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Archive for the ‘servings’ Category

You Ask, I Answer: Following the Food Pyramid

MyPyramidI classify my diet as “pretty healthy”.  I eat a variety of food and really limit processed junk and sugars.

The other day I was reading the food pyramid [recommendations], and I realized my diet is a little off.

For example, I am supposed to have 6 ounces of grains a day, but most days I get three or four.  Some days, my only grain consumption of the day is a cup of brown rice [2 servings] with lunch and a half cup [1 serving quick-cooking oats I'll add to a smoothie (you suggested that in a blog post last year and I LOVE it!!).

I eat a lot more vegetables than the food pyramid recommends, and some days twice the fruit than I "should".  That is all [whole pieces] of fruit, not a bunch of glasses of Tropicana with breakfast.

Should I be concerned about this?  Should I cut back a little bit on fruits and vegetables and eat more whole grains?  My weight is healthy, I feel fine, and I have never had cholesterol or hypertension issues or wacked levels of anything on blood tests.

– Samantha Ondry
(Location withheld)

You don’t need to abide one hundred percent by the food pyramid (now known as MyPyramid).

Lobbying and politics aside (ie: there is a “milk” group, as opposed to a much-more-objective-and-scientifically-sound “calcium-rich foods” group), the main point of it is to provide general guidelines to the general population.

The main message I like to communicate to my clients about MyPyramid is that plant-based foods should make up a significant percentage of their diet.

There is absolutely no need to be concerned about the fact that you are surpassing fruit and vegetable recommendations and “not meeting” grain recommendations, particularly if you are in good health and are not overweight, AND this intake is from whole foods.

It’s important to note that many of the key nutrients in grain products are also found in fruits and vegetables.

Would adding an extra cup or cup and a half of whole grains to your day hurt?  Not at all, provided you reduced calories from other foods to maintain your current caloric intake.

Do I think you absolutely must increase your grain intake at the moment?  Not based on what you tell me.

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You Ask, I Answer: A Vegetable-Free Day

bowlofvegetablesWould it impact your health if you occasionally (i.e. once in 4 or 6 weeks) went for a day without eating any veggies at all, assuming you get your 4-5 servings of vegetables everyday otherwise?

– Purnima Anand
New  York, NY

No.

When it comes to nutrition’s effects on health, you need to keep in mind the concept of “general dietary patterns”.

If you consume four to five servings of vegetables 330 days of the year (and, say, none on the other 30 days, which is quite a stretch), you still come out with an average of 3.6 to 4.5 servings per day for that year.

By the way: the lower number assumes four servings per day for 330 days, while the higher figure was calculated using five daily servings for 330 days.

Besides, I’m sure that on the days you don’t eat any vegetables you are eating other healthful foods (ie: seeds, nuts, fruits, whole grains, spices, etc.) that offer fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

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You Ask, I Answer: Ideal Vegetable Intake?

veggiesI am more than familiar with the “five a day” concept of vegetables, but is there such a thing as an ideal intake of vegetables?

For example, are there guidelines for specific types of vegetables we should be eating?

– Maria Purken
(Location withheld)

There most certainly are guidelines.

Let’s first clarify the concept of “five a day” when it comes to vegetable intake.

At recent lectures and talks, some people have expressed confusion with the notion of “vegetable servings”.

“Five a day” refers to eating 5 half-cup servings of vegetables every day.

FYI: while most vegetable servings are set at a half-cup, it takes a whole cup of raw leafy green vegetables (like lettuce, spinach, and arugula) to make a serving.

In any case, of those recommended two-and-a-half cups of vegetables a day, here is how it should ideally break down, per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

  • One half cup of dark, leafy green vegetables
  • One half cup of orange vegetables

The remaining one-and-a-half cups can come from starchy vegetables (i.e.: potatoes, corn) or other non-starchy vegetables (i.e.: red peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, onions, etc.)

That said, I don’t like the nutritional tunnel-vision that can happen when one only considers daily intake.

I find it much more helpful to take a “bigger picture” approach and consider weekly consumption patterns.

I know from experience that there are days when I eat three servings of vegetables, and others where I might get as many as eight or nine.

In fact, the actual guidelines are expressed as weekly — rather than daily — amounts.

Bottom line, though, you want to make sure to get orange and dark, leafy green vegetables regularly!

Remember, too, that two-and-a-half-cups is simply a goal.  It’s perfectly okay to have three or three-and-a-half-cups in one day.

PS: Vegetable servings aren’t as daunting as some people think.  Consider, for example, that one of these servings is equal to ten baby carrots!

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And The Award For Most Ridiculous Serving Size Goes To…

24whirlyEarlier this afternoon I stumbled upon Economy Candy, a candy store in New York City’s Lower East Side.

