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Product Review: Three Sisters Multigrain Berry Multigrain Shredded Wheat Cereal

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Flavor

Like some of Three Sister’s other products (including this one that I reviewed), Multigrain Berry does a great job at preserving the taste of a classic cereal (Post Frosted Shredded Wheat). For those who haven’t had this before, each bite is a bundle of shredded wheat with a sweet frosting coating. The rough, chewy texture is quite enjoyable and gives your jaw a workout. The addition of fruit flavoring adds a nice taste which is not present in Post’s basic shredded wheat.

Nutrition/Ingredients

Serving size is 1 cup  (55 grams) and there is about seven per package. In one serving there is 190 calories (only 10 from fat), 6 grams of fiber, 5 of protein, and 11g of sugars. These stats are all pretty much the same as Post’s version, which is not much a surprise considering the near-identical flavor. However, as this product is marketed as the “healthier” version of that, I wish they had at least a little less sugar, or more fiber/protein.

The ingredients are generally natural and safe, though its disappointing there is no real Blueberry or Pomengranate, rather some mysterious “natural flavor” to simulate their taste. I wish companies which claim to make healthy products would use fruit, not some substitute.

The ingredients here win out over many competitor’s products, which use either artificial flavor, artificial color, or BHT as a preservative.Post’s Frosted Mini Wheats “with a touch a fruit in the middle” is one such product that uses all three.

Multigrain Berry uