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Archive for May, 2011

American Heart Association – Selling Out Health to the Highest Bidder

When it comes to heart health, there are specific nutrients to encourage (monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber — both soluble and insoluble) and limit (sodium, added sugar, trans fats, oils high in omega-6 fatty acids [corn, cottonseed, soybean], and refined grains).

It has also been well established in the scientific literature that certain phytonutrients — naturally occurring substances in plant foods that confer their own health benefits –  offer cardiovascular protection.  Some examples include quercetin (in apple skins, red onion, and broccoli), ellagic acid (in strawberries and grapes), and lignans (in flax seed, sesame seeds, and barley).

Alas, most of the products in your local supermarket that feature the American Heart Association’s stamp of approval (officially known as the “heart-check mark”), don’t prioritize heart-healthy nutrients and compounds.  In fact, they condone foods high in nutrients that are damaging to our cardiovascular health.

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“Men’s Health” Stamp of Approval: First It Was Chocolate Milk, Now It’s Fast Food Burgers with Trans Fats

How much stock would you put in a nutrition expert who suggested you drink chocolate milk and eat fast food burgers?  What if I told you this expert was nationally renowned as a trusted source of nutrition information, often appearing on television and radio as someone worth listening to?  Sadly, this is not just a hypothetical situation.

Last week, I was flabbergasted when I came across a hyperbolic article by Men’s Health editor-in-chief David Zinczenko’s that painted chocolate milk as one of the absolute best things you can drink for your health, weight, and muscle mass.  This past weekend, I had another “you have GOT to be joking!” moment, thanks to a question tweeted to me by @matchmia.  The question: “what do you think of Hardee’s new turkey burger endorsed by Men’s Health?”.  Wait — what!?!

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Chili’s? Try Salty’s!

When it comes to nutritional advice on eating out, the spotlight usually shines brightly — and, many times, solely — on calories.  I don’t necessarily object to that; after all, it is certainly possible to consume three quarters (or a hundred percent, for that matter) of one’s caloric needs in a single restaurant meal these days.

In some parts of the country, some chain restaurants are legally required to display calorie counts alongside menu items.  In states and cities where this legal requirement is not in play, some of these restaurants voluntarily point out their lower-calorie options (usually grouping a variety of dishes under something akin to a “500 Calories or Less” heading).  While that provides quantitative nutritional information, it is but one tiny piece in that large jigsaw puzzle known as health.

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Chocolate Milk: Muscle Nectar? Weight-Loss Secret? Neither.

Pick up any fitness magazine and you will see the virtues of chocolate milk extolled away, often times classified as the best thing you can drink after a workout. Over the past few years, chocolate milk has even been touted as a heart-healthy beverage (alas, a careful reading of the studies proves otherwise).

For some odd reason, a May 2010 article titled “The Chocolate Milk Diet” penned by Men’s Health editor-in-chief David Zinczenko was shared by a handful of people on my Facebook feed today.   I should note that despite having no background or credentials in nutrition science or health, Yahoo! Health identifies Mr. Zinczenko as a “health expert”.

If you are a new Small Bites reader, you should know that I have my share of — pardon the pun — beef with Men’s Health (for their ridiculous attacks on soy, their mixed messages, their condoning of ice cream, soda, and beer following a workout, and for the horrible underlying message behind their popular “Eat This, Not That” book series).

This particular article gushes endlessly about the many virtues of chocolate milk, mainly weight loss and muscle-building.  Although I shared the article on Twitter earlier today (prefacing the link with “Today’s daily dose of nonsense, courtesy of Men’s Health“), I felt the need to explain, in detail, my frustrations with it.

These sorts of articles irritate me to the extent they do because not only are they are read by millions, but they are presented as legitimate, objective, trust-worthy nutritional science, when that is not always the case.

Now, let’s tackle this piece — bit by bit.

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Inside A “Big Food” Product Development Meeting!

Well, or at least how I imagine them to be.  I had such a great time making my first Xtranormal animated short about nutrition myths (“Drinking The Kool-Aid”) a few months back that I thought it would be fun to create a sequel — this time about how I think Big Food product development brainstorming sessions go.

Watch it here!

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Bromine: Mountain Dew’s Dirty Little Secret

One of my tweets yesterday regarded the arrival of the latest Dunkin’ Donuts beverage — the Mountain Dew Coolatta.

It’s certainly a tweet-worthy item.  A small (16 oz.) one contains almost 13 teaspoons of added sugar, while a large (32 oz.) contributes no less than 25 teaspoons of sugar.

The 25-ingredient list also caught my eye.  Check it out:

Frozen Neutral Base [Water, Neutral Base (Sugar, Glucose, Fructose, Silicon Dioxide, Malic Acid, Xanthan Gum)], Mountain Dew Coolatta Concentrate [Treated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Citric Acid, Orange Juice Concentrate, Sodium Hexametaphosphate (to protect flavor), Xanthan Gum, Ethyl Alcohol, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Caffeine, Sodium Benzoate (preserves freshness), Gum Arabic, Sodium Citrate, Glycerol Ester of Rosin, Calcium Disodium EDTA (to protect flavor), Erythorbic Acid (preserves freshness), Yellow 5, Brominated Vegetable Oil].

You know it’s a bad sign when you make a can of Mountain Dew seem like “the sensible choice”.  We’ve got the usual suspects here — a myriad of sugar synonyms, artificial flavors, all sorts of multi-syllabic additives, petroleum-based dyes, and the belle of the processed-food ball: high fructose corn syrup.

While those red flag ingredients are familiar to many, it is that last ingredient — brominated vegetable oil — that most people aren’t aware of.  And, in this case, what you don’t know may indeed hurt you.
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