Although relatively small in size, the store offers an array of sweets, from ’70s classics to chocolate halva to Coldstone Creamery jelly candies.

In one corner, a colorful display of medium-sized “whirly pops” caught my eye.

They were your standard rainbow swirl lollipops (that swirl can be quite hypnotic, by the way!).

I grabbed one, turned it around, and could not believe the nutrition label.

The serving size for this single-serve three-ounce lollipop?  One-third of a piece!

Ridiculous!  It is times like these when the Food & Drug Administration’s serving reference amounts do the public no favors (per FDA labeling rules, one serving of candy is equal to one ounce, regardless of how the item is meant to be consumed.)

In 1994, the FDA no longer allowed manufacturers to determine serving sizes.  While uniformity among different brands and products was a smart move, the FDA claims their serving reference amounts “reflect the amounts people actually eat” (and drink).

I beg to differ, especially when it concerns items clearly sold — and meant to be consumed — as single-serve items (like three-ounce lollipops or 20-ounce bottles of soda).

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Numbers Game: Answer

chinese takeoutThe standard takeout container for a side of rice from a Chinese restaurant contains 2 cup(s) of rice, equivalent to 415 calories.

(Note: One-half cup of cooked rice constitutes “one Pyramid serving” of grains)

For many people, this side dish of rice covers more than half of their recommended grain servings for the day.

Unfortunately, most people often perceive “a side of rice” as just one grain serving, regardless of the amount they eat!

This also demonstrates how quickly the calories in a standard Chinese lunch special add up.

Let’s crunch some numbers:

  • Average lunch special entree: 350 – 500 calories
  • Average side of rice: 415 calories (remember, all that rice is tightly packed!)
  • Average egg roll (comes with lunch special): 150 – 200 calories
  • Average packet of egg roll sauce: 25 – 30 calories
  • Can of soda (again, comes with lunch special): 143 calories
  • Average order of hot & sour soup (also comes with lunch special): 100 calories

On average, you are looking at a lunch that provides anywhere from 1,183 to 1,388 calories.  This is roughly 70 percent of a 45-year-old man’s recommended daily calorie intake.

Certainly explains why you tend to crave an early afternoon nap whenever the office orders Chinese!

Next time a co-worker brings a Chinese restaurant menu to your office for “fried pork Friday”, be prepared.  Donate your egg roll, split your side of rice with someone else, and opt for a calorie-free beverage.  Those three minor changes save you a grand total of 475 calories!

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You Ask, I Answer: Serving Sizes

I looked at the nutrition label for Jif To Go and now I am extremely confused.

The label lists two serving sizes.

One is for the whole cup, [which contains] 390 calories.

The [other serving size is for] “1/2 cup (32g)” which has 190 calories.

Okay, fine. But then I look at the regular standard jar of Jif peanut butter, and its label says:”2 Tablespoons(32g)=190 calories.”

[What I can't understand] is how, according to these two labels, a half cup of peanut butter weighs as much as two tablespoons?

– Corey Clark
(location withheld)


Ah, good ol’ serving size puzzles.

Let’s work this one out.

The “1 cup” mentioned on the Jif-to-Go food label is not a literal 1 cup measurement, but rather refers to container (AKA “cup”) of Jif-to-Go, which contains four tablespoons of peanut butter.

In other words, one Jif to Go cup (notice my wording — it is very different from saying “a cup of Jif To Go”) contains a quarter cup of peanut butter.

Therefore, half a container of Jif To Go offers the standard two-tablespoon serving you see on peanut butter jars.

Dizzy yet?

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You Ask, I Answer: Food Labeling/Marinades

Having just tossed a jar of marinated mushrooms with shrimp for dinner, I wonder [the following:]

Does the “10 calories per serving” [figure] include both the marinade and the mushrooms, or just the mushrooms?

Would the answer be the same for all marinated foods and fruits in juice/syrup?

– Luis [last name unknown]
Fort Knox, KY

Whatever caloric — and nutrient — values appear on a food label apply to the sum of every ingredient in that product.

Unless the label has two separate columns (say, one labeled “mushrooms” and another titled “mushrooms and marinade”), you can assume the provided figures apply to both the mushrooms and the marinade.

Since these mushrooms clock in at just 10 calories per serving, I am assuming the marinade is fat-free and made up mostly of vinegar and spices.

Anyway, the same principle applies to fruits canned in heavy syrup — the values on that label are very different from those of peaches packed in water.

You often see the two-column food label with:

Cereal (one column lists values for the cereal, the other figures in a certain amount of non-fat milk)

Quick-cooking grains with accompanying flavor pouches (one column lists values for the grain, the other — usually VERY high in sodium — provides nutrition information once the flavor packet is factored in.)

