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.