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    Archive for the ‘carbohydrates’ Category

    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.

    Continue Reading »


    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.

    Continue Reading »


    Celebrity Diet Secrets: But You DO Eat Carbs, Drew Carey!

    drew-carey-240Comedian and Price is Right host Drew Carey has shed 80 pounds over the past six months, and the folks at People are on the case.

    In an article titled “How I Lost 80 Lbs.”, Mr. Carey shares his tip for success:

    “No carbs,” Carey says. “I have cheated a couple times, but basically no carbs, not even a cracker. No bread at all. No pizza, nothing. No corn, no beans, no starches of any kind. Egg whites in the morning or like, Greek yogurt, cut some fruit.”

    Alas, Mr. Carey has fallen prey to the same type of erroneous thinking that many other dieters do — the idea that “carbs” and “starch” are the same thing.  They are not.

    Remember, carbohydrates are in every food (except for oils, solid fats, and animal protein).  Yes, everything else — from almonds to yogurt to fruit to sweet potatoes to broccoli — contains carbohydrates.

    The notion that Drew Carey lost weight while “shunning carbohydrates” is wrong since he then states that he would sometimes start his mornings with yogurt and fruit.

    Besides, it is absolutely possible to lose weight while eating carbohydrate-rich foods like oatmeal, quinoa, lentils, and chickpeas.

    I also have no doubt that a quick comparison of Mr. Carey’s caloric consumption before and during this diet would also show a decrease in total calories.  Of course, the key to successful weight loss is to cut calories without sacrificing satiety and nutrient intake.


    You Ask, I Answer: Post-Workout Nutrition

    aquatic_weight_roomI really enjoy working out at the gym, trying to build some muscle.

    Therefore, I would like to ask you a question about how a proper recovery meal should look after an intense workout.

    How much protein is enough?  There seem to be so many self-proclaimed nutrition experts on this area.

    Maybe you could clear up the confusion?

    — (Name Withheld)
    (City Unknown), Sweden

    I would be more than happy to.

    To help your body complement your strength-and-muscle-building workouts, this is what you should be consuming ideally no more than an hour after leaving the gym:

    • 300 – 400 calories
    • 25 – 30 grams of protein
    • 50 – 80 grams of carbohydrates
    • 12 to 16 ounces of water

    As you can see, low-carbohydrate meals and shakes after a workout are absolutely senseless.

    It is important to provide the body with enough carbohydrates to fully restore glycogen stores and encourage as much protein synthesis and muscle repair as possible.

    That is not an excuse to eat nutritionally empty foods like donuts, french fries, or candy bars.  After all, you also want to make sure to nourish your body with important minerals like magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

    Here are some post-workout meals that fit the bill:

    • Cup of plain yogurt + 1 large banana + 1.5 ounce almonds
    • Tuna sandwich: One can tuna + 2 tablespoons hummus + squirt of lemon + 2 slices 100% whole-grain bread
    • Vegan burrito: 1 small whole-wheat wrap filled with half cup brown rice, half cup black beans, 1 Tablespoon salsa, and 1 Tablespoon guacamole or 1/3 cup sliced avocado
    • 3 ounces sauteed beef/chicken/salmon/shrimp/tofu/seitan over 1 cup cooked quinoa and 1 cup cooked vegetables

    Although food should be your main goal, this is one of those instances where an appropriate protein shake is useful, mainly for convenience and transport.  Here is what I mean by appropriate:

    • Meets — and does not exceed! — calorie, carbohydrate, and protein requirements.  Outrageous amounts of protein are completely unnecessary and will not provide any additional benefits.
    • Is minimally processed.  Most ready-to-drink protein drinks and bars are nutritional horrors!  I recommend making your own at home if possible.  For example, mix no-sugar-added 100% whey protein with water (or your milk or dairy alternative of choice), a piece of fruit, and some healthy fat (almond butter, ground flaxseed).  PS: Add in some cocoa powder, cinnamon, or vanilla extract for a healthy flavor boost.

    I want to emphasize these post-workout guidelines are for people who are looking to build muscle and completing intense strength-training workouts.

    This is a completely inappropriate meal after a 25-minute brisk walk or jog.


    You Ask, I Answer: Carbohydrate Content of Fruit

    plantainOut of curiosity, does a fruit or vegetable’s ripeness factor in its carbohydrate value?

