Pulled Pork Cheese Fries from Wendy’s … a new French fry vision

SatelliteFoodFacts.com knows that it’s important for companies of all kinds to continuously come up with new ideas and products that can help keep them relevant and important in a constantly-changing society. Fast food is certainly no exception to that and those of us who monitor the fast food chains can certainly recognize how new fast food offerings follow new trends … most of the time. There’s always an exception … today that exception comes from Wendy’s.

The new Pulled Pork Cheese Fries don’t seem to be picking up on anything that’s currently trending. Instead, while we’ll admit we haven’t tried these out, FoodFacts.com envisions a soggy plate of fries covered in an odd combination of cheese and barbecue sauce clumps of pork and onions. Actually, that’s what the image on the website resembles.

So if you were to eat these, what would you actually be eating?

Nutrition Facts:
Calories:                       490
Fat:                                23 grams
Saturated Fat:             7 grams
Sodium:                       1030 mg

We know these fries are a meal, so we need to approach the nutrition facts a bit differently. This whole meal-on-a-plate-of-fries totals 490 calories – somewhat better than you’d fare adding fries to a burger order at Wendy’s – same thing with the fat and sodium, though the sodium is still high.

What about the ingredients?

Natural-Cut Fries: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (contains one or more of the following oils: canola, soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, corn), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (to maintain natural color). Cooked in Vegetable Oil (soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural flavor [vegetable], citric acid [preservative], dimethylpolysiloxane [anti-foaming agent]). Cooked in the same oil as menu items that contain Wheat, Egg, and Fish (where available). Seasoned with Sea Salt. Pulled Pork: Rubbed with: salt, sugar, spices, paprika. Pork, water, modified food starch, salt, sodium phosphate. Smoky BBQ Sauce: Water, Tomato Paste, Sugar, Distilled Vinegar, Brown Sugar, Corn Syrup, Salt, Modified Cornstarch, Chili Peppers, Natural Flavor (including smoke flavor), Caramel Color, Onion (dehydrated), Garlic (dehydrated), Potassium Sorbate And Sodium Benzoate (preservatives), Chipotle Peppers, Molasses, Spices (including mustard seed), Jalapeno Pepper (dehydrated), Tamarind, Soybean Oil. Cheddar Cheese Sauce: Water, Cheddar Cheese (pasteurized milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), Milk, Cream Cheese Spread (pasteurized milk and cream, cheese culture, salt, carob bean gum), Modified Cornstarch, Non Fat Dry Milk, Soybean Oil, Palm Oil, Whey, Sodium Phosphate, Cream, Cheese Culture, Milk Fat, Parmesan Cheese (pasteurized part-skim milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzyme), Butter, Salt And Sea Salt, Sodium Alginate, Carob Bean Gum, Mono & Diglycerides, Annatto And Apocarotenal (color), Lactic Acid. CONTAINS: MILK. Red Onion: Red Onion.

First of all, there are too many ingredients. And secondly, there are more than a few bad ingredients.

These aren’t the most attractive meal option we’ve ever seen. These fries are fattening, salty and full of ingredients we’d rather not eat. In addition, we can’t get away from the idea that the fries themselves would be sopping wet and mushy underneath all that other stuff.

Where’s our big thumbs’ down button??? We think we need one.


Pushing the pumpkin envelope … Pumpkin Spice Bagels from Thomas’

As we gingerly step out of summer and into fall, we can take notice of a cooler breeze helping to push us along. Ready or not the cooler weather is coming. Some other, less gentle indicators of the new season have already hit our grocery store shelves. Like it or not, there’s pumpkin everything all around us, everywhere. FoodFacts.com is really not exaggerating. Just take a look at Pumpkin Spice Bagels from Thomas’.

Now instead of simply enjoying pumpkin in your coffee, you can have it in every part of your breakfast. Let’s take a look at what’s really going on with these pumpkin bagels.

