Is Durum Wheat Semolina a Whole Grain?

In the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade program, players earn points by choosing whole grain foods instead of refined grain foods. But distinguishing one from the other can sometimes require an advanced degree in label reading! As one of my Upgraders recently posted in our private Facebook group:

“Labels on food can be confusing. Pasta labels are especially confusing – one says ‘durum wheat semolina’ and another says ‘enriched durum wheat semolina’. I know enriched means refined but if it doesn’t say enriched does that mean it’s whole grain?”

Let’s break down some of this terminology:

Durum” is a strain of wheat that is used mostly for pasta, due to its higher protein content. (Think of “Durum” as its first name and “Wheat” as its family name.) But unless it says “whole grain” you can assume that it is refined, which means that the nutritious germ and fibrous bran have been removed.

The word “Semolina,” on the other hand, refers to the fact that the durum wheat is coarsely ground–again, in order to produce good pasta texture. The word “semolina” is sort of like the designation “Esquire” after a lawyers name; it’s not part of the lawyer’s identity like her first or last name but an indication of her preparation and function.)

The word “enriched” almost always signals a refined grain. Refined grains are often enriched in an effort to replace the nutrients that are lost to refining. You will virtually never see “enriched whole wheat,” because it would be unnecessary to replace nutrients that have not been removed.  However, the absence of the word “enriched” doesn’t mean that it is not refined.

You can save yourself a lot of label reading by looking for the 100% whole grain stamp. When you see this (or the words “100% whole grain”) on the front of the package, you don’t even need to flip the package over to see the ingredient list….that’s the golden ticket right there.

 

Can we all calm down about coconut oil?

I’ve gotten several emails from readers asking me to respond to a viral video in which a Harvard (Harvard!) professor asserts that coconut oil is “pure poison.”

It’s hard to imagine how someone with such a prestigious pedigree could make such as silly and sensational statement in public. Presumably she was pushed over the edge by the ridiculous claims that some people have been making about coconut oil lately.

Can we all just calm down about coconut oil?

Coconut oil is not pure poison. On the other hand, it’s also not going to make you smarter, thinner, younger, or fold your laundry for you.

Proponents of coconut oil make a big deal out of the fact that coconut oil is rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). But, as I discussed in my podcast episode on MCTs, claims for these specialty fats tend to be exaggerated or unproven.

Coconut oil haters such as this Harvard (!) professor mostly object to the fact that coconut is is almost 100% saturated fat. But, as I discussed in my recent podcast episode on butter, saturated fat in moderation may even have some heart health benefits.

Despite saturated fat’s rehabilitated reputation, I still think it makes sense to limit saturated fat intake to around 10-15% of calories, if for no other reason than to leave room in the diet for other healthy fats. But if you want to spend your sat fat allowance on coconut oil, I see no reason to call in Poison Control.

The case for super slow weight loss

One of the things that sets the Weighless approach apart from other weight loss programs is our emphasis on slow weight loss.  Instead of coaching our members to lose a couple of pounds a week, we try to hold them to a couple of pounds a month.

Crazy, right? And yet there is a method to our madness.

Most people can only lose 2-3 pounds of body fat per month. If you’re losing weight faster than that, the rest is likely to be lean muscle. Believe me, that’s NOT what you’re trying to lose. Although our approach may seem like an insanely slow way to lose weight, we’re finding that it’s actually a much quicker (and less unpleasant) path to sustainable fat loss.

Interestingly, our members frequently report that after losing weight the “Weighless way,” they look and their clothes fit as if they have lost much more than they have.

Losing weight slowly not only preserves your metabolism and muscle mass. It also gives you more time to acquire the habits and practice the skills that will help you maintain a lower weight, heading off the dreaded–and seemingly inevitable–rebound weight gain.

It all makes sense, right? But occasionally, someone in the group will ask if there is published research to support the merits of the super slow pace of weight loss we endorse. Fair enough. I’ve built a reputation for being evidence-based, and most of the people who sign up for my programs cite this as one of the reasons they trust my advice.

Show Me the Research

A few studies have compared the effects of slow vs. fast weight loss. For example:

A 2016 study involving almost 60 subjects found that those who lost weight more slowly lost less muscle mass, which was associated with less weight regain. A similar (but longer) study dating back to 1994 compared the effects of “fast” vs. “slow” weight loss and found that the fast losers lost more weight initially but were much more likely to regain it.

The problem is that virtually all of the studies that compare fast and slow weight loss define “slow” as 1-2 pounds a week, which is still too fast by our standards.

There’s this 2008 study which found that small, cumulative changes in diet and activity (similar to the approach we use in Weighless) produced slow but sustainable weight loss–and was ultimately far more effective than giving people standard weight loss advice.

At the other end of the spectrum, the famous (and heartbreaking) “Biggest Loser” study demonstrates just how much damage fast weight can do to your metabolism. After six years, virtually all of the contestants had regained every pound (and more)–despite continuing to eat fewer calories. 

Our approach is certainly informed by research–but it also draws heavily on our experience and common sense. And although we are not (yet) conducting a controlled trial, the results we are seeing and the feedback we are getting from our members are enormously validating.  I think we’re onto something here…and maybe the researchers will take notice.  In the meantime, we have a new group beginning in just a few weeks.  You can learn more here.

Is Halo Top Ice Cream Healthy?

Piper writes:

“Ordinarily, I try to eat natural, whole foods. But I have a soft spot – literally and figuratively — for ice cream. There are some new brands of ice cream, such as Halo Top, that are supposedly higher in protein and lower in fat, sugar, and calories.  The main ingredients are milk protein concentrate, erythritol, corn fiber, and other things one would not find in premium ice cream. Being able to eat an entire pint of ice cream for just a few hundred calories is tempting. But are these products too processed to be good for us?”

