Category Archives: Nutrition

Cause & Effect?

I ran across these three things separately this morning, but felt like they told an interesting story when combined.

The first, a short PSA, warns that feeding our children  junk food may turn then into  addicts.

OK–that was a little over-the-top.  But judging by what’s being offered (and apparently eaten) in America’s fast food establishments, it may be closer to the truth than we realize: 

Exhibit A:  Carl\’s Jr. foot-long \”superburger\”

Exhibit B:  Dominos new breakfast pizza


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Taco Wars

Earlier this week I ran across an online article that talked about Taco Bell’s newest offering,  Cantina Tacos.   According to the fast food giant the tacos are “based upon authentic-style Mexican street tacos” and are served with chicken, carnitas or carne asada.  While there was nothing of much interest in the article itself, it did spark a lively debate in the accompanying comments section. 

There were quite a few posters who commented that there was no reason for them to ever try anything from Taco Bell.  They were convinced that for about the same price they could get much better food off of their local “taco truck”.  An equally opinionated group swore that they would never ingest anything that came off of a “roach coach”.

The most interesting argument that I read went something like this: Who do you trust more to make your food–an owner/operator whose livelihood rests on your satisfaction…or a disinterested minimum-wage employee who is assembling ingredients they get from a huge corporation that will do anything to trim costs?

Then in today’s Register they published this list of all of the food establishments in the valley that have had failing grades recently.  Apparently there are no hard and fast rules.  The list has both new restaurants and old standards that have been around for decades.  There’s a fair number of low-cost Mexican joints, but some of the trendiest names from upvalley are included as well.

Interestingly, there’s not a corporate fast-food place to be seen.  Apparently one advantage to being big is that your restaurant design and your training protocols are standardized and you get plenty of training on food safety.

So what’s your opinion?  If you’re looking for a quick, cheap meal where do you go—Taco Bell or taco truck?  There are a lot of trucks around town, do you have a favorite?

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No-nothing Nanny

The board of supervisors in Santa Clara County just voted to take the fun out of “happy meals”.  If the popular child-size meals don’t meet certain nutritional standards it will be illegal to  give away promotional toys with them.

This of course is yet another symbolic gesture aimed at curbing childhood obesity that’s been enacted by people who have no real understanding of the problem.  They just know that they’re smarter than you and that it’s their duty to help you run your life.

Reading the quotes from board president Ken Yeager in this New York Times  article showed just how clueless our politicians can be.  Ken doesn’t have any children of his own, but he’s quite confident he knows how to best help you raise yours. 

He claims the new law would level “the playing field by taking away the incentive to choose fatty, sugary foods over healthier options.”  Sorry Ken, you can take away the toy, but the fatty, sugary foods are still going to taste good to kids.  Supermarkets sell plenty of candy, cookies, chips and other junk food without the need to include a cheap plastic trinket.

Mr. Know-it-all believes that children are choosing their meal based on the give-away that comes with it.  He then delivers this gem of parental wisdom: “Why would a kid say ‘I want a burger with fries’? It’s the toys that they want.”  That’s right Ken, give them a plastic whistle and they’ll be lined up three deep to eat brussels sprouts and tofu.

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Weekend Wrap

Anyone who has been following this blog knows that nutritionists generally take a dim view of processed foods.   But one sector of this market has been given a free pass, and that’s products that are made with soy.  It seems as though it’s politically incorrect to criticize anything soy-based, because it’s the vegetarian protein source that’s going to feed the world.

But what could be more overly processed than a veggieburger?  What kind of manipulation do soybeans have to go through to make then look, feel, and taste like meat?  And can you expect a corporate food factory to put your health ahead of profits simply because they produce soy-based products?

If you eat soy-based products, I highly recommend you read this article from Mother Jones.  Perhaps this quote will whet your appetite: 

 If a non-organic product contains a soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, or texturized vegetable protein, you can be pretty sure it was made using soy beans that were made with hexane.

For you non-chemists out there, hexane is an EPA-registered air pollutant and neurotoxin.  Mmmm, tasty!

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Here’s more good news that’s sure to get your attention.  According to researchers, dieting can actually harm your health, leading to conditions such as…drumroll please… heart disease, diabetes and cancer. 

The studies showed that women who were put on a restrictive diet (1200 calories daily) produced higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  Many of the subjects also experienced high levels of psychological stress because they were forced to count calories and constantly monitor what they ate.

Conclusion—yeah, you’ve heard it before—eating wholesome foods and exercising is the best way to stay healthy.

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Something else that you’ve probably heard before, but it’s worth repeating:

Want a better workout? Don\’t stretch before.

And finally, an interesting article from AlterNet that questions whether the multinational food industry can help alleviate global nutrition problems.  As you might expect, public health leaders are a little bit skeptical.  Lots of links are provided for extended weekend reading.

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Monday Grab Bag

Get in line now, the Double Down (angina on a plate) will be available at KFC starting today.  And while we’re talking about bacon, here’s a link to an article about America’s love affair with the meat candy.

Who watched Jamie Oliver\’s Food Revolution this past weekend?  Were you shocked (NOT!) that Jamie was able to instantly convert his nemesis the radio DJ?  Were you amazed by how easy it is to cook a simple stir-fry (when someone else preps and measures all the ingredients for you)?  Doesn’t anyone else find it shockingly phony to see a man worth $60 million driving around in an old International Wagoneer?   Jamie may have won his “bet” on this reality show, but in the real world many are giving him a failing grade.

