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  • Archive for the ‘fruits’ Category

    For the Most Part, One Size Does Fit All

    Often times, the pail of cold water that gets dumped on a fiery nutrition debate is the “one size does not fit all!” mantra. That is to say, one particular manner of eating can make person A feel great but person B feel sluggish and tired, and both experiences are legitimate. To a certain degree, I co-sign on this. Some individuals are grazers, others are “three square meals” types; some people like to eat breakfast right upon waking, some don’t really feel hungry until an hour after. Fine with me.

    Approaching nutrition from a completely individualist lens, however, takes away from the fact that there are certain truths that apply to everyone, and should be strongly recommended across the board:

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    Thinking Organic? Think Beyond Fruits & Vegetables

    When it comes to organic food, the vast majority of attention is focused on fruits and vegetables.  The Environmental Working Group, for example, provides their handy “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” guides every year — the former details the fruits and vegetables one should aim to buy organic if/when possible (due to their high pesticide loads); the latter lists produce that contains minimal to low pesticide loads and is therefore less concerning.

    Considering the fact that the average conventional apple is sprayed with 36 pesticides — and grapes with up to 34 — it certainly makes sense to prioritize organic choices.  However, too often, other foods are left out of mainstream organic “conversations”; foods that people may consume more often — and in higher amounts — than fruits and vegetables.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    sugar-pour1The average American adult gets 16 percent of his/her daily calories from added sugars.

    Keeping in mind that approximately 15 percent of the the average American adult’s calories come strictly from oils (of which roughly 70 percent of that is soybean oil), you’re looking at “standard” dietary practices where almost a third of calories are empty. 

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    You Ask, I Answer: Are Frozen Fruits & Vegetables Pre-Cooked?

    product_185I heard that all frozen fruits and vegetables are cooked at really high temperatures before being frozen.

    Does this result in a lot of nutrient losses?

    – Patricia (Last name withheld)
    Los Angeles, CA

    No.

    First of all, keep in mind that there is no set standard when it comes to processing fruits and vegetables prior to freezing them; the steps differ from company to company.

    Most frozen vegetables are blanched, which is basically boiling a food for a very short period of time (think: seconds).  This helps provide vibrant colors, make for slightly more palatable flavor, and results in minimal nutrient losses (boiling exposes foods to water for longer periods of time, so nutrient losses are more significant than with blanching).

    In the case of fruits, I have never heard, for instance, of berries being blanched.  I know some companies will occasionally blanch other fruits, though.

    There is no reason to be concerned about this.  To me, buying canned or dried fruit with added sugars or artificial colors is much more troubling.

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    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.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    Free soda 6.24.09Taking into account inflation, the average price of soda in the United States was 33 percent cheaper in 2009 than in 1978.  Vegetables, meanwhile, were 41 percent more expensive.  Fruits?  46 percent more expensive.

    Source: New York Times via Bureau of Labor Statistics

    The change in soda prices is undoubtedly linked to corn subsidies and the subsequent ingredient shift from sugar to high fructose corn syrup over the past three decades.

    Simultaneously, fruit and vegetable farmers were left in the dark.  Consider, for example, that a mere one percent of current government agricultural subsidies go towards fruits and vegetables.

    My fear — and concern — is that this domino effect is well underway, with little chance of halting.

    Until crop subsidies disappear, we can expect foods made with high fructose corn syrup to be extremely affordable.  This greater affordability leads to increased purchases, thereby keeping prices low.

    That said, the mere fact that the disparaging health effect of crop subsidies has increasingly become part of mainstream conversation and news is hopeful.  It wouldn’t surprise me if, a decade from now, we begin to see less financial support for crops that sustain the Standard American Diet.

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    Numbers Game: Uh-Oh-Nomics

    070608_wholeFoods_hmed4p.hmediumTaking into account inflation, the average price of soda in the United States was _____ percent cheaper in 2009 than in 1978.  Vegetables, meanwhile, were _____ percent more expensive.  Fruits?   ______ more expensive.

