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Archive for the ‘alpha linolenic acid’ Category

Q&A Roundup #4

Time to answer some questions I’ve received via Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail over the past few weeks.

Enjoy — and keep the queries coming!

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Why The Media Needs a Vegan 101 Course… Stat!

With vegan eating increasingly becoming more mainstream, I thought it was time to compile a list of recent articles to see how the media frames and discusses the issue. Despite some improvements, there is certainly room for more.

Below, what the media continues to get wrong — and how it can avoid making the same mistakes.

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Quick & Healthy Recipes: Allergy-Friendly Breakfast Pie (Wheat, Soy, Dairy, and Nut-Free!)

goodmorningiu9You can have this pie whenever you please — day or night.  However, its fruity flavors are breakfast-ish to me.  And, while it is a pie, it is made of such healthful ingredients that you can start your day off quite nutritiously with a slice.

Chock-full of fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, it makes minimally-nutritious morning pastries quiver in fear!

YIELDS: One 8-slice pie

INGREDIENTS:

For crust:

3/4 cup raw almonds (see NOTES at bottom of post)
3/4 cup raw walnuts (see NOTES at bottom of post)
(NOTE: For nut-free version, you will need 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, 1/2 cup hemp seeds, and 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds; see NOTES at bottom of post)
2 Tablespoons unsweetened shredded dried coconut (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup pitted dates (any variety; I like Medjool)

For filling:

1.5 cups blueberries
1.5 cups strawberries, sliced
1 medium banana, sliced
2 Tablespoons cup raisins
1 scoop unsweetened whey or hemp protein powder (optional; see NOTES at bottom of post)
1 Tablespoon water (if needed, to thin out)

INSTRUCTIONS:

To make the crust, process the nuts/seeds, coconut (if using), vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in food processor into a finely ground powder.

Add the pitted dates, 1/3 of a cup at a time, and process for 30 to 45 seconds at a time.

Once all the dates have been added, you should have a solid “dough-like” product.  If it does not stick together, add a few more pitted dates and process again.

Remove the “dough” from the food processor and press it into a 9 or 10-inch pie pan (preferably glass), forming a crust that goes up onto the sides of the pan.  Once done, place pie pan in freezer for 30 minutes.

While crust freezes, make the filling, as detailed below.

Rinse out the food processor and fill it with berries, the sliced banana, and the raisins.  Process for 45 to 60 seconds, or until completely smooth.  If needed, add up to 1 Tablespoon of water to make processing easier (careful, though, you don’t your filling to be watery!).

Once filling is smooth (and has a creamy texture), remove crust from freezer and pour filling into pie pan.

Refrigerate pie pan for at least 90 minutes.

Once pie has been fully refrigerated, cut into eight uniform slices and enjoy!

NUTRITION FACTS (for 1 slice, crust made with almonds and walnuts, filling without protein powder):

245 calories
1.5 grams saturated fat
150 milligrams sodium
5 grams fiber
4 grams protein

Excellent Source of: B vitamins (except B12), folate, magnesium, manganese, potassium, vitamin C, zinc

Good Source of: Iron, monounsaturated fats, omega-3 ALA fatty acids, vitamin E, zinc

NOTES:

1. For a simpler and less costly crust, you can definitely use one type of nut or seed.  I like using a combination in order to achieve more flavors, but that is completely up to you.  If using multiple nuts/seeds, feel free to experiment with different ratios, too.  You can also try ingredients not listed in this recipe (i.e.: Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, etc.)

2. The extra scoop of whey or hemp protein in the filling provides an additional 2.5 grams of protein per slice, and thickens up the texture slightly.  I find that an unsweetened, vanilla-flavored type works best with the filling.

3. Serving this for guests?  Top it off with whole fresh berries or sliced fruits of your choice!

4. If you want to give the crust a hint of chocolate flavor, add one tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder to the crust.  For a deep chocolate flavor, add two tablespoons.

