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    Archive for March, 2010

    Numbers Game: Answer

    Free soda 6.24.09Taking into account inflation, the average price of soda in the United States was 33 percent cheaper in 2009 than in 1978.  Vegetables, meanwhile, were 41 percent more expensive.  Fruits?  46 percent more expensive.

    Source: New York Times via Bureau of Labor Statistics

    The change in soda prices is undoubtedly linked to corn subsidies and the subsequent ingredient shift from sugar to high fructose corn syrup over the past three decades.

    Simultaneously, fruit and vegetable farmers were left in the dark.  Consider, for example, that a mere one percent of current government agricultural subsidies go towards fruits and vegetables.

    My fear — and concern — is that this domino effect is well underway, with little chance of halting.

    Until crop subsidies disappear, we can expect foods made with high fructose corn syrup to be extremely affordable.  This greater affordability leads to increased purchases, thereby keeping prices low.

    That said, the mere fact that the disparaging health effect of crop subsidies has increasingly become part of mainstream conversation and news is hopeful.  It wouldn’t surprise me if, a decade from now, we begin to see less financial support for crops that sustain the Standard American Diet.


    You Ask, I Answer: Kamut

    EFI_PASTA_KAMUT_SPIRALSPlease enlighten me.  For the past few months, I’ve seen kamut pasta at the grocery store.  I had never heard of it before.

    What is kamut?  Is it healthier than wheat?

    — Julie Wilkens
    St. Paul, MN

    Kamut, the “brand name” for khorasan, is a whole grain native to the Middle East.

    The name “Kamut” is of Egyptian origin, and refers to a popular legend (not urban, mind you, just a regular legend) that khorasan was a staple of Egyptian pharaos.

    Although it is a relative of wheat — and definitely not appropriate for anyone on a gluten-free diet — it has a nuttier taste and chewier texture, reminiscent of brown rice.

    You can buy kamut “as is” (it looks like extra large brown rice grains), in pasta form, or as an oatmeal-like hot cereal.

    You will often see an ® symbol after kamut.  No need for concern; it is not genetically modified or owned by Monsanto!

    As kamut producers explain it, the grain was patented in 1990 “to protect and preserve the exceptional qualities of a particular variety of the ancient wheat.”

    In order to receive the “kamut” trademark, manufacturers of these foods must sign a licensing agreement and abide by certain rules (i.e.: 100% organic farming practices, a certain amount of selenium per sample, and a specific protein range).

    A half cup of cooked kamut delivers:

    • 140 calories
    • 5 grams of fiber
    • 6 grams of protein

    Additionally, it is an excellent source of selenium, manganese, magnesium, and zinc.

    I see very little nutritional differences between it and 100 percent whole wheat pasta, though.


    You Ask, I Answer: Essential Amino Acids

    methionineAre there eight or nine essential amino acids?

    Some books say eight, others say nine.  Both are reliable sources, so I don’t know what’s right.

    Some websites even mention there being ten essential amino acids.

    — Richard (Last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    Wonderful question.  There does appear to be quite a bit of confusion on this issue.

    There are eight truly essential amino acids:

    • Isoleucine
    • Leucine
    • Lysine
    • Methionine (chemistry fans: its structure is pictured alongside this post)
    • Phenylalanine
    • Threonine
    • Tryptophan
    • Valine

    There are four “conditionally essential” amino acids:

    • Arginine
    • Cysteine
    • Histidine
    • Tyrosine

    Some people erroneously consider one or two of them essential (which is where figures or “nine” or “ten” essential amino acids come from).

    Arginine and histidine are conditionally essential because they are only essential for infants.

    Tyrosine is produced from phenylalanine, an essential amino acid.  People with phenylketoneuria (PKU) must strictly restrict their phenylalanine intake, thereby making tyrosine an essential amino acid.

    Cysteine is produced from the essential amino acid methionine.  Therefore, some people argue that cysteine is “conditionally essential”, since a diet lacking methionine is also void of cysteine.

    Essential amino acid insufficiency is extremely rare in developed nations.  Even in developing nations, it’s only really seen it with populations that do not eat animal products and largely subsist on one crop.


    Grading the Gurus: Walter Willett

    0901p88c-walter-willett-lWHO IS HE?

    Dr. Willett is the Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition in the Department of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and has been chair of the Harvard Department of Nutrition and Epidemiology since 1991.

    He is also the author of 2005’s Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy and 2007’s Eat Drink, and Weigh Less.


    Dr. Willett’s main points are:

    • Healthy fats should not be feared; they are an important part of a healthy diet.
    • A diet that gets more than 30 percent of calories from fat is perfectly okay as long as those fats are plant-based.
    • Potatoes and table sugar are essentially the same thing.  Potatoes should be limited, much like refined grains.
    • Nuts and legumes are preferred sources of protein.
    • Many dietary recommendations are based on politics (i.e.: “for calcium, eat dairy”) rather than a comprehensive understanding of science.
    • Exercise and physical activity are the foundation of health.

    Dr. Willett created his own version of the food pyramid, which perfectly illustrates these — and a few other — viewpoints.


    Dr. Willett is not afraid to think outside the box and, armed with substantial research-based evidence, question standard dietary advice (i.e.: “dairy is the best source of calcium.”).

    I greatly appreciate his strong defense of healthy fats, emphasis on whole grains and plant-based protein, and the importance he places on daily physical activity.

    Compared to other well-known male doctors who delve into nutrition matters, Dr. Willett is in no way gimmicky, does not endorse or partner up with questionable famous “experts”, and, in my opinion, is the one who most stays true to his convictions.  Refreshing — and admirable!

    His research experience is substantial; throughout his career, he has published approximately 1,100 articles dealing with nutrition and health matters in various peer-reviewed science journals.


    I wish Dr. Willett were more specific with his fat recommendations.

    For example, he groups all plant-based oils (including soy, olive, and peanut) in the “healthy fats” group.

    This troubles me because there is a clear hierarchy.  Soybean, safflower, and sesame seed oil are very high in omega-6 fatty acids and therefore not as healthy as olive and peanut (high in monounsaturated fat) or flax oil (high in omega-3 fatty acids).

    Similarly, Dr. Willett classifies all saturated fats equally, even though those in coconuts and cacao are healthier than the ones in full-fat dairy and red meat (especially from cows that subsist on corn).

    My main gripe with Dr. Willett’s dietary advice, though, is his view on potatoes.

    Per his food pyramid, potatoes are placed in the same “use sparingly” category as white bread, white rice, white pasta, soda, and sweets.  I find this to be grossly inaccurate and misleading.


    Dr. Willett is very familiar with — and knowledgeable about — nutrition issues.  Like Dr. Marion Nestle, his epidemiological background enables him to analyze and apply clinical studies appropriately, and his consideration of the relationship between food politics and dietary advice adds a powerful “oomph” to his message.

    Although I find his views on potatoes unnecessarily alarmist and extremist, his overall nutrition message is interesting, multi-layered, and scientifically solid.

    GRADE: A-


    You Ask, I Answer: More to Bananas than Potassium?

    BananasI don’t hear a lot about bananas, except that they are a good way to get potassium and B vitamins.

    You often write about phytonutrients and antioxidants in fruits.  Do bananas have any?

    Also, why do some diets forbid you from eating bananas the first few weeks?

    — Sandra Talenda
    (Location withheld)

    Let’s get the frustrating things out of the way first.

    I will never, ever, ever understand diet plans that treat bananas (or any other nutritious, whole foods) as if they were radioactive waste.

    A standard medium banana is not only a very good source of fiber, manganese, potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, it also only delivers 105 calories.

    FYI: When it comes to potassium, potatoes and avocados surpass bananas.

    Anyone who recommends banana avoidance in the name of health needs to take a nutrition class.  Stat.

    As far as phytonutrients are concerned, all plant-based foods (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and spices) contain them.  That’s one significant reason why a diet heavy on plant-based foods is optimal for health!

    Keep in mind that we are still in the process of identifying phytonutrients; the nutrition nerd in me can’t help but feel excited when researchers uncover a new one.

    Bananas provide high amounts of the following phytonutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants:

    • Glutathione: a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to protect against cellular oxidation and damage
    • Phenolic compounds: a Cornell University study concluded that certain fruits — including bananas — contain phenolic compounds that protect neural cells from oxidative damage, thereby helping slash the risk of neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
    • Delphinidin: a naturally-occurring pigment that helps lower cancer risk — particularly of the prostate — by causing tumor cells to undergo apoptosis (“cell suicide”)
    • Rutin: a flavonoid also found in asparagus that is associated with blood pressure reduction
    • Naringin: also found in grapefruits, this flavonoids reduces LDL cholesterol oxidation, thereby lowering atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease risk

    For what it’s worth, the riper a banana, the higher its phytonutrient, antioxidant, and flavonoid content.

    If you don’t like the texture of a very ripe banana, I suggest peeling, slicing, freezing, and incorporating it into a smoothie.


    Numbers Game: Uh-Oh-Nomics

    070608_wholeFoods_hmed4p.hmediumTaking into account inflation, the average price of soda in the United States was _____ percent cheaper in 2009 than in 1978.  Vegetables, meanwhile, were _____ percent more expensive.  Fruits?   ______ more expensive.

    Source: New York Times via Bureau of Labor Statistics

    a) 26/25/19
    b) 33/40/46
    c) 47/31/29
    d) 15/50/30

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


    You Ask, I Answer: Probiotics, Sugar in Plain Yogurt

    Case-of-Fage-781488When it comes to grams of Sugar in plain yogurt, isn’t most of the lactose fermented at time of consumption, resulting in a significant reduction in actual sugar?

    Can we utilize lactic acid for energy, or are the grams of sugar on the label taken from the milk without consideration for fermentation?

    Related to that, is it feasible to create a probiotic yogurt that is sugar free?

    When probotics are added after fermentation do they need additional sugar to be added to keep the probiotics alive?

    Of all the varieties of yogurt available, there doesn’t seem to be any probiotic yogurt sweetened with artificial sweeteners.

    Just wondering if that was a coincidence?

    — Nicole Journault
    (Location unknown)

    Yogurt labeling is actually slightly inaccurate.

    Since, as you point out, bacteria convert some of the naturally-occurring lactose (a type of sugar) to lactic acid (part of what gives yogurt its sour taste), the carbohydrate content is slightly lower than what the label says.

    Depending on how long the fermentation process lasted, the sugar content can be anywhere from 3 to 7 grams lower than what is listed on the label!

    As for a probiotic yogurt that is sugar-free — it can definitely be done.

    After all, you can buy probiotic supplements in lactose-free pill or powder form  (FYI: the key for their survivial is constant refrigeration!).

    Even low-carbohydrate yogurts, which tack on artificial sweeteners, contain some lactose, so I can’t identify a barrier.


    Who Knew Sunshine Tasted So Good?

    southwest“Veggie burgers” are often touted as the “healthier choice”, but many people aren’t aware that a large percentage of vegetarian burger products are made from highly processed soy, low in fiber, contain a significant amount of sodium, and, in some cases, artificial colors and dyes.

    One scrumptious exception?  Sunshine Burgers!

    Developed by a woman named Carol — after much encouragement from friends and family who loved her homemade vegetarian burgers — these patties offer a wonderfully simple ingredient list, significant nutrition, and excellent flavors.

    One Southwest flavored (my favorite!) Sunshine Burger delivers:

    • 240 calories
    • 1.5 grams saturated fat
    • 240 milligrams sodium
    • 9 grams fiber
    • 6 grams protein

    The ingredient list tugs at my nutritional heartstrings:

    Organic cooked brown rice, organic ground raw sunflower seeds, organic carrots, organic black beans, organic bell peppers, organic cilantro, organic garlic, organic jalapeño peppers, organic ground cumin seeds, organic onion and sea salt.

    Keep in mind that since the ingredients are whole foods, you get far beyond what the Nutrition Facts panel highlights — especially health-promoting phytonutrients, antioxidants, and flavonoids!

    Since Sunshine Burgers are precooked, no oil is needed when preparing them.

    I love to eat them on a sprouted whole grain bun topped with arugula, grape tomatoes, onions, and honey mustard.


    Asterisks Never Lie

    You can never be dupedServeImage if you make a habit of reading the fine print.

