‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Super Supplements are Super Bad

A couple of ground breaking studies in recent weeks uncovered the more sinister side to supposedly safe supplements. Westerners commonly consume copious quantities of complementary medicines like herbal supplements, weight loss pills, "energy-boosting" products, and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). But why is this a problem? Oh let us count the ways...

We love complicating things, especially nutrition. Many pill-popping, supplement-swiggers rationalise taking these touted tablets either as a way to "cover" for their poor diet, or as a way for healthy people to make themselves feel that little bit "more healthy". Either way, these are seriously misguided.

About 23,000 Americans end up in the emergency room each year due to heart problems (rapid or irregular beat), chest pain, choking, or worse...Caused by your friendly supermarket, super, cure-all (but really nothing) supplements.

So, to make matters worse, choking down your pills isn't the extent of the concern. They can also increase your risk of death... A little worse than the irregular heart beat.

Yep, new research (adding to the body of already existing evidence) states certain supplements increase your risk of cancer. And most people know cancer increases your risk of death... True story.

See, your body naturally produces "free radicals". These are unstable molecules in the body that cause damage to cell structures including DNA (this is called oxidative stress.) Enter antioxidants: Compounds, including many vitamins, that neutralise free radicals.

However..! Your body needs a certain amount of free radicals to function normally. New research found high antioxidant levels actually increase oxidative stress and help cancer cells thrive, and metastasise (spread.) Not really what you hoped for when GNC sold you that acai berry supplement.

Oh, and let's not forget that herbal supplements (and supplements in general) are very poorly regulated. Who cares? Well, you should... Because:
  • A study found you're paying a lot of money for a ginseng (or other herbal) supplement and actually getting an assortment of powdered rice, asparagus, houseplant, or some other foreign plant material instead
  • Another study found many diet pills/sport supplements were contaminated with a synthetic amphetamine-like substance
Are you herbal supplements fills with grass clippings? Quite possibly...
Due to their poor regulation many supplements are mislabelled, contaminated, contain foreign materials not stated on the label, or contain unknown amounts of the ingredients - despite what the label states.

What can you do to avoid ER visits, chest pain, heart attacks, liver damage, stroke, choking, or death induced by taking supplements?
  • Concentrate on getting your nutrition, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals from food
  • Take supplements only when prescribed by a doctor or other medical professional (no, not a naturopath who read your palm or stared deeply into your eyes)
  • Buy good, healthy, cheap food (here's how)
  • Enjoy eating!
Further reading on antioxidants.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Let's Get Digital, Digital...

In a world where the youth cherish online purchases, digital media, and simpler food... The landscape of food, nutrition, weight management, and much more are changing... Yes, you've got to say that with the dramatic deep movie-presenter voice. With the coming of age for Gen Z, nicknamed the "digital natives" come new food trends, attitudes, and food preferences. There are also a new set of weight challenges.
The Worrisome Weight Debate 
New research shows weight loss today is actually more difficult compared to weight loss in the 1970s. The bottom line is there are other factors underlying the "calories in calories out" equation.

Please explain... There are various other factors being studied that are highly likely to influence risk of obesity, including:
  • Hormonal changes - Men, you're on the hook too
    • Due to increased stress
    • Due to lack of sleep
      • Often caused by light exposure and extended screen time (more on that here)
      • New research presented at the annual dietetic conference (FNCE) describes how lack of sleep impairs decision making regarding food choices. Your lack of sleep equals lack of self control, so you're more likely to eat 5 cronuts and a bag of chips
  • Exposure to environmental pollutants
    • Environmental toxins, organic pollutants, chemicals and additives common in food
  • Gut bacteria (currently a very active area of research)
    • Obese vs non-obese persons have different bacterial colonies due to the types of food consumed (eg: The best bacteria thrive off a high fiber diet, rather than a diet of Oreos, Big Macs, donuts, and Easy Mac)
    • Bacterial colonies affect a variety of metabolic activities including: Glucose and fat metabolism, immune function, and energy expenditure (more on that here and here)
      • Bet ya never thought you'd be jealous of the bacteria in your friend's colon...
  • Rise in medication use
  • Higher maternal age
Ok, so that's the doom and gloom. Even so, it's not that doomy or gloomy because you can modify things like your stress levels, sleeping habits, and how much fruit and veg you eat.
It's the new generational trends that are exciting and perhaps even encouraging... Recent surveys completed by food service professionals at colleges report trends in Gen Z including:
  • Breakfast availability all day
  • Authentic and varied internationals/ethnic cuisine (incl: Mediterranean, Southeast Asian, Korean, Middle Eastern)
  • Fresh, local farm to table
  • Plant-based offerings
  • Healthier on-the-go options
  • Sustainable seafood
In general, food shoppers (all generations) are increasingly looking for:
  • Shorter ingredient lists
  • Recognisable ingredients
  • Minimally processed foods
  • Locally grown produce
These are all encouraging progressions. If we can get our stress and sleep under control, a large-scale move to simpler, less processed food should mean our western waist-lines will waste away (in a good way).

