Focusing on Fewer Ingredients in Food is Pointless

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Zoning in on the number of ingredients in packaged foods is one of the stupidest consumer driven trends to date. Fueled by the unsubstantiated fear of anything not immediately recognizable or easy to pronounce, companies are turning to “fewer ingredients” to make their food stand out on over-crowded store shelves. Short, recognizable ingredient lists are leading packaged food trends in 2016 yet the number of ingredients or your ability to pronounce an ingredient has absolutely nothing to do with the nutrition value of the food and therefore shouldn’t guide your buying decisions.

The # of Ingredients Has Nothing to do with Nutrition Value

Shorter ingredient lists do not mean a food or beverage is better for you. Companies that make chips, ice cream and other dessert items are among the fiercest competitors for simplifying ingredient lists. According to an article in the Huffington Post, Hershey Co. improved their classic chocolate syrup by cutting the list to 5 simple ingredients. The new version took food scientists a year and a half to make with recognizable ingredients. The challenge? Making a syrup that also tastes good. The new version with cane sugar and organic invert cane syrup instead of high fructose corn syrup will cost you 1 more gram of sugar than the original version. How does this make it nutritionally superior to the old version?

Here’s another example. Let’s say you are in the grocery store debating between protein choices for dinner. Do you pick up the omega-3 and protein-packed (23 grams for 190 calories) salmon or beef franks (15 grams protein for 190 calories and 3x the saturated fat). I hope you choose the salmon if you are choosing based on nutrition value.

Simple Ingredients

I found many similar examples in the grocery store including potato chips with just a few ingredients compared to whole grain, higher fiber crackers with three times the ingredients and Häagen-Dazs ice cream with five ingredients, 250 calories and almost 5 grams of sugar per ½ cup compared to Giant brand ice cream with more than twice the number of ingredients, 160 calories and less than 3 grams of sugar per ½ cup. If you are choosing your dessert not based on taste but instead based on the nutritionally superior option (because that’s why people are focusing on the total number of ingredients right?), you’ll pick up the Giant brand with more ingredients.

Just Because You Don’t Recognize it and Can’t Pronounce it Doesn’t Mean it is Bad

Head over to Cooking Light or any other well-recognized cooking magazine and I’m willing to bet you’ll find ingredients that you don’t recognize and can’t pronounce. I live in the world of food, nutrition and supplements and restaurant menus often stump me while the sheer number of unfamiliar spices in Penzeys Spices satisfies my creative desire for something new and unique. Just because an ingredient is unfamiliar to you does not automatically make it bad. After all you’re probably not a food scientist entrenched in the world of food development and food safety.

Some misunderstood ingredients are emulsifiers – they help ingredients stay together in a mixture vs. separating (for example, salad dressings often contain emulsifiers including lecithin), others add nutrition value, help products retain their color, prolong shelf life or keep the product safe. Pyridoxine hydrochloride sounds scary right? It’s a vitamin B6. Cyanocobalamin? That’s vitamin B12. Beta-glucan? Oat and barley beta-glucan are soluble fibers sometimes added to food to increase the fiber content. They also help you feel more full (satiated) and are fantastic for your immune system. Lupin kernel fiber – lupin is a legume. In other words, it’s good for you. All substances allowed in food in the U.S. are GRAS – Generally Recognized as Safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

Even though manufacturers are scurrying to chop down their ingredient lists to meet this silly consumer demand, focusing on the number of ingredients in a food isn’t worth your time or attention span. If you don’t order food in a restaurant based on the number of ingredients used in the recipe why would you choose foods in the grocery store based on the total number of ingredients? In addition, don’t be scared of any ingredient with a sprinkling of scientific reasoning behind its use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sourdough – Safe for Gluten Sensitivity?

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There’s something special about sourdough bread. Made through a slow process that begins with simple ingredients, warm water and flour, yeast and bacteria feast on the flour’s carbohydrate, producing carbon dioxide gas and bubbles that expand the dough. Each batch may tastes a little different depending on the flour and water used as well as the environment the starter is made in. My favorite sourdough bread, the kind that is made over the course of several days, has an alluring pungent, slightly sour taste. This long fermentation process leads to more complex flavors while also creating bread that is easier for those with gluten sensitivity to digest. I shared the science behind sourdough in this segment on Fox TV:

What is Gluten?

Gluten’s stretchy fibers give dough it’s rubberband-like elasticity allowing it to stretch when pizza dough is tossed in the air like a frisbee. Gluten-rich dough traps air and water during the baking process so bread rises with delicate ease, producing light and fluffy baked goods. Without wheat (and therefore gluten, which is produced when wheat flour is mixed with water), gluten free items require a blend of flours, starches and additives yet they still can’t replicate the texture of gluten-containing baked goods.

In people with celiac disease, an autoimmune digestive disease, repeated exposure to gluten damages villi, fingerlike projections in the small intestine that help us absorb nutrients from food. Over time, a decrease in nutrient absorption can lead to anemia, osteoporosis, miscarriages and other complications. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center website lists over 300 symptoms associated with celiac disease though anemia is the most common symptom in adults. The only available treatment is a strict gluten free diet – which helps reverse intestinal damage over time. Gluten sensitivity is not an autoimmune disease but instead a vague medical condition without a uniform definition or diagnostic test at this time. People with gluten sensitivity report various symptoms triggered by the ingestion of gluten-containing foods including abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation or diarrhea. Though gluten sensitivity is real, someone who thinks they have sensitivity may actually be reacting to something other than gluten (another protein or the starches – see below under Is it the Gluten?)