Nutrition Facts:
Calories:                            270
Fat:                                     2 grams
Sodium:                             440 mg


We will definitely not be trying these bagels. It’s difficult to understand the necessity of three different, very controversial artificial colors in any one product – especially a bagel, which really has no need to be colorful at all.

We really don’t need to be pushing the pumpkin envelope, Thomas’. See you next fall.


Your brain and a balanced diet

fruitsA healthy diet keeps your body healthy. Here at FoodFacts.com we’re always talking about how important it is to commit to a healthy diet. What we don’t talk about very much is that your healthy diet is especially important to the health of your brain.

Eating a Mediterranean diet or other healthy dietary pattern, comprising of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and nuts and low in processed meats, is associated with preventing the onset of depression, according to research published in the open access journal BMC Medicine. A large study of 15,093 people suggests depression could be linked with nutrient deficits.

Following extensive research into diet and its effect on our physical health, researchers are now exploring the link between nutrition and mental health. This is the first time that several healthy dietary patterns and their association with the risk of depression have been analyzed together.

The researchers compared three diets; the Mediterranean diet, the Pro-vegetarian Dietary Pattern and Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010. Participants used a scoring system to measure their adherence to the selected diet, i.e. the higher the dietary score indicated that the participant was eating a healthier diet.

Food items such as meat and sweets (sources of animal fats: saturated and trans fatty acids) were negatively scored, while nuts, fruits and vegetables (sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals respectively) were positively scored.

Lead researcher, Almudena Sanchez-Villegas, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, says “We wanted to understand what role nutrition plays in mental health, as we believe certain dietary patterns could protect our minds. These diets are all associated with physical health benefits and now we find that they could have a positive effect on our mental health.”

“The protective role is ascribed to their nutritional properties, where nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables (sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals) could reduce the risk of depression.”
The study included 15,093 participants free of depression at the beginning of the study. They are former students of the University of Navarra, Spain, registered professionals from some Spanish provinces and other university graduates. All are part of the SUN (Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra) Project, a cohort study started on 21st December 1999. The cohort has been used to identify dietary and lifestyle determinants of various conditions, including diabetes, obesity and depression.

Questionnaires to assess dietary intake were completed at the start of the project and again after 10 years. A total of 1,550 participants reported a clinical diagnosis of depression or had used antidepressant drugs after a median follow-up of 8.5 years.

The Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 was associated with the greatest reduction of risk of depression but most of the effect could be explained by its similarity with the Mediterranean Diet. Thus, common nutrients and food items such as omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and moderate alcohol intake present in both patterns (Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 and Mediterranean diet) could be responsible for the observed reduced risk in depression associated with a good adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010.

Almudena Sanchez-Villegas says, “A threshold effect may exist. The noticeable difference occurs when participants start to follow a healthier diet. Even a moderate adherence to these healthy dietary patterns was associated with an important reduction in the risk of developing depression. However, we saw no extra benefit when participants showed high or very high adherence to the diets.

So, once the threshold is achieved, the reduced risk plateaus even if participants were stricter with their diets and eating more healthily. This dose-response pattern is compatible with the hypothesis that suboptimal intake of some nutrients (mainly located in low adherence levels) may represent a risk factor for future depression.”

A limitation of this study was that the results are based on self-reported dietary intake and a self-reported clinical diagnosis of depression. More research is needed to predict the role of nutrient intake for neurophysiological requirements and identify whether it is minerals and vitamins or proteins and carbohydrates that cause depression.

Fruits and vegetables are important for our bodies. Our brains are a significant part of those bodies. Let’s feed our brains as if our lives depended on it because, well, they do.


Preschoolers eat healthier food at daycare than they do at home

20131028_new_day_school_7321Sometimes the folks here at FoodFacts.com just have to shake our heads and think that we can all do so much better …

A recent study conducted by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has found that preschool age children are consuming more calories and fewer fruits, vegetables and milk outside of child care centers than what is recommended by the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

Based off of guidelines from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, children who attend full-time child care are to receive one-half to two-thirds of their daily nutritional needs while attending a child care facility, leaving about a third to one-half of their total calories to be consumed away from child care.

Kristen Copeland, MD, a researcher in the Division of General and Community Pediatrics and senior author of the study, and her team were interested in what children consume outside of child-care settings. They conducted the study on approximately 340 preschool-aged children from 30 randomly selected, licensed, full-time child-care centers in Hamilton County, OH.

“We found that after children left child-care centers, they weren’t eating enough fruits or vegetables, or drinking enough milk to meet dietary guidelines, and on average consumed more calories than recommended.”

In the study, which captured a single day of dietary intake, children attending full-time child care consumed an average of 685 calories between pick up from child care and bedtime. This amount was 140 calories more than the midrange of the recommendation for this timeframe 433-650 calories. Half of the children consumed more than 900 calories after child care.

During dinner and/or snack after child care, it is recommended that children eat 1/2-3/4 cup of fruit (e.g., 1/2-3/4 of a small apple), 1/2-3/4 cup of vegetables (e.g., 6-9 baby carrots) and 6 to 8 ounces of skim or low-fat (1 percent) milk to meet dietary recommendations.

The study found that that the majority of the calories that the children consumed at home came from sweet and salty snacks (for instance, pretzels, crackers, cookies, snack bars, doughnuts, candy), sugar-sweetened beverages, and whole milk or reduced-fat (2 percent) milk.

Dr. Copeland said that contrary to her team’s hypotheses, children from low-income families did not consume fewer fruits and vegetables than children from upper income families; children consumed insufficient fruits and vegetables across the board. Lower-income children were also not significantly more likely to be overweight than upper-income children. The only significant difference in diet was that children from low-income families consumed more sugar-sweetened beverages.

Excess calories consumed outside of the child-care centers were significantly associated with children being overweight. For every increase in 200 calories consumed away from the center, the child’s odds of being overweight increased by 20 percent.

Dr. Copeland says it is helpful for obesity prevention efforts to identify where children’s excess calorie consumption is occurring.

Feeding small children properly isn’t a complicated task. In fact, the recommendations are fairly simple – half cup of fruit, half cup of vegetables and a cup of milk (skim or low fat) will take care of their nutritional requirements when they get home from daycare. FoodFacts.com has to wonder whether or not there’s a “treat” mentality going on. Parents, who may be feeling guilty about sending their little ones to daycare are “treating” their kids when they get home with food. As adults we often do this ourselves. We’ve worked a long, hard day and feel that we deserve a “treat” when we get home so we break out the ice cream.

Let’s think long and hard about the nutrition decisions we make for the youngest among us … we should be doing our best to set them up for long, healthy lives.


Just too much!!! 12% of American kids’ calories come from fast food consumption

nN4waWXFoodFacts.com doesn’t like fast food for anyone, but when it comes to our kids we really have a problem. That feeling should be shared by everyone here in this country. And here’s some great information that backs up our stance.

At a time of growing concern over childhood obesity, a new report shows kids are getting12 percent of their total calories from fast-food restaurants.

Not surprisingly, teens are more likely than younger kids to consume fast food, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those 12 to 19 years old got 17 percent of their calories from fast food in 2010-2011, versus 9 percent of children 2 to 11 years old.

By comparison, an earlier CDC report, done in 2013, found that adults got about 11 percent of their calories from fast food.

A third of kids eat fast food on any given day, according to the new report, which found that children eat the equivalent of a small hamburger — such as the kind found in a McDonald’s Happy Meal — every day.

Sandra Hassink, president of the Elk Grove Village-based American Academy of Pediatrics, credits advertising fast food with cartoon characters and including toys with meals.

“The marketing is working,” says Hassink.

Children who eat a lot of fast food tend to consume more calories but have a nutritionally poorer diet versus other kids, the report says — of special concern given that the obesity rate among children has more than doubled in the past 30 years, from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012.

A growing number of children are developing health problems once seen only in middle-aged people, such as high blood pressure, liver disease and type 2 diabetes, Hassink says.

“Childhood is not a place where you can say, ‘Let everyone eat what they want, and we can fix it later,’ ” she says.