Premium ice creams made from milk, cream, and sugar can claim to be less highly processed and perhaps more “natural.” They are also deliciously rich–meaning, high in sugar, fat, and calories. If you’re the type that can savor the recommended (but ridiculously small) half-cup serving size, you can enjoy a decadent treat without doing too much damage.

The problem is that most of us can easily plow through an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s (did I mention the part about delicious?), at which point we’ve consumed a half day’s worth of calories and four day’s worth of added sugar.

One of the big attractions of Halo Top ice cream is that you can eat the entire pint for about the same number of calories as a tiny scoop of Ben and Jerry’s.  You also get 20 grams of high-quality protein, 12 grams of fiber, and 24 grams (one day’s worth) of added sugars.  For many people, Halo Top wouldn’t just be a healthier dessert option; it would make a more nutritious breakfast!

What is in this stuff?

Although taste is highly subjective, I actually think they taste pretty darned good. Which is surprising when you look at the ingredient list, which contains things like erythritol, prebiotic fiber, milk protein concentrate, vegetable glycerin, organic guar gum and organic stevia leaf extract (in addition to things like milk, eggs, cream, and cane sugar).

This is not a minimally-processed food, by any stretch of the imagination. But perhaps this is processing put to a good cause. Continue reading “Is Halo Top Ice Cream Healthy?” >

Can collagen supplements make your skin younger?

There’s a lot of buzz about collagen peptide supplements these days. Collagen is a structural protein present in the skin, joints, hair and nails. The gradual loss of collagen as we age can make the skin look less plump. The idea is that collagen supplements can replace some of that lost collagen and improve the look of the skin.

Assessing the effectiveness of skin care products or supplements is notoriously difficult. For one thing, it’s difficult to isolate the effects of any particular cream or pill. The condition of our skin surface can be affected by diet, hydration, sun exposure, temperature and humidity. It’s also really hard to be objective about what we’re seeing in the mirror.  So how do we know whether these supplements are actually working? Continue reading “Can collagen supplements make your skin younger?” >

Is IV Nutrition Worth a Try?

Will IV Therapy improve your health?

If you have a confirmed deficiency of a specific nutrient, or a condition that prevents you from absorbing nutrients  delivered orally, IV nutrition might make sense. And if you were severely dehydrated, an IV can be an efficient way to deliver fluids.

But I have grave reservations about these “IV therapy” clinics that are springing up and pumping people full of nutrient cocktails.  Although it’s promoted as everything from a hangover cure to energy booster to anti-aging therapy, most of the claims are not supported by evidence and may even be unsafe.

IV fluids may help relieve some of the acute symptoms of a hangover (many of which are due to dehydration), but won’t counteract the other harmful effects of drinking too much. More questionable are the alleged benefits of the vitamins, minerals, and other compounds used in IV therapy.

Supplying nutrients in excess of the body’s needs will not make your cellular processes work better or faster, any more than over-filling your gas tank will make your car run faster. High doses of antioxidants can even shut down the body’s own antioxidant mechanisms.  There are also general risks associated with any IV therapy, such as infection or hematoma.

Those administering IV therapy may be well-meaning but uninformed, or they may simply be out to make a buck. Given the lack of regulation and oversight (and research), I think I’d steer clear.

Is Tofu a Good Source of Calcium?

Karen writes: “How would you rate tofu as a source of calcium? Is it bioavailable?”

Calcium sulfate is often used as a coagulant in the tofu making process. It’s added to the soymilk to get it to set into a solid form. The more coagulant you add, the firmer the tofu gets. As a result, firm tofu will contain more calcium per serving.

The exact amount of calcium per serving varies considerably by brand, so check those nutrition facts labels.

Calcium sulfate is also a bioavailable form of calcium which can rival milk as a source.

A cup (8 oz) of milk contain about 300 mg of elemental calcium, about a third of which is absorbed from the digestive tract, providing about 96 mg of calcium.  A three ounce serving of firm tofu can also provide 300 mg of calcium. Despite a slightly lower absorption rate, you’d still get about 93 mg of calcium out of it.

Note that the recommended intake of calcium (1000 to 1200mg per day) is based on the amount of calcium in the food and not the amount of calcium that you absorb. In other words, the recommendations take into consideration the fact that calcium absorption varies from food to food and are based on typical dietary patterns.

Here’s more on calcium absorbability from different foods.

Do phytates fight cancer?

Jennie writes:

“I read a book on plant-based diets that which cliams that the phytates in whole grains kill cancer cells. Do whole grains really fight cancer?”

Ironic, isn’t it? In some corners of the nutrition world, the phytates in grains and legumes are reviled as “anti-nutrients.” In other circles, they are heralded as cancer killers.

In fact, both are true. Phytic acid in nuts, whole grains and legumes can bind to minerals like calcium and magnesium and reduce absorption of these minerals.  This effect can be greatly diminished by soaking, sprouting, or cooking these foods. But if you’re not soaking or sprouting your grains, don’t worry.  It’s unlikely to lead to mineral deficiencies.

In fact, the health benefits of phytic acid from whole grains and legumes appear to be much more significant than any downside.  In addition to building strong bones, lowering cholesterol, and removing heavy metals from your body, phytates may help prevent cancer (colon cancer in particular).

It’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of things that kill cancer cells.  But killing cancer cells in a petri dish and impeding the progression of cancer in a living organism are two entirely different things. Phytates are not effective chemotherapy. But they have been found to reduce the effects of actual chemotherapy in cancer patients.