Category Archives: Worst of Foods

9 Ingredients to avoid in processed foods

If you know me at all, you know that I’m an advocate for whole, unprocessed foods.  However, many of us inevitably turn to packaged or processed foods when we are short on time.  Maybe we grab a frozen dinner or pizza for a quick dinner for our family.  Maybe we grab a quick nutrition bar to satiate our hunger until we can sit down for a real meal.  Or maybe, we just don’t like to cook.  Whether we like it or not, packaged and processed food has become a huge part of our food industry and, as a result, a part of many of our diets.

Although there are some brands that I hugely advocate for, there are many more that border on outright unhealthy and “scary.”  Many packaged foods that seem healthy often contain fillers, preservatives and other ingredients you don’t want in your diet. It is always preferable to choose products that have only a handful of ingredients, all of which should be recognizable.  One test to know whether an ingredient is healthy is to ask yourself whether your grandmother would recognize it.  If not, there is a good chance the ingredient is less natural food and more man-made chemical.  Another good test is whether or not you can easily pronounce the ingredient.  If you feel like you need a science degree to pronounce it properly, chances are the ingredient is worth avoiding.
If you do have to resort to a processed food for a snack or dinner (anything canned, packaged, etc.), try to avoid those that contain the ingredients listed in the following chart.  Although this isn’t an exhaustive list, these ingredients are some of the most highly processed and least healthy of all:
Ingredient Why it is Used Why it is Bad
Artificial Colors
  • Chemical compounds made from coal-tar derivatives to enhance color.
  • Linked to allergic reactions, fatigue, asthma, skin rashes, hyperactivity and headaches.
Artificial Flavorings
  • Cheap chemical mixtures that mimic natural flavors.
  • Linked to allergic reactions, dermatitis, eczema, hyperactivity and asthma
  • Can affect enzymes, RNA and thyroid.
Artificial Sweeteners
(Acesulfame-K, Aspartame, Equal®, NutraSweet®,  Saccharin, Sweet’n Low®, Sucralose, Splenda® & Sorbitol)
  • Highly-processed, chemically-derived, zero-calorie sweetenersfound in diet foods and diet products to reduce calories per serving.
  • Can negatively impact metabolism
  • Some have been linked to cancer, dizziness hallucinations and headaches.
Benzoate Preservatives

(BHT, BHA, TBHQ)
  • Compounds that preserve fats and prevent them from becoming rancid.
  • May result in hyperactivity, angiodema,  asthma, rhinitis, dermatitis, tumors and  urticaria
  • Can affect estrogen balance and levels.
Brominated Vegetable Oil

(BVO)
  • Chemical that boosts flavor in many citric-based fruit and soft drinks.
  • Increases triglycerides and cholesterol
  • Can damage liver, testicles, thyroid, heart and kidneys.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
(HFCS)
  • Cheap alternative to cane and beet sugar
  • Sustains freshness in baked goods
  • Blends easily in beverages to maintain sweetness.
  • May predispose the body to turn fructose into fat
  • Increases risk for Type-2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer
  • Isn’t easily metabolized by the liver.
MSG

(Monosodium Glutamate)
  • Flavor enhancer in restaurant food, salad dressing, chips, frozen entrees, soups and other foods.
  • May stimulate appetite and cause headaches, nausea, weakness, wheezing, edema, change in heart rate, burning sensations and difficulty in breathing.
Olestra
  • An indigestible fat substitute used primarily in foods that are fried and baked.
  • Inhibits absorption of some nutrients
  • Linked to gastrointestinal disease, diarrhea, gas, cramps, bleeding and incontinence.
Shortening, Hydrogenated and Partially Hydrogenated Oils
(Palm, Soybean and others)
  • Industrially created fats used in more than 40,000 food products in the U.S.
  • Cheaper than most other oils.
  • Contain high levels of trans fats, which raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol, contributing to risk of heart disease.

Have you checked your ingredient lists recently? Do they contain any of the above? Have you tried cutting some of these ingredients out?

