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Thursday, April 26, 2007

More on Berries, Antioxidants and Alcohol

Image from Wikimedia Commons; it is freely available under GNU Free Documentation LicenseShelly Batts had the good sense to read the entire article instead of just the abstract. Her analysis in Retrospectacle is, therefore, much more valuable than mine. Turns out the berries are only exposed to the fumes of the tested compounds. Her summary of the article is an easy read, and includes a helpful chart and graph. She says 60% of untreated blackberries rotted, 47% of ethanol-trated blackberries rotted, and only 29% of allyl isothiocyanate-treated blackberries rotted.

What I have not seen is data comparing comparing antioxidant content of fresh berries (control and treated) to the 1 and 2-week old berries. If treatment with volatile compounds actually boosted antioxidant content (rather than simply protecting against decline), then there might be some merit in marinating the berries shortly before eating them. Though, of course, there is little benefit to the humans if they marinate themselves while eating berries.

The purpose of the study was to find ways to increase the shelf-life of berries. I don't really want to eat 2-week-old blackberries, even if less than a third of them are rotten. I prefer to buy them fresh locally or pick my own, and eat them within 3 days. They taste a lot better than berries picked for shipping from thousands of miles a way. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer food that tastes good. Even if that means I'm restricted to eating it in season.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Major News Outlets Misrepresent Food Study

Well, that sounds sensationalist, doesn't it? As Five Wells pointed out, it all started with "Fruity cocktails count as health food, study finds" in Reuters' Oddly Enough section. No matter that the piece completely misrepresents research published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. It is merely entertainment on par with "Drunk deposits horse in bank for night."

The nonsense was picked up as "Cocktails are good for you!" in a Manchester Evening News blog. The blogger has got it as wrong as Reuters did, but it's still not hard news, so that doesn't really count, does it?

Somehow, though, this piece has been promoted from "a bit of a laugh" to "news"

Anybody who had read the abstract of the research article would know that the researchers were investigating how various preparations, when applied to whole berries, can help prevent decay during storage at 10 °C (approximately 50 °F). After a week or two, treated fruits were in better shape than untreated fruits.

The conclusion seems to be that spraying berries with ethanol or one of several other anti-fungal preparations helps prevent decay. There is correlation with the fact that, after a week or two, these old but not-very-rotten fruits have higher levels of anti-oxidants than the untreated, rotten fruits.

At no time do the researchers compare just-treated berries with freshly-picked, untreated berries. They do not claim that dipping the berries in alcohol will instantly boost their antioxidants. They certainly do not advocate the drinking of strawberry daiquiri.

The earliest instance I have found of a news organization following up on the pros and cons of drinking alcoholic fruit drinks is Alcohol 'makes fruit healthier' from the BBC. They do repeat the nonsense that this study suggests that "having [berries] in a cocktail may make them even healthier", but did get a quote from a registered dietician pointing out that any health benefits would be outweighed by the damage done by drinking all that alcohol. Other news organizations, such as ChinaDaily (Fruit's healthier if you mix it with alcohol) and The Register (Alcohol boosts health benefit of fruit) seem to have picked up on the ever-so-slightly more nuanced BBC article.

When I do a web search for "fruit" or "strawberries" or "berry" paired with "alcohol" at nytimes.com, philly.com, or washingtonpost.com, I do not find this article. Are the journalists there better trained to check their sources, find experts to clarify confusing jargon, even email the principal contact listed right at the top of the article?

As for all of the other news organizations -- if we can't count on them to check for accuracy in reporting, aren't they just wasting our time?

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A more balanced granola

As I said in my last post, you have to beware of some of those "healthy" recipes, like the nutty high-fat granola recipe recently published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Why should you beware a recipe like this one? Because, even though the recipe is adapted from a book called "The Healthy Kitchen", each serving is high in calories, fat (including saturated fat) and sugar. For each serving of grain, the recipe provides 404 calories, including 21g (1.5 tablespoons; 6g saturated) of fat and 25 g (2 tablespoons) of sugar.

Looking for better alternatives, I consulted Alton Brown's Granola recipe. It provides 1 serving of grain for 353 calories, with 19 grams of fat and 25g of suger. A minor improvement. Surely, one could do better.