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You Ask, I Answer: Omega 3 Insufficiency

toasted-nori-sheets-withbamboo-mat-largeI have to thank you for explaining the differences between omega-3 fatty acids so clearly. Now, when I read about ALA, DHA, and EPA in books and magazines, I know what is being discussed!

I still have one nagging question.  How do you know if you have an omega-3 deficiency?

I know that some vitamin deficiencies cause hair loss and fatigue.  So, are there any warning signs that you need more omega 3 fatty acids in your diet?

Also, what happens if someone gets enough of one type of omega-3 fatty acid (like DHA) but another (like ALA)?

– Brittany Harwitz
(Location Withheld)

Mild fatty acid deficiencies usually do not manifest as physical symptoms.

Moderate deficiencies are a little easier to spot.  Tell-tale signs include dry and scaly skin, liver complications, and, in young children, stunted growth.

Complete — or “true” — deficiencies are very rare and only seen in instances of extremely restrictive diets.

The main concern from insufficient omega-3 fatty acid intake is that, most likely, it means you are consuming a higher amount of omega-6 fatty acids.  For information on why this is problematic, please read this post.

As far as what happens if someone consumed very high amounts of one type of omega-3 and not enough of another (to learn about the three varieties of omega-3 fatty acids, please read this post), keep in mind that while they share many properties, each of the fatty acids also provides different health benefits:

  • ALA (found in flaxseeds, walnuts, and tempeh) helps lower inflammation as well as coronary heart disease risk
  • DHA (found in some fatty fish and microalgae) has been linked to reduced rates of coronary heart disease and inflammation, improved memory function, lowered triglycerides, and reduced risk of hypertension
  • EPA (also found in some fatty fish and sea vegetables) helps reduce coronary heart disease risk and inflammation, improves blood flow, and reduces blood platelet aggregation (and, hence, atherosclerosis risk)

Although ALA can be converted to DHA and EPA, some complications can arise.  This is why diets that meet DHA and EPA needs but not ALA needs are more protective than those which meet ALA needs sufficiently, but fall short with DHA and EPA.

Whenever possible, try to get your omega-3 fatty acids from food, rather than supplements.  These foods also contain vitamins, minerals, and/or phytonutrients that work synergistically and enable the omega 3s to work more efficiently.  This is not to say omega-3 supplements are a waste of money — they are not.

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You Ask, I Answer: Tempeh vs. Tofu

Sliced_tempehIn some of your posts, you have mentioned that tempeh (pictured, left) is more nutritious than tofu.

Is that just because tempeh is fermented, or are there more reasons?

– Sarah Bertanke
(Location withheld)

While tempeh’s fermentation process certainly gives it a nutritional (and probiotic!) boost, there is more to this tale.

FYI: Fermentation reduces soybeans’ phytate content, thereby making their zinc and iron much more bioavailable.

Whereas tofu is made by coagulating soy milk with a precipitating agent (in most cases calcium sulfate, thus the high amounts of calcium in tofu), tempeh is made from whole soybeans.

The presence of said soybeans — in some cases along with wild rice or flax — makes tempeh a high-fiber food.

While four ounces of tofu provides 1.5 grams of fiber, that same amount of tempeh adds up to 11 grams!

Due to its “whole food” status, tempeh is also an excellent source of manganese, magnesium, and potassium.

Tempeh is also significantly higher in protein and omega-3 Alpha-Linolenic fatty acids than tofu.

Although I enjoy the taste of both, I am partial to tempeh’s nutty flavors and unique mouth-feel.

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You Ask, I Answer: Flaxseed and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

flaxseed_291_20090115-1524291I saw your recent tweet reminding vegetarians and vegans to supplement their diets with Omega-3 supplements that contain DHA and EPA Omega-3 fatty acids.

I would rather not take a pill, but can eat ground flaxseeds – how much do you think I should consume each day?

