Monday, May 27, 2013

Special Packaging - Better for the Planet

I want to tell you about a package I received the other day and show you pictures - but first I have to talk about the product I ordered and perhaps offer a little disclaimer.. AND there's a discount code for you if your interested.

   I have probably mentioned Waldens Farms in the blog, and I most definitely have talked about it on my You Tube channel.  The products I use are 'calorie free' salad dressings, chocolate and pancake syrup, a peanut spread, apple jelly, and caramel, chocolate and marshmallow dips.  Note that the 'calorie free' tag can be misleading. If a product has less than 5 calories per the serving size listed (not the one you want it to be) then the company can advertise it as calorie free - but only water is truly calorie free.
   I like the Walden Farms products.  I don't use much of the dips and spreads because when I use more than a teaspoonful -ish I sense a little after taste.  The products are highly processed or filtered such that the main ingredient is water. Of course, all the flavorings they use are FDA approved, but you know how that goes.  The main thing I wanted to point out before I promote them is that they contain artificial sweeteners (splenda - sucralose).
   Aspartame, saccharine and sucralose have been the subject of much study and debate - including what I have contributed in these pages. As far as we know, in the amounts that we consume them, they are not harmful. But I must admit that our ability to detect problems through scientific methods only gets better with time and it could be that the substances are not safe. In the past, the way they studied them was to give ridiculously huge amounts to animals that weighed between 5 and 15 pounds.  At extreme doses, the animals got sick or died. In doses more likely to be consumed by people, the animals did not have any problems.  Remember, many things are okay in small doses, like alcohol, but toxic otherwise.
   Certainly there is anecdotal evidence (stories) about people who used large amounts of aspartame or saccharin for many years and who seem to have gotten sick for no other reason then the sweeteners.  There are also people who have allergic reactions to sweeteners - people have allergic reactions to peanuts too, but peanuts are not bad for the rest of us.  I would expect, but this is far from scientific, that the air we breathe on bad ozone days is worse for us than these sweeteners.
   Still, my use of artificial sweeteners seems to contradict my stance on health - and by way of comparison, my view on mercury.  I won't eat canned tuna because it has too much mercury - but I drink diet soda.  I too am guilty of not wanting to hear things that will challenge my lifestyle.  So I have a bias or blind side when it comes to artificial sweeteners... not that there is any definitive research that says they are bad.. certainly they are not good  - but neither is sugar.  At least, I am honest in my bias, many researchers are not.  (You have to make your own decision about whether to use sweeteners or sugar for that matter - just remember that the best evidence we have today or had yesterday might be contradicted tomorrow.  That means we are getting better at science not worse!)
   SO  - YAY, I found a great place to order my beloved Walden Farms products - cheaper than the grocery store (where they are hard to find in some states).  I was able to get free shipping too, but the best part was how they were shipped.  See picture below.  No styrofoam peanuts or plastic - I was delighted.  And they also gave me a coupon code to share with my friends.. you are my friends, yes?  

All of the packaging was recyclable!
My Walden Favorites!

The company from which I ordered the Walden Farms products is
To get $5 to $10 off an order, use this code: DNZ646

Friday, May 24, 2013

Really - the Sunscreen Laws are Here

On June 14th of 2011, I wrote this post and referred to another I had written in 2009 - both were about the changes in how sunscreen products in the United States could be labeled. Alas, the day has arrived (or will next month) - and most of what I told you in those past posts is now law.  There is one great exception - one great, unfortunate exception which speaks to the power of industry and the discretion of the FDA.  [this is of special concern to me because the same thing is happening with the law that mandates nutrition disclosures at restaurants... the law was passed years ago, and the FDA has the responsibility and the authority for the final rule but industry is pushing back hard... yet, so are scientists, so maybe this time the changes will be in our favor - she said in a major side bar]

The unfortunate label change no go for sunscreen is the ban on claiming SPF - sun factor protection - greater than 50.

First let me tell you what did survive from the original law:
No company can advertise its sunscreen as waterproof (sweat proof, or call itself a sun block).
I thought that all sunscreens would have to provide UV A (the kind most associated with cancer) and UV B (associated with burning) protection, but I just double checked the FDA website and now I am as confused as ever by their final rule (I am also losing faith in this government agency).

Anyway, instead of everyone having to provide both forms of protection, only those that do can call themselves Broad Spectrum.  Bottom line:if the product says Broad Spectrum and is SPF 15 or higher - that is the one you want to buy.

Broad Spectrum sunscreen protects against both types of UV Rays.

Mass confusion continues over what SPF actually means.  I will do my best to explain it in a moment, but science tells us that for a product to offer adequate protection the values should be between 15 and 50, but 30 is likely sufficient.  There is no evidence to support that SPF over 50 makes a difference, makes a clinically important difference, but the industry of sunscreen makers is still fighting to use the higher numbers.

As I understand it, the amount of time that a person can be in the sunlight, unprotected without beginning to burn is quite individualized.  It depends on the time of year, where you are physically located and your skin's pigment (fair or olive, e.g.).  It does not have anything to do with whether or not you have a 'base tan!'