You could eat a Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bar, Oats and Honey flavor. That's 100 calories per bar (which come 2 to the pouch). Each bar has only 3g of fat (none of it saturated), 7 g of sugars. Eat the whole 2-bar pack, and you get close to 2 servings of grain, all for only 200 calories.

Or you could make your own. Most granola recipes taste like a very rich cookie. That's the sugar (white, brown, or honey, it's still a lot of sugar) and the oil talking. What you want to make at home will be closer to the Nature Valley product -- lower in sugars and oils.

What exactly is one serving of grain? According to mypyramid.gov, that is approximately 1 oz serving of bread, or the equivalent. How many cups of dry oatmeal is that? That's a little trickier to figure out. But http://www.mypyramidtracker.gov/ can help.

  • Log in to mypyramidtracker, select "proceed to food intake".
  • In the text box under "Enter Food Item", type "oats, raw", and click the search button. Under "Search results", click the "Add" button next to "oats, raw", and click the "Select Quantity" button in the other half of the screen.
  • Now you'll be able to select a serving size of "1 cup", a "Number of Servings" of 100 (yes, 100) and click "Save and Analyze".
  • On the "Analyze Your Food" display, scroll down and click on Calculate MyPyramid Stats to find out that 100 cups of oats is equivalent to 285.7 1-oz servings of grain.

Result: 0.35 cups (approximately a third of a cup) of rolled oats per serving. That's a hassle, isn't it? I keep the results in an EXCEL spreadsheet so I won't have to go through that again. Similarly, I searched on "wheat germ, crude" to find out that a serving of wheat germ is approximately a quarter of a cup. And a serving of wheat flour is approximately .128 cup (2 tablespoons). Why did I look these up? I was looking at a low-fat honey granola bar recipe

-- Low-Fat Honey Granola Bars (foodgeeks.com) --
12 servings
1/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. honey
1/3 cup dark raisins

That's less than 4 servings of grain in the entire recipe, or just about a third of a serving of grain per serving of grain per bar. I scaled the recipe by 3 and gave it a try. Bah! An oatmeal cookie with a play-doh texture. Wheat flour + liquid (honey) without fat = playdoh.

I'll try to come up with something.

  • A crispy, crunchy granola bar that tastes good
  • Not much over 100 calories per serving of grain (remembering that a serving of rolled oats contains 110 calories)
  • Not overloaded with sugar or fat.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Beware the healthy granola recipe

The Philadelphia Inquirer published an interesting article about how fast-food and convenience-food makers are vying for your breakfast dollar. It criticizes a few popular morning choices (McGriddles, McMuffins, and Starbucks' Venti Caffé Mocha with whipped cream), and offers a side bar (not available online) advocating more nutritionally balanced breakfasts you throw together at home in three minutes or less. Unfortunately, it also offers a Granola Recipe that (to quote the author) makes the denigrated 300-calorie McMuffin "look like diet fare".

Sure, the granola is chock full of natural, wholesome ingredients. But each serving (maybe 3/4 cup) provides over 400 calories. That's a nice snack if you are an iditarod musher, but a bit heavy in the cereal bowl for the rest of us.

By my calculations, each serving (maybe about 3/4 cup) amounts to about

  • 1 serving of grain
  • about an ounce of nuts and seeds, which counts as 2 ounces of meat (http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/meat_counts.html)
  • 21 grams (1 1/2 tablespoons) of fat, 5 grams of which is saturated
  • 1 1/3 tablespoons of sugar
  • No dairy
  • No fruit or vegetables
I double-checked the weight per cup of the almonds, sunflower seeds, and coconut at the USDA and nutritiondata databases (just use this blog's nutrition data search bar to check for yourself).

Instead of this nutty, high-fat granola, I would choose:
  • 1 serving of grain: 1/3 cup oatmeal (prepared with 1 cup of water), 1 slice of whole-grain bread, or 1 cup of cheerios (60 - 110 calories)
  • 1 serving of dairy: 8 oz skim milk (93 calories)
  • 1 serving of fruit: 1/2 cup fruit (40 to 80 calories)

Total: under 300 calories. Save the nuts for an afternoon snack (1/2 oz walnut halves is under 100 calories).

How many calories do you need a day? How many servings of which foods do you need? Find out at mypyramid.gov.

(correction to serving size of rolled oats 4/24/2007)

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