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    Archive for the ‘omega-6 fatty acids’ Category

    The Handy Dandy Cooking Oil Comparison Chart

    A few weeks ago, Andrew Wilder of the Eating Rules blog asked me if I wanted to help build a cooking oil comparison chart that would help people make sense of the wide array of choices. The topic of cooking oils is one I am very passionate about, so I gladly jumped at the chance.

    The chart — a real visual treat! — can be downloaded here, but I encourage you to read this blog post first, as it explains the science behind the results (and contains some very important FYIs).

    Continue Reading »


    New Products, Same Old Deception

    I enjoy keeping up with Big Food’s product releases. Not only is it mind-blowing to see how many different ways you can rearrange crop subsidies, unhealthful oils, and added sugars to come up with “new” items; it’s also fun to see what front-of-package health claims and call-outs are trotted out.

    The three products below may be new on the shelf, but the “wholesome and healthy” deception is the same old dog and pony show.

    Continue Reading »


    Surprise! You Just Ate (Junky) Cat Food!

    In this wacky world of crop subsidies, all species are subject to an ever-abundant medley of corn, wheat, and soy byproducts.  The Big Food companies — regardless of whether they serve humans, canines, or felines — love these byproducts because of their low cost and great ability to serve as fillers in a variety of processed foods.

    It turns out those small cans of cat food you’ve seen in your local grocery or drugstore’s “pet food” aisle contain strikingly similar ingredients to what some fast food chains dish out to Homo sapiens.

    Continue Reading »


    8 Cooking Oil Facts Everyone Must Know

    Over the past few weeks, I have received an increasing number of questions about cooking oils.  Given the apparent confusion and misinformation out there, I’ve constructed this list of facts, FYIs, and tidbits I consider absolutely crucial.

    Continue Reading »


    Burger King’s New Breakfast…. Is More Of The Same

    bk-new-breakfast-menu-items-590Hyperbolic press releases, pricey media campaigns, and plenty of advertising fanfare accompanied the recent unveiling of Burger King’s new breakfast menu.  Higher-ups were quick to point out that the addition of these items to the Burger King breakfast lineup  were the company’s “largest menu expansion ever”.  Like, OMG!

    According to Mike Kapitt, the chain’s chief marketing officer for North America, this menu was designed to “compete to be America’s wake-up call”, and he had no doubt the “quality, variety, and value” on the menu would make Burger King the “breakfast destination”.

    If these new items are America’s wake-up call, then the U.S. of A should smash its alarm clock against the wall and keep snoozing.  Let’s dissect the nutritional bombs unveiled by Burger King, from least to most explosive:


    Numbers Game: Answer

    cornAmericans consumed a total of 403 million pounds of corn oil in 1970.  By 2002, that figure reached 950 million pounds.

    FYI: Corn oil has an omega 6:omega 3 ratio of 46:1.  Yikes!

    Chances are, this figure continued to climb over the past eight years, especially as plant oils took over for trans fats in shelf-stable snacks.

    As much as the “limit saturated fats” message is constantly drilled into us, statistics show that over the past thirty years, saturated fat intake has remained steady, while omega-6 intake has skyrocketed.

    Might as well change this country’s name to The United States of Corn.  Our cars guzzle it, our cattle chow it down, and the average American’s diet is so heavily processed, corn is its own food group!


    You Ask, I Answer: Omega 7

    product502Do you have any insight on Omega 7?  Someone told me it was good.

    — Marie-Rose Nduku
    New York, NY

    Before we get to the actual answer, I think it is worth reminding everyone that only two omega fatty acids — omega 3 and omega 6 — are essential.  In the world of nutrition, an “essential nutrient” is one we must obtain from food since our bodies are unable to manufacture it.  This is why cholesterol is not an essential nutrient.  Our bodies produce it on a daily basis, so one can be perfectly healthy without ever consuming a single milligram of cholesterol.

