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    Archive for April, 2010

    Back on April 16

    Dear readers,

    I’m taking a much-needed week off.

    Come back on April 16 for more of the Small Bites you love!


    Numbers Game: Answer

    20080416_frenchfries_33A 2006 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine concluded that “a 2 percent increase in trans fat [consumption] increased the risk of coronary heart disease by 23 percent.

    Yet another reason to emulate Denmark and Switzerland and remove trans fats from the food supply.

    As I have noted in the past, consumers do not notice changes in flavor or texture when partially hydrogenated oils are replaced with oils that do not produce trans fats.

    Trans fat bans in fast food chains have gone into effect in many cities, counties, and states in the United States, and I have yet to hear of any consumer complaints.


    You Ask, I Answer: Healthy Bacteria

    Probiotic_allfloraAre there any dietary or environmental factors that kill healthy bacteria in the colon?

    I know antibiotics get rid of them, but I haven’t taken those in at least a decade, so do I need probiotics?

    — Katherine (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    It’s important to consume probiotics regularly, since a multitude of factors can decrease the number of healthy bacteria in our colon.

    Here are some examples:

    • Lack of fiber (especially soluble)
    • High intakes of refined carbohydrates
    • Aging
    • Birth control pills
    • Environmental pollutants (mercury, BPA, etc).
    • Stress

    If you like to get probiotics from yogurt, be sure to look for the “Live & Active Cultures” seal somewhere on the packaging.

    If you prefer probiotic supplements, buy them (and keep them!) refrigerated.


    You Ask, I Answer: Calcium & Magnesium

    500_T1_W275_HThere are supplements that contain both calcium and magnesium, and yet I have read articles which suggest that these two minerals do not combine well and “compete” in order to enter cells.

    Can you shed some light on this contradiction?

    — Beth Guy
    Portland, ME


    Calcium and magnesium actually work in tandem in many ways.  That said, they also compete for absorption from receptors.  Consider them “frienemies”!

    Competition for absorption is only a problem, though, when calcium to magnesium ratios are disproprotioante.

    The ideal ratio for their consumption in one food or meal is 2:1 (calcium: magnesium).  Dairy products, for example, generally offer a 10:1 ratio.  Therefore, diets high in dairy can negatively impact magnesium absorption.

    This, by the way, helps to explain why despite having some of the highest dairy intakes of the world, the United States also has such high rates of osteoporosis (remember, magnesium is key to bone health!).

    If you’re buying a calcium supplement that also offers magnesium, make sure there’s a 2:1 ratio going on.  So, a 500 milligram calcium supplement should offer 250 milligrams of magnesium.  If it only offers 50 milligrams, put it back on the shelf.


    In The News: Calorie Consciousness

    calorie-menu-next-big-thingAre the calorie rule books about to be rewritten?  The Wall Street Journal definitely thinks so, following the recent publication of a study by pediatrician David Ludwig and nutrition scientist Martijn Katan in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    Said study “suggests that the body’s self-regulatory mechanisms tamp down the effects of changes in diet or behavior.”  In other words, the effects of consuming 500 additional calories on a daily basis would not be consistent; the amount of weight gained would lessen with each passing year, and eventually level out.  For a visual representation of this concept, visit the Wall Street Journal article.

    Perhaps even more importantly, this same theory applies to weight loss.

    This study challenges the conventional notion that in order to gain or lose a pound of weight, one must consume 3,500 more, or fewer, calories than they already do.

    I always found that figure to be a little too perfect, especially since it does not take into account individual metabolic factors.  That said, I think it’s important to have an approximate figure to refer to when speaking about the general population.

    Mind you, this study is not challenging the notion that weight gain — and loss — relate to an abundance or deficit of calories.

    Rather, “the 3,500-calorie-rule makes sense in short time frames with small diet changes, nutrition experts say.  But just as the body requires less fuel to power itself as weight declines, it requires more to create and sustain more weight.”

    This is one of the many things I love about nutrition — the on-going tweaking of concepts and processes that allows us to grasp a better understanding of the science.  This is the same reason why I can’t  help but geek out when I read that a new phytonutrient has been identified!  Now, where did I leave my pocket protector?


    Hide Your Arteries!

    340x_doubledownMonday, April 12, marks the launch of KFC’s Double Down Sandwich.

    The folks at Gawker do a wonderful job of telling you all about it (including the company’s countdown campaign!) and adding a sprinkle of humor.


    Intern On A Mission!

    190154-1Over the past few months, University of Nebraska Lincoln freshman Laura Smith has been of tremendous help to me as the first-ever Small Bites intern.

