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August’s Nutrition Hot Topic: Weighing In On Food Scales

First off, allow me to apologize for the lack of posts. This month has been a crazy one. Wrapping up my receptionist gig, moving back in with my parents, getting sick, and preparing to move to Boston are all things taking place during the turbulent month of August.

Now then, if I may say so myself, you are in good hands with me. I think I have been doing an all right job at this whole blogging thing, but on August fifth my suspicions were confirmed. The opening page on was…

Booya. In the words of SportCenter’s Kenny Mayne, “It must be a homer Simpson because the pitcher just went D’oh!”

I just want to say to my few, but dedicated readers, you are well informed…at least for now. The gluten conundrum was discussed right here on this very blog back on Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo people! Olay indeed. Let’s not even address the decline in the stock market. That man’s face says more than any of my Neanderthal rambling could ever convey. As for JWoww, Mr. Bean, and polar bear violence – more on that later.

While August gets on with itself, I am currently in the midst of my first week of summer vacation.  It is a lot of lounging and Food Network watching. I hope it’s not just me, but watching the Food Network actually makes me hungry. Either that or it makes me think I am hungry. I think it’s more of the later if you want to know the truth. Much like Cheech and Chong, watching television while (over) eating are two things that go very well together. So as a reminder to all of us that portion control is important, it’s time to discuss food scales.

Most of us are relatively familiar with volume measurement – maybe not visually, but rather conceptually. Weight is more of a black box area. During college I decided to purchase a food scale more out of curiosity than necessity. What does two ounces of pasta really look like? What about four ounces of chicken? Generally speaking, there are two kinds of people out there. People either over- or underestimate what a serving size actually is.

I’ve mentioned it here before perfection is overrated.  For a while I obsessively measured every gosh-blessed thing I ate. Looking back, it was annoying. However, I did gain one skill from that brief period of lunacy. I am now much more comfortable measuring out foods and ball parking their quantities.

Health professionals try to come up with all kinds of tricks to help the average Joe deduce serving sizes.
  • Three ounces of meat = size of a deck of cards
  • 1 medium apple or orange = size of a tennis ball
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit = one small handful
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter = size of a golf ball
What the what?! These guess-timations are not applicable for someone like me. I instantly start to perspire as I work to recall what a tennis ball even looks like. Here is where the food scale comes in. I never weighed my fruit or peanut butter, but dry pasta, natural cheese (goat or feta) and meat were all fair game. After so many times of weighing a given piece of food, you’ll eventually come to realize you already know about how much is there. In the beginning, however, you may not be so confident or knowledgeable.

Food scales can be found just about anywhere these days. Your local grocery store, Target, Wal-Mart, and most kitchen supply stores such as William Sonoma carry food scales. They start around  $4 and go up for there. The one I own was around $20 at the time of purchase. I’d go for a digital model if you can. The four-dollar variety is more of a manual scale. It involves zeroing the scale out and rotating the dial for each use. That’s just too much physical labor for me. The digital models bring two buttons and that’s it: On/Off and Tare/Mode. The answer is instantly given, no squinting-at-eye-level-to-read-the-dial required.

Most scales can read in ounces, grams or pounds and the average digital scale reads up to 11 pounds. Handy when you bring your newborn home from the hospital and want to track its growth. That right there just gave me away – its growth. They’re not human. Oh brother. Reason number 743 why I should not look to conceive in the next five years.

Portion control, that’s the whole reason to dive into the world of food scales. Should you start measuring everything you eat?  No. Is it good to learn and become more familiar with portion sizes? Absolutely. Over-sized portions are an all-too-common culprit for weight gain.

Being more cognizant of the foods we put into our mouths is an important part of a healthy mind and body. It is not always fun, but it does help one become more aware of where their calories are coming from. Mindless eating is the devil’s playground when it comes to your waistline. In 2004, a study done by Cornell University’s Department of Nutrition and Psychology was published in the Journal of Nutrition. The study found that the more food young adults were served, the more they overrate. The bottom line of weight gain is this: if you eat more calories than your body needs in a given day, you gain weight.  It’s just that cruel.

When people learn I am a nutrition major, the conversations take either one of two directions. Option A: they tell me about someone they know in the field. Option B (my favorite): they want to discuss the weight loss diet they are currently trying to follow. More times than not, B trumps A. So this means one thing to me – most of us want to lose some amount of weight. I will say this though – count your calories, measure out your food, eat your fruits and vegetables, work out – it is important to always have realistic expectations of yourself.  More on tips for Mindful Eating to come…

In the meantime, I encourage you to venture into the painfully accurate world of food scales. Some days you’ll love it; other days you’ll hate it. Mark my words. But food is fuel and knowledge is power and if I could think of one more cliché here, I’d be really happy. None the less, as a true realist I’ll give you one final alternative use for your beloved food scale should you purchase one, hate it, and not be able to refund your precious dinero. My mother also doubles hers as a scale for mail. Never again will the question, does it need more than one stamp, trip you up.

