Category Archives: Food

Vegetable, Fruit, Berry

Berry Club

So it turns out a tomato is not only a fruit but — botanically speaking — is also classified as a berry. This is rough news for aggregate fruits like strawberries and blackberries, which, it turns out are not, technically, berries at all.

Fun! But all it really means is that scientific classification of plants is not necessarily in line with common names for them. Whether berry, drupe, pom, or aggregate of drupelets, fresh fruits are delicious fiber-rich foods that are good for health.

What about all that sugar?

Even Dr Robert Lustig, who is probably among the most hostile of modern voices critical of sugar (followed closely by Gary Taubes, who discussed Lustig’s views in the New York Times), has made an exception for fruit: “When God made the poison, he packaged it with the antidote: fiber.” In nutritional terms, a food may have a high glycemic index — that is, contain a lot of sugars — but still have a low glycemic load, if its total composition offsets the sugar, as fiber does in fruit and vegetables. (Some vegetables, like peas, are as sugary as fruits.) This is the reason that whole fruits are so healthful while fruit juices are basically just sugar water — fruit juices strain away the fiber.

Wait, Orange Juice Is Not “Part of a Complete Breakfast”?

No more than a couple of tablespoons of jelly or an iced donut. You’re better off just eating an orange (or an apple or a banana). And whole fruits pack easier for bringing to work or school to keep healthful snacks on hand. OK, bananas can be fragile, but there’s a solution!

Image by the delightful Mr Lovenstein.

Google Nutrition Information

Google Nutrition Blueberry Apple

Google has a handy feature built right into its search engine: for some foods, it will give you a side-by-side comparison of nutritional information. It shows a snapshot by default, and selecting the down arrow gives you many more components to compare, such as dietary fiber content and content of different vitamins.

It works best with very simple items — “potato vs sweet potato” gives you the side-by-side comparison, but “russet potato vs sweet potato” gives you regular search results. It also gives information for single items, but beware: “apple” alone gives you results for the computer company (“apple fruit” gives you nutritional information). Its database has some limits, but it’s a great addition to Google’s search results!

If your search isn’t yielding this kind of result, there are lots of complete food databases searchable directly from Google, too — name the food, a quantity, and a nutrient of interest (“ice cream” “calories” and “ounce” for example), and several food databases will appear among the first results — although if your question is simple enough, the answer is probably in the results, possibly in another Google widget.

Broccoli protein - Google

Give it a try!

Soylent Meal Replacement?

It started with a young software engineer looking to feed himself as easily and cheaply as possible, leading to a blog entry about his experience, “How I Stopped Eating Food.” It continued with a crowdfunding campaign that raised over $750,000, and Soylent is now a company with $20 million of new investment. The cash infusion will help with product refinement and shoring up the supply chain — Soylent can’t keep up with orders (and alternatives such as Ambronite are appearing).

What Is It?

Named after the iconic (and ultimately sinister) foodstuff of the 1973 film Soylent Green (though inspired, according to inventor Rob Rhinehart, by the somewhat different novel it was based on), Soylent is a powdered meal replacement. Made from components including oat flour, rice protein, and vitamins, it seeks to provide a complete daily complement of nutrition in a “neutral tasting” drink. The inventor encourages people to modify it, and a lively community has sprung up at DIY Soylent, a section of the Soylent website. (Look there if you want instructions for making up a batch yourself. Some of the DIY Soylent participants sell their formulas, too.)

Is This New? Is It Regulated?

There are several medical and diet-oriented meal-replacement products on the market. Soylent has an interesting story and is distinguished particularly by its open-source approach — Rhinehart encourages people to make their own. Few product marketers are this open, and few products are this easy to modify. One distinction of Soylent is its low price. A month of Soylent costs about one third the price of the same calories through other commercially available meal-replacement products, and is dramatically less expensive than the same calories — and nutritional value — from conventional food.

