 grams of trans fat to your day.

Remember, trans fat guidelines call for as minimal consumption as possible (preferrably, zero grams a day).  Looser guidelines cap daily intake at a mere two grams.

Food companies’ use of trans fat is not about improving taste (New York City fast food consumers were unable to tell a difference once the trans fat ban went into effect).  It’s simply about cost reduction.

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You Ask, I Answer: UV Light’s Effect on Nutrients

800px-apples_supermarketMy science teacher told [my class] that we should never store vegetables in the top shelf of the refrigerator since that exposes them to UV light, which destroys the nutrients.

Is that true?

– Bill (last name withheld)
Tallahassee, FL

Certain nutrients (i.e.: vitamin C and B6) are light-sensitive, which is why vegetables that sit out under harsh UV lights in supermarkets for days on end are often times less nutritious than frozen varieties that are picked and immediately packed.

However, this is completely irrelevant when it comes to refrigerator storage.  Seems to me your teacher forgot that, when a refrigerator door is closed, there is no light inside the actual unit.

The lightbulb only comes on when the door opens to make for easy scouring.

It’s often preferred to store vegetables in crisp drawers, rather than shelves, for better moisture control, not for nutritional purposes.

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Numbers Game: “One” Spoonful

saladbardressing1The average ladle at a buffet-style salad bar holds _______ tablespoons of salad dressing.

a) 1
b) 2
c) 3
d) 4

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

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You Ask, I Answer: Pesticides in Produce

washing-vegetables-225Do we know if pesticides are absorbed after being sprayed on the surface of produce?

Do we need to be concerned if we wash the fruit or vegetables well before eating?

– Nicole Journault
Via the blog

All pesticides are not created equal.  While some don’t make it past fruit skins and peels, others are absorbed into the flesh.

Similarly, some pesticides can be rinsed off with water (contrary to popular belief, rinsing under running water is more effective than soaking), and others are  specifically created to be resistant to water (so as to not be washed off by rainfall.)

Remember, too, that many conventional fruits are treated with wax, which often times traps pesticides in the skin.

When it comes to the top offenders, I always try to buy organic.  There is still a lot we don’t know about pesticides’ effects on human health.

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Vocab Bite: Coffeetrocity

crunch-beauty3Cof-fee-tro-ci-ty [kof-ee-tros-i-tee]

-noun

  1. a cloyingly sweet, calorie-laden coffee-based beverage
  2. a coffee-based beverage that more closely resembles a milkshake or soda float

Example:

I just saw an ad for a new coffeetrocity: an iced latte made with half & half and caramel syrup, topped with whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and chocolate chips.

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A Burger Your Heart Will Love

fb_world_catch_salmonWhite, fiberless flour.  A slab of artery-clogging beef.  Two slices of sodium-laden processed cheese.  One tomato slice.  Iceberg lettuce.

Those are the components that come to most people’s mind when they hear the word “burger.”

Well, it’s time to expand that vision.  As you know, part of this blog’s mission is to make healthy eating enjoyable and palatable.

With that in mind, next time you’re in the mood for a hamburger or a fast food fish sandwich, opt for this ridiculously quick (don’t give me the “I don’t have time!” excuse) and easy substitute that provides Omega-3 fatty acids, plenty of fiber, and lots of taste… at a lower cost!

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • 1 frozen salmon burger patty (see recommendation below)
  • 1 whole grain hamburger bun (see recommendation below)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped onions (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons mayonnaise (regular, light, or canola-oil based, your choice)
  • 1 lemon wedge
  • dill (for seasoning)

Salmon burger recommendation: My two favorite brands are WorldCatch and Wild Grill.  Both are made from wild Pacific salmon, and provide no more than 110 calories and 400 milligrams of sodium per patty.  You can find them at health food stores, Whole Foods, and even Sam’s Club.

Whole grain hamburger bun recommendation: My absolute favorite bun is the Food for Life sprouted sesame hamburger buns.  Not only do they obtain the perfect texture when lightly toasted, they also each provide 6 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein.  You can get them at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or your local health food store.

All you need to do is spray a small pan with cooking spray, cook the patty to your liking, toast the hamburger bun, and then top the patty with onions, mayonnaise, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and dill.

