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  • Archive for April, 2011

    You Ask, I Answer: Protein Bakery Snacks

    I’m hoping you can help me decipher this.

    One of my co-workers is obsessed with these cookies and brownies made by The Protein Bakery.  He says they’re good for you because they are made with oats and because they’re high in protein and low in carbs.

    What do you think of them?

    – Rob (Last name withheld)
    Brooklyn, NY

    As regular readers of Small Bites know, few things make me as giddy as pulling back the curtains on Big Food and its desperate attempts to make run-of-the-mill treats seem like health food.

    That said, I am an equal-opportunity critic of nutrition nonsense, so when I see a company — whether it’s a corporate giant or an independent family-owned one –  with their hands in the proverbial “focus on one ingredient and call our sugar-laden product healthy” cookie jar, I feel a need to call them out.  Which brings me to The Protein Bakery.

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    “Man Food”, “Woman Food”: A Very Profitable Food Industry Scam

    When it comes to marketing food, sex sells.  Well, gender, really.

    Food companies love to market what I refer to as “gendered foods”; that is, products that perpetuate the classic (and socially constructed) “this is for boys, this is for girls” dichotomy.

    Despite their proclamations of “addressing a particular concern” to a particular segment of the population, these gendered products are, in all actuality, “unisex” ones backed with highly gendered marketing campaigns.  In a 2009 post, I briefly touched upon “his” and “hers” vitamins.  This time around, let’s examine three of the bigger gendered food players.

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    Why “Eat This, Not That!” Is Not “All That”

    The Eat This, Not That! books, co-authored by Men’s Health editor-in-chief David Zinczenko and nutrition editor Matt Goulding, spawned from a popular monthly feature in Men’s Health magazine and quickly became best-sellers (last year, the Eat This, Not That! iPhone app achieved half a million downloads in two weeks.)

    As of now, there are nine different editions (most of them boasting a “the no-diet, weight-loss solution” banner somewhere on the cover), including Drink This, Not That! and a children’s version.  The common theme among all of them: pit two similar food products or fast food items against one another and select one as the better choice (AKA: award it the “eat this!” command).

    This is a gimmick meant solely to sell books, not communicate a message of health and proper nutrition.

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    The Newest Easter Treat: Artificially Dyed Cornstarch?

    Yesterday afternoon, Small Bites reader Raquel Cordero Perry notified me of a rather peculiar product she spotted at her local supermarket — edible Easter basket grass (pictured at right)!

    Well aware of my obsession with ridiculously processed fake foods, Raquel (very accurately) thought I would get a kick out of this unidentified food object and sent me a photo of the product’s front package.  Little did I know I was on the verge of coming across one of the most junky, artificial, processed foods I’ve encountered in quite some time.

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    Thinking Organic? Think Beyond Fruits & Vegetables

    When it comes to organic food, the vast majority of attention is focused on fruits and vegetables.  The Environmental Working Group, for example, provides their handy “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” guides every year — the former details the fruits and vegetables one should aim to buy organic if/when possible (due to their high pesticide loads); the latter lists produce that contains minimal to low pesticide loads and is therefore less concerning.

    Considering the fact that the average conventional apple is sprayed with 36 pesticides — and grapes with up to 34 — it certainly makes sense to prioritize organic choices.  However, too often, other foods are left out of mainstream organic “conversations”; foods that people may consume more often — and in higher amounts — than fruits and vegetables.

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    A “Real” Cheesecake… Bursting with Artificial Ingredients

    Cheesecakes run the dietary gamut.  From raw vegan varieties to low-carb versions to the monstrosities unleashed by The Cheesecake Factory, there truly is a type for everyone.

    While those Cheesecake Factory creations can certainly be considered “blog worthy” (with their huge portions and nutrition figures that defy human comprehension), it is Jell-O No Bake Real Cheesecake products that really hit processed-food gold.

    According to the packaging, “your friends and family will think that you made dessert from scratch!”.  The product’s website unashamedly describes these as “homemade delicacies”.

    Alas, unless you call a chemical-laden warehouse packed to the gills with industrial machinery “home”,  very little about this product screams “made from scratch.”

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    It’s Birthday Time Again!

    It’s almost surreal to me, but today marks the fourth anniversary of the Small Bites blog!  Back in April of 2007, I was completing undergraduate-level pre-requisite nutrition courses for my Masters.  Now, it has been 18 months since I completed my Masters coursework and I am just over two months away from finishing my Dietetic Internship.  How time flies!

    The journey thus far has certainly not been lonely.  I want to thank everyone who has stopped by the blog, left comments (on here as well as Twitter and Facebook), asked questions, e-mailed me, or just supported and encouraged this project.