Wikio

Chemicals in Our Food, and Bodies

November 8, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist

Your body is probably home to a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA. It’s a synthetic estrogen that United States factories now use in everything from plastics to epoxies — to the tune of six pounds per American per year. That’s a lot of estrogen.

More than 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine, and scientists have linked it — though not conclusively — to everything from breast cancer to obesity, from attention deficit disorder to genital abnormalities in boys and girls alike.

Now it turns out it’s in our food.

Consumer Reports magazine tested an array of brand-name canned foods for a report in its December issue and found BPA in almost all of them. The magazine says that relatively high levels turned up, for example, in Progresso vegetable soup, Campbell’s condensed chicken noodle soup, and Del Monte Blue Lake cut green beans.

The magazine also says it found BPA in the canned liquid version of Similac Advance infant formula (but not in the powdered version) and in canned Nestlé Juicy Juice (but not in the juice boxes). The BPA in the food probably came from an interior coating used in many cans.

Should we be alarmed?

The chemical industry doesn’t think so. Steven Hentges of the American Chemistry Council dismissed the testing, noting that Americans absorb quantities of BPA at levels that government regulators have found to be safe. Mr. Hentges also pointed to a new study indicating that BPA exposure did not cause abnormalities in the reproductive health of rats.

But more than 200 other studies have shown links between low doses of BPA and adverse health effects, according to the Breast Cancer Fund, which is trying to ban the chemical from food and beverage containers.

“The vast majority of independent scientists — those not working for industry — are concerned about early-life low-dose exposures to BPA,” said Janet Gray, a Vassar College professor who is science adviser to the Breast Cancer Fund.

Published journal articles have found that BPA given to pregnant rats or mice can cause malformed genitals in their offspring, as well as reduced sperm count among males. For example, a European journal found that male mice exposed to BPA were less likely to make females pregnant, and the Journal of Occupational Health found that male rats administered BPA had less sperm production and lower testicular weight.

This year, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that pregnant mice exposed to BPA had babies with abnormalities in the cervix, uterus and vagina. Reproductive Toxicology found that even low-level exposure to BPA led to the mouse equivalent of early puberty for females. And an array of animal studies link prenatal BPA exposure to breast cancer and prostate cancer.

While most of the studies are on animals, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported last year that humans with higher levels of BPA in their blood have “an increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and liver-enzyme abnormalities.” Another published study found that women with higher levels of BPA in their blood had more miscarriages.

Scholars have noted some increasing reports of boys born with malformed genitals, girls who begin puberty at age 6 or 8 or even earlier, breast cancer in women and men alike, and declining sperm counts among men. The Endocrine Society, an association of endocrinologists, warned this year that these kinds of abnormalities may be a consequence of the rise of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and it specifically called on regulators to re-evaluate BPA.

Last year, Canada became the first country to conclude that BPA can be hazardous to humans, and Massachusetts issued a public health advisory in August warning against any exposure to BPA by pregnant or breast-feeding women or by children under the age of 2.

The Food and Drug Administration, which in the past has relied largely on industry studies — and has generally been asleep at the wheel — is studying the issue again. Bills are also pending in Congress to ban BPA from food and beverage containers.

“When you have 92 percent of the American population exposed to a chemical, this is not one where you want to be wrong,” said Dr. Ted Schettler of the Science and Environmental Health Network. “Are we going to quibble over individual rodent studies, or are we going to act?”

While the evidence isn’t conclusive, it justifies precautions. In my family, we’re cutting down on the use of those plastic containers that contain BPA to store or microwave food, and I’m drinking water out of a metal bottle now. In my reporting around the world, I’ve come to terms with the threats from warlords, bandits and tarantulas. But endocrine disrupting chemicals — they give me the willies.

Wikio

Dirty Nutrition

Food companies fear Jonny Bowden.

He is to many of their “Frankenfood” products what Batman is to the Joker. In other words, he metes out justice, not so much my whomping holy Bat-hell out of them, but by exposing their products for what they are, which in many cases is high-tech slop.

But like any valiant crusader, he needs his forum. Welcome to Dirty Nutrition.

This is where Jonny Bowden will expose labeling shenanigans, bad foods masquerading as good foods; diet protocols that make as much sense as burlap underwear; and supplements that do little except supplement their manufacturer’s bank accounts.

Deceptive food manufacturers, shady supplement companies, government dieticians: You have been warned.

NO2 and Voodoo

A: What do I think of them? Let’s see… can we spell B U L L S H I T?

NO stands for Nitric Oxide, a very important molecule that signals the body to do all sorts of important things, one of which is dilate the blood vessels.

Most of these supplements are built around the amino acid L-arginine, which does tend to increase nitric oxide. That’s one reason many nutritionally minded MDs will recommend L-arginine for both the heart and for erectile problems (the connection is that both are affected by circulation).

The thinking behind these NO2 supplements is that by increasing nitric oxide you’ll improve circulation (probably true), which can help nutrients get to their destination in the body (probably true also).

But the idea that doing so is going to translate to bigger muscles is voodoo science.

Sorry. Save your money.

Curcumin for Fat Loss?

A: Curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric — the very same spice which makes Indian food yellow — is indeed terrific stuff, which is why I touted turmeric as a superfood in my book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Not only is it highly anti-inflammatory, but it might also be good for fat loss.

The info on curcumin and body fat comes from a study in the Journal of Nutrition that investigated the effect of adding curcumin to the diet of a specific strain of mice. The researchers were looking at the possible effect of curcumin on angiogenesis, which is the technical name for growing new blood vessels.

The researchers found that the curcumin did actually interfere with angiogenesis in the fat cells leading them to conclude that it might contribute to lower body fat and less gain in body weight. “Our findings suggest that curcumin may have a potential benefit in preventing obesity,” they wrote.

What does that mean in real life? Hard to say.

This study does suggest that curcumin might — repeat, might — slow down the creation of new fat on the body, but how much — and under what circumstances — it would do that in humans no one knows.

There are an awful lot of good reasons to use turmeric/curcumin even without fat loss on its resume. If, on top of all the other good things, it also helps reduce the accumulation of body fat, then that’s terrific. If not, it’s still worth using.

Here’s the Beef!

A: You should care very much, but probably for slightly different reasons.

Ground beef in the grocery store inevitably comes from what we call “feedlot farms.” These places are basically factories, and they bear as much resemblance to the old country farms of our childhood as a cheap Casio keyboard does to a handmade Steinway grand piano.

Cows on these “farms” are production machines for meat and milk. They’re fed grain, which isn’t their natural diet, and which causes great acidity in their systems. This produces “meat product” that’s very high in inflammatory omega-6’s and woefully lacking in omega-3’s.

They’re kept in confined pens and fed antibiotics to prevent the sickness that inevitably arises from the close quarters. They’re fed steroids and “bovine growth hormone” to help fatten them up. Then they’re “processed.” Whether the end product — the meat that winds up on your plate — has the DNA of 1,000 cows in it or not, it’s not something you should be eating.

Grass-fed meat is a whole different ballgame. Cows were meant to graze on pasture —their natural diet is grass, and when they roam on pasture and graze on grass their meat is higher in omega-3’s and CLA (conjugated linolenic acid), an important fat that has anti-cancer activity and may also help reduce abdominal fat. Since the cattle aren’t in confined quarters and they’re not eating primarily grains, they don’t get sick as much and aren’t fed massive quantities of antibiotics.

Now, “organic” meat is somewhere in between the two extremes. It usually means the cows were fed organic grain, which is only a minor improvement since cows shouldn’t be eating a diet of grain in the first place.

While the perception is that organically raised meat is better than non-organic meat, it’s still not nearly as good as grass-fed (pasture raised). Sometimes grass-fed meat is also organic, but some very conscientious farmers who raise real, healthy, pasture-grazing cows don’t meet some obscure government standard for organic so they’re not able to say their meat is “organic.”

I wouldn’t worry about it. Given a choice, I’d go with grass-fed over organic every time, though in the best of all worlds, you’d get both.

