Thursday, October 24, 2013

Part 2: Clearly an Ingredients List

Currently drinking, Glaceau SmartWater. 4 ingredients for water. 
This post is continuing from To Buy or Not to Buy from last week where we were left wondering whether or not we should purchase the box of Nutri-Grain cereal bars. For a recap, the Nutrition Facts label provided some useful information(Protein 2g, Sugars 12g, Dietary Fiber 3g) but was that enough to make a wise choice? Luckily, we have another immediate source that is equally informative, the Ingredients List.

Ingredients lists can be like a frosted window. You know, those windows that you can kind of see through, but not really. Ingredients Lists are supposed to list the ingredients that are in the product, but check out the regulations provided by the FDA for Ingredients Lists. Why are there so many regulations?  For example, "Listing ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight" is one that makes sense to me. On the other hand though, many of them constitute the frosted part of the window including the well known debate over Natural Flavors and GMO.

Here in California during the 2012 Election, Proposition 37 "Prohibited labeling or advertising such food as natural." Such food is in reference to any food that has genetic material that has been altered. If you look at many food items, you will often see "Natural Flavors" which seems clear right? Well, nope. The proposition failed so natural flavors continues to mean that it could be the essence of a fruit but possibly altered either by being genetically modified or engineered.

That fight is not over and will continue on a larger scale, but how does this impact you the consumer directly? Well, say you are Gluten-Free? According to the "Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide" there are over 20 ingredients that you could see in an Ingredient List that means gluten is included yet very much disguised, e.g. Malt Vinegar. Vegetarian anyone?  Animal products have aliases and you have to do your research to make sure you are not eating meat. For example, diglyceride's can be sourced either from vegetable or animals, particularly cows or hogs. They are additives to help bind things together that normally wouldn't, such as oil and water.  But how would a vegetarian know if it's safe to eat? Unfortunately, you just don't know.  The Vegetarian Resource Group provides an incredible guide for vegetarians, vegans, and meat eaters alike who want to learn more about specific ingredients and their sources.

So how does this look when grocery shopping? Well, if you are fortunate enough to shop only at Whole Foods, then your starting off on the right foot.  Whole Foods has a list of Unacceptable Ingredients for Food which is quite lengthy, over 80 ingredients. Basically, they will not allow any of these products in their store. But what if your like me and my local grocery store is more convenient, affordable and overall more realistic?

Shopping tips to guide you... 

1. If you cannot pronounce it, most likely it's not good for you. 

2. Avoid any "Dyes" in the list, especially Red Dye #40 as it is tainted with known cancer causing agents. 

3. Shorter the better - Some experts suggest avoiding foods with an ingredients list of 5 or more. What would they say about one with 45? Probably avoid at all costs. 

Finally, back to those cereal bars...drum roll please. 



45 total ingredients, majority of which I cannot pronounce.  Red 40.  Highlighted ingredients look familiar?

As a consumer, you must use the resources available to you in order to make the best decisions. Don't be fooled by advertising and take the time to learn about Nutrition Facts and Ingredients Lists. They can be frosty sometimes but with these tips and helpful tools you now have the ability to see through a clear window. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

To Buy or Not to Buy...That is the question.

You are walking down the aisle at the grocery store and you see this product.  First impressions? Maybe a healthy option for a quick breakfast?  Whole cherries means real whole fruit were used and yup, says so in small print, "Made with Real Fruit." "More of the Whole Grains Your Body Needs" printed in a large yellow box and the bold "Whole Grain" is a pretty clear message.  Even a picture of a whole grain dotting the "i" in Nutri-Grain? How cute.  Are you sold by the packaging and the product is already in your cart, ready to be purchased?  If so, please take one more minute to look at the Nutrition Facts.  Because what you will find, may surprise you and may change your mind.  

Nutrition Facts label only became a requirement in 1990, that's relatively recent in the overall food industry.   But how many of us actually look at the label?  Apparently many of us say we look, but when it comes down to it we actually don't according to  It may be because we feel it's overwhelming, complicated, time-consuming or just not understood.  The simpler it is depends on your health and for some with certain health issues, a detailed overview may be helpful and if so, check out the US Food & Drug Administration's website. For most of us, I would suggest focusing on the following 3 areas...

SERVING SIZE: Here is a great guide that provides you with an accurate visual when it comes to a tablespoon, an ounce, a cup, etc. Portion sizes are one of the major hurdles for losing weight and we all need to be realistic about the amount of food entering our body. We have all done it... grabbed a bag of chips, ate right out of the bag and sure enough suddenly 6 servings are gone. Just like that. There is no "right" serving, just know what it is. 

PROTEIN & SUGAR: I look for the protein to be high and sugar low. We all know sugar is unhealthy but the unfortunate fact is they sneak it into almost everything. 0g is ideal but not always possible and did you know that sugar is now linked with bad skin? Wow. Read more here.

