Monthly Archives: June 2014

How Healthy is Your Snack Bar? I take a peek at the Larabar

You know as well as I do there are so many, perhaps too many, snack bar options available.  It is overwhelming and would take not 1 minute short of an hour to look through all the snack bars at your local Whole Foods Market.  So what do many of us do when we’re looking for a healthy on-the-go snack bar option and don’t have time?  We ask our own food expert.  I’m sure you have a person you ask for recommendations on vitamins, supplements and healthy snacks.  Lately, I have been perturbed by the healthy snack bars that have been recommended to people I talk with in my daily life.  That’s where this post comes in.

Let me begin by saying it is extremely difficult to find a truly healthy snack bar product.  And it is my experience and belief that simply because all ingredients contained within a snack bar product are readable and natural, that doesn’t give it my stamp of approval.  The one bar that I have been hearing so many women snacking on recently is the Larabar.  Larabar brand has 19 flavors of its original Larabar product, which are composed of natural ingredients.  I applaud Larabar for only using natural fruits and nuts in their bars.  But here’s the problem I have with the bars.  The average Larabar contains 20.16 grams of sugar.  That’s a ton of sugar – natural or not.

So how does this over 20 grams of sugar fit into your daily diet?  The World Health Organization’s recommended daily sugar intake for adults is 5% of daily caloric intake.  For a normal weight adult eating 2,000 calories per day, that equates to 25 grams of sugar per day.  This is TOTAL sugar recommended every day.  And if you’re daily calorie consumption is 1,600 calories/day, then your recommended sugar intake would be 20 grams.  The average Larabar would put you over this recommended daily amount.  

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And if you say, “so what?  It’s natural sugar – as long as it’s natural it’s okay.”  In my opinion, this is very wrong.  Our body processes sugar as sugar, natural or not.  According to Time’s article, “The Truth About Fat”, here’s how that process goes: Once sugar is ingested, it is converted to insulin, which makes fat cells go into storage overdrive leading to weight gain.  Since this leaves less calories to fuel the body, we begin to get hungry even as our metabolism slows down to conserve energy.  This begins a vicious cycle where we eat more and gain more. 

I’m not saying enjoying a Larabar before an intensive workout is bad.  I definitely don’t have a problem with that.  I would rather enjoy nuts or seeds, maybe even a fresh whole fruit before a workout, like a handful of blueberries, raspberries or blackberries.  But we are creatures of habit and seems to me when you begin incorporating a Larabar (or other snack bar) into your life, it may soon be something you eat daily and treat as a “healthy” part of your daily diet.  Add on that ice cream or dessert you have at the end of a long summer day and you may be close to 50 grams of sugar in just 1 day.  It doesn’t take much to get there.

What can you do to make sure you and your family stay healthy by not consuming too much sugar in your daily diets?

– eat real food ingredients, but be mindful of starchy carbs and sugars.  I do not consume fruit daily, or weekly for that matter.  But when I do indulge in fruit (yes, I said indulge as these contain a high amount of sugar) I choose berries as they are higher in fiber and antioxidants, and lower in sugar compared to other fruits.

– indulgent cakes, ice creams and other decadent unhealthy desserts should be treats enjoyed very infrequently 

– snack on unprocessed natural, or even dry-roasted, unsalted nuts and seeds.  Try roasting some cashews in your oven with coconut oil and a sprinkling of pink himalayan salt.  Add your favorite spices and herbs – cinnamon, spicy chili, rosemary.  So many options here.  

– avoid or have an out ready in situations where you tend to let yourself go, or feel pressured to make poor food choices.  Birthday parties at work ring a bell?  Or the kids driving you crazy over the summer and you reach for any snack in site?  Recognize these tendencies and make a plan to avoid the unhealthy snacking.  What works well for me is carrying “safe” snacking foods on me at all times.  Yes, it seems bizarre to always have food on one’s person, but it makes my life so much easier.  Just saying no doesn’t always work because being the only person in a room not eating just doesn’t feel right.  I grab whatever I have on me and join the crowd.  And it feels great walking out of there knowing I don’t feel bad about what I just ate.  In fact, the opposite holds true.  If you don’t have any food on you and are in a position you feel pressured to join, just say “I’m on a restricted diet” or “I’m being tested for food allergies”.  Although these may not be true (and being tested for food allergies doesn’t mean to avoid the potential allergens), I bet they will get you out of many situations.  

