Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Review: Starbucks-They've Finally Done It!

I have friends who are Starbucks junkies. Any time we are out and about, one of them will inevitably shout "Hey! Let's stop at Starbucks!" Before I found low carb, I also used to indulge in those Starbucks expeditions, and, on occasion, I would be the one doing the shouting. But over the last year, I had to scratch Starbucks off my list of indulgences. No matter what words I used, what combo I tried, or which store I was in, I just could not get a descent cup of low carb coffee. 

At first I thought it was their sugar-free syrups. The vanilla concoctions I had gotten in the past were particularly vile. But now that I think about it, I am betting since I was trying to order sugar-free drinks, the baristas assumed I also wanted low fat and were giving me skim milk as well (gag!). All I know for sure is that while my friends would get their drinks and be happily sipping away,  I was at flavor bar trying to turn my coffee in to something drinkable.

 At nearly $5 a pop, nasty disgusting coffee wasn't my idea of a good bargain, so I totally gave up on Starbucks for a while. When my friends insisted on Starbucks, I would just order a green tea, or bring a diet Mt. Dew in my purse so I could still get a caffeine fix. Then Starbucks had a nationwide retrain, even going so far as to close down  stores to allow managers to go over every aspect of drink making. Apparently that effort paid off...at least in my case.

I went with my Starbucks junkie friends down to Santa Fe, NM over the weekend, and naturally, among all the stores, museums, diners, Indian jewelry vendors, poorly dressed tourist and homeless people, somehow my friends managed to pick out the Starbucks quicker than you could say "Vente!". It was still nippy out and I was tired from sleeping on the strange bed in our rented condo, so some kind of hot caffeine was in order. Even though I was reluctant to plunk down another $5 only to end up with swill that would put Army coffee to shame, I figured I would give it another shot.

When I got to the register, I noticed that I had gotten a trainee. While this gave me second thoughts, the supervisor was nearby and was constantly providing gentle instruction, so I relaxed and gave it a shot.

"Do you have heavy cream?" I asked.

"Why yes we do" came the reply.

"Do you know how to make an Atkins Carmel Latte?" I ventured. Some of my online forum buddies have said this is the term the use to order their low carb drinks so I thought it might be worth a try.

The trainee helplessly looked to the supervisor who quickly said "No, but I am sure we can get you whatever you need."

"I need a latte made with heavy cream and caramel sugar-free syrup" I stated.

This did not even phase the supervisor, though the trainee looked a little confused. She quickly started writing on the side of the cup as she showed her newbie how to ring everything up. I felt kind of bad for giving the poor girl writer's cramp and apologized for being so much trouble, but she assured me that my order was simple compared to many she gets in a typical day.

I went over to the area where you wait for your finished product and used my vantage point as a way to keep an eye on the barista. She didn't flinch either. Maybe the people in Santa Fe were as creative with their coffee drinks as they are with their art and clothing choices (black socks, sandals, rainbow rayon, and raccoon skin being just one colorful combo we spotted). Regardless, I had my "Atkins Caramel Latte" ready in short order. Then it was time to taste test. 

I was pretty shocked when my drink was good. Not just good...excellent! I was so happy I finally got a quality coffee drink...thick, hot and rich with delicious real heavy cream. Yummm! Maybe it was the retrain from a few months ago. Maybe it was invoking the name of the Patron Saint of low carb dieters, Dr. Atkins. Either way, I finally got my $5 worth. 

It will be interesting to see if I can repeat the excellent results I got from the crew at the Santa Fe Starbucks here in Colorado Springs. Now that I know what a good low carb coffee drink from Starbucks is SUPPOSED to taste like, I wont settle for anything less. Too bad I will never be able to recoup all the money I spent getting crappy drinks in the past. I guess I will just have to think of more complicated versions of the Atkins Latte to get even.

