Chocoholics Rejoice!

In a new Harvard study, researchers found that eating a small amount of dark chocolate daily reduces the risk of some types of stroke by 52%. Per the study author cited in the article, “There are several possible mechanisms, but the effect of rich cocoa on cardiovascular health seems to be through its effect on blood pressure, and the capacity to improve the flexibility of the blood vessels.” While not the most common type of stroke, and although it appeared to have no effect on overall cardiac health, I will gladly take this as a sign to continue my chocolicious ways guilt-free. Nom nom nom.

Toxic Popcorn…Again?!?

Effect, Meet Cause

The First Step Is Admitting You Have Problem

I gots one.

I just downed an unholy amount of Veggie Crunchers – they are deeeeeelish!

I’m feeling rather…….full.

They were so nice, I was going to do a review and whatnot, but for reasons unknown, the product is not featured on its manufacturer, Amport Food’s website, which is annoying. And then I was going to take a photo of the bag, but, quite frankly, it’s much less attractive when it’s not full (read: mostly empty), so I’m linking you to someone else’s blog for pics instead. She has a great review on there as well.

Veggie Crunchers are basically thinly sliced vegetables (sweet potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, taro, and green beans) vacuum dried, rather than fried and then lightly coated in nonhydrogenated canola oil and sea salt. I admit I had to look up Taro since I can’t say I’m the most adventurous eater out there.

The result is fantastic. They are just as crisp and crunchy as if they has been deep fried, but without the scary carcinogenic health risks. Each variety is sweet yet salty, but not overwhelmingly either. And the green beans, which are not my favorite vegetable, are crispy and sweet and almost unrecognizable to the palate. And yes, the taro is quite tasty as well.

There are no preservatives or artificial colors – the veggies keep their own colors quite well. Besides fresh vegetables, canola oil, and sea salt, the only other ingredient is dextrin, which makes for a short ingredients list which makes for a happy mommy. I cannot tell you how often I am excited about a product and yet horrified by the ingredients list.

I’m under no delusion that this product can replace vegetables on a daily basis, but it’s a great choice for school lunches, on-the-go-snacks, or to replace a less healthy option.

The downside is that as far as I can tell, the product is available only at Costco where I paid six-something for a fourteen ounce bag.

The picky four year old begged me to try them and promptly spat out the carrot I offered. I don’t think it was what he was expecting – carrots are his favorite veggie, but the texture was so different. He then he warily tried some of the other flavors. I may or may not have fibbed and said they were all “fancy potatoes” but he liked them enough to finish what I offered him and ask for a couple more pieces.

Babybeast ate the bits I gave her and screeched for more, so they were definitely a hit with her.

The five year old is part goat. He devours most anything in his path. I have have absolutely no doubt that he will snarf however much he is offered and then hound me for more. The child eats almost constantly – this is the one who is likely to be 6’5″ or so like his uncle.

Mr. Lawyer will not get to sample them, but he’d probably like them if I had left any for him to try….

Have You Had Your Dose of Sunshine Today?

A whopping 70 percent of American kids aren’t getting enough vitamin D, and such youngsters tend to have higher blood pressure and lower levels of good cholesterol than their peers, according to two new studies published this week in the journal Pediatrics. Low vitamin D levels also may increase a child’s risk of developing heart disease later in life, experts say.

Wow – 70 percent? I would not have guessed that. I know that the human body, when exposed to sunlight produces its own vitamin D and of course, we all know that milk is typically fortified with both A & D, but that almost three quarters of kids are deficient in the nutrient is definitely more than I would have expected.

I suppose this is due to several factors. One is that kids today drink less milk than we did as children and overall, they are not drinking enough. Why? I’m not certain – there are more beverage choices out there in general, for starters. And there are other drinks fortified with calcium that some children drink, like orange juice that do not contain Vitamin D. And for many kids, it’s just not cool to drink milk after a certain age. The main concern there is of course the need for calcium is also not being met, but that important source of vitamin D is another side effect. While I do think that a perfectly healthy diet can be achieved without milk or even animal products at all, milk is by far the most convenient way for kids to get the needed amounts of calcium and D.

The largest factor perhaps is that parents are more wary of sun overexposure. My kids stay out of midday sun entirely, unless they are coated in sunscreen. I can recall many a trip to Galveston, Texas as a child where we would be forced to put on some SPF 8 sunscreen in the morning and come back terribly burnt and blistered. Not only was decent sunscreen unavailable, but parents were unschooled in its proper use and why it is so important. While our parents may not have known the dangers back in the 1970’s, experts have long known that childhood burns are particularly menacing:

Severe childhood and teen-age sunburns are more than twice as likely to lead to skin cancer as severe sunburns later in life, researchers say.

