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Archive for November, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Alcohol & Weight Loss

tall_beerI would like to know the calorie content for beer, hard liquor and wine.

If you’re trying to lose weight, what kind of alcohol should you stick to/try to avoid?

Is it better to drink wine instead of beer?

– Lori (last name withheld)
Ottawa, Ontario

As far as calorie figures are concerned, please refer to this post from July 2009.

If weight-loss is your goal, though, liquid calories should be the first to go.

Unless you are talking about homemade smoothies made with whole fruits and fiber-rich ingredients like oat bran and ground flax, liquid calories do very little towards helping you feel full, making it very easy to consume several hundred calories and still feel hungry.

The best alcohol to drink is the one you simply drink less of.

If, for instance, you find that one glass of red wine satisfies you the same way that three beers do, then wine is the best choice.

Wine is not “more fattening” than beer, or vice versa.

That said, keep in mind that mixed drinks are often higher in calories because they also include soda, fruit juice, or cream, all of which add extra calories.

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Numbers Game: Answer

ButtermilkWhiteBreadHelperNinety-five percent of bread products available at public school cafeterias across the country are of the refined “white flour” variety, offering negligible amounts of fiber and fewer nutrients than whole grain types.

(Source: 2004 – 2005 United States Department of Agriculture School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study)

This pitiful statistic goes back to issues surrounding federal national lunch guidelines and agricultural subsidies.

According to figures from the School Nutrition Association, school cafeterias receive $2.65 dollars, per student, from the government, for a complete lunch.  Mind you, this amount includes expenses like cafeteria workers’ salaries.

Whole grain options (the few that are available from vendors) cost five or ten additional cents per student, so you can understand why schools are not exactly itching to get more of these healthy foods into their lunch rooms.

I firmly believe the government needs to provide incentives for schools to serve as many grains as possible in their whole, more nutritious form.

A few school districts currently require a certain amount of whole grains on the menu, but that is a completely voluntary move.

Of course, this requirement should be met in the simplest of terms (ie: whole grain tortillas and sliced bread to make wraps and sandwiches, whole grain dinner rolls to accompany entrees, lightly-salted air-popped popcorn as a snack, etc.) as opposed to a sodium-loaded slice of pizza with processed cheese on a semi whole-wheat crust.

Allow me to clarify — the occasional refined grain product is no cause for concern.  A diet does not need to be 100% whole grain to be healthy.

However, in a country where children, on average, get only half of their daily fiber recommendations, it is necessary to examine how improvements can be made.

The guarantee of a 100% whole grain lunch at school is a significant start.

PS: The New York Coalition for Healthy School Lunch has made tremendous strides in several of that city’s public schools.  Check out their website for more information, particularly the “creating change in your school” page.

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Weekend Fun: Same Ingredient, Different Reaction

20091129Thank you to Small Bites Twitter follower @newtomato for forwarding this comic from the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal website.

It perfectly captures how certain products (i.e.: vitamin-enhanced drinks) can get away with the inclusion of certain unnecessary ingredients.

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You Ask, I Answer: Arugula

arugula1219364897There are few things I love more than arugula salads.

Is arugula as healthy as other leafy green vegetables?

– Dan Christom
(Location withheld)

I, too, love arugula’s peppery flavor.

Something else worthy of affection?  Its stellar nutritional profile!

A cup and a half (the amount typically used as a salad base) offers 15% of the Daily Value of vitamin A and almost half a day’s worth of vitamin K.

Arugula also delivers decent amounts of folate and vitamin C.

Remember, however, that vitamins and minerals are only half the tale.

Arugula is a very good source of many phytonutrients, including lutein and zeaxanthin (two powerhouses that fight macular degeneration).

Another bonus?  Arugula belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family (where it counts broccoli, kale, and mustard greens as relatives).  High intakes of these vegetables (five to six times a week) are associated with reduced risk of cervical, colon, lung, and prostate cancer.

PS: I often like to add a small amount of arugula to pesto for a unique flavor boost!

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You Ask, I Answer: Immune to Hypertension?

salt-shaker-01My diet is extremely high in sodium.  I’m not proud of it, but it’s the truth.

I would say I get anywhere from 3,500 to 4,000 milligrams of sodium a day, [well past the recommended daily maximum of 2,400 milligrams].  I’ve been eating this way for years.

Whenever I get a physical, my blood pressure does not fall into the “high” range.

Is there any reason why I should try to cut back on sodium?

– Richard (last name withheld)
Norwalk, CT

You belong to the “not sodium sensitive” category.