    Omega-7 is not an essential fatty acid, no matter how crucial manufacturers of omega-7 supplements make it seem.  Let’s learn more about it, though.

    There are two types of omega-7 fatty acids: palmitoleic acid and vaccenic acid.

    Palmitoleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid manufactured by our bodies from other fatty acids in the diet, but is also found in decent amounts in fish and macadamia nut oil.  Though research on it is very limited, we do know that it raises the body’s levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.  This is quite an anomaly, since most monounsaturated fatty acids raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

    And so we come to the problem of isolating nutrients, rather than considering them within their respective food matrix.  Unfortunately, the mainstream media loves to isolate nutrients and attempt to incite unnecessary hysteria.  The fact that palmitoleic acid raises LDL levels does not mean fish and macadamia nut oil are now “unhealthy”.

    Foods are a combination of fatty acids.  In the example of fish, palmitoleic acid makes up a small amount of the total fatty acid percentage.  Even in the case of macadamia nut oil, palmitoleic acid only makes up about twenty percent of its fatty acid profile (almost two-thirds of it are comprised of heart-healthy oleic acid).

    Vaccenic acid — the other omega-7 — is a healthful naturally-occurring trans fat found in full-fat dairy products (and, to a smaller extent, in reduced-fat products).  I know, I know; all this time you have heard trans fats be vilified.  However, the trans fats nutritionists declared Public Enemy #1 were man-made, artificial trans fats.  Natural trans fats (like vaccenic acid and conjugated linoleic acid) are a whole other story.

    Vaccenic acid is an isomer of heart-healthy oleic acid (“isomer” is science-speak for “not identical, but very very similar to”).  Research on vaccenic acid has also been rather scant, but it appears that it is converted into conjugated linoleic acid by the body, thereby providing some cardiovascular-protective benefits.

    So, what are our takeaways?

    • The only fatty acids we must get from food are omega 3 and omega 6 (though, as regular Small Bites readers know, omega-6 consumption in the US is too high).
    • When examining a food’s fat content, it is important to consider the entire fatty acid profile.
    • There is no reason to shy away from full-fat or reduced-fat products.  The fat-free phenomenon of the 1990s caused more harm than good.  It led to an increase in added sugar intake (sugar replaced fat in processed low-fat and fat-free convenience foods) and reduced our intake of healthful compounds found in foods that naturally contain them.  For this reason, I find that two-percent dairy products are a better choice than fat-free ones.  Even in the case of your morning latte, I see absolutely nothing wrong with getting it with whole milk.
    • What if you don’t consume dairy products?  No biggie.  Vaccenic acid is simply one of many fatty acids that provide heart-healthy benefits.  As long as most of your fats come from the right foods (avocados, olives, walnuts, coconut, flax, fish, sea vegetables, etc.) you have no reason to be concerned.
    • As for the “age defying skin complex” statement on the accompanying supplement image’s bottle: omega-7 has been found to be effective as a topical solution for certain skin conditions.  The specific omega-7 associated with skin conditions is palmitoleic acid — the one our bodies manufacture from other fatty acids!  There is no need to spend money on a supplement.

    The Omega-6 Problem

    Many food products proudly advertise their omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid content.

    I partially understand why.  Unlike other fats (like omega-9 fatty acids), we must get these two polyunsaturated ones from our diets.  That is precisely why they are known as essential fatty acids.

    As I have mentioned in previous posts, our present omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is completely off-balance, largely in part to highly processed diets that contain significant amounts of plant oils high in omega-6 fatty acids.  Since soy is a subsidized crop, soybean oil is an inexpensive by-product commonly used in low-nutrition, low-cost snack foods.  Corn and cottonseed oils are also very high in omega-6, while offering negligible amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

    While saturated and trans fats are constantly mentioned in the realm of degenerative diseases (especially cardiovascular ones), dietary advice should also recommend limiting omega-6 fatty acids.

    While I do not think saturated fats are absolutely harmless, I certainly do not consider all of them (remember, there are many different saturated fats) to be horrible fats we must avoid like the plague.

