Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ice Ice Baby

What's not to like about ice-skating? It's great for strengthening your core, tightening your butt and well, when it's 18 degrees outside, keeping you tone under those thermals and cashmere. Besides, just try NOT passing a rink in the City this season. Apparently, there are 10 open right now.

And the best way to kickstart your inner Blades of Glory  is definitely at Chelsea Piers. They're offering this really cheap package of group lessons for adults called  Monday Adult Skate Night. It's for all levels.  They divide everyone into groups based on their experience from beginners to budding hockey players and teach a half-hour of drills that you practice on your own afterward for 30 minutes. (Single girls listen up. Seriously. The hockey guys eye-candy are everywhere. And just when you get used to them stripping down to their underwear in the SkyRink food court afterwards to take off all their protective gear, it'll be Spring. )

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How muffins give you a "muffin top" in jeans!

Last weekend, my husband and I ate at a local restaurant that's supposed to be organic and all-natural. I was a little suspicious. The menu claims that the kitchen runs on wind energy (this is a restaurant on a very crowded corner in Manhattan--I think I would've noticed the wind mill....) and solar power.

The menu had lots of veggies on its list which was a good sign that it had a healthy focus. But before I ordered, I also wondered just how many calories are in their dishes. After all,  a recent Cornell study showed that customers typically underestimate what they're consuming while eating out by at least 50 calories. So was the gluten-free penne any less calories than say, their Buenos Aires steak entree? 

When I got home, I decided to do a little digging to see what are some of the foods that seem low-cal--but aren't. Do you have any to add?

Bran muffins
There is a fabulous gourmet shop downstairs from my building that touts "low-fat" muffins. They don't have their nutritional info posted so I judged their claim on faith. But actually, these muffins were giving me a "muffin top!" Dr. Liz Applegate, Ph.D. from the University of California at Davis told me that bran muffins are so huge that they can contain at least 500 calories and 15g of fat even if they're also loaded with bran which is good source of fiber to fill me up way longer than a bagel and cream cheese.

Baked chips!
I figured since they're baked and not fried in oil, they are low-cal. No way, says Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar, a registered dietician in St. Louis. She told me that since they're high in quick-digesting simple cars, they're not going to keep me satisfied for long so I'll end up eating again fast to rack up the calories.

Turkey burgers!
Now, I figured this was a safe bet (in fact, I ordered a turkey meatball dish at the "green" restaurant on Saturday). But apparently not all ground turkey products are lean in fat: "Unless the label says ground turkey BREAST, you're likely consuming fattier cuts from the bird," explained Applegate. Here's the craziest part: it can even be higher in fat and calories than lean ground beef. 

Low-fat ice creams and yogurts
This one is not a problem for me but I thought I'd add it anyway. Those low-fat or low-cal frozen dairy desserts are so not no-cal. In fact, Cornell researchers found that low-cal ice creams only contain 11 percent fewer calories than full-fat cartons. "Most people assume the difference is much more significant," explained Tanner-Blasiar to me.

I guess steamed or raw veggies are just about the only thing we can take for granted....

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Nutrition Facts...Or Fictions

I've just put down an article that seems to have some false bone-density information. The writer said that the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in soda is linked to  osteoporosis. While HFCS is dangerous because it taxes the pancreas and may raise our risk of developing diabetes type 2, I've never seen any studies suggesting it leaches calcium from our bones. Rather, it's the phosphoric acid in soda that has been shown consistently to give us bone density problems. 

So this got me thinking of other examples of nutrition facts...and fictions. For fun, test your knowledge below. What do you think?

"Eating carrots can improve vision"
False! "Carrots contain a compound linked to fighting cancer but for protecting your eyes, spinach and other dark leafy veggies are better bets," said Wendy Bazilian, a registered dietician and and author of The SuperFoods Rx Diet to me. Why? They're high in lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that seem to curb degenerative eye diseases, says Johns Hopkins research.