Intense, blistering sunburns have long been linked to malignant melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer. Previous studies had found that children who had been seriously sunburned were at greater risk for melanoma than children who were not. But the new study is the first to show that the dangers are much greater when intense sunburns occur in adolescence than when they occur later in life.

It’s no wonder parents now keep their children from the sun as much as possible, but new studies are questioning the benefit of sheltering kids from the sun too much. Many experts now suggest limited daily sun exposure for children:

Also, parents should help their children get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure daily without sunscreen. “Set your watch and then apply sunscreen after 15 minutes,” Melamed says.

Another reason for less sun exposure these days is the influence of video games, television and DVRs, and general lack of activity. This ties in to the childhood obesity problem as well, but one effect is a decreased production of the body’s vitamin D and resulting from that, the effects of that deficiency:

Children with the lowest vitamin D levels were more likely to have higher blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and low blood levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, the study found….

There was a clear association with cardiovascular risk factors. The 25 percent of youngsters with the lowest levels of vitamin D were 2.36 times more likely to have high blood pressure, 54 percent more likely to have low HDL cholesterol levels, 2.54 times more likely to have elevated blood sugar levels and 3.88 times more likely to have metabolic syndrome, a constellation of risk factors including obesity, high blood fats and high blood pressure.

Pretty scary stuff right there. So what does this tell us?

1) Drink your milk.

2) If you don’t or can’t drink milk, then consider a supplement with calcium, which will help the body metabolize the D.

3) Spend a little more time in the sun as a family – mom and dad need that D just as much as Bobby and Sally.

4) If you are at risk, consider getting tested for a deficiency.

Buy This Not That

I got these two books from a friend. Thank god, too, because I’d be pretty miffed if I spent my own cash on them and I’ll tell you why.

Eat This, Not That! Thousands of Simple Food Swaps that Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds–or More! by David Zinczenko and its companion book Eat This Not That! Supermarket Survival Guide: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution are both superstars in the diet book world right now – hugely popular, as the ratings on Amazon and other book sites can attest. Why, precisely, I’m not sure, but I think it has a lot to do with the snappy title, because there is little to no actual substance inside the books.

The author is preoccupied with calories. And of course calories count. But so does nutrition and Mr. Zinczenko and crew seemingly forgot about that part of the health equation. In a stroke of irony, the author is editor in chief of Men’s Health magazine.

The first one concerns itself with eating out for the most part. That was actually strike one since I do not eat out all that often, but I can hardly hold that against him. More importantly, in both books, the author makes mention of fiber and sodium and fat content, but other than that, the focus is almost solely on calories.

Here’s an example. Fresh asparagus grilled in olive oil with a salmon steak is relatively high in fat, albeit good fats. It’s also high in lots of other good stuff. The lint out of my clothes dryer contains very few calories, but is nutritionally devoid. According to the book, based on calories (and possibly fiber, fat, and sodium content) the dryer lint would make an ideal meal. That’s the kind of logic that seemed to be prevalent in the books.

A lot of the books concern picking one type of junk food over another. What is the healthiest fast food burger out there? Not exactly the way to Save 10, 20, 30 Pounds–or More! is it? Americans are overfed, yet undernourished. This book isn’t helping the status quo.

Browsing Amazon, I was horrified to find a children’s version:

If the focus in on choosing the best of prepackaged meals and fast food, which I suspect it is (note the cover), then I’ll pass. And parents should too.

From an Amazon reviewer of the original book, who got it spot on:

“I think this book is a reflection of how bad the American diet is. I heard it discussed and thought it sounded like a good book. All it does if give you a choice between the lesser of two evils. Why not recommend whole grains, vegetables and low sugar foods. That would be a sound choice. But when you recommend eat a Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut over another kind of doughnut, who are we kidding here??? This just allows people to be completely off the hook for being responsible for eating a nutritious diet, or feeding a nutritious diet to their kids. No wonder there is an obesity epidemic in this country.”

Another Amazon reviewer suggested Food Politics by Marion Nestle and I am intrigued. I’m going to request it at the library in just a moment, in fact.

And let me just point you toward this site – it’s worth a look see if you have a few minutes.

