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  • Archive for June, 2009

    Numbers Game: Answer

    eggs benThe average restaurant serving of Eggs Benedict provides, on average, 300 – 375 calories just from the Hollandaise sauce.

    That’s right — average.  That means some restaurants’ eggs benedict dishes can provide as many as 450 or 500 calories just from the sauce!

    Take into account the remaining ingredients (English muffins, bacon, and poached eggs) and you are looking at a meal that easily clocks in at over 1,000 calories — and that’s without considering the all-you-can drink mimosas.

    So what are you to do if this is your favorite brunch dish?  Simple — be aware of this information and plan accordingly.  Knowledge is power, friends!

    If you start off your Sunday with a hefty plates of eggs benedict at your favorite brunch spot, plan a light dinner — think lean protein with plenty of vegetables — and grab high-satiety, low-calorie snacks like fresh fruit, edamame, plain yogurt (dairy or otherwise), and nuts (remember: 23 almonds or 49 pistachios clock in at less than 150 calories!) to get you through the day.

    The biggest mistake I see people make is perceive one indulgent meal as a “point of no return.”  “I already had that huge plate of eggs benedict,” they think, “so I might as well finish the day with this huge brownie a la mode.”

    Quite the opposite!  I think it’s important to enjoy a health detour every once in a while — the key term being detour.  Savor it, enjoy it, and then return to your regularly-scheduled nutrition program.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Invert Sugar

    invert-syrup2What is invert sugar?  Is it healthier than regular sugar?

    – Larissa Fuss
    Seattle, WA

    Invert sugar is the term given to sucrose (table sugar) that is separated into glucose and fructose.

    These two individual sugars are then manipulated to give invert sugar slightly different fructose-to-glucose ratios than that found in sucrose.

    Food companies often prefer invert sugar since it is less prone to crystallization and helps retain moisture — and thereby prevent bacterial growth — in foods for longer periods of time than sucrose.

    As fr as health is concerned– sugar is sugar is sugar.  Whether you are talking about sucrose, invert sugar, or evaporated cane juice crystals, you are still looking at a nutrient-free four calories per gram.

    The only case that can be made for healthier sweeteners is, for instance, when a food gets its sweetness from whole fruits (ie: snack bars that use dates as their only source of sugar).  In that situation, the sugar source also provides nutrients and fiber.

    Please do not mistake that with foods that contain fructose — fruit sugar — which, for all intents and purposes, is identical to table sugar.

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    Essentially Nothing but Clever Advertising

    20093251549250.Fruit2O_022“Now some of the most powerful nutrients on earth can be found in your water,” Fruit2O Essential Water’s print advertisements proudly state.

    This particular bottled water’s added value is that it packs in a gram of fiber along with key nutrients — such as vitamin E, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, and potassium for the cranberry-raspberry flavor — that supposedly equal two servings of fruit.

    I will never understand the inclusion of vitamin E — a fat-soluble vitamin — in zero-calorie beverages.  Unless you’re drinking Fruit2O while munching on a food that contains some fat, the Vitamin E is not being absorbed.

    Products like these only propagate what I call “the vitamin and mineral trap.”

    Remember — foods contain much more than simply vitamins and minerals.

    In the case of fruits, there are thousands of phytonutrients — many still undiscovered — that provide health benefits, particularly as part of a food matrix (in conjunction with other nutrients, as opposed to isolated in pill form).

    Therefore, I do NOT equate a bottle of Fruit2O to two servings of whole fruit.

    I see no difference whatsoever between drinking a Fruit2O and downing a multivitamin while drinking water from your Brita filter.

    Is eating fruit that torturous and difficult for people?

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    You Ask, I Answer: The Paleolithic Diet (Part 1)

    ancient_manI’d really love to hear your thoughts about The Paleolithic Diet/The Caveman Diet.

    What do you think about [its main] claim that we simply haven’t adapted to relatively new modern foods that became available about 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture (like grains and beans), and that ones we have evolved to eat [-- the ones eaten by hunter/gatherers tens of thousands of years ago, mainly meats --] are much easier on digestion and better for health?

    – Sean Murphy
    (Location unknown)

    Let’s start on a positive note.  The one thing I like about the “Paleo diet” is that it advocates one very important point that I agree with — eat foods that are as close to nature as possible (ie: instead of drinking apple juice, eat an apple; instead of munching on onion rings, have onion slices in a salad, etc.).