    — Kate Redfern
    Via Facebook


    A piece of fruit contains the same amount of carbohydrates regardless of its ripeness.  A green plantain is not lower in carbohydrates than an overly ripe yellow banana.

    Prior to ripeness, carbohydrates in fruit exist mostly as starch.

    With time, that starch naturally converts into sugars.

    Since all carbohydrates (whether in sugar or starch form) contain 4 calories per gram, caloric content is not affected by this change.

    Contrary to what many people believe, the sweeter taste of ripe fruit does not mean extra carbohydrates or extra calories.


    You Ask, I Answer: “Other Carbohydrate” on Food Label

    FiberAfter reading your post on Fiber One cereal, I noticed the food label lists “other carbohydrate”.

    What does that mean?

    — Dustin Apasda
    St. Petersburg, FL

    According to regulations set by the Food & Drug Administration, all food labels must disclose the amount of total carbohydrates in a food or beverage product (except bottled water), and specify amounts of fiber and sugar (naturally-occurring and added).

    Consider the values on the Fiber One Honey Clusters cereal food label:

    • Carbohydrates: 42 grams
    • Dietary fiber: 13 grams
    • Sugar: 6 grams

    In this case, you are looking at a product that contains 23 grams of starch (42 grams of total carbohydrates minus 13 grams of fiber and 6 grams of sugar).

    And, ta-da, 23 grams happens to be the value for “other carbohydrate”!  Mystery solved.

    Back in the low-carb craze of 2003, many food companies advertised “net carbs”, a value obtained by subtracting fiber grams from total carbohydrates to determine the amonut of carbohydrate would have an effect on blood sugar levels.

    What most people don’t know is that the Food & Drug Administration never approved that terminology, nor considered it a nutritionally-relevant concept.  Not surprisingly, once the low-carb 2.0 craze went bust, the “net carbs” stickers soon disappeared off supermarket shelves.

    In any case, “other carbohydrates” is nothing more than food companies doing some basic math for you and letting you know how much of their product is starch.

    In a few cases, too, “other carbohydrates” factors in sugar alcohols like xylitol and maltitol.

    For consumers, “other carbohydrates” doesn’t have much meaning.  It’s certainly not worth fretting about.  The most important carbohydrate-related values you should be looking at are fiber and sugar.


    You Ask, I Answer: The Paleolithic Diet (Part 2)

    paleo manI came across this webpage, which details the main claims made by The Paleolithic Diet crowd, especially in regards to why we shouldn’t eat grains.

    I am interested in knowing your thoughts on it.

    — Sean Murphy
    (Location Unknown)

    Oh, wow.  I have plenty to say.  My comments are in red.

    “It’s good to point out that grains and soy aren’t edible in nature without processing and so it’s safe to assume we haven’t eaten them for millions of years.”

    So what if they aren’t edible in nature?  Sugarcane, for instance, is edible in nature.  Does that mean pure sugarcane is “good for us”?

    In any case, since sugarcane is edible in nature, then clearly the human body has digested sucrose for hundreds of thousands of years (this will come in useful a bit later when debunking another Paleo Diet claim).

    “When you take a slice of bread and crush it in your hand, you are virtually eating that amount of refined sugar. The problem is that that amount of sugar elevates the bloodsugar levels amazingly fast and causes your pancreas to produce lots and lots of insulin to metabolise it.”

    This statement is overly simplistic.  After all, not all bread is created equal.  A whole grain bread has a different effect on blood sugar than a refined type.

    Besides, eating two slices of white bread by themselves is, from a glycemic (blood sugar) standpoint, very different from having a sandwich (made with slices of white bread) filled with tofu, avocado, and hummus.  The presence of additional protein, fiber, and fat in that sandwich greatly decrease the bread’s effect on blood sugar levels.

    Additionally, keep in mind that white bread was the “standard” bread sixty or so years ago, when diabetes and obesity rates were much, much lower.  If white bread in and of itself were a hideous food that caused everyone to get sick, why didn’t we see today’s disease and obesity rates back then?

    The problem isn’t refined flour itself as it is the amount and frequency in which it is eaten.

    Today’s health problems are mainly attributed to two things:  people are consuming too many calories, and these calories mostly come from nutritionally empty, overly refined foods.

    Blaming problems on “grains and soy” is too simplistic.  A tempeh and brown rice stir-fry is not akin to eating a 1,400 calorie bowl of pasta along with six breadsticks at the Olive Garden.

