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    Archive for the ‘In The News’ Category

    In The News: Nutrition Professor Eats Twinkies, Loses Weight.

    1283457996610Earlier this month, the media feasted on the following news bit:

    “Mark Haub, 40, associate professor in Kansas State University”s Department of Human Nutrition, began a 30-day junk food marathon on Aug. 25. He is living on a diet of high-calorie, high-fat foods, such as snack cakes, powdered doughnuts and sticky buns, to show that foods commonly regarded as junk can actually help people lose weight.”

    Continue Reading »


    In The News: Here We Go Again

    ground-beef_350(1)Now, it’s ground beef’s time to be recalled (for, what, the billionth time?)!

    This is starting to resemble a horrifically twisted version of Mad Libs: “(Name of company) is recalling (name of food) after (number) of people experienced (symptoms).”

    Here’s what CNN is reporting:

    “Cargill Meat Solutions Corp. has recalled about 8,500 pounds of ground beef that may be contaminated with E. coli.  The USDA says it believes certain BJ’s Wholesale Club stores in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Virginia received the products.”

    Alas, the truly disturbing tidbit is right here:

    “The recalled ground beef was shipped June 11 to distribution centers, where it was repackaged into consumer-size packages and sold under different retail brand names. The USDA did not identify the brands.”

    Our current food system is essentially a leaky ship with 80 holes.  Instead of drafting plans to build a new one, authorities think plugging two holes at a time is a feasible solution.


    In The News: San Francisco Doesn’t Toy Around!

    Fast food KidsEarlier this Summer, the Center for Science in the Public Interest generated headlines and buzz when they announced plans to sue McDonald’s if they continued to use toys to market unhealthy food to children,referring to the practice as “unfair, deceptive, and illegal.”

    California’s Santa Clara county was the first government in the United States to implement their own “no toy” rule (though only in unincorporated areas, meaning Burger King and the like escaped unharmed), and it appears San Francisco is next.

    San Francisco’s proposed rule, however, does include incorporated businesses.  Rajiv Bhatia, director of occupational and environmental health for the San Francisco Department of Public Health accurarely explains that “this is not an anti-toy ordinance; this is a pro-healthy-meal ordinance.”

    See, toys are allowed in children’s meals considered to be “nutritionally fit”.  What makes a meal nutritionally fit?  Here are the suggested standards:

    • Less than 200 calories for a single item or less than 600 calories for a meal.
    • Less than 480 milligrams of sodium for a single item or 640 milligrams for a meal.
    • Less than 35 percent of its calories derived from fat (unless the fat is contained in nuts, seeds or nut butters, or from a packaged egg or packaged low-fat or reduced-fat cheese.)
    • Less than 10 percent of its calories derived from saturated fats (with the exception of nuts, seeds, packaged eggs or packaged low-fat or reduced-fat cheese.)
    • Less than 0.5 grams of trans fat.
    • Meals must include a half-cup of fruits and three-fourths of a cup of vegetables.
    • Beverages may not have more than 35 percent of their calories from fat or more than 10 percent of their calories from sugar.

    Unless most fast-food chains decrease their portion sizes, they do not meet at least one of the above-mentioned guidelines.  My thoughts on the guidelines?

    • I like that not all fats are treated equal (a healthy item that consists of, say, sliced apples and a peanut butter dip would not be disqualified for being “too fatty”)
    • I also like that eggs are not shunned for high cholesterol levels.  Eggs are abundant in nutrients, and the whole “cholesterol in food causes high cholesterol in the blood” theory has been debunked time and time again.
    • Lastly, I like that they serve as motivators for fast food chains to truly revamp their respective children’s menus if they wish to continue promoting them with toys.

    In The News: Don’t Count on Calorie Labeling in Great Britain

    double_whopper_with_cheese_menu_labelingDiscouraging news from the other side of the Atlantic, friends — “fast food chains and restaurants have quietly sunk a plan by Britain’s food watchdog to display calorie counts in eating outlets across the country.”

    A trial calorie-display initiative set forth by the Food Standards Agency has been downright abandoned by “fast food greats” like Pizza Hut, KFC, and Burger King.

