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    Archive for the ‘fads’ Category

    The Next Diet Food: Paper!?

    slim-3Icelandic interior designer Hafsteinn Juliusson (pictured, left) has come up with the ultimate zero-calorie snack: edible paper. (FYI: the link takes you to his homepage; click on “Projects” and then “Slim chips”).

    The chips — which will be available from his website for ten times the cost of Pringles this September, per this Sydney Morning Herald news article — are 100 percent organic (phew!) and expected to come in mint, blueberry, cheddar, and wasabi (!) flavors.

    According to Juliusson, the product — which he describes as “sort of like a baked church wafer” — is “an experiment”:

    “The consumption of junk food is very often associated to habits and social rituals that help interrupt the flow of routinary daily activities more than to the hunger impulse.  The basic ingredient here is edible paper, almost nutritionless. Don’t get fat, just eat nothing.  It’s like eating tasty air, available in mint flavour, blueberry, cheddar or wasabi.  This is a paradoxical product that plays with weapons like irony and nonsense thus leaving the interpretation to the bravest consumers.”

    I love this simply for the brilliant social commentary it makes about the diet industry, processed snacks, mindless eating, and our relationship with food.

    Not only do the bags contain a “don’t get fat!” tagline (contained inside the illustration of an overweight man’s body), they also read:

    “Instead of getting fat you can now eat paper with flavor. It’s like eating tasty air.”

    I have no doubt that if this product were available for the same cost as your average potato chip, it would become the official chip of the 2010s.



    Food for Thought: Is Fad Dieting An “American” Thing?

    51nX64UxaNL._Nutritionsandfitnes_This weekend I had brunch with a friend of mine who visited Italy for six weeks as part of an international study program a few years ago.

    At some point, our conversation veered onto fad dieting, and she mentioned that, from her short-term observations (based on advertisements as well as products available in supermarkets and drugstores), fad diets were a lot less prevalent in Italy than in the United States.

    My friend remarked, for example, that while a stroll through a supermarket in the United States reveals the likes of Zone Bars, South Beach Diet frozen entrees, Weight Watchers ice cream sandwiches, and Atkins breakfast cereals, Italian supermarkets simply carried food.

    While I have never been to Italy, my recent trip to Barcelona revealed similar findings.  The only foods I saw marked as “diet foods” were things like whole grain pastas or vegetarian sausages.

    I asked her what her theory behind that was, and her answer made a lot of sense to me.

    Since Italian identity is so entrenched in food, she explained , it is difficult for the general population to follow fad dieting.  The United States, however, does not have a distinct food culture or culinary identity attached to it, so people don’t mind jumping from one dietary bandwagon (“no fruits!”, “no dairy!”, “no potatoes!”) to another.

    International readers (as well as those in the USA who have traveled abroad), please share your insights, theories, observations, and opinions.


    You Ask, I Answer: Dissociated Diets

    dissociated-dietsA friend of mine says the best way to lose weight is with a dissociated diet.

    She showed me her menu.  One day she can eat all the fruit she wants, and nothing else.

    The next day is a meat day, then a vegetable day, etc.

    She says that this makes the body work more and burn more calories since you are tricking it.

    Why is that?

    — Therese (last name withheld)
    Queens, NY

    Human beings are funny creatures.  You have to admit, we can give ourselves too much credit at times — especially when it comes to believing we can trick human physiology with fad diets.

    Can you lose weight with a dissociated diet?  Yes.

    Is a dissociated diet the best way to lose weight?  Absolutely not.

    Remember, losing weight is not difficult.

    The challenging parts are:

    • losing weight in a way that is healthy and keeps nutrition at the forefront
    • losing weight and maintaining that weight loss over a long period of time

    Dissociated dieting does not meet either of those two requirements.

    Bottom line — there is absolutely no basis for dissociated dieting.  Limiting yourself to one food group every 24 hours does not speed up metabolism, “trick the body”, or perform any other magic.