    “Further, many grains contain a lot of allergens which upset your immune system and causes the development of allergies. Imagine this: Humans have never in their evolution of millions of years eaten grains and
    now, since only 4.000-10.000 years ago, we are relying on this food.   Our genes aren’t adapted to these foods. Grains are in fact incompatible with humans (and also dogs and cats and many mammals)…”

    What do allergens have to do with anything?  Some people are allergic to shellfish, eggs, and tree nuts.  So, if allergens are such a concern, why only point the finger at grains?

    Also, if grains are incompatible with humans, how come our digestive enzymes are able to break them down?  An incompatibility would mean our bodies would not know what to do with them.

    Whoever wrote this apparently isn’t aware that humans have salivary amylase in their mouths, an enzyme that is designed for carbohydrate digestion (and especially for starches!)

    “Humans are not adapted to eat such amounts of concentrated carbohydrates and the pancreas (and adrenals) aren’t fit to the job.  Over time one will develop insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, [and Type-2] diabetes.”

    Those conditions develop as a result of unhealthy eating patterns, which, yes, can include consuming too many refined grains, but mainly come back to the problem of consuming too many calories.

    A lot of the Mediterranean countries, which originally had one of the healthiest diets, consumed refined grains.  Of course, their diets were also heavy on fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, and healthy oils, but their grains were mostly refined.  The key is they these grains made up a small portion of their diets.  There were no six ounce bagels or 500 calorie muffins in 19th century Italy.

    “You could eat the grains unrefined, but then a lot of antinutrients will remain. Antinutrients are substances that bind to essential nutrients in the digestive tract.”

    Antinutrients also have some positive benefits. Additionally, antinutrients are only a concern if your diet is entirely made up of that ONE food.  For instance, if a rural part of Africa is sent  massive amounts of one grain crop to subsist on, you can certainly expect to see deficiencies in that population

    However, if your diet contains whole grains along with other foods, antinutrients are not a concern.

    Keep in mind, too, that many foods and beverages (i.e.: spinach, tea, tomatoes, and almonds) also have antinutrients.  So, again, why are grains singled out?

    “Another problems with grains and soy bean it that they can’t be eaten raw, which only allows us to eat them cooked. Cooking essentially damages all foods. The more you eat raw, the better you will feel..”

    Not necessarily.  While most foods provide the highest level of phytonutrients when consumed in a raw or lightly cooked state, cooking makes some nutrients MORE available and absorbable.

    Also, does this argument mean that all meat products should be eaten raw?

    And what about eggs?  After all, raw egg whites contain a substance that prevents the absorption of biotin and vitamin B6.  Cooking eggs makes those two nutrients absorbable.

    “I forgot perhaps the most important reason why grains are bad: They are very hard to digest properly. They need to be digested in two phases.  First, the starches, which are very long chains of carbohydrate molecules, must be seperated [sic] into small pieces consisting of 2 glucose molecules. This is called maltose (or isomaltose).

    Next, the intestines need to produce enough enzymes (maltase) to digest the maltose into the elemental glucose molecules. As you see, quite a lot of work.  The problem is that the human body isn’t fit for this job and
    a part of the starch isn’t absorbed and descends into the large intestines, feeding critters, causing inflammation, gasses, damage to the wall of the intestines, and other problems.”

    I don’t understand the significance of grains being digested in two phases.  Protein, for instance, is partially digested in the stomach and then in the small intestine (therefore also considered a two-phase process).

    As for the claims that carbohydrate digestion is a lot of work.  How so?  After all, it takes more time for meat to travel through the digestive system than, say, a slice of whole wheat bread.

    Remember the point I made about raw sugarcane at the beginning of this post?  Let’s ponder that for a second.  Sugar cane is is raw and unprocessed, and is contains sucrose (which is eventually broken down into glucose and fructose).  As far as our bodies are concerned, there is no difference between raw sugar cane and a packet of table sugar.

    There is sufficient evidence to believe raw  sugar cane was consumed in the Paleolithic Era, which means the arguments that humans are not equipped to digest carbohydrates falls flat.

    As for unabsorbed starch traveling to the large intestine and “feeding critters” — that’s actually a GOOD thing!  This is commonly referred to as resistant starch, and it promotes healthy bacteria growth in the colon.

    “Compare this to fruit and honey, which are predigested foods. They primarily contain glucose and fructose, which don’t need to be digested at all and can be absorbed painlessly by the intestines. Because everything is easily absorbed it can’t feed the critters.”