    Source: New York Times via Bureau of Labor Statistics

    a) 26/25/19
    b) 33/40/46
    c) 47/31/29
    d) 15/50/30

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Friday for the answer.

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    Asterisks Never Lie

    You can never be dupedServeImage if you make a habit of reading the fine print.

    Case in point — Pop-Tarts Frosted Apple Strudel toaster pastries, which I came across at a supermarket a few hours ago.

    The front of the package includes an illustration of a whole Granny Smith apple and a slice of said apple next to a mound of what looks like apple pie filling.

    Next to the illustration: a “Baked with Real Fruit!*” banner.

    Aha!  There’s the asterisk.  I immediately grabbed the box off the shelf and began the hunt for the “oh, yeah, about that whole ‘baked with real fruit’ statement…” disclaimer.

    After many flips and turns of the Pop-Tarts box, I came across this:

    “Filling made with equal to 10% fruit”

    Awkward grammar, anyone?

    This is why it pays to read everything on a food product’s packaging.

    What the folks at Kellogg’s are essentially telling us is that if, theoretically, each toaster pastry had ten teaspoons of apple strudel filling, one of those teaspoons would consist of apples.

    The other nine?  Mostly sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Nutrition and Cancer Risk

    10_foods_berries_raychel_deppeWhat foods reduce the risk of cancer the most?

    – Ronald (Last name unknown)
    (Location unknown)

    In terms of overall cancer risk, it is pretty clear that diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices appear to have a more protective effect than those high in red meat and dairy products.

    FYI: many people — nutritionists included — often forget the power of consistent intakes of herbs and spices, all of which are loaded with phytonutrients and antioxidants.

    That is not to say, of course, that cancer can be prevented simply by eating healthy, since other factors like stress, pollution, and genetics play a prominent role as well.

    Also, I am not stating that meat or dairy cause cancer.  As I have explained in previous posts, part of the dilemma with nutrition research lies in determining if a certain diet increases cancer risk because of what it is high in or because of what it offers little of.

    What is absolutely obvious, though, is that phytonutrients and biochemical compounds (like flavonoids and antioxidants) play crucial roles in cancer risk reduction, and diets low in plant foods offer much lower amounts of these compounds.

    I consider the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research two top-notch sources for information regarding nutrition and cancer.  Here are some of their conclusions based on reviews of thousands of large-scale long-term clinical studies:

    • Non-starchy vegetables are most helpful in reducing risk of mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, and stomach cancers
    • Allium vegetables (garlic, onions, scallions, leeks, etc.)  have been found to be most effective against stomach cancers
    • There is also substantial evidence of garlic having a protective effect against colorectal cancer
    • Fruits (this includes avocados!) are implicated in risk-reduction of mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, lung, and stomach cancers
    • Nuts and seeds have a protective effect against prostate cancer

    As you may suspect, one rather frustrating issue — at least for me — with large-scale nutrition research studies (the ones that receive significant funding and often make significant discoveries) is that, understandably, they tend to focus on commonly-consumed foods.  It makes sense; after all, it’s most helpeful to determine what effect mainstream dietary patterns have on health, since those literally affect tens of millions of individuals.

    However, this means that a lot of wonderful, but not as commonly consumed, foods chock-full of nutrition (think quinoa, maca, ginger, cumin, wild rice, goji berries, tempeh, kale, hemp seeds, etc.) are barely investigated.  Heck, even sweet potatoes have largely been ignored.

    It’s clear these foods have health-promoting properties and offer plenty of nutrition, but I wish there were more clinical studies looking at their effect on health.

    In conclusion, though, you can never go wrong with whole, minimally processed foods.

    Keep in mind my “dartboard” visual:

    • The center circle is for foods you want to eat on a daily basis.  This circle should be mainly made up of minimally processed plant-based foods.
    • The second outer circle is for foods that can be enjoyed four or five times a month.
    • The third outer circle is for foods that are best consumed no more than once or twice a month

    PS: One of my absolute biggest pet-peeves is rankings of healthy foods.  I consider articles or television segments which state that an apple is healthier than an orange, which in turn is healthier than a banana a complete joke.  The fact that a fruit has 10 percent more vitamin C than another does not make it superior (because, chances are, that other fruit contains unique phytonutrients).

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    canada_mapIn the United States, fresh fruit and vegetable consumption clocks in at 3.6 servings, per capita, per day.

    In Canada, this same figure has been established at 6.5 servings, per capita, per day.

    Wow.  So how is Canada’s significantly higher figure explained, especially in light of the fact that incomes are lower and prices of fruits and vegetables are higher?

    In a research paper published in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics in August of 2005, authors Timothy Richards and Paul Patterson have two theories:

    1. Since Canada has a higher percentage of imported produce than the United States, this results in higher quality items, which in turn look more appealing to consumers
    2. The marketing of fruits and vegetables (along the lines of the United States’ “5-A-Day” and “More Matters” campaigns) in Canada started twenty years prior to the United States and is more frequently advertised on television

    The idea behind the notion that there is a relationship between imports and high quality goods is attributed to the Alchian and Allen theorem, “which argues that when goods of different quality incur the same per unit transportation cost, high quality, higher-priced goods become relatively less expensive in the destination market than in the product region.”

    Some more interesting figures:

    • Average annual consumption per capita of apples in the United States is 7.1 pounds, while in Canada it is 15.1 pounds
    • Average annual consumption per capita of bananas in the United States is 13.6 pounds; in Canada that figure reaches 27.6 pounds
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    Numbers Game: Blame Canada (for Healthier Eating)!

    canada-flagIn the United States, fresh fruit and vegetable consumption clocks in at _____ servings, per capita, per day.

    In Canada, this same figure has been established at ____ servings, per capita, per day.

    a) 2.3/4.1
    b) 3.2/3.9
    c) 2.9/5.1
    d) 3.6/6.5

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Tuesday for the answer — as well as theories explaining this phenomenon.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Odwalla Bars

    ss_29OdwallaProteinBarHow healthy are Odwalla bars?

    Even though they are made with all natural ingredients, they can be high in calories and sugar.

    – Jessie Arent
    Petersborough, NH

    I place them in the “definitely decent” category.

    On the plus side:

    • They are nowhere near as unhealthy as some heavily processed bars that are loaded with sodium and saturated fats (in fact, Odwalla bars offer more potassium than sodium)
    • All grains in Odwalla bars are in their whole state
    • Calorie counts are not obscenely high — they average at 230 calories, which is reasonable for a snack.
    • They are low in saturated fat
    • Most varieties use real fruit purees (as opposed to fruit juice concentrates or fruit flavorings)
    • They are a good source of fiber (an average of 4 grams per bar — all from food, not isolated fibers)

    I do, however, have some concerns:

    • In some of the bars, brown rice syrup (AKA: added sugar) is the first ingredient
    • Some Odwalla bars contain 12 grams (1 tablespoon) of added sugar
    • Some of their nutrients are fortified (added in) rather than an intrinsic component of ingredients
    • Some flavors use sweetened fruits and/or fruit juice concentrates

    Bottom line: Odwalla bars earn a solid “B” in the Small Bites grade book.

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    Healthify Your Baked Goods!

    toolsI find that certain weekend mornings are practically tailor-made for a muffin-and-coffee breakfast.

    Sipping freshly brewed coffee and biting into homemade baked good on a cloudy autumn morning, watching the colorful foliage slowly float down from tree branches, is simultaneously comforting and delectable.

    While many commercial baked goods are nutrition horror cliches (copious amounts of white flour, sugar, and unhealthy fats), homemade varieties can get a nutritional boost in a variety of ways.

    These tips can be used when making muffins, brownies, and cookies:

    1) Go whole or go home

    Gone are the days when “whole grain baked goods” meant a dense, rubbery concoction akin to an E-Z Bake Oven creation.

    The key to making light and fluffy 100% whole grain baked goods is to utilize either whole wheat pastry flour or whole wheat white flour.

    You can fully replace a recipe’s white flour with either of these varieties.

    Not only will the end result be higher in fiber, it will also contain more selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.

    2) Go alternative

    Alternative flours can be quite pricey, but they’re a lot more affordable if you make them yourself!

