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    Archive for December, 2009

    Numbers Game: Answer

    891318One cup of cooked Swiss chard contains as much potassium as two medium bananas.

    FYI: The United States Department of Agriculture classifies medium bananas as those measuring anywhere from 7 to 8 inches.

    Score another point for dark, leafy green vegetables.

    Remember — they already get kudos for being good sources of calcium and vitamin K — two crucial nutrients for bone health.

    While most people equate potassium with bananas (and that’s not too off-the-mark; bananas are a good source of that mineral), other foods provide higher amounts.

    A medium banana contains approximately 420 milligrams of potassium (roughly ten percent of the daily requirement).  One cup of cooked Swiss chard, meanwhile, contributes 961 milligrams (slightly over a quarter of a day’s worth!).

    Take a look at these other potassium-rich foods that are often forgotten:

    • Spinach (1 cup, cooked): 835 milligrams
    • Lentils (1 cup, cooked): 731 milligrams
    • Edamame (1 cup): 676 milligrams
    • Nutritional yeast (3 Tablespoons): 640 milligrams
    • Baked potato (medium, with skin): 610 milligrams
    • Halibut (3 ounces, cooked): 490 milligrams

    A good list to keep in mind, particularly since the majority of adults in the United States do not meet daily potassium requirements.


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    You Ask, I Answer: Dealing With A Sweet Tooth

    NV977_Brownies_CookiesI have a HUGE sweet tooth.

    I tend to like things like brownies, cookies, candy, etc. I also like to bake a lot, which is a large part of the problem.

    It’s really hard for me to limit my intake of unhealthy sweet foods, though I would really like to make an effort to.

    Do you have any tips?

    — Christine Ho
    (Location Unknown)

    There are certainly a few different strategies you could employ.

    First off — keep your weaknesses in mind (we all have them, by the way!).

    By that I mean: if having baked goods at home makes it difficult for you to control your intake of sweets, don’t have them readily available.

    That is not to say you can not bake (especially since it’s an activity you enjoy).  However, you could always make a batch of cookies, keep two or three for you and then gift the rest to friends, family, neighbors, and/or co-workers.

    Another alternative?  Seek healthier recipes.

    No, that does not mean Splenda-spiked cookies or muffins with fat-free Frankenbutter.

    However, consider this simple and delectable chocolate truffle recipe that delivers a good amount of fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

    When you get a craving for unhealthy sweet foods, think about what the craving is really for.

    Is it for chocolate?  If so, instead of a highly caloric muffin or brownie, try an ounce of rich, dark chocolate (I love 85% cocoa chocolate bars because a small amount completely satisfies my sweet tooth!).

    Or, make a quick and healthy chocolate milk.  In a blender, combine your milk of choice (dairy, soy, hemp, almond, etc.) with a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, a pinch of salt, ice, and some vanilla extract.

    If it’s for peanut butter, make a smoothie with bananas and add a tablespoon of peanut butter.  Or, add sliced bananas to a peanut butter sandwich.

    Similarly, try incorporating some sweetness into healthier foods.  For example, add a tablespoon of chocolate chips to an all-nut trail mix, or ripe sliced pears to a salad.

    These kinds of dietary changes take some time, so approach it slowly and realistically.

    Most importantly, don’t ever completely deny yourself a food you like.  There are days when the only thing that will satisfy a craving for a decadent brownie is a decadent brownie.  That’s fine — simply be mindful of how much you eat and, above all, enjoy and savor it!


    You Ask, I Answer: Sugar & Weight Gain


    I’ve heard from many magazines and articles that glucose-fructose could lead to weight gain.

    Dempster’s BodyWise bread has glucose-fructose/sugar listed in their ingredient, but has only 1 gram of sugar per serving.

    Could eating this bread lead me to weight gain?

    — Yuki Izawa
    (Location Unknown)

    This is a case where context is crucial.

    In case there is any confusion, by the way, table sugar (sucrose) is made from a combination of glucose and fructose.  This is actually the first time I have ever seen an ingredient list that identifies sucrose this way.