    The “eat closer to nature” ideology makes perfect sense — heavily processed foods tend to be high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.  They are also low in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

    Now let’s get to the fun part — the barrage of issues I have with this style of eating.

    Number one: the connection between “prehistoric” eating patterns and health is a stretch.  Our “Paleo” ancestors lived approximately half as long as the average adult in today’s first-world countries.  Would they have developed cancers and other diseases if they lived to be, say, 80?  We don’t really know.

    Similarly, we have no way of knowing what was happening with hunter-gatherers from a biochemical perspective.  Were they, for instance, deficient in any nutrients?

    One also has to wonder how nutritious their diets were, seeing as how they were 100% local and seasonal.  Depending on where these groups of people lived, they may not have had access to a diverse enough supply of food to cover all nutrients.

    Also keep in mind that certain foods, like bananas, were not eaten on a global scale until they could be transported thousands of miles from their original locations.  So, then, one could “make the case” that, from an evolutionary perspective, people in Norway — where bananas do not grow — are not “designed” to eat them.  Clearly, though, the introduction of bananas to the Norwegian population did not have any negative health effects, nor did their bodies not know how to digest them.

    The same could be said for other foods.  Olive oil is now customarily eaten around the world, but it was originally only available to a very small part of the population.  Same thing with avocados, blueberries, and raspberries.  If someone were to truly argue a Paleo diet, they would also have to make the case that people who currently live in parts of the world where blueberries don’t grow shouldn’t eat them since hunter-gatherers in that area weren’t eating them.  It’s a silly argument full of holes.

    Keep in mind that our bodies are perfectly equipped to digest the three macronutrients — fat, protein, and carbohydrates — thanks to specific enzymes produced by the pancreas.

    There are, of course, situations like lactose intolerance, where some people can’t produce enough of one enzyme (with lactose intolerance, we are talking about the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, the naturally-occurring sugar in milk).

    However, it makes absolutely no sense to claim that the body can break down animal protein just fine but “isn’t equipped” to digest the protein in chickpeas.  That has absolutely no scientific basis and is easily refuted.

    The Paleolithic Diet fails to acknowledge a very important factor — that these diets were healthier than today’s “Standard American Diet” because of what was NOT consumed.

    Trust me, beans and whole grains are not behind rising obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates.  Today’s health problems can be easily traced back to excesses in calories, added sugars (which do not contribute to a feeling of fullness, thereby making it easy to overconsume them), omega-6 fatty acids, saturated fats in animal products, trans fat, and sodium.

    Another VERY important factor that gets left out of this conversation?  Physical activity!  Hunter-gatherers were not sitting in office chairs for 8 hours, driving in their cars while sipping a 42-ounce Big Gulp, or laying in front of the TV for hours.  When you talk about health, you can not ignore the huge role physical activity plays.

    You can never go wrong eating a less processed diet.  However, there is no reason to shun whole grains, beans, or legumes under the guise of eating healthier.

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    In The News: Is Overweight the Picture of Health?

    peopleScalephotoNo!  There’s just a lot of irresponsible reporting.

    The New York Times is sharing the findings of a new study published in Obesity (that’s the title of the journal) — basically, that “people who [are] overweight but not obese [are] actually less likely to die than people of normal weight.”

    The first sentence of the article already irritated me:

    Being overweight won’t kill you — it may even help you live longer.

    That’s certainly not the most accurate conclusion.  Sure, it catches readers’ attention, but also completely misinforms them.

    There are three main points to keep in mind with this kind of study:

    1. It is solely looking at the risk of death associated with different body weights.  There is absolutely no mention — or measure — of quality of life issues.  Are these overweight people who are living longer taking ten different medications, each with their share of side effects?  Do these overweight individuals feel more pain on their joints when they go up and down stairs?  Do they run out of breath much quicker?
    2. We have no idea what these participants’ dietary habits were like.  Did the overweight participants have overall healthier diets (i.e.: more fruits and vegetables, healthier fats, more whole grains) than those in the “normal weight” category?
    3. A very likely explanation for these results, as explained in the article, is that “many health conditions associated with being overweight, like high blood pressure, are being treated with medication.”

