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Archive for June, 2011

Fiber One’s Fiber Fallacies

In General Mills’ extensive product catalog, Fiber One is the health and wellness darling.  What started out as a standalone cereal in 1985 is now an expanded line that includes bars, breads, brownies, cottage cheese, muffin and pancake mixes, ready-to-eat muffins, and even yogurt.  According to Susan Crocket, General Mills’ senior technology officer for health and nutrition, high-fiber offerings in the General Mills lineup (including Fiber One), are successful because they “actually taste good so people will actually eat [them]“.

Fiber One products are essentially marketed as a “one-stop shop” for fiber needs.  One of the company’s main selling points is that a mere half-cup of their original cereal offers 14 grams of dietary fiber (56% of the low-end of the daily recommended 25 – 35 gram range).

Consider me not enthused, for two reasons.  First, the Fiber One website resorts to misleading tactics and inaccurate figures to showcase their products.  Second, some of their products contain questionable ingredients and less-than-desireable nutrition values.

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Don’t Blame Obesity on Carbohydrates

Ever since the second-coming of the Atkins Diet in 2003, carbohydrates have taken the blame for rising obesity rates.  Before I go any further, let me make it clear that this country’s steadily rising intake of added sugars (which increased by 23 percent from 1985 to 1999, and currently clocks in at 156 pounds per year per person) has undoubtedly played a major role in the contribution of empty, and mostly liquid, calories that do not satiate and therefore do not discourage the consumption of additional calories.

However, the dangerous and inaccurate carb-phobia out there goes far beyond added sugars, vilifying all carbohydrates, essentially equalizing oatmeal with soda, chickpeas with donuts,  and brown rice with Froot Loops.

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Pepsi’s Next Attempt to Keep Americans Hooked on Soda

In “let’s unleash more corn syrup and fake sweeteners” news, PepsiCo has announced the upcoming launch of a “mid-calorie beverage” known as Pepsi NEXT, which will offer 60% less sugar and 60% fewer calories than regular Pepsi.  Iowa and Wisconsin are scheduled to be the first two victims states to try the new carbonated concoction.  Despite the forthcoming pomp and circumstance, this is far from a new concept.  And, above all, it is yet another beverage chock-full of unhealthy chemicals.

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Petroleum: It’s What’s For Breakfast

Petroleum dependence has our food system in an increasingly suffocating vice grip.  Plastic packaging — a by-product of oil refining — is ubiquitous, livestock operations gobble up fossil fuels in mind-blowing amounts, and the concept of “food miles” (the total distance food travels from farm to table, often times including multiple stops at factories and processing plants) has entered public discourse, albeit with some controversy.

As important as packaging and transportation are to environmental concerns, it turns out that ingredients also matter.  Processed foods are consumed at all hours of the day, but one of the most startling examples of foods high in petroleum-derived ingredients can be seen with popular breakfast products — especially cereals.  The ingredients listed below do a better job of feeding our food system’s reliance on petroleum than they do nourishing our bodies.

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Nutrition Lies and the Lying Food Industries That Tell Them

Four of the biggest food industries — dairy, beef, soda, and cereal — will stop at nothing to sell their products, whether by downplaying negative health effects, making misleading claims, or simply stating false facts.

What follows is a cornucopia of misleading and untruthful statements I have encountered.

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Beyond Milk: There’s Much More To Bone Health than Calcium and Vitamin D

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (or read my tidbits on Facebook regularly) know my stance on milk — yes, it is a good source of calcium and vitamin D (though, remember, milk in the US contains vitamin D because it is mandated by law; in many other countries, milk is devoid of the sunshine vitamin), but not the best source; it also lacks many nutrients that are crucial for healthy bones.

Too often, conversations and debates on the nutritional “worth” of milk turn into a “cows” versus “soybeans” face-off or, if it’s slightly more advanced, “cows” versus all the available milk alternatives (soy, almond, coconut, hemp, oat, and hazelnut).