    Consequently, a mere three percent of the eligible fast food restaurants in Great Britain are posting calorie counts in visible ways (ie: not solely on their websites or on a leaflet that must be requested by customers).

    This is why having the law on your side is crucial.  Calorie counts must be legally — and federally — mandated.  Case closed.

    And, before any “the government can’t tell me what to eat!!” zealots pipe up, keep in mind that this is not about prohibiting the sale of any foods.  It simply makes information more public and easier to access.


    You Ask, I Answer/In The News: The Highly Controversial High Fructose Corn Syrup

    syrup2190I was wondering if you saw this weekend’s New York Times article about high fructose corn syrup.

    The author seems to minimize the scientific concern surrounding it.

    In your opinion, is the anti-HFCS movement just a bunch of hype or rightfully concerned?

    Thank you.

    — Edrie Moore
    Orlando, FL

    At the risk of sounding cliche, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

    New York University professor Dr. Marion Nestle — who I greatly admire and respect — is absolutely correct when she states in the article that, despite being no fan (and that’s an euphemism, if I ever heard one!) of the Corn Refiners Association, “they have biochemistry on their side”, since high fructose corn syrup and sugar are, from a chemical make-up standpoint, practically identical.

    FYI: Dr. Nestle has a PhD in molecular biology (her knowledge of nutrition science is top-notch) AND is highly critical of the food industry; she is the farthest thing from an airhead industry shill.

    My (and other nutrition experts’) concern with high fructose corn syrup goes well beyond chemical composition.

    For starters, high-fructose corn syrup is a genetically modified food, and one that is consumed in large amounts (the national average is 15 teaspoons per capita, per day) by millions of people.

    Here is what frightens me: there isn’t an iota of data on possible health effects from long-term consumption of high fructose corn syrup or genetically modified foods in general.  I prefer to err on the side of caution.

    Another good reason to avoid high fructose corn syrup?  It’s usually found in highly processed foods which also offer high amounts of sodium and unhealthy fats, and very little nutrition.

    It’s important to point out, though, that nutrition is only one part of the high-fructose corn syrup puzzle.

    Many people — myself included — equate the purchasing of products that contain high-fructose corn syrup with financially supporting agribusiness monoliths like Monsanto (I HIGHLY to the nth degree recommend reading this eye-opening, and infuriating, Vanity Fair article on Monsanto).

    It worries me that some people think that substituting high-fructose corn syrup with sucrose (table sugar) is the answer.  It isn’t.  The real answer is to significantly reduce consumption of all added sugars (honey, maple syrup, agave, brown sugar, etc.)

    Added sugars are problematic because they add calories but do absolutely nothing towards satiety (AKA: helping us feel full).  It is entirely possible to down 500 calories of soda (which gets all its calories from added sugars) in a matter of minutes… and still feel hungry half an hour later!

    On the flip side, try eating 500 calories’ worth of oatmeal — which offers fiber and protein — in one sitting.  I have a feeling you would have a very hard time. Even if you managed to achieve that “goal”, you would not be hungry for several hours.

    I choose to avoid foods that contain high fructose corn syrup, for the multitude of reasons listed above.  That said, I am not convinced that high fructose corn syrup intrinsically “causes” obesity, nor do I think that consuming 15 teaspoons of cane sugar a day is any healthier than that same amount of high fructose corn syrup.


    In The News: Milk-onims

    milk_pintApparently, someone at the National Milk Producers Federation recently had some spare time on their hands — along with a hefty dose of misdirected anger — to bang out this exhausting exhaustive petition about “imitation products that milk dairy terms”.

    As NMPF CEO and president Jerry Kozak explains,

    “The [Food and Drug Administration] has allowed the meaning of ‘milk’ to be watered down to the point where many products that use the term have never seen the inside of a barn.  You don’t got milk if it comes from a hemp plant, you can’t say cheese if it’s made from rice, and faux yogurt can’t be made from soy and still be called yogurt.”

    Grammar issues aside (“you don’t got”?), I’m not so sure about using the inside of a dairy barn as a utopian benchmark.  Most dairy cattle subsist on unhealthy diets of corn, growth hormones, and antibiotics, and spend most of their lives standing in one spot. I don’t think a hemp plant would be eager to pull a “Freaky Friday” with your average US dairy cattle.

