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    Archive for the ‘polyphenols’ Category

    The Ultimate Olive Oil Guide

    The various health benefits of extra virgin olive oil are no secret, but many Americans don’t know they are very likely purchasing ‘faux’ olive oil, or olive oil which offers very few of those well-publicized healthful compounds. I absolutely despise nutritional and food rip-offs, consider this the ultimate olive oil guide — or what you can no longer afford to NOT know.

    Continue Reading »


    You Ask, I Answer: Adzuki Beans

    imageI’ve been vegetarian for almost four years, but moved to New York City last Fall.  I’ve suddenly come across new foods I had never heard of before.

    One of my favorite restaurants here serves a dish with adzuki beans.

    They taste great, but I know nothing about them.  I hadn’t heard of them before until I saw them on this menu.

    Are they nutritionally equivalent to all other beans?

    — Claire Klein
    New York, NY

    Despite their Chinese origins, adzuki beans are super popular in Japan, where they are most commonly made into red bean paste after having generous amounts of sugar added on!

    That’s right — if you’ve ever had red bean ice cream at a Japanese restaurant or a red bean bun at a Chinese restaurant, you’ve tasted adzuki beans.

    The healthiest way to eat them, of course, is “as is”.  I personally love to add them to a side dish of brown basmati or brown jasmine rice.

    Not only do adzuki beans deliver high amounts of folate, potassium, magnesium and zinc — they are also a wonderful source of lean protein.

    Another bonus?  Their fiber content is mainly made up of soluble fiber — the kind of fiber that helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and helps us feel fuller faster.

    Their bright red color holds another powerful secret — polyphenols!  Clinical studies have shown that adzuki’s polyphenols have powerful antioxidant properties and that adzuki beans offer more polyphenols than kidney beans, and soybeans!

    Most conventional supermarkets do not carry adzuki beans.  However, if you have any health food stores or Asian food markets in your area, you will surely find them.


    You Ask, I Answer: Why Isn’t a Multivitamin Enough?

    Get_the_Right_MultivitaminsThis morning, my 13 year-old son asked me why I always want him to have a healthy breakfast.

    I explained that I wanted to make sure he got the vitamins and minerals his body needs.

    His response was: “Well, why can’t I just have two Pop Tarts and [a multivitamin]?”

    I didn’t really know what to say to that!  What would you have said?

    — Teresa Womell
    (Location withheld)

    “Because as long as you’re living under MY roof…”

    No, kidding.

    Truth is, your initial answer backed you into this corner.  You mentioned that eating healthy foods is important in order to get necessary vitamins and minerals.

    While that is certainly an important part of the equation, nutrition goes far beyond vitamins and minerals.

    Foods also offer phytonutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants — chemical compounds that offer a variety of health benefits.

    Take an orange, for example.  It is a great source of vitamin C, folate, thiamin, and potassium.

    That’s fabulous in its own right — but there’s more!

    Oranges also offer approximately 150 phytochemicals and over 50 flavonoids that help lower our risk of heart disease, several cancers, and high blood pressure!  You simply can not get that from a supplement.


    You Ask, I Answer: Antioxidant Loss in Decaffeinated Tea?

    800px-tea_bagsI’ve recently switched to decaf green teas and am concerned that I might not be getting the same amount of antioxidants/polyphenols because of the process used.

    I’ve read that chemical processing removes a great deal of these along with the caffeine. My vendor lists the process for their teas as non-chemical Carbon Dioxide.

    Am I really losing that much by drinking decaf teas?

    I’ve also read that by steeping for 30 seconds and tossing the water out to steep again a second time removes a great deal of the caffeine because it’s very water soluable.

    I wonder how much caffeine that simple water based process can really remove.

    — Angelo Iacovella
    Doylestown, PA

    In the same way that different cooking techniques affect the nutrient content of food differently, the same applies to decaffeination processes.

    The most common form of decaffeinating a beverage is through the use of ethyl acetate, a chemical solvent.

    Since that is the most common form, it is also the process that has garnered the most research attention.

    The general consensus is that this form of caffeine extraction significantly reduces polyphenol and antioxidants levels in green tea (loss figures range from 40 to 75 percent per 8-ounce cup).

    This is not to say green tea becomes “unhealthy” or nutritionally worthless, but rather that its health-promoting properties are diminished.

    Keep in mind, though, that fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds also offer a wide array of polyphenols and antioxidants.

    Green tea offers some wonderfully healthy compounds, but it is not a magical potion.