Otherwise, do you recommend a particular vegan omega-3 pill?

– Christine Ho
Location Unknown

The problem with relying on flaxseeds (or walnuts, for that matter) to get your omega-3 needs is that they only offer Alpha-Linolenic omega-3 fatty acids (ALA).

The human body can convert ALA into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil.  However, this conversion does not happen very efficiently, and it takes very high amounts of ALA to get the necessary amounts of DHA and EPA (we’re talking ridiculously high amounts — think 1,000 calories just from flaxseeds).

This is not to say that the omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds and walnuts are useless.  They certainly offer their share of health benefits and are worth including.

However, I strongly encourage people with diets that are low in (or do not include) fish or sea vegetables — the only plant food that offers DHA and EPA — to supplement DHA and EPA.

In your case, Christine, I recommend looking for supplements that contain DHA and EPA extracted from algae (which, by the way, is where fish get their omega 3s from!).  While there are many brands out there, the one I am most familiar with is VPure (please note, I am not claiming this is the only “good” brand; simply the one I have come across most often).

The term “vegetarian” on an Omega-3 capsule is by no means a guarantee; often times, that simply means it only contains ALA!

Aim for 500 – 1,000 milligrams per day (EPA and DHA combined); ideally, you want at least 300 milligrams to come from EPA.

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What’s for Lunch? Snacks!

otlMany people I speak with mention that they quickly tire of repetitive lunches.

Day after day of wraps or sandwiches with a side of chips or baby carrots is certainly a recipe for boredom.

One of my boredom-beating tactics?  Make a “snack lunch”!

This is one of my favorite ways to eat lunch, since it is very easy to construct in a nutritious fashion (it’s perfect for lazier days when I don’t feel like dicing, chopping, and stirring!) and allows you to satisfy multiple cravings at once.

Here, for example, is the snack lunch I ate today:

  • 1 small Granny Smith apple
  • 1 ounce Gruyere cheese
  • 1 ounce whole grain crackers (I love the Mary’s Gone Crackers brand — they are thin, ultra crispy, and made with quinoa, sesame seeds, and brown rice)
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh salsa
  • 1/3 cup baby carrots
  • 3 Tablespoons hummus
  • 2 Tablespoons raw almonds
  • 1 Tablespoon raw walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon raw cacao nibs

Deliciousness aside, this combination racks up a more-than-worthy nutrition profile:

  • 710 calories
  • 6.6 grams saturated fat
  • 660 milligrams sodium
  • 16.5 grams fiber
  • 20.5 grams protein

Additionally, it is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and hundreds of top-notch phytonutrients and antioxidants.  It’s also a good source of B vitamins, phosphorus, vitamin E, and zinc.

Added bonus?  The almonds and walnuts contribute heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and ALA Omega-3 fatty acids, respectively.

Depending on your particular calorie needs, you can tailor this meal by increasing or reducing the amounts of certain foods.

Do you have a favorite “snack lunch”?  Post it in the “comments” section and inspire other Small Bites readers!

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Sneak Peek

The folks at Smart Balance sent me samples of their new shelf-stable peanut butter product due on supermarket shelves this April.

The selling points are:

* The inclusion of flax oil, bringing the ALA Omega-3 fatty acid total of a single two-tablespoon serving to 1,000 milligrams (63% of the Daily Value)

* The absence of partially hydrogenated oils (hence no trans fats)

* The use of agave nectar as a sweetener, rather than table sugar (sucrose)

Mind you, the first two selling points can already be found in the company’s Omega Peanut Butter (pictured at left).

Both the smooth and crunchy varieties of this new variety passed my taste test (as well as that of fellow tasters I asked to sample the product), but let’s talk nutrition.

Although the inclusion of agave nectar is touted as a healthier choice since its sweeter-than- sugar status means you need to use less of it to sweeten, it isn’t a big enough difference in this case.

