‘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, July 31, 2013

Should You Reverse Thrust on Your Autopilot Purchases at Trader Joe's?

Buying food: It's something we all do, whether it's at Whole Foods (which is mostly organic, gluten free, conflict free, free range, frou-frou), Trader Joe's (which is mostly pre-made, pre-marinated and pre-fab), Ralph's (which is expensive unless products are on sale), or somewhere else. There's a stigma attached to stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods: That their convenience food is healthier. Since moving to the US, numerous acquaintances have zealously supported this claim.

After hearing these impassioned opinions, I did what any normal person (or dietitian) would do... Went on an excursion to my local Ralph's and Trader Joe's.

I picked (at random) 4 store brand convenience foods: Fish sticks, mini beef tacos, mac and cheese and tarter sauce. Random, right?

Next up, I compared price and (tried) to compare major food components (calories, total fat, saturated fat and sodium). 

US food labels make this task extremely laborious due to their not having any kind of standardised column. For example: a serve of fish sticks at Trader Joe's (TJ's) was 114g, but at Ralph's it was 56g... This makes it simply impossible to accurately compare products without a calculator, something I have found exceedingly frustrating since moving to the US (tell your congressman).

But I digress. For the purpose of this exercise, I compared price per 100g (3.5oz) of product, calories per 100g, total fat per 100g, saturated fat per 100g and sodium per 100g. Once we have a standard measure (100g) we can compare the products side by side.

First up: Fish sticks.
Reduced Fat Fish Sticks at Trader Joe's

Reduced Fat Fish Nuggets at Ralph's
Fish Stick Comparison. *Sat fat unable to be calculated due to 0g sat fat per serve listed on label
Analysis: We can see in the green that TJ's is significantly cheaper (more on this later), has negligibly more calories and total fat, but less sodium. When looking at ingredients we see the TJ's product has fewer, but many of the extra ingredients in the Ralph's brand are spices and minerals (zinc, folic acid, thiamine).

Next up was mini beef tacos:

Mini Beef Tacos from TJ's

Mini Beef Tacos from Ralph's
Mini Taco comparison
Analysis: TJ's is cheaper and appears to win out in all categories. Two things to note here:
1. A calorie difference of 18cal/100g is negligible
2. I made an error here because the Ralph's brand contains cheese (which is higher in calories, fat and sodium), so this isn't totally a comparative product.
Ingredients between the two are fairly similar, I wouldn't say one is 'healthier'.

The all Americano mac and cheese:
Mac and Cheese from TJ's
Mac and Cheese from Ralph's
Mac and cheese comparison
Analysis: TJ's was cheaper, but struck out in every other category, pretty significantly. The ingredients in the TJ's product did have fewer 'additives' compared to the Ralph's brand.

Last but not least, tarter sauce:
Tarter sauce from TJ's
Tarter sauce from Ralph's
Comparison of tarter sauce
Analysis: TJ's beat Ralph's in all categories (though only negligibly in the price and total fat sections). BUT... And there's always a but. Let's look at the ingredients: Ralph's first ingredient is soybean oil, TJ's first ingredient is... wait for it: Water! Of course if you water down a fatty product, it will have fewer calories (and fewer everything else) per gram.

Things to note:
  • Ralph's tarter sauce used soybean oil, where TJ's used canola oil 
    • Canola oil is lower in saturated fat (reflected in the sat fat comparison) and higher in polyunsaturated fats, translation: It's a healthier oil 
  • The Ralph's brand has over double the sodium per 100g.

The side note I wanted to make about price, is that Ralph's is notorious for high prices and always having sales. Three out of the four products I chose were on sale, but I used the full price for the comparison (can't always count on a sale). 

But, to round off this article, the beef tacos, mac and cheese and tarter sauce were on sale at Ralph's. The sale prices of the beef tacos and tarter sauce ended up being cheaper than TJ's price per 100/g. Tacos on sale were $0.79/100g, where TJ's were $0.86/100g and tarter sauce on sale at Ralph's was $0.68/100g compared to TJ's at $0.73/100g.

The takeaway meal... I mean messages:
  • All pre-made convenience food contains ingredients and additives you wouldn't put in your food at home
  • Be a smart shopper... Don't assume a food is 'healthier' because of it's name, packaging or appearance in a store called Whole Foods or Trader Joe's
  • Read the label (both the ingredient list and nutrition panel)

Special thanks to my friend, Erika for encouraging me to write this article.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Udder Confusion: Under Pressure Over Dairy?

We're back, talking about a food group that often takes a pounding when it comes to 'dieting'. Every man, his dog and his wife who lost 100lbs declare ditching the dairy in your diet is how to dispose of displeasing body fat deposits. Pie Hole devotees will recall such articles where we've discussed how nutritionally awesome dairy is: whether it's getting kids to eat dairy or if low fat or full fat dairy is better. Dare to join us as we endeavour to delicately dispel the link between devilishly delicious dairy and disease development.

The force exerted on your arteries by blood flowing through them is called blood pressure (BP). When your heart beats, the pressure is highest (systolic - the first number) and between beats when your heart is at rest, pressure is lowest (diastolic - the second number). The numbers 119/79 or below represent optimal BP.

High BP generally has no symptoms, but it is most definitely associated with increased risk of diseases like cardiovascular (heart) and renal (kidney).

Rates of high BP in children are on the rise. Research shows those with higher BP in childhood tend to have higher BP in adulthood. The pressure is on to prevent pumped-up children.

There are many elements that contribute to high BP, but let's focus on some positive new research demonstrating how dairy improves BP in children.

Previous research found what many of us may assume is obvious: kid's whose diets were high in fruit, vegetables and dairy had lower BP in adolescence (1, 2). But what about dairy on its own?

New research looking at dairy intake in kids aged 8-10 found:
  • Kids who ate 2 or more serves of dairy/day were less likely to be overweight, compared to those who ate <2 serves of dairy each day
  • Kids eating 2 or more serves of dairy/day consumed more saturated fat than the low dairy consumers
  • Likewise, 2 or more serves of dairy/day provided the highest overall calcium intake (including calcium from food sources other than dairy)
  • An inverse relationship between dairy consumption and blood pressure exists
What a serve of dairy looks like (Adapted from the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating 2013)
Take home messages?
  • Eating habits are established in early childhood
    • Get your kid's pint-sized pie hole "nomm-ing" away on a variety of fruit, vegetables and dairy
  • Parents: Lead by example. "Do as I do" rather than "do as I say"
    • Want your kids to eat it? Sit down and enjoy a fruit and yoghurt snack together
  • Keep dairy in your diet
    • I know it's not a super sexy, highly 'credible', totally untrained health professional who lost 100lbs spruiking the benefits of dairy... But research shows dairy does have many health benefits. Believe in the research of thousands, not the unfounded words of one or two. Now that's sexy.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Male Fertility and Diet: A Tail of Two Sperms

Sperm, semen, secretions, scrotal temperature, motility, morphology, infertility and... oh yes, diet! The good news is, we've got most of the embarrassing words out of the way, but male fertility is certainly no laughing matter. We've done one for the ladies, now it's time to focus on the fellows. Didn't think fertility was a male problem? Didn't think your pie hole's dining habits effect your testes? Well, it's time to think again as we explore the new research linking a man's diet to his swimmers.

Simple sperm schooling 101: The male reproductive system manufactures, stores and transports sperm. It is the sperm that carry male DNA to ultimately fertilise the female sperm equivalent; the egg or ovum. Sperm is carried out of the body via semen, which is comprised of sperm and other secretions to help sustain the sperm on their quest to find the holy grail.
Diagram and microscope capture of human sperm. Source: Palomar Education

Many factors can effect male fertility including: recreational drugs, radiation, heavy metals, pesticides, childhood illnesses, smoking, alcohol and some medications. New research shows a man's diet too, plays a role in his baby-making ability.

