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    Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

    For the Most Part, One Size Does Fit All

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

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

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    Thinking Organic? Think Beyond Fruits & Vegetables

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

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

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

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

    Does this result in a lot of nutrient losses?

    — Patricia (Last name withheld)
    Los Angeles, CA

    No.

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

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

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

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

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    You Ask, I Answer: Does Roasting Decrease Nutrition?

    Roasted_Harvest_Vegetables.ashxI love roasted vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, asparagus, green beans… you name it.  I’m concerned that roasting may cause a lot of nutrients to be lost, though.

    Is that true?

    — Jim Ayres
    Houston, TX

    Like grilling, barbecuing, broiling, and frying, roasting is deemed a “dry-heat” method of cooking.

    Dry-heat indicates that:

    • There is no water involved
    • Foods are cooked at a significantly higher temperature than they are under “moist-heat” conditions (i.e.: poaching, steaming, boiling, stewing, etc.)

    Whereas most moist-heat cooking methods negatively impact phytonutrient and water-soluble vitamin content (by leaching them out of the food and into the water), dry-heat techniques preserve nutrients very well.

    Remember, cooking breaks down vegetables’ cell walls, thereby making their minerals more bioavailable and easier to absorb.

    So roast away, Jim!  Be mindful of how much oil you roast in, though.

    PS: If you’re roasting potatoes or sweet potatoes, keep the skins on for extra nutrition.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

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

    Source: New York Times via Bureau of Labor Statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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    Numbers Game: Uh-Oh-Nomics

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

    Source: New York Times via Bureau of Labor Statistics

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

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

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    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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    You Ask, I Answer: Nutrition and Cancer Risk

    10_foods_berries_raychel_deppeWhat foods reduce the risk of cancer the most?

    — Ronald (Last name unknown)
    (Location unknown)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Keep in mind my “dartboard” visual:

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

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

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    Numbers Game: Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Some more interesting figures:

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

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

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

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

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

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    You Ask, I Answer: Raw vs. Cooked Vegetables

    celeryCan you please give us a list of vegetables that impart more nutrition when cooked vs. raw?

    I almost always prefer raw but, for example, in your article on carrots, you mention that they are more nutritious cooked vs. raw.

    Are there any other vegetables like  that?

    — Val (Last name unknown)
    (Location Unknown)

    In case this is your first time visiting Small Bites, Val’s question is in reference to a posting from a while back where I mentioned that the carotenoids (a group of phytonutrients) in orange, red, and yellow vegetables — such as carrots — become more bioavailable when that vegetable is cooked.

    While raw vegetables are nutritious in their own right, cooking vegetables is a great way to unleash their mineral content.  Cooking breaks down the cell wall, which is where the majority of minerals are stored.

    Recent research has also shown that antioxidants in celery, carrots, and tomatoes become more bioavailable when these vegetables are cooked.

    When you cook vegetables, the idea is to have minimal contact with water (which is why steaming and roasting are a better choice than boiling) in order to preserve as many nutrients as possible.

    The  bottom line is simple — for optimal health benefits, include plenty of vegetables (roughly 2 cups) in your diet every day (or as often as possible).

    I always counsel people to simply consume vegetables in whichever state they consider tastier (barring deep-frying, of course).  After all, the more pleasing your palate finds a food, the more likely you are to eat it!

    Personally, I think the best tactic is to eat both raw and cooked vegetables.

    Keep in mind that vitamins A, D, E, and K — as well as many health-promoting phytonutrients — must be eaten along with a small amount of fat in order to be absorbed.  This is why an all-vegetable salad with fat-free dressing (or simply vinegar and lemon) is a waste of nutrients!

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    Manwich’s Fuzzy Math

    IMG00014-20091028-1927Many thanks to eagle-eyed Small Bites reader Nilsa Duran who sent me the accompanying screen capture of the latest Manwich commercials.

    In case you can’t read clearly, the image contains the following statement:

    Each 1/4 cup serving of Manwich contains a 1/2 [sic] cup of vegetables.

    Huh?  How, exactly, does a quarter-cup serving of Manwich deliver a half cup of vegetables, you wonder?

    I was perplexed at first, too.

    However, a look at the Manwich ingredient list revealed what I believe to be the answer.