Let’s keep our kids healthy. Let’s make the same kind of commitment to giving them the best start in life that we make about reading to them, playing with them, and building their self esteem. Our commitment to their nutritional health and well-being should be on that same list. Let’s take fast food off the menu for children everywhere!


Another valiant effort from McDonald’s … the Premium Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich

h-mcdonalds-Buttermilk-Crispy-Chicken-SandwichFoodFacts.com doesn’t hesitate to point out horrible fast food options. In fact, we strongly feel that part of our mission of nutritional awareness and education is to let people know just how bad fast food items can be for our health. We’re very serious about our mission.

It is because we take that mission so seriously that we feel just as strongly about pointing out when one of those fast food chains puts something out there that’s not quite so terrible. We couldn’t justifiably call something healthy that comes out of the fast food world (unless they’re selling an apple, or a salad without dressing). But we can tell our community when the ingredients used to create a specific item are significantly “less bad” than usual.

It is in that spirit that we bring you McDonald’s new Premium Buttermilk Crisply Chicken Deluxe Sandwich. And we can tell you that this sandwich is actually not horrible. (That’s a big deal for FoodFacts.com when it comes to McDonald’s.)

Nutrition Facts:
Calories:                          580
Fat:                                   24 grams
Saturated Fat:                4.5 grams
Sodium:                          900 mg

The nutrition facts are fairly typical fast food sandwich nutrition facts. They’re pretty bad and we eagerly await the day that we look at fast food sandwich facts and see more reasonable amounts of fat and sodium. Today is not that day. It’s the ingredient list here we want to focus your attention on:

BUTTERMILK CRISPY CHICKEN FILET: Chicken Breast Fillets with Rib Meat, Wheat Flour, Water, Buttermilk, Salt, Corn Starch, Rice Flour, Yellow Corn Flour, Pea Starch, Garlic Powder, Spice, Baking Soda, Natural Flavors (Plant and Dairy Sources), Citric Acid, Vinegar, Chicken Broth Powder, Lemon Juice Solids, Onion Powder, Sugar, Cultured Cream, Maltodextrin, Skim Milk Powder, Whey Protein Concentrate, Xanthan Gum, Inactive Yeast, Sea Salt, Honey, Milkfat, Whey Powder, Carrot Juice Concentrate. Breading set in Vegetable Oil (Canola, Hydrogenated Soybean, Corn, Soybean). Prepared in Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil) with TBHQ and Citric Acid to preserve freshness of the oil and Dimethylpolysiloxane to reduce oil splatter when cooking. ARTISAN ROLL: Wheat Flour or Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour or Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Malted Barley Flour, Water, Sugar, Yeast, Palm Oil, Wheat Gluten, Dextrose, Salt, Contains 2% or less: Natural Flavors (Plant Source), Corn Flour, Soybean Oil, Calcium Sulfate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Ascorbic Acid, Enzymes, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Vegetable Proteins (Pea, Potato, Rice), Sunflower Oil, Turmeric, Paprika, Corn Starch, Wheat Starch, Acetic Acid. TOMATO SLICE, MAYONNAISE DRESSING: Water, Soybean Oil, Distilled Vinegar, Maltodextrin, Modified Food Starch, Enzyme Modified Egg Yolk, Salt, Sugar, Xanthan Gum, Mustard Flour, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Lemon Juice Concentrate, Polysorbate 80, Natural Flavor (Animal Source), Calcium Disodium EDTA to Protect Flavor, Beta Carotene (Color). LEAF LETTUCE

There are four controversial ingredients in here … as opposed to 20 in a Big Mac. While that still doesn’t give the Premium Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Deluxe Sandwich a great Health Score on the FoodFacts.com website, it’s certainly deserving of some recognition.

McDonald’s is trying. They’ve got a long way to go, but they are trying.


Kellogg’s Pumpkin Spice Mini-Wheats … Welcome to pumpkin season!

prod_img-3799532.png.thumb.319.319Well, we’ve arrived. It’s that time of year where everywhere you turn whether it’s through the door of your favorite coffee retailer or around the next aisle in your neighborhood grocery store, you will be bombarded with anything and everything pumpkin.