Smart Balance is being truthful when they advertise this peanut butter as containing “33% less sugar than leading brands,” but you are talking about 2 grams per serving as opposed to 3 grams per serving (which translates to just four fewer calories.)

What absolutely confuses me, though, is the fact that the company’s Omega Peanut Butter — already in stores — only contains one gram of sugar (in the form of molasses) per serving.

They could technically advertise this product as having “100% more sugar” than the one they have already launched!

I am also disappointed by the use of the term “naturally sweetened” in the packaging.

Remember, there is no concrete legal definition of the term “natural” for food advertising.

It is a word that means absolutely nothing; it is simply used to conjure up ideas of healthy, “back to basics” eating.

After all, poisonous mushrooms are natural, but that doesn’t mean they are good for us.

I don’t think this is “unhealthy” peanut butter by any means, but its sole unique selling point — the use of agave nectar — just isn’t that big of a deal.

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You Ask, I Answer: Fish Oil Supplements/Metal Toxicity Cleansings

Yesterday I attended a talk given by an “applied clinical nutritionist” who works at a local pharmacy.

She really advocated the use of supplements for everyone (probably because the pharmacy she works at generates a lot of revenue through the sale of herbs/supplements and homeopathic remedies).

She recommended taking fish oil instead of flax because she said that flax requires an extra step to be processed by the body.

She said that some people’s bodies aren’t able to perform this extra step and you would never know one way or another, so she just prefers to stick with fish oil.

Since you often recommend flax, what are your thoughts?

She also talked about “cleansing” (the colon in particular).

Her recommendation wasn’t about losing weight, but rather to flush out toxins, no matter how healthy your diet.

She said this is needed to flush out “toxins” that accumulate in our bodies from pesticides in food, air pollution, etc.

The cleanse involves eating certain kinds of foods (she wasn’t specific) and taking some sort of supplements that help flush your colon, like magnesium (I think).

All of this sounded sort of unnecessary to me.

Is there any evidence that this type of cleanse is beneficial for people whose diets are already consist of nutritious, whole foods?

– Kristin (last name withheld)
Austin, TX

Before I begin, let me thank Kristin for following up her question with an e-mail revealing the results of her own investigative research.

Turns out that acquiring the “applied clinical nutritionist” title is a simple task.

“It’s a self paced certificate program through the Texas Chiropractic College. To earn the certificate, you must be a health care professional, or the staff or student of a health care professional (I suppose you could be a dental receptionist). You have to attend 7 seminars (100 hrs), take a test and pay $1400. In return, you get a shiny wall plaque,” writes Kristin.

Sigh. Anyhow, onto Kristin’s question.

As far as the fish vs. flax issue, I agree with the speaker, to a point.

It is true that the Omega-3 fats found in flaxseed (ALA) need to be converted by the body to DPA and EHA.

It is also accurate to say that the majority of people do not convert ALA efficiently.

A significant factor inhibiting conversion is that Omega 6 fatty acids compete with Omega 3 fatty acids for the same desaturase (conversion) enzymes.

Keeping in mind that our current food supply contributes an abundance of Omega 6, you can see why ALA –> DHA/EPA conversion isn’t happening as optimally as we would expect.

That being said, I still recommend ground flax simply because most people don’t consume much of ANY Omega-3′s.

Simply put, ground flaxseeds are an effortless way to add some Omega 3′s to a variety of foods (not everyone likes fish or wants to eat it.)

I also hope that the speaker’s recommendation of taking fish oil supplements was mainly targeted at people who do not consume fish (or sea vegetables, which offer the same omega-3 fatty acids).

I would much rather you get your DHA and EPA from actual food first, and consider supplements a “second best” choice.

Furthermore, I hope she stressed that non-DHA/EPA sources of Omega-3′s offer a wide array of nutrients.

Ditching walnuts and flaxseed and instead swallowing a spoonful of fish oil every morning isn’t necessarily a smart swap.