    These “critters” are actually health-promoting bacteria!  So, as I explained in the previous paragraph, feeding them is very beneficial.

    “As for the problem of not getting enough carbs: No such problem exists.  Carbohydrates are optional. You can survive and feel perfectly healthy on a zero-carbohydrate diet.”

    Wow, this is entirely wrong. Not to mention, it completely goes against basic knowledge of paleolithic dietary  habits, since fecal matter studies have concluded that these populations ate very high fiber diets.

    In any case, carbohydrates are our body’s preferred source of energy.

    If you don’t consume ANY carbohydrates, protein and fat are instead used for energy, in turn not allowing them to be used for their specific purposes!

    One of the main reasons for getting a sufficient amount of carbohydrate in your diet is for “protein sparing” — that is, to allow protein to do what it needs to do.

    Imagine that you own a large apartment building with 50 units.  You have a doorman, a facilities manager, and a valet parking attendant.

    Imagine that each one of those is fats, carbohydrates, and protein.  If you eliminate one of those positions entirely and ask the other two people to take on the additional work, they won’t be doing THEIR jobs quite as effectively anymore.

    The same thing happens with nutrients.  In the same way that fats can not be used to replace protein, neither can protein replace carbohydrates.

    From an evolutionary standpoint, if carbohydrates are unnecessary, why, then, do we have salivary amylase, which is exclusively used for starch digestion?


    It scares me that such misinformation is so easily available.

    I also like how these Paleolithic Diet fanatics go on and on about the evils of grains and the wonders of meat while eating meat from grain-fed cows.

    Meanwhile, physical activity is completely left out of the conversation.  Want to be more like your Paleolithic ancestor?  Then get off the computer, unplug your television, and move around a little more!


    You Ask, I Answer: Calorie Discrepancies on Food Labels

    Why does the nutritional information on labels of the (seemingly) same product, but from different companies, have different data?

    The one that I noticed today was when I bought Hodgson Mill’s oatbran. It says 40 grams has 120 calories, but Mother’s oat bran says 40g is 150 calories. Shouldn’t these be the same?

    They both state that the only ingredient in the box is oat bran.

    Another example (that got me started on this) was canned black beans.

    Again, the serving side listed on the can is always approximately the same (I’ve even checked the weight, not just the half cup measurement) and the calories listed can range from 90 to 130, depending on the brand.

    Do you know why this is?

    I understand that companies have some fudge-room for their nutritionals, but these examples seem like there shouldn’t be that much of a difference.

    — Michelle Pope
    (location withheld)

    Ah, welcome to the twisted maze that is calorie labeling!

    This is an excellent question, as it gives significant insight into labeling laws and regulations.

    Come on in and sit a spell, though, because this can be initially confusing to the untrained eye.

    First of all, remember that calorie figures higher than 50 can be rounded off to the nearest 10-calorie increment.

    In other words, if a serving of cereal adds up to 134 calories, it can legally be displayed on the label as 130.

    Similarly, a serving containing 156 calories is often shown as 160 calories for simplicity’s sake.

    Now we get to the more complicated issues.

    Although you often see references to carbohydrates containing 4 calories per gram, they technically contain 3.6 calories per gram.

    The “4 calories per gram” figure is commonly used — and referred to everywhere, including this blog — in order to facilitate in-your-head multiplication and estimation.

    Additionally, since protein technically provides 4.2 calories per gram, the logic is that by portraying both those nutrients as containing 4 calories per gram, final estimates are very close to actual totals.

    That said, some companies arrive at their calorie totals by allocating 4 calories to each gram of carbohydrate in their food, while others — and this is completely legal, by the way — allocate 3.6 calories per gram.

    On top of that, all macronutrient figures are rounded off. In other words, a serving of food containing 29.5 grams of carbohydrates shows up as containing 30.

    So, company #1 may choose to keep it simple and multiply that rounded figure (30 grams) by the rounded-up “calories per gram” figure (4 calories per gram) and come up with 120 calories.

    Meanwhile, company #2 can instead opt to multiply the technical figures (29.5 grams of carbohydrate x 3.6 calories per gram) for a grand total of 106 calories!

    Then we have the issue of fiber, which comes into play with both of your food examples.

    If food companies choose to, they may leave out grams of carbohydrates from insoluble fibers in their final calculations.

    Taking all that into consideration, you can see why the same amount of the same food does not always yield the same food label.