Sourdough bread

The Science behind Sourdough

Standard yeast leads to a fast fermentation process. This ramps up production speed and it is also foolproof so companies can produce batches of bread at warp speed. Sourdough bread is made slowly, over time, letting the yeast work it’s magic to deliver an array of flavors as well as bread that is easier to digest. In one study, sourdough bread made with selected sourdough lactobacilli and long-time fermentation resulted in bread with gluten levels of 12 parts per million (ppm), which qualifies for gluten-free (anything below to 20 ppm is gluten free). A long fermentation process allows bacteria and yeast adequate time to feed on proteins and starches breaking them down into more digestible parts. Yet sourdough also boasts a lower glycemic index than many other types of bread (including white bread) and therefore it doesn’t lead to a quick spike in blood sugar levels.

In 2011, a small study conducted in Italy tried giving volunteers with celiac disease a small amount of specially prepared sourdough bread. The bread was fermented until the gluten was broken down to more easily digestible parts. The subjects in the study reacted well to the sourdough, with no changes in intestinal villi and no detectable antibodies typically found when a celiac disease patient eats a gluten containing food. According to the study authors, the bread “was not toxic to patients with celiac disease.”

In another study, conducted over 60 days, baked goods made from hydrolyzed wheat flour, manufactured with sourdough lactobacilli and fungal proteases, was not toxic to patients with celiac disease. Though these studies are groundbreaking, it is far too soon for celiac disease patients to try this at home. For sourdough bread to be an option for those with celiac disease, a uniform production process would need to be established to ensure the end product is gluten-free.

For those with Gluten Sensitivity, Is it Really the Gluten?

Some people may experience bloating and flatulence in response to FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols). FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrates that are not well absorbed in the small intestine and are present in bread along with a number of other foods (other grains, some vegetables and fruits). In some people the problem may be FODMAPs, not gluten. The long fermentation process reduces FODMAPs.

How to Make Sourdough at Home

Sourdough starter begins with flour and water that sits for several days while being fed intermittently with both flour and water allowing bacteria (lactobacilli) and yeast to grow and multiply creating live cultures. These microorganisms are what makes the dough ferment similar to the way milk ferments to become yogurt. Check out these recipes to make your own sourdough bread: Healthy Aperture, the Perfect Loaf.

If you run into problems making sourdough check out this page for troubleshooting.

 

 

In Search of the Perfect Diet

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Nutrition pathway to changes

I am running into more and more nutrition purists. People who think their approach to eating is absolutely perfect, free from all harmful substances, and better than any other approach to nutrition. The purist sits across from me, preaching about GMOs, pesticides, carbohydrates, gluten, processed foods and salt, talking at warp speed only to take a breather so they can sip on their organic greens drink (mixed into pH balanced water of course). Meanwhile, deep from within their soul I feel their longing for acceptance, as if they are in a confessional, looking for me to forgive their past nutrition sins – a life full of bread, dairy and fast food grilled chicken – and commend them on becoming a disciple of nutrition purity. Their eyes search, looking away as they ramble and catching mine again as they look for an expression from me. Anything. Even a simple head nod would provide the validation they are looking for.

I’m always happy when people move from less than healthy diets to more healthy diets. The problem with nutrition purists is they believe there is ONE diet for everyone. ONE pattern of eating and everything else is wrong. They aren’t looking for advice or information from me but instead want me to acknowledge they are doing everything right. Forget science because this person is drinking the Kool-Aid (err, powered dehydrated veggies) from internet blogs written by some self-proclaimed nutrition expert who relies on sensationalism and scare tactics. Their mind is closed to learning anything that doesn’t fit within the doctrine of this self-proclaimed nutrition expert (quack). So I sit there with a blank look on my face though in the back of my mind I am wondering things like “if only this 20-something year old fit male knew the research on this subject was conducted in obese postmenopausal women.”

Saying there is one diet that fits all is akin to giving everyone the same workout program. If you’re a strength coach or personal trainer, would you put everyone on the exact same program? Would you give an 82 year-old grandma who has never worked out the same program as a 43 year-old marathoner? No. So why on earth would you give everyone the exact same nutrition guidelines and supplements? Please, throw away those silly one-pagers with nutrition “rules” you aimlessly hand out to everyone that walks through your door.

My job is to move a person from where they are to better so they meet their goals. Everyone has a different starting place, set of beliefs, goals, health history, medications they are on, food likes and dislikes, cooking skills, budget, training program and more. Nutrition is like a road map – there are many routes you can take, some are quicker that others, some have roadblocks, traffic or require a vehicle that can jump a few curbs or possibly even a bike to make it through narrow spaces. Going to a seasoned nutrition profession is like hitting Google Maps and figuring out the best route for you. The alternative is aimlessly driving in a foreign city without street signs (ciao Pescia Italy! I have fond memories of driving in circles, next time I’ll bring a GPS and my Italian will be much better too, I promise).

So, before you drop your jaw and blast me after hearing I told a client he could eat fast food once a week, stop to consider this person’s starting place: fast food everyday. And some clients aren’t willing to give up certain foods or drinks so make substitutions, so I meet them where they are. If I try and switch a junk food eater who binges on alcohol to an all-organic diet without cheeseburgers and fries, chances are they will fail and give up.

Nutrition is a complex science. There isn’t ONE approach that works for everyone or one that every single person is willing to follow. So, if you are that person who is bound to a single nutrition doctrine, please open your ears a little and be willing to consider there are many factors that should be considered before a person goes on a diet or makes drastic dietary changes. And please, read a few research studies or textbooks prior to preaching to others because chances are 90% of what you reading isn’t backed by science or common (biochemistry) sense.