    Carbon dioxide decaffeination is more expensive, and therefore far less common.  A small number of studies have looked at its effects on specific antioxidants and components found in green tea (mainly cacethins).

    The good news?  This process is less harsh on the studied components.

    The “not quite spectacular” news?  There is no research that demonstrates what effect, if any, carbon dioxide decaffeination has on other health-promoting components found in green tea.

    Let’s now answer your question regarding levels of caffeine extracted from throwing out water used to steep tea for 30 seconds.

    As that is not my field of expertise, I got in touch with three food chemists, all of whom are very familiar with the chemical properties of caffeine.

    Their consensus?  While caffeine is water soluble, thirty seconds is not enough time to warrant a substantial loss.

    One of them made mention to a study from approximately ten years ago (although he did not remember the journal in which it was published) which found that steeping a tea bag for five minutes resulted in two thirds of the caffeine content leeching out into the water.


    You Ask, I Answer: Grapes vs. Wine

    Out of curiosity, how many grapes would someone have to eat to equal a serving (how many ounces is that?) of wine?

    Also, is grape juice just as healthy as wine?

    — Patricia (last name unknown)
    Berkeley, CA

    Is it only red grapes that offer health benefits?

    — “WifeMomChocoholic”
    Via the blog

    As I mentioned in a previous post, the same buzz-worthy components in red wine are available in red grapes. One slight exception to the rule is resveratrol, which is simply more concentrated in wine.

    One reason you don’t hear quite as much about white wine, by the way, is because the production process separates the grape’s flesh from the skin (for red wine, the whole fruit is used).

    If you want to talk numbers, your average bottle of wine is made from approximately 600 grapes.

    Now, let’s do some math.

    A standard wine bottle contains roughly 25 ounces. According to MyPyramid guidelines, one serving of wine is equal to 5 ounces.

    Therefore, one serving of wine contains 120 grapes. That helps us better understand the recommendations of drinking, rather than eating, the fruit.

    That is not to say, of course, that you need to eat 120 grapes to get health benefits (FYI — one serving of fresh grapes is made up of 15 individual pieces).

    As far as grape juice is concerned — the health benefits are not quite up to those of wine.

    Remember, the vast majority of grape juices are made from concentrate (which is largely made up of the naturally-occurring sugars). Consequently, a lot of the polyphenols and antioxidants found in grape skins do not make it to the final product.

    Although red wine (and, therefore, red grapes) offers a wider variety of healthful components in larger amounts, don’t cast off white grapes. Even though white wine is not made from grape skins, the fruit’s flesh offers a fair share of polyphenols and antioxidants.


    You Ask, I Answer: Green Tea & Weight Loss

    Do you think all the hoopla about drinking green tea has merit for weight loss?

    — Beth (last name withheld)
    Portland, ME

    This is one of those situations where the science certainly looks promising, but when I consider what we currently know about human application, I think people are jumping the gun.

    There is yet to be any major study showing how green tea affects human weight loss.

    For example, a well-known 1999 human study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which concluded that flavonoids present in green tea (known as cacethins) had metabolism-boosting properties only consisted of ten subjects.

    The most extensive studies on this topic have been done on mice.

    One of the latest studies, published in the February 2008 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, focused on mice with a genetic predisposal to obesity.

    That study, like several others, showed what appears to be a strong link between a polyphenol in green tea known as EGCG (that stands for epigallocatechin-3-gallate, in case you were wondering) and weight.

    More specifically, the mice on a diet supplemented with EGCG gained less weight than those whose diet did not contain the extract.

    It is worth pointing out that in that particular study, the mice on the EGCG diet consumed the human equivalent of seven cups of green tea.

    Which leads me to why I find blanket statements like “green tea burns fat” to be overly simplistic.

    First of all, it appears that to experience any of the thermogenic (body temperature raising) effects, humans need to drink at least seven cups a day.

    Second, from the limited studies on humans, it appears that these components in green tea raise calorie expenditure through thermogenesis (essentially heat production) by approximately 4 percent.

    Now it’s time for some math.

    Let’s assume that within a 24 hour period of complete rest (think doing nothing but laying on a bed — this is known as your basal metabolic rate) your body burns 1,500 calories.

    If you apply the four percent increase from that particular human study, you can conclude that consuming seven cups of green tea a day would raise that total to 1,560 calories.

    Keep in mind, though, that if you sweeten each of those seven cups of tea with just one teaspoon of sugar, you are tacking on 112 calories to your day.