For what it’s worth, every study you’ve ever seen that talks about the bad health consequences of meat eating is looking at people who eat highly processed meat from factory farms. It would be very interesting to see if there are the same negative consequences to eating a diet of grass-fed (organic) beef with plenty of vegetables to balance it out.

No study like that has ever been done, but my hunch is that if people ate that way, the so-called “negative” health effects ascribed to eating meat would disappear.

Ban Trans-fats? Not So Fast…

A: That issue may be more complex than you think.

Late in 2006, Michael Bloomberg, the enormously popular mayor of New York City, announced that New York City would become the first city in the nation to ban trans-fats from the menu offerings of the city’s 24,000 restaurants. “If we can do without trans-fats, you’ll save a couple of hundred lives a year in New York City,” said the mayor.

Other cities, notably Philadelphia and Seattle, followed suit. And then in 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that officially banned restaurants and other food establishments from using any margarine, oil, or shortening that contained trans-fats, making California the first state to adopt such a law covering restaurants. California, along with Oregon, already had laws banning trans-fats in meals served in schools.

Health experts were jumping for joy. Should they be? I’m not so sure.

It’s not that I’m a fan of trans-fats. No one has railed more loudly against these manmade spawn of Satan, which have absolutely no place in the human diet.

Don’t believe for a second those reactionary apologists at the American Dietetic Association who hedge their bets with their usual vanilla claptrap about “lowering your intake” and consistently link saturated fat and trans-fats as if they’re virtually the same thing. They’re not. In fact, as far back as 2002, the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine issued a report that concluded that “the only safe intake of trans-fats is zero.”

So why am I not overjoyed about a trans-fat ban?

Because it’s a slippery slope. And understanding the pitfalls of such a ban — and the possible repercussions — can help us to think more deeply about the role of government in our diet.

Trans-fats are an easy target for government intervention. There’s basically no disagreement about what they do and how bad they are for you. They make the arteries more rigid, cause major clogging of arteries, cause insulin resistance, cause or contribute to type 2 diabetes, and cause or contribute to other serious health problems. Top nutritionists at Harvard have concluded that trans-fat could be responsible for an many as 30,000 premature coronary deaths per year.

But here’s the thing: Once the government starts deciding what you should and shouldn’t eat, you open up a really ugly can of worms. What about all the “experts” who think saturated fat should be kept as low as humanely possible? There’s very far from perfect agreement on that one, and if the “experts” get to dictate policy, the next thing you know I’ll be forced to order that idiotic egg white omelet, or pay a “sin tax” on full-fat yogurt.

And that’s where things get dicey.

Who’s going to decide what’s okay to eat and what’s not? The American Dietetic Assocation? The American Heart Association? The Corn Refiners Association? Are we going to ban high-glycemic foods (which leaves fructose untouched since it has a low-glycemic index)? And what’s next, vitamins?

And — not to get all political on you— but those who say all this regulation intrudes on the individual’s right to eat any crap he wants to, unfortunately, have a point. I may think your eating (or smoking, or drinking) habits are pretty stupid and destructive, but as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, do I really have the right to tell you not to do it?

It’s a thorny issue, and the answer may reside in a fascinating book written not by nutritionists, but by a professor of economics and a professor of law.

The book is called Nudge and it’s all about how organizations and government can help “nudge” people in a positive direction without taking away any of their freedoms — including the freedom to smoke or eat crappy trans-fats.

Consider, for example, these interesting factoids, all supported by copious research:

So what authors Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler propose is a system of “nudges.” Put the fruits and vegetables first on the cafeteria line. Leave the crap there, but take advantage of the tendency to choose the first thing you see.

Make people opt-out of the organ-donor box on their drivers license, rather than having to opt-in. Make contribution to 401Ks automatic unless the employee chooses to check the “do not contribute” box.

You stack the deck for better decisions, but leave everyone’s freedom intact.

Here’s my solution to the trans-fat ban problem and the other much more thorny issues of food regulation and “sin taxes” on fast food that are sure to follow: Make every single restaurant post the nutritional data on everything they serve. And not buried behind the counter in some place that no one can find, but prominently on the menu.