July’s Nutrition Hot Topic: In Season Local Produce

Summer is upon us. You know it has arrived when the smell of charcoal is misconstrued for food. I actually did that. It’s not something I am proud of. It was only the fifth most embarrassing thing to happen to me. Numbers one through three I refuse to discuss. The fourth being the time I fell into the stingray tank at Sea World when I was nine. The tank was only a foot deep and there weren’t technically any stingrays in it at the time, but they had to send a rescue team in after me. Something to do with my quote ‘unwarranted fear and inability to move’.  Well, that and I soiled myself while immersed in the tank. In my defense there is something unsettling about 20 tourists taking pictures of you with waterproof disposable cameras while four people wearing foam Shamu hats pull you out of what feels like a kiddie pool.Moving on, as the summer scorcher settles in and my sweat glands make known their ardent disapproval, I am happy to report that these summer months bring some pretty amazing food. During our remaining weeks of this sweltering season, I encourage you to venture to your local farmer’s markets and explore what wonderful foods your state has to offer.

This topic was inspired by a few things.  First, local produce is going gang busters right now. Secondly, I’m feeling lazy. Thirdly, Ina Garten is my hero. Hero may be too strong of a word. If I could afford Tivo, it would be programmed out the gills with this woman. There is something about observing Ina in her Hampton house kitchen that makes me want to buy a house, gut the kitchen, install marble counter tops, purchase some Viking appliances, and stock the cabinetry with All-Clad pots and pans and a set of stainless steel mixing bowl. As a girl who recycles zip lock bags to save money, did I mention I intend to win the lottery? Getting back on tract, her show is straight up aesthetically pleasing. One of the countless things I like about watching this woman work is her avid use of local foods.  Produce, meat, fish, cheese, bread – you name it, she’s buying it. Sure it’s staged, but I suppose it’s the message that counts.  Buy locally!

During various times of the year, towns across the country have different local produce to offer their citizenry. Pop on over the National Resources Defense Council’s website to identify which fruits and vegetables are sprouting up in your area. The website even contains a link for locating farmer’s markets near you! Good, good stuff.

I thought I would highlight three items on the massive list of in season produce found in my area for the month of July.

   Ahh, my little blue friends. These things are wondrous. At 80 calories a cup, this fruit is focused on your health. Blueberries are one the most antioxidant rich foods out there. I’ve mentioned it here before, but antioxidants are crucial in optimizing health. They reduce free radicals and thus protect cells (and their DNA) from damage. What’s more, one serving of blueberries contains roughly 30% of your daily vitamin C requirement. Support for the immune system, collagen formation, and aid in calcium absorption are all benefits of vitamin C. Lastly, one cannot ignore their dietary fiber. One serving of these bad boys gets you to 15% of your daily requirement with 4 grams per cup.

Eating Tip: On top of your cereal, in your yogurt, or simply by the handful.

   This cruciferous vegetable is one to pick up weekly.  I swear, I pick up a head or two of it every weekend. In my humble opinion, it’s one of the simplest vegetables to prepare and eat. It also goes with just about anything. Burgers, chicken, fish – you name it, broccoli is a perfect side dish to just about any protein. As part of the cruciferous family, these vegetables are aptly categorized by their flower’s petal shape. Cruciferae, New Latin for “cross bearing”, refers to the pedal’s – you guessed it -cross-like shape. 

One cup of chopped broccoli delivers a healthy dose of vitamins K (116% of DV), C (135% DV) and  A (11% of DV). Like blueberries, broccoli is also a decent source of dietary fiber with three grams per cup. What may come as a surprise to some is that broccoli is also a good source of calcium. With 43 mg per serving, this green vegetable can help you get a slight leg up on your calcium consumption. 

Eating Tip: Steam it and top with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cut off stems, peal, cut into stalks and dip into humus or Ranch dressing.

Last, but most certainly not least, the luxuriously sweet peach. If there is a fruit I identify most with summer, it would have to be the peach. Hands down. One large peach has about 70 calories and like broccoli wields about 3 grams of dietary fiber, vitamins A (11% of DV) and C (19%).  Peaches are to summer what apples are to fall. Make crisp, bake them into pie, or eat this summer stone fruit right off the pit.