    So, here is my stance. If you enjoy sipping green tea, that’s great.

    It’s a wonderful beverage that, when consumed plain, offers not only a variety of polyphenols and antioxidants, but also an absence of calories.

    However, as regular readers of this blog know, I oppose the attribution of weight-loss characteristics to specific foods, as it is ultimately overall eating patterns — and caloric intake — that affect weight.

    So, if green tea is not to your liking, you are not at a weight-loss disadvantage.


    In The News: Eat Food, Not Vitamins

    I fear how some members of the mainstream media will report on the latest finding from the Physicians Health Study that “Vitamin C or E pills do not help prevent cancer in men.”

    I certainly hope I don’t come across any “why oranges may not be as healthy as you might think,” teasers on any news shows.

    I am actually quite glad these well-publicized studies are arriving at these firm conclusions.

    They make it absolutely clear that simply isolating nutrients in pill form and downing them with a glass of water every morning has very little to do with disease risk reduction.

    In fact, this is precisely why dietitians have been recommending the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains for decades.

    It is not just one vitamin or mineral that helps lower disease risk.

    Rather, it is the interaction and interplay between vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols, and other compounds in food that provide health benefits. An orange is much more than vitamin C in a refreshing package.

    Don’t expect the multivitamin companies to let you in on that tidbit anytime soon.


    Food For Thought — Literally!

    Kellogg’s has just launched Live Bright — a “brain health bar.”

    What leads them to make this claim? The inclusion — through fortification, of course — of 100 milligrams of DocosaHexaenoic Acid (DHA, the same Omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines.)

    This is a perfect example of nutrient isolation gone awry.

    Does DHA play a role in cognitive health? It very much appears that way.

    Then again, so do vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, zinc, iron, and a variety of polyphenols and antioxidants.

    In other words — orange juice companies and blueberry farmers could, I suppose, also make brain health claims.

    As could the most sugary of cereals, for that matter, as long as it is fortified with the above mentioned nutrients.

    These types of health claims end up having very little meaning because they make up only portion of the total puzzle.

    While DHA can help with cognitive health, so does maintaining a healthy weight, keeping blood pressure at desired levels, and limiting saturated fat intake (neuroscience research studies have shown a link between high saturated fat intake and a decline in cognitive function over time.)

    Including one of these bars in a diet generally low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — and high in saturated fat and sodium — isn’t going to be much help.


    Celebrities — They’re Just Like Us! They Follow Senseless Fad Diets!

    During a long wait at the doctor’s office today I picked up a recent issue of Us Weekly.

    Lo and behold, I came across this weight-loss piece.

    Turns out that former dancer Tracy Anderson — who now trains Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow; the three are pictured alongside this post — has created a “perfectly healthy” (her words, not mine) diet plan that promises a net loss of 20 pounds in just 6 weeks.

    Anderson claims that “signature strategy” helps women achieve the “teeny-tiny dancer type” body so many of them desire.

    Allow me to pull out my huge red flag.

    Anything that promises readers to achieve a dancer’s physique should make your BS detectors light up.

    Talk about unrealistic expectations! Dancers achieve their bodies through years of intense training.

    Let’s not forget, too, that the dance world has very high rates of eating disorders. That figure is not just about eating grilled salmon and steamed veggies for dinner every night.

    Someone carrying 50 extra pounds on their frame who does not exercise regularly should not be promised such an unrealistic result.

    Oh, but wait, that’s right — Anderson claims to have independently tested 100 women (what a conveniently round number!) over the past 5 years.

    Therefore she must know what she’s talking about, right? Wrong.

    Her “signature strategy” is nothing more than an alarmingly drastic caloric reduction (which we’ll get to in a bit).

    The plan strictly forbids processed foods, dairy, and spices. Red flag number TWO.

    Anderson, who as far as I know is not a registered dietitian and has not studied nutrition, claims that dairy and spices result in bloating and upset the digestive system, thereby resulting in fat storage.

    If she DID study nutrition, where did she get her degree? Bizarro University?

    Spices are wonderfully healthy — they offer a variety of nutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.

    Furthermore, there is absolutely no evidence linking spices to bloating or fat storage.

    As for dairy, unless someone is lactose intolerant, I don’t see any reason for avoiding it, particularly fat-free dairy, which is a wonderful source of protein and calcium.

    The second week of the plan mostly eliminates snacks, leaving dieters with three paltry meals.

