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Archive for February, 2010

Numbers Game: Answer

dunkin-donuts-cup-400x300A large Dunkin’ Donuts mocha coffee (black coffee with mocha syrup) contains 11.5 teaspoons of added sugar.

Context time!  If this is your morning coffee order, that means you are drinking:

  • An additional teaspoon and a half of sugar than you would from a 12-ounce can of soda
  • As much sugar as in nine Oreo cookies
  • As much sugar as 44 mini marshmallows
  • The equivalent of a large cup of coffee sweetened with eleven and a half packets of sugar

Even a small mocha coffee contains two tablespoons of added sugar in the form of flavored syrup.

What truly disturbs me is that these preposterous sugar levels are considered “normal”.

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Let’s Play “Find The Grape”!

ServeImagePop-Tarts® newest flavor?  Frosted wild grape.

Let’s take a look at the ingredient list and see how quickly we can find a smidge of grapes.  Ready?

First three ingredients:

  • enriched (white) flour
  • corn syrup
  • high fructose corn syrup

Lovely.  The first three ingredients are a mere reflection of crop subsidies — wheat and corn.

Alright, let’s take a look at the next three ingredients:

  • sugar
  • soybean and palm oil
  • dextrose

No luck there, either.  But, hey, there’s some more sugar for you!

Maybe the next group of three will be the charm?  By the way, every ingredient from here on out makes up two percent — or less — of a Pop-Tart:

  • cracker meal
  • wheat starch
  • salt

Hmmm.  Starting to get a little impatient now.  This was a grape flavor, wasn’t it?  Well, let’s cross our fingers as we read the next three ingredients:

  • dried grapes
  • dried apples
  • cornstarch

Success (sort of)!  Nine ingredients later, we come to the so-called central figure of the product.

With that kind of ingredient list, it’s no surprise that each Pop-Tart contributes four teaspoons of sugar to breakfast.

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Who Said It?: Reveal

The_Fat_Flush_Plan_Ann_Louise_Gittleman_abridged_cassettes“Vegetables and fruit should not be consumed together, nor milk and meat.”

That statement can be found on page 76 of the The Fat Flush Plan by Dr. Ann Louise Gittleman (which, red flag alert, promises to “melt fat… in two weeks”).

The “reasoning” behind that piece of advice is that the combination of fruits and vegetables (or milk and meat) in the same meal slow down, or inhibit, the “fat flushing” process.

This is a perfect example of inaccurate and impractical advice.

The notion that adding tomatoes (a fruit), avocado (a fruit), sliced pear, or Granny Smith apple slices to a salad is detrimental to health is absolutely preposterous.

If anything, adding a fruit rich in vitamin C to a salad is a wonderful way to increase iron absorption form dark leafy greens like kale and chard.

I don’t understand why some nutrition and weight-loss authors (mostly those with very little knowledge of how the human body works) think our digestive systems are unequipped to digest different foods at once.

These rules simply promote neurotic fanaticism at mealtime, and make mountains out of caves (forget molehills!).

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The Next Food, Inc.?

movie_ticketsIn 2004, Super Size Me illustrated the power of the nutrition documentary.  Three years later, King Corn captured the nation’s attention and shone a spotlight on the political and health — both public and individual — consequences of corn subsidies.  Last year, Food, Inc. entranced millions with its expose of agrobusiness and the beef industry.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a few months’ time, the documentary on everyone’s lips is Forks Over Knives.

Per the film’s website, FOK “examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods.”

The experts who participated in the film include some heavy hitters. I especially look forward to seeing someone I very much look up to and respect — Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Check out the documentary’s trailer here.  If you don’t have the latest version of Adobe, you can also view it on YouTube.

The trailer isn’t too explicit, but certainly sets up interesting groundwork regarding disease management, health consequences of diets high in animal products, and critiques of government-backed dietary advice.

I sincerely hope — and have faith — that the movie will avoid the common pitfall of much vegan-related literature and deliver a powerful message without resorting to scare tactics (“give up meat or die at age 50!”) or preaching (“there is no such thing as a healthy diet that includes a single animal product”).

After the horrifically inaccurate travesty that was Skinny Bitch, it’s about time the vegan community had a scientifically sound and serious resource they can unabashedly stand behind and feel proud of.  I have a feeling Forks Over Knives just might be it.

Many thanks to Samantha Collis for directing me to the Forks Over Knives website.

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Three Things You Can Do Today To Improve Your Dietary Habits

to-do-list-croppedOverhauling dietary habits often takes years.  Although there are always exceptions to the rule, the journey from point A to point B requires time and gradual steps.