I’ll assume you have onions, mayonnaise, and dill in your kitchen already, so the basic cost of this burger (the salmon patty and the buns), with tax, adds up to $2.48 per burger.

Now, let’s take a look at some fun comparisons.  This salmon burger…

  • is 65 cents cheaper than McDonald’s Filet O Fish and Burger King’s Big Fish Sandwich.
  • contains 800% more heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids than McDonald’s or Burger King’s fish burgers
  • adds up to 330 calories (versus McDonald’s 380 and Burger King’s 650)
  • provides 6 grams of fiber (100% more than Burger King’s and 200% more than McDonald’s)
  • contains 29 grams of protein (14 more grams thanMcDonald’s and 5 more grams than Burger King’s)
  • adds up to 1.5 grams of saturated fat (2 fewer grams than McDonald’s, 4.5 fewer grams than Burger King’s)

Who says healthy eating is expensive and laborious?

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Numbers Game: Answer

fresh-apple1233606650According to the Environmental Working Group, 36 different pesticides are sprayed on conventional apples.

While a conventional piece of fruit is certainly better than nothing, in some cases (like apples, which have some of the highest levels of pesticide residue of all produce) it is highly advisable to buy organic.

Remember, research on pesticides is in its infancy.

Just last month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced the launch of a study that will screen comonly-used pesticides “for possibly disrupting the human, as well as animal, endocrine system.. which regulates all biological processes in the body – specifically, growth, metabolism and reproduction.”

Pesticides also show up in farms’ water runoffs, often disrupting waterway ecosystems.

As a reminder, here is a list of the top ten fruits and vegetables you should try to buy organic as often as possible.

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Give Hemp A Chance

hemphearts_detailIn a case of culinary irony, more people are familiar with the idea of wearing or smoking hemp than they are with adding it to salads, soups, and yogurt for a low-calorie, high protein, healthy-fat punch.

So, while Woody Harrelson lights up his eleventh “hemp ciggie” of the day, let’s talk about the seed’s nutritional profile.

Two tablespoons of shelled (AKA free of their outer shell) hemp seeds add up to 160 calories and:

  • 2 grams Omega-3 ALA fatty acids (almost as much as one ounce of walnuts)
  • 11 grams protein (like soy, hemp is a complete protein, since it contains all the essential amino acids)
  • 20% of the Daily Value of iron
  • 52% of the Daily Value of folic acid (as much as one cup of spinach)
  • 15% of the Daily Value of potassium (as much as a small banana)
  • 60% of the Daily Value of manganese

Shelled hemp seeds have a distinct, yet subtle, nutty flavor that goes perfectly with soups, yogurt, and stir fries.  Look for them at Whole Foods or your local health food store. 

NOTE: If adding shelled hemp seeds to cooked food, sprinkle them on after you have plated your meal, so as to not damage the Omega-3 fatty acids’ composition.

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You Ask, I Answer: Falafel

imag0001What do you think about falafel sandwiches?  I find it hard to pass up a quick stop at Mamoun’s [falafel stand] here in New York City.

A [falafel sandwich] is only $2.50.  I find it really satisfying and filling, and it often saves me on days when I haven’t had time to prepare a decent lunch or when I need a quick meal on the go.

I know it probably packs a punch of fiber, but I’m concerned because I know the falafel balls are fried.

What’s your take?  Should I consider some alternatives?  I’m trying to balance nutrition, budget, and feeling satiated.

– Dan S.
New York, NY

For those of you unfamiliar with falafel, Dan is referring to a traditional Middle Eastern food composed of chickpeas, onion, garlic, parsley, flour, and spices (mainly cumin, parsley, salt, and pepper).

The mixture is shaped into balls (varying in size, although usually golf-ball sized) that are deep fried, stuffed in a pita pocket, and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and either/a combination of hummus, tahini (sesame paste-based) dressing or/and tzatziki (Greek-style yogurt with cucumber, garlic, and dill).

Although falafel is considered by some to be “health food” (and you certainly would be right to think so looking at the ingredients of each individual balls), it can pack quite a caloric punch.

Deep frying certainly adds calories, although that is often a hard calculation to make.  When done correctly (meaning, at the right temperature and for an adequate amount of time), the additional calories are lower.

What turns falafel into caloric overload are the pita pocket and accompanying sauces.