Evidence shows zinc, vitamin E, vitamin C, folic acid and selenium protect sperm against oxidative damage and help improve sperm count. Additionally, research shows fatty acids (FAs) play a role in sperm maturation and sperm membrane function.

Western diets are typically high in simple sugars (like soda, fruit juice, cakes and sweets), refined grains, saturated fat, red meat, processed meat and simultaneously low in fish, nuts, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fiber. This translates to a diet high in omega 6 FAs. New research found a characteristic of infertile men was a high proportion of omega 6 FAs in their sperm. The study also found male diets high in omega 6 and low in omega 3 FAs contributed to poor sperm quality, motility and function. Translation: Scarf less steak and eat fish 2-3 times a week to keep your swimmers swimming.

Snaking a little further down the happy trail, we find a study that shows men who ate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts and chicken had an 11.3% higher measure of sperm motility, compared to men eating traditional western diets. Another study found adding 75g/day (2.6oz) of shelled whole walnuts (high in omega 3 FAs) to a western diet improved sperm vitality, morphology (structure) and motility. Translation: Men who eat their nuts have fitter, finer, healthier sperm.

A further point of interest is the body weight conundrum. Lower male fertility rates have coincided with the obesity 'trend'. Obesity (BMI >30) alters hormone levels that impact sperm production. Excess body fat increases scrotal temperature. Toxic substances deposit in fatty tissue; more fatty tissue = increased toxic substance deposition. No, going on a 'cleanse' (organic, berry, lemony, juicy, colon, master, black, green, gold, made with unicorn urine or otherwise) to 'rid' your body of toxins is not the answer.

Finally, a meta analysis (combination and analysis of independent studies) of 21 studies, showed that men who were underweight, overweight, obese or morbidly obese had low or no sperm present in their semen compared to healthy weight men. Whether it's too much fat or too little: size matters.

Take home messages:
  • Diet is an inexpensive way to improve sperm quality
  • For mighty fine, fighting fit, sperm-alicious sperm, wrap your pie hole around some fish, chicken, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts

Special thanks to my wonderful friend, and Reproductive Scientist Shannon Everett

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Slurped: In Practice

Practicing what I preach
A very unconventional post today, but it's never a bad idea to humanise yourself on the world wide web... I think. 

Today is July 11, also known as 7-11 Free Slurpee Day. I love Slurpees! They take me back to when I was a kid. Public transport after school was a hot and sweaty experience during Melbourne summers. 

But I digress, I didn't get them often as a kid and I don't get them often as an adult. But today was hot and humid (weird for San Diego) and I was working opposite a 7-Eleven... you do the math.

I saw several 'dietetic' articles posted today about how 'bad' Slurpees are (eg: https://twitter.com/Fooducate/status/355378635701620737/photo/1). But today, high fructose corn syrup be damned. My once in a while treat was guiltless and delicious.
When I get one, it's the plain, traditional Coca-Cola all the way
Final parting comment... om nom nom.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

We Came, We Snacked, We Conquered: A Big Day Out

In the first "We Came, We Snacked, We Conquered" we learned the back-story of snacks: small portions eaten between meals, can be nutritious, can be rubbish... yadda yadda yadda. We've covered snack ideas for work, now let's discuss snacks for a big day out (not to be confused with vacations, that's another article).

Whether you choose to buy lunch or BYO, it's definitely a good idea to plan ahead and pack your own snacks.