Too often, I find that people talk about dietary habits as one big issue to unravel, as opposed to several interlaced factors that can be handled individually.

I often employ the analogy of a tangled ball of yarn.  The only way to untangle it is to first loosen one thread, then another, and then another until the insurmountable knot disappears.

If the concept of healthier eating appeals to you, but you have no idea where to start — or what to do — consider these three steps you can take today.

  • Cut down your sugar intake.  The average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day.  That’s approximately fourteen more teaspoons than what is recommended as a daily limit by the American Heart Association.  Start training your palate to get used to lower amounts of sugar by making small cutbacks today.  Usually add three packets of sugar to your morning coffee?  Try it with two.  Normally drink a 20-ounce bottle of soda with lunch?  Opt for a 12-ounce can.  Two weeks after implementing these changes, make a few more subtle cutbacks.
  • Set up a fruit bowl at home. One of the easiest ways to make sure you’re eating the recommended two servings of fruit every day is to have it readily available.  Sticking an apple in the back of your refrigerator’s fruit-and-vegetable drawer serves no purpose.  Place the fruit bowl in whichever room of the house you spend the most time in, and fill it with fruits you like.  If the only fruits you like are Granny Smith apples and grapes, so be it.
  • Stock up your desk drawers. Say farewell to the vending machine.  Next time you’re at the grocery store, stock up on healthful, work-friendly foods.  Some suggestions: nuts and seeds, 100% whole grain crackers, unsweetened dried fruit, 100-calorie bags of popcorn, and truly good-for-you bars like Lara, Clif Nectar, and Kashi Tasty Little Crunchies.

Give yourself two to three weeks to get used to these changes, and then see how you can gradually build your way up to better health.

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Go Crackers with Mary (and Small Bites)!

original_box_front_hiresReady for the second Small Bites giveaway?  I am!

This time around, I have partnered up with the wonderful folks at Mary’s Gone Crackers to gift one lucky winner with:

  • 1 full-size box of crackers (any flavor)
  • 1 full-size box of sticks & twigs “light and crunchy pretzel snack” (any flavor)
  • 1 full-size box of the company’s new “love cookies” (any flavor)

I love Mary’s Gone Crackers because they offer delicious, crispy crackers (and sticks & twigs!) that are not only 100% whole grain, organic, kosher, vegan, non-GMO, and made solely from whole foods, but also suitable for anyone intolerant to gluten or allergic to wheat.

Their delectable cookies, meanwhile, are organic, vegan, kosher, non-GMO, wheat-free, gluten-free, and even soy-free.

Please read below to find out how to enter this giveaway:

  1. Send an e-mail to “andy@andybellatti.com” with the subject line “I want Mary’s crackers!” anytime between 12:01 AM (Eastern Standard Time) on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 and 11:59 PM (Eastern Standard Time) on Sunday, March 14, 2010.
  2. Only one e-mail entry per person.  Multiple e-mail entries do not increase chances of winning.
  3. There are two ways to increase your odds:
    • Twitter: On any Friday during the contest’s eligible dates, include “@andybellatti” on your #FollowFriday list (only one Follow Friday tweet will be eligible for giveaway)
    • Facebook: Choose any Small Bites post of your liking and link to it from your Facebook profile (only one post will be eligible for giveaway; proof of posting via e-mail required)
  4. Winner will be selected at random on Monday, March 15, 2010 and contacted by me via e-mail.
  5. Winner must reside in the United States.

Good luck!

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Numbers Game: Sweet Enough For Ya?

Dunkin_Donuts_CoffeeA large Dunkin’ Donuts mocha coffee (black coffee with mocha syrup) contains _____ teaspoons of added sugar.

a) 8
b) 11.5
c) 9.25
d) 13

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

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Your Skin Deserves Top-Notch Ingredients, Too!

300It’s quite interesting that some people who heavily scrutinize food labels are much more lax about the chemicals that lurk in the products they put on their lips and skin.  It wasn’t until recently that I started to give as much thought to what goes in my bathroom cabinet as I do to what is housed in my kitchen.

Like the food industry, the beauty industry is home to plenty of hype and big-bucks advertising that doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with what is best for your body.

Late last year, I met Adina Grigore, founder of Sprout Wellness, a small Brooklyn-based business that specializes in natural beauty products.  Adina was inspired to create her own skincare products due to a variety of allergies that ruled most commercial lines out.

Adina sums up her company’s mission statement this way:

“Sprout Wellness makes everything from scratch using only ingredients that you’ve heard of before. And you won’t have to pay a million dollars for them because they’re the same basic ingredients people have been using forever to keep their skin clear, shiny, happy, and really truly healthy. We make our products the same way they made it way back when, before petrochemicals and plastics and gold flakes were brought into the mix.”