Eating tip: Peach Melba was something my Nana made each summer we went to visit. All you need is one cut up peach, some vanilla ice cream and raspberry sauce and you’re golden. It’s the perfect summer dessert on those nights when the heat seems unrelenting.
There are numerous benefits to eating locally. Reducing the carbon foot print and supporting your local farmers are the two obvious benefits. But one advantage of eating locally that often goes unnoticed is the decrease in time it takes to get food(s) from the farm to the table. The less time a fruit or vegetable sits on a truck the better. Where produce is concerned, nutrient loss is a by-product of storage. The further your zucchini has to travel, the less vitamins and minerals it will deliver upon arrival. Just something to think about.If you don’t have a farmer’s market nearby, look in your grocery store for local produce. Two grocery chains in my area have displays of local produce in their lobbies during various times of the year. One chain brags,

“All [produce] items are picked fresh from the stalk, vine or tree and delivered to Dierbergs stores within 24 hours – and in many cases, sooner than that.”

In the midst of an obesity epidemic, noshing on low-calorie, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables is crucial in keeping the pounds off. Loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber – fruits and vegetables are just the weapons you need to protect your body and your health.

June’s Nutrition Hot Topic: Plate Vs Pyramid

This topic is fresh off the press. It cannot get any hotter than this. I’ve literally singed off my fingerprints by merely writing about this one. Last week the USDA unveiled the newest version of the Food Guide Pyramid, except it’s no longer a pyramid. The newest model for healthy eating has adopted the shape of a plate. This seems practical enough. While I’ve heard mixed reviews about the new plate, I have to say no matter what the USDA designs, I think it’s impossible to please everyone 100% of the time. I do not envy the task force whose job it was to design this thing. Pyramid, plate, or poodle – conveying the message of healthy eating in one clear, concise image is never as simple as it sounds. There are countless sources out there feeding us information on what healthy eating really is.  It’s vegetarian, vegan, Atkins, South Beach, Zone, Weight Watchers and the list goes on and on. So for now, I simply want to discuss a few of the older Food Guide Pyramids and address the new Food Plate.

The USDA's original food pyramid from 1992.

Image via Wikipedia

I think most of us are familiar with the 1992 version of the Food Guide Pyramid. I know it’s the one I grew up with and it tends to be the most recognized version. This pyramid is uncomplicated; the largest group being grains, then fruits and vegetables, followed by dairy and various protein sources and finally concluded with fats, oils and sweets. Attached to each group are serving suggestions.

But Kimberly, aren’t carbohydrates the enemy? Should everyone consume 11 servings of grain in a day? No. That is why ranges are given. While hunting around online for articles on our various Food Guide Pyramids, a common response readers supplied was that our grains group should not be the base of our food models. I find myself saying this all the time, but carbohydrates are not your enemy. On average, one serving of grain is about 15 grams of carbohydrate or 100 calories. If you consume the minimum recommended amount (6 servings according to the 1992 model) that equates to 600 calories a day. If you think that sounds like a lot of calories, I encourage you to seek professional help.

Honestly, I kind of like the 1992 Food Guide Pyramid. It’s simple and straightforward. There’s no color-coding or guess-work required. All it needs is a little tweaking. Throw in something about whole grains, specify diary sources should be low-fat, emphasize lean protein, and give examples of what makes up a serving size in each category and like that chick with the braces you took to Prom, this thing is ready to go.

Maybe it’s not that simple, but I think the 1992 version of the Food Guide Pyramid was a boat load better than the 2005 train wreck the USDA designed. It’s like the Department of Agriculture got Gremlins wet, gave them some computer software and locked them in a room for 48 hours. The final product turned out to be more confusing than the LOST series finale. I myself didn’t understand it. I try to use the word “hate” sparingly in my vocabulary. But this 2005 version is about as pointless as putting life jackets in a casino. To say I loved this pyramid would be as idiotic as U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner’s inability to identify whether or not that lewd photo was of himself. Which to me begs three questions: (1) Are you really THAT unfamiliar with the lower half of your body? (2) Are there so many indecent photos of you running around, you simply cannot keep track of them all? (3) Really?!

Moving on. The only thing they got right on this version was the direct shout-out to physical activity. That stick figure knows the importance of getting your heart rate up. Other than that, this bewildering depiction of a properly balanced diet is about as understandable as a five-year old explaining their favorite part about nap time.

The widths of each category are supposed to indicate the intended portion of the diet each group should make up. Instead it’s like an optical illusion.  Is the dairy band bigger than the vegetable band?! There is zero indication of portion size. The fats portion of the pyramid looks like it was hastily added at the end, not unlike you’re decision to use the restroom at the movie theatre three minutes before the show starts. The only example of fat provided in the menagerie of images is canola oil. Helpful. If you want to know anything about the number of servings allotted per day or what makes up a serving size you must log on to and root around until you find the answer. This is super applicable to the general population who has vast amounts of time on their hands. Ugh. I cannot discuss this thing any further.