    Case in point — Pop-Tarts Frosted Apple Strudel toaster pastries, which I came across at a supermarket a few hours ago.

    The front of the package includes an illustration of a whole Granny Smith apple and a slice of said apple next to a mound of what looks like apple pie filling.

    Next to the illustration: a “Baked with Real Fruit!*” banner.

    Aha!  There’s the asterisk.  I immediately grabbed the box off the shelf and began the hunt for the “oh, yeah, about that whole ‘baked with real fruit’ statement…” disclaimer.

    After many flips and turns of the Pop-Tarts box, I came across this:

    “Filling made with equal to 10% fruit”

    Awkward grammar, anyone?

    This is why it pays to read everything on a food product’s packaging.

    What the folks at Kellogg’s are essentially telling us is that if, theoretically, each toaster pastry had ten teaspoons of apple strudel filling, one of those teaspoons would consist of apples.

    The other nine?  Mostly sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.


    Who Said It?: Reveal

    1594862389“Powdered whey protein creates the most powerful fat-burning meal possible.”

    This statement appears on page 45 of The Abs Diet: Eat Right Every Time Guide by Men’s Health editor-in-chief David Zinczenko.

    David Zinczenko came up with “The Abs Diet” several years ago and has milked it for all it’s worth.  Although he doesn’t have a background in nutrition, human physiology, or medicine, that doesn’t stop Mr. Zinczenko from considering himself an authority on all things nutrition and health.

    In his articles and books, Mr. Zinczenko often makes reference to the fact that he has combed through the latest research, but I have to wonder how he is able to critically analyze and dissect studies if he ultimately isn’t familiar with the subject at hand.

    In any case, I take issue with his rave review for whey protein.

    Let me begin with a disclaimer.  There’s nothing inherently “bad” about whey protein.  It can certainly be a fine addition to a breakfast fruit smoothie to increase satiety.  It is also an appropriate form of protein to consume after performing weight-bearing physical activity, as it has a very high biological value and is utilized very efficiently by our bodies.

    However, the notion that whey protein powder is “fat-burning” is untrue, inaccurate, and misleading.

    There are no fat-burning foods.  Yes, protein has a slightly higher thermogenic effect than carbohydrates and protein (meaning the body requires more calories to digest it), but that does not mean copious amounts of protein burn fat.  Like any other nutrient, excess calories from protein are stored as fat.

    Relying on a nutrient’s thermogenic effect to burn fat is ridiculous.  Adding a scoop of whey protein to a 700-calorie sugar-laden smoothie does not transform that beverage into a “fat-burning” one.

    Keep in mind that the average adult in the United States consumes 250 to 300 percent of their daily protein requirement.  If protein had these magical fat-burning properties, then two-thirds of the United States population would not be overweight or obese.

    Additionally, the statement that whey protein creates “the most powerful fat-burning meal possible” is pure fabrication.  Who studied this?  When?  Where?  How many foods were studied for their respective “fat-burning” effects in order to establish a comparison?


    You Ask, I Answer: Salted Peanuts

    planters coctail peanutsWhat’s your opinion regarding salted vs non-salted peanuts? I personally prefer the non-salted type, but they’re hard to find.

    — Viola Tang
    Wheeling, IL

    When it comes to peanuts (and tree nuts, like almonds, cashews, and walnuts), salted versus unsalted is really a moot point.

    Whereas unsalted varieties offer 0 milligrams of sodium per serving (shocking, I know), salted ones only offer 115 milligrams per one-ounce serving.

    Let’s put that into perspective.  A hundred and fifteen milligrams of sodium is:

    • Slightly less than what you get in a slice of bread or a cup of cow’s milk
    • One third of the sodium content of an Au Bon Pain cinnamon scone
    • Less than half the sodium in one slice of a 12″ Domino’s cheese pizza
    • One fifth of the sodium in a Dunkin’ Donuts corn muffin.

    So, then, why do salted peanuts taste so salty?  They are an example of foods that contain surface salt, which is more noticeable to the taste buds than the salt in sweet baked goods.


    Numbers Game: Answer

    Golden+CrispWhich of these cereals offers three and a half teaspoons of added sugar (that’s more than a tablespoon; as much as four Oreo cookies) per half cup serving?