Vente, sugar-free, half caramel, half vanilla, 6 pumps, decaf, extra hot, breve with heavy creme instead of half and half, and whipped cream on top anyone?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Making Yogurt

After my previous experience trying to find full-fat plain yogurt in the grocery store, I got the wild idea that I should try and make my own. A quick Google search for the keywords "yogurt making" gave me more results than I could possibly read in a lifetime. Fortunately, this site had pictures, and, being the visual person that I am, I used their guidelines.

A cooler, jars and a candy thermometer were things I already had on hand. The Walmart that frustrated me by not carrying yogurt DID have Stoneyfield low fat yogurt to use as a bacteria source and inexpensive heavy cream. (If I was going to go through the trouble to make yogurt, I was damn sure going to get my fat!)

I cleaned everything, sterilized the heavy cream and let it cool. I added the Stoneyfield to the warm cream, filled some containers with hot water, put the cream mix in glass jars and popped it in to the cooler.

6 hours later, I checked what I hoped was now yogurt. It was close. While it did thicken up a bit, it was a tad on the runny side, but it did taste like yogurt. The richest creamiest yogurt I ever tasted. Other than the texture, I was pretty happy. I took a chance and poured the slightly runny yogurt in to a coffee filter lined strainer and put that in a bowl and it all went in the fridge. (This is the method used to make "yocheese" or an approximation of Greek style yogurt.)

The next morning I checked my mix and I had a nice thick creamy yogurt. Only about 1/4 cup of whey drained off, but it was enough to firm everything up. Some of the heavy cream yogurt went to make salad dressing, some was mixed with unsweetened coco and splenda for a delicious chocolate dessert, and there is even some left. Maybe. Hubby has been home for an hour now and I am still at the office. Hummmm...

Anyway...I will sure be doing this again. Even with a slight goof it still worked. Maybe I'll be using half and half next time to make it an even better bargain and a little less rich (it is almost TOO rich even for me using only heavy cream....almost :D ). If you are feeling brave, check out the tutorial and give it a try. If scatter-brained me can do it, you have a good chance at creamy success.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Review: Flat Earth Crisps

The new TV commercial for Flat Earth Crisps proudly announces there is 1/2 serving of fruits or vegetables in every 1oz portion. It really gives the impression that Flat Earth chips are healthy. The woman featured on the commercial is quite thin, healthy looking, and attractive which furthers the idea. While a healthier chip would be nice, I was skeptical and decided to check things out for myself.

First, I stopped by their website and this is what greeted me on the front page...

"Hello. Welcome to FLAT EARTH®. Where nutritious and delicious have finally come together. In fact, they’re friends. Sound impossible? Well, at Flat Earth, we believe you can do anything if you set your mind to it. Like combine nutrition with real chip taste.

That’s right, there’s a half serving of fruits or veggies baked into every ounce of our delicious crisps. They’re not impossible, they’re IMPOSSIBLY GOOD®."

After stopping by the nutrition pages for the various Flat Earth flavors, the main word that should be focused on is IMPOSSIBLE and certainly not NUTRITION. Instead of the combination of nutrition and taste, all I found was the combination of marketing spin and bull. Flat Earth chips are no healthier or more nutritious than plain old Lay's Classic Potato Chips or even the epitome of snack food decadence–the Chili Cheese Frito.

Flat Earth Chips
Serving Size 1oz. (28g/About 12 Crisps)
Amount Per Serving Calories 130
Total Carbohydrate 19g
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 3g
Protein 2g

Chili Cheese Fritos
Serving Size 1oz. (28g/About 31 Chips)
Amount Per Serving Calories 160
Total Carbohydrate 15g
Dietary Fiber 1g
Sugars 1g
Protein 2g

Lays Classic Potato Chips
Serving Size 1oz. (28g)
Amount Per Serving Calories 150
Total Carbohydrate 15g
Dietary Fiber 1g
Sugars 0g
Protein 2g

You can see by the nutrition information that both the Fritos and the Lays have fewer carbohydrates than the Flat Earth chips. Carbohydrates are what fuel obesity and Flat Earth Chips have plenty. Even if calories are your main focus, there isn't much difference between the three. Flat Earth may be marketing it's chips as a health food, but as a division of Frito-Lay, of one of the largest pushers of carbohydrates on the planet, they are just delivering more of the same old same old.