– think before you eat.  Download a food journal app and get into the habit of documenting what you eat BEFORE you actually consume it.  This helps you really think before you eat, especially if the app calculates (or you have manually entered in) the nutrition of the food item.  I’ve tried and liked MyNetDiary.  If you document what you’re eating and drinking (along with workouts), it is easy to figure out why you have gained or lost weight.  These tools make you more accountable to yourself and your health.  

– when eating out, ask for your entree to be prepared plain, or with pepper only.  That “light” sauce is most likely filled with sugars, oils and salt.  You can always ask to have sauces placed on the side.  Do your best to know what you are eating.  Sometimes a restaurant will not be able to prepare an entree plain because the meat or fish or even vegetables have been marinated.  My advice – order something that can be prepared plain because you just don’t know what is in that marinade.  

– an alternate snack bar containing much less sugar (5g vs. 20g) that is a similar size as a Larabar is the Kind Bar Nut Delight.  It’s not perfect, but it provides about the same amount of calories (200), more protein and fiber, less carbs and sugar than the average Larabar does.  

– eat more healthy fats that will keep you full longer (nuts, seeds, avocados, salmon).  My favorites are almonds and chia seeds.  You can make a healthy chia seed pudding dessert easily – here’s a recipe for vanilla chia seed pudding.  In this recipe, I would omit the honey or maple syrup and find a good quality stevia extract (make sure it is additive free and the only ingredient is stevia extract – no Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, PureVia).  This will lower carb and sugar content. 

Good Luck!  

 

 

 

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Trying to live on a restricted diet? Here is one diabetic’s story.

Good Morning,

How One of the great things I get to do as owner of a specialized healthy bakery is learn my customers’ stories.  Many have dietary restrictions due to health issues and/or food allergies.  Others just want to eat well and feel their best.  Glad to know Mind Your Muffin Co. is helping by providing truly healthy food products that can be enjoyed by so many people: diabetics, celiacs (gluten-intolerance), vegans, those with dairy, soy, casein, egg, peanut and wheat allergies. And of course all those who live a low carb, low glycemic (even paleo) lifestyle.

This post allows one of my customers, Charles Acasili, to share his story.  Charles discovered Mind Your Muffin Co. from an article in his local paper entitled “Muffins will satisfy sweet tooth for those with sugar, gluten issues” (article is attached at the end of this post).  Here is Charles’ story of how he became a type 1 diabetic at the age of 27.

“I thought I was a healthy guy.  During my college years, I ate junk food, including fast food, but worked out constantly.  I was losing weight at this time so I thought the bad food and exercise balanced each other out.  In the years after college, I continued to have a workout regimen but there was a problem.  I started to feel thirsty all the time, losing more weight than I should, and overall wasn’t feeling right.  Due to other health issues, I went to see a doctor.  The doctor found something that I was dreading as diabetes runs in my family.  I was diagnosed with type 1 Diabetes.

I was admitted to the hospital that day and stayed for two days as the problem was diagnosed. The doctors asked me to describe my diet.  I told them I ate large amounts of carbs, rice in particular (I am Asian after all).  At the time, I would consume large amounts of Gatorade, soda, and various juices, working out all the while.  I thought I was healthy since I was losing weight on this type of diet, but I was dead wrong.

I was assigned an endocrinologist (diabetes doctor) and a diabetes dietician as I would have to drastically alter my diet.  The doctor gave me a crash course on how to count carbs, read all food labels, and to balance out every meal.  In attempts to lower my sugar levels, my diet was very restricted.  Through diet, I had to balance my sugar levels at each meal.  I had to make sure to give myself the correct amount of insulin because if I gave myself too much and didn’t eat enough, my blood sugar levels could go very low causing diabetic shock.  I changed my diet to one consisting of lots of leafy greens, small amounts of good protein and carbs – no sugary drinks or alcohol whatsoever.  Going from eating anything I wanted to having to limit my food intake was very difficult.

My advice to people who have a restricted diet is to stick with it as best you can.  Whether it is to lose weight or maintain a healthy lifestyle, we all have to be conscious and aware of what we put into our bodies.  Trust me, there are days I want to eat cookies and cake, especially when someone has a birthday at work.  It’s especially difficult having to limit my food intake during Thanksgiving and Christmas when surrounded by so much tempting food.