    As far as sugar causing weight gain — my answer is always “yes and no”.

    On the one hand, there is nothing intrinsic in sugar that causes weight gain.

    The issue with sugar is twofold:

    1. Sugar is pure, fiberless carbohydrate.  Consequently, we can easily consume hundreds of calories of it without feeling satiated.
    2. The United States consumes extraordinarily high amounts of added sugar on a daily basis — an average of 360 calories’ worth, per person, per day!

    To further expand on point number one, consider the fact that it takes four or five oranges to produce your average 8-ounce glass of orange juice, which you can down in seconds and not feel too satiated by.

    Imagine, however, eating five whole oranges in one sitting.  The additional fiber would make most people feel pretty full after just two or three!

    With that in mind, a slice of bread that contains a mere gram of added sugar (one-quarter teaspoon, or four calories) is absolutely not worth worrying about.


    Say What?: Who Green-lighted This?

    dulcolaxEarlier today, I relaxed on the couch and enjoyed an episode of Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares.

    Don’t you love that show?  Those producers do a marvelous job of mixing humor and repulsiveness.

    During the second commercial break, an advertisement for a product named Dulcolax popped up.

    It was rather vague, claiming that while water is helpful for constipation, it sometimes “doesn’t get where it needs to”, which is why Dulcolax is a better choice.

    Utterly confused — and with red flags in mind — I Googled the product (which, I’m sure, is exactly what its makers want).

    Here are some “are you kidding me?” snippets from the website:

    • “Water alone may not be enough [to treat constipation] because you can’t be sure that the water you drink will go directly to the colon.”
    • “Dulcolax works with the water.”
    • “Dulcolax makes water work harder to help restore balance gently.”

    Looks like someone completely tossed basic human physiology out the window!

    For whatever reason, both the television advertisement and the product’s webpage leave out a vital piece of information — Dulcolax simply contains a popular laxative known as polyethylene glycol 3350.

    It’s not that Dulcolax contains some secret magic spell that makes water work harder; it’s nothing more than a laxative in powder form that you add to liquids!

    The notion that water is not enough to help with constipation is silly; one of the most effective ways to treat that condition is to consume more fiber and water.

    Truth is, the vast majority of individuals with constipation do not need laxatives.  All they require is additional fiber in their diet, which is not a difficult task:

    • Apple (medium, with skin): 3.5 grams
    • Almonds (23 pieces): 3.4 grams
    • Avocado (medium, one half): 6.5 grams
    • Banana (medium): 3 grams
    • Barley (1/2 cup, cooked): 3 grams
    • Black beans (1/2 cup): 7 grams
    • Broccoli (1/2 cup, cooked): 3 grams
    • Chickpeas (1/2 cup): 5 grams
    • Ground flaxseed (2 tablespoons): 4 grams
    • Lentils (1/2 cup): 8 grams
    • Medjool dates (2 pieces): 3 grams
    • Nutritional yeast (2 tablespoons): 4 grams
    • Oatmeal (1 cup, cooked): 4 grams
    • Potato (medium, with skin): 4 grams
    • Raspberries (1/2 cup): 4 grams
    • Sunflower seeds (1/4 cup): 3 grams
    • Sweet potato (medium, with skin): 4 grams
    • Tempeh (4 ounces/half package of Lightlife brand): 8 grams
    • Whole wheat pasta (1 cup, cooked): 4 grams

    Taco Bell’s Drive-Thru Diet

    8222_M_W_300Taco Bell’s latest advertising project? Their Drive-Thru Diet®.

    Their spokesperson, a real-life dieter identified as Christine, claims to have lost 54 pounds over the course of two years “by choosing Fresco items from the Drive-Thru Diet® menu and making other sensible choices.”

    As if the “other sensible choices” part wasn’t enough of a hint that there’s more to this than meets the eye, we then learn that Christine simply reduced her total caloric intake by 500 calories for a total of 1,250 calories a day.

    It seems that even the folks at Taco Bell are aware this campaign is a bit of a stretch.