    You Ask, I Answer: Carbohydrate Needs

    In Eat This, Not That For Kids, there is a table titled “What Our Kids Need Each Day” that shows what amount of different nutrients children should be getting on a daily basis.

    For carbohydrate, every age group (from 1 to 18 years) has the same carbohydrate requirement: 130 grams.

    That seem fishy to me?

    — Taryn (last name withheld)
    Houston, TX

    Uh oh. That figure is ripe for misinterpretation.

    It would be much more accurate to express it as “at least 130 grams.”

    Without those two important words, I can imagine many people thinking they are not supposed to feed their child more than that amount of carbohydrates each day.

    The 130 gram figure is important because it is the minimum amount of carbohydrate needed each day to spare body proteins.

    This means that by consuming 130 grams of carbohydrates (520 calories’ worth), you are ensuring that protein is used for building and maintaining muscle tissue, rather than for energy.

    That figure is also calculated to be the amount necessary to support the production of red blood cells as well as keep the central nervous system working as efficiently as possible.

    A much better recommendation is to get anywhere from 45 to 60 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates.

    Readers, here is an example to help you figure out how many grams of carbohydrate you should be aiming for each day:

    Let’s assume you need 2,200 calories a day.

    Some simple multiplication lets us know that a range of 45 to 60 percent of that figure is equal to 990 – 1,320 calories.

    To figure out how many grams of carbohydrates those calorie values equal, divide them by 4 (remember, there are 4 calories in each gram of carbohydrate.)

    Therefore, someone consuming 2,200 calories a day should take in anywhere from 247 to 330 grams of carbohydrates a day.

    PS: Taryn just completed her Dietetic Internship at the University of Houston. If you are interested in learning what future dietitians learn in their DIs, please visit her blog!


    You Ask, I Answer: Protein Bars

    I eat Zone Perfect Dark Chocolate nutrition bars, mainly for the protein intake but also because compared to most other Zone bars, they seemed to be less plentiful in sugar content and higher in protein.

    However, I am now wondering if these are not the best option for me? I eat one about an hour prior to walking/running.

    Sometimes I follow up my walks/runs with some light weights, so I feel like I need the protein more on those days.

    Are there other nutrition bars that I should be eating for protein instead?

    — Annemarie F.
    (location withheld)

    I would much rather you choose a different pre-workout snack, for a variety of reasons.

    A Zone bar is basically a candy bar with a little extra protein as well and a variety of vitamins and minerals tacked on so it can be advertised as containing “19 vitamins and minerals.”

    In theory, the same could be said for Doritos if Frito Lay decided to fortify their nacho cheese flavored chips.

    I much prefer you get nutrients from foods that naturally contain them.

    Keep in mind, too, that a single dark chocolate Zone bar has as much sugar as three Oreo cookies.

    As far as pre-workout foods go, they should be high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat. Hence, a Zone protein bar isn’t the best choice.

    The key is to choose high-quality carbohydrates. Refined varieties that offer little nutrition (pretzels, Skittles, animal crackers, etc.) are not the best options.

    However, something like an apple, a tangerine, a handful of baby carrots, some plain oatmeal prepared with water, or a toasted slice of 100% whole grain bread are good snacks to eat 45 – 60 minutes before exercising.

    Even if you do some weight training, protein is a nutrient that better suited after exercise, not directly before.

    Ideally, a post-exercise food should contain a combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

    Some examples here would be two or three celery stalks with a tablespoon of your favorite nut butter or one low-fat mozarella string cheese accompanied by a handful of grapes.

    The important thing is to always keep caloric intake in mind.

    Too many times I see people doing light exercise (i.e: walking at a fast pace on a treadmill for twenty minutes) and erroneously thinking that has to be followed up by a high-calorie protein shake that doesn’t accomplish much (other than tack on a few hundred calories).

    When it comes to optimal nutrition, think “real food” first.

    As far as I’m concerned, Zone bars belong in the “sweet treat” category.


    Leaving Out Vital Information

    Vending and food service company Next Generation has introduced Vitalities, a sticker-based initiative which “provides customers the ability to make selection based on healthy snack and beverage alternatives, while still having the flexibility to select name brand product options.”

    In essence, products that meet certain health criteria — created with the help of a Registered Dietitian — get a sticker next to their item code.

    On the food side, the following categories are offered: lower in fat, lower in sugar, lower in carbs, and “higher energy.”

    Why are they leaving out the most important concept– CALORIE information?