Which brings us to the new Food Plate. I think it may be slightly better than the 2005 Food Guide Pyramid. While I don’t hate it, I also don’t love it. Returning to simplicity is something I find myself stating and restating. We make food too difficult.  It doesn’t have to be so complicated. Yes, this is true. It seems like the USDA was reading my blog and designed this plate with my verbiage in mind.

Bam! Above is the new food model for the United States population. A plate half filled with fruits and vegetables, a grains portion equal to that of the vegetables and a small source of protein. All this coupled with a glass/bowl of dairy. Got it? Thank you all for reading. Good night.

Below are purely my opinions. Take them. Leave them. Pass them off as your own. I don’t care.

First let’s discuss what they got right.
1. Visualization
For starters a plate is much more relatable than a pyramid.  We eat the majority of our meals off them, so to reinvent our food guide model onto this shape was somewhat genius (boy, does that feel like the wrong word). One common complaint I hear from old and young people alike is that they don’t know how to eat. That may sound ridiculous, but it’s not. By depicting what the average meal should resemble, this model helps us imagine what a properly balanced diet looks like. And this is a step in the right direction. Essentially, the USDA is saying mimic this design, and you’re on the right track.

2. Plate Portions
If there is one thing you should have noticed about this plate, it’s that half of it is covered in stuff many of us don’t get enough of: fruits and vegetables.  It’s pretty optimistic to get half your plate filled with both of these groups.  So maybe start small.  Perhaps it’s filling a quarter of your plate with these items. Regardless, bulking up on fruits and vegetables can be a great way to fill your belly and still retain a low-calorie meal. And that right there can be a recipe for weight loss.

3. Re-labeled Protein
The most notable change in this food model, other than its shape, is the protein portion.  It is no longer labeled meat and beans (see the 2005 version). The plainer “protein” title indicates, to me anyway, that there are other protein sources out there besides meat. Beans, legumes, and nuts are just a few of the lesser-known protein sources.

Now for the mistakes.
1. Grains
I’ve spoken to a handful of people about it and there is one unanimous observation constantly brought up. What makes up grains? You mean the orange pie wedge didn’t provide you with enough information? Oy! There’s also no mention of whole grains. If you read my post on whole grains you’ll recall the new USDA dietary guidelines recommend half our grain consumption to be whole grains.

2. Missing Foods
Where are the healthy fats and sweets? I understand we’re in the middle of an obesity crisis, but to completely take them off the table, so to speak, seems rather glaring.  We’ve gone from sparingly to obsolete in less than 10 years time.

First Lady, Michelle Obama, has attached her name to the cause of healthier eating. Her Let’s Move! Campaign is aimed to solve the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation. This is an optimistic goal I hope occurs during my lifetime.  But is healthy eating really about deprivation? Simply not including healthy fats and sweets doesn’t mean people will stop consuming them. In fact by not addressing them at all, it may do the exact opposite.

3. Over Simplification
This last point encompasses the plate in its entirety. Is the plate so rudimentary that is doesn’t provide any information at all? Yes it’s basic and straight forward, but there’s so much ambiguity to it. What qualifies as grains? When/where does dessert fit into the picture? Where are the serving suggestions? Dairy isn’t just the apparent glass of milk. Other sources include cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc. and all should be low-fat or fat-free.

This plate poses a substantial amount of questions. What those who designed it will tell you is that you can go to for more information. Here is where you can get your questions answered.  That’s great.  But I thought a food model should answer questions, not create more of them.

Lastly, I’d like to discuss the Mediterranean’s Food Guide

English: Healthy nutrition pyramid with 7 to 9...

Image via Wikipedia

Pyramid. I’ve mentioned it on this blog before and now is as good a time as any to bring it out. The Mediterranean diet has been touted for many years for its emphasis on healthy oils, fish, and use of fresh produce.

As you can see, the pyramid is based on physical activity.  Daily consumed groups include grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, olive oil, cheese and yogurt.  Fish, poultry, eggs, and sweets should be consumed a couple of times a week and meat on a monthly basis.  Lastly, the pyramid recommends 6 glasses of water a day and wine in moderation.  I love how our new Food Plate didn’t even include healthy fats or sweets, yet somehow the Mediterraneans got both plus booze on theirs! What are we doing?!