    Not only does Christine herself share that “these results aren’t typical” and that “as you know,” (?) “the Drive-Thru Diet® menu is not a weight-loss program” — the Taco Bell website makes this statement:

    “For a healthier lifestyle, pay attention to total calorie and fat intake and regular exercise. Fresco can help with calorie reductions of 20 to 100 per item compared to corresponding products on our regular menu. Not a low calorie food.”

    This comes back to a point I often make on this blog — actual weight-loss can be done with almost any food.

    In fact, this campaign reminds me of a similar one by Special K cereal a few years ago.  The gist was that Special K helped you lose weight, provided — of course — that you had a bowl of it as your lunch.

    Christine could have consumed 1,250 calories worth of ice cream, french fries, and pizza and still have lost the weight.

    The added challenge comes from achieving weight loss while meeting nutrient needs and providing the body with sufficient energy and care.

    A 1,250-calorie diet of junk food will result in weight loss, but also in completely inadequate nutrient intakes.

    It’s also worth pointing out that one can consume 320 calories in a half cup of premium ice cream or six cups of strawberries.

    The strawberries, of course, provide phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber lacking in that half cup of ice cream.  In fact, a mere half cup of strawberries (roughly 50 calories) provides significantly more nutrition than that half cup of ice cream.  In that sense, all calories are most certainly NOT created equal!

    Furthermore, while I understand what Taco Bell is trying to do here (reminding customers that their menu offers lower-calorie items), two things bother me:

    1. This campaign is completely carried by a woman, once again reiterating the stereotype that only women care about managing their weight and seeking healthier options
    2. All this talk of healthier options is a little silly when you consider that some Fresco items contain half a day’s worth of sodium

    Rather than create this eye-rolling gimmick, why didn’t Taco Bell simply advertise their lower-calorie items with a “At Taco Bell, low calories are no problem”-ish campaign?  It would at least be — gasp! — more honest.


    Numbers Game: Potassium-Packed!

    Red_chardOne cup of cooked Swiss chard contains as much potassium as ______ medium banana(s)

    FYI: The United States Department of Agriculture classifies medium bananas as those measuring anywhere from 7 to 8 inches.

    a) .75
    b) 1.5
    c) 2
    d) 2.5

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Thursday to learn the answer — as well as more Swiss chard nutritional facts!


    You Ask, I Answer: Barley

    whole_barleyCan you tell me about the health benefits of barley?

    I just added some to my kale stew and really liked it, but I don’t know anything about it.

    — Susy (last name unknown)
    (Location unknown)

    Barley is a wonderful grain!

    You should know that there are two different varieties — hulled barley and pearled barley.

    Pearled barley is the most commonly consumed type.  While it is still nutritious, it is slightly more processed than hulled barley in that it loses its bran layer.

    Consequently, pearled barley cooks faster.

    If you can find hulled barley, I recommend you purchase that.

    However, even pearled barley is far superior to refined grains like white rice, couscous, or pastas made from white flours.

    After all, one cup of it (cooked) provides:

    • 6 grams of fiber
    • 6 grams of protein
    • 10% of a day’s worth of niacin, vitamin B6, and zinc
    • 20% of a day’s worth of manganese and selenium

    Meanwhile, one cup of cooked hulled barley adds up to:

    • 8 grams of fiber
    • 6 grams of protein
    • Higher amounts of niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and selenium

    One of the advantages of barley is that a significant percentage of its fibers are beta-glucans.

    Beta-glucans are a specific type of soluble fiber — also found in oatmeal, seaweed, and mushrooms — responsible for lowering LDL cholesterol (the higher your LDL cholesterol, the higher your risk for heart disease).


    Weekend Fun: What Would The Holidays Be Without… Burger King?

    burgerking suicide-thumb-450x347Burger King addicts, rejoice?

    Erik Trinidad, creator of The Fancy Fast Food blog, has come up with a holiday ham recipe made solely from… Burger King items.

    You can see the ingredient list — and instructional photographs, which I recommend seeing well after you’ve eaten — here.