And if you are still looking for what to eat, by some fortune, the same author has published What to Eat, which was recommended to me, though I will confess I have not yet read it (stay tuned!).

So the bottom line is this – using the Eat This Not That books will give you false confidence in your (poor) choices and nothing more. Don’t buy them, even if you are tempted by the snappy titles and cute catchy covers. And if you really must have them, you can have mine – I certainly have no use for them. There are better books out there if you must have a book. I also suggest using your common sense, since this author seems to have forgotten how to use his.

Skinny Bitch

I just finished this one and I have to say it was not what I expected, not at all. It would have helped if I had read the summary before starting it, of course, but then I might not have read it at all.

From “About the Book:”
Not your typical boring diet book, this is a tart-tongued, no-holds-barred wakeup call to all women who want to be thin. With such blunt advice as, “Soda is liquid Satan” and “You are a total moron if you think the Atkins Diet will make you thin,” it’s a rallying cry for all savvy women to start eating healthy and looking radiant. Unlike standard diet books, it actually makes the reader laugh out loud with its truthful, smart-mouthed revelations. Behind all the attitude, however, there’s solid guidance. Skinny Bitch espouses a healthful lifestyle that promotes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and encourages women to get excited about feeling “clean and pure and energized.

From Barnes & Noble:
The frank, “get real” approach of this diet book may be just right for those who have tried and tried without success to lose weight and keep it off. As the title indicates, the language is salty as Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin tell readers just what they must get rid of in their everyday eating: sugar first, followed by meat and dairy. Freedman and Barnouin recommend a vegan lifestyle, and tell why, and then offer more than 75 recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacking. They help readers break through the mental denial about bad food habits, and offer responsible and fun food choices without denying cravings and appetite.
A lot of the book makes a lot of sense, no doubt. Soda, is, in fact Satan. High Fructose Corn Syrup needs to be eliminated. “Low Fat” does not equal “healthy.” And a lot of this we already know, but don’t really want to think about.

The book makes a very strong call for veganism and it is at the core of their “method.” I don’t have any intentions on becoming vegan, but I might if it were more practical…and tastier. I’m not married to meat, but I can’t say I don’t enjoy it. The book goes into detail about why, ethically and environmentally, consuming animal products is bad for us and bad for the planet. They have a very good case. A slam dunk, actually. I can’t disagree with a lot of their reasoning and yet I eat meat.
Why? I think humans are omnivores to begin with and that animal products are beneficial to the diet, but while they may be tasty, I recognize that they aren’t essential to the human diet. Eliminating animal products because of the contamination and cruelty concerns outweighs the tasty factor for many. It should definitely be a bigger concern for the rest of us, even those that do indulge in a yummy carcass now and then.
And dairy. I’m not a big cheese eater, but I do like skim milk. Pizza. Yogurt. The book wants you to drop it all like a hot potato. And reading through it, they have some very valid points. Why do we stop nursing our children, only to put them on the milk of another species? Why do we not question the chemical contamination in milk and even organic milk? Why does the dairy industry have such a foothold in US nutrition policy? The answers may disturb you. Not enough to put down your slice of cheesecake, perhaps, but it is good to be mindful of the politics in play when dealing with food policy and cultural norms.
Their first hurdle they’d like you to jump over is sugar. Sugar in any form, but primarily in standard table sugar that has been stripped of any nutrients and HFCS which is chemically altered to your detriment. And I agree. Sugar is like crack – we’ve all said it, but it turns out it’s true.
According to a recent study:
Hoebel and his team also have found that a chemical known as dopamine is released in a region of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens when hungry rats drink a sugar solution. This chemical signal is thought to trigger motivation and, eventually with repetition, addiction.

The researchers conducted the studies by restricting rats of their food while the rats slept and for four hours after waking. “It’s a little bit like missing breakfast,” Hoebel said. “As a result, they quickly eat some chow and drink a lot of sugar water.” And, he added, “That’s what is called binge eating — when you eat a lot all at once — in this case they are binging on a 10 percent sucrose solution, which is like a soft drink.”
Hungry rats that binge on sugar provoke a surge of dopamine in their brains. After a month, the structure of the brains of these rats adapts to increased dopamine levels, showing fewer of a certain type of dopamine receptor than they used to have and more opioid receptors. These dopamine and opioid systems are involved in motivation and reward, systems that control wanting and liking something. Similar changes also are seen in the brains of rats on cocaine and heroin.
In experiments, the researchers have been able to induce signs of withdrawal in the lab animals by taking away their sugar supply. The rats’ brain levels of dopamine dropped and, as a result, they exhibited anxiety as a sign of withdrawal. The rats’ teeth chattered, and the creatures were unwilling to venture forth into the open arm of their maze, preferring to stay in a tunnel area. Normally rats like to explore their environment, but the rats in sugar withdrawal were too anxious to explore.