    The dubious honor goes to Golden Crisp cereal, which offers 14 grams of sugar per half cup!

    PS: Next time you eat cereal, pour yourself a half cup so you can appreciate what a small amount that is.  Chances are, the average person serving themselves Golden Crisp eats at least one full cup (over two tablespoons of added sugar).

    A look at the ingredient list tells the tale:

    “Sugar, wheat, corn syrup, honey, caramel color, salt, fortified vitamins and minerals”

    That has to be one of the junkiest cereal ingredient lists I have ever seen.  You might as well eat a Crunch bar and down a multivitamin.

    Here are how other popular cereals measure up against Golden Crisp in terms of added sugar grams per half-cup:

    • Honey Smacks: 10 grams (two and a half teaspoons)
    • Lucky Charms: 7.3 grams (just shy of two teaspoons)
    • Cocoa Pebbles: 6 grams (one and a half teaspoons)
    • Apple Jacks: 4 grams (one teaspoon)

    You Ask, I Answer: Sugar Alcohols

    41wLDBs6BUL._SL500_AA280_If a food product is sugar free but lists 8-15 grams of sugar alcohols, should I just avoid it?

    What is a sugar alcohol, anyway?

    — Jessica Rothschild
    Queens, NY

    Sugar alcohols are naturally-occurring substances (carbohydrates, actually) in fruits and vegetables.

    Their name already tells you something — from a molecular standpoint, they have some things in common with sugar (sucrose) and other things reminiscent of alcohol.  They are, however, alcohol-free.

    You will see sugar alcohols in processed foods — and chewing gum — marketed as “no sugar added”, “sugar-free”, or “diabetic friendly”.  The most popularly used ones include maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and hydrogenated starch.

    They are, essentially, an alternative sweetener.  They are particularly useful to people living with diabetes because they demand significantly less insulin then sugar, and do not raise blood glucose levels as much.

    Unlike artificial sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and saccharine, sugar alcohols do contain calories.  Whereas sugar provide four calories per gram, sugar alcohols offer anywhere from 0.6 to 2.7 calories per gram, depending on the specific type.

    Sugar alcohols do have one thing in common with artificial sweeteners — they do not promote tooth decay.

    While I think sugar alcohols are less worrisome than artificial sweeteners, I have a few issues with them:

    1. When consumed in large quantities, they can present very uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms
    2. Since they still add a lot of sweetness to foods, they do absolutely nothing in terms of helping our palates get used to lower amounts of sugar in our diets
    3. Any food product that contains sugar alcohols is highly processed

    Who Said It?

    QuestionMark“Powdered whey protein creates the most powerful fat-burning meal possible.”

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section, and come back on Thursday to find out who said this statement, and why I take issue with it.


    Quick & Healthy Recipe: Perfect Pasta Sauce

    51vnSOGsI6L._SL500_AA280_Your typical tomato sauce recipe calls for plenty of chopping — and time! Many sauce purists, in fact, claim the only way to achieve deliciousness is by simmering tomato sauce for hours on the stovetop, allowing flavors to blend and fully integrate.

    While all that is true, it is not the only way to make an out-of-this-world pasta sauce.

    This recipe is super quick, but provides a sauce that truly tastes as if you had labored over it for hours.  I knew this was a must-share recipe when a friend of mine — who consider herself a “sauce connoisseur” — proclaimed this one of her top-three all-time favorite sauces and demanded the recipe.

    YIELDS: 1/2 cup (2 servings)


    12 grape tomatoes
    1 medium garlic clove
    1/3 cup roasted or raw red peppers
    2 Tablespoons sundried tomatoes (packed in olive oil)
    1 Tablespoon white onion, chopped
    1/3 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/3 teaspoon dried basil
    1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    1/8 teaspoon sea salt
    Pinch of pepper
    1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    1 Tablespoon lemon juice


    Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor and blend/process until well-mixed.

    NUTRITION FACTS (per quarter-cup serving)

    100 calories
    1 gram saturated fat
    170 milligrams sodium

    Excellent Source of: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E

    Good Source of: folate, niacin, potassium, thiamin

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