July 21, 2010

What's with the Omega-3s in Subway's New 9-Grain Bread?

Subway counters have recently begun displaying a laminated card with nutrition information for their "NEW 9-Grain With Omega 3 (ALA)" bread. With all the added omega-3 ALA, is this bread any healthier than their traditional wheat bread? 

First of all - don't be fooled by any omega-3 product that touts the benefits of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Food manufacturers want you to confuse ALA with the two healthier types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA & DHA. EPA & DHA are found in fatty fish like salmon and trout and fish oil capsules and have demonstrated positive effects on brain and neurological development. 

The American Heart Association recommends an average of 400-500 mg EPA + DHA per day for people without heart disease and 1,000 mg for people with heart disease. Eating 2-3 servings of fish per week averages out to somewhere between 500-1,000 mg EPA + DHA per day; people who don't eat fish should consider getting their EPA + DHA from fish oil capsules.

ALA is the type of omega-3 found in flax, soy, and canola; it's a shorter-chain fatty acid that no doubt has health benefits, but not nearly the beneficial effects of EPA & DHA. Our bodies convert very little ALA to EPA and no ALA to DHA. So the bottom line is, most people stand to benefit from increasing the amount of EPA + DHA in their diets but don't have to worry about increasing ALA which is found in adequate amounts in most people's diets.

There's no nutritional information on this new bread on Subway's website, but the posters at Subway say a 230 calorie 6" serving has 4 grams of fiber and 500 mg of ALA, with no mention of EPA + DHA (the only type of omega-3 fatty acids you probably should be consuming more of). The highest fiber traditional sandwich bread at Subway is a 6" Honey-Oat bread has 280 calories and 5 grams of fiber. There are no 100% whole wheat options in 6" size; but, for a lot less calories, the Subway breakfast sandwiches on English Muffins have 5 grams of fiber.

And, despite some of Subway's nutritional shortcomings, they do have a sweet custom gift card you can design on their website with your own photo. To check it out: click here.

July 16, 2010

Cherries: What a Drupe

What's a drupe? It's a fruit that has a fibrous outer cover, fleshy middle and one pit or stone - also called stone fruit. Drupes include peaches, plums, and at this time of year - the ubiquitous cherry. 

Cherry season peaks in the summer, and according to the "Fruits and Veggies Matter" page on cherries, if you're buying cherries past August, they probably aren't fresh, but brought out of cold storage.

Bing cherries are the most prominent and popular sweet cherry variety. They're deep red and turn almost black when they're the most ripe. Ranier cherries are also sweet - and expensive, because fewer are grown - they are lighter in color, almost yellowish.

From a nutritional standpoint, cherries are a nutritional powerhouse. One cup of cherries has 90 calories and 4 grams of fiber. Watch out for dried cherries, they often have added sugar and less fiber per serving than the whole fruit varieties.

To learn more about cherries, visit the Cherry Marketing Institute's website www.choosecherries.com and their nutrition page. If you're not sure what to do with cherries beyond making cherry pie, the ChooseCherries site also has recipes, along with a number of recipes from Registered Dietitian Ellie Krieger of the Food Network.

July 8, 2010

Gut Check: Do Chicory Inulin Products Cause GI Distress?

The June 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association features an article entitled "Gastrointestinal Tolerance of Chicory Inulin Products." In it, researchers from the University of  Minnesota (and Cargill, Inc.) set out to determine at what dose does added inulin fibers in food cause unwanted gastrointestinal disturbances.

Inulin is a soluble dietary fiber found naturally in plant foods like onions, leeks, garlic, asparagus, bananas, artichokes and chicory root. It is increasingly being added to what are normally low-fiber foods in order to boost their fiber content; in these cases, chicory root extract is becoming the inulin additive of choice. 

In the study, twenty-six healthy men and women aged 18-60 who usually age less than 15 g fiber per day were given a combination of either placebo, 5 g oligofructose (short chain fiber), 10 g oligofructose, 5 g inulin (longer-chain fiber) or 10 g inulin in a meal. They each took "fiber challenges" over a 10 week period with a 1-week washout period. Tolerance was reported by frequency of one of seven GI domains: gas/bloating, nausea, flatulence, GI cramping, diarrhea, constipation and GI rumbling. 

The study found that oligofructose and inulin in "practical doses" were generally well-tolerated. Ten-gram oligofructose caused the most symptoms, but the study pointed out that if spread out over the day, even high doses of fiber can be well-tolerated.

The bottom line application was: "Excellent sources of fiber" (5 g/serving) was well-tolerated for both short and long chain inulin. Furthermore, the chain length of inulin product affects tolerance. Inulin is fermented slowly and steadily so it is likely more well-tolerated than shorter chain oligofructose which is fermented rapidly. 

It is important to note that one of the authors on the paper is a senior manager of regulatory and scientific affairs at Cargill, Inc. Cargill's extensive product list does include inulin additives like Oliggo-Fiber Inulin, the health benefits of which are most likely overstated on the Oliggo-Fiber product page.

July 2, 2010

Kellogg's FiberPlus Antioxidants Bar

With the introduction of their FiberPlus Antioxidants bars, Kellogg's is going head to head with General Mills' popular FiberOne bars. Previous Kellogg's bar offerings didn't have much in the way of nutrition: the Special K Cereal Bars had less than 1 gram of fiber and just 1 gram of protein for 9 grams of sugar - basically a breakfast cookie, that with only 90 calories and no fiber or protein, left you feeling pretty hungry, pretty quickly.

The new FiberPlus bars are very similar to the original FiberOne bars when it comes to the Nutrition Facts panel: FiberPlus has 120-130 calories per bar compared to FiberOne's 140 (although FiberOne bars recently came out with a 90 calorie option...more of a bite than a bar really.) 

Both FiberPlus and FiberOne bars have 9 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein. The fiber in both comes from an isolated fiber: chicory root fiber or chicory root extract (an inulin derivative). Remember that isolated fibers are the ones manufacturers are increasingly using to bump up fiber in otherwise low-fiber foods. The extent of the health benefits of isolated vs. intact (naturally-occuring) fiber in foods is not entirely known; and, if you're not used to eating them regularly, in some people they can cause bloating, gas and other unfavorable GI side effects.

FiberPlus bars come in 3 flavors: Chocolate Chip, Dark Chocolate Almond and Chocolate Peanut Butter. I've tasted all 3 - thanks to samples provided by Kellogg's - and I have to say they are quite good, if not rather sweet. These are by no means ideal for meal replacement, - they're more of a high-fiber dessert, but they do also make a good between-meal snack if you're on the go. You can follow Kellog's Fiber team LadyFibarista on Twitter to get product updates and coupons.

Last word of advice: don't get romanced by the front-of-packaging claims on foods like FiberPlus and FiberOne bars that shout, "35% Daily Value of Fiber." While these are "excellent sources of fiber" (meaning more than 20% of the daily value per serving), we should all be striving to get the majority of our fiber from foods that are naturally high in fiber, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and things like dried peas and beans. A bar here and there can help you fill gaps and a high-fiber bar is a better choice than a high-fat, high-sugar granola bar or candy bar - but keep in mind, "If it looks like a cookie and it tastes like a cookie...it probably is a cookie."