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Ancient Grains Gobbledygook

24 Jul

Ancient Grains Gobbledygook

Ancient grains are having their day in the sun…and rightly so: grains like quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, and spelt are being “rediscovered” and lauded for their nutrition benefits and whole grain attributes.

In their pure form, these whole grains are good sources of fiber, B vitamins and other minerals and nutrients. But as with any food fad, ancient grains are being exploited when they’re turned into processed foods.

Case in point: Costco’s Kirkland brand Ancient Grain Crackers.

Jumping on the ancient grains bandwagon, the front packaging of these crackers say they are, “made with millet, amaranth, quinoa and teff”. Great whole grains…if you can get them. The problem is, and not surprisingly, the ancient grains represent only a fraction of the ingredient list.

The ingredients in these crackers are more awful than they are ancient: wheat flour, vegetable oil (including the almost entirely saturated fat laden coconut and palm oils), sugar and salt accompany smaller amounts of actual millet, buckwheat, amaranth, quinoa, black sesame seeds and teff flakes.

A 3-cracker serving size has 90 calories, 4 grams fat (2.5 of which are saturated fat grams), and less than 1 gram of dietary fiber.

So while the crackers tout that they are “made with 6 whole grains and seeds”, having less than 1 gram dietary fiber per serving is a pretty good indication that they’re really not a good carb option.

If you’re looking for more ancient grains in your life: eat the real thing, not white flour crackers masquerading as whole grains.



Grapefruits Gone Wild

14 May

Grapefruits Gone Wild

Like all of its citrus counterparts, grapefruit is a great source of vitamin C. One medium-sized fruit has 150% of your daily value for C, plus 3 grams of fiber in just 75 calories.

But grapefruit rears its ugly head when taken with certain medications.

It has long been known that this bulbous beauty is contraindicated with some pharmacotherapies. What’s new though, is just how many drugs don’t jive with the tastebud-teasing fruit.

A report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that the number of hazardous drugs that are not compatible with grapefruit jumped from 17 drugs in 2008 to 43 in 2012.

Grapefruit can be lethal when its compounds called furanocoumarins inhibit your body’s ability to metabolize and breakdown certain drugs. This leads to toxicity levels that induce a drug overdose, which in turn can have deadly consequences.

Lipitor is perhaps the most commonly known drug that requires avoidance of grapefruit…but it isn’t the only one. You can find the full list of drugs with grapefruit precautions here.


Apples Atop Dirty Dozen List

24 Apr

Apples Atop Dirty Dozen List

Apples top the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) ninth annual “Dirty Dozen” list of the top 12 fruits and vegetables that show the highest levels of pesticides for 2013.

It is EWG’s recommendation, that when possible, you should avoid conventionally (non-organic) versions of the dirty dozen, instead purchasing and consuming their organic counterparts.

2013 Dirty Dozen List

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Hot peppers

On the other hand, the Clean 15 show the produce with the least amount of pesticide exposure and that are fine to consume from conventionally grown sources.

2013 Clean Fifteen List

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Sweet corn
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Sweet potatoes

These lists are not published without controversy.

In response to the EWG’s 2013 publication, Produce for a Better Health Foundation sent out an email stating that, “the EWG has again misrepresented information found in government issued reports…Specifically, Risk = Exposure X Toxicity, and EWG considers ‘exposure’ but not ‘toxicity.’”

In response to the EWG lists, PBH encourages you to visit the Alliance for Food and Farming website to find more accurate information on pesticide use, toxicology, and nutrition, as well as a pesticide residue calculator – and to follow their simple, but effective tip they recommend for all consumers when it comes to fruits & veg, “Just Wash It!”

Regardless of who you believe: EWG or PBH, most nutrition experts agree – the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables outweigh the harm of not doing so.


The 10:1 Ratio for Choosing Whole Grains

5 Apr

The 10:1 Ratio for Choosing Whole Grains

Even whole grain gurus have a tough time deciphering front of package whole grain claims.

With 34,000 new whole grain products introduced in 2012 (compared to just 264 in 2001), it has become increasingly difficult to determine just how different “made with whole grain” really is from “100% whole grain”.

Now, from the Harvard School of Public Health comes an easier way to identify a good source of whole grain: the 10:1 ratio.

The 10:1 ratio maintains that for every 10 grams of carbohydrate you eat, aim for at least 1 gram of dietary fiber.

The recommendation comes as part of a recently published paper in the journal Public Health Nutrition. The ratio’s intention is not to select the MOST healthful whole grain, but rather to give a ballpark estimation of what is a relatively good whole grain choice.

You can, of course, find benchmark foods that surpass the 10:1 ratio.

Take 100% whole wheat bread for example: 1 slice (1 oz, 90-100 calories per slice) has 15 grams carbohydrate and 3 grams fiber, giving it a 5:1 ratio, an even better choice than 10:1.

Here is a quick example of the ratio approach applied to choosing between two General Mills cereals. Ironically, both of these cereals display the same General Mills “Made with Whole Grain” check mark logo on the front, although you can see through use of the ratio, that they are remarkably different products:

  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch: 25 grams carbohydrate and 2 grams dietary fiber (12.5:1 ratio – no good)
  • Cheerios (yellow box): 20 grams carbohydrate and 3 grams dietary fiber (6.7:1 ratio – good deal)

Make it your goal to meet or beat the 10:1 ratio next time you are selecting whole grain foods.

How Natural is Nectresse?

30 Jan

How Natural is Nectresse?

Perhaps you have seen the new sweetener Nectresse, brought to you by McNeil Nutritionals, the makers of Splenda.

According to the Nectresse for Healthcare Professionals website, Nectresse is a blend of natural sweeteners “featuring” monkfruit extract, is 100% natural with zero calories per serving, and has the “rich, sweet taste of sugar”.

Is this really a better alternative than any of the other preexisting artificial sweeteners? Let’s break down the Nectresse claims:

  • Zero-calories: yes, it has zero calories – a one packet serving (2.4 g) basically has no nutrition in it at all
  • Blend of natural sweeteners: well, that’s debatable – the ingredients include erythritol (corn-derived sugar alcohol, most corn in the US is genetically modified unless otherwise stated or organic, which this isn’t), sugar (just a little, but still, likely from GM sugar beets), monk fruit extract (more on that next), and molasses (more sugar)
  • 100% natural: The four ingredients in the ingredient list do occur in nature, but keep in mind that in nutrition, “Natural Means Nothing” – this not a legally definable or enforceable term
  • Rich, sweet taste of sugar: according to, powdered monkfruit is 150-200 times more sweet than sugar, so, in a fashion similar to that of stevia, a little bit goes a long way

So is this a better option for you than sugar? Well, it depends what you are after.

  • If you are looking for a no-calorie sweetener, then it is certainly lower in calories than sugar
  • If you have a lot of spare cash on hand, this is an expensive way to sweeten your drinks – I paid almost $5 for a box of 40 Nectresse packets
  • If you are trying to avoid genetically modified ingredients, this isn’t going to fly
  • If you are looking for fiber from a fruit-derived sweetener, this is not your product – since so little is used, it has no fiber

If you are looking for your fiber needs in a packet, you are barking up the wrong tree.

Stick to whole foods for your fiber, and when possible, choose GM-free ingredients to sweeten your foods.