    This kind of eating pattern “works” (for a short amount of time) because it turns eating into a dull and boring “task”.  How much enjoyment can you get from eating nothing but meat or fruit for an entire day?

    Additionally, by limiting you to one food group each day, it automatically restricts your caloric intake.

    On a “meat” day, for example, you can’t have that food as part of a sandwich, a wrap, a sushi roll, or even a salad.  Nor can you have that food with a side of, well, anything.

    By the fourth day on this kind of diet, you lose a pound or two… and your sanity.


    In The News: Empty Promises

    flnatcheetosThis month’s Food Product Design trade magazine shares consumer, media, and market research giant Mintel Solutions’s 2008 statistics on product development in the food industry.

    Much to my initial surprise, “during 2008, ‘natural’ was the most-frequent claim on new foods and beverages.  [In the United States,] one-third [of products sported] the claim, up 16% from 2007.”

    I scratched my head pondered over this factoid for a few minutes.  Why would food companies choose “natural” as a selling point?  Why not brag about Omega-3 fortification or whole grain inclusion?

    Then, it hit me.

    There is no legal definition for “natural.”  The Food & Drug Administration has not defined what products can — and can’t — use that term in their advertising.

    Much to food companies’ liking, consumers associate “natural” with healthy, low in calories, and nutritious.  While that is certainly true if you’re talking about pears or tomatoes, it doesn’t apply to other “100% natural” products like high fructose corn syrup, 7Up, and Cheetos white cheddar puffs.

    This phenomenon is not contained within the 50 states.  “On a global scale, ‘natural’ claims appeared on almost one in four (23%) new products.”


    You Ask, I Answer: Honey

    I have heard claims that honey is an “immune enhancer” and was wondering what your thoughts are on that.

    — Dennise O’Grady
    Bay Head, NJ

    Those types of claims bother me because they are so vague.

    What, exactly, does the term “immune enhancer” mean? For example, is a fruit drink chock full of sugar but fortified with a day’s worth of Vitamin C more of an “immune enhancer” than a fruit containing a quarter of a day’s worth of the vitamin?

    It is true that, due to its antimicrobial and enzymatic properties, honey can be helpful when dealing with certain conditions, like sore throats.

    Similarly, it can be useful — albeit messy — for treating external wounds like scrapes and burns.

    However, extrapolating that information and claiming honey works wonders for the entire immune system is quite a stretch.

    Besides, I take issue with attributing health properties to sweeteners because it encourages their abundant consumption.

    I find it very irresponsible when self-proclaimed “nutrition experts” point out that honey contains vitamin C, and forget to mention that to get just three percent of the vitamin C daily value, you need to consume an entire cup of honey.

    That’s 1,031 calories!

    That cup of honey also contains five percent of the daily value of zinc and a measly two percent of the daily magnesium requirement.

    Ironically, these are two minerals that many honey-pushing “holistic experts” provide as “proof” that honey is “better” than sugar.

    I can’t bring myself to get excited over a food that barely delivers two percent of the daily value of most vitamins and minerals in a half cup (515 calories).

    In my mind, honey is simply another sweetener. If you like it in your tea in place of sugar, there is no reason why you should stop consuming it.

    If you are specifically looking to boost your immune system, though, I suggest you simply focus on the basics — get enough sleep, be as physically active as you can, and limit nutritionally void junk food.


    Thud, Thud, Thud…

    Oh, don’t mind me. That’s the sound of my head hitting my desk repeatedly.

    Why? Oh, I just found out about the latest diet book making the Internet rounds — The Lemon Juice Diet.

    Really? Yes. Really.

    I’ll let the publisher’s description speak for itself.

    “Instead of just suggesting dieters drink a concoction of lemon juice, cayenne, and maple syrup, The Lemon Juice Diet starts there and then integrates lemon juice into a healthier, easy to maintain, long-term plan. Lemon is a natural powerhouse; its great flavor makes it an easy addition to your diet and its low glycemic index provides a steady stream of energy, without the sugar high and subsequent crash we get from high GI foods.”