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pumpkin Spiced Pizza

In America, the season of fall is greeted with a slew of fall flavoured favourites, most notably: Pumpkin and pumpkin spice. Pumpkin in and of itself is a vegetable, and a healthy one. So what did we do to it? In true American (ok, fine... Western) fashion, we took something healthy and found a bazillion ways to made it unhealthy.

Pumpkin is a type of squash, originally found in Mexico. Currently, 1.5 billion tons are produced in America, mostly in Illinois.

Pumpkin is highly nutritious... Well duh, it is a vegetable. One cup of boiled, mashed pumpkin (245g) contains about:
  • 50 calories
  • 0g fat, 0mg cholesterol, almost nil sodium
  • 3g fiber
  • 2g sugar (remember this when reading the Starbucks section below)
  • 2g protein
  • 6% of your folate (a B vitamin necessary for cell growth and metabolism)
  • 8% of your iron (a mineral needed to transport oxygen around the body)
  • 16% of your potassium (a mineral used for nerve signaling and muscle contractions)
  • 19% of your vitamin C (a water soluble vitamin involved in skin and tissue formation, wound healing, repair, and maintenance of bones, cartilage and teeth)
  • 245% of your vitamin A (a fat soluble vitamin and powerful antioxidant needed for vision, bone growth, immune function, and reproduction)
Btw, here's a new article adding to the body of evidence, just how awesome vegetables are at keeping your body weight manageable.

Even Google loves pumpkins
Now, to some of the things we're calling "pumpkin" or "pumpkin spice". Here's how some Starbucks favourites measure up nutritionally...

* Note: the following numbers represent Grande size, with 2% milk, and no whipped cream! If you add cream, add about 100cal):
Or, you can be "healthy" and get the "lite" version:
Pumpkin Spice Light Frappuccino = 180cal, still 40g sugar (Grande, no whip)

Or if you'd like to get some of your calories from something solid (still at Starbucks), you can try:
  • Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin  = 350cal, 34g sugar, 14g fat, and 430mg sodium (that's 18% of your recommendation for the day)
  • Pumpkin bread = 410cal, 39g sugar, 15g fat, 500mg sodium... And a piddly 2g of fiber (adults need 25-35g of fiber daily)
What about some other pumpkin-pushing products? Do they actually contain any pumpkin? The results were surprising:
  • Pumpkin spiced Oreos - No pumpkin detected. But plenty of sugar, palm oil, high fructose corn syrup, and colors
  • Pumpkin pie spice M&Ms - Ingredients list is vague, only noting artificial colors and flavors (including on the front of package), needless to say... No pumpkin there
  • Ben and Jerry's Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream - Contains pumpkin purée! (6th ingredient)
  • Cedar's pumpkin hummus - Contains pumpkin (2nd ingredient)
  • Keebler fudge stripes pumpkin spice - No pumpkin, but does have an impressive list of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, several hydrogenated oils (AKA trans fat), colors, and flavors
  • Chobani Greek yogurt pumpkin spice - Does contain pumpkin purée, but low-ish on the ingredients list... Not enough to provide any fiber in the serve, and evaporated cane juice (AKA sugar) features 2 ingredients ahead of the pumpkin
  • Pillsbury pumpkin spice rolls - No pumpkin. Kind of a surprise actually. But again, plenty of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, colors and trans fat
  • Noosa Australian yogurt pumpkin flavor - The 2nd ingredient is "fruit purée" which does include pumpkin purée... But also water, sugar, and cream cheese. Followed by flavors and other forms of sugar. PS: Australians don't have a pumpkin fetish, so from an Australian's point of view, it's a little wrong to sell "Australian" pumpkin yoghurt... just sayin'
  • Alaskan Beer Pumpkin Ale - Does actually have pumpkin purée (well knock me over with a feather!) 5.5lbs are added to each barrel for mouth feel (I have no idea how much that comes out to per bottle, but so far, beer is beating Oreos and Pillsbury)
  • Jif whipped peanut butter and pumpkin pie spice flavored spread - That's a mouthful... And it's a mouthful of peanuts, trans fat, sugar, flavors, but no actual pumpkin. PS: peanut butter should contain: peanuts... Not sugar and oil as well
  • Pop-Tarts pumpkin pie - About 1/3 down the long list of ingredients you do see "pumpkin"... right after "salt". I'd say, if there's more salt than pumpkin in a "pumpkin pie pop-tart"... Keep walking
Walk away from non-pumpkin pumpkin "foods"
I don't mean to spoil anyone's fun... Well, maybe I do. But being aware of food crazes is probably useful. Some take home points:
  • Doesn't matter how popular it is... Pick up the product, flip it over and read the ingredients, if it's full of crap, put it down and walk away
  • A pumpkin Oreo (even if it actually contained pumpkin) doesn't count as a vegetable, and you know it
  • Find a recipe to make your own pumpkin thing (bread, muffins, etc) that actually contains pumpkin puree or shredded pumpkin