    A few weeks ago, I asked her to visit one or two vitamin stores in her city, assume the role of a regular customer, and ask sales representatives at these stores what they would recommend for her now that “she is under doctor’s orders” to eat more fiber and improve her cholesterol levels (FYI: she isn’t really, I just concocted that).

    Here is what Laura was told at a store called Complete Nutrition (in her words):

    I was told to take a multivitamin, as this will help improve nutrients and my cholesterol level.  I was also told to take Tone, a product that “attacks stubborn fat by shrinking fat cells while maintaining existing lean muscle”.  According to the salesperson, Tone has been clinically tested to support fat loss while maintaining normal cholesterol levels and promoting healthy heart functions. The key ingredients are CLA, Omega 3 fatty acids, and GLA.  I was also told to make sure to take protein.

    Sigh.  Wow.  Deep sigh.  Okay.

    If someone were to ask my recommendations to follow these “doctor’s orders”, I would say:

    • Increase soluble fiber intake by consuming oatmeal/oat-based cereals/oat bran, beans (especially kidney beans), nuts, psyllium husks (adding one tablespoon to a smoothie), fruits, and vegetables.
    • Lower intake of full-fat dairy and red meat
    • Prioritize foods with healthier fats (ie: add 1 Tablespoon ground flax to cereal, soup, or smoothie; replace cheese in sandwich with avocado, etc.)

    Let’s analyze Complete Nutrition’s advice:

    1. “Take a multivitamin”: Completely irrelevant within the scope of cholesterol management.
    2. “Take Tone”: I love the notion of products attacking “stubborn fat”, as if there were some type of special fat that simply did not respond to food.  While the presence of omega-3s in this product is helpful, this customer would be better off eating food that offers omega-3 fatty acids and fiber simultaneously (i.e.: walnuts, ground flax).  They would save money, too!
    3. “Make sure you get protein”.  Also irrelevant from a cholesterol management standpoint.  As I have said many times on Small Bites, no one in the United States needs to worry about not consuming enough protein.  The average adult — without even trying — consumes approximately two and a half times their daily requirement.

    Here is what Laura was told at GNC:

    They told me to take fish oil, either a triple strength variety once a day, or a normal strength three times a day. They also told me to take a fiber supplement, either in a chewable or pill form.

    While not ideal (my rule is “food first, then supplements”) this at least focuses on the right nutrients — healthier fats and fiber.  I understand, though, that GNC has products to sell and can’t be expected to suggest skipping their products and heading to the grocery store instead.

    And, truth be told, I often recommend omega-3 supplementation to people who do not consume sufficient amounts of fish or sea vegetables each week to cover their needs.  In my book, omega-3 and vitamin D supplementation are two things almost everyone should be doing.

    It’s more the fiber supplement advice that I find comical.  Most fiber supplements add 4 to 6 grams of fiber to your day, the same amount you can get from an apple or a medium banana or a half cup of lentils.


    Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution: Episode 3

    fromartz_3-26_campaign-imageWhereas the first two episodes of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution whet my appetite for the series, this one felt a little like two-day-old leftovers — still flavorful and reminiscent of what once was, but slightly overdone and not quite as memorable.

    Keep in mind these are not episode summaries.  They assume you have already seen the episode at hand.  If you missed the episode (or want to see it again), you can view it here.


    • The human angle. Jamie made an excellent point about the powerful effect that putting a human face and a human struggle behind an initially shocking, headline-grabbing statistic can do.  Hearing the high school students’ personal connections to obesity and illness as a result of poor eating habits revealed a whole new layer in this process.
    • USD-Huh? We once again are witness to the inane USDA rules that dictate school lunch.  A stirfry with seven different vegetables and a side of fruit does not meet “healthy school lunch” requirements, but a hamburger with a side of fries and an optional salad bar does.


    • Nobody likes Jamie. The heavy-handed editing was too much for me at times.  We get it — the local radiostation DJ doesn’t believe in Jamie.  And, yes, we get it — Alice has no faith in Jamie and would rather stick him in a deep fryer than listen to his advice.
    • Carb attack! Jamie committed one of my biggest pet peeves — classifying foods as “carbs” and “proteins”.  Jamie pointed to a high school student’s tray, which contained a hamburger, fries, and a jug of milk, and said “Carb, carb, and milk on the side.”  It’s a silly complaint, considering that his dish (noodle and chicken stir-fry with vegetables and fruit) mainly consisted of carbohydrates.  Remember, fruits and vegetables are carbs as well.  What Jamie meant to critique on that student’s tray was the high amount of fiberless “starch”, not “carbs”.
    • Ratings grab. The “revolutionary” taking-away-of-the-fries from students’ trays who were already sitting down and eating was made-for-TV drama and slightly foolish.  If fries were such a problem, how about not offering them the next day?  Was there really a need to go around the cafeteria taking away fries from people’s trays?  Talk about food waste.
    • Duh-ruh-muh!I could have done without the whole “OMG, I have six totally inexperienced teens in the kitchen cooking dinner for 80 guests!  And one of them has left the kitchen!!”.
    • Chicken… again? Once again, I really wish Jamie would offer more vegetarian dishes and demonstrate that it is possible to have a filling and healthy lunch that doesn’t center around an animal protein.