    Oh, it gets better: “Lemon juice, when taken regularly first thing in the morning, acts as a tonic to the liver and stimulates it to produce bile making it ready to digest the day’s food.”

    Anyone else in favor of a 100-year moratorium on any diet plan that suggests any beverage that combines lemon juice with cayenne pepper?



    The title of this post says it all.

    Dr. Maximo Ravenna, who I blogged about earlier this year, continues his brainwashing of the Argentine population in regards to nutrition.

    I have encountered a fairly high number of otherwise intelligent people who have bought into this man’s claims that flour is addictive (this includes whole grain flours) and that the only guaranteed way to lose weight– and keep it off — is by going on a 600 calorie a day diet… for the rest of your life.

    Suffice to say that someone I know down here who has been on this diet since 2004 eats three slices of cheddar cheese and one hard boiled egg for lunch most days.

    Whereas most Registered Dietitians are weary of VLCD’s (very low calorie diets), Dr. Ravenna condones them.

    In a recent article for Argentina’s Gente magazine, he writes, “Very low calorie diets have been used in clinical medicine for forty years, proving their efficacy and safety.”

    What he fails to mention is that VLCD’s are used in very limiting situations and under strict medical supervision in hospital settings — NOT by any Tom, Dick, or Jane in their day to day life.

    Many people who start with Dr. Ravenna are recommended to go as low as 400 calories a day for as long as 16 weeks!

    His quick detox plan, advertised as a “healthy way to lose up to 5 pounds in one week,” suggests the following meals:

    • Breakfast consisting of a cup of black coffee accompanied by one grapefruit
    • Lunch made up of a one-egg omelette and mixed green salad
    • Dinner consisting of 1 cup of roasted vegetables
    • Snack consisting of whipped egg whites with Splenda and a quarter cup of strawberries

    Since many of his patients lose quite a bit of weight (who WOULDN’T on a 400 calorie a day diet?) his popularity continues to soar and thousands of Argentine men and women consider him a bastion of hope.

    All I see in his diet plan is medically-backed anorexia.

    In The News: Another One Bites the Dust… Yay!

    Those of you who watched my YouTube video on appetite suppressants know how much I loathe them.

    So, as you may imagine, I was pleased as punch to find out today that multi-national giant Unilever has canceled negotiations with Hoodia supplier Phytopharm to use the plant extract in Slimfast products, despite plunking down $25 million in research and developments costs over the last four years.

    Unilever’s official statement is very PR-friendly: “the extract would not meet our safety and efficacy standards.”

    In other words — the whole thing is bunk and they want nothing to do with it. Good!

    By the way, Hoodia was one of the “magic indredients” in TrimSpa. We all know how THAT ended.

    For those of you unfamiliar with Hoodia, it is a plant native to the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, which Natives have supposedly eaten for centuries to keep hunger at bay while on long treks.

    The “magic” apparently occurs due to a molecule in the plant known as P57, which allegedly shuts off appetite by targeting the hypothalamus.

    Mind you, there is absolutely no evidence that Hoodia works. All we have are anecdotal accounts (generously provided by companies selling the product, of course.)

    It’s also silly to assume that processed parts of a plant, either in powder or capsule form, yield the same results as consuming it in unadulterated ways.

    That’s like someone hawking fruit juice concentrates in pill form and claiming they offer the same health benefits as a piece of raw fruit.

    Even if Hoodia did work, appetite suppresants are the worst thing you can do for long-term weight loss.

    They don’t teach new behaviors and can have risky side-effects (remember, the term “appetite suppresant” is a euphemism for “amphetamines.”)

    How about a pill that makes consumers immune to diet scams, frauds, and “magic bullets”?


    You Ask, I Answer: Alfalfa Sprouts

    Are alfalfa sprouts full of nutrients?

    I was leafing through a book about juicing yesterday and the author claimed alfalfa sprouts offer more nutrients than oranges, spinach, and blueberries.


    — Morgan (last name withheld)
    Boston, MA

    Absolutely false.