Roughly half of all adults in the United State do not develop hypertension (high blood pressure) as a result of excess sodium consumption.

So, then, why all the concern about sodium?

Simple — hypertension is simply one of many health consequences of long-term high sodium intakes.

Various recent clinical studies are making it clear that consistently high levels of dietary sodium increase heart disease risk and negatively affect renal (kidney) function.

Foods (and diets) high in sodium are usually low in potassium, a mineral that plays a major role in proper muscle contraction.  Remember — the heart is a muscle!  It is not surprising, then, that insufficient potassium intakes have a negative effect on cardiac health.

in 2004, official potassium guidelines were finally released, recommending a daily goal of 4,700 milligrams.

FYI: this figure is simply a reflection of sodium guidelines, which call for no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium.  See, the key is to aim for a 2:1 potassium-sodium ratio.  Therefore, a diet that adds up to 3,500 milligrams of sodium a day needs to be offset by approximately 7,000 milligrams of potassium a day (that’s a lot!).

That is why general nutrition advice is to eat as minimally processed a diet is possible.  The more processed a food, the more sodium — and less potassium — it offers.

Since high-sodium diets are usually heavy on processed foods, they tend to also be lacking in fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and other minerals.

The fact that your blood pressure isn’t too affected by your high sodium intake does not mean you are scot-free.

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Does A Healthy Breakfast Cost More?

Ciniminis_260x480I was just perusing Burger King’s website and came across one of their $1 breakfast offerings — a “4-pack of warm, gooey” mini cinnamon buns accompanied by a small container of icing dip.

This breakfast item adds up to:

  • 490 calories
  • 7 grams saturated fat
  • 39 grams (almost 10 teaspoons) of added sugar
  • 1 gram fiber
  • 400 milligrams sodium

Then, I started hearing the voices.  You know, the critical voices that claim healthy eating is something only a certain elite group is capable of doing.

“See, Andy, how can you possibly convince someone to have a healthy breakfast when they can fill up on 490 calories for a mere dollar?”

Time for some budget-conscious nutrition 101!

Let’s suppose that, rather than start the day off with this cinnamon bun breakfast, our hypothetical subject instead toasts two slices of 100% whole grain bread, tops each with a tablespoon of peanut butter, and chows down on a banana.

Based on prices I have seen online as well as in various markets in New York City, I think it is fair to say that one can buy a 20-slice loaf of 100% whole grain bread for $2.89.

A standard 16-ounce jar of natural peanut butter can be purchased for $3.29 (even less if it’s a generic brand).

A medium banana sets you back approximately 25 cents.

Now, for some simple math:

2 slices of a $2.89 20-slice loaf of bread= 28.9 cents

2 tablespoons of a $3.29 16-ounce, 28-tablespoon peanut butter jar: 23.5 cents

Add 25 cents for the banana and you get a grand total of 77 cents for the healthier breakfast (which, by the way, takes no more than 5 minutes to make).

Even when you consider tax, you are looking at no more than 82 or 83 cents.

For the record, this is the nutritional breakdown of the healthier breakfast:

  • 515 calories
  • 2.5 grams saturated fat
  • 460 milligrams sodium
  • 11 grams fiber
  • 4 grams (1 teaspoon) added sugar
  • 17 grams protein

While the sodium count is slightly higher, it is still within reasonable parameters.  Remember, ideally you want a calorie-to-sodium ratio of 1:1.  Hence, 460 milligrams of sodium in a 515-calorie meal is much more acceptable than in a 150-calorie snack.

Besides, an additional 60 milligrams of sodium are not worth worrying about when the healthier breakfast provides less saturated fat, a lot less added sugar, and significantly more fiber than Burger King’s $1 “value breakfast”.

More importantly, the healthier breakfast contains higher amounts of magnesium, manganese, monounsaturated (heart-healthy) fats, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc.

In this case, choosing healthy over convenient truly is the better deal.

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Numbers Game: When ‘Refined’ Isn’t a Compliment

White-Bread____ percent of bread products available at public school cafeterias across the country are of the refined “white flour” variety, offering negligible amounts of fiber and fewer nutrients than whole grain types.

(Source: United States Department of Agriculture School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study)

a) 58
b) 95
c) 79
d) 82

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

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In The News: Behind the Scenes of “The Biggest Loser”

biggest-loserI never understood the popularity of NBC’s weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser.

Actually, let me backtrack.  I get why The Biggest Loser is a hit — it appeals to our interest in makeovers, weight-loss, and cheering for the underdog.