"Coffee helps headaches"
True! "A 200 mg dose of caffeine (that's about the size of 1 mug) actually gives relief a half-hour faster than 400 mg of Advil, says a study in the journal of Current Pain and Headache Reports. Bazilian explained to me that caffeine constricts blood vessels in the brain to lessen the throbbing feeling.

"An apple a day keeps the doctor away"
True! Packed with fiber and phytochemicals, apples do take a bite out of diseases. Quercetin is its secret weapon against cancers found one study from the Mayo Clinic. It also may improve lung function, aid in the brain's cognitive abilities, and lower cholesterol. But perhaps the biggest vote for apples? They seem to keep you thin. A new Brazilian study showed that those who ate 3 apples a day were skinnier than those who didn't!

"Yogurt cures yeast infections"
True! Its live bacteria helps restore the delicate balance of yeast with other bacteria that exist naturally in the ladies' bodies, says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a professor of gyno at Yale. She even told me that coating an unused tampon with a spoonful of plain yogurt and then inserting it 3 times a day can be enough to get the good flora going again.

"Milk prevents osteoporosis"
False! I love this one because as a lactose-intolerant one, people have asked me about brittle bones later. Dairy intake has very very very very little to do with maintaining high bone density. Weight bearing exercises and eating veggies is a much better way to stay healthy than milk or a hunk of cheese daily--and without the saturated fat. Calcium in milk is not that easily absorbed by our bones, explains experts like David Grotto, RD and author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Carbon Monoxide...for Health?

Wait long enough and scientists will discover that what’s supposed to be bad for you is actually good for you (coffee, caffeine, wine) and vice versa (soy, vitamin e supplements, 100-calorie snacks).

Now we can add a new one to the former category: carbon monoxide. You know, those toxic, deadly fumes we’re not supposed to inhale from car exhaust or cigarette smoke. Apparently, the poisonous effects of CO (to limit blood's ability to transport by binding itself to the hemoglobin in our red blood cells) now have a POSITIVE side--on patients undergoing heart bypass surgery or those susceptible to muscle injury due to "ischemia," where blood supply is restricted because of dysfunctional blood vessels ! There are 2 studies suggesting this:

Let’s take the first study by researchers from Mass. General Hospital in Boston: that will be presented to the Vascular Annual Meeting in June. They studied mice who were suffering from the onset of ischemia where their blood flow was stopping in an isolated area of a limb. But when the mice inhaled a low dose of CO, scientists discovered reduced musculature damage when the blood supply returned to the tissue. Why? The CO inhalation actually decreased fiber injury by reducing the  local and systemic levels of proinflammatory markers, aka cytokines. (Sorry so jargony; now I can exhale).

The second study, administered in the department of anesthesiology at the University Medical Centre in Freiburg, Germany, and published in the journal Anesthesiology, found that inhalation of low-levels of CO can actually reduce lung inflammation to again, promote cell survival in patients undergoing cardiopulmonary bypass surgery. The low dose of CO reduced inflammation, and consequent injury, by slowing down how much blood pumps through a part of the body so not to invoke more damage.

What's next? Nicotine as an age-defying?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Down on High Fructose Corn Syrup

Ask anyone who knows me about my flexibility about food. I love meat (including liver and foie gras and hot dogs), bread, artificial sweeteners, coffee, and probably a lot of things that others who are careful about their diets abstain from.

But I don’t eat high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It’s a sweetener added to not just the obvious culprits like candy and soda, but in more surprising spots like soup, supermarket breads, pretzels, and most condiments. While some of the experts on metabolic syndrome and nephrology often say to me that it is a bad thing that has been added to our food supply, there is enough backlash research out there that many others in the medical profession still won’t weigh in on its negative effects because we just don’t know for sure if it is directly tied to obesity and metabolic diseases like diabetes.

Once I was visiting some friends in the Hamptons and this topic came up (you’d be surprised how shopping for our BBQ was a minefield for this stuff…hot dog buns, ketchup, relish, for example). Anyway, when it came time for me to explain why HFCS was bad, I found the only argument I could defend logically was about the insidiousness of this stuff. I mean, when we eat a bag of candy, we may know we’re consuming a high quantity of sugar. But when it’s an English muffin, then we’re talking about consuming sugar in ways that is unbeknownst to us and therefore a danger with HFCS.