    What absolutely confuses me about this petition is that dairy alternatives are already adequately described as “(name of food here) milk.”

    The term “milk” in the context of these alternatives makes sense to me. After all, these products are meant to replicate and replace milk in a multitude of ways (in smoothies, over cereal, in coffee, etc).

    Kozak and his ilk claim this petition is done in an effort to “prevent false and misleading labeling on consumer products,” but I have yet to know of anyone who accidentally bought soy milk or rice milk thinking they were buying dairy-based milk.

    I have seen the term “mylk” thrown around to describe dairy alternatives, which I find to be kind of adorable in that cute counter-culture kind of way.

    Do you find this petition as absurd as I do, or do you consider Mr. Kozak’s claims valid?

    UPDATE (May 3): Thank you to Small Bites reader Derek for pointing out that the odd grammar I pointed out in Mr. Kozak’s statement is in reference to the multi-million dollar “Got Milk?” campaign!


    In The News: Meaty Matters

    meatless_logoThe completely non-controversial concept of “meatless Monday” (in which some omnivores voluntarily start off their workweeks eating a vegetarian diet for 24 hours for health and/or environmental reasons) has some bloviators firmly clutching their pearls.

    In case you are new to this campaign (or live outside the United States), “it started in 2003 as a nonprofit public health initiative of The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future in Baltimore, Maryland.”

    Apart from the fact that “studies suggest we are more likely to maintain behaviors begun on Monday throughout the week, research compiled by the initiative suggests going meatless conserves water, reduces carbon footprints and lowers intake of saturated fats.”

    Remember — the saturated fats in red meat pose more health risks than those in coconuts or cacao.

    What completely astounds me about meatless Mondays is some of the fervent opposition.

    One blowhard leading those troops is, of course, emotionally stunted, soulless rodeo clown conservative television host Glenn Beck.

    “When Baltimore City Public Schools adopted Meatless Mondays last year as a way to cut costs, conservative commentator Glenn Beck deemed it an indoctrination of children to vegetarianism and veganism and decried it as an over-extension of governmental control.”

    Oh, the outrage!  It is so manufactured for ratings palpable!  Yes, Mr. Beck, how dare we introduce children to meals composed solely of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds?

    By the way, did I miss the passage in the United States Constitution that grants every citizen the right to consume copious amounts of meat from cows that are fed an unnatural diet of corn, antibiotics, and growth hormones, and spend most of their lives standing in their own fecal matter?

    Beck is then quoted as stating that if he is ever thrown in jail, his last meal will be “a giant steak.”  Someone get me a vision board… stat!

    Then, of course, there’s the American Meat Institute.  Their objection to meatless Mondays?  Per president and CEO Patrick J. Boyle, it “deprives children and their parents of the ability to determine what is appropriate for their diets and their own personal circumstances.”

    Mr. Boyle should consider a career in stand-up comedy!

    Thank you to @FoodieRD on Twitter for posting link to CNN article.


    In The News: Food Addiction, Redux

    fast food collection on on white backgroundWhen it comes to food addiction, I firmly stand in Marion Nestle’s “mostly skeptical” camp.

    Alas, CNN.com (via Health.com) is sharing the conclusions of a rat study conducted at the Scripps Research Institute which found that “bacon, cheesecake, and other delicious yet fattening foods may be addictive.”

    More specifically, “[the] new study suggests that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin. When rats consume these foods in great enough quantities, it leads to compulsive eating habits that resemble drug addiction, the study found.”

    One of the most eye-rolling components of these articles is that the foods referred to as “high-fat and high-calorie” are your usual suspects: cheesecake, frosting, sausage, bacon, etc.

    Let’s not forget, though, that there are plenty of healthy and nutritious high-fat, high-calorie foods: coconut, almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts, salmon, avocado, etc.

    I have yet to hear someone who claims bacon is addictive also tell me they have a hard time saying no to an extra ounce of pecans, or that they find themselves gorging on salmon steaks.