    One Wednesday, for instance, suggests:


    1 cup nonfat rice milk
    1 poached egg


    1 slice whole wheat toast
    2 strips veggie bacon
    1/2 cup tomatoes
    1/2 cup spinach


    3 – 5 oz. grilled seabass
    1/2 cup steamed spinach

    That adds up to approximately 850 calories! Well, yeah, you’re bound to lose weight when you basically starve yourself.

    Whatever happened to that “perfectly healthy” quote? This is anything but.

    As far as I’m concerned, anyone telling you to eat sushi rolls without soy sauce needs to have their head checked (not to mention, why is sushi part of a plan that only allows whole grains?).

    I know people do not turn to Us Weekly for the latest in health and nutrition research, but there needs to be some accountability here.

    A meal plan such as this one — very low in calories and nutrients — should not be glamorized. This is basically a semi-starvation diet with two big celebrity names attached.

    The three meals listed above contribute approximately 10 grams of fiber — less than half a day’s worth!

    That day’s worth of food only offers one serving of whole grains, very little vitamin E, not enough potassium, very little calcium, no Omega-3’s…. I could go on and on.

    As much as it often irritates me, I can accept the fact that celebrity mags will never shed the weight-loss pieces (they entice a lot of readers at the newsstand), but is too much to ask that they turn to respectable sources, like Registered Dietitians?

    Or, at the very least, do 2 minutes of fact checking on whatever meal plan is being offered?

    Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand were right — ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!


    In The News: Olive Oil and Aging

    Mariam Amash is an Israeli woman who claims to be 120 years old.

    If this factoid is validated, it would make her the oldest documented person in the world.

    When asked about her longevity secrets, one of Mariam’s daughters pointed out that her mother drinks “a glass of olive oil every day.”

    Very well then.

    Yesterday afternoon, Mary Kearl of AOL Body & Mind asked me about that claim, as well as the beneficial properties of olive oil.

    Read the article — including my comments — here.

    PS: There is a slight “quoting error” I notified the author about.

    I had mentioned that the Food & Drug Administration does not test imported oils, but the article erroneously identifies the United States Department of Agriculture as the organization.


    In The News: Corrupted Virginity

    Extra virgin olive oil is considered the champion of all oils thanks to its high amounts of polyphenols, antioxidants, and monounsaturated fats.

    This powerful combination has been shown to decrease risks of heart disease (by lowering ‘bad cholesterol’), high blood pressure, and even breast cancer, according to some promising research from the Canary Islands.

    Sounds great, doesn’t it?

    Well, here’s a reality check you might not be too keen on cashing — that “extra virgin” olive oil you have been buying might be anything but!

    Reader Chris Davis notified me of a lengthy article published by The New Yorker earlier this year which spotlights worldwide olive oil fraud, a market laden with corruption and political scandals that can produce as much money as cocaine trafficking.

    Since reading the article, I have done a bit more research and want to share the not too uplifting news with you.

    A lot of supposed extra-virgin olive oil is really soy or hazelnut oil that has been adulterated.

    Unfortunately, the words “imported from Italy” do not necessarily mean what you think.

    If low-quality oils from North Africa are shipped to Italy, where they are then tampered with and bottled, the packaging can legally claim that oil is an Italian import.

    You might take that to mean that Tuscan olives from a small farm are made into extra virgin olive oil. Wrong!

    The Food and Drug Administration does not test oils coming into the United States for adulteration.

    Although a group known as the North American Olive Oil Association takes care of that — and they have discovered several distributors selling inferior quality oils as extra virgin — their testing is nowhere near as rigorous as that f the International Olive Oil Council.

    There are currently several proactive anti-fraud ideas being floated around.

    One would require all bottles of extra virgin olive oil to list the acidity of their contents (to be considered extra virgin, olive oil must contain an acidity of no more than 0.8%).

    Of course, who is to say that these figures can’t be doctored with the exchange of cold hard cash?

    One interesting solution to this problem comes from the region of Andalucia in Spain (one of the world’s largest manufacturers of olive oil). There are talks of using molecular cell technology to determine if olive oil labeled as extra virgin matches the structure of the authetic product.

    In the meantime, what can you do as a consumer? From a label standpoint, look for any bottles bearing the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) stamp of approval.

    If this is absent, see if the label lists the acidity figures for the supposed extra virgin olive oil. Look for an acidity level of 0.8% or less.

    No luck? Look at the price tag. A liter of olive oil at $7.99 is highly unlikely to be extra virgin.

    For more information, check out the International Olive Oil Council’s website.


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