Your average falafel sandwich, with all the trimmings, provides approximately 800 calories and two thirds of your daily sodium limit.

On a more positive note, it at least offers anywhere from 6 to 10 grams of fiber (depending on the the type of flour used to make the pita bread) and somewhere in the ballpark of 10 – 15 grams of protein.

Here are my tips for optimal falafel navigation:

  1. On days where falafel is your lunch, opt for a lighter breakfast and dinner.  Start your day with a piece of  fresh fruit and protein-rich non-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt; end it with a simple, healthy dish (i.e.: grilled protein of choice with a baked sweet potato or water-packed tuna and cannellini beans over salad greens, dressed with freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.)
  2. Ask for the dressing on the side (use only half of what you are given).
  3. Get falafel over salad with the dressing on the side (again, only use half).  I know Mamoun’s charges $3 more for this option, but it is still a good tip for establishments where the price difference is lower.
  4. Accompany your falafel with zero-calorie beverages.
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Soy Followup

28_tofu_lgl2The folks at Men’s Health can’t seem to make up their mind.

As discussed on Small Bites a few days ago, their latest issue featured a pathetically — and blatantly — biased, much-ado-about-nothing, one-sided article that blasted soy as an unhealthy, feminizing food that has no place in any man’s diet. Editor David Zinczenko even described soy as “a bland threat to manhood” in his monthly note to readers.

Yet, as Small Bites reader Corey Clark discovered while browing their website, tofu-based recipes (credited to buff fitness model Gregg Avedon) are recommended as “muscle chow” (as they should!)

I still stand by my theory that the article in question may simply be a form of alternative advertising by the dairy industry and/or whey protein companies.

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You Ask, I Answer: Whey Low

scopeMy mom swears by a product called Whey Low.

It’s a sugar substitute that contains sugar but is low in calories since it is not absorbed by the body.

It seems most people don’t know about it, though.  Have you heard of it?  Is it legitimate?

– Natasha (last name withheld)
Raleigh, NC

Whey Low, advertised as “sugar made healthy”, is a ‘sugar substitute’ made of sucrose (table sugar), fructose, and lactose.

Gee, no wonder it is “guaranteed to taste like sugar” — it IS sugar.

Why, then, does it claim to contain 75% fewer calories than sugar?  According to its creator, “the three natural sugars (simple carbohydrates) that comprise Whey Low work synergistically in the small intestine to interfere with the normal absorption of each other into the bloodstream.”

Huh?  This makes absolutely no biochemical sense.

If you take that concept one step further, then a milkshake comprised of chocolate milk (sucrose AND lactose) and a banana (fructose) contains only a quarter of the calories we believe it does.  Dare to dream, folks.

Furthermore, how, exactly, does a company patent the not-too-imaginative combination of three sugars?

It’s also slightly suspect that all clinical trials on this product have been performed by its parent company’s laboratory.  Why not ask an objective third party to validate the results?

After whey-ing the evidence (more like lack thereof), I am not at all convinced.

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Dehydrated? Reach For A Coconut

onecoconutYou just finished a thirty minute outdoor run in 85 degree weather.  What started out as beads of sweat is now a torrential downpour down the sides of your face.

Hydration — and electrolyte replenishment — is top priority.  Any type of solid food is out of the question; you prefer liquid nourishment, especially on a hot day like today.

Which of these three beverages are you most likely to reach for in your quest for ultimate replenishment?  A sports drink, a cold bottle of water, or a cold pouch of coconut water?

Coconut water, you said?  Good job — you pass hydration 101.

Most sports drinks are glorified sugar water.  Their electrolyte values (particularly potassium, which is under-consumed in the United States) are paltry, and the artificial dyes and added sugars don’t do them many favors, either.

Although plain water is a great way to hydrate, it does not deliver on the electrolyte replenishment front, a priority after strenuous exercise.  While that can easily be solved by accompanying water with some food, that is not always possible.

Enter coconut water.  An 11.2 ounce pouch contains 50% more potassium than a medium banana.  It’s also a good source of magnesium and phosphorus, and is free of added sugars, artificial dyes, stabilizers, and preservatives.

Unlike coconut milk, coconut water is fat free and low in calories (an 11.2 ounce pouch contains 60 calories).