Post the sugar content, the trans-fat content, even the stupid cholesterol content (which matters not a whit). Put it all out there for everyone to see.

Then educate people like crazy. Let them know what that 1,548 calorie super-burger is doing to their waistline; let them know what 3 grams of trans-fat per serving is doing to their heart; let them know what 27 grams of sugar per serving is doing to their chances of living past 60.

Then let them know that the cholesterol they “eat” doesn’t hurt them a bit. Let them know that the trans-fats they eat will kill them.

If we do our job as educators, more people will think twice about eating crap, but their freedom to do so will remain intact.

That just might be the best compromise we can hope for.

Dirty Nutrition

The idea that NO2 products are going to translate to bigger muscles is voodoo science.



Dirty Nutrition

Grass-fed meat is a whole different ballgame.

Dirty Nutrition

Ka-li-fornia doesn’t like trans fat.

About Dr. Jonny Bowden

TAG

Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS, is a board-certified nutrition specialist and a nationally known expert on weight loss and nutrition. He has a master’s degree in psychology and counseling and a Ph.D. in nutrition, and has earned six national certifications in personal training and exercise. His books include: The 150 Most Effective Ways to Boost Your Energy, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, and The Healthiest Meals on Earth. Learn more about Dr. Bowden and download one of his free audio courses at JonnyBowden.com.

© 1998 — 2009 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Wikio

A 2,010-Calorie Shake?!?! (and Other Shocking Drinks to Avoid)

Men's Health
By David Zinczenko, with Matt Goulding – Posted on Tue, Jul 28, 2009, 2:51 pm PDT

Americans have a drinking problem—we simply consume too much nutrient-empty, calorie-full liquids. Blame food marketers for the ever-expanding serving vessels, chock-full of cheap sugar substitutes, a variety of hard-to-pronounce chemicals, and tons of fats. But it’s not all doom and gloom—it turns out, those liquid calories are the easiest kind to cut. And a recent study from Johns Hopkins University found that people who cut liquid calories from their diets lose more weight—and keep it off longer—than people who cut food calories. In fact, cutting those calories in half could mean you could drop around 23 pounds in one year!

Two years ago, Eat This, Not That! exposed the 20 Unhealthiest Drinks in America. The list was bad in the scary, jaw-dropping sense: Belt-busting beverages that tipped the scales at over 1,000 (and sometimes, 2,000) calories; hundreds of grams of blood-glucose-spiking sugar, and a slew of unnatural and exotic-sounding additives.

The good news is that many of these beverages have since disappeared from menus and grocery aisle shelves. The bad news, of course, is that even worse monster-malts and Franken-shakes have popped up in their place. That’s why, in our all-new book, Eat This, Not That! The Best (and Worst!) Foods in America! we’ve updated our list of the absolute worst drinks to avoid—and offered sensible alternatives, so you can still enjoy your meals and beverages, but lose weight anyway. Here are the top 4.

4. WORST FLOAT
Baskin-Robbins
Large Ice Cream Soda with Vanilla Ice Cream Float (32 ounces)
960 calories
40 g fat (25 g saturated, 1.5 g trans)
136 g sugars

If you’re going to have a float, it’s best to limit yourself to one small scoop of ice cream and a reasonable pour of soda, yet Baskin-Robbins’ smallest portion is 32 ounces! Unfortunately, if the ice cream mogul doesn’t begin offering smaller sizes, your options are limited. Either split a small float or cut the soda out of the equation. All of this is part of a troubled history of serving up deleterious drinks at Baskin-Robbins, which came to a belt-snapping climax earlier this year when they began offering the 2,600-calorie Oreo Cookie Shake. After deriding it as the Worst Drink in America on the Today show and in this very blog, we’re happy to say that the folks at Baskin-Robbins have snapped to their senses and eliminated the weapon of mass construction, along with the rest of their so-called premium shakes. They’re starting to offer some healthier varieties, too.