Well this week, I finally understood another piece to the puzzle. Here it goes: table sugar is made up of 2 monosaccharides, glucose and fructose. Glucose is vital to our bodies. All carbs at the end of the day during digestion essentially boil down to glucose that is delivered via the bloodstream throughout the body to fuel our bodies’ processes from physical energy to our emotional mood.

However, the other molecule, fructose, is the more interesting one. Also a sugar found naturally in fruit and some veggies like CORN (where HFCS is manufactured from). When the small intestines breaks down the sugar into fructose and glucose, the fructose moves on slowly to the liver where it takes a really long time (say a few hours depending on the dose) to be metabolized. Fructose in fact has a low-glycemic index, and therefore recommended to diabetics (how ironic!), because it doesn’t cause a blood sugar spike, i.e. an outpouring of the hormone insulin from the pancreas to soak it up in the blood stream like glucose does.

But when fructose reaches the liver, it apparently makes the liver forget all the other processes it is supposed to do (like deliver bile to your digestion process to break down fats) to work out the fructose. It also seems to activate 2 other things, the production of triglycerides (types of fat that are stored away created by excess calories become when you don’t use those calories for energy) and the production of uric acid (remember gout).

It’s a better answer to my pal’s question from the Hamptons two summers ago. But probably more of a buzz kill.

Monday, March 31, 2008

What My Gut Says

I have a coupon for $1 off a new cereal that claims to promote better digestive health because it has a “prebiotic fiber.” So is it still worth it even with that savings?

If I lived in Europe, I’d probably be used to all these pre- and pro-biotic claims. But here it is all new marketing to us. Probiotics and prebiotics – loosely – are foods that keep our “good’ digestive microflora thriving. The thing is, the benefits of the living microorganisms in our food has been apparently common knowledge for-like-ever. The Old Testament apparently says that Abraham owed his longevity to drinking sour milk. And Roman historian Plinius raved about fermented milk products too. (I found these references in a AJCN article published in 2001). Sugar-free, plain yogurt is a probiotic….so is sauerkraut and pickles. Anything fermented and live cultures growing on it is technically a probiotic, from what I know so far. Prebiotics are foods that help your good gut flora to flourish. Examples include veggies high in a fiber called inulin (found in chicory root or asparagus) so we’re not exactly talking about rare rainforest produce here that is just being discovered….

So a cereal touting its prebiotics seems to be a harbinger of products to come that are throwing out a fancy word from items that we’ve had available already in the supermarket aisles—and perhaps more important, containing bacteria that we JUST MAY NOT NEED. It’s just a gut feeling I’m having…

Friday, March 28, 2008

Gout, Go Figure

This week, I've been thinking a lot about gout, a condition that conjures up images of big, fat men with big bellies dressed in suits from the 19th century. I think of it as a disease of fat cats, wheelers and dealers, masters' of the universe.

The image isn't entirely inaccurate. In the past, the cause of gout appeared to be due to a high level of purines in the blood. What are purines? According to medicinenet.com, they are

Definition of Purine

Purine: One of the two classes of bases in DNA and RNA. The purine bases are guanine (G) and adenine (A). Uric acid, the offending substance in gout, is a purine end-product.

The purine-rich foods include organ meats (think liver, sweetbreads, etc.), beer, sardines, anchovies and gravies. These are foods I would imagine were for the wealthy in the 19th century. But there are some other foods that have purines too that I find surprising, namely yeast products and some veggies including mushrooms, spinach asparagus and cauliflower.

So is it because of the sweetbreads or broccoli that is causing the rise in gout today in women? Or is it another purine-rich food--or beverage--that is causing this painful condition (where joints become incredibly painful, especially at the extremities like feet) in more and more females.

I guess I've been thinking about it today because I've been fielding emails from a pal who's worried about a breast cancer biopsy coming up. So as I've been trying to soothe the stressed-out one that breast cancer incidences have been falling -- because of more preventative care like early biopsies -- I've thought about gout.