    Only Small Bites, however, breaks down the nutritional facts for you.

    There is no indication of how many people this is supposed to serve, but I calculated this for twelve servings.  In that case:

    888 calories
    23 grams (more than a day’s worth) of saturated fat
    1.8 grams trans fat
    1,901 milligrams sodium (more than 3/4 of a day’s worth!)

    Want to know the most disturbing part?  There are individual burgers (not combos that come with fries and a drink; just burgers) at Burger King with even worse nutritional profiles!

    PS: The accompanying photo shows what a Burger King Triple Stack hamburger looks like in real life, without camera tricks.


    Quick & Healthy Recipes: Lentil Paté

    Red Lentils 002Due to their stellar nutrition profile, hearty texture, and unique flavor, I am a die-hard fan of lentils.

    Though they are often prominent in soups and casseroles, they also go well as a dip for crudité or heart whole grain crackers.

    This lentil paté is especially wonderful served warm in the winter months.

    YIELDS: 8 servings


    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1/2 cup white or yellow onion, chopped
    2 medium garlic cloves, diced
    1 small carrot, peeled and shredded
    1/3 cup red pepper, chopped
    1 cup dry lentils, rinsed (I think red lentils look nicer for dips, but feel free to use brown)
    1 1/2 cups water
    1/2 teaspoon sea salt
    1/2 teaspoon paprika
    3/4 teaspoon cumin
    Pepper, to taste
    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice


    Heat olive oil in pot over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, carrot, and red pepper.

    Cook the vegetables until soft, stirring frequently.

    Add lentils and water.  Bring contents to a boil.

    Lower heat to a low simmer and cook until no more water remains in pot.

    Add salt and spices.  Stir until well-combined and cook, still over simmer, for two minutes.

    Pour contents into food processor, add lemon juice, and puree until smooth.

    Feel free to add more spices after pureeing, if you deem it necessary.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving):

    123 calories
    0.8 grams saturated fat
    150 milligrams sodium
    8 grams fiber
    6 grams protein

    Excellent Source of: B vitamins, copper, magnesium, manganese, monounsaturated fats, pantothenic acid, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C

    Good Source of: Iron, phosphorus, zinc


    Numbers Game: Answer

    heartstructureExcess weight  (and its health consequences) is believed to be the main factor in 79 percent of heart disease cases and 52 percent of strokes.

    Remember — a multitude of diseases and health conditions stem from high levels of cellular inflammation.

    One of the primary causes of cellular inflammation?  Excess weight.

    It’s important to keep in mind that any amount of lost excess weight is beneficial.

    I recall a conversation I had years ago with someone who, at the time, was 65 pounds overweight.

    In her mind, her choices were either to stay at that weight for the rest of her life or lose 65 pounds.  Silly as it may sound to some people, it had never occurred to her that even shedding 15 of those 65 extra pounds would have a positive effect on her health!

    Long story short — once she saw how much better she felt after losing 15 pounds (“It’s so much easier on my knees when I use the stairs!” was one of the first things she mentioned to me), she was motivated to continue her healthier eating patterns and has now been at a healthy weight for three years.

    New body shape aside, her biggest surprise came when, after years of avoiding getting a physical, she received her blood test results.  Compared to her heaviest period, her blood pressure, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol had significantly lowered.


    You Ask, I Answer: Seaweed

    895835I consider myself an adventurous eater, but other than a few sushi rolls when I go to a Japanese restaurant, I don’t eat much seaweed.

    Whenever I am at Whole Foods, I see a pretty good-size chunk of one aisle devoted to different kinds of dried seaweed.

    What are some ways I can eat them?  Do they offer any real nutrition  benefits or are they healthy just because they are low in calories?

    — Joanna MacKay
    New York, NY

    Seaweed — which is literally available in thousands of varieties — offers an array of flavors, textures, and health benefits.

    All varieties are good sources of B vitamins, calcium, copper, iodine, magnesium, manganese, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and zinc.

    Most varieties also provide substantial amounts of lignans — the compounds found in flaxseed that are linked to decreased cancer risk AND lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels!

    Nori is the most commonly consumed seaweed, as it is the one used in sushi rolls.  However, many people also like to add a few slivers of nori to salads and soups.

    You can even buy sheets of nori and make home-made vegetable rolls.

    For example, roll up mesclun greens, sliced avocado, sliced mango, and julienned (that’s chef-speak for “thinly sliced”) red peppers in a nori sheet, cut the long roll into round bite-size chunks, drizzle a bit of dressing on top (this peanut-cilantro one complements the flavors fabulously), and you have yourself a fun — and nutritious — lunch!

    In Japan, toasted nori snacks are immensely popular (almost as much as potato chips are in the United States).

    Kombu is a type of seaweed mainly used for stocks, while kelp is often added to soups (like miso) or used in granule form to add fishy flavors to vegetarian items that aim to mimic seafood.

    Arame is used in many savory dishes, including stews and grain-based side dishes, while hijiki is often steamed and consumed as a side dish of its own (one restaurant I frequently establish serves up hijiki as part of a platter alongside brown rice, chickpeas, and stir-fried tofu).

    Dulse is mainly available as granules to add fishy flavors to food, although whole dried dulse can be eaten right out of the bag as a snack or used as a salad topper.

    FYI: most seaweed salads at Japanese restaurants use a combination of seaweeds.  The downside?  They contain a substantial amount of added sugars and oils.  If you want to start your meal with it, keep that in mind and make light entree selections.

    The biggest mistake I come across when it comes to the nutritional aspects of seaweed is the completely erroneous claim that they are a good source of vitamin B12.

    They are NOT.  Seaweed contains B12 analogues — compounds that mimic the vitamin.

    Vegetarians and vegans need to be very mindful of B12 analogues; they attach to B12 receptors in the body, and prevent real B12 in the diet from being absorbed properly!

    Also, since seaweed is very high in iodine, anyone with thyroid issues should first consult with a Registered Dietitian before adding it to their diet on a consistent basis.


    You Ask, I Answer: Flaxseed and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

    flaxseed_291_20090115-1524291I saw your recent tweet reminding vegetarians and vegans to supplement their diets with Omega-3 supplements that contain DHA and EPA Omega-3 fatty acids.

    I would rather not take a pill, but can eat ground flaxseeds – how much do you think I should consume each day?

    Otherwise, do you recommend a particular vegan omega-3 pill?

    — Christine Ho
    Location Unknown

    The problem with relying on flaxseeds (or walnuts, for that matter) to get your omega-3 needs is that they only offer Alpha-Linolenic omega-3 fatty acids (ALA).

    The human body can convert ALA into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil.  However, this conversion does not happen very efficiently, and it takes very high amounts of ALA to get the necessary amounts of DHA and EPA (we’re talking ridiculously high amounts — think 1,000 calories just from flaxseeds).

    This is not to say that the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds and walnuts are useless.  They certainly offer their share of health benefits and are worth including.

    However, I strongly encourage people with diets that are low in (or do not include) fish or sea vegetables — the only plant food that offers DHA and EPA — to supplement DHA and EPA.

    In your case, Christine, I recommend looking for supplements that contain DHA and EPA extracted from algae (which, by the way, is where fish get their omega 3s from!).  While there are many brands out there, the one I am most familiar with is VPure (please note, I am not claiming this is the only “good” brand; simply the one I have come across most often).

    The term “vegetarian” on an Omega-3 capsule is by no means a guarantee; often times, that simply means it only contains ALA!

    Aim for 500 – 1,000 milligrams per day (EPA and DHA combined); ideally, you want at least 300 milligrams to come from EPA.


    You Ask, I Answer: Nutrition and Cancer Risk

    10_foods_berries_raychel_deppeWhat foods reduce the risk of cancer the most?

    — Ronald (Last name unknown)
    (Location unknown)

    In terms of overall cancer risk, it is pretty clear that diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices appear to have a more protective effect than those high in red meat and dairy products.

    FYI: many people — nutritionists included — often forget the power of consistent intakes of herbs and spices, all of which are loaded with phytonutrients and antioxidants.

    That is not to say, of course, that cancer can be prevented simply by eating healthy, since other factors like stress, pollution, and genetics play a prominent role as well.

    Also, I am not stating that meat or dairy cause cancer.  As I have explained in previous posts, part of the dilemma with nutrition research lies in determining if a certain diet increases cancer risk because of what it is high in or because of what it offers little of.

    What is absolutely obvious, though, is that phytonutrients and biochemical compounds (like flavonoids and antioxidants) play crucial roles in cancer risk reduction, and diets low in plant foods offer much lower amounts of these compounds.

    I consider the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research two top-notch sources for information regarding nutrition and cancer.  Here are some of their conclusions based on reviews of thousands of large-scale long-term clinical studies:

    • Non-starchy vegetables are most helpful in reducing risk of mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, and stomach cancers
    • Allium vegetables (garlic, onions, scallions, leeks, etc.)  have been found to be most effective against stomach cancers
    • There is also substantial evidence of garlic having a protective effect against colorectal cancer
    • Fruits (this includes avocados!) are implicated in risk-reduction of mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, lung, and stomach cancers
    • Nuts and seeds have a protective effect against prostate cancer

    As you may suspect, one rather frustrating issue — at least for me — with large-scale nutrition research studies (the ones that receive significant funding and often make significant discoveries) is that, understandably, they tend to focus on commonly-consumed foods.  It makes sense; after all, it’s most helpeful to determine what effect mainstream dietary patterns have on health, since those literally affect tens of millions of individuals.

    However, this means that a lot of wonderful, but not as commonly consumed, foods chock-full of nutrition (think quinoa, maca, ginger, cumin, wild rice, goji berries, tempeh, kale, hemp seeds, etc.) are barely investigated.  Heck, even sweet potatoes have largely been ignored.

    It’s clear these foods have health-promoting properties and offer plenty of nutrition, but I wish there were more clinical studies looking at their effect on health.

    In conclusion, though, you can never go wrong with whole, minimally processed foods.

    Keep in mind my “dartboard” visual:

    • The center circle is for foods you want to eat on a daily basis.  This circle should be mainly made up of minimally processed plant-based foods.
    • The second outer circle is for foods that can be enjoyed four or five times a month.
    • The third outer circle is for foods that are best consumed no more than once or twice a month

    PS: One of my absolute biggest pet-peeves is rankings of healthy foods.  I consider articles or television segments which state that an apple is healthier than an orange, which in turn is healthier than a banana a complete joke.  The fact that a fruit has 10 percent more vitamin C than another does not make it superior (because, chances are, that other fruit contains unique phytonutrients).


    You Ask, I Answer: Blotting Pizza

    1ac994d5f3191bc6_pizza-blotI need to ask you something that has been bugging me for a few years.

    Whenever I get a slice or two of pizza here in New York City, I always get some napkins and blot the surface.  It’s not that I am calorie-phobic, but a lot of pizzas seem way too greasy.

    The napkins always absorb a lot of liquid,so am I getting rid of a lot of calories this way?

    — Paul (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    Pizza blotting is not a waste of napkins, but it also doesn’t decrease calorie content by that much.

    One of the problems with your specific situation (where you are ordering a slice of pizza that had been cooked earlier in the day, which is then reheated) is that most of the fat in the cheese has already been absorbed.

    The most successful blotting occurs with fresh pizzas right out of the oven, which contain more liquified fat on the surface.

    In your case, you are removing anywhere from 2 to 4 grams of fat (18 to 36 calories) from your slice.  Blotting a fresh-out-of-the-oven slice could result in the removal of up to 50 calories.

    Remember, though, that most New York City pizza slices are outrageously big.  A plain cheese slice can clock in at 800 calories!

    PS: You can save roughly 100 calories by leaving the end portion of the crust on your plate.  I find that a good number of pizza places have tasteless, overly doughy crusts that aren’t worth the calories.

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