    Many of these foods, by the way, are not simply high in fat — they are also high in added sugars.  So, why is fat being singled out as the “addictive” nutrient?

    Some more details on the study:

    “[Researchers] studied three groups of lab rats for 40 days. One of the groups was fed regular rat food. A second was fed bacon, sausage, cheesecake, frosting, and other fattening, high-calorie foods–but only for one hour each day. The third group was allowed to pig out on the unhealthy foods for up to 23 hours a day.

    The rats in the third group gradually developed a tolerance to the pleasure the food gave them and had to eat more to experience a high.  They began to eat compulsively, to the point where they continued to do so in the face of pain.

    When the researchers applied an electric shock to the rats’ feet in the presence of the food, the rats in the first two groups were frightened away from eating.  But the obese rats were not.

    My main issue with these studies is that they truly leave me with a “so what?” feeling.  I have a very difficult time making parallels to human behavior.

    Am I supposed to believe that an obese individual who is physically addicted (which is very different from emotionally addicted, which, to me, is significantly more credible) to junk food will continue to wolf down bags of Doritos while bleeding from a shotgun wound?

    Additionally, if the group of rats that developed this food addiction were able to binge up to 23 hours a day on a very small number of foods, how is that applicable to the human experience?

    Another frustrating thing for me about these studies — it lets food companies off the hook.  Can’t you just see it now?  “Oh, no, it’s not our 64 ounce sodas that contribute to obesity; it’s you addicts that can’t stop yourselves!”

    Something else to ponder: all of these foods existed — and were consumed — long before obesity rates skyrocketed.

    Thank you to Claudia Zapata, MS, RD, for tweeting the CNN article. You can follow her at @ClaudiaZapata.


    In The News: Beer for Bones?

    2111The hot topic of the moment buzzed about by nutritionists and late-night comedians alike comes courtesy of a study conducted by the Department of Food Science & Technology at the University of California, Davis published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

    The study’s conclusion? “Beer is a significant source of dietary silicon, a key ingredient for increasing bone mineral density.”

    As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, I have no strong feelings about the research.

    For the record — my lack of interest in alcoholic beverages is solely a matter of disliking alcohol’s flavor.  For whatever reason, when some people hear me say I don’t drink alcohol, they almost expect me to go on a 30-minute monologue about why everyone should avoid it if they are about their health or why my moral compass disagrees with such a substance.

    Back to the study.  The mainstream media — of course — had more fun with this than a housecat in a room full of mice.  Awkward puns graced headlines, practically anointing beer as a recommended beverage (“by scientists!”, no less) against osteoporosis.

    It is true that adequate intakes of silicon are necessary for bone growth and maintenance.  And, yes, beer is indeed a good source of silicon.

    However, everyone who eats a varied diet — especially one high in whole, unprocessed foods — is getting more than sufficient amounts of silicon.  Remember, too, that bone health involves many nutrients — mainly calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and phosphorus.

    It is precisely those four nutrients that many people do not get enough of!  Having an extra beer every day isn’t going to do much good for your bones if your vitamin D and magnesium intake doesn’t meet the recommended amounts.

    The study is certainly interesting — and accurate — but “beer is good for osteoporosis” claims blindly jump from point A to point Z — and fall flat on their face halfway through.

    Remember: no one food is “good for” a condition.  It is general dietary patterns that provide you with a good amounts of various nutrients that are helpful.  I know, that line of thinking is not going to sell millions of books, but at least I’m being completely truthful.


    In The News: Camel Meat — The Latest Health Fad?

    07._Camel_Profile,_near_Silverton,_NSW,_07.07.2007Reuters recently featured the newest healthy option on Dubai restaurant menus — camel meat.

    “For 20 UAE dirhams ($5.45), the Local House restaurant offers a quarter pound camel burger”, which assistant manager Ali Ahmad Esmail claims are fat-free and cholesterol-free.

    Hmmmm… really?

    A 1993 study conducted at Saudi Arabia’s King Saud University by the College of Agriculture (and published in Meat Science in 1995) concluded that “in proximate composition, camel meat is generally similar to beef.”

    Specifically, camel meat samples were found to contain anywhere from 4.1 to 10.6 percent fat.