What I COMPLETELY disagree with her on (and why I doubt she is an RD) is her colon cleanse recommendation. It is unnecessary and not particularly healthy. If people want to “flush out” their colons, all they need to do is consume more insoluble fiber and liquids. Plain and simple.

Not to mention, I would love to ask this expert how, exactly, toxins accumulate in a body with a regularly functioning liver and kidneys. There is no evidence whatsoever supporting the belief that we need to cleanse ourselves of toxins.

What I find most illogical is that people who furiously support colon cleanses apparently fail to realize that colon cleansing eliminates all the HEALTHY bacteria in the human gut and can cause electrolyte imbalances!

If you’ll excuse me, I now need to go center myself.

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You Ask, I Answer: Salba

Do you know anything about Salba?

It seems to be getting quite popular (I accidentally ordered a raspberry salba square at my local coffee shop the other day), and I’m not sure whether it’s a fad or not.

Is it actually a whole food or is it processed?

Where does it come from?

Is it as good as the makers of it claim?

– Meredith (Last name unknown)
Via the blog

The folks at Core Naturals sure are working hard to hype up Salba.

No clue what I’m talking about? Let me break it down.

According to manufacturer Core Naturals, the salba seed is pretty much the greatest food ever created.

Dubbed by the company as “nature’s perfect whole food,” the press release pushes it as a one-stop shop for some of the highest quantities of fiber, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, folate, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Then there are statements such as this:

“Because of Salba’s ability to absorb several times its weight in water, it may also help to curb hunger.”

That’s wonderful, but that’s simply what all soluble fibers do – the same ones found in oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

Core Naturals even make reference to one nutrition PhD at a Toronto-based university who, after conducting research, confirmed that Salba’s advertised properties truly exist.

You know something is slightly off, though, when the bragging rights about the doctor go something like this: “[He works at] the same university where in 1921, Dr. Frederic Banting discovered insulin and won the Nobel Prize for Medicine.”

Errrr…. okay?

Besides, there is something very suspect about having only one professional analyze your food. If Core Naturals is so sure that what they have is — for all intents and purposes — manna, why not send it out to a variety of independent food laboratories to have their goldmine validated?

Anyhow, Salba is just a white chia seed – with the exact same nutritional profile of all other chia seeds (which are usually black).

So, yes, it is an unprocessed whole food, in the same way that fruits, vegetables, nuts, and a plethora of other seeds are.

Don’t get me wrong. Chia seeds have a neat nutritional profile – they are a good source of fiber, phosphorus, manganese and Alpha Linolenic Acid – but by no means is Salba a powerfood, nor does it offer the same Omega-3 profile as 28 ounces of salmon (as Core Naturals advertises.)

That is a very easy statement to debunk, by the way. Remember, salmon offers EPA and DHA, two Omega-3 fatty acids not present in seeds.

This situation with Salba and Core Naturals would be paramount to a company patenting Granny Smith Apples, calling them something different and claiming they were nutritionally superior any other apples.

Considering that Salba retails for anywhere from two to three times as much as standard chia seeds, I don’t really see a reason for purchasing it.

File it under “F” for fad. No, make that “FF” for… flimsy fad.

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You Ask, I Answer: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

I’m pregnant and my OB/GYN has suggested that I eat a lot of wild salmon for the health and nutritional benefits of the Omega-3′s.

Only problem is, I gag at the smell and sight of fish right now.

So I’ve been trying to use ground flax seed sprinkled in other foods I can manage, like yogurt, fruit salad, toaster waffles and cereal.

I know the flax seed needs to be ground in order to be absorbed, but how much do I need to consume each day in order to get the same benefits as eating a serving of fish?

Are there other good sources of omega-3′s that I should try?

– “My Eggo is Preggo”
White Plains, NY

First of all — congratulations!