    Apart from the tomato puree — which makes up the large majority of this half-cup serving of vegetables — all other vegetables (mainly peppers and onions) are dehydrated.

    My guess is that the half-cup measurement refers to pre-dehydrated vegetables.

    While that’s fine and dandy, let’s not forget that each quarter-cup serving also offers 380 milligrams of sodium — slightly more than a large order of McDonald’s fries.

    Additionally, Manwich contains more added sugar (in the form of corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup) than peppers or onions.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Vegetable Sandwich Wraps

    08570ctAre spinach or tomato [sandwich] wraps healthier than ones just made with flour?

    — Whitney Piller
    Portland, ME

    All sandwich wraps — flavored or not — are made with some sort of flour (usually wheat; if gluten-free, alternatives are used).

    The dark green color of spinach (and dark red color of tomato) wraps is courtesy of vegetable powders.

    By the time vegetables are processed and turned into powders, most of their nutrition is gone.  A few vitamins (such as vitamin A) may remain in tiny amounts, but the phytochemicals and antioxidants don’t even come close to the amount offered in fresh or frozen vegetables.

    Vegetable-flavored wraps are usually not the best choice, since they all tend be made solely with enriched (white) flour.

    Since most restaurants and sandwich chops use extremely large wraps that pack in anywhere from 300 – 400 calories, I tend to stay away from them when eating out.

    At home, however, I like to make wraps with Tumaro’s multigrain 8-inch tortillas.

    Each tortilla delivers great taste, whole grains, and the following Small Bites-approved nutritional profile:

    • 100 calories
    • 115 milligrams sodium
    • 8 grams fiber
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    Enough With This Sneaky Vegetable Nonsense!

    goldfish_crackerAs many of you know, I vehemently oppose the hiding of vegetables in children’s desserts or savory snacks.

    This notion that children will only eat vegetables if they are masked by copious amounts of sugar and fat is misguided in several ways:

    • The inherent message is that “vegetables are not tasty in and of themselves”
    • Desserts and savory snacks with hidden vegetables offer paltry amounts of nutrition (ie: a mere half-cup of spinach — one serving — spread out amongst a DOZEN brownies)
    • It doesn’t allow children to determine, on their own accord, what vegetables they like — and do not like

    There are better alternate solutions to the ever-popular “my child won’t eat ANY vegetables!” dilemma.

    1. Try out different textures.  A child may hate steamed carrots, but love them raw (or vice versa).  If your child enjoys crunchy vegetables, work with that.
    2. Try dressing up vegetables in healthy ways.  For example, offer raw vegetables alongside bean-based dips, drizzle steamed vegetables with toasted sesame oil, or roast various vegetables in olive oil and spices
    3. Research has clearly shown that it takes roughly eight to twelve tries for a child to accept a vegetable (if it will be accepted at all).  When trying out a new vegetable, serve a tiny amount and simply ask your child if he/she would like to try this vegetable that you enjoy.  Regardless of their reaction after swallowing, thank them for trying.  You can try again — remember: TINY amounts — a few weeks later.
    4. Salsa (especially the fresh kind, like Trader Joe’s) is one way to add vegetables to a child’s day
    5. I see a lot of parents fret about daily vegetable consumption.  Step back and look at the bigger picture.  What are the child’s weekly eating patterns?
    6. It is entirely common for young children to go through phases (i.e.: the only vegetables they eat are tomatoes and celery).  They’ll eventually grow out of it.  I don’t see any reason to nag, particularly if the phase involves eating vegetables!

    In any case, this is all build-up to notify you of Pepperidge Farm’s latest: Goldfish “Garden Cheddar” crackers made with dried vegetable powder.

    “The senior vice president and general manager of [the company’s] snacks division says the addition of veggies should be seen by parents as ‘an unexpected bonus,” but I don’t see the big deal.

    Not only are dried vegetable powders nowhere near as nutritious as actual vegetables, but each serving of these new Goldfish crackers contains a third of a serving of vegetables.  In other words, the equivalent to mere eighth of a cup of cooked vegetables.

    My biggest concern is that consumers may view this product as “healthier”, when in reality it is no different from standard Goldfish crackers.

    Thank you to Corey Clark for forwarding me this news item.

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