I have no problem with any company creating new snack foods. Flat Earth Chips are just another new offering in the already crowded snack food market. What they are not is a nutritious alternative to unhealthy traditional munchies. Tricking people in to thinking they are is pretty despicable. Will there ever be a good-tasting, truly healthy chip with the "crunch and appeal of the seasoned fried potato"? Maybe...when pigs fly.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Where has all the fat gone?

I went to Super Walmart this morning to pick up a few things in the grocery section. Since I am a low carber, I can actually get in and out of a Walmart fairly quickly. (It is amazing how many isles are loaded with refined, sugar-filled garbage that I can totally ignore.) I grabbed the baby clams I needed for my Tropical Clam Chowder, and right on the other side of the isle is the coconut milk that completes that recipe. I also grabbed some diet soda (yeah yeah yeah...artifical sweeteners. So sue me!) and then headed over to the dairy isle to get some yogurt.

I was in for quite a rude awakening as it dawned on me that there wasn't a single brand in that 24 foot long, 6' tall dairy case that was plain and full-fat. There were thousands of containers of Yoplait , Dannon, Brown Cow, Great Value and a few others I didn't even recognize. There was yogurt for digestive health, yogurt with cereal added, yogurt with extra calcium, and even a line of yogurt just for babies. There was plenty of plain low-fat, reduced-fat or fat-free varieties, as well as a rainbow of flavored versions loaded with fruit juice, sugar and high fructose corn syrup. But I did not see a single carton of unadulterated, plain, fat intact, delicious creamy yogurt. Just to make sure I wasn't imagining things, I read several dozen labels quite carefully and all I got was a headache and eye strain for my trouble.

The fat is the most nourishing part of the yogurt. It provides essential fatty acids your body and brain need to function properly. It helps with vitamin absorption and makes you feel full. If you are eating a healthy diet, fat should be your primary source of energy. Sure, yogurt also contains beneficial bacteria, but I use yogurt as a way to make sure I am getting plenty of healthy fat and to stave off hunger. I want my fat dammit! Seriously, when is the last time you said "I'm so full! I just ate several million bacteria cultures."?

So of course I was a bit miffed that I was not be able to find any QUALITY yogurt and couldn't help but wonder where the hell all the fat went. Are they throwing it out? Shipping it overseas? Are food company executives keeping it for themselves as they take the least nutritious part of the product, load it with sugar, corn syrup and chemicals and then put it in brightly-colored packages with a premium price tag? If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would have to give that last thought some serious consideration.

Fortunately I live in an area with quite a few stores and Safeway is only 5 minutes from Walmart. I knew THEY had real yogurt. They carry Mountain High brand, which, aside from the typical sugar-poisoned flavors, includes a very thick and tasty plain, full-fat version. The store was crowded and it took a bit to work my way back to the dairy section, but there was the Mountain High ON SALE! I grabbed two large containers and headed toward the check out. It wasn't until I scanned the cartons in the self-checkout lane that I noticed that I had NOT grabbed plain, full-fat yogurt, but vanilla flavored sugar-filled yogurt! The containers were almost identical to the plain variety with the exception of a small flower on the front. The lids were the same for both, and since they were on the bottom of the case, it was the lid I used to pick the cartons. I handed them to the clerk, explaining I grabbed the wrong kind, and then just left. I was too weak to fight my way back to the dairy case and I didn't feel up to reading any more microscopically small type trying to make sure I actually got what I wanted.