    Cholesterol, by definition, is present in foods of animal origin and absent in plant-derived foods.  It is impossible for any animal flesh to be cholesterol-free.

    More strangely, these fat-free and “health conscious” claims are silly when you consider that these camel burgers are “loaded with cheese”, “smothered in burger sauce”, and served with fries!

    Conclusion: mere hype.

    Thank you to Robert Jackson for forwarding the Reuters article.


    In The News: Soda’s Newest Enemy? Microbiologists

    reunion soda and juices in DC_sPer CNN, the January issue of International Journal of Food Microbiology reports that “nearly half of the 90 beverages from soda fountain machines in one area in Virginia tested positive for coliform bacteria — which could indicate possible fecal contamination.”

    Something else to skeeve you out: “researchers also detected antibiotic-resistant microbes and E.coli in the soda samples.”

    The microbiological state of most soda fountains — at least the ones in this study — are so horrendous that they fall below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking-water regulations.

    Don’t place the blame on dirty ice cubes, either.  When those were tested for bacteria, results were negative.

    The issue here, of course, isn’t soda itself, but the consequences that occur when food service employees do not clean and sanitize appropriately.


    In The “News”: Eat More, Move Less!

    the-onion-logoI have a soft spot for The Onion, that uber-witty faux-news publication that provides sharp social commentary through humor.

    Take a look at this short clip from the Onion News Network which showcases the newest trend — “wearable feedable bags”, which make eating-on-the-go even easier for Americans of all ages.

    Dare you not to laugh!


    In The News: Recount, Please!

    alg_mcdonalds_caloriesSome not-so-encouraging news courtesy of TIME magazine — “According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Diabetic Association… restaurant meals may contain a whopping 18% more [calories than advertised].”

    What’s most discouraging is that researchers Susan Roberts (professor of nutrition at Tufts University) and Jean Mayer (who works at Tufts’ USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging) focused their attention on fast food items that claim 500 or fewer calories — the ones most likely to be selected by calorie-conscious consumers.

    The moral of this story?  When it comes to your food, the only cook you can fully trust…. is yourself.


    In The News: Good Riddance, Naughties!

    HP2010_webTechnicalities of when a decade truly begins aside, I say good riddance to the ’00s (or “naughties”, as they are commonly known).

    As far as I’m concerned, the past decade was akin to a really bad dress rehearsal starring a mostly repulsive cast of characters.

    Adding one more drop to that big bucket of failure, and much to the delight of Debbie Downers everywhere, The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the nation’s health goals outlined in Healthy People 2010 were not met.  And by “not met” they mean “wow, that wasn’t even close!”

    In case you are unfamiliar with Healthy People 2010, they are a list of “objectives… first created in the late 1970s [by the Department of Health and Human Services] to set an agenda for getting Americans to live longer, healthier lives.”

    You can see the full list of Healthy People 2010 goals — as well as proposed objectives for Healthy People 2020 — here.

    Although workplace injuries have decreased (golf clap) and vaccination rates have increased, “there are more obese Americans than a decade ago, not fewer. We eat more salt and fat, not less. More of us have high blood pressure. More of our children have untreated tooth decay.”

    Ready for more bad news?  While 41 percent of goals outlined in Healthy People 1990 were met, that number tumbled to 24 percent for Healthy People 2000.

    Data on Healthy People 2010 is still being tabulated, but it appears the success rate will fall somewhere between 18 and 20 percent.

    Granted, it would help if the general population was aware of the existence of Healthy People.  Or, even better, if Healthy People did more than state goals.  How about raising funds to tackle a few of the more pressing issues?


    In The News: How Many Misguided Nutrition Tips Fit In One Article?

    time_magazines_logoBack in August, Time magazine ran a bunch of ridiculous nonsense cover story which made the laughingly feeble case that exercise was not at all helpful for weight loss.

    In what seemed to be an essay right out of a middle schooler’s notebook, the author attempted to convince us of this theory by stating that on days when he exercises, he ends up eating more (and, apparently, he decided his personal anecdote somehow applies to the rest of the world).

    In any case, the folks at Time continue their bastardization of nutrition and health issues with their latest article (thankfully, not a cover one) titled “The Thoughest Diet”.