SPF is related to the time it takes you to burn.  So whatever that time is, say I start to burn after 30 minutes because of my olive skin - if I use SPF 15, 15 x 30 = 450 or just over 7 hours.  I could be in the sun for over 7 hours wearing SPF 15 with reasonable assurance of not being burned (UVB protection) and as long as I have on Broad Spectrum SPF 15 - I should also be protected from the UVA rays during that time.

If I chose a 30 SPF, then I could stay in the sun longer (30 x 30) without beginning to burn.  
If I were a fairer skinned person, I might begin to burn in 15 minutes, and the math would be different.  SPF 15, 15 x 15 = 225 minutes so almost 4 hours;  SPF 30, 30 x 15 = as above.

Key to this protection is that the lotion be applied thoroughly and in a sufficient amount.  Any time one sweats, goes in the water and/or towels off, the lotion needs to be reapplied. Therefore, the labels advise that you reapply every two hours.

Sunscreens that are sprayed on may not be as effective.  The research is still pending (due to the body coverage issue) and there may be concern about breathing the fumes from the spray.

It is also important to limit your time in the sun, regardless of protection - 7 hours in full sun would be dangerous.  The best protection comes form hats, glasses, clothes and shade. 

 Of course, some time in the sun is necessary for Vitamin D production  - YAY!

Once again I link you to the Skin Cancer Foundation for more information.  I am sending you to the page with a sun safety quiz!  You better get a 100!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What's Good for the Goose

Okay, not the goose, but the dog or cat.
    I recently heard a pet food commercial, which inspired this blog post.  I did not catch the product name and wasn't able to find it by searching keywords on the Internet, but that matters less.
    The gist of the advertisement is that many of the foods we give to our pets provide nutrients in the wrong proportions.  Specifically, I recall the spokesperson talking about protein and salt.  She suggests that pets need to have a balanced diet with the right proportions of nutrients.  This will ensure their health.
    I am pretty certain that the majority of pet owners, certainly those that consider themselves pet lovers, will at the very least, check the labels of the product they currently buy - and most likely, they will consider switching brands.  They will do this for their pets.  Their pets will have no choice but to eat the 'healthier' food.  The pets will feel loved.  :)

   The great irony is that the majority of pet owners are themselves consuming too much protein and salt - as well as calories, sugar and probably fat.  This out of proportion consumption steadily rose over the past 30 years and has contributed to the substantial number of Americans (~70%) who are over weight.
    We know that we are consuming too many calories, sugar, fat and too much salt - but it will take legislation - LAWS - to make us stop.  Isn't there some great irony in that?  Perhaps instead of fighting it, we should consider ourselves pets who need someone to feed us - for our own good, of course.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Is the veggie burger a better choice?

The answer is "it depends on your goal."
   If you are at a quick service restaurant, like Burger King, and you want to eat healthier, you might consider ordering a veggie burger.  Burger King is now offering a Morning Star Farms Veggie Burger as indicated in the coupon book I received in the mail today.
   I eat vegetarian burgers on a regular basis, so I knew that not all  burgers are the same. It was time to investigate.
   Using the Burger King full nutritional menu - which you can see here, I learned that the Veggie Burger is not always the best choice.  I specifically focused on calories, saturated fat, and sodium.  Out of curiosity, I checked the protein amount.  It is generally accepted that Americans do not lack protein, and that they get too much of the other three things.

Goal One: To go meatless.  100% achieved with the Veggie Burger.
Goal Two: To get lower saturated fat.  Most of the time.
Goal Three: To get the least sodium/salt.  About 1/2 the time.
Goal Four:  To get the least calories.  Not a guarantee!

I compared the Veggie Burger to the Whopper Jr, the Double Cheeseburger, and the Tender-grill Chicken Sandwich. (SFA stands for saturated fatty acids or saturated fat)

WhJR                   340 cals    5g    SFA     510mg sod    14g protein
DblCH                  370 cals    9g    SFA     720mg sod    22g protein
Chick(no mayo)   400 cals    2g    SFA    1260mg sod   31g protein
Veggie                  410 cals    2.5g SFA      960mg sod   21g protein

   In this case, the whopper jr looks the best for red meat eaters.  The chicken has the least grams of saturated fat but look at the sodium content!  Notice that I listed the chicken without mayo.  The calories go up significantly when you add mayo.  In fact, the nutrition menu lists a couple of sandwiches with and without the mayo and the differences are quite shocking. The Whopper goes from 630 calories down to 470 if you hold the mayo, the Double Whopper goes from 830 down to 670 and even the Veggie Burger drops 90 calories down to 320 if you hold the mayo. 

I would STRONGLY consider how much that mayo matters.  You could eat a whole apple instead of that dollop of mayo!

Another thing, most of the salads on the menu have at least 500 calories and as many as 7 to 10 grams of saturated fat.