    Although alfalfa sprouts contain an ample variety of nutrients, they exist in minimal — practically non-existent — amounts (a half cup contains roughly one to two percent of the daily value of most vitamins and minerals.)

    They aren’t even a good source of fiber!

    The nutrient these sprouts offer the most of is Vitamin K — and that’s at a decent, but by no means amazing, 13 percent per half cup serving.

    Alfalfa sprouts, much like a straight “C” student, don’t stand out as particularly great or horrible. They just…. are.


    You Ask, I Answer: Vinegar

    Does vinegar have any positive or negative affects on the body?

    –Lori (last name withheld)
    Ottawa, ON

    Although vinegar is a great low-calorie (roughly 14 calories per tablespoon) flavoring agent, it doesn’t offer significant amounts of any nutrient.

    Some fasts and detox plans claim that downing a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar before each meal helps reduce cravings and speed up fat loss.

    I have absolutely no idea how they came to such a conclusion, though, given that there is nothing in the scientific literature demonstrating that vinegar has specific fat-loss properties.

    There has been some preliminary research on vinegar’s effect on blood sugar levels of diabetics, but nothing that would warrant the suggestion of making vinegar a daily staple.

    There is no reason to avoid it, either — there are no harmful effects from consuming it in moderate amounts (i.e.: a tablespoon in salad dressing).

    That said, going overboard and drinking multiple tablespoons in an attempt to speed up the metabolism is not only futile — it can also cause tooth enamel damage.


    The Skinny on Appetite Suppressants

    The latest Small Bites YouTube video concerns the multi-million dollar appetite suppressant industry.

    These supposed magical pills are marketed everywhere (most have a higher advertising budget than individual fruit and vegetable boards), promising effortless weight loss.

    Despite the fact that some of these supplements are simply scaled down versions of amphetamines and others have absolutely no scientific evidence demonstrating their effectiveness, consumers continue to seek out these products in hopes of shedding pounds by simply popping a pill.

    I explain why appetite suppressants are a big waste of money — and suggest one productive place that cash can go.


    Shame On You: The Blueprint Cleanse

    After receiving favorable publicity in Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, and New York Magazine, the New York City based Blueprint Cleanse is increasing in popularity across the United States.

    As you may imagine, I am not a fan.

    Long story short: the founder of The Blueprint Cleanse had “a savage cold” on January 1, 2000, which she recuperated from a week later after following a seven-day juice cleanse.

    Don’t most colds naturally run their course in a week? I digress.

    As happy as she was to have her health back, she thought that particular cleanse was too extreme.

    Well, lucky us — this inspired her to start a nutritional cleanse company “customized to [each client’s] level of nutritional awareness and dietary history.”

    Mix that idea with a cutesy website, trendy advertising, and promises of “normalized weight” and “physical rejuvenation,” and the latest “wellness” nonsense is born.

    Beginners can opt for a 3 day program, while more advanced folks looking to flush their hard-earned dollars down the toilet — oops, I mean, the toxins out of their system — can opt for 5, 7 or 10 day cleanses.

    For $65 a day, the 6 beverages you need to drink each day are delivered to your home or office in the insulated cooler picture at top (as you may notice by looking at that photo, each juice is labeled in suggested order of consumption.)

    Mind you, these are fruit and vegetable blends (as well as one cashew milk drink) that cost no more than $10 a day to make.

    Despite Blueprint’s claim that this is different from other cleanses, we are dealing with the same flawed logic (except this time the intellectual excrement is covered in a glossy shimmer, kind of like an episode of MTV’s The Hills.)

    A few choice examples:

    Can we please finally put to rest the myth that if you don’t eat a lot, you’ll lack energy? Unless one is undergoing a water fast, which, should only be done with a coach, energy levels will skyrocket!

    I suppose. But how about finally putting to rest these inane notions that we need to subsist on nothing but liquefied fruits and vegetables to cleanse our bodies?

    While “we” are at it, can “we” please learn some basic human physiology and realize that the kidneys and pancreas already get rid of “toxins”?