    Consider the following. To qualify as “low in sugar”, a product must meet one of the following criteria:

    * Sugar Free
    * No Sugar Added
    * Contains less than 4 grams of sugar

    These divisions are very helpful for snack companies because they don’t evaluate their products from a whole nutrition profile.

    Per the above mentioned standards, something like Sugar-Free Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups would receive a “low in sugar” sticker (and therefore seem like a healthy choice) despite offering 6 grams of saturated fat (30% of a day’s worth) in one 180-calorie serving.

    Similarly, a bag of Skittles can receive a healthy-sounding “low-fat sticker”, all while offering 250 calories and 12 teaspoons of sugar!

    I am also perplexed by the “lower in carbs” sticker. Unless someone has diabetes, there is no reason to believe that low carb figures by default indicate a healthier choice.

    The beverage stickers are slightly better, as they are divided into these four categories: lower in fat, lower in calories (yay!), lower in caffeine, and higher in nutrients.

    My concern here is the “lower in fat” label, which makes no mention of calories in its criteria:

    * Less than 2.5 grams of fat per 8 ounce portion
    * Skim and 1% milk
    * Flavored waters
    * Juices
    * Energy drinks

    Notice that soda can not qualify for this sticker. Fine and dandy, but sweetened flavored waters (often containing just as much sugar and as many calories as soda) can.

    This initiative is a start, but I would much prefer vending machines post calorie information on items.

    After all, unless people have those figures memorized, they are unable to see them until they have already made their purchase.


    You Ask, I Answer: Liquid Calories

    I’ve read that we don’t really seem to feel full after drinking caloric drinks like soda, [which is why] we can easily guzzle down 600 calories of Pepsi and still feel hungry.

    My question is, does this apply just as much to milk, or soymilk?

    It seems like while I could guzzle down a full glass of soymilk and not feel that much more satiated, it definitely fills me up more than drinking a glass of Diet Coke.

    — Christine (Last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Those studies are absolutely legitimate, but they mainly apply to empty calories like the ones found in soda and fruit drinks (in my mind, KoolAid and its imitations are basically flat soda).

    Since these beverages contain nothing but sweeteners, they don’t do much in the way of providing satiety. Correction — they do absolutely NOTHING.

    Keep in mind, too, that in your particular case, you are talking about diet soda, which provides zero calories.

    Milk and soy milk are more nutritious beverages. They contain protein and some fat (unless you are drinking skim milk), two nutrients that play a significant role in helping us feel full.

    This same concept can be applied to food. Take almonds and pretzels.

    Pretzels are basically nothing but refined flour — practically 100 percent fiberless carbohydrate.

    Nuts, meanwhile, contains protein, fat, and fiber.

    That is why 150 calories of almonds leave you feeling fuller than that same amount of pretzels.

    Although liquid calories promote less fullness than solid food, milk and soy milk are certainly more filling than sugar water.


    You Ask, I Answer: Carb Loading

    With the New York City marathon happening tomorrow, I thought this would be a good time to ask you this.

    What is “carb loading”? I know runners do it before a race, but how does it work, and why do they do it?

    — Alice Hanover
    New York, NY

    Carb loading is about optimizing glycogen stores in muscle tissue (glycogen is the biochemistry way of saying “stored energy.”)

    Depleting these stores and then providing the body with an extreme amount of carbohydrates makes an enzyme known as glycogen synthase store the incoming carbohydrate (which is converted to glucose and then, ultimately, glycogen) very effectively.

    Think of this as equivalent to a master suitcase packer who can fit in one suitcase what most people would need three for!

    Why do this? Well, the higher the glycogen stores, the longer athletes can last in extended aerobic exercises (that is why long-distance runners — as opposed to bodybuilders — practice this.)

    Carb loading can double the amount of glycogen stored in muscle tissue, so it can potentially provide marathon participants with significant advantage, provided it is done correctly.

    There are two ways to do this (both methods take place over the course of seven days prior to the athletic event.)

    The traditional way (developed in the 1960s) had athletes sharply decreasing their carbohydrate intake to Stage 1 Atkins levels (no more than 30 grams of carbohydrates — what you find in a slice of bread — a day) while vigorously training for three days.

    FYI: Putting a long-distance runner on a low-carb regimen is pretty much the most cruel thing you can do.

    The next three days, carbohydrate intake would skyrocket to approximately 80% of calories while physical activity continually decreased.