I learned all this from the online menu.  The National Menu Labeling Law will not require this level of detail inside the store.
Though the information I provided today comes from Burger King, the offerings at similar quick service restaurants might be equally as complex.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Help Promote Bicycling Safety

This year I wanted to tell you about the International Ride of Silence before it occurred.  As you may recall, this is an event that honors bicyclists who have been killed or injured due to a bicycle/motorist interaction.  This is my third year of attendance.  I go in order to support one of my professors who has had two significant crashes.  One of them was critical and involved a motorist who was texting on a cell phone at the time of the collision.  My professor, who is actually the chair of my dissertation committee, continues to use his bicycle for transportation and recreation.  He, as well as I,  firmly support and advocate bicycle helmet use and bicycling safety legislation.
Please click on this link to locate the ride that is scheduled in your area.  May 15th 2013 7pm.  This is the ten year anniversary.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Children's Meals and Diet Quality

   Most of my reading and therefore my writing, has to do with environmental factors that increase the risk of adults becoming overweight, but the same issues apply to children.  Children are especially vulnerable to advertising and branding, which shapes their preferences, but they are less vulnerable to the low price allure.  It is their parents who fall into that trap, sometimes out of  necessity. 
   Menu labeling, providing nutrition information, is one way to address the issue of over consumption of calories and non-nutritive foods when eating away from home.  This is something I blog about often.  Recently, I read a report from researcher Ameena Batada, Dr.PH, that shed some light on the nutrition status of children's meals.  It was pretty bad - not the study!  the meal outlook.  
   For her study, which she completed with the assistance of Margo Wooten, D.Sc and  CSPI,  the nutrition content of  children's meals  from 34 of the top 50 restaurant chains (who had children's menus and nutrition information for those meals) was evaluated.  The researchers considered the meals to be meant for children aged 4 to 8 years.
   Of note, Dr. Batada shared the Expert Nutrition criteria that was used to evaluate the meals (to determine if they were a healthy option) as well as the criteria used by the National Restaurant Association.  The National Restaurant Association has a special Kids LiveWell program and I have to say, its impressive.  Both groups (expert panel and NRA) look at the amount of calories, fat, sugar and salt in the meals.  The Expert Nutrition standards disqualify a meal if it has more that 450 calories (the NRA, 600).  The Expert Nutrition standards disqualify the whole meal if it comes with a beverage that has been determined to be unhealthy.  This should be an eye opener for parents.  An unhealthy drink is defined as a soda, a sports drink, a fruit juice that is less than 50% juice OR has added sugar, anything with caffeine(except naturally occurring in choc. milk) AND milk that is 2% or higher in fat.  That is right, if the children's meal comes with whole milk it is NOT healthy.  The NRA criteria excludes any meal that comes with a fried item, including potato chips!  Both standards also have inclusion factors, i.e., the meal must have some things to even be considered (e.g., 1/2 c of fruit, 1/2 c veggies, whole grains).
   With the criteria in hand, the researchers rated the meals at the top chains.  They listed the percent of the meals at each place that met the Expert and the Kids LiveWell standards.  Nine of the restaurants in the study met neither standard, including, Chipotle, Dairy Queen, Hardees, McDonalds and Panda Express.  Chiptole lost out because every child's meal comes with potato chips.  Some of the chains at the top of the list include Arby's, Burger King, Red Lobster, IHOP (what?!) and Subway.  However, the percent of the meals sold that met either criteria was NOT high.  E.g., 28% of Red Lobster children's meals met the expert standard and 42% met the NRA standard.  Red Lobster offers fruit and vegetable as the default option in their children's meals.  That means you don't have to ask for it!  Only one  restaurant had more than 42% of its meals quality and most scored lower.  The winner, Subway.  They only serve apples and low fat milk and do not provide any soft drinks with children's meals.  At Subway, 100% of the child's meals met both standards.
   The report can give you an idea of which restaurants will offer you a healthy option for your children, but you still have to make that choice and you can only do that if you have all the information at the time that you need it.  That is when you are standing at the counter or the server is at your table. 
   Last fact.  The most commonly sold item, 83% of the restaurants sold fried chicken fingers.  
Thanks to Drs. Batada and Wooten for this great report.
See it here.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Wrong Message

Let me be brief, no really - I can be.
   I have seen a commercial that begins by explaining how sitting for long periods of time can make one's buttocks and back ache.  It shows people rubbing their backs and highlights these areas with pulsing red colors, indicating pain.  The solution?
A specially made padded cushion to be used while sitting at one's desk or in a truck (long haul truck drivers).  The special pad is meant to make sitting for extended periods of time (i.e. hours) comfortable and thus possible.
  The ad doesn't talk about the health consequences that research suggests befall us when we sit for more than 60 minutes at a time (regardless of how physically active we are the rest of the day).  There is no comfy cushion that prevents metabolic dysfunction caused from sitting too long.
NO - we don't need THIS cushion.  Here is what we need.
A comfy seat, sure, but one that is fitted with a special one hour timer that gives you a shocking JOLT of electricity any time you sit on it for 61 consecutive minutes.  YES?!