    What is most interesting, though, is a simple look at consumption patterns over the past forty years.

    Among 18 – 44 year olds in the United States, saturated fat consumption clocked in at 30 grams per day in 1970, and 27.8 grams per day in 2005.

    Omega-6 fatty acid intake, however, was at 9 grams per day in 1970, and almost doubled to 17 grams by 2005.

    High intakes of omega-6 fatty acids have been linked to cellular inflammation — one of the main factors behind a substantial number of degenerative diseases.

    This is why I think everyone should prioritize omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, then consider healthier saturated fats (like coconut and cacao), and leave omega-6 fatty acids and less healthy saturated fats (like that in cheese, pork, and chicken skin) last.

    Although omega-6 fatty acids are essential, they are so prevalent in so many foods that you would have to try extremely hard (and eat a significantly and dangerously limited diet) to not meet your daily requirement.

    I want to finish by making sure the main points of this post are understood:

    • Omega-6 fatty acids are NOT intrinsically unhealthy.  We need to consume a certain amount every day for optimal health.
    • Very healthy foods are good sources of omega-6 fatty acids.  I am not advocating total avoidance of foods that contain omega-6 fatty acids.
    • However, our consistently higher intakes of this particular fat need to be curbed, since more is certainly NOT better.

    FYI: in reference to this post’s accompanying photograph, there is no reason to ever supplement omega-6 in pill form.


    You Ask, I Answer: Peanuts vs. Tree Nuts

    peanuts-peeledA peanut butter sandwich is as American as apple pie.

    What are your thoughts on peanut butter, though?

    I’ve been hearing that peanuts, which I know are actually legumes, aren’t as healthy as tree nuts.

    Should I be making my sandwiches with almond butter instead?

    — Fred (Last name withheld)
    Brooklyn, NY

    I don’t have any issues with peanuts or peanut butter.

    When it comes to nuts (and, yes, for the sake of this post we’ll treat peanuts as such), my recommendation is to always have one serving of some nut every day.

    One serving is made up of 13 walnuts halves.  In the case of almonds, that’s 23 individual pieces.  If you’re talking pistachios, you’re looking at 49 kernels!

    The issue with nuts is that you could label any one as “better” or “worse” than the next, depending on what criteria you use.

    Consider these lists I compiled:

    FIBER CONTENT (per ounce)

    • Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios: 3 grams
    • Brazil nuts, walnuts, peanuts: 2 grams
    • Cashews: 1 gram

    PROTEIN CONTENT (per ounce)

    • Peanuts: 7 grams
    • Almonds, pistachios: 6 grams
    • Cashews: 5 grams
    • Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts: 4 grams
    • Pecans: 3 grams

    MONOUNSATURATED (heart-healthy!) FAT (per ounce)

    • Hazelnuts: 12.9 grams
    • Pecans: 11.5 grams
    • Almonds: 8.7 grams
    • Brazil nuts, peanuts: 6.9 grams
    • Cashews: 6.7 grams
    • Pistachios: 6.6 grams

    OMEGA 3: OMEGA 6 RATIO (per ounce)

    • Walnuts: 1:4
    • Pecans: 1:20
    • Pistachios: 1:51
    • Hazelnuts: 1:89
    • Cashews: 1:125
    • Brazil nuts: 1:1,139
    • Almonds: 1:2,181
    • Peanuts: 1:5,491

    All of them, meanwhile, are good sources of vitamin E, magnesium, and manganese.  Calorie amounts range from 155 (cashews) to 195 (pecans).

    I always recommend varying your nut intake since each variety contains unique phytonutrients and antioxidants that have been linked to an array of health benefits.

    Peanuts, for example, are a wonderful source of resveratrol (the same antioxidant in red wine and grape skins), while pecans contain high amounts of beta-sisterol, a cholesterol-lowering phytonutrient.


    You Ask, I Answer: Fats in Avocado

    hass avocado openIs the fat contained in avocado 100% good?