Your question is a great one, since it deals with the different varieties of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Although we often refer to “Omega 3 fats” as one general category, there are three different types — Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), EicosoPentaenoic Acid (EPA), and DocosaHexaenoic Acid (DHA).

ALA is found exclusively in vegetable sources, including walnuts and flaxseeds.

EPA and DHA, meanwhile, are found in large quantities in cold water fish. Grass-fed beef also contains a little.

One concern with getting Omega-3′s solely from vegetable sources is that many people are unable to convert ALA to EPA and DHA.

Fetuses are absolutely unable to make this conversion, so they must get EPA and DHA directly from the mother (DHA is particularly necessary for eye and brain development.)

Even if you, as the mother, are able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA, you need approximately 10 grams of ALA just to make 600 milligrams of EPA and 400 of DHA.

To put that into perspective, 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains slightly less than 2 grams of ALA.

One tablespoon of flax oil, meanwhile, delivers 7 grams (one good way to incorporate that into your diet is by adding it into a smoothie).

It’s also important to realize that as good for us as Omega 3 fats are, they do not work alone. Vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium are involved in the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA.

If you are not consuming enough of those nutrients, your will not convert quite as efficiently (so, say, you might need 15 or 17 grams of ALA to make the quantities of EPA and DHA mentioned above.)

In your situation, I suggest taking an EPA/DHA supplement.

That doesn’t mean you should stop eating ground flaxseeds, though — they are a nutrition all-star!

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You Ask, I Answer: Flaxseeds

I have been looking at the articles you’ve tagged with flaxseed and it looks like you wholeheartedly encourage the addition of ground flaxseed meal to foods.

However, I wonder if doing this is ultimately beneficial – as you point out, men at risk for prostate cancer should watch their consumption of ALA [alpha linolenic acid].

Additionally, omega-3 or not, adding fat to foods will increase the calories… for those watching their weight, is this really a smart decision?

On the other hand, as a vegan, I can attest to difficulty getting nutrients like vitamin B12.

Do you think that, for vegans, the addition of flax meal is a good idea (even with a diet that incorporates a lot of nuts [in particular, walnuts] and -for cooking- canola oil)?

– Christine (last name unknown)
Via the blog


Keep in mind that most of the findings about high ALA intakes and prostate cancer risk mostly relate to flaxseed oil (which contains very high levels of ALA — approximately twice that of fish oil, and certainly much more than a tablespoon ground flaxseed), not flaxseeds themselves.

It’s also interesting to note that lignans — the phytochemicals present in flaxseeds but not in flaxseed oil — are believed to play a protective role against some cancers.

In any case, I stand by my suggestion of adding a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseed to one meal or snack every day.

It’s worth stressing that the benefits of ground flaxseed far outweigh any caloric concerns.

If someone is interested in cutting calories, flaxseed should be at the absolute bottom of that totem pole, since two tablespoons — which pack in a lot of nutrition — only add up to 70 calories.

It is always important to keep the concept of “nutrient density” in mind.

In other words — consider the caloric content of a food in relation to everything else it offers.

Those 70 calories in two tablespoons of flaxseed are keepers — they contain a lot of vital nutrients not commonly found in a lot of other foods!

Instead of cutting out the flaxseed, have a few less bites of a less nutritious food eaten later in the day.

Trust me, you won’t find too many other “real” foods that provide 4 grams of fiber in just 70 calories!

As far as veganism is concerned, if walnuts and canola oil are consumed on a regular basis, then there is a decent intake of ALA and there isn’t a need to also consume ground flaxseeds.

That is certainly a minority we are talking about, since 98% of the United States population is not consuming the recommended amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids?

So, yes, you bet I am a proponent of adding ground flaxseed to foods.

It’s, at the very least, a start for some people whose Omega-3 intake is currently at zero.

I am glad you asked this question, though, because it once again goes back to the idea that “more is not better.”

ALA is a wonderful thing to have in the diet, but overdoing is not healthier than getting the necessary amounts.

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