Drink This Instead!
Cappuccino Blast Original (small)
310 calories
12 g fat (7 g saturated)
42 g sugars

3. WORST ICE BLENDED COFFEE DRINK
Così Gigante Double OH! Arctic (23 ounces)
1,210 calories
19 g fat
259 g carbohydrates

How does Così’s coffee creation reach such abysmal heights? By dropping a giant Oreo cookie into the blender with a flood of chocolate syrup and then sticking another Oreo on top. The only thing stronger than the massive caffeine jolt will be the sugar crash to follow. “Blended coffee drinks” is a troubled genre in need of a name change; we think “caffeinated milk shakes” is a more apt description.

Drink This Instead!
Grande Latte (15 ounces)
210 calories
7 g fat
21 g carbohydrates

2. WORST SMOOTHIE
Smoothie King’s The Hulk, Strawberry (40 ounces)
2,088 calories
70 g fat (32 g saturated)
240 g sugars

To be fair, this smoothie is made to help people gain weight and that’s the only reason it’s not our official worst drink in America. The problem is that we live in a nation in which two-thirds of us are overweight, and the number of professional body builders doesn’t constitute a significant demographic. Plus, if you really want to put on some pounds, just eat 9 Odwalla Super Protein bars. That’s how many it would take to match this caloric load.

Drink This Instead!
The Shredder, Strawberry (20 ounces)
356 calories
1 g fat
41 g sugars

1. THE WORST DRINK IN AMERICA
Cold Stone Creamery Gotta Have It PB&C Shake
2,010 calories
131 g fat (68 g saturated)
153 g sugars

Is this the worst drink on the planet? All signs point to probably. First off, it has more sugar than 12 Fudgsicles, as much fat as a stick and a half of butter, and more calories than 37 Oreos. Oh, it also has 3 days’ worth of saturated fat. Need more proof? Let’s hope not.

Drink This Instead!
Sinless Oh Fudge Shake—Like It
490 calories
2 g fat (2 g saturated)
110 g carbohydrates
44 g sugars

Check out 15 more drinkable disasters here. And don’t stop with the beverages. Here is the current list of the 30 Worst Foods in America. (Prepare to be shocked!)

It’s not all bad, though. Check out the 125 Healthiest Supermarket Foods in America.

To learn the truth about diet soda, energy drinks, and discover the best no-diet weight loss solutions on the planet, check out all of the eye-popping lists at eatthis.com.

Want a flat belly fast? A lean, sexy body can be yours–fast! Try the new Men’s Health iPhone app! It’s like having your own personal trainer 24/7!

And please share your nutrition and weight-loss tips and tricks with the rest of us.

Wikio

>The Best of Foods, the Worst of Foods

>

By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Did the world really need a fourth “Eat This, Not That!” book?

Well, maybe not. Having read the first three in the series of food-choice comparison guides created by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding of Men’s Health magazine, I’d have been inclined to say, okay, guys, I get it. Some foods that seem healthful are surprisingly bad for you, and others that you think might kill you aren’t as bad as you thought, and it’s important to look at the nutrition facts so you’ll know the difference.

To be sure, the new book follows its best-selling forebears, delving into the nutrition data for tons of fast-food, casual dining and grocery-store foods and comparing them to one another, urging readers to choose the more healthful items over those most likely to clog your arteries and pad your thighs. The shock value is somewhat diminished by now: A venti 2 percent Starbucks Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate has 760 calories? What else is new? And to my mind, most of the big revelations about the highest-profile food items were made in the earlier books, leaving portions of this book with a leftovers feeling.

Having said all that, though, I have to confess that I love this book. Flipping through the pages is like snacking on Lay’s potato chips (the 110-calorie baked variety being an “Eat This” choice, besting 210-calorie Sun Chips Original in the vending-machine-snack category). The photos are compelling, especially those of the gross “Not That!” choices: Check out those 460-calorie slices of Cici’s Macaroni and Cheese Pizza! And the explanatory blurbs are pithy and crammed with detail.

Perhaps anticipating a been-there-done-that response, the authors have squeezed into this expanded volume a lot of basic nutrition information. The four-page list of food sources for 14 key vitamins and minerals (did you know there’s zinc in both wheat germ and pastrami?) is as handy a little guide as I’ve seen. And after reading this edition’s lineup of common food additives and their potential effects on your body, you’ll never feel the same way again about Tropicana orange juice. Its ingredients include cochineal extract — a coloring agent made of “about 90 percent insect-body fragments.”

