When food isn’t food anymore

July 21, 2008

Back to keep us informed about the latest developments in the nutrition arena is my colleague and friend Amy Snider. Today she has interesting news about how food products are now being classified as health products and what that means for consumers.

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Futurists predict that in the future, rather than sit down with a knife and fork to eat our meals we will simply pop a pill that supplies all our daily nutritional needs. Food lovers like me find this concept rather bleak (especially since I’ll be out of a job as well as bored with my meals!) but have comforted ourselves that the scenario is in the distant future. However, at the recent international launch for Nestea Vitao, I realized we’re already striding down this path.

These cool, flavourful and refreshing teas come in three flavours, Fuji Apple Green Tea, Acai Blueberry Red Tea and Mandarin Orange White Tea. Although these descriptions sound like food and are delivered as a conventional drink experience, instead of being classified as food products, these drinks are considered Natural Health Products.

That’s a distinction worth noting. Rather than a Nutrition Facts Panel on the package (as required by law for all foods and beverages) the label on this product reads like a prescription: “Drink 1 to 3 bottles per day as needed. Do not exceed 3 bottles per day.”

What bothers me is that while these teas are made with natural ingredients and contain healthful antioxidants they still contain calories… how are consumers supposed to balance their caloric intake if there is no information provided?

Expect to see more products take this approach as R&D teams try to give their brands an edge as foodaseuticals. Nanotechnology and other advances in supplementation are pushing the envelope further… I’m paying attention and hope you are, too.

Text written by Amy Snider, PHEC

How to eat 278 fewer calories a day

February 25, 2008

Fruit vs. fruit juiceDrink more water and eat fruit. Honest, these two small changes will make a huge difference to your caloric intake if you’re like most North Americans.

Late in 2007, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that since 1971, overall energy intake from sweetened beverages increased 135 per cent.

This change represents a 278 total calorie increase per person per day. If you do the math, that’s enough extra calories to result in a 25 lb. weight gain over the course of a year.

Although pop and energy drinks are often cited as one of the insidious causes of obesity, we need to remember that healthy-hailed fruit juices can be high in calories, too.

In fact, my colleague Amy Snider, a professional home economist who specializes in nutrition, recommends that we reevaluate our opinions about fruit juice: “Canada’s Food Guide makes the recommendation to ‘have vegetables and fruit more often than juice’,” points out Amy.

“There are scores of beverage products currently marketed that claim to contain superfruit-enhanced nutritional benefits. However, calorie-for-calorie, these beverages can’t match the nutritional benefits of eating real fruit. This is because whole fruits and vegetables contain more fiber and are more filling while containing fewer calories ounce for ounce. Likewise, the carbohydrates consumed while eating fruit are broken down less quickly than those from juice; helping to prevent blood sugar spikes.

“There’s also a school of thought that would say that eating fruit in its natural form should increase the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that you consume. Research is still working to identify all of the healthful components in plant foods and studies are still determining the bioavailability of nutritious plant compounds when processed into products such as juice or added as supplements into other products but why not hedge your bets?

“In my opinion, drinking juice can be a refreshing way to gain additional nutrients but should not replace whole fruit in our diets or water as our primary beverage source.”

This is great advice from Amy especially, as so-called “healthy” versions of products like Pepsi are launched and marketed to us.

150-calorie breakfast

January 21, 2008

To lose weight, I follow a very low-calorie, low-fat regime. With only 1,000 calories per day to consume, I carefully choose every bite to ensure it delivers not only as much nutrition as possible, but also as much enjoyment as possible.

Breakfast is a difficult meal for me. I’m often rushed in the morning and, truth be told, scrambled egg whites with salsa get boring after a couple of weeks. When I was gaining weight, I often grabbed a tall latte and a blueberry-white chocolate scone from Starbucks on the way the work; however, that 560-calorie indulgence (100 for the latte, 460 for the scone) didn’t make my fat ass any smaller.

To find a breakfast option that’s easy and makes for a satisfying meal with less than 180 calories, I turned to a black coffee and bars. No, I didn’t drink martinis for breakfast — a dry vodka martini is about 210 calories so it exceeds my calorie criteria! I’m talking about meal replacement bars.

While shopping for breakfast bar options, I discovered that most energy bars are higher in calories than I wanted. Here’s a list of the bars that did fit my criteria. I tasted each one and recorded my impressions so that you don’t have to read as many labels or suffer through the bad breakfasts I endured:

Atkins Endulge: Coconut (40 g, 180 calories). Super sweet with a terrible artificial sweetener aftertaste that not only lingered for hours but also ruined the taste of my coffee.
Bottom line: Yuck!

PowerBar Pria: Chocolate Peanut Butter Crisp (45 g, 170 calories). Cloyingly sweet but satiated me for quite a while.
Bottom line: Not my favourite for morning but may be good for people who love sweets and miss them while dieting.

SlimFast Optima: Chewy Caramel Crunch (30 g, 130 calories): The caramel flavour is super fake and there’s a weird crystallized texture at the finish that isn’t appealing.
Bottom line: Better than most, but still not on par with an egg white scramble.

Dr. Bernstein Protein Bar: Coconut Almond (40 g , 150 calories): This bar goes very well with coffee and actually tastes darn good. The texture is dense and although the bars are small, it takes long enough to finish each one so you feel like you ate something.
Bottom line: My hands-down favourite. (Note: I also tried their Chocolate Peanut Crunch variety but didn’t like it as much as the Coconut Almond.) Have you tried any of the other flavours? If so, please comment below.

Check out an Almond Granola breakfast recipe for about 150 calories/serving and Oats Plus Porridge for 118 calories/serving at homemakers.com.

Have a low-cal breakfast tip you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it!

Cooking light for one

January 8, 2008

Late in December, I received a letter from a dieting reader who needed suggestions for cooking for one.

Anne Cotter’s note revealed that she was frustrated that most diet-related cookbooks offered recipes for four and six diners. As a single person, she always had to divide recipes or deal with leftovers — something that she didn’t find desirable given her love of variety and lack of fridge and freezer space.

After reading Anne’s letter (hey, Anne’s first initial, A, is today’s mystery letter) I realized how right she was to complain about this feature in diet-style cookbooks. While I was dieting with earnest (see yesterday’s post) I was basically preparing food for one. Now that I have only a few pounds left to lose, I am just eating smaller portions of the food I prepare for the rest of the family. And, when I think about most dieters I know, it’s seldom that the whole family is eating diet food. More often, only one or two people in the household are dieting.

So, what can lone dieters do? Here are a few suggestions from my experience.

-Stick to very basic entrees such as a grilled skinless, boneless chicken breast, veal or turkey scaloppini sauteed in cooking spray. Finish these meats with small amounts of light cooking sauces, salsa or calorie-reduced salad dressing to add flavour.
-Buy 100-calorie packs of treats so that you can at least snack easily.
-Consult a book such as Going Solo in the Kitchen and use the seasoning proportions in the recipes but make the substitutions necessary to remove calories from fat such as using cooking spray instead of butter or oil and substituting light dairy products for full fat, etc.
-Making single-portion versions of most casseroles is fussy if you eschew batch cooking. So, if making your own freezer entrees isn’t desirable, buy frozen or store-prepared, refrigerated light versions of casseroles from a grocery store and save your cooking energies for making faster-to-prepare foods like the ones mentioned above.

Do you have dieter’s cooking tips you’d like to share? If so, please share them in the Comments section below.

See my blog archives at homemakers.com/danasblog.