This can be an acquired taste for some, so for better palatibility, I recommend consuming it chilled.  VERY chilled.  Be sure to buy brands that ONLY contain 100% coconut water.

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The Soy Scare Is Back

fotosearch_bxp159791The latest issue of Men’s Health features a section titled “Eat Like A Man,” which includes the staunchly anti-soy, overly alarmist article “Is This The Most Dangerous Food for Men?”

The article teaser promises to uncover the “hidden dark side of soy, one that has the power to undermine everything it means to be male.”

Is it just the undergraduate gender and sexuality studies major in me or is that last sentence ripe for a twenty-page deconstruction of American gender roles?

Anyhow, my red flag immediately went up.  Any time one single food is exposed as being almost lethal, you know something is up (in the same way that, when one single food is touted as the cure for all ailments, you know someone, somewhere is profiting).

Let me ask you something, intelligent and insightful Small Bites reader.

Don’t you find it… interesting… that a large majority of the advertisements in Men’s Health are for whey protein powders?  The same ones that compete with soy protein powders on shelves?

Let’s take it one step further.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is a subtle and subconscious form of advertising.  After all, the subscriber reading this article who currently has soy protein powder in his kitchen cabinet may consider shelling out extra dollars for a whey protein variety next time he’s at GNC.

While you ponder that, let’s continue analyzing this article.

Oh, look, there’s the predictable “funny” image of a man wearing a superimposed soybean bra.

And here’s the subject of our feature — James Price, a retired US Army intelligence officer (of course) with a Texas drawl (just in case you didn’t realize he’s a “man’s man.”)

We learn that Mr. Price experienced lost hair on his fore arms, chest and legs along with penis shrinkage (huh?) when, as a result of being diagnosed with lactose intolerance, he started consuming three quarts of soy milk a day.

His estrogen levels, blood tests revealed, were eight times higher than normal estrogen levels for men his age.  The culprit?  Phytoestrogens in soy.

The changes weren’t just physical, as this pathetically sexist excerpts reveals:

“I was becoming much more sentimental,” he recalls, describing his emotions as almost feminine.  “I’d break out and cry at a sad movie, that kind of thing.”

Is this article seriously making the case that crying and displaying emotions is a female characteristic?  Did I just time warp to the days when June Cleaver and Zorro dominated television sets?

The article wraps up with more warnings — Indonesians with the highest consumption of soy had twice the risk of developing dementia than their peers who ate lower amounts of the legume.  Although that study does indeed exist, it’s rather irresponsible to not clarify that the majority of studies on soy and cognitive function have not shown detrimental effects from soy consumption.

Remember, it is always important to consider the entire body of literature on nutrition issues, and see what the general consensus is, rather than isolated studies that are really outliars.

With all this craze over phytoestrogens, the writer forgot to mention that flaxseed,  garlic, and dried apricots are also significant source of phytoestrogens.  In fact, ounce by ounce, flaxseeds contain more phytoestrogens than soy.

The article also conveniently forgets to mention that in some East Asian countries, soy consumption among men can average up to 60 pounds a year, and male breast growth is not an issue.

After two pages of hyped up alarmism, we are told that, most likely, Mr. Price is simply overly sensitive to phytoestrogens.  In other words, “this case is really unique and not at all representative of the average man’s experience.”

Adding to the “is this journalism or advertising?” question, the page immediately following the article is an advertisement for traditional Malaysian herbal therapies to help maintain masculine sexual vitality.  My, what a coincidence!

A true shame.  A much better article would have helped readers differentiate between healthy versions of soy (tempeh, edamame, miso) from those that are simply processed foods attempting to lure consumers with a health halo (ie: soy puffs, sugary soy shakes, etc.), especially considering that the United States has the third highest per capita consumption of red meat in the world.

By the way, this same issue features “the 125 best foods for men”, which is also just a big advertisement masquerading as nutrition advice.  How else do you explain a “best cream cheese category” (since when is cream cheese a  “must have” nutritious item?) but an excuse to advertise Philadelphia Cream Cheese?

Similarly, categories like “best salami”, “best hot dog”, and “best milk” appear out of place (salami and hot dogs on a “must have nutritious foods” list ?  And how, exactly, is one brand of reduced-fat milk more nutritious than another?)

Better luck next month, Men’s Health.

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