As I sit here typing this blog entry, yogurtless and annoyed, I am taking back what I said earlier. Apparently there is a conspiracy and those rat bastards at the Mountain High Yogurt marketing and design department are also in on it. But I am not ready to give up yet. I will try to find yogurt again next time I go to the store, but not before I grab a magnifying glass and my tinfoil helmet.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Article On Cancer Cells and Glucose

Just a quickie with a link to an interesting article at Science Daily. I would post more, but, unfortunately, earning a living is seriously interfering with my messing around time!

"Tumors Use Sugars To Avoid Programmed Cell Death -  Researchers at the Duke School of Medicine apparently have solved the riddle of why cancer cells like sugar so much, and it may be a mechanism that could lead to better cancer treatments.

Jonathan Coloff, a graduate student in Assistant Professor Jeffrey Rathmell's laboratory in the Duke Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, has found that the tumor cells use glucose sugar as a way to avoid programmed cell death."

Full Article

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hungry for Breakfast? Have Some Candy!

When I first saw the tv ad for iHop's new "Who-cakes" (a promotional tie-in product for the movie "Horton Hears a Who") I thought I had a great target for my "Signs of the Apocalypse" series. 

5 pancakes in a large stack covered in sugary syrup, sprinkled with little candy bits and topped with a lollypop is definitely something that should make any responsible parent cringe. Seriously, do you want to be with any kid for the 2 hours they completely spazz out AFTER indulging in this sugarfest? Do you have any idea of how hard it is to peel a 4 year-old off a ceiling after they bounced on all your furniture, broke all your lamps, shredded all your library books, and feed cat food in to your dvd player? I think I would rather have another root canal.

iHop's Whocakes. No wonder Horton is hearing things!

After I had time to get over the initial shock, I changed my mind about making "Who-cakes" an apocalyptic food nominee. When you think about it, iHop may finally get across the message that most of what we see as "breakfast" today, is in fact, nothing more than candy. By sticking a sucker in to their latest carbohydrate concoction, iHop may have actually done parents a big favor.

I tried to look up the nutrition information on these things, but for some reason, iHop does not list the calorie or carbohydrate count for Who-Cakes on their website. A quick look at their regular pancakes is telling enough. 5 regular buttermilk pancakes is 85 carbs. Add another 58 carbs if you only use 2oz of syrup for a total of 143g of carbohydrates. This is close to 3/4 cups of pure sugar. I can only imaging what the sugar content of the Who-cake version might be. 

A Snickers bar only has 35g of carbohydrate for a 2.07oz size and 68.4g in a king size bar. The big candy bar has 74.6 FEWER grams of carbohydrates than iHop's most famous breakfast offering. If you want to eat candy for breakfast, that's your choice. Just don't delude yourself that forming it in to a pancake instead of a bar makes it any healthier. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Are diabetics suffering for no reason?

A great article from "across the pond" asks a very important question. Are current recommendations for diabetics doing more harm than good? Dr Katharine Morrison tells her patients to follow a low carbohydrate regime to control blood sugar as well as eliminate diabetic side effects like limb ulceration, sight loss and possible kidney failure. While her patients are doing well, there is still resistance to low carb for diabetes control...

"Three factors are still hindering wider take-up of the low-carb message, Morrison believes. The first is a reluctance by the medical profession to concede possible mistakes. Secondly, drug companies and food manufacturers have a vested interest in promoting the high-carb option, she argues. A whole industry depends on medicating diabetics and providing them with specialist foods, which Morrison believes low-carb diets will eliminate.

But the third is also a significant hurdle: the low-carb regime is onerous for patients. In a recent briefing that she sent to her own health board, Ayrshire and Arran, Morrison admits that even her own patients have mixed reactions.

These range from the resistant - she quotes one type one patient who said: "I would rather die than give up my porridge in the morning" - to the indignant. "Look at these blood sugars - they are normal! Why wasn't I told about this years ago?" she says one patient told her."

(Full Article)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Monkeying Around with Heart Disease

As one of the leading causes of death, heart disease is obviously a concern if you are a human. Our cousins, the Great Apes, are also having issues with heart disease. In a recent news article (here), zoo staff were stunned when an apparently healthy gorilla in the prime of his life dropped dead. But Mopie from the National Zoo in Washington isn't the only gorilla dead or ill due to heart disease...