As in earlier volumes, Zinczenko and Goulding offer sections enumerating the best and worst foods for specific nutritional goals: For controlling blood sugar and, by extension, possibly warding off diabetes, beware the whopping 110 grams of sugar in Uno Chicago Grill’s Baby Back Ribs. To ward off high cholesterol and blood pressure, skip the Grilled Shrimp Caprese at Olive Garden, which delivers 150 percent of the recommended daily maximum of sodium. And they include information about foods that boost your mood, improve your complexion, fuel your workout or lift your libido (oysters don’t, but dark chocolate does).

New to this edition is a section called “The Best Foods You’ve Never Heard Of.” My heart sank when I saw the first entry was acai berries, which I’ve not only heard of but written about. But the aronia berry? That’s news to me! (Like acai, aronia, also known as chokeberry, has lots of antioxidants, as signaled by its deep purple color.) Sure, I’ve cooked celeriac, but what is this fenugreek? (An herb used in many Indian dishes, it may help regulate blood sugar.) Hemp seed nuts, we learn, are packed with protein and alpha-linoleic acid, which is good for your heart. Sweet potato leaves turn out to be full of antioxidants and other disease-fighting compounds. And alligator meat has more protein than beef or chicken, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. “I eat alligator every day,” Zinczenko joshed with me over the phone. “I never tire of it.”

The “ETNT” team wins my heart by embracing full-fat cheese over reduced-fat. They say it’s a great source of casein protein, good for building strong muscle; they also cite research showing that “even when men ate 10 ounces of full-fat cheese daily for 3 weeks, their LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol didn’t budge.”

My very favorite nugget appears in the “Superfoods in Disguise” section. I’ve been told for years that iceberg lettuce has almost no nutritional value — but there it is, with the explanation that “half a head of iceberg lettuce has significantly more alpha-carotene, a powerful disease-fighting antioxidant, than either romaine lettuce or spinach.”

People will find their quibbles, of course. For instance, about that iceberg lettuce: Who eats half a head? And how much spinach did they stack it up against? Many of the book’s proclamations, including the one about cheese, appear to be based on findings from single studies, and some of their “best” and “worst” designations may seem a bit obvious. I mean, what do you expect when you order Bob Evans’s Stacked and Stuffed Caramel Banana Pecan Hotcakes? Of course they have 1,543 calories! But the thing is, the guys asked people to estimate how many calories were in that dish, and the average guess was just over 1,000.

So the books are interesting and informative, and I even look forward to several more volumes due to appear in the next few months. But will they cause enough of us to change our ways to have a meaningful impact, or is all this comparing of foods merely a parlor game?

I figure comparing the data can only help — unless just seeing pictures of those pecan pancakes and pasta-topped pizza makes us so hungry we eat them after all.

Check out Tuesday’s Checkup blog post, in which Jennifer takes an “Eat This, Not That!” look at salads. Subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter by going to http://www.washingtonpost.com and searching for “newsletters.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/27/AR2009072700758.html?wpisrc=newsletter
Wikio

The Best of Foods, the Worst of Foods

By Jennifer LaRue Huget
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Did the world really need a fourth “Eat This, Not That!” book?

Well, maybe not. Having read the first three in the series of food-choice comparison guides created by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding of Men’s Health magazine, I’d have been inclined to say, okay, guys, I get it. Some foods that seem healthful are surprisingly bad for you, and others that you think might kill you aren’t as bad as you thought, and it’s important to look at the nutrition facts so you’ll know the difference.

To be sure, the new book follows its best-selling forebears, delving into the nutrition data for tons of fast-food, casual dining and grocery-store foods and comparing them to one another, urging readers to choose the more healthful items over those most likely to clog your arteries and pad your thighs. The shock value is somewhat diminished by now: A venti 2 percent Starbucks Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate has 760 calories? What else is new? And to my mind, most of the big revelations about the highest-profile food items were made in the earlier books, leaving portions of this book with a leftovers feeling.