    On the seventh day (the day before the race), carbohydrate intake would remain extremely high and physical activity was not to be performed.

    Newer methods are less extreme.

    For the first three days, athletes consume roughly 60 percent of their calories from carbohydrates. Once that stage is complete, they take in approximately 80% of their calories from carbohydrates for the next three days.

    In this method, exercise is on a constant decline (from very intense in Day 1 to absolutely none in Day 6.)

    Since carb loading asks for high amounts of carbohydrates, this is one of the few times you will hear Registered Dietitians recommend low-fiber foods.

    This serves two purposes — it allows athletes to fill up less quickly and also prevents stomach complications (80 percent of calories from high-fiber foods could get rather uncomfortable.)


    You Ask, I Answer: Protein/Abs

    One of my friends wants to lose some excess weight from his stomach and have visible abs, so last week he started eating pretty much nothing but lean protein, protein shakes, and steamed vegetables.

    He doesn’t work out or eat any kind of carbs (apart from the steamed vegetables.)

    He says he is already seeing results.

    What do you think?

    — Tom (last name withheld)
    New York, NY

    I think your friend is absolutely misguided and approaching the situation with very little thought.

    While it is true that abs “are made in the kitchen” (meaning that your diet must be very carefully managed, since visible abs are the result of low body fat, rather than endless crunches), eating nothing but protein and steamed vegetables is not the answer.

    I don’t know what your friend’s diet was like prior to this, but it is very likely he will lose weight with this particular way of eating, as I am sure his total daily caloric intake has decreased.

    Remember, though, that low-carb diets get rid of water weight in the first few days, which is what I think he refers to when he claims he is “already seeing results.”

    The fact that he does not work out is a significant problem.

    Building muscle tone helps speed up metabolism, thereby facilitating weight loss while maintaining muscle mass (this way, you are losing mostly fat.)

    These kind of ultra low-carb diets are also impossible to sustain for more than a few weeks.

    If your friend wants to have visible abs, he has to keep a few things in mind:

    1) Genetics play a role. Some people have an easier time achieving a six pack, while others can “only” show off a “four-pack” with that same amount of effort.

    2) We all have abs. They are invisible, though, when they are hidden by a layer of fat. If you’d like to proudly display them, you must get your body fat down to approximately 6 or 7 percent. That absolutely requires vigorous physical activity several times a week.

    3) In order to engage in vigorous physical activity several times a week, he certainky needs to take in more carbs than he is now. Otherwise, he will not have sufficient endurance, and his body will start breaking down muscle to provide him with sufficient energy!

    His goal should be to increase physical activity, eat as few processed foods as possible, and maintain a pre-determined caloric range.

    Otherwise, I see him lasting two more weeks and then simply going to the other extreme — declaring this “too difficult” and “not worth it.”


    You Ask, I Answer: Protein and Weight Training

    Using your calculation I should be getting 54 grams of protein a day, which is not a problem.

    I have started strength training, [so] should I up my protein intake?

    If so, by how much?

    — Chris (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    As you have figured out, protein requirements are extremely easy to meet.

    A three ounce portion (as large as the palm of your hand and no wider than your pinky) of salmon or chicken provides 27 grams, a sandwich consisting of two slices of whole wheat bread and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter adds up to 24 grams, a cup of milk delivers 8 grams, half a cup of lentils packs in 9 grams, and 23 almonds (one ounce) clock in at 6 grams.

    Since the 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is the minimum requirement, you you can safely double that intake – in your case, I would suggest not surpassing the 110 – 120 gram point.

    As far as strength training is concerned, I’m assuming you want to know if upping protein intake will help you gain muscle mass.

    The answer is both “yes” and “no.”

    Acquiring muscle mass is achieved by shocking muscle groups and eating additional calories.

    Some of these calories will surely come from protein, but also fats and carbohydrates.

    Many people make the mistake of concentrating solely on protein, missing out on excess calories. Without more calories, you will not put on muscle mass!

    Let’s say you currently eat 2,000 calories and 90 grams of protein a day.

    A 1,700 calorie diet with 160 grams of protein is a lot less effective at helping you gain mass than a 2,500 calorie diet with 95 grams of protein.

    The best suggestion I can give you is in regards to timing.

    Be sure to eat a snack that contains complex carbohydrates and protein no later than 45 minutes after your workout for optimal glycogen refueling. A glass of skim milk and a tablespoon of peanut butter on whole wheat toast is one good example.

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