FoodFacts.com likes to keep our community informed of the latest and greatest (or not so great) pumpkin possibilities. Today we give you Kellogg’s Pumpkin Spice Mini-Wheats.

Let’s see if we want to try this special tribute to fall in your breakfast bowl.

Nutrition Facts:
Calories:                 190
Fat:                          1 gram
Sugar:                      12 grams

These are relatively reasonable nutrition facts for cereal … fairly standard and nothing shocking. Let’s move on to the ingredients:

Whole grain wheat, sugar, contains 2% or less of brown rice syrup, cinnamon, ginger, gelatin, nutmeg, allspice, annatto extract color, natural flavor, BHT for freshness.Vitamins and Minerals: Reduced iron, niacinamide, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), folic acid, vitamin B1 (thiamin hydrochloride), zinc oxide, vitamin B12.

While there’s nothing shocking going on here either, we can find the standard cereal-esque controversial ingredients in this list – natural flavor and BHT. These are ingredients that remain on our avoid list. There are no pumpkin spice exceptions to our rules.

Sorry Kellogg’s, this pumpkin possibility doesn’t make our approved list.


Can chili peppers kill cancer cells?

1441705070647After FoodFacts.com read about this new finding, we reflected on how it might alter how people describe the heat associated with chili peppers. “It was so hot it made my eyes water.” “It was so hot my ears turned red.” “It was so hot my mouth was on fire.” Someday we just might hear, “It’s hot enough to kill cancer cells.” What an amazing thing.

Capsaicin, the compound responsible for chilis’ heat, is used in creams sold to relieve pain, and recent research shows that in high doses, it kills prostate cancer cells. Now researchers are finding clues that help explain how the substance works. Their conclusions suggest that one day it could come in a new, therapeutic form. Their study appears in ACS’The Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

About 10 years ago, researchers reported that capsaicin can kill prostate cancer cells in mice while leaving healthy cells unharmed. But translating that dose to humans would require them to eat a huge number of chili peppers per day. Figuring out how capsaicin works could help researchers transform it into an effective drug in the form of an injection or pill.

Researchers have figured out that the molecule binds to a cell’s surface and affects the membrane, which surrounds and protects the cell. That finding prompted Ashok Kumar Mishra and Jitendriya Swain to try to gain a deeper understanding of capsaicin’s effects so it might be harnessed in the future for new medicines.

The scientists were able to detect how the compound interacts with cell membranes by monitoring its natural fluorescence. The study showed that capsaicin lodges in the membranes near the surface. Add enough of it, and the capsaicin essentially causes the membranes to come apart. With additional research, this insight could help lead to novel tools against cancer or other conditions.

It’s always exciting when research establishes links between natural foods and improving outcomes of disease. A natural approach that can be proven as effective will ultimately always be a better option than unnatural methods. Cancer treatment is exceptionally hard on the human body. More natural options would be welcome to the millions of people undergoing treatment. We look forward to hearing more about this fascinating development.


Need a really good excuse to eat more chocolate? Read this.

Cocoa-flavanols-can-protect-cardiovascular-health (1)FoodFacts.com really loves it when scientific research comes up with great reasons why we should all eat more of our favorite foods. If you’re a chocolate lover, you’ll want to read about the new research that links cocoa flavanols with improved cardiovascular function. It will provide even more great reasons for you to continue your love affair with chocolate!

Two recently published studies in the journals Age and the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN)demonstrate that consuming cocoa flavanols improves cardiovascular function and lessens the burden on the heart that comes with the aging and stiffening of arteries. The studies also provide novel data to indicate that intake of cocoa flavanols reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD).