I have sampled some of her products over the past few weeks and am one satisfied customer.

To check out all of Adina’s affordable and high-quality products, click here.  Dare you not to chuckle at the product descriptions!  I personally love the one that accompanies the facial cleanser:

“You heard soap is too harsh for your face, so you bought a fancy non-soap cleanser. But guess what’s in that? Alcohol! Yes, it is. Go check. We’ll wait for you.  Told you so. Alcohol should never be going on your skin unless you need to be hardcore disinfected. Like before your lipo.  Sprout’s Face Cleanser is obviously better. It’s cleansing yet gentle, non-drying, and smells adorable.”

Happy — and healthy — moisturizing!

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You Ask, I Answer: Sublingual Vitamins

3291The vitamin B12 supplement I take is sublingual.

The instructions say to place the pill under your tongue and let it dissolve.

Most times, I forget and let it dissolve on top of my tongue.  Am I not getting any B12 when I do this?

– Kate (last name withheld)
Petaluma, CA

No need to worry.

When it comes to B12, it has been theorized sublingual doses are optimal since they are absorbed through the oral mucosa (rather than having to go through the gastrointestinal tract).

One of the supposed “advantages” is faster absorption, though I can’t fathom why absorbing vitamin B12 immediately is better to absorbing it in a matter of hours.

In any case, a study published in the 2003 issue of the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology compared the efficacy of sublingual versus standard oral vitamin B12 supplements and found they both did the job equally well.

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Vocab Bite: Nutraganda

superman-got-milk-ad-commercial1nu·tra·gan·da [noo-truh-gan-duh]

- noun

  1. Information and ideas relating to nutrition deliberately spread to help or harm a group or institution
  2. Inflammatory or overly hyped information about one food that passes as news but is really a paid advertisement

Example: I’m getting really tired of the nutraganda in some health magazines.  This month, they had an article about beer being a good post-workout beverage, and sure enough, a few pages later, there was a beer advertisement.

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Who Said It?

QuestionMarkI’m very excited to debut a new section on Small Bites: “Who Said It?”

Much like the “numbers game” section, this is a two-part post.  First, I will share a quote (usually from a popular, best-selling diet book).

Of course, these will not be quotes that are scientifically accurate and make sense, but ones that anger me because they mislead consumers and make mountains out of prairie land.

Then, a few days later, I will reveal who said (or wrote) the quote, and explain my concerns with the message it sends.

We start off with this doozy:

“Vegetables and fruit should not be consumed together, nor milk and meat.”

Answer will be revealed on Thursday!

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The Common Health Thread That Often Goes Unseen

EskimoFamilyFood glorification is common in the field of nutrition (often perpetrated by individuals who profit from books and products that focus on one “miracle” food).

Many “miracle food” claims go like this: a group of people in the world (usually an elusive tribe, for maximum marketing effect) eat “food X” on a regular basis and enjoy long, healthful lives; ergo, this one food will help you live until you’re 90, with fabulous skin to boot.

There is no doubt that, in certain cultures, healthful foods are daily staples.

However, when I hear things like “Eskimos eat whale blubber all the time and have low rates of heart disease!” or “there’s a tribe in the middle of Rwanda that eats nothing but berries and goat’s blood and no one ever gets cancer” I wish the conversation would revolve around what truly matters — what these people are not eating.

These healthful groups of people have very different diets, but one common thread — their intake of processed foods, added sugars, trans fats, and refined carbohydrates is very low, if at all existent.

The notion that eating wild salmon every night (“like the Eskimos!”) is the key to health is reductionist and silly if the foods one eats throughout the rest of the day are highly processed, artificial, or loaded with sodium and added sugars.

Yes, omega-3 fatty acids (to give one example) are very healthful, and the average adult in the United States can greatly benefit from adding more to their diet (from foods that inherently contain them, not fortified candy bars).  Let’s not overlook, though, that populations with superior health profiles don’t have Zone bars in their desk drawers, soda with lunch, or Cheetos as an afternoon snack.

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Numbers Game: Answer

istock_000003017685xsmall-food-labelIn the past 40 years, average sodium intake in the United States increased 38 percent among among adult males and 57 percent among adult females.

Certainly a trend worth reversing (or, at the very least, not increasing).

Keep in mind that over three quarters of sodium in the US diet comes from packaged, processed food.  For most people, removing the salt shaker from the table does not take care of the actual issue.

People have not suddenly decided to oversalt their food over the past forty years.  However, consumption of frozen, canned, and shelf-stable products has skyrocketed faster than the popularity of the Jersey Shore cast.

