Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Tale of Two Yogurts

I really like yogurt. I can understand why it is the official food of Burn Notice. Greek yogurt has been a popular food choice for people who are trying to eat healthy. My wife usually has me pick up a couple packs of plain Greek yogurt at Costco whenever I go shopping. I recently bought a flavored Greek yogurt for her at a different store. I expected it to have more sugar and calories, but I was shocked when I got home and compared it to our usual brand.

Check out the comparisons below for a 1 cup serving.

                      The Greek Gods          Kirkland                   

Calories                 310                           140
Protein                   8 g                            24 g
Sugar                     34 g                           7 g
Fat                         15 g                           0 g
Carbs                     35 g                          10 g
Total Ingredients     6                               2

Most people would think that yogurt is a healthy food, but the first brand has twice as many calories as vanilla ice cream. I'm not trying to bash The Greek Gods yogurt. It actually tastes much better than the plain Kirkland brand, which shouldn't be a surprise after seeing the ingredients. I just want to point out the importance of comparing labels and not making assumptions when you are shopping.

Many people only focus on price when they buy their food. Deceptive food labels and consumer apathy can make selecting the healthiest foods a challenge. Learning to read food labels can be a very informative process and is the only way to really know what you are getting.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sugar and Sugar Substitutes

My family recently hosted two teenage exchange students from China for a couple weeks and I was surprised that they did not care for sugar like most American teens. They turned down all the desserts and sugary foods they were offered and would say "too sweet". It made me realize how much sugar most Americans consume in their diet.

I'll be the first to admit that I enjoy sweet foods and sugar is my Achilles heel when it comes to nutrition. Many people say sugar is bad for you. I would say that excess sugar is not good for you, but I don't like to label entire foods as good or bad. Your body actually breaks your food down to glucose (sugar) in order to function on a cellular level.

There are many different names and types of sugar such as glucose, sucrose, fructose, lactose, etc. so you have to watch for all of it's aliases when you are reading labels. The type of sugar that most of us should be more aware of is refined table sugar. Today the most prevalent form of sugar in our diet comes from high fructose corn syrup. It's in just about everything. In an attempt to eat less sugar and fewer calories, people have looked to sugar substitutes.

In the 70's, Saccharine was the main substitute and is still around today (Sweet N' Low). Aspartame (Splenda and NutraSweet) is very popular today as well as Sucralose (Splenda). These sweeteners have fewer calories, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are healthier. Some other sugar substitutes include: honey, agave, xylitol, or stevia. There are advocates and critics to each of the sweeteners listed above so it may be worth your time to do a little homework on each one. 

Some of the dangers of having too much refined sugar in your diet include: dental cavities, an increase in calorie consumption (weight gain), insulin resistance, it can mess with your cholesterol levels, there are correlations between excess sugar consumption and heart disease, and one that I have noticed first hand is inflammation.

The bottom line: It's safe to say that Americans consume way more sugar than they used to and much more than they need to. I'm not on the war path against sugar, but I have learned from personal experience that my body is much healthier when I limit the amount of sugar I eat. I challenge you to cut back your refined sugar consumption for a while and see what difference it makes for your health.

This topic reminded me of one this Saturday Night Live clip about high fructose corn syrup.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Vaccination Controversy

With the recent increase in whooping cough cases, the topic of vaccinations is back in the news again. I never imagined that vaccinations could be such a controversial subject. I have friends who are both for and against immunizations and they've all expressed valid concerns about the subject. When I try to research the topic, I find that there are "experts" on both sides of the issue who also disagree with each other.

Immunizations are credited with the decrease of diseases like Polio, Malaria, Small Pox, and Diphtheria but, over the years, some have claimed that vaccines may be responsible for the rise in autism or cancer in children. I don't believe this theory has been proven, but it has caused some people to think twice before immunizing their kids.

The Risks- There are risks associated with almost everything we do. Even eating certain foods can be fatal to those with allergies so, obviously, there is going to be an occasional risk of having an adverse reaction after introducing harmful substances into the body of a child.  Likewise, there is also a risk that those who choose not to immunize against infectious diseases  many later become infected with and have a more serious bout of illness with those diseases.

Our immune systems do an amazing job of protecting us from disease, but I sometimes wonder if it is better to allow your body to do so naturally, rather than inject a syringe full of potential threats in an attempt to avoid future infections. I've also wondered why some of these vaccines are given to a newborn so quickly after birth. An infant's body is so vulnerable and under so much stress, and I have wondered if that is really the ideal time to do so.

This is a heated debate. Some people who are against vaccinations claim that immunizations are simply a big pharma operation to profit those who produce immunizations and claim you need to follow the money. On the other hand, I've seen physicians or medical experts who expresses concerns about infant immunization schedules or question some of the current practices, and they are thrown under the bus in an attempt to discredit them and make them look like they want to see kids die.

After reading the ingredients contained in vaccines, I have wondered if some ingredients like mercury, phenoxyethanol, or aluminum, are really necessary. I'm no doctor, but it seems like some of the ingredients vaccines contain are things the FDA would shut down a business for if they found them in their food products. I don't think immunizations are bad, but I question 1) the sudden rise in having so many recommended new ones, 2) the early age at which they are recommended, and 3) how they frequently combine many of them together at the same time.

The concept behind immunizing the masses requires community participation, and that can be frustrating for immunization advocates when a parent decides not to immunize their kids due to religious reasons or out of concern for their child's health. I've heard those who don't want to immunize question why they are a threat to those who are already immunized. 

I'm no science expert. I'm more of a "go with your gut and common sense" kind of guy, but I want to learn more about this topic. I think it is important for people (including myself) to research and get more facts, rather than rely on horror stories, scare tactics, theories, or peer pressure from either side. I find it ironic that those who debate both sides of this topic actually do it for the same reason: to protect their children. The challenge with this topic is the same challenge we have with many other aspects of life: How to determine the truth.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this subject, but please refrain from the usual name calling, broad generalizations, and disrespectful attitude that frequently accompanies this debate. That kind of stuff gives off bad vibes and is not good for you, and this is a health and fitness site, so we don't want any of that here.