    So, in that case, it’s not being overweight that extends someone’s life, but being overweight in a time and society where many of the complications associated with that can be managed with medication that may add a few years.

    My other concern is that the only measurement used in the study was BMI (Body Mass Index).

    BMI can be tricky because all it takes into consideration is height and weight.  As a result, a healthy and muscular man may be classified as “overweight”, thereby skewing results.

    It is also important to note that falling into the “overweight” category as a result of being 4 pounds above one’s ideal body weight is very different from a 15 pound difference.

    This study would have been a lot more useful — and may have resulted in different results — if waist circumference was also taken into account.  It has been well established that increases in that number are certainly associated with higher risks of many health conditions.

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    Numbers Game: Hollandaise Horrors

    EggsbenedictThe average restaurant serving of Eggs Benedict provides, on average, ______ calories just from the Hollandaise sauce.

    a) 125-185
    b) 200-255
    c) 300 – 375
    d) 400-450

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

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    You Ask, I Answer: Unsulfured Dried Fruit

    slicestjoes300x413.jpegToday at the supermarket I saw dried fruit that had “unsulfured” written on the packaging.

    Is that a healthier choice?

    – Lindsay Kleiner
    Chicago, IL

    Sulfur dioxide is a much-loved additive by the food industry since it does three things very well:

    1. It prevents natural enzymatic processes (ie: the reason why apple slices turn brown when exposed to air) from happening
    2. It makes bacterial growth on food almost impossible
    3. It severely delays spoilage

    It does what is the most beautiful of all music to food companies: EXTENDS SHELF LIFE!

    Is sulfur dioxide harmful?  It depends on context.

    If you worked in a factory alongside vats of sulfur dioxide and decided to take a whiff from one, then, yes, you would be in severe trouble (and most likely dead by the time an ambulance arrived).

    That, of course, is an extreme example, and one that could be applied to many foods we safely consume on a daily basis (the 200 or so milligrams of caffeine in two cups of coffee is of no concern, but if you are injected with 50,000 milligrams of caffeine intravenously, it’s a very different story).

    The amount of sulfur dioxide in dried fruit is too insignificant to have any impact on human health.  It would only be an issue if you consumed ridiculously — and implausibly — high amounts of dried fruit on a daily basis for several years.

    That said, there are three significant reasons why people seek out unsulfured dried fruit.

    First, many consumers choose to avoid foods that contain additives (for instance, to support organics).

    Number two?  Taste!  Some people are sensitive to an off-flavor that can be characteristic of fruits that contain sulfur dioxide.

    Then there’s the paramount issue that resulted in the mandatory labeling of sulfured — and unsulfured — products: allergies.

    People who are allergic to sulfur dioxide have absolutely horrible respiratory reactions when exposed to even the tiniest of amounts.  In the 1980s there were actually a few deaths as a result of individuals allergic to sulfur dioxide consuming unlabeled products that contained the additive.

    As a result, starting in 1987, food products that contained sulfur dioxide at levels of at least 10 parts per million must list it on the ingredient list (where it is usually listed as “to preserve freshness”).

    I’m personally a huge fan of unsulfured dried fruit.  I find it tastes better.  Besides, I don’t mind if my dried fruit isn’t super shiny and colorful.

    The more important thing to keep in mind when buying dried fruit is to avoid varieties with added sugars, artificial colors, and partially hydrogenated oils!

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    Quick & Healthy Recipes: Ridiculously Easy Pie Crust

    dates crustI always enjoy experimenting with new pie recipes (especially of the vegan variety), but find pie crust to be an often-times challenging obstacle.

    Most ready-to-use pie crust products on the market have horrid ingredient lists.

    If I choose to make my own at home, it’s either taking out the rolling pin I do not own, or mixing together crushed graham crackers with butter.

    Alas, this recipe not only makes a delicious pie crust in minutes, it’s also chock full of nutrients.

    Whenever I have served pies made with this crust in the past, the only comments I get are how delicious it is.  Busting the “health food tastes like cardboard” myth one dessert at a time!

    YIELDS: One 8 or 9 inch pie crust

    INGREDIENTS:

    1 1/3 cups almonds
    1 tsp. vanilla extract
    1 tsp. cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup pitted dates

    INSTRUCTIONS:

    Place almonds, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in blender and process until coarse texture is achieved.