    Instead of purchasing oat flour (which, depending where you live, can be hard to track down), make your own by processing quick oats in a food processor.

    FYI: One and a half cups of quick cooking oats yields one cup of oat flour.

    Oat flour is high in soluble fiber (the kind that helps lower cholesterol and provides a feeling of fullness more quickly) and rich in phytonutrients.

    One other FYI: oat flour can only replace, at most, half of the wheat flour in a given recipe.

    Another favorite alternative flour of mine is almond meal.

    You can also make this at home by pulverizing raw almonds in a food processor or coffee grinder until they achieve a powdery consistency.

    Like oat flour, almond meal can replace up to half of the wheat flour in a given recipe.

    Like whole almonds, almond meal is a good source of fiber, protein, vitamin E, and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

    You can even replace half a cup of flour in a recipe with half a cup of pure wheat germ for added fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

    3) Get saucy

    Unsweetened applesauce is a healthy baker’s ally.

    You can replace anywhere from one half to three quarters of the fat called for in a recipe with unsweetened applesauce and no one will be the wiser.

    The applesauce won’t disrupt flavors, but will add plenty of moisture to your baked goods.

    4) Sprinkle away

    Whenever I make pancake or muffin batter, I like to add two or three tablespoons of oat bran and ground flaxseeds.

    Not only do they impart a hearty and nutty flavor, they also add extra nutrition in a pinch.

    5) Sugar?  Think Beyond The White Stuff

    When it comes to sweetening, think natural first.

    Raisins, blueberries, bananas, and fresh pineapple add sweetness — and great flavor — to recipes while also delivering nutrition.

    In my experience, you can halve the added sugar (whether in the form of white sugar, brown sugar, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc.) in conventional recipes and still have a tasty baked good.

    When reducing sugar, make up for it by adding nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla, almond, and/or coconut extract to the batter.

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    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

    No.

    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.

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    “But That Lady on TV Said It!”

    3716_GoodMorningAmerica_logoLast weekend, Good Morning America did a segment titled “What To Eat When.” For it, they booked Kimberly Snyder, a self-proclaimed nutrition expert who, in this particular instance, spouted off a variety of inaccurate facts and misleading information.

    Even more disturbingly, several magazines have recently turned to Miss Snyder for nutrition tips.  SOS!!

    Watch the video (linked above) first, and then read my detailed response below.

    Protein bars are unhealthy because they contain soy protein isolate, a heavily processed ingredient than can impair thyroid function.

    Yes, soy protein isolate is processed, but the main reason to limit protein bar consumption is because they are high in added sugars, generally low in fiber, and do not offer the same amount of nutrition real foods do.  While soy can exacerbate already-existing thyroid problems, it does not cause them.

    100% fruit snacks are not the best choice for children because they are too dense.

    I agree that 100% fruit snacks are not as healthy as they sound (they are basically pure sugar), but what on Earth does her critique of “it’s too much density” mean?  The problem isn’t that fruit snacks are calorically dense, it’s that they offer very little nutrition.

    “Peanut butter has a lot of sugar.”

    WRONG. You can find plenty of peanut butter brands that do not add sugar.  Additionally, even the ones that do add sugar do not add a lot (two grams, or half a teaspoon, per serving is the average).

    Almonds are better than peanuts because they have vitamin E and protein.

    Absolutely misleading.  Peanuts have just as much protein and vitamin E.  Besides, both almonds and peanuts contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and plenty of mineral and phytonutrients.

    Artificial sweeteners score high on the glycemic index.

    Wow.  Absolutely incorrect.

    Besides, if this ‘expert’ is so worried about the glycemic index of foods, why does she then recommend watermelon, which has a very high glycemic index?

    “An acidic body tends to hold on to more weight.”

    Oh, no — not that school of thought!

    No fruit after dinner — it sits in your stomach on top of what you ate and bloats you.

    Pardon me while I repeatedly smack my head on my desk.  This is absolutely false.  The human digestive system can handle a piece of fruit at any time of day.

    Good Morning America producers, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!

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