    Disturbingly, The Blueprint Cleanse folks claim it is absolutely possible to exercise while undergoing any of their fasts (3, 5, or 7 days.)

    The energy that is usually spent on digestion is now yours for the taking, so grab it and go for a jog! Remember- you are feeding your cells, not stuffing your belly.

    Newsflash — solids AND liquids go through the digestive system. Just because you are drinking six juices a day does not mean your body takes a break from digestion.

    According to the creators, this cleanse contains nothing but “food that’s packed with enzymes [and] will allow your body to clean.

    Oh, the enzyme argument. Cute. Too bad it’s baseless.

    A three-day Cleanse helps the body rid itself of old built up matter and cleanses the blood. A five-day Cleanse starts the process of rebuilding and healing the immune system. A ten-day Cleanse will take care of problems before they arise and fight off degenerative diseases.

    I would love to know how they came to this conclusion. Not to mention, how exactly does a cleanse “take care of problems before they arise?”

    Am I supposed to believe that, magically, on the tenth day, I have enough power in my immune system to prevent a scratchy throat? If so, for how long?

    Wondering when you should be cleansing? Here it is from the horse’s mouth:

    A good rule of thumb is whenever you experience any of the following: fatigue/general lack of energy, sleeplessness, anxiety/depression, digestive problems, at the first sign of a cold and of course, before and after holidays or any special events that lead to overindulging.

    Yes, because I am sure someone with depression is just itching to give up a hot plate of food and instead subsist on nothing but cold vegetable and fruit juices for a week.

    Okay, okay, I’m being unfair. The Blueprint Cleanse allows you to cheat by sinking your teeth into…. celery sticks.

    You might as well throw two ice cubes onto your plate and have yourself a party!!

    Back to the suggested times of use — I’m very weary of attempting to correct issues of fatigue and lack of energy by going on a liquid diet that barely grazes the 1,000 calorie mark.

    And then there’s the most extreme cleanse – “the excavation cleanse” – which does away with most fruits and instead “focuses on foods that trigger detox and elimination, such as citrus (spicy lemonade), which act as “cleaners” and green vegetable tonics which act as “healers.

    And, clearly, this cleanse goes in the “complete and utter nonsense” category.


    Say What?: Japanese Dieters Go Bananas

    And you thought the Master Cleanse diet was as ridiculous as it could get?

    CBS-3 in Philadelphia is reporting that Japan’s “morning banana diet” fad has led to shortages of the yellow-skinned tropical fruit.

    What exactly does the morning banana diet entail, you ask?

    Oh, just the usual nonsense.

    Apparently, you can eat whatever you want –in unlimited quantities, no less — for lunch and dinner (although dinner should preferably be no later than 6 p.m.) as long as you consume one raw, unfrozen banana for breakfast.

    That’s right, feel free to wolf down cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes — the bananas will magically help you lose weight!

    Two other rules — you may only drink water and exercise is completely optional!

    The diet’s “official website,” which credits a “white-collar worked named Hitoshi Watanabe” as creating the diet, provides some laughable theories as to why this weight-loss plan “works.”

    My favorites?

    * “Bananas contain enzymes that assist in digestion, speeding it up and thus reducing the amount of time the intestines need to work to digest food, resulting in a metabolism more suited to losing weight. These enzymes only exist if the bananas are eaten in their raw state.

    Oh, look, the digestive enzyme myth again!

    Humans already have necessary digestive enzymes; we do not need any from our food supply.

    Additionally, speeding up digestion sounds like a dieter’s nightmare, as it would mean faster gastric emptying (and thus feeling hungry more quickly!)

    * “Laying off the manditory[sic] exercise and allowing afternoon sweets reduces stress, which would otherwise lead to overeating.

    There’s a new one! So popping bonbons at four in the afternoon creates as many “feel good” endorphins as lifting some weights or jogging?

    Who knew nutrition could be so comical?


    You Ask, I Answer: Wheatgrass

    I really liked your video on supplements. So many of them are just empty hype. I completely agree with you.

    What are your thoughts on wheatgrass? One of my cousins swears by it.