As we age, our blood vessels become less flexible and less able to expand to let blood flow and circulate normally, and the risk of hypertension also increases. Arterial stiffness and blood vessel dysfunction are linked with cardiovascular disease — the number one cause of deaths worldwide. “With the world population getting older, the incidence of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and stroke will only increase,” says Professor Malte Kelm, Professor of Cardiology, Pulmonary Diseases and Vascular Medicine at University Hospital Düsseldorf and Scientific Director of FLAVIOLA. “It is therefore pivotal that we understand the positive impact diet can have on cardiovascular disease risk. As part of this, we want to know what role flavanol-containing foods could play in maintaining the health of the heart and blood vessels.”

Cocoa flavanols are plant-derived bioactives from the cacao bean. Dietary intake of flavanols has been shown to have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health but the compounds are often destroyed during normal food processing. Earlier studies have demonstrated that cocoa flavanol intake improves the elasticity of blood vessels and lowers blood pressure — but, for the most part, these investigations have focused on high-risk individuals like smokers and people that have already been diagnosed with conditions like hypertension and coronary heart disease. These two studies in Age and BJN are the first to look at the different effects dietary cocoa flavanols can have on the blood vessels of healthy, low-risk individuals with no signs or symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

In the study published in Age, two groups of 22 young (<35 years of age) and 20 older (50-80 years of age) healthy men consumed either a flavanol-containing drink, or a flavanol-free control drink, twice a day for two weeks. The researchers then measured the effect of flavanols on hallmarks of cardiovascular aging, such as arterial stiffness (as measured by pulse wave velocity), blood pressure and flow-mediated vasodilation (the extent to which blood vessels dilate in response to nitric oxide).

They found that vasodilation was significantly improved in both age groups that consumed flavanols over the course of the study (by 33% in the younger age group and 32% in the older age group over the control intervention). In the older age group, a statistically and clinically significant decrease in systolic blood pressure of 4 mmHg over control was also seen.

In the second study, published in BJN, the researchers extended their investigations to a larger group (100) of healthy middle-aged men and women (35-60 years) with low risk of CVD. The participants were randomly and blindly assigned into groups that consumed either a flavanol-containing drink or a flavanol-free control drink, twice a day for four weeks. The researchers also measured cholesterol levels in the study groups, in addition to vasodilation, arterial stiffness and blood pressure.

“We found that intake of flavanols significantly improves several of the hallmarks of cardiovascular health,” says Professor Kelm. In particular, the researchers found that consuming flavanols for four weeks significantly increased flow-mediated vasodilation by 21%. Increased flow-mediated vasodilation is a sign of improved endothelial function and has been shown by some studies to be associated with decreased risk of developing CVD. In addition, taking flavanols decreased blood pressure (systolic by 4.4 mmHg, diastolic by 3.9 mmHg), and improved the blood cholesterol profile by decreasing total cholesterol (by 0.2 mmol/L), decreasing LDL cholesterol (by 0.17 mmol/L), and increasing HDL cholesterol (by 0.1 mmol/L).

The researchers also calculated the Framingham Risk Score — a widely used model to estimate the 10-year cardiovascular risk of an individual — and found that flavanol intake reduced the risk of CVD. “Our results indicate that dietary flavanol intake reduces the 10-year risk of being diagnosed with CVD by 22% and the 10-year risk of suffering a heart attack by 31%,” says Professor Kelm.

The combined results of these studies demonstrate that flavanols are effective at mitigating age-related changes in blood vessels, and could thereby reduce the risk of CVD in healthy individuals. The application of 10-year Framingham Risk Scores should be interpreted with caution as the duration of the BJN study was weeks not years and the number of participants was around 100, not reaching the scale of the Framingham studies. That being said, Professor Kelm comments that “the reduction seen in risk scores suggests that flavanols may have primary preventive potential for CVD.” Other longer-term studies, such as the 5-year COcoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS) of 18,000 men and women, are now underway to investigate the health potential of flavanols on a much larger scale.

Cocoa flavanols found in chocolate make a difference in our health and well being. While moderation is certainly key to a balanced diet (and this research and other studies that point out the health benefits of chocolate don’t suggest we should binge on our favorite indulgence), it is certainly helpful to learn about the very real differences chocolate can make in our health.