And, most recently, with…

Some 20 ounce soda bottles and “single portion” chips (one column lists “a serving,” the other lists values for the entire container.)

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You Ask, I Answer/Perfect Pickings: Cereal

I love cereal and eat it almost every morning but I often feel like the ones I eat are probably too sugary or not very substantial.

Can you recommend a cereal or two that you consider healthy and nutritious?

– Jenna Kozel
Washington, DC

Since the cereal market is so vast, I find it easier to recommend particular nutrient values and ingredients to look for in these products.

The first thing to take note of is the serving size.

Many brands of granola, for instance, use a quarter cup as their serving size, which is absolutely laughable.

A lot of cereals, meanwhile, list their serving size as a half cup.

If you have a measuring cup at home, please pour enough cereal into it to fill it to the brim. Yes, that tiny amount is what many companies use as a “serving.” Unreal!

What I recommend you do as early as tomorrow morning is pour the amount of cereal you normally eat into a bowl.

Then, use a measuring cup to determine the exact amount of cereal in that bowl.

Keep that figure as a reference each time you read a cereal’s nutrition label, as it will help you make smarter choices when shopping.

Let’s say you eat 1.5 cups of cereal every morning.

If a cereal using half cup servings delivers 150 calories per serving, while another using 1 cup servings offers 200, you now know which is the better choice for you (in this case, the latter would add 300 calories to your day, while the first one would add up to 450.)

You also want to pay attention to fiber content.

I recommend anywhere from 4 to 7 grams of fiber per serving.

Again, since the average person eats more than one serving of cereal in one sitting, I don’t think it’s necessary to track down cereals offering fiber in the double digits.

Sugar values are also important. I consider up to 3 grams per serving to be the limit (especially since, again, most people eat two or three servings of cereal at a time).

Be careful with cereals containing raisins or other fruit, as the naturally-occurring fruit sugars “unfairly” drive up sugar numbers.

Twelve grams of sugar per serving from a cereal with marshmallows offers less nutrition than twelve grams of sugar from a cereal that contains raisins (which provide antioxidants and phytonutrients.)

If you enjoy raisins in your cereal, you — and your wallet — are better off buying raisins separately and adding them yourself.

Finally, take a look at the ingredient list. You want to this to be short and, ideally, be absent of refined grains (i.e.: enriched wheat flour.)

When in doubt, look for the Whole Grains Council Stamp.

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Numbers Game: Answer

An average 6-piece inside-out ‘uramaki’ sushi roll (rice on the outside, nori on the inside, as pictured at right) at a Japanese restaurant in the United States contains 1 cup of rice.

(Note: 1 serving of rice = 1/2 cup)

This is a perfect example of a relatively healthy, low-calorie Asian meal undergoing a monstrous caloric metamorphosis upon arriving to the United States.

In Japan, the vast majority of sushi is eaten nigiri style (this is where rice is compacted into a small rectangle underneath each piece of fish) or maki style (nori/seaweed on the outside of each piece.)

It’s also significant that maki rolls are approximately a half or a third of the size of inside out varieties common on this side of the Pacific Ocean.

This figure means that 6 pieces of an inside-out roll pack in slightly less than 200 calories from the rice alone.

Order two of those puppies and you are up to 4 servings of grains, per USDA pyramid standards.

Another calorie shocker? Spicy rolls contain anywhere from 100 to 150 moe calories than their traditional counterparts — the special sauce is basically mayonnaise with a kick.

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Numbers Game: Rice ‘n Roll

An average 6-piece inside-out sushi roll (rice on the outside, nori on the inside, as pictured at left) at a Japanese restaurant in the United States contains _________ of rice.

(Note: 1 serving of rice = 1/2 cup)

a) 1/3 cup
b) 1/2 cup
c) 1 cup
d) 1.5 cups

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

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Numbers Game: Answer

How many pistachio nuts make up a 1-ounce, 158-calorie serving?

Answer: 49

That’s more than double the amount of almonds that make up a 1-ounce serving!

Although all nuts are wonderful additions to a diet and share similar caloric values per ounce (between 140 – 150 calories), pistachios stand out because it takes a LOT of them to add up to that weight.

They are particularly helpful for people cutting back on total calories who psychologically need to see a lot of food in front of them to feel “properly full.”

Consider this: you can get the same amount of calories in 49 pistachios in just three Oreo cookies! It also doesn’t hurt that you get 6 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and 7% of the Daily Value of iron.

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Numbers Game: Strength In Numbers

How many pistachio nuts make up a 1-ounce, 158-calorie serving?

a) 17
b) 49

c) 26
d) 30

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

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You Ask, I Answer: Quinoa Cookies

This weekend at a health food store I saw that a company called Andean Dreams sells quinoa cookies!

