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  • Archive for the ‘aspartame’ 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 “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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    You Ask, I Answer: Flavored Powdered Drinks

    251664_300Are drink sweeteners (things like Lipton iced tea powder, Crystal Light, and other powders you add to water) with ingredients like maltose and dextrose bad for you?

    I don’t drink them every single day, but I will a couple times a week to help when I get a craving for something sweet, but it makes me wonder if I’m just putting chemicals in my body.

    – Jessie Arent
    Peterborough, NH

    Maltose and dextrose are not artificial sweeteners.

    Dextrose, for example, is a corn-based sweetener.  From a nutrition standpoint, these two are equal to sugar (4 grams of sugar and 16 calories per teaspoon).

    In the case of Crystal Light, the ingredient list reveals the following:

    Citric acid (provides tartness), maltodextrin, calcium phosphate, aspartame, modified cornstarch, Red 40, natural flavor, artificial flavor, potassium citrate, acesulfame potassium, salt, artificial color, Blue 1, BHA (to protect flavor).

    Maltodextrin is another starch based sweetener.  You usually see it in conjunction with artificial sweeteners (in this case aspartame and acesulfame potassium) for flavor optimization.  Without maltodextrin, these powders would taste significantly sweeter, believe it or not.

    Each serving of Crystal Light only contains five calories (all from the maltodextrin), so you are looking at a mere quarter teaspoon of added sugar.

    These powders are certainly test-tube creations.  That said, I don’t see anything alarming with having them a few times a week.

    Remember — nutrition is about consistent dietary patterns.  If, for example, these Crystal Light drinks make you crave large amounts of Doritos, that is more troublesome than if these drinks are an occasional addition to a diet is generally high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

    I’m just generally not a fan of artificial sweeteners because they don’t help us train our palates to get used to lower amounts of sweetness in our diet.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Aspartame/Chewing Gum

    How much aspartame is in chewing gum, specifically Eclipse gum?

    Should one stick to a limited number per day or can we chew to our heart’s content?

    – “MC”
    Via the blog

    The average stick of gum contains 6 to 8 milligrams of aspartame (a 12 ounce can of Diet Coke, meanwhile, provides 180 milligrams.)

    According to current guidelines, humans can safely consume 50 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight per day.

    Based on recent studies, however, a growing body of scientists are calling for this number to be lowered to as little as 10 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight per day.

    Even with the more conservative 10 milligram guidelines, though, a 130 pound individual (59 kilograms) can still safely consume 590 milligrams of aspartame per day (the equivalent of three 12-ounce cans of Diet Coke.)

    That said, I don’t like the notion of “chewing to your heart’s content.”

    Sugarless gums — including Eclipse — contain other sweeteners beside aspartame.

    One of these — which appears well before aspartame on the ingredient list, meaning it is included in higher quantities — is sorbitol.

    Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that, when consumed in large amounts, results in undesirable gastrointestinal effects, including diarrhea, acute intestinal cramps, and even unintended weight loss.

    To play it safe, I suggest capping your gum intake at 1 or 2 sticks/pieces a day.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Seltzer Water

    I have a question regarding soda water and sparkling water: Is it as hydrating as regular water?

    I’ve never been a fan of carbonated beverages until I started drinking sparkling water and soda water.

    I work in a restaurant so it’s usually soda water out of the bar gun, or occassionally San Pellegrino.

    I drink water thoughout the day and was wondering if there are any negative effects to drinking 12-24 ounces of soda water each day.

    – Sue (last name withheld)
    Seattle, WA

    None whatsoever.

    I don’t see a single problem with enjoying up to 24 ounces of soda water each day.

    Well, I suppose I could see it as a potentially problematic mealtime beverage for someone who is very much below their desirable body weight and might eat less food as a result of feeling bloated from the carbonation.

    But, as far as everyone else is concerned, it’s an A+ choice.

    After all, it’s calorie (and sugar) free and, for many people, provides the little kick they feel is missing from standard tap or bottled water.

    I’m especially a fan of flavored seltzers, since they provide fizziness and fruity flavor without sugar or artificial sweeteners found in diet soft drinks (think aspartame, Splenda, and acefulsate potassium).

    And, yes, seltzer is just as hydrating as still water. So, sip to your heart’s content!

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    In The News: Sneaky Sugar

    Earlier this week I spoke with Terri Coles of Reuters.com about the prevalence of sugar in the standard U.S. diet.

    In essence, my standpoint is as follows: sugar in and of itself in limited quantities is not a problem.

    What raises the red flag are the massive amounts being consumed — i.e.: a single muffin at Starbucks surpasses the daily maximum recommendation — partially because they contribute nothing but excess empty calories that do not satiate.

    It’s a simple concept — the less satiated you are after a meal, the sooner you will feel hungry and want to consume more calories.

    Unfortunately, keeping added sugar intake to recommended levels is difficult since food manufacturers like to put it in everything (especially in its ultra cheap form — high fructose corn syrup).

    When consumed in moderate amounts, I don’t have a problem with sugar (remember, “sugar” means regular white sugar, brown sugar, honey, evaporated cane juice crystals, or any other fancy synonym).

    It is an ingredient that has been consumed for tens of thousands of years.

    I definitely consider it safer than Splenda, aspartame, or any other Franken-sweetener concocted in a laboratory.

    In fact, I never understood sugar phobia.

    The fact that some people refuse to eat fruit (due to the naturally occurring sugars), but have no problem eating a bowl of heavy cream sprinkled with artificial sweetener absolutely blows my mind.

    Before I started studying nutrition, I experimented with Atkins.

    Their bars — which use sugar alcohols as sweeteners — not only taste awful, I also remember the not-so-pleasant gastric side effects.

    These days, I’ll gladly take three Hershey’s kisses over any low carb faux sweet treat.

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    Soda 911

    After much buzz, Pepsi has finally launched Tava, its new “vitamin enhanced” calorie and caffeine-free sparkling beverage drink, largely aimed at the female 35 – 49 demographic.

    A lot of money and effort has been dedicated to Tava.

    It’s no surprise. Over the past two years, soda sales have been slipping.

    Consumers are instead reaching for just as sugary, but healthier sounding beverages like Vitamin Water or artifically sweetened drinks in fancy glass bottles containing trendy fruits like pomegranate and acai.

    Not surprisingly, soda companies are fighting back, no-holds-barred style.

    The New York Times recently profiled Tava’s alternative marketing strategybypassing traditional media and instead focusing on online advertising and music and art festivals in certain states (among them Colorado, New York, Washington, Florida, and Utah).

    Pepsi definitely spent a lot of time — and money — dressing up what is basically flavored sparkling water and aspartame with with lots of pretty accesories.

    First we have the vitamin factor, clearly thrown in to compete with Diet Coke Plus.

    Tava offers 10 percent of the daily requirement of Vitamins E, B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), and a trace mineral known as chromium.

    What’s the chromium fortification all about? Personally, I think it’s just part of the “exotification” of Tava.

    Don’t get me wrong; chromium is an important mineral. It teams up with insulin to help cells take up glucose and thereby maintain blood sugar levels.

    Some recent research also suggests possible links between chromium and heart health.

    The good news is that chromium is easily available from whole grains, vegetables, raisins, legumes, nuts, chicken, seafood, and dairy.

    Since it is found in many foods and a trace mineral, chromium deficiency is extremely rare.

    It is mainly seen in hospital patients on tube feedings, pregnant women, and people whose diets are very high in processed foods.

    People eating a variety of foods do not need further supplementation.

    Then there’s the three flavors.

    We’re treated to “exotic” names like Mediterranean Fiesta (black cherry citrus), Brazilian Samba (passion fruit lime), and Tahitian Tamure (tropical berry).

    In an attempt to class up the joint, Tava’s website offers “suggested food pairings” for all its drinks.

    For instance, if you’re sipping on Mediterranean Fiesta, you’re suggested to do so while nibbling on dark chocolate truffles or BBQ spare ribs.

    But wait, there’s more! Tava comes with a grassroots focus as well.

    The website features emerging artists and musicians, and displays “inspirational” messages reminiscent of those often seen on Senior yearbook pages like, “sometimes it’s okay to think inside the box, ” “set your mind to shuffle,” and “what if what if didn’t exist?”

    Oh, and if you’re wondering what Tava means, the Frequently Asked Questions page proclaims that the name was created to “evoke feelings of possibility and discovery.”

    Do you think Tava will be a hit in Pepsi’s roster or a beverage bomb like their Crystal and Blue varieties?

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    In The News: Aspartame Is Safe (?)

    A few weeks ago, it was announced that an exhaustive study involving ten universities and medical schools and epidemiological studies dating back to the 1970s deemed aspartame an entirely safe alternative sweetener.

    Read the fine print carefully and you’ll notice that said study was funded by Ajinoto Company, Inc. — one of the world’s leading producers of aspartame!

    The critical thinker in me can’t say with absolute certainty that this latest study fully convinces me of aspartame’s safety.

    Let me be clear. A healthy adult having Diet Coke a few times a month does not classify as a huge concern.

    However, my personal jury is definitely still out on aspartame consumption and children.

    There may be three decades of research on aspartame consumption, but as far as I know, it all involves adults.

    Even when healthy adults are involved, I would much rather someone consume small amounts of real sugar than wolf down sugar-free products made with aspartame.

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