Some ideas include:
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Fruit 
    • Smoosh-resistant options include: grapes, apples, oranges, cherries, etc
  • Pre cut veggies 
    • Eg: carrots, capsicum, sugar snap peas, cucumber, celery, etc
  • Nuts (unsalted)
  • Trail mix (make & mix your own; store bought mixes contain oil coatings, preservatives and often poor quality chocolate) 
    • Mix your choice of unsalted nuts, your favourite dried fruit(s), dark mini chocolate chips
  • String cheese
  • Homemade granola or homemade granola bars. Some recipes from fellow dietitians:
I already hear people saying "my kids won't eat that". Well, it is the parent's job to supply nutritious food for their kids to eat. It is the child's job to decide how much and if they will eat. If your child doesn't want to eat the snacks on offer, that's their choice. Stand firm, lead by example and enjoy the food you've prepared. Your child won't die of starvation.

Some final tips:
  • Rather than refer to your snacks as 'healthy snacks', just refer to them as snacks
  • When parents provide, eat and enjoy nutritious foods, this becomes the norm: Your kids follow your example. If you don't eat vegetables or dairy, your child won't want to either. 'Do as I do' is better than 'do as I say'
  • Plan ahead. Know how many meals you will be out for. Eg: a trip to the local park will probably see you home for dinner vs a day at Disneyland that will see you out from 8am to 11pm).
    • Think which meal you'd like to buy and bring the other meal from home
    • If there's a special snack you can only get at your destination, get it and enjoy it! Pack snacks for other points in the day
The key is moderation. Enjoy the meal or snack you buy at your destination, and supplement your pie hole throughout the day with snacks from home. It'll save you money, calories and set a good example for those pint-sized pie holes.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Applications of MSG: From Unsavoury to Flavoury

Despite what the unreferenced skeptics and conspiracy theorists say, we learned from "MSGee Whizz" that monosodium glutamate (MSG) isn't going to harm us. The sodium salt of the common amino acid, glutamic acid, is actually found naturally in many foods. No data supports the inept phrase "I'd like my dinner without MSG please" in the 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome' fad. In fact, perhaps ordering your dinner with some extra MSG is a good idea. Intrigued? Join us as we explore the tastier side to this demonised ingredient.

How's this for a crazy idea: Feed elderly people food laced with... ehem, I mean, enhanced with MSG.

Back to basics. Taste begins on the tongue (Fig 1). Glutamate elicits the 'meaty' or 'umami' taste in food when it interacts with glutamate receptors on the tongue. Most people ordering their meals MSG-free don't know that glutamate is the gut's main energy source during digestion, or that glutamate receptors are also present in their stomachs. When these stomach receptors are stimulated by glutamate, gut functions like motility (movement) and enzyme secretions are improved - which in turn improves micronutrient absorption. MSG: Movement and Secretions in the Gut.

Fig 1: Location of taste buds corresponding to the 5 tastes.
Papillae refers to 'nipple-like' projections, in this case bumps on the tongue
Adapted from: The receptors and cells for mammalian taste, Nature 2006 Fig 1

In other news, the umami taste increases the production of saliva and does so for the longest time compared to the other 4 tastes (bitter, sweet, sour and salty). Many elderly people experience dry mouth which impacts oral hygiene and the ability to masticate and safely swallow food. MSG also improves immune function, and umami (MSG) has the highest correlation with appetite and meal satisfaction compared to the other 4 tastes. MSG: Masticate with Salivary Goodness.

What do these pieces of 'useless' information have to do with "feed elderly people food enhanced with MSG"?

Bear with me for just another minute. Good nutritional status is important for quality of life (QOL) and health - both are key determinants in morbidity and mortality. The elderly are at a higher risk of developing malnutrition, which is both preventable and reversible. 

Elderly people have a general decline in sense sensitivity, including taste... Can you see where this is going? MSG may be the flavour enhancer to get gramps enjoying (and finishing) his meal.

Get your pie hole meditating and masticating on a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, "A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered". MSG: Making Supper Great!

In the context of older people, MSG has much potential. When food has MSG in it: it tastes better, is more accepted, increases saliva production, improves immunity, boosts mood and promotes digestion which enhances micronutrient absorption. All of these impact nutritional status and QOL which is particularly important in the elderly.