I have tried quinoa in the past and think it’s bland.

If I was to snack on just one of these cookies a day (only 140 calories), would it count as a serving of quinoa?

– Natalie (last name withheld)
Hackensack, NJ

That would certainly be convenient, wouldn’t it?

I’m going to have to burst your bubble and tell you that no, two of these cookies don’t come close to a serving of actual quinoa.

Let me explain why.

First up, the ingredient list:

Organic Royal Quinoa flour, tapioca flour, rice flour, non-hydrogenated palm fruit oil, sugar cane juice, brown sugar, Quinoa pop grains, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), orange peel.”

Although quinoa flour is a whole grain (offering approximately 4 grams of fiber per quarter cup), these cookies contain a mix of quinoa, tapioca, and rice flour.

Thus, they are technically “cookies made with quinoa flour” rather than “quinoa cookies,” but that’s marketing for you!

Notice, too, that there are two ingredients contributing sugar (sugar cane juice and brown sugar.)

Now, let’s look at the nutrition facts.

Two cookies contain less than a gram of fiber, and a mere gram of protein.

Again, this is inferior to eating half a cup (one serving) of pure quinoa, which adds up to 3 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein.

Seeking healthy ingredients in otherwise nutritionally empty foods is exactly what many food companies want you to do.

I, however, would like you to enjoy a cookie because of its flavor, rather than a healthy ingredient that, as a result of either being heavily processed or mixed with refined grains and sugars, ends up contributing very little to the product’s nutritional profile.

If you find quinoa bland, try topping it with sautéed vegetables or adding chopped walnuts and raisins to it.

If you find it bland after implementing those ideas, then just enjoy other whole grains.

Although quinoa offers plenty of nutrition, so do many other foods.

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Survey Results: Nutrition Labels, Part Deux

The latest Small Bites survey asked readers what values they paid most attention to when reading food labels.

The most important figure on a label relates to calories per serving — at least that’s how seventy-five percent of respondents voted.

The ingredients list (32%), fiber content (30%), and serving size (29%) also received a good deal of votes.

While saturated fat was considered important by 23% of readers, total fat content received a significant 40% of votes.

I’m not too sure why this is the case.

Fat content in and of itself doesn’t tell us much about the food that we can’t already gauge by taking a look at calories per serving (since fat contributes 9 calories per gram, foods with higher fat contents provide more calories than lower-fat ones).

If you only look at total fat values, wonderfully healthy foods like guacamole or walnuts appear no different than brownies or ice cream sandwiches.

When it comes to fat content, saturated fat (and trans fat, although once food companies were mandated to display trans fat figures on their products they miraculously found new trans-fat-free formulas for their products) is the value to keep your eye on.

Remember, high intakes of saturated fat are linked to higher risks of heart disease and a decrease in HDL (or “good”) cholesterol.

Guacamole, though, is mostly composed of monounsaturated fats (the kind that help lower LDL — or “bad” — cholesterol).

This is why fat content — without a more specific breakdown — isn’t an appropriate factor to base food purchases on (unless, as previously mentioned, you are trying to gauge calories).

I was surprised to see that vitamin and mineral values are largely considered irrelevant. Only 5 percent of respondents consider vitamin content to be important, and a measly 4 percent feel that way about mineral figures.

A huge thank you to those of you who took a minute to participate!

Please leave comments and thoughts on the results in the “comments” section.

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Pocket Full of Junk

This weekend I saw an advertisement for Hot Pockets Calzone, the company’s “heartiest sandwich yet.”

“This is more of what you’re hungry for,” it exclaimed.

So I went ahead and investigated just what Hot Pockets offers and, if anything, my hunger immediately disappeared.

Per the box for the four meat and four cheese calzone, one filled pastry pocket is enclosed.

It is illustrated as two halves on the box, so we can truly appreciated the myriad of melted processed cheeses oozing out.

Oh, but there’s another crafty reason for that illustration.

Although you are buying one calzone, the nutrition information on the back defines one serving as HALF a calzone.

Do they truly expect someone to heat one of these up and eat the other half another day?

This is the kind of food that becomes a horribly textured mess after sitting out for too long. Imagine it undergoing reheating?

In any case, all the nutrition values on the back need to be multiplied by two.

Alas, here is what you get when you eat “two halves” of this “hearty” new sandwich (which, mind you, is advertised mainly as a snack, rather than a meal):

600 calories
26 grams of fat
10 grams of saturated fat (half a day’s worth)
1500 milligrams of sodium (two third of a day’s worth)

A pathetic four grams of fiber
(pathetic for a 600-calorie food)
26 grams of sugar (assuming ten or so are naturally occurring in the cheese, that’s still a tablespoon of added sugar!)

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