Think that diet soda is helping control your weight? You might want to think again

150911094912_1_540x360Sometimes what appears to be obvious isn’t as obvious as we assume. Case in point: diet soda help us lose or maintain our weight. It has to be better to order a diet soda with a meal than a sugary soda because consuming 0 calories is better than consuming calories. The truth isn’t as obvious as it appears to be.

A new study that examined the dietary habits of more than 22,000 U.S. adults found that diet-beverage consumers may compensate for the absence of calories in their drinks by noshing on extra food that is loaded with sugar, sodium, fat and cholesterol.

University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Ruopeng An examined 10 years of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, which asked participants to recall everything they ate or drank over the course of two nonconsecutive days.

An compared participants’ daily calorie intakes, including their consumption of discretionary foods and five types of beverages — diet or sugar-free drinks; sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas and fruit drinks; coffee; tea; and alcohol.

Using a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture food database, An compiled a 661-item list of discretionary foods, which includes foods that do not belong to the major food groups and are not required by the human body but may add variety to a person’s diet. These energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods include products such as cookies, ice cream, chocolate, fries and pastries.

More than 90 percent of the people in the study consumed discretionary foods daily, averaging about 482 calories from these products each day, An found.

Although previous research on beverage preferences and consumption of discretionary foods focused on between-meal snacking, An chose to look at the nutritional quality of the food participants consumed rather than when it was eaten. His paper will appear in a future issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

About 97 percent of the study population consumed at least one of the five types of beverages daily, with about 41 percent of respondents drinking beverages from at least two of the categories. More than 25 percent of the participants consumed three or more types of beverages daily.

Coffee was participants’ beverage of choice, consumed by more than half — 53 percent — of the population, followed by sugar-sweetened beverages (43 percent), tea (26 percent), alcohol (22 percent) and diet beverages (21 percent).

Alcohol consumption was associated with the largest increase in daily calorie intake (384 calories), followed by sugar-sweetened beverages (226 calories), coffee (108 calories), diet beverages (69 calories) and tea (64 calories).

While coffee and diet-beverage drinkers consumed fewer total calories each day than people who preferred alcohol or sugary drinks, they obtained a greater percentage of their daily calorie intake from discretionary foods — a finding that suggests a possible compensation effect, An said.

“It may be that people who consume diet beverages feel justified in eating more, so they reach for a muffin or a bag of chips,” An said. “Or perhaps, in order to feel satisfied, they feel compelled to eat more of these high-calorie foods.”

A third possible explanation might be that people opt to drink diet beverages because they feel guilty about indulging in unhealthy food, An said.

“It may be one — or a mix of — these mechanisms,” An said. “We don’t know which way the compensation effect goes.”

Among people with the most education and highest incomes, diet beverages and alcohol were linked with increased calorie consumption, whereas, sugar-sweetened beverages and coffee were associated with elevated caloric intake among people with the lowest incomes.

Obese adults who drank diet beverages consumed more calories in discretionary foods, as did normal-weight participants who drank sugar-sweetened beverages.

In exploring associations between beverage type and dietary quality, An found that people who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages or coffee had the worst nutrition profiles.

Switching to diet drinks may not help people control their weight if they don’t pay attention to the quantity and quality of the foods they consume, An said.

“If people simply substitute diet beverages for sugar-sweetened beverages, it may not have the intended effect because they may just eat those calories rather than drink them,” An said. “We’d recommend that people carefully document their caloric intake from both beverages and discretionary foods because both of these add calories — and possibly weight — to the body.”

FoodFacts.com has heard many times that the diet soda someone ordered with a fast food meal somehow makes the fast food meal “less bad.” Sometimes, when it’s pointed out that diet soda isn’t going to reduce the calories contained in the burger and fries, we’ve heard that at least it won’t add to them. If diet soda isn’t helping with weight control and it’s not being consumed as part of a “diet,” it’s even more senseless to consume. Considering that diet soda is really just chemicals without calories, people really might want to rethink diet soda consumption. It’s really not worth it.