    How much fat is too much?

    — Coco (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Avocados are largely made up of healthy monounsaturated fats, hence its status as a nutritional darling.

    However, there is no such thing as a “perfect” fat.

    The “downside” to avoados, for example, is that they offer a fair share of omega-6 essential fatty acids and practically no omega-3 fatty acids.

    Although both omega-6 and omega-3 fats are essential (meaning we must get them from our diets), the typical US diet is too high in the omega-6 variety and too low in omega-3s.

    People — and diet books written mostly by quacks — love to characterize foods as “100% good” or “100% bad”, but nutrition is more complex than that.

    Avocados are an absolutely wonderful addition to the diet (the fact that they are high in omega-6 does not make them “bad”), but they should not be your only source of fat.

    Look to other sources for omega-3 fatty acids (flax, hemp, walnuts, fatty fish, brown kelp seaweed).

    Remember, too, that different fats offer a variety of different antioxidants and polyphenols.

    Olives and olive oil, for example, offer a high amount of monounsaturated fats along with exclusive components that have been found to benefit cardiovascular health.

    How much fat is too much?  Again, it depends on what kind of fats you are speaking about.  Here are some general guidelines:

    • The majority of your fat intake should come from monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids
    • Saturated fats are okay in smaller amounts (for healthier saturated fats, look to coconut and cacao).
    • Avoid trans fats at all costs

    Remember, too, that most foods are a combination of different fats.  Avocados and olive oil contain some saturated fats; similarly, bacon contains a fair share of monounsaturated fats.

    In general, you can safely have up to forty percent of your diet come from fats (remember the hierarchy, though!)


    You Ask, I Answer: Omega-3 Content of Seafood

    shrimp[Your post on fish oils had me wondering] if anchovies, shrimp, crab, and clams were good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.

    — Corey Clark
    (Location withheld)

    Anchovies are a great source.  A 3-ounce serving delivers an impressive 1.2 grams of DHA and EPA (that’s total, not respectively).

    (Reminder: DHA and EPA are two essential fatty acids predominantly found in fish; vegetarian sources like walnuts and flaxseed offer ALA, another type of omega-3 fatty acid).

    Crustaceans and mollusks offer lower levels.

    A 3-ounce serving of shrimp, for instance, averages 0.37 grams (that number could be slightly higher or lower depending on the specific variety of shrimp).  That same amount of crab averages 0.29 grams, while 3 ounces of clams average 0.1 grams.

    Apart from the well-known salmon and tuna, here are other very good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids:

    • Bluefish
    • Dogfish
    • Herring
    • Lake trout
    • Mackerel (caution: very high in mercury!)
    • Sablefish

    FYI: Catfish and tilapia not only offer very low amounts of Omega-3s, they are also quite high in Omega-6 fatty acids.

    Although both Omega-3 and Omega-6 are essential (meaning we must get them from the diet), the typical US diet is very high in Omega 6s.  This imbalance promotes inflammation, which consequently raises one’s risk for a variety of diseases and conditions.


    You Ask, I Answer: Omega 3/6/9 Supplements

    omega3-6-9-capsMy dad was prescribed Omega 3-6-9 supplements by his doctor to improve his heart health.

    I swear I remember reading somewhere that we don’t need omega 6 and 9 — we get way too much 6 in our diet as it is, and 9 isn’t essential. To me this means that if anything, my dad should only be taking omega 3 supplements.

    I’m finding it hard to find anything but retail sites when I search on this topic.

    Do you know any more about this? I don’t want to question his doctor but the whole concept of a 3-6-9 supplement seems strange to me.

    — Meredith (last name withheld)
    (Location unknown)

    Your suspicions are absolutely right.

    In fact, you probably read those facts about omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids right here on Small Bites!

    To summarize: omega-9 — also known as oleic acid — is not essential (in the field of nutrition, an ‘essential’ nutrient is one we must get from food since our bodies are unable to produce it).