    In it, author Joel Stein talks to popular chefs who have managed to slim down despite working in kitchens  — and being surrounded by decadent food — all day.

    The article quickly goes South, though, when it turns into nothing more than misguided and inaccurate weight-loss tips from men who clearly have very little knowledge of nutrition.

    As can be expected when dealing with celebrity chefs, there is plenty of egotism, too.  In the second paragraph of the article, Food Network star Alton Brown credits himself and other television chefs for being “partly responsible for the fattening of America.”

    Uh, no.

    You want to talk about factors behind rising obesity rates?  Think crop subsidies, expanding portion sizes, food lobbyists, and issues with the National School Lunch Program.  Mario Battali’s alfredo sauce doesn’t even make the Top 100.

    Brown then goes on to make the following statement:

    “The old wisdom of everything in moderation was pretty much hogwash.”

    This from the man who has chosen to “boycott French fries” and  “now snacks incessantly on avocados, sardines, and almonds.”

    First of all, it is still very possible to gain weight while “snacking incessantly”.  Although avocados, sardines, and almonds are very healthy foods, they are by no means calorie-free.

    In fact, I recently spoke to somebody who didn’t understand why she wasn’t losing weight even though she stopped eating junk food.  A look at her dietary habits demonstrated that while she was eating healthier foods, she was getting just as many calories from those foods as she was in the days when potato chips, Skittles, and sugary cereals were staples of her diet.

    Furthermore, Brown’s example that moderation is ‘hogwash’ is based on the fact that he used to eat massive quantities of French fries, which sounds like anything but moderation to me.

    Then there’s chef Alex Stratta, who “decided to get off sugar, fatty meats, and carbs after his suit wouldn’t fit for an awards reception”.

    Sigh.  When I hear people say they “got off carbs”, I always have to count to ten and take deep breaths.

    Carbohydrates are not just in donuts, cookies, cakes, and 600-calorie muffins.  Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and healthy whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and barley are also “carbs”.

    Therefore, when people proudly beam that they “no longer eat carbs” , my response is often: “Wow, you stopped eating fruits, vegetables, and beans?”

    As for sugar — it is absolutely a source of empty calories, and undoubtedly overconsumed in the United States.

    However, what is with this notion of “swearing it off”?  Why not just set a goal of eating significantly less?  Besides, most people who I speak with who claim to be “off sugar” only mean white sugar, since they still consume honey, agave nectar, and maple syrup as if it somehow were calorie-free or chock-full of nutrients.

    Stratta’s “tips” get worse:

    “His new rules include starting the morning with a protein shake, having only three meals a day and never eating after 6 p.m.”

    It is “thanks” to ridiculous articles like these that I come across so many confused individuals at workshops and classes that I teach.

    In essence, what Stratta is doing is — are you ready for it? — eating fewer calories than he used to!  Wow, imagine that.

    It would be much more helpful if he simply credited that for his weight loss, because it is very possible to do the three things he does and still not lose a pound.

    Depending on what goes into it, a protein shake can have anywhere from 200 to 800 calories.  As for “three meals a day”, there are plenty of people who only eat three meals a day and gain weight because their total caloric intake for the day surpasses what they need!

    Rules like “never eating after 6 p.m.” are not only unnecessary, but also overly rigid.  Munching on a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts at 8 p.m. is not going to make the magical weight-loss fairies disappear into thin air.

    Another example of misguided advice?  The article states that renowned chocolatier Jacques Torres (who intelligently lost a total of 32 pounds by joining Weight Watchers) “stocks up on 70% cocoa chocolate bars, with the goal of always having a low-sugar options on hand.”

    Let me be perfectly clear — chocolates with a high cocoa content are great.

    The intense flavor often helps one satisfy cravings with small amounts, and they offer some added health benefits as a result of having more cocoa than milk chocolates.  Low sugar values, however, are irrelevant.

    The reason why high-cocoa chocolates are a better snack than those with lower figures?  They are higher in fat, which means they take a longer time to digest, therefore allowing you to feel full with a lower amount of calories.

    And then the magazine industry wonders why it’s going down the drain…

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