    He says it’s the easiest way to get a bunch of vitamins and minerals.

    — Name withheld
    New York, NY

    Wheatgrass juice, the end result of pulping the young shoots of sprouted wheatberries, sure sounds like a magic green potion.

    Depending on who you listen to, it clears acne, helps detoxify the colon, has “living enzymes” (ugh!), and even cures cancer and heart disease.

    Before I go on, allow me to say “shame on you!” to anyone who advertises a food, beverage, or supplement as a cure for any disease, much less cancer.

    It’s absolutely despicable to toy with people’s emotions and hopes like that.

    Anyhow, I’m sure someone, somewhere, also claims wheatgrass gives you a foot massage after a long day at the office.

    Wheatgrass advocates point out its high chlorophyll content as a major “plus” in the nutrition department.

    Since chlorophyll resembles hemoglobin, so the wheatgrass PR goes, this juice is a great way to “rebalance the blood.”

    I have no clue what rebalancing the blood means, or why we even need that, but chlorophyll has absolutely no effect on human health. If we were plants, a nice chlorophyll shake would certainly work wonders!

    Chlorophyll may share some molecular similarities with hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to other tissues), but it does NOT transform into it, nor does it have any effect — positve or negative — on our blood.

    And the ridiculous claim keep on coming, folks!

    “Wheatgrass has what is called the grass-juice factor, which has been shown to keep herbivorous animals alive indefinitely.”

    The grass-juice factor? What PR intern came up with that “catch phrase”?

    And as for keeping herbivorous animals alive indefinitely — can someone tell me where I can find one of these timeless creatures subsisting on grass juice?

    “Wheatgrass juice is great for constipation and keeping the bowels open. It is high in magnesium.”

    Apart from the fact that keeping the bowels open doesn’t sound very pleasant, wheatgrass is not high in magnesium. It contains absolutely negligible amounts.

    If you seek magnesium, reach for nuts, seeds, fish, and whole grains.

    The only nutrients wheatgrass offers are protein (at a practically nonexistent 0.5 grams for a 1 ounce serving), some vitamin C (7% of the Daily Value in a 1 ounce shot), and iron (10% in that same shot).

    I have absolutely no ideae where some of these wheatgrass companies get their statistics about their product offering vitamins A, B2 (riboflavin), C, D, and K, along with potassium and calcium.

    “Wheatgrass helps the body rid itself of toxins.”

    No. The liver and kidneys take care of that.

    Simply put, there is nothing about wheatgrass that can’t be found in other fruits and vegetables.

    While there is no harm in having it, perceiving it as some kind of miracle beverage is completely inaccurate.

    Spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, and Granny Smith apples are much more nutritious green foods. In fact, the actual wheatberries are much more nutritious than the shoots.

    Remember, no one food or beverage meets all nutrition requirements or holds the powerful secret to longevity and agelessness.

    Anyone who tells you otherwise is a big old fraud.


    In The News: Battling With Leptin

    The Wall Street Journal is reporting the findings of a recent Columbia University Medical Center brain scan study which found that “when humans (and rodents) lose 10% or more of their body weight, [a hormone known as] leptin falls rapidly and sets off a cascade of physiological changes that act to put weight back on. Skeletal muscles work more efficiently, thyroid and other hormones are reduced — all so the body burns 15% to 20% fewer calories, enough to put back 25 pounds or more a year.”

    This partially helps to explain why crash diets never work long-term. They are such a sudden shock to the body that our metabolism starts working against – rather than with – the weight loss.

    This also makes the case for long-term approaches to weight loss that implement behavior modification and a slow but steady overhaul of eating habits and dietary patterns.

    The important of physical activity is also front and center here, since all forms — and especially weight-bearing exercises — prevent basal metabolic rate from slowing down.

    As lead author Michael Rosenbaum states, “Anybody who has lost weight and kept it off will tell you that they have to keep battling. They have essentially reinvented themselves.”

    Thank you to Fred Tripp for forwarding me this article.

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