    This does not mean omega-9 has no importance to human nutrition; it certainly does.

    However, since our bodies are able to make it from other unsaturated fats in the diet, there is no reason to buy it in supplement form or hunt it down in food (in case you’re wondering, omega-9 is found in olives, avocados, and most nuts).

    While omega-6 fatty acids are essential, the standard “American diet” (FYI, I have a real problem with using the word “American” as a synonym for “belonging to the United States”) is excessively high in them.

    That is why, when increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, the most effective thing you can do is replace omega-6 fatty acids with omega-3 ones (as opposed to consuming a high amount of omega-6 fatty acids and supplementing omega-3 fatty acids on top of that).  Otherwise, the omega-3’s are not able to perform their health-promoting duties effectively.

    PS: I don’t see anything wrong with questioning a doctor on nutrition matters, given that the vast majority of them receive absolutely no nutrition education in medical school.


    You Ask, I Answer: Dyes/Farmed Salmon

    Are the synthetic dyes [fed to farmed salmon] harmful?

    I googled astaxanthin and found a website talking about how it’s an antioxidant and prevents cancer and is necessary for the healthy growth of the farmed salmon.

    Surely that can’t be true.

    — Kristin
    Via the blog

    That is technically true, but there is more to this story.

    While both astaxanthin and canthaxanthin are deemed safe by the Food & Drug Administration (although people trust that organization to varying degrees), certain concentrations of canthaxanthin have been associated with eye defects.

    Interestingly, different countries have different ideas of how many parts per million of that synthetic dye are “safe.”

    That being said, the vast majority of salmon farmed in the United States and Europe is only fed astaxanthin.

    In other parts of the world, though, farmed salmon is only fed canthaxanthin (it is the cheaper of the two dyes.)

    I still would not be too worried. You would need to be eating a LOT of salmon dyed with canthaxanthin to be affected.

    What all of this ties into, though, is another controversial topic – COOL (Country of Origin Labeling.)

    Although it is required for all fish sold in the United States, I have seen it very sparingly in supermarkets.

    As far as I am concerned, the core issue surrounding these food dyes isn’t so much possible health repercussions, but rather truthful advertising to consumers.

    If farmed salmon were to either remain gray or be dyed another color (say, white), then consumers would immediately know they are not purchasing a wild variety, and there would be no room for mislabeling (remember this infamous study by Marian Burros of The New York Times?).

    Since farmed salmon is nutritionally inferior to its wild counterpart (more saturated fat, higher Omega 6 fatty acid content, lower Omega 3 fatty acid content), people should not be left in the dark.

    This is not to say farmed salmon should completed avoided or viewed in the same light as deep fried fish nuggets, but consumers have a right to know exactly what they are putting on their plates.


    You Ask, I Answer: Fish Oil Supplements/Metal Toxicity Cleansings

    Yesterday I attended a talk given by an “applied clinical nutritionist” who works at a local pharmacy.

    She really advocated the use of supplements for everyone (probably because the pharmacy she works at generates a lot of revenue through the sale of herbs/supplements and homeopathic remedies).

    She recommended taking fish oil instead of flax because she said that flax requires an extra step to be processed by the body.

    She said that some people’s bodies aren’t able to perform this extra step and you would never know one way or another, so she just prefers to stick with fish oil.

    Since you often recommend flax, what are your thoughts?

    She also talked about “cleansing” (the colon in particular).

    Her recommendation wasn’t about losing weight, but rather to flush out toxins, no matter how healthy your diet.

    She said this is needed to flush out “toxins” that accumulate in our bodies from pesticides in food, air pollution, etc.

    The cleanse involves eating certain kinds of foods (she wasn’t specific) and taking some sort of supplements that help flush your colon, like magnesium (I think).

    All of this sounded sort of unnecessary to me.

    Is there any evidence that this type of cleanse is beneficial for people whose diets are already consist of nutritious, whole foods?