    I send you much love and already look forward to the half-decade mark!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Soy Protein Isolate

    Is soy protein isolate a bad form of protein?  Why?

    – Kelsey Lepp
    (Location Unknown)

    Few foods are as polarizing — and misunderstood — as soy.

    On the one hand, foods that contain at least 6.25 grams of soy, less than 3 grams of fat, less than 1 gram of saturated fat, and less than 20 milligrams of cholesterol can legally display an FDA-approved statement about soy’s role in helping to lower heart disease risk.

    Okay, let’s pause for a second.  That statement perpetuates the inaccurate “low fat = healthy” dogma that to this day has people afraid of consuming heart-healthy foods like nuts, avocados, and coconut.  There are also no limits on how much sugar a product with this statement can have, despite mountains of research showing sugar’s harmful effect on heart health.  Most interestingly, the company that petitioned the FDA for that statement was none other than Protein Technologies International, a company that manufactures — what else — soy protein!

    Moving on.  Just as soy has enjoyed plenty of good press, there is also a strong anti-soy movement (some of it led by the National Cattle Association, no less) blaming it for everything from breast cancer to early onsets of puberty to the feminization of men (that last one has more to do with latent mysogyny and silly homophobia than anything else).

    In reality, soy supporters and unabashed critics are simultaneously right and wrong.  I have formed my very own soy spectrum.  On the “healthful” side, you have fermented, minimally processed versions (miso, shoyu, tempeh and natto).  Somewhere in the middle you have semi-processed products like soy milk, and way on the other side (the “consume sparingly, if at all” side) lies soy protein isolate.

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    Surprise! You Just Ate (Junky) Cat Food!

    In this wacky world of crop subsidies, all species are subject to an ever-abundant medley of corn, wheat, and soy byproducts.  The Big Food companies — regardless of whether they serve humans, canines, or felines — love these byproducts because of their low cost and great ability to serve as fillers in a variety of processed foods.

    It turns out those small cans of cat food you’ve seen in your local grocery or drugstore’s “pet food” aisle contain strikingly similar ingredients to what some fast food chains dish out to Homo sapiens.

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    Corn Syrup, Corn Oil, And Sugar: Registered Dietitian-Approved?

    What would you say if I told you the folks at Marlboro had assembled a team of dedicated pulmonologists to be part of an advisory panel?  Imagine, too, that these hired health professionals would occasionally appear on various media platforms to publicly defend tobacco’s reputation.  Although it wasn’t uncommon to see doctors endorse cigarettes on television sixty years ago, these days such tactics would be met with strong indignation, to say the least.

    Take that “are you kidding me?” sentiment, multiply it times a hundred, and you have my reaction to recently finding out what some Registered Dietitians choose to align themselves with.
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    Why The Nutrition Facts Label Belongs on the Front of All Food Packaging

    Over the past few years, the Food and Drug Administration, food companies, and food company front groups (like the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association) have spent considerable amounts of time and money tackling the issue of front-of-package nutrition labeling.  As you may recall, this January the FMI and GMA banded together to create the “Nutrition Keys”, a small graphic set to appear on the upper right-hand corner of the front package of processed foods, summarizing that product’s nutrition information per serving.  The FMI and GMA announced their plan to spend $50 million on a hyped-up PR blitz an “educational campaign” for the public.

    Yesterday, as I perused the aisles of a local supermarket and my eyes were relentlessly attacked with dubious health claims and sneaky nutrition advertising, it hit me — the FDA needs to legally mandate that the Nutrition Facts Label (and ingredient list!) take up exactly half of the front of all food packaging.  This move would swiftly take care of many issues:
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    Why “Zero Grams of Trans Fat” Isn’t Necessarily Great News

    It is very likely that, twenty years from now, halfway through sharing a plate of French fries with a friend, you’ll reminisce, chuckle, and ask, “Hey, remember trans fats?”

    No matter how unaware you may be about the difference between soluble and insoluble fiber or why vegetarians who wish to optimize iron absorption from food should refrain from drinking tea or coffee with a meal, you surely know about trans fats. Or, at the very least, you know you should avoid them. How could you not? Popular snacks and fast food chains love to boast that their products are now “free of trans fats”.

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    Quick & Healthy Recipe: “Bow Down To the Kale Gods” Salad

    I came up with this recipe’s name because this salad made me fall in love with kale once again.  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t turning my back on kale, but our relationship needed to have that initial fire reignited; and this salad did the trick. It is the end result of me making several modifications to an original one I was introduced to at a recent cooking workshop here in Seattle.

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