This is a perfect example of why, when I am asked at a workshop or talk, for “the best dietary advice in one sentence”, my response is “eat as close to nature as possible.”

When your diet is composed of as much minimally processed food as possible, you automatically take care of many nutrition concerns at once.  You consume more fiber, a higher amount of minerals, a greater variety of phytonutrients and antioxidants, and slash your sodium intake.

Update: Shortly after this post went live, I received a tweet from @meredi, asking my opinion as to why women’s sodium intake has increased more than men’s.

My theory?  Over the past forty years — mainly the last twenty – the market for women’s lower-calorie foods (ie: frozen meals, snack bars, etc.) has grown much more than that for men.  Since most of these foods are highly processed, they contain significant amounts of sodium.

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You Ask, I Answer: Beets

beetAnything in particular worth knowing about the nutrition of beets?

I love them in salads.  In the summer, it’s not out of the ordinary for me to have beets every single day.

– Paula Seeley
(Location withheld)

Beets are a wonderful addition to any diet.  Make sure to NOT wear white when eating them (if you think permanent marker stains are bad, wait until you get a tiny smudge of beet on you; even Tide-To-Go sticks raise a white flag).

When mass media went bonkers over the antioxidants in blueberries a few years ago, beets were treated like the redheaded stepchild.

Betacyanin, the antioxidants that gives blueberries their pigment, is also found in very high quantities in beets!

Betacyanin is a big deal because studies have found it to be super powerful when it comes to reducing inflammation (the main factor behind many degenerative diseases) and slowing down tumor proliferation.

Beets offer a one-two punch because they also contain another pigment known as betanin.

Betanin is especially effective at lowering heart disease risk because it reduces levels of homocysteine.  High homocysteine levels are problematic because they damage the inside of arteries, thereby allowing blood clots to form and LDL to build up as plaque, thereby heightening cardiovascular disease risk.

A study by Israel’s Agricultural Research Organization found that “a relatively low concentration of betanin was found to inhibit lipid peroxidation of membranes or linoleate emulsion catalyzed by the free iron redox cycle, H2O2-activated metmyoglobin, or lipoxygenase.”  Laymen translation: betanin is your heart’s friend.

Apart from being a low-calorie food (like all vegetables), beets also offer folate, manganese, and potassium.

Whenever possible, aim for fresh — rather than canned — beets.  If raw beets aren’t your thing, roast them — along with other root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, and radishes — in olive oil and salt.

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The Omega-6 Problem

Many food products proudly advertise their omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid content.

I partially understand why.  Unlike other fats (like omega-9 fatty acids), we must get these two polyunsaturated ones from our diets.  That is precisely why they are known as essential fatty acids.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, our present omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is completely off-balance, largely in part to highly processed diets that contain significant amounts of plant oils high in omega-6 fatty acids.  Since soy is a subsidized crop, soybean oil is an inexpensive by-product commonly used in low-nutrition, low-cost snack foods.  Corn and cottonseed oils are also very high in omega-6, while offering negligible amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

While saturated and trans fats are constantly mentioned in the realm of degenerative diseases (especially cardiovascular ones), dietary advice should also recommend limiting omega-6 fatty acids.

While I do not think saturated fats are absolutely harmless, I certainly do not consider all of them (remember, there are many different saturated fats) to be horrible fats we must avoid like the plague.

What is most interesting, though, is a simple look at consumption patterns over the past forty years.

Among 18 – 44 year olds in the United States, saturated fat consumption clocked in at 30 grams per day in 1970, and 27.8 grams per day in 2005.

Omega-6 fatty acid intake, however, was at 9 grams per day in 1970, and almost doubled to 17 grams by 2005.

High intakes of omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to cellular inflammation — one of the main factors behind a substantial number of degenerative diseases.

This is why I think everyone should prioritize omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, then consider healthier saturated fats (like coconut and cacao), and leave omega-6 fatty acids and less healthy saturated fats (like that in cheese, pork, and chicken skin) last.

Although omega-6 fatty acids are essential, they are so prevalent in so many foods that you would have to try extremely hard (and eat a significantly and dangerously limited diet) to not meet your daily requirement.

I want to finish by making sure the main points of this post are understood:

  • Omega-6 fatty acids are NOT intrinsically unhealthy.  We need to consume a certain amount every day for optimal health.
  • Very healthy foods are good sources of omega-6 fatty acids.  I am not advocating total avoidance of foods that contain omega-6 fatty acids.
  • However, our consistently higher intakes of this particular fat need to be curbed, since more is certainly NOT better.

FYI: in reference to this post’s accompanying photograph, there is no reason to ever supplement omega-6 in pill form.

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