    — Kristin (last name withheld)
    Austin, TX

    Before I begin, let me thank Kristin for following up her question with an e-mail revealing the results of her own investigative research.

    Turns out that acquiring the “applied clinical nutritionist” title is a simple task.

    “It’s a self paced certificate program through the Texas Chiropractic College. To earn the certificate, you must be a health care professional, or the staff or student of a health care professional (I suppose you could be a dental receptionist). You have to attend 7 seminars (100 hrs), take a test and pay $1400. In return, you get a shiny wall plaque,” writes Kristin.

    Sigh. Anyhow, onto Kristin’s question.

    As far as the fish vs. flax issue, I agree with the speaker, to a point.

    It is true that the Omega-3 fats found in flaxseed (ALA) need to be converted by the body to DPA and EHA.

    It is also accurate to say that the majority of people do not convert ALA efficiently.

    A significant factor inhibiting conversion is that Omega 6 fatty acids compete with Omega 3 fatty acids for the same desaturase (conversion) enzymes.

    Keeping in mind that our current food supply contributes an abundance of Omega 6, you can see why ALA –> DHA/EPA conversion isn’t happening as optimally as we would expect.

    That being said, I still recommend ground flax simply because most people don’t consume much of ANY Omega-3’s.

    Simply put, ground flaxseeds are an effortless way to add some Omega 3’s to a variety of foods (not everyone likes fish or wants to eat it.)

    I also hope that the speaker’s recommendation of taking fish oil supplements was mainly targeted at people who do not consume fish (or sea vegetables, which offer the same omega-3 fatty acids).

    I would much rather you get your DHA and EPA from actual food first, and consider supplements a “second best” choice.

    Furthermore, I hope she stressed that non-DHA/EPA sources of Omega-3’s offer a wide array of nutrients.

    Ditching walnuts and flaxseed and instead swallowing a spoonful of fish oil every morning isn’t necessarily a smart swap.

    What I COMPLETELY disagree with her on (and why I doubt she is an RD) is her colon cleanse recommendation. It is unnecessary and not particularly healthy. If people want to “flush out” their colons, all they need to do is consume more insoluble fiber and liquids. Plain and simple.

    Not to mention, I would love to ask this expert how, exactly, toxins accumulate in a body with a regularly functioning liver and kidneys. There is no evidence whatsoever supporting the belief that we need to cleanse ourselves of toxins.

    What I find most illogical is that people who furiously support colon cleanses apparently fail to realize that colon cleansing eliminates all the HEALTHY bacteria in the human gut and can cause electrolyte imbalances!

    If you’ll excuse me, I now need to go center myself.


    You Ask, I Answer: Tilapia

    I understand the importance of eating fish that have good levels of Omega 3 fatty acids for heart health.

    I always read about salmon, tuna, and sardines, but not about other fish.

    I like to eat tilapia. Is it a good source of Omega 3s?

    — Melissa Oswald
    Buffalo, NY

    Tilapia isn’t generally a fish I recommend to people looking to improve heart health through higher intakes of Omega-3 fatty acids.

    It’s not that tilapia is inherently unhealthy. My recommendation simply comes back to the issue of fish farming.

    You see, it’s very rare to find wild tilapia, so you can bet that whether you’re buying it at the supermarket or ordering it off the menu at a restaurant, you are getting a farmed version.

    That’s NOT good news. Rather than consuming their regular aquatic diet, these fish are being fed cheap, dependable corn.

    This ultimately results in negative health consequences for consumers.

    Earlier this year, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that the average Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio in a 3.5 ounce portion of farmed tilapia was a disconcerting 11:1 (wild salmon, meanwhile provides a 1:1 ratio.)

    As I have explained in previous posts, dietary Omega 6:Omega 3 ratio plays a significant role in heart health (Cliff’s Notes version: too much Omega-6 and not enough Omega-3 promotes inflammation, thereby increasing the risk of a number of diseases).

    This is probably why you don’t ever see tilapia mentioned in articles on heart-healthy fish.

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