Upon writing this, my blood sugar levels are steady.  It wasn’t easy adjusting to such a life changing event.  Being diagnosed a Type 1 Diabetic at age 27 wasn’t something I thought would happen to me.  But it did happen and although I didn’t like it, I had to come to terms with it.

Another piece of advice I want to give to those going through difficult times is that there are people that can help.  Trust me there were some days I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  I was in unbelievable pain and felt like there was no one there to help me.  But then something great happened that truly helped me.  I met a lovely person who I told my struggles.  Her name is Jillian Conley: an avid blogger, established author, and co-host of “Social Chicago” on Comcast. She was so moved by my story that she asked me to guest blog on her site for her fans and readers. The purpose of her blog is advice through stories.  Our intention for the blogpost is to support others, connect with people, and learn from them.  Jillian’s friend, Chicago Blogger Network founder Kelly Ryan O’Brien, has also supported me throughout my time of need.  These two lovely ladies, along with my family, friends, students, and co-workers have been there for me.  I ask you now that if you or someone you know is struggling with health issues please listen to them and try to understand that it’s not easy doing it alone.  Just by talking or listening to that person, you can create a strong bond between people and that’s something that can’t be broken.

Thank you Gina Lemke for telling my story and I hope that my story is a living example that whatever an obstacle life throws at you, you can either run from it or overcome that obstacle.”

I want to thank Charles for talking about such a trying time in his life.  It is always nice to know you are not alone.  There are so many people overcoming the difficulties that come along with health issues every day.

Article in the Pioneer Press:

Glenview Announcements

 

Do you have a story you’d like to share?  I’d love to hear about it!

Hope you have a wonderful start to your summer,

Gina

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A look at Protein Bars, particularly IsaLean bars

Good Evening!

My wonderful brother has a friend who wanted my take on a particular brand of protein bars him and his wife have been purchasing.  These are IsaLean bars.  I had never heard of them, but the name alone suggested to me that these bars would be filled with highly processed ingredients.   Let’s have a look at what I discovered.

Here is the ingredient label of the IsaLean Bar in Natural Oatmeal Raisin flavor

IsaLean Natural Oatmeal Raisin Bar

My initial thought was “wow, lots of ingredients”, but where are the natural ingredients?  Oh yes, there they are!  Out of the over 40 ingredients, 4 are perhaps natural in my book (raisins, rolled oats, water and cinnamon).  So red flag #1, less than 10% of ingredients are natural.  Yikes.

Among the listed ingredients, the ones that give me great pause are: tapioca starch, lecithin, brown rice syrup, maltitol, fractionated palm kernel oil, natural flavor, malitiol syrup, polydextrose, high oleic safflower oil, natural flavor (again) and maltodextrin.  Here are some of the problems I have with each.

Tapioca Starch – Extremely high glycemic index of 85.  To compare, sugar has a GI of 70.  No nutritional value.

Lecithin – the label doesn’t tell us what type of lecithin is used.  It can be soy, eggs, milk, marine sources, rapeseed, cottonseed, and sunflower.  Most of the time it is derived from genetically modified soybeans. So what is lecithin?  It is the generic term to designate any group of yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues composed of phosphoric acid, choline, fatty acids, glycerol, glycolipids, triglycerides, and phospholipids (e.g., phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, and phosphatidylinositol).  It is used in the food industry as an emulsifier in packaged food products.  This is a highly processed ingredient that is genetically modified and most likely chemically extracted.  I will take a pass.  (I would be less concerned if this was non-GMO soy lecithin, or even if the type of lecithin used was listed)

Brown Rice Syrup – this is a sweetener I see all over the snack bar market.  I am not a fan at all.  This has a glycemic index of 100 and, unless specified, is typically derived from genetically modified brown rice.  Don’t let the words “brown rice” fool you into believing this is healthy.  It is made from whole grain rice treated with enzymes that break down natural starches into sugars.  It is a refined and concentrated sweetener that is often used as a substitute for high fructose corn syrup.