In closing, the new Food Plate is not prefect.  It’s missing important pieces of information, but its design does make it more relevant. Visualizing what a proper meal should look like can come in handy to the average American wanting to make dietary adjustments. However, does this new Food Plate provide you with enough information?  Although it may be a step in the right direction, is there really enough there to guide or influence the way you eat?

Last week an article ran on the Huffington Post’s website, introducing the new Food Plate. The article was short and sweet. What I found interesting were the viewer comments. Gnomechomsky wrote:

“The USDA’s food plate chart doesn’t really make me want to eat healthier; it just makes me want to play Trivial Pursuit.”

I think we can all agree to that.

May’s Nutrition Hot Topic: Will Someone Please Tell Me What the Deal Is With High Fructose Corn Syrup Already?! (Part II)

Where were we?

High Fructose Corn Syrup is just sucrose (sugar) with greater amounts of fructose (sugar found in fruit). I closed out part one of this post with what the American Dietetic Association has said, “Once absorbed into the bloodstream, the two sweeteners [sugar and HFCS] are indistinguishable.” The FDA reaffirmed it’s safety in our food supply in 1996.  Lastly, the American Medical Association has stated HFCS is so similar to sucrose it appears unlikely that it contributes more to obesity and other conditions than sucrose.  
My Opinions:
Here’s the rub.  Sugar is sugar at the end of the day, whether its sucrose, fructose, glucose, etc. At this time it appears HFCS is not a mortal enemy because we don’t have any definitive evidence to indicate otherwise. Regardless, HFCS is still sugar.  It’s not made of unnamable chemicals.  It doesn’t include ingredients like tire rubber, Pinesol, or Styrofoam.  Let’s all just take a deep breath, count to ten and calm down! Gosh, this is like that time I witnessed Santa remove his beard after the night shift at a Macy’s Department Store.  Feelings of horror, followed by disappointment were practically palpable. I can recall it so clearly, which may be due to the fact that it was only four short months ago.  


It seems like anytime people want a product viewed negatively they link it to cancer and wash their hands.  So I went to the American Cancer Society website where I found their Seven Steps to Reduce Your Cancer Risk.

“Researchers say if we stopped using tobacco, grew thinner, exercised regularly, avoided diets rich in red meat, and ate diets rich in fruits and vegetables, we would prevent two-thirds of all cancers.”

Not one of these Seven Steps specify staying away from HFCS. However, one of the Seven Steps recommends eating more fruits and vegetables and less red meat. In conjunction with this recommendation, they state to limit intake of refined carbohydrates, such as pastries, sweetened cereals, and other high-sugar foods.  I hope by now you’ve gather that HFCS is just sugar. 

We as a population, consume way too many refined carbohydrates in a day.  These foods aren’t doing us any favors.  On top of that, they may be replacing other nutrient dense sources (e.g. fruits and vegetables). Lastly, I promise, diets that tend to be high in fat, sugar and salt lead to weight gain and increased risk of obesity. As every freaking health professional out there who has ever written any book, magazine, journal, or been on any television or radio program will tell you, carrying excess weight increases one’s risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, infertility and the list goes on.  Phew! Are we there yet?

So how much sugar am I allowed!?! Well, no dietary guidelines have defined the amount of fructose you’re allotted in a given day.  However, your friends over at the American Heart Association have recommendations on added sugar consumption.  Women get no more than 100 calories of added sugar (about 6 teaspoons), men its no more than 150 calories (roughly 9 teaspoons).  

To put it in applicable units, I used the Original NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.  I’m ball-parking here, but based on the AMA recommendation women get almost four cookies while men can have closer to five and a half.  That doesn’t sound so bad right? Well, that’s just the cookies. You eat added sugar in other items throughout the day. Remember that yogurt you had for breakfast? Added sugar. What about the Pepsi you drank at lunch? Added sugar. I’m not trying to sound like the food police, I just want you to know what it means when they say added sugar. I eat cookies too!Interestingly, the commercial states that “[HFCS], like sugar, is fine in moderation”. Yes it’s true, it’s fine in moderation. However, high fructose corn syrup is EVERYWHERE – 100 calorie packs, salad dressing, cereals, bread, granola bars, flavored yogurt, condiments, canned vegetables, soda, fast food and the list goes on.  What if 90% of the foods we consume in any given day contain high fructose corn syrup? Sadly, I think that falls out of the “moderation” category and into the “over-consumption” category.

From a Business Perspective:

Remember your father or grandfather telling you, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. Well, now it seems numerous food companies in America have buried that ideal and adopted the consumer-friendly notion that “if it doesn’t earn the largest possible profit, fix it”. I’m not about to get on my soapbox on how the food system runs in this country.  That is for another day. Having said this, the use of HFCS is all about saving money and creating a larger profit margin. 

HFCS is great for manufacturers who want to sweeten their products, while using less ingredient(s) to do so. As mentioned before, fructose is much sweeter than sucrose and HFCS is just regular corn syrup with a greater amount of fructose. By using HFCS manufacturers are able to use less sweetening agent and still yield equally sweet products by the end of the process. How sweet a combination it is to come in under budget while making more money! 

Corn’s Infiltration

Food Inc. is a documentary on our nation’s food supply. In this 94 minute eye opener, Troy Roush, the Vice President of the American Corn Growers Association says, “In the United States today 30% of our land base is being planted to corn.  That’s largely driven by government policy…policy that allows us to produce corn below the cost of production.  The truth of the matter is, we’re paid to over produce and it’s caused by these large multi-national interests.” As I mentioned in the first post, The Corn Refiners Association put out these HFCS ads, so you better believe they have an interest in keeping this stuff in a favorable light.

Products that include corn-based ingredients include ketchup, cheese, Twinkies, batteries, peanut butter, cheez-its, salad dressing, coke, jelly, sweet and low, syrup, juice, Kool-aid, charcoal, diapers, Motrin, meat, fast food, not to mention animal feed. 

It’s made from corn, it’s natural..” says the mother pouring the sugar water beverage. I ask you this. Does “because it’s made from corn” make it “natural”.  The word natural is thrown around a lot in our food supply because it’s use, specifically in regard to labeling, is unregulated by the FDA. If there is one thing you should have noticed in the first post, it’s that in order to make high fructose corn syrup, sucrose must undergo man induced enzymatic reaction. I don’t know about you, but when I think of something as being natural I tend to (foolishly?) believe it can be found in nature.  Last time I checked there weren’t any high fructose corn syrup plants lying around. Maybe I’m mistaken.  Someone get me Ken Jennings number, stat!

At the end of the day the issue isn’t any one ingredient, it’s simply the over consumption of highly processed and refined foods, many of which just so happen to contain high fructose corn syrup. 

Seven steps to reduce your cancer risk.  Retrieved from:

Sugars and carbohydrates. (2010, October 12). Retrieved from

Kenner, Robert (Producer). (2008). Food, Inc. [Theater].
Nelson, J.k<. (2010, October 23). What are the health concerns about high-fructose corn syrup?. Retrieved from
American Dietetic Association. Use of nutritive and nonnutritve sweeteners. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2004. 104:225-275
American Medical Association. Report 3 of the Council on Science and Public Health. The health effects of high fructose corn syrup. July 23, 2009.
McWilliams, M. (2008). Foods: experimental perspectives . Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

May’s Nutrition Hot Topic: Will Someone Please Tell Me What The Deal Is With High Fructose Corn Syrup Already?! (Part I)

(Could that title be any longer?)


Let me start out by saying at times this topic can be so frustrating it can feel like another bewildering game of Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego, but I’m going to try my best. You know those high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) commercials where the question is posed as to why HFCS is bad and the responder can’t come up with a single reason? Well, if you haven’t, you’re not missing anything. Regardless, they make me laugh.  Not only are they awful, they’re also true to a certain extent.  Below is a link to one such gem of a commercial if you’re so inclined.

There is so much information out there about this stuff.  It’s good.  It’s bad.  It’s going to run as the Republican Candidate in the 2012 election.  Mitt Romney who?! Let me tell you folks, it’s views on healthcare and tax reform may give the Democratic Candidate a run for his (or her, but most likely his) money.  Moving on.  I thought I would take the opportunity to share with you what I’ve learned on this controversial ingredient that’s been linked to just about every disease in the book. I was originally going to make this a general post back in April, but holy moly it’s just not that simple!

What exactly is high fructose corn syrup?
The Chemical Basics
After scouring the internet for a solid Bill Nye video on sugar, I came up empty-handed.  So you’re left in my semi-capable hands to try to spell this out.  
After I dusted off my Foods: Experimental Perspectives textbook, I located the chapter entitled Monosaccharides, Dissaccharides, and Sweeteners.  For those of you have haven’t had a science class in quite some time, do not, I repeat do not let any of those words intimidate you. Monosaccharide and disaccharide are just two words that also mean carbohydrate. Don’t let the prefixes throw you either. Monosaccharide means one sugar (or carb). Three of the most common monosaccharides are glucose, fructose (sugar found in fruit), and galactose (sugar found in milk).  Oh organic chemistry, how I miss you so.  Dissacharide means two sugars. Who’s on third? (That was a joke. Stop sweating). Sucrose, better known as table sugar, is a dissaccharide in which one glucose and one fructose are linked together.  You still with me?

Now let’s talk about sweetness. Table sugar (sucrose) is 100 on the relative sweetness scale. Fructose is much sweeter and comes in at 173.  Glucose is slightly less sweet than sucrose at 74.

The Making of HFCS:

Traditional corn syrup is simply made by introducing water to cornstarch. It’s made up of glucose and other larger compounds.  When commercial manufacturers make HFCS, they convert some of the glucose to fructose, thus making it sweeter.  This conversion takes place via enzymatic activity.  What is an enzyme?  An enzyme is simply a catalyst that brings about a reaction.  Manufacturers can convert upwards of 90% of the glucose to fructose. The more glucose that’s converted to fructose, the sweeter the solution will be.

At the end of the day, high fructose corn syrup is still simply sucrose (glucose + fructose) with a greater concentration of fructose.

The Advertisements
Allow me to point out what I believe are two glaring components of the commercial
  1. What are they drinking?!
  2. This ad, along with its sister commercials out there on HFCS, are brought to you by the Corn Refiners Association. This isn’t made apparent to the average viewer, as in those of us with moderate to poor eyesight.  This little brought to you by tag appears for about three seconds at the very end of the commercial in faint grey font.  So what’s the big deal? Well HFCS is made from corn.  Think they have an agenda?  You bet they do.

Below are two actual comments people made on the youtube video of the HFCS commercial I posted earlier:  

“High Fructose Corn syrup is a good substitute for sugar, kinda like motor oil is a good substitute for extra virgin olive oil. Pour some motor oil in your pan and eat that, but only in moderation.” – received 17 thumbs up (those who agree)

“This is a huge piece of propaganda, this stuff hurts you, it is horrible compared to natural sugar, this stuff is linked to colon cancer.”  – received  21 thumbs up

Consider yourself warned.  I love fact-checking people.  It’s almost an innate compulsion.  I’m not sure where it all stems from, but I sincerely hope it doesn’t become a defining characteristic of my personality; otherwise I am going to be single forever.  Mark my words. Regardless, this bold statement that HFCS is directly linked to colon cancer was like a towel whip to my face, screaming out to be investigated.  

What Professionals Are Saying:

Jennifer Nelson MS, RD, LD writes like a rock star on this disputed topic on the Mayo Clinic website. 

“Research studies have yielded mixed results about the possible adverse effects of consuming high-fructose corn syrup. Although [HFCS] is chemically similar to table sugar (sucrose), concerns have been raised because of how [HFCS] is processed. Some believe that your body reacts differently to high-fructose corn syrup than it does to other types of sugar. But research about high-fructose corn syrup is evolving.”

The American Dietetic Association has said, “Once absorbed into the bloodstream, the two sweeteners [sugar and HFCS] are indistinguishable.” The FDA reaffirmed its safety in our food supply in 1996.  Lastly, the American Medical Association has stated HFCS is so similar to sucrose it appears unlikely that it contributes more to obesity and other conditions than sucrose.  
When organizations like the American Dietetic Association, Food and Drug Administration, and American Medical Association tell me something is safe, I tend to believe it. I’m not anhedonic.  
Come back Friday to get reacquainted with eggs! 

Stay tuned for Part II 
(How can there be more?)

Seven steps to reduce your cancer risk.  Retrieved from:
Nelson, J.k<. (2010, October 23). What are the health concerns about high-fructose corn syrup?. Retrieved from
American Dietetic Association. Use of nutritive and nonnutritve sweeteners. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2004. 104:225-275
American Medical Association. Report 3 of the Council on Science and Public Health. The health effects of high fructose corn syrup. July 23, 2009.
McWilliams, M. (2008). Foods: experimental perspectives . Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

April’s Nutrition Hot Topic: The Rise of Bacterial Resistance, Is Our Meat to Blame?

This is one hell of a serious post.  Well, serious for me.  It’s the nutrition Hot Topic of the Month! (Envision a loud, cavernous voice echoing that title to you, goose bumps anyone?)   Let me tell you folks, it’s time to strap on those thinking caps, secure your Depends because this topic sometimes makes me scratch my head and poop my pants simultaneously.
The rise of resistant bacteria in humans and antibiotic use in farm-raised animals was an issue identified and brought to the public’s attention almost fifty years ago.  Today United States’ cattle, hog, and chicken farmers are still able to freely issue antibiotics to their livestock for a multitude of reasons, without the consent of a veterinarian.
What happens when our farmers’ decisions begin to affect public health?
Before we begin our exploration, let me say this:  I am not advising you to go out, purchase a one-way ticket to Washington D.C. and start lobbying on Capital Hill.  Nor am I asking you to overhaul the meat products you purchase/eat or sprout into a vegetarian over night.  Weekly trips to grocers like Whole Foods can be expensive and their price points do not fit into everyone’s pocketbook.  I write about this issue because one, it’s a nutrition-related hot topic and two, in the hopes of simply raising public awareness as well as the hairs on the back of your neck.  Too melodramatic?
Let’s dive in!
The Issue:
Contemporary agriculture can be defined in one word: monoculture. “Monocultures are very dangerous things… Nature doesn’t have monocultures.  When you grow too much of the same thing, you end up with too many of the pests of those things. The only reason you can grow vast amounts of a [single] species of animal in close confinement is because you can use antibiotics to keep them alive,” says Michael Pollan in the food documentary, Fresh.  
Single animal farms were created with one goal in mind: maximize profits.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency we have over 11,000 of them in the United States.  So what is the problem with these single animal farms? Controlling the spread of disease while maintaining a sanitary environment is damn near impossible 100% of the time.  
Antibiotics are used to combat sanitation problems, and save “product” and profit.  The issue is, farmers are not just using them to treat the sick animals. They’re also placing “sub-therapeutic” levels of them into animal feed and drinking water daily to ward off the spread of disease. Antibiotics are also used to promote growth. In an industry where size does matter, this is key to maximizing profits.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has estimated that as much as 70% of the antibiotics used in the United States are given to healthy livestock to encourage growth and prevent illness. This is great.  I practically have to throw an all out temper tantrum in my doctor’s office that involves a mental and physical breakdown leading to unexplained physical deformities like missing eyebrows and ramifications so intense I have to double up therapy sessions for the following two weeks to simply get a Z-pack, a five-day antibiotic. Meanwhile, a cow about 40 miles out is simply drinking my antibiotics in their water as part of their daily routine. 
The Effect on You:
So why should you care? In an article for the the author writes, “The issue is not that the meat itself is contaminated or that consumers are ingesting antibiotics with their protein, but that the over use of antibiotics is diminishing the efficacy of crucial medications needed for human use.”  That my dear readers, is the take home point!
You may be interested to know both the European Union and Canada have put a ban on the use of antibiotics as a means of growth promotion.
The Evidence
During the mid 1990s an antibiotic in the fluoroquinolones drug family was approved for the use in poultry drinking water to treat sick birds.  Prior to that, fluoroquinolone-resistant bacteria was rare.


By 1999, before you could say Furby, two things had become very real in this country:
1. The Blair Witch Project had sufficiently freaked out most of us from ever entering into a wooded area again and
2. Roughly 11,000 people had contracted a bacterial illness that was resistant to fluoroquinolones.
Today, the use of antibiotics on commercial farms is still unregulated in the United States despite both the FDA and the World Health Organization having issued recommendations that farmers discontinue this antimicrobial misuse in an effort to protect public health.
The Good News:
Some meat producers and retailers, as well as certain corporate consumers, have put their foot down on purchasing products treated with antibiotics.  All Whole Foods stores sell antibiotic free cattle, hog, lamb and poultry products. While McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Popeye’s have all refused to buy chicken treated with fluoroquinolones.
The Potential For Change:
Want more information on potential legislation regarding this issue?  Visit the links below to learn more about the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA).

2. Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter
Side bar: Yes, her last name is Slaughter.  Am I the only one who finds it agonizingly hilarious that a congresswoman with the last name of Slaughter should choose to introduce this Act to the House of Representatives.  With a last name like that, I don’t think anyone can doubt her commitment to meat. 
I encourage you to seek out more information about this growing issue. As we have all heard so many times before from our sixth grade social studies teacher, knowledge is power. Lastly, I believe you as a consumer of our food supply and a tax-paying citizen have a right to be informed.
I sincerely hope I have not freaked you out or turned you off to my blog.  Maybe we should have eased into these hot topics.  Maybe this first hot topic post should have been about, oh I don’t know, agave nectar, natural vs organic, food allergies or Easter ham. 
Antibiotics and meat don’t mix. (2010, July 6). Retrieved from
Edrington, T.S., Schultz, C.L., Bischoff, K.M., Callaway, T.R., & Looper, M.L. (2004).  Antimicrobial resistance and serotype prevalence of salmonella isolated from dairy cattle in the southwestern united states. Microbial Drug Resistance10
Harris, G. (2009, July 13). Administration seeks to restrict antibiotics in livestock. New York Times , A18. 
PBS: Frontline. (2009, July 19). Antibiotic debate overview
Sofia Joanes, S. (Producer) & (Director). (2009). Fresh [Motion Picture]. United States:
Union of Concerned Scientist. (2010). Prescription for trouble: using antibiotics to fatten livestock