"Gorillas in zoos around the nation, particularly males and those in their 20s and 30s, have been falling ill - and sometimes dying suddenly - from progressive heart ailments ranging from aneurisms to valvular disease to cardiomyopathy.

Just two months before the deaths at the National Zoo, the San Francisco Zoo had lost a lowland gorilla named Pogo to heart disease. A week before that, the Memphis Zoo lost one named Tumai the same way. And in previous years, there were others: Akbar at the Toledo Zoo in 2005, and in 2000 both Sam at the Knoxville Zoo and Michael at the Gorilla Foundation in California.

Now zookeepers are scrambling to understand what factors may be causing the illnesses and what might be done to save the 368 lowland gorillas that currently reside in 52 zoos across North America.

A 1994 study of 74 captive gorilla deaths, published by veterinarians Tom Meehan of the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago and Linda Lowenstine of the University of California at Davis, found that 41 percent - and 70 percent of males older than 30 - were from heart disease, mainly fibrosing cardiomyopathy."

When I read this article, my first question was "What are these gorillas eating?" Since I researched pet food to help my obese cat, I knew that companies that manufacture cat and dog food sometimes make "monkey chow". It took me less than five minutes to find clues to the possible cause for heart diseases in Great Apes.

The Brookfield Zoo posts on their website what the ape's natural diet is along with what they are feeding the apes...

"Wild diet: fruit, leaves, stems, vines, and shoots

Brookfield Zoo diet: monkey chow, apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, green beans, spinach, lettuce, kale, escarole, romaine, parsley."


The Philadelphia Zoo also lists their primate diet information on their website and they have 40% of their ape's diet being "primate biscuits". http://philadelphiazoo.blogspot.com/2007/03/national-nutrition-month-primates.html

A quick check of the ingredients of Monkey Chow and the primate biscuits put up HUGE red flags...

ZuPreem ® Primate Diet Dry

From the manufacturer: It is not necessary to provide a supplemental source of vitamin C with this diet, if the diet is fed within one year of the date of manufacture. It is also not necessary to supplement this diet with fruits or vegetables that may upset the balance of the diet.

Ingredients: Ground corn, Soybean meal, Cracked wheat, Sucrose, Wheat germ meal, Animal fat (preserved with BHA, propyl gallate and citric acid), Dried whole egg, Dicalcium phosphate, Calcium carbonate, Iodized salt, Vegetable oil, etc...

Mazuri® Primate Brown Biscuit

Ingredients: Ground Corn, dehulled soybean meal, dried beet pulp, sucrose, corn gluten meal, ground aspen, powdered cellulose, dried apple pomace, fructose, calcium carbonate, soybeab oil, flaxseed, etc....

I can't say for sure at this point the dry primate food is the exact cause since I have no way of telling what each individual zoo is feeding their apes. However, when a primary food for these creatures is based on CORN, WHEAT, SUGAR AND SOY (and at least one manufacturer claims you don't need to add fresh fruits/veggies which may "upset" the balance of the diet), it is no surprise to me that heart disease is killing zoo apes.

Corn, wheat, sugar and soy are all carbohydrates and all turn to glucose in the blood stream. Gorillas did not evolve to eat these easily digestible carbohydrates. Of course, neither did humans, which is why so many people these days are getting fat, sick and end up on medication. In many cases, you can get off of diabetes medication, reverse heart disease, lower blood pressure and lose weight by eliminating carbohydrates and following a low carb diet. Has this been tried with zoo apes?

Most of these dry food ingredients do not even grow in an ape's natural habitat. Is feeding them foods they did not evolve to eat a good idea? The REALLY scary thing is the monkey chow ingredients look a lot like the nutrition label from a typical American breakfast cereal! What is a diet high in grains doing for humans? The "obesity crisis" pretty much answers that one.