    Add dates, process until all ingredients are evenly mixed.

    Press onto pie plate with fingers and chill for two or three hours.

    NUTRITION FACTS: (per 1/8 slice)

    215 calories
    1.2 grams saturated fat
    75 milligrams sodium
    4 grams fiber
    5 grams protein

    Excellent Source of: Copper, magnesium, manganese, riboflavin, vitamin E

    Good Source of: fiber, potassium

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    You Ask, I Answer: Vitamin B12 Content of Berries and Herbs

    hawthorn_berries_shropshire_september_2006_close_upI recently went vegan [and had a question for you].

    [Can an individual get sufficient vitamin B12] from alfalfa, burdock root, hawthorn berries, cat nip, or dong quai?

    It’s an ongoing debate [in the vegan community].

    – @IraGM
    Via Twitter

    A few of the herbs you ask about contain a certain amount of Vitamin B12, but it’s really a moot point.

    First, the majority of the B12 in these herbs is not “human active,” meaning it does not have the same characteristics — or efficacy — of the B12 found in animal products.

    Second, many of these herbs also contain B12 analogues, which can often result in reduced absorption of human-active B12.

    You should not rely on these herbs for adequate B12 intake.  As a vegan, you are better off with nutritional yeast, fortified foods (mainly cereal and non-dairy milks) or a supplement in pill form.

    From my viewpoint, there isn’t much room for debate on this issue.

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    Vocab Bite: Appetyrant

    H0HHAT51-Group-Dining2-450ap⋅pe⋅ty⋅rant [ap-i-tahy-ruhnt]

    - noun

    1. Group dinner participant who takes it upon him/herself to order appetizers for the entire table, often without prior consultation
    2. Group dinner participant who, as a result of strict self-imposed dietary habits, limits shareable appetizers for the group to those that exclusively meet his or her dietary needs

    Example: Things got a little tense at Mark’s birthday dinner when Steve, ever the appetyrant, made a  strange plea to only order low-carb appetizers for the whole table, which was then followed by a rant on the evils of grains.

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    “Let Them Eat (Even More) Crap!” says the King

    burger-kingBurger King’s nutritional atrocities just keep on coming!

    Here are some of its latest limited time and regional offerings:

    • Angry Triple Whopper Burger: 1,360 calories; a day and a half’s worth of saturated fat, two thirds of the daily sodium limit; four grams of trans fat
    • Texas Triple Whopper Sandwich: 1,310 calories; a day and a half’s worth of saturated fat; eighty percent of a day’s worth of sodium; three and a half grams of trans fat
    • Country Pork Sandwich: a day’s worth of sodium

    Ironic how these are the same establishments that then go on and on about how they offer plenty of choices to customers want to eat fast food without wrecking their arteries.

    The “moderation” argument falls flat when you offer foods stuffed to the gills with calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Live, Active Cultures in Yogurt

    YogurtWhen I’m buying yogurt, should I only look for brands that contain Acidophilus?

    Or am I better off buying brands that have probiotics or live cultures?

    – Marisa (last name withheld)
    Brooklyn, NY

    As if the wide array of brands and flavors wasn’t enough to confuse the yogurt shopper, now there’s all these health claims to sort through!

    First of all, the absolute best yogurt you can buy is plain, unsweetened yogurt.  Most flavoreds yogurt have six or seven teaspoons of added sugar (that “fruit on the bottom” is pure sugar, not real fruit with fiber and phytonutrients.)

    If plain yogurt is too sour for your tastes, you can always sweeten it at home (with fruit, vanilla or coconut extracts, or even just one or two teaspoons of your sweetener of choice.)