And speaking of fostering an image  (let’s wear scrubs every time we’re on TV!), “America’s Doctor” is taking shots for offering advice that is unsupported by science.  “Dr. Oz promotes unproven approaches such as Reiki and Therapeutic Touch, and to support them he cherry-picks studies that are positive and ignores the negative ones,” says Dr. Mary Ann Malloy, a nationally known Illinois-based cardiologist.  Oz fans might be wise to seek a second opinion.

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Healthier Fast Food Headed Here?

It was recently announced in this Napa Valley Register article that we’re going to have two new restaurants as neighbors.  Construction of the 1st  phase of the Napa Crossing project on the corner of California Blvd. and Trancas has begun, and could be completed before the end of the year.

The upscale shopping center will be home to a Chipolte Mexican Grill and to Noodles & Company.  Both are chain restaurants.  Chipolte has almost 1000 locations nationwide, while Noodles, a newcomer to Northern California, has 230 locations in 18 states.

Both restaurants seek to fill the gap between fast food and fine dining.  Chipolte’s main feature is big burritos that are built to order with high quality ingredients.  Noodles’  “fast casual” menu offers  pasta, soup and salad items from various cultures.    The pair were both rated by Health Magazine among the top ten healthiest fast food restaurants in 2009.  Of course you need to take that with a grain of salt, as McDonald’s also made the list

Chipolte won high marks for its commitment to organics, hormone and antibiotic-free meats, and produce sourced from local suppliers.  surprisingly, the chain doesn’t go out of its way to brag about their sustainable farming practices.  They have been committed to green initiatives and followed a “food with integrity” philosophy long before it became popular to do so.

While these practices are certainly commendable, finding something on the menu that would qualify as truly “healthy” is a bit more problematic.  Diners are invited to stuff a smorgasboard of ingredients into a big flour tortilla, and it doesn’t take many additions to push your meal into dangerous territory.

Since all of their offering are custom made, finding nutritional data is a bit challenging.  The company says that their burritos caloric content ranges from 420-918, but those numbers may be misleading.  Indeed, using this online calculator I find that my order, while fairly benign (chicken with no cheese, guacamole, or sour cream), comes in at 775 calories.   With a couple of additions it’s easy to push the total up over 1000!

While I am fortunate and can handle a high caloric load, sodium is another matter.  And Chipolte is liberal with the salt shaker.  My burrito comes with over 2000 mg. of sodium, 87% of my recommended maximum daily allowance.  I guess I better skip the chips and salsa!

I’ve never been to a Noodles & Company, but it sounds like they may have a few more choices that fall within the healthy category.  Their web site currently boast of 16 bowls that are under 400 calories.  Most of the entrees start out as vegetarian fare, then you have the option to add lean proteins—hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, beef, shrimp, and organic tofu.  They also add seasonal specialties to the menu, with fresh asparagus now on the menu through June. 

If you’re trying to cut down your sodium intake, you’ll need to be careful here too.  The harmless sounding Market Salad with Fat Free Asian Dressing comes it at a paltry 190 calories, yet manages to pack a tremendous wallop in the salt department, 2,760 mg.  That’s well over 100% of your RDA! 

On the plus side, the nutrition information on their website does address go into more detail than most.  You can find a list of low sodium recommendations, as well as low calorie, low fat, or low carb.  They also provide information for people who have food allergies.

It will certainly be nice to have a couple of moderately priced options for food on this side of town.  The fact that both restaurants are doing more to be socially and environmentally responsible is also a nice bonus.  Just  make sure to take a little extra time to educate yourself on your choices and try to make informed decisions.

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It’s Grilled, It Must Be Healthy

It was about 6 months ago that I warned you that KFC was test marketing a more efficient way to deliver fat, grease and salt to the ravenous masses.  A week from today they roll this monstrosity out nationwide.

The “Double Down” is a bacon and cheese sandwich, if you can call something with no bread or bun a sandwich.  In this concoction the meat and cheese is enveloped in a pair of fried chicken breasts.  You can also get it with grilled chicken instead of fried if you’re looking for a “healthier” bacon and cheese sandwich.

Here’s the nutritional data: the Original Recipe sandwich will set you back about 540 calories, 32g of fat and 1380mg of sodium. The not-as-bad-for-you Grilled Double Down totals 460 calories, 23g of fat and 1430mg of sodium.  The calories aren’t as bad as I imagined, but it definitely packs a wallop in the sodium department.

UPDATE 4/09:  Here’s SF Gate columnist Mark Morford\’s take on the sandwich.  If you’re not familiar with his writing, be forewarned that he is militantly liberal, highly opinionated,  a bit profane, and loves to craft sentences that seem to run-on forever.  His job description for a fast-food executive is “someone who sits around all day trying to discover new ways to manipulate, coerce, poison, and otherwise flagrantly kill millions of humans worldwide by convincing them to eat mass-produced, industrial feedlot, chemical-blasted garbage you should not feed to your dog unless you totally hate him and want him to get heart disease and die.”

Stephen Colbert recently did a funny segment on fast food, and includes his take on the Double Down, calling it “the warped creation of a syphilitic brain”.  Here’s a link for you to watch it.

In another shocking development the actual Double Down sandwich, when prepared by disinterested fast-food employees, served in a styro clamshell, and photographed in poor light with a cell phone, appears to look nothing like the sandwich portrayed in KFC’s advertising photo shown at the top of this page:

Pick your poison, fried (L) or grilled (R)

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