FIBER: Look for 3g or more in a serving. According to Mayo Clinic, women need around 24g per day and men need approximately 36g and raspberries, artichokes, lentils, and barley are all great sources with well over 3g per serving.  
Shocked that calories and/or fat aren't on this list?  It's alright.  It will be alright. Consciously I am choosing items with high fiber and high protein full well knowing that the consequence might be adding more calories to my diet. But that's OK with me because I am getting more bang for my buck.  When I was in high school, the big fad was the lowfat and nonfat products which we all know meant no nutrients or taste. And consequently, it often meant high in sugar which has connections to increase in diabetes, obesity, inflammation and much more.  By choosing to eat real food that provides me with energy and nutrients, while keeping me full for longer than 15 minutes has the overall potential of eating the same or even less daily calories.

So back to our Cherry Nutri-Grain breakfast bar. Here is the nutrition information from the Nutri-Grain website...
1. Serving Size - 1 Bar which is 37 grams
2. Protein - 2grams, Sugar - 12 grams.
3. Fiber(Dietary) - 3 grams.

Let's go back to whether or not you are going to throw this item in the grocery cart now or keep on searching. Decision made? OK, well maybe you need some more information? Dietary Fiber is acceptable, but protein is low and sugar is kind of high. Where do you look next? That's right, the Ingredients List and I will give you a hint, it will definitely make your decision for you. But not yet, let's save that for the next post and until then spend a little more time reviewing the Nutrition Facts while you are grocery shopping keeping a keen eye on Serving Size, Protein, Sugar and Fiber. Until next time, which will be very soon, I promise.  

Friday, September 13, 2013

"What 200 Calories Looks Like"

Serving sizes are pretty much, well, clear as mud.  This video, provided by Wisegeek is pure genius and illustrates in a magical way how distorted we view portions. Yet it begins the process of clearing the waters. 

Thank you to those at Wisegeek as they illustrate how well they offer clear answers for common questions. 
Enjoy and Learn! 

Sunday, August 4, 2013


On a daily basis, I am asked some pretty random questions about all things wellness related. Many of which are simple yet common questions that probably most of us have had cross our minds at one time or another. Simple questions are often the most important because they impact our lives almost on a daily basis. And not every question has to be researched and analyzed in depth. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to share with you those questions and the relatively quick and easy answers.

"I've been taking Glucosamine for years. It can only do me good, no harm. Right?" 

Unfortunately, no.  According to Mayo Clinic, there are a lot of goods as well as harms from taking glucosamine. The goods include helping with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and recovering from knee or other leg pain. The harms though include those with shellfish allergies, iodine sensitivities, people with bleeding disorders, Diabetics, people with inflamed livers and pregnant or breastfeeding women.  Additional research is required to be sure of both the goods and the harms. Stay tuned.

"Do I need to be in better shape before taking taking classes like Spin and Zumba?" 

This is a huge NO.  The most obvious benefit to taking classes vs. working out on your own are the instructors, a very special group of people who are highly trained and have gone through often numerous certifications to teach a safe and motivating class for all abilities.  Additional benefits include new and different workouts, typically great music and consistency in your workout schedule.  The biggest benefit that I see is the accountability that is created through the other class participants.  They see a new face and they welcome them with open arms. They see that face a couple more times, they introduce themselves, find out more about them, invite them to try other classes with them, meet at Starbucks after class, take walks together on Sundays and pretty soon you have a new friend and often group of friends. That is something that will never happen while working out on a treadmill while listening to Beyonce.

"I started making smoothies in the morning but it hits my stomach with a thud. Should I stop?" 

Believe it or not, there is an art to smoothies. They can be very high in calories if you are not careful, they can be too thin or too thick, and sometimes they can just downright taste awful. This link provides "6 Tips to Help Improve Digestion" when drinking smoothies. Real briefly... 1. Drink Smoothie Slowly 2. But not too slow! 3. Pay Attention to Quantity 4. Avoid drinking too cold 5. Keep it simple 6. Keep your greens in rotation.

"I have a sprint triathlon in 2 weeks but my knee has been hurting lately, not when I run just after I finish. Should I keep running?" 

Now obviously with knees and other injuries that kind of sneak up on you like this you have to be careful. First recommendation is to see a doctor.  Next thing I recommended to this gentleman was to limit running on it, maybe once in the next two week time period and replace it with the elliptical machine. There are many types out there but our Club has one made by Paramount that simulates running pretty well without the impact.  If you have been training and you are two weeks out from an event, you have the capability and stamina to perform your event so at this point you are just maintaining your endurance. I spoke with this gentleman after his event and he said the run went well and of course his knee still hurt afterwards, but his legs felt strong throughout and he finished!

Maybe one of these questions you have asked yourself and haven't been able to find the answer.  Maybe you already knew the answer to all these questions.  And maybe you have just learned at least one new wellness piece of info to tuck away and pull out when it gets brought up in conversation at a later date.