As far as calcium is concerned, fortified foods and beverages contain calcium that is just as absorbable as — and in some cases, more absorbable than — the calcium in milk.  In other words — the added calcium in soy or almond milk is just as good for your bones as the one in cow’s milk (or any other animal’s milk, for that matter).

Unlike the vast majority of nutrients, which only work effectively within their respective food matrices (i.e.: vitamin E, which needs to work with other antioxidants that are present in the foods it is in to do its job properly), calcium’s health benefits are equally derived from food or supplementation.

Vitamin D is fortified in dairy and non-dairy milks.  Besides, in order to consume the high amounts we now know are needed for overall health (not just bone health), supplementation is a must.

In order to truly tackle the topic of bone health, though, we need to go beyond the calcium and vitamin D content of milk and its vegan analogues and instead identify all the nutrients that play important roles in bone health.  In doing so, we find that milk is far from the king of the bone health hill.

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Nestlé Condones Sugary Snacks and Dyes For Kids; Breaks “Advertising to Children” Pledge?

All is not well on Nestlé’s Nesquik website, and that goes for both the parents’ and children’s respective “areas”.

Let’s begin with the material targeted at parents.  Take a look at this horrific “we care about your children’s health” list “to get children to drink milk”:

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Grilled Chicken = Healthier? Not in Fast Food World!

Take a look at this one-page document housed in the United States Department of Agriculture’s “Healthy Restaurant Eating” page, titled “Making Better Choices at Fast Food Restaurants” and co-sponsored by the American Heart Association, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and the Clinton Foundation.

It echoes much of the advice doled out in those all-too-familiar two-minute segments on morning news shows where viewers are assuaged that they CAN “eat right at fast food restaurants,” and America lets out a huge sigh of relief.

I particularly want to focus on one “healthy” tip in that document that I have read and heard for years and continue to come across (and one that, when I first started my nutrition studies, I thought seemed reasonable): “choose chicken”.
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On Being A “Realist”

I want to share the exchange pasted below that I had with a Small Bites reader earlier today to help clarify my strong position not only on My Plate, but on other nutrition-related issues.  I find it troublesome that finding fault with offered solutions is often times viewed through a lens of dissatisfaction and pessimism, rather than an acknowledgment that the offered solutions either have flaws or do not really attempt to solve the problem at hand.  It would be disingenuous on my part to pretend that my intense hunger for change to our food system can be abated with a smattering of bread crumbs.

If I were cynical, I wouldn’t take the time to inform myself of — or blog about — the issues that affect our food system.  I would simply shrug and say, “Nothing is ever going to get fixed, why should I bother?”  I consider myself a realist because I believe that if the problem is approached from a different angle (one that focuses on policies and laws), we would see more substantial change.

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My Plate: New Illustration, Same Problems

Since last week, the arrival of the United States Department of Agriculture’s new “food icon” (aka “My Plate” or “the new food pyramid”) has been the hot topic in nutrition and public health circles.  Alas, at 10:45 AM EST today, the much-speculated-about illustration was finally revealed.

There is no doubt this plate illustration is a more practical and “relatable” interpretation than both the 1992 and 2005 versions of the food pyramid.  There is no notion of confusing “servings” (leave it to the USDA to make a serving of grains equivalent to one third of a regular-sized bagel), and — finally! — grains no longer have the honor of “most encouraged food group” (they are now second to “vegetables”).  While many of my colleagues have expressed enthusiasm with, and acceptance of, this new plate illustration, my point of view is nowhere near as enthusiastic, for several reasons.

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Do It Yourself: Almond-Based Yogurt!

While there are a plethora of almond-based products on the market (butters, ice creams, milks, whipped creams, etc), almond yogurt has yet to make it onto supermarket shelves in most places.  Until you see it in a store near you, here is how you can make your own almond yogurt at home!

The recipe below is for an almond-pecan yogurt.  It is actually very easy to prepare, but requires time and patience for two important processes — the soaking of the nuts and the fermenting of the yogurt.  Although the “bad news” is that you can’t enjoy your yogurt right away, the “good news” is that the hands-on time you need to devote to this recipe is fifteen minutes, tops.

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