What I don’t understand is how a show that humiliates obese people (the sight of publicity-obsessed Jillian Michaels berating an obese person panting on a treadmill doesn’t scream “empowering” to me) and condones unhealthy weight-loss practices (i.e.: six hours of a day of exercise, extreme caloric restriction) was so welcomed by millions of television viewers.

Today’s New York Times features a much-needed article on just how dangerous this show’s diet and exercise guidelines can be.

Of course, the show’s producers attempt to justify their reality circus by giving lip service to America’s “obesity crisis” and inspiring people to be the best they can.  Blah, blah, blah.

Not surprisingly, medical and nutrition consultants to the show have nothing but praise and positive comments for the show they are employed by!

I wholeheartedly agree with many of the statements made by Dr. Charles Burant, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System director of the Michigan Metabolomics and Obesity Center:

“I’m waiting for the first person to have a heart attack.  I think the show is so exploitative. They are taking poor people who have severe weight problems whose real focus is trying to win the quarter-million dollar [grand prize].”

Meanwhile, how much longer do I have to put up with those heinous commercials for Jillian Michaels’ various pills, supplements, and “fat burners”?  Enough is enough.

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You Ask, I Answer: Sucanat & Turbinado Sugar

02325466501A lot of healthy baking recipes  seem to call for Sucanat or turbinado sugar as sweeteners.

What are they, exactly?  And what makes [these sweeteners] healthy?

– Carmen Kerr
(City withheld), MN

Sucanat and turbinado sugar are, nutritionally speaking, very similar to table sugar.

Sucanat is an abbreviated term for Sugar Cane Natural.  Its nothing more than dehydrated cane juice that has not had the molasses removed.

Turbinado sugar is also a less-processed version of white sugar.

Consequently, its crystals are larger, its color is darker, and its flavor is more distinct.

There are two specific reasons to include these sugars in your baking:

  1. Impart a particular flavor or texture to baked goods (turbinado sugar is slightly higher in moisture than white sugar)
  2. Use completely vegan sweeteners (most sugar-refining processed utilize animal byproducts during the filtration stage)

Substituting a cup of white sugar for a cup of Sucanat does not make a dessert healthier or less caloric.

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McAttack!

mcdonalds(2)

Moms to Moms is a 14-page supplement from the publishers of Parents Magazine that offers everything from clutter-busting tips to healthy meal ideas to general childrearing advice.

The issue I saw today in a dentist’s office certainly caught my attention for a variety of reasons.

First: the McDonald’s logo on the lower-left corner of the cover.

Second: among the fourteen pages, there are no less than five full-page advertisements for McDonald’s — six if you count one full-page advertisement for the Ronald McDonald charity.

Three of these advertisements bear the title “Mommyisms”, and show a fictional mother and daughter (and, in one case, a father and son duo) being playful or enjoying an activity together.

The first advertisement contains the following statement:

“Just because it’s her favorite place to eat doesn’t mean it can’t be yours too.”

Advertisement number two features photographs of chicken nuggets, apple slices with caramel dip, and a soft-serve ice cream cone.  The accompanying text:

“Tell my husband and son we’re going to McDonald’s, and suddenly I have two kids instead of one.  Its like a fun switch gets flipped and they immediately go into play mode.  I can’t really blame them.”

The final “mommyism” shows a mother and daughter doing yoga together.

“What’s not to love?  A Fruit & Walnut Salad plus a Grilled Chicken Snack Wrap for me, and a wholesome Happy Meal for her.  Because quality time is even better with quality food.  And when it comes to eating right, she always follows my lead.”

The text is accentuated with hearts dotting every lowercase “i”.  All together now: “Awwwww”!

The remaining two advertisements are even more interesting.

One features McDonald’s Registered Dietitian, who recommends two different daily menus, one made for children and one tailored to adults.

For instance, a 505-calorie breakfast composed of one hotcake, one syrup packet, 1% lowfat white milk, Apple Dippers, and low-fat caramel sauce is recommended for children.  There is, of course, no mention of the amount of sodium or added sugars also contained in that meal.

Finally, there is a spotlight on the Director of Culinary Innovation for McDonald’s corporation.

One of his featured recipes?  Vanilla-scented pineapple.  Nothing wrong with that, except for the two cups of sugar (32 tablespoons!) and half cup (8 more tablespoons) of vanilla syrup that goes into, strangely enough, sweetening fresh pineapple!

There is no serving information for the recipe, but even if it is meant for a dozen people, that’s a whopping 3 tablespoons of added sugar (as much as a can of soda) per person!