Soylent is not regulated as a drug would be, but it is (after a shaky start in a “beta” phase in an Oakland warehouse) now produced by a partner dedicated to food and supplement manufacturing.

Should I Use This Instead of Food?

Maybe. If the idea of meal-replacement drinks appeals to you, this is a reasonable thing to try. I’d try one of the DIY recipes myself, but if you have some cash burning a hole in your pocket and don’t want to wait for Soylent’s supply lines, you could order some Schmoylent or Ambronite. The original formula is vegan, and DIY options include other qualities, such as gluten-free. This could also be something you keep a few servings’ worth of at work or use for a quick breakfast. Switching to Soylent abruptly, like any major dietary change, can cause GI distress at first.

This Sounds Ridiculous. I Love Food.

I admit, I’m not their target market, either. (In fact, some have called it more of a “gadget” than a food.) Rhinehart talks about Soylent as a basic diet for home, with people eating regular food socially a couple of times a week. He also envisions it as potential solution for emergency or low-food-security conditions, a possibility that may require this commercial proof of concept. (Andreessen Horowitz, explaining their $20 million investment, said that it is a mistake to think of Soylent as “just a food company.”) In the sense that Soylent is “a community of people who are enthusiastic about using science to improve food and nutrition,” it is an interesting project to watch, whether you try it or not.

And even people who love food might like the convenience of a meal in a glass. Protein sources abound (from peanut butter and eggs to powders made from milk whey, eggs, soy, rice, or hemp) and can easily be blended with water, milk (dairy or other), juice, fruits, and vegetables to get some of that Soylent ease of use.

Image from Ars Technica’s article, “Soylent hits its 1.0 formula, nears release.” Soylent has attracted a lot of criticism for applying the software “beta testing” model to human nutrition. This photo shows the beta product, since simplified.

Breakfast Foods Around the World

bleary

Chocolate? Meat? Fruit? Cereal? I like to tell people to think about having “lunch for breakfast” — so they can start the day with some energizing protein instead of a sugar pastry or donut. When we look at breakfast foods around the world — especially for kids — we see a very different picture from the packaged carbohydrate that’s “part of a complete breakfast” in the US commercials, as “
Rise and Shine: What kids around the world eat for breakfast
” shows in a beautiful photo series.

As you look at these gorgeous spreads and try to reconcile them with your busy, late-running mornings, take a look at KJ Dell’Antonia’s “What’s Really for Breakfast?” It’s a friendly commentary that begins, “I looked at it and thought, man, if a photographer called me up and told me she was coming to my house to take pictures of breakfast, I’d do it up right.” Then she took pictures of what she really serves!

As you look at “Rise and Shine,” what do you see that you could keep at home for an easy breakfast that reaches outside the cereal (or donut) box?

Photo by Hannah Whitaker

What to Make of Fairlife High-Protein Milk

Olivia-fair-oaks-farms-31

The Coca-Cola Company has teamed up with Mike and Sue McCloskey, dairy farmers, to market a milk branded as Fairlife. It’s the result of a process that pulls apart the nutrients in milk and recombines them to produce a lactose-free, high-protein milk with lower fat. It’s an intriguing product idea and may be welcomed by people who enjoy dairy milk but have trouble with lactose or who can use more protein in their diets.

Launched in 2014 with a somewhat disgusting “pinup”-style campaign, Fairlife’s distribution is expanding this year, and with this expansion has come backlash. The Atlantic slams it as a needless marketing ploy, selling people something they don’t need, and other mainstream news outlets have quoted dietitians and academics expressing skepticism about the process and the result. Buzzfeed employees actually tried it and thought the low-fat version was pretty good but that overall it doesn’t taste or smell exactly like milk, in a not-great way. (They hated the chocolate version — packaged chocolate milks often go a little overboard, but apparently Fairlife is shocking even by that standard.)