Scary, huh? So I’ve been on the wagon as far as sugar is concerned. No candy, no chocolate, no soda. I did eat a few broccoli cookies, but they were whole wheat, so I gave them a pass in a weak moment. And it feels pretty good. It’s been over a week…lets see how long I can keep this up.

The premise of the book is simple, eat organic, fresh, plant-based foods and you will be thinner, healthier, and happier. Some of their claims and expectations may be a little over the top, but it’s fair to say that it’s extremely difficult to become obese on a plant only, sugar-free, diet. I don’t know – maybe we should all try it. If I were single with no children I probably would, but it’s unlikely at this point in the game.

However I can do the following

~ Eliminate refined sugars.

~ Eliminate HFCS – we already do this.
~ Eliminate refined flours – nothing that isn’t whole wheat or whole grain (except tortillas, because whole wheat tortillas taste like ass). We do this in large part, but could be more vigilant.
~ Eliminate artificial chemicals and flavors – I do try, but they sneak in. I do not buy anything with MSG, for example.
~ Buy Organic. This requires work, and money. We have limited availability for organic produce, but we should probably buy more of what is available.
~ Reduce dairy. I have actually cut milk out entirely while nursing Babybeast, since she had tummy issues, but I’m back on it. It wouldn’t hurt to cut back, though.
~ Increase use of plant-based proteins, like lentils, beans, whole grains, etc.
~ Eat more fruit and veg. I like it, but I forget to eat it sometimes. The kids eat tons, of course. Mommy should follow suit.

So as far as the book goes, I’ve been reading about a plan I will never fully implement, but which has inspired me to make a few smaller changes and to be more thoughtful about food sources and ingredients. And it was funny. And short and easy to read. If curse words offend you, though, then it’s probably not the book for you.

Also on my list to read are Real Food by Nina Planck and The Omnivore’s Dilemma which come highly recommended to me by my friend Jenny at The Nourished Kitchen and Jon Stewart respectively. Look for reviews to come.

High Fructose Corn Syrup, Now with Tasty Mercury!

High Fructose Corn Syrup creeps me out. This is nothing new – once I became aware of it about four years ago, I started eliminating it from our family’s kitchen. It still sneaks in sometimes
when I forget to read labels, but for the most part we are HFCS-free

I wonder how much we consumed before I stopped buying products with it, though? Pounds and pounds of it, I am certain, since its use is pervasive. HFCS can be found in bread, sweetened drinks, granola bars, most sauces like barbecue sauce, spaghetti sauce, and ketchup, cereal, crackers, canned soups, and yogurt. The list goes on – in fact it’s easier to list the things it’s not in.

The HFCS manufacturers, courtesy of promotional ads by the Corn Refiners Association, would like you to think that it’s harmless stuff, that it’s “made from corn,” that it “doesn’t have artificial ingredients” “has the same calories as sugar or honey” “is nutritionally the same as sugar”, and “is fine in moderation.” Unfortunately, that’s just not true.

For starters, here is a description of how it is made. Tasty, no?

Why not use real sugar, you ask? Because sugar tariffs and corn subsidies converge to make HFCS a bargain ingredient and table sugar (sucrose) much less attractive in terms of product profitability. It’s all about the bottom line – nothing more, nothing less.

HFCS is linked to obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and more.

And it is used in products primarily marketed to our children.

And so I turn on my computer today and see that HFCS has made the news again. Somewhat (ok, extremely) disturbingly, it appears that there are two basic grades of HFCS. The kind with mercury in it and the kind without. Presumably the kind with mercury is cheaper. Which do you think is used in foods marketed at young children and families such as Quaker, Hunt’s, Manwich, Hershey’s, Smucker’s, Kraft, Nutri-Grain, and Yoplait?

Yes, folks, if you have HFCS in your home, you have probably been noshing on mercury tainted foods. And so have your children.

For the full article, please click HERE.

Please contact the makers of foods that use HFCS (via the 1-800 number on the packaging) and tell them you do not intend to purchase their product until they cease using high fructose corn syrup. And then follow through with your promise not to purchase them – there are many products that are HFCS free, you just have to look for them. And today would be an excellent time to start.

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