PS: I will try to scan each of these advertisements later this week for you to read.

In the meantime: thoughts?

I don’t disagree with the notion that certain McDonald’s menu items are healthier than others, but I am greatly disturbed by a magazine supplement aimed at parents that solely advertises the golden arches.

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Taking A Short Break

announcement_clip_artDear Readers,

I am taking a short 3-day break from blogging.

Regular posting will resume on Monday.

Enjoy the weekend!

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Numbers Game: Answer

Brown-RiceA review of  major heart health studies published in the Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases journal found that people who consume at least 2.5 servings of whole grains a day have a 21 percent lower risk of developing a cardiovascular disease than those who eat two (or less) servings of whole grains a week.

This figure takes into account other dietary changes, so it goes beyond the idea that individuals who eat higher amounts of  whole grains have healthier overall diets.

Keep in mind that grain servings are quite small — a mere half cup of cooked brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and  oatmeal all count.

The idea here is to replace as many of the refined grain products in your diet (white rice, white bread, etc.) with whole grain ones, not simply add whole grain foods to your current diet.

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You Ask, I Answer: Food Exchange Lists

3607-1I know that 1/8th of an avocado is considered one serving of fat but considering it’s also a vegetable, does it have a vegetable exchange as well?

If I were to add a serving of avocado to my sandwich, is that a serving of vegetables in addition to a serving of fat?

I’m confused about exchange lists.

– Cate (last name unknown)
(Location Unknown)

Here’s some good news — unless you have diabetes (or provide nutrition counseling to diabetes patients), you don’t need to be familiar with exchange lists.

Exchange lists group foods by nutritional composition rather than by the nutrients they offer (which is how the food pyramid classifies foods).  They were especially formulated to ease meal planning for people living with diabetes, who have to carefully monitor — and distribute — their intake of carbohydrates, fat, and protein.

Exchange lists classify foods as:

  • Starches
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Very lean/lean/medium fat proteins
  • Non-fat/low-fat dairy
  • Fats

Nutrition students often times get tripped up when they first learn about the food pyramid and exchange lists, since they can be easy to confuse.

In the food pyramid, for instance, an avocado counts as a fruit serving (it is not a vegetable).  In the exchange lists, avocado is considered a “fat”.

Similarly, while a slice of Swiss cheese falls under the “dairy” category in the food pyramid, the exchange lists classify it as a “medium-fat protein”.

Why?  Cheese, ounce by ounce, has a similar protein and carbohydrate content to meat.

In the exchange list, a “very lean” protein is one that, per serving, offers 35 calories and no more than 1 gram of fat.  Lentils, egg whites, and turkey breast all fall into this category.

When figuring out what category the foods you eat fall into, go by food groups, not exchange lists.

In your case, half a cup of avocado is considered a fruit serving.  Avocados are not considered part of the food pyramid’s “added oils and sugars” tip since an avocado contains a whole lot more than fat — it is also a wonderful source of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

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Moooooot Point

tboneOver the past few months I have seen an increasing number of beef products at the supermarket labeled “vegetarian-fed”.

It really is the sign of a messed up food system when a cow eating the way it’s supposed to (all cows are naturally vegetarian) commands a special sticker and a premium.

What disturbs me even more, though, is that “vegetarian-fed” cattle could still be — and very likely, are — eating a very unhealthy diet.

It is very probable these cows are subsisting on a vegetarian diet of corn and wheat, two foods their digestive tracts are not used to, and therefore can cause a multitude of health problems.

I have a sneaking suspicion that “vegetarian-fed” advertising is meant to confuse customers into thinking they are purchasing grass-fed beef products.

FYI 1: In case you’re wondering, some cows in feedlots are not only fed that unnatural corn-and-wheat diet; they also have ground up meat and bones included in that mix!  You can thank that aberration for the developing of mad cow disease!

FYI 2: Since “vegetarian-fed” is not a claim regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture, the lack of that statement on a beef product does not necessarily mean you are purchasing meat from a cow that ate ground up bits of its own kind.

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Bye Bye, Bisphenol-A

102960With the recent concerns about Bisphenol-A, I thought it would be useful to notify you via this short post that Eden Organic canned goods do not contain the controversial chemical.

I have come across their products at Whole Foods all throughout the Northeast as well as local health food stores throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn.

In the off-chance that you can not find them where you live, their website hosts an online store.

PS: if you come across any other companies that use Bisphenol-A free cans, please leave a comment and tell other Small Bites readers!

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