Having said all that, though, I have to confess that I love this book. Flipping through the pages is like snacking on Lay’s potato chips (the 110-calorie baked variety being an “Eat This” choice, besting 210-calorie Sun Chips Original in the vending-machine-snack category). The photos are compelling, especially those of the gross “Not That!” choices: Check out those 460-calorie slices of Cici’s Macaroni and Cheese Pizza! And the explanatory blurbs are pithy and crammed with detail.

Perhaps anticipating a been-there-done-that response, the authors have squeezed into this expanded volume a lot of basic nutrition information. The four-page list of food sources for 14 key vitamins and minerals (did you know there’s zinc in both wheat germ and pastrami?) is as handy a little guide as I’ve seen. And after reading this edition’s lineup of common food additives and their potential effects on your body, you’ll never feel the same way again about Tropicana orange juice. Its ingredients include cochineal extract — a coloring agent made of “about 90 percent insect-body fragments.”

As in earlier volumes, Zinczenko and Goulding offer sections enumerating the best and worst foods for specific nutritional goals: For controlling blood sugar and, by extension, possibly warding off diabetes, beware the whopping 110 grams of sugar in Uno Chicago Grill’s Baby Back Ribs. To ward off high cholesterol and blood pressure, skip the Grilled Shrimp Caprese at Olive Garden, which delivers 150 percent of the recommended daily maximum of sodium. And they include information about foods that boost your mood, improve your complexion, fuel your workout or lift your libido (oysters don’t, but dark chocolate does).

New to this edition is a section called “The Best Foods You’ve Never Heard Of.” My heart sank when I saw the first entry was acai berries, which I’ve not only heard of but written about. But the aronia berry? That’s news to me! (Like acai, aronia, also known as chokeberry, has lots of antioxidants, as signaled by its deep purple color.) Sure, I’ve cooked celeriac, but what is this fenugreek? (An herb used in many Indian dishes, it may help regulate blood sugar.) Hemp seed nuts, we learn, are packed with protein and alpha-linoleic acid, which is good for your heart. Sweet potato leaves turn out to be full of antioxidants and other disease-fighting compounds. And alligator meat has more protein than beef or chicken, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. “I eat alligator every day,” Zinczenko joshed with me over the phone. “I never tire of it.”

The “ETNT” team wins my heart by embracing full-fat cheese over reduced-fat. They say it’s a great source of casein protein, good for building strong muscle; they also cite research showing that “even when men ate 10 ounces of full-fat cheese daily for 3 weeks, their LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol didn’t budge.”

My very favorite nugget appears in the “Superfoods in Disguise” section. I’ve been told for years that iceberg lettuce has almost no nutritional value — but there it is, with the explanation that “half a head of iceberg lettuce has significantly more alpha-carotene, a powerful disease-fighting antioxidant, than either romaine lettuce or spinach.”

People will find their quibbles, of course. For instance, about that iceberg lettuce: Who eats half a head? And how much spinach did they stack it up against? Many of the book’s proclamations, including the one about cheese, appear to be based on findings from single studies, and some of their “best” and “worst” designations may seem a bit obvious. I mean, what do you expect when you order Bob Evans’s Stacked and Stuffed Caramel Banana Pecan Hotcakes? Of course they have 1,543 calories! But the thing is, the guys asked people to estimate how many calories were in that dish, and the average guess was just over 1,000.

So the books are interesting and informative, and I even look forward to several more volumes due to appear in the next few months. But will they cause enough of us to change our ways to have a meaningful impact, or is all this comparing of foods merely a parlor game?

I figure comparing the data can only help — unless just seeing pictures of those pecan pancakes and pasta-topped pizza makes us so hungry we eat them after all.

Check out Tuesday’s Checkup blog post, in which Jennifer takes an “Eat This, Not That!” look at salads. Subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter by going to http://www.washingtonpost.com and searching for “newsletters.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/27/AR2009072700758.html?wpisrc=newsletter
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