Maltitol – This is one of the many sugar alcohols used to make processed snacks and desserts “sugar-free”.  Consumption of maltitol and other sugar alcohols can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, including a laxative like effect.  Maltitol is produced from starch mainly in corn or potatoes.  Definitely derived from GM food that is then highly processed into the final product.  My personal experience years ago with maltitol was an uncomfortable one.  I recall bloating and overall GI upset.

Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil – Let’s start with palm kernel oil, then we can touch on what fractionated palm kernel oil is.  It can’t be obtained organically. Instead, the oil must be extracted from the pit with a gasoline-like hydrocarbon solvent. In short, palm kernel oil is a cheap, unhealthy fat, which well-known Dr. Andrew Weil recommends avoiding products containing it.  Now what about the fractionated palm kernel oil?  Fractionation is a further phase of palm oil processing, designed to extract and concentrate specific fatty acid fractions. Fractionated palm oil, as found in food products, has a higher concentration of saturated fat than regular palm oil and is used for the convenience of manufacturers who like its stability and melting characteristics.

Natural Flavor – this additive makes me angry because it can mean pretty much anything!  The FDA Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 defines the term natural flavor as “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional”.  In all seriousness, this can be anything, including MSG.  Here’s an example of a natural flavor ingredient that will turn your stomach – it’s called castoreum and is an extract derived from the beavers’ anal glands.  Mmmmmmm.  Just think of all the creative ingredients that can be hiding under the “natural flavors” label.

Maltitol Syrup –  Read Maltitol above, then add a more processed and concentrated version of this sweetener, which contains 50-80% maltitol and most of the remainder is composed of sorbitol.  Sorbitol is another sugar alcohol that has well-documented cases of stomach upset and diarrhea in some individuals.  Perhaps this is why sorbitol has been linked to IBS.  The glycemic index of maltitol syrup is higher than maltitol, but just slightly below sugar.

Polydextrose – This is a multi-purpose food additive synthesized from dextrose (glucose), plus about 10 percent sorbitol and 1 percent citric acid. It is a soluble non-viscous manmade polymer that is only partially fermented by the gut microbiota.  Food companies use this additive to bulk up product and add fiber.  I always opt for natural fiber, which is abundant in vegetables, nuts and seeds.

High Oleic Safflower Oil – This is a highly processed oil that has taken the place of hydrogenated oil (trans fats) to keep food shelf-stable and preserve flavor since all the negative attention about trans fats.  Here’s a study documenting how high oleic safflower oil, compared to high linoleic safflower oil and coconut oil caused an increase in tumors in rats.  My guess is 10 years from now these high oleic oils may be on the list of “bad” ingredients.

Natural Flavor – Why is it listed twice?  Well, see it above.

Maltodextrin – This is a food additive produced from starch (usually of corn in US, but can be wheat) by partial hydrolysis and is usually found as a white hygroscopic spray-dried powder. Maltodextrin is easily digestible, being absorbed as rapidly as glucose, and might be either moderately sweet or almost flavorless making it perfect for processed food manufacturers.  This has a high glycemic index of 95 (sugar is 70).

So what should you do if you want a high protein snack on-the-go?  Here are some suggestions:

Pumpkin Seeds – these will provide you with the same amount of protein (18g) as the IsaLean Bar does (both are 60g), and much more natural nutritive values.  Not to mention, lower carb and sugar than the IsaLean bar.  And they’re delicious!

Almonds – not quite as much protein (13g compared to 18g in 60g serving size), but full of healthy fats and vitamins/minerals.  You can spice almonds up on your own by roasting using your favorite seasonings and spice.  Just watch out for overloading on the salt – 1/4 tsp contains a whopping 590mg of sodium!

And I’m going to give the Mind Your Muffin almond cave bite (paleo, gluten-free, vegan) a plug here as it is a great option for on-the-go snack/sweet treat filled with organic, all-natural fiber and protein!  Only 4g of carbs and no sugar (and of course nothing artificial or highly processed).   Simple healthful ingredients to give your body what it needs and nothing it doesn’t.  You never have to be without the perfect snack with our cave bite subscriptions where the bites will be delivered right to your door every month!  So perfect!

There are many many protein bars out there.  If you do one thing, read the ingredients and look for red flags.  Do your best to stay away from them.

If you have any protein bars or snack foods you would like me to take a look at for you, please ask!  I’m very busy running my healthy baked goods company, but will definitely give it a look for you.

Keep up your awareness,

Gina

 

 

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