"My heart hurts, and I don't understand why I can't lose weight!"

Obesity among zoo primates is also an issue, and obesity, heart disease and diabetes often come as a package deal.

"Two main problems with zoo animals include obesity and diabetes. Orangutans typically eat fruits and leaves in nature, and very little animal matter. The leaves and fruits they consume are drier, contain less sugar, and much more fiber than our "store-bought" fruits. Some of the zoo problems may be associated with diets that are too easily digested, along with not enough exercise or activity in obtaining foods. See, they have the same problems as many humans!" http://content.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=4583

So our cousins are experiencing the same health problems we are and I am guessing that the cause is the same...eating foods they did not evolve to eat and basing their diet on carbohydrates that are too rapidly digested. I think it will be a bit of a race to see who admits that carbs can be dangerous to health first...the zoo community or the medical community. Hopefully human AND non-human primates will finally start getting the information they need to protect their hearts and overall health.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Nutrisystem's Deceptive Advertising

I never understood the appeal of Nutrisystem. Paying way too much for processed food then still having to buy my own fresh fruits and vegetables never sounded like a good bargain. Their commercials, aside from being generally annoying, always show people with dramatic weight loss while flashing RESULTS NOT TYPICAL on each photo. A recent Nutrisystem campaign features shapely football commentator, Jillian Barberie, touting a 41 lb weight loss which she credits to Nutrisystem. Her before picture took me by surprise because I watch plenty of football and I never remembered seeing Jillian look that fat.

I have seen her commercial several times and something about that before picture bothered me. At first I just assumed it was because the dress she was wearing was really ugly. Someone as cute as her, no matter how fat, shouldn't wear something that shapeless and frumpy. But this morning, I happened to be walking right by the tv screen when the commercial played and got a REALLY good look at the before picture in the ugly brown dress. Then it hit me. The reason that dress looked like a shapeless tent is because it is a MATERNITY DRESS!

That's right folks. Jillian's BEFORE photo is a photo of her pregnant. According to internet reports, the 41 pounds she gained was BABY WEIGHT. If you check medical sites or have ever had a baby yourself, you would know that doctors recommend a healthy, normal weight woman gain between 25 and 37 pounds.

AmericanPregnancy.org provides a handy breakdown of where that gain comes from...
  • Baby = 7-8 pounds
  • Placenta = 1-2 pounds
  • Amniotic fluid = 2 pounds
  • Uterus = 2 pounds
  • Maternal breast tissue = 2 pounds
  • Maternal blood = 4 pounds
  • Fluids in maternal tissue = 4 pounds
  • Maternal fat and nutrient stores = 7 pounds

So even with her gaining 4 pounds more than recommended, and her baby weighing closer to six pounds, seriously....how much of her weight loss is due to Nutrisystem? Apparently the secret to looking smoking hot after gaining 41 pounds is to be smoking hot in the first place and then give birth. Shame on Nutrisystem and shame on Jillian for misleading the public about her weight loss.

Unforseen Consequences of a Low Carb Diet

In this PREVENTION article, Gary Taubes, author of "Good Calories, Bad Calories" discusses a unique consequence of a low carb way of eating.....becoming a social outcast!

"I've learned there are indeed some side effects to this dietary regimen--primarily social and marital ones. First of all, gone are the days that my wife and I will be invited over for a simple meal--the "let me put some spaghetti on the stove with a nice sauce" type of thing. (Friends who are exceedingly fond of grilling or barbecuing are the exception.) Invitations to dinner parties are offered with trepidation and a "what can you eat?" tone, as though whatever it may be will require a special run to the slaughterhouse. A whiff of resentment hovers in the host's kitchen, as though my dietary faddishness forced a menu change for everyone else, all of whom now have to eat a thoroughly mediocre leg of lamb when they could have enjoyed the host's signature buckwheat rigatoni with broccoli rabe and tofu instead."
Prevention Article By Gary Taubes