    As for probiotics and cultures, let’s clarify that tangled web:

    • Probiotics is the name given to microorganisms that closely resemble the “friendly”/healthy bacteria that live in our colon (prebiotics, meanwhile, are components in certain foods that feed these “critters”) and have beneficial health effects.
    • In other words — and this is important — while all probiotics are bacteria, not all bacteria are probiotics
    • Lactobacillus acidophilus is a “hot” probiotic mainly because it has been the focus of the most studies; its efficacy is well documented
    • Many probiotics have not undergone sufficient testing.  One concern is that some are rendered useless when they come in contact with stomach acids
    • Additionally, most probiotics need refrigeration to survive.  Probiotics in shelf-stable foods have a minimal chance of surviving by the time they make it to your pantry

    When it comes to buying yogurts, there are four things to keep in mind to ensure you are getting as much probiotic bang for your buck as possible:

    1. Buy yogurts that contain “live and active cultures.”  This usually means the cultures are added AFTER the milk has been pasteurized.  If they are added before pasteurization, they are killed by the heat.  Yogurts that only claim to “be made with live cultures” may fall into the latter category
    2. Look for the National Yogurt Association (NYA)’s Live & Active Cultures seal.  FYI: The NYA is “a national non-profit trade organization whose… Live & Active Culture seal, which appears on refrigerated and frozen yogurt containers, helps you recognize those products containing significant amounts of live and active cultures.”  The seal is voluntary, so its absence does not necessarily imply a lack of live and active cultures
    3. Although there are many strains of probiotics, acidophilus is considered the “golden” one because it has been well researched.  We know, for instance, that unlike other probiotics, acidophilus is not destroyed by stomach acids
    4. Lactobacillus Bifidobacteria has also been well-researched, and is also believed to survive the digestive process

    Aren’t you glad you asked?

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    In The News: And You Thought School Lunches Were A Hot Mess?

    coaching.tabata.-780835In a piece horribly — and misleadingly — titled “Mandatory P.E. class not enough to fight fat,” the Associated Press (via The San Francisco Chronicle) tells the pathetic tale of physical education programs in the United States.

    How pathetic?  Think decades-old equipment, mandatory physical education with no curriculums or assessment (meaning that, if the teacher sees fit, a physical education class can consist of a ping-pong game or a class of thirty students each taking two turns clearing a high jump bar), and spaces originally allocated to gyms that are instead used as cafeterias.

    Only Massachussetts and Illinois mandate “gym class” for students through twelfth grade, but “the state does not monitor schools to ensure they are meeting the daily P.E. requirement, and there are no penalties for not doing it. The Illinois General Assembly even gives waivers to districts that have financial issues or want more classroom time.”

    As with anything else, there is a severe need for prioritizing and accountability.

    Of course, educational reform is also a necessity, since the No Child Left Behind Act has essentially turned schools into testing centers, rather than educational instutions.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Caffeine

    coffee-beansThe only unit of energy, nutritionally speaking, is a calorie.

    But caffeine is supposed to give people energy, and I’ve felt its effects myself.

    That said, you can’t gain weight from caffeine alone, so what causes that energizing sensation without calories?

    – Corey Clark
    (Location withheld)

    As a stimulant, caffeine increases dopamine production, which in turn prevents adenosine (a neurotransmitter associated with tiredness) from performing effectively.

    Think, if you will, of adenosine as a lightbulb and caffeine as a dark-tinted cloth that prevents the lightbulb from transmitting sufficient light.

    Caffeine also affects the nervous system by contracting muscles, increasing blood flow to the muscles, and increasing heart rate.

    These nerve impulses can be helpful as far as physical activity goes, which is why a small amount of caffeine prior to a workout is considered beneficial.

    While we’re at it, let’s clarify the term “energy”.

    Calories provide not only “physical energy” but also energy for a variety of bodily functions and cellular processes.

    Caffeine, in and of itself, affects the nervous system and brain and ultimately provides a burst of physical — and mental — energy, but does not contribute to metabolic processes and pathways in the same way calories do.

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    Attention New Yorkers!

    attentionOn Saturday, August 8th, I will be presenting at a workshop titled “Clearing Clutter from Your Life: A Mind, Body, Spirit Approach”, right here in New York City.

    Here is a brief description of what my talk will entail:

    “Examine the emotional and mental aspects of eating. How do your emotions and beliefs affect your dietary habits and choices, and how do they intervene with healthy lifestyle goals? Learn how to free yourself of self-imposed mental obstacles and get on the road to healthy eating — for good.”

    The remainder of the event will feature talks/workshops led by:

    • A certified pilates instructor
    • A life coach
    • A professional organizer

    For location, pricing, and other details, please CLICK HERE.

    I look forward to seeing you!

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