    I hope next week’s episode gets back to the core mission, and isn’t as much of a reality show drama.


    Numbers Game: Trans Fat Terror

    whats_wrongA 2006 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine concluded that “a 2 percent increase in trans fat [consumption] increased the risk of coronary heart disease by _____ percent.”

    a) 15
    b) 23
    c) 31
    d) 9

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Thursday for the answer!


    You Ask, I Answer: Nutritional Content of Homemade Almond Milk

    Measure-and-soak-almondsIs there any possible way to calculate the nutritional information (calories, fat, fiber, etc.) when making homemade almond milk?

    It’s been asked across the web a few times and I was wondering if maybe you knew of a way to do so.

    — Daniel Clausen
    Location Unknown

    Here is how I would calculate it:

    1. Look up nutritional information for whatever amounts of almonds you put into blender (i.e.: 1 cup)
    2. Measure how much almond meal is left at end of process.
    3. Look up nutritional information for that amount of almond meal, keeping in mind that since there is some water in that meal, figures are going to be slightly lower (ie: 1 cup of almond pulp may be 80% meal and 20% water or so).
    4. Subtract nutritional values of almond meal from whole almonds and, voila, you have estimated nutrition facts for your homemade batch!

    Let’s do an example right now!

    Let’s suppose you made 6 cups of almond milk using 1 cup of almonds.  That amount of whole almonds amounts to:

    • 827 calories
    • 72 grams of fat
    • 17 grams of fiber

    Let’s say you then have one cup of almond meal left.  One cup of ground almonds contains:

    • 549 calories
    • 48 grams of fat
    • 11.2 grams of fiber

    However, since this is almond pulp (almond meal with some absorbed water) let’s decrease those figures slightly to 500 calories, 40 grams of fat, and 9 grams of fiber.

    That means the batch almond milk you just made contains:

    • 327 calories
    • 32 grams of fat
    • 6 grams of fiber

    Divide those figures by six (since you made six cups and we want to determine how much you are getting per cup) and you come up with:

    • 55 calories
    • 5 grams of fat
    • 1 gram of fiber

    Commercial almonds milks have a higher almond to water ratio, so they offer half the fat content.

    To put that “5 grams of fat” figure into context, it’s equal to half a tablespoon of almond butter.

    One of the wonderful things about making your own batch of any nutmilk is that you can tailor it to your palate and nutritional needs.

    PS: A higher-fat version of almond milk is a wonderful way to add heart-healthy monounsaturated fats to your diet!


    Who Said It?: Reveal

    QuestionMark-300x2991Spinach is full of pleasant surprises [and a top-ten “power food”].  It’s a natural source of iron… and a rich non-dairy source of calcium.

    Those sentences appear in The Sonoma Diet, penned by Registered Dietitian Connie Guttersen.

    I find it incomprehensible that a Registered Dietitian can make such an elementary mistake.

    Although spinach offers plenty of vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients, it is not a rich source of iron or calcium.

    Unlike other leafy greens (i.e.: bok choy, broccoli, mustard greens, and kale) which are very good sources of both those minerals, spinach is loaded with compouds known as oxalates.

    Oxalates bind to iron and calcium, significantly decreasing absorption of those minerals in our digestive systems.

    Consider the following:

    • A half cup of cooked Chinese cabbage delivers as much calcium as a cup of milk
    • One and a quarter cups of cooked bok choy deliver as much calcium as a cup of milk
    • Eight cups of cooked spinach deliver as much calcium as a cup of milk

    What makes this tricky is that the figures presented for spinach in terms of iron and calcium content do not take into account decreased absorption.  Therefore, you will see that a half cup of cooked spinach “provides” 115 milligrams of calcium (11% of the Daily Value).  Sadly, we only absorb 10 to 15% of that amount.

    Please share this tidbit with as many people as you can.  I am continually amazed by the amount of health professionals (dietitians, doctors, and educators) who keep this myth alive.

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