Fairlife cons:
— Expensive. Reports range from “almost” to “more than” twice the price of regular milk.

— Processed food. Processed foods can be a mixed bag, and this one is new, too.

— Marketed by the Coca-Cola Company. Coke’s track record is more focused on selling in whatever packaging soothes the consumer. It has no credibility in nutrition.

Fairlife pros:
— Lactose-free, providing an alternative in a small market.

— Additional protein. If you choose strained yogurt for its high protein content (although texture would be reason enough!), then Fairlife might appeal for the same reason.

— If you have a very small stomach capacity, as do people who have recently had bariatric surgery, it can help you meet your protein goals in smaller amounts than regular milk.

I don’t find the “we eat too much protein already!” argument very interesting. In any case, Starter Steps is aimed specifically at people who are trying to increase their activity level and the nutritional quality of what they eat. Scaling up protein supports both those goals, and offers a satisfaction benefit that makes it easier to skip the cookies in the break room at work.

Eating more protein than your body, strictly speaking, needs is not harmful unless you have a kidney problem or are eating so large an amount that it’s actually less appetizing (as bodybuilders can discover when they really try to push protein). Protein is, however, relatively expensive — protein calories are usually more expensive than other calories — so even if you could eat half your calories a day from protein (which very few people could manage), there is good reason not to.

Is Fairlife Worth It?

Only you know for sure. It’s not a compelling product for general use.

I like protein, but I can digest lactose, so the high price of Fairlife is enough deterrent. For people who drink a lot of milk, the taste and texture will probably be a deterrent, too — a version that is “close” but “not quite” is often unpleasant to those who really enjoy something.

If you are lactose-intolerant but really like milk and wish you could drink it, you should try it. Fairlife might be a nice alternative to products like Lactaid and lactase pills.

Should I Give Fairlife to My Kids?

Probably not. It’s expensive, and kids should have a wide variety of foods in their diet, so doubling up on protein from milk is not that great a sell.

Image from the Fair Oaks Farms Fairlife website.

Envy for Kids’ School Lunches

School lunches

Founded in DC by 3 Georgetown students, Sweetgreen is a casual restaurant specializing in salads that has expanded to 10 cities. Sweetgreen is also working with area school districts to improve nutrition in schools. Part of its research was looking at school lunches in other places, and Business Insider has shared a beautiful slideshow of other countries’ foods.

Does this give you some ideas for your own meals, or meals for your kids? For more ideas on bringing salads to work — and going far beyond the “iceberg lettuce and a few tomatoes” model — see Making It Easier to Get Your Vegetables. Greatist also offers a nice list of options based on the Japanese bento box. Schools have the advantage of kitchen facilities lacking in most offices, but this kind of planning and portioning can help you prepare for dinners on hectic weeknights, too.

Update February 27: Blogger Bettina Elias Siegel has dug into the sourcing for Sweetgreen photos and found it different from reality. Here is her article about school lunches outside the US.

Hidden Sugar

WheatThins-ingredients

Food packages love to trumpet health claims on the front (and quasi-health claims, like “fat free!” on 100% sugar candy), but the most important information is in the nutritional information and the ingredients list. That’s where the package shows calories, fat, protein, and carbs per serving — and tells you how big a serving is. Does the package contain multiple servings?

One way food packaging can mislead us is by labeling a king-size package with a small serving size, and including “servings per package: 2” (or more) in the small print. Another way they can mislead is by using several names for the same ingredient. Because ingredients are listed in order of their weight in the product, breaking up one type of ingredient into multiple items is a way to hide how much of that ingredient is in the food, and the number-one ingredient hidden this way is added sugar.

The image above is the ingredients list for Wheat Thins. Wheat Thins are not particularly healthy choice — a savory cracker whose second ingredient is sugar? But it’s worse than that: Wheat Thins contain 3 different forms of sugar: “sugar,” “malt syrup,” and “invert sugar.” It’s hard to believe that if you added them together, they’d add up to more weight than the wheat! But even if they don’t, why does a wheat cracker need all that sugar in the first place?

Women’s Health has posted a list of different names for sugar. Reducing the amount of refined sugar you eat (especially while adding more protein- and fiber-rich foods) is one of the easiest ways to curb calories, improve your energy level, and feel fuller and more satisfied with your meals. So keep an eye out for added sugar — in all its forms — in the packaged foods you eat.

What 200 Calories of Nuts Looks Like

INFOGRAPHIC-What-200-Calories-of-Nuts-Looks-Like

This is a detail from an infographic showing what quantity of different nuts adds up to 200 calories. Most of the other displays along these lines show photographs of food, and part of me wants to see that here, too, but in many cases the quantity is so small that it’s probably a good idea to count them. Nuts are a terrific snack, but the calories can add up fast.

Be right back — I’m off to pick up some pistachios.

Chicken AGAIN?

One of the best tricks for improving your nutrition while reducing your calories is plenty of protein-rich food and vegetables (as long as you limit the fatty sauces and toppings that are traditionally served with them). And one of the quickest, simplest protein-rich foods to prepare is chicken … which can get pretty dull or even dry.

Marinades to the Rescue!

A marinade is a combination of something acidic (like lemon juice or vinegar) and something flavorful, like garlic, herbs, chopped onions, and/or ginger. It flavors the meat, tenderizes it, and helps it hold moisture — making your food more delicious and creating an opportunity for variety in taste without a lot of surprises with calories.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has some safety and basic ingredients recommendations for marinades. (If you’re in a hurry, you can just use some of your favorite salad dressing.) The DHHS gives blanket advice that it is safe to marinate meats for a couple of days (or more). That’s probably true, but from a quality point of view, it’s mostly red meat that can stand up to more than 24 hours. (Overmarinated meats can get mushy.) Fish should marinate the shortest (around a half hour), and chicken somewhere in between. (You can also “cook” fish with a marinade — the Spanish dish ceviche.)

The Kitchn and Greatist offer dozens of options for chicken — I bet at least a couple of these will have you looking forward to chicken again!

Image from First-World Problems meme (also called White Whine — white wine is also nice with chicken, and wines can be used in marinades!)

The Keys to Success: Action

macros

Keeping track of food (and exercise) can be every bit as difficult as you want to make it, but it doesn’t have to be. As with any new area of learning, it helps to start small, reconsider your assumptions, and experiment a little to find what works best for you.

Here are a few articles from 2014 about methods for keeping track of your progress and food intake, and improving your skills in the kitchen.

Tracking Progress

Should I Junk My Scale? — Maybe weighing yourself isn’t helping

The First Question after BMI — A refinement of the super-simple body-fatness/risk snapshot

Keeping Score — Thinking about exercise burn

Food Tracking and Some Alternatives

Accounting Without Counting — Detailed food records are not the only way, and there are easier ways to start

Keeping Score — Basic food tracking

Getting a feel for portions sizes is a great skill to have but tough to learn. Here are some visual aids (and practicing with a kitchen scale helps!):
What Does 20 Grams of Protein Look Like?
What Does 200 Calories Look Like?
What Does 100 Calories Look Like?

Learning to Cook is a tall order, but you don’t have to become a Cordon Bleu chef — you just need to some basic skills around the kitchen to make a few key choices and meals that will help you stick with your eating priorities. Here is a start.

What Is an Empty Calorie? — Some suggestions for “fuller” choices

Nudge Yourself into a Sound Grocery Strategy, and then use Strategic Fridge Filling and other tips for How to Store Groceries

Cooking 101 — A simple intro to kitchen techniques

Vegetable Cheat Sheet — “How do I prepare this?”

There are so many different ways to improve the way you eat and move that you are bound to find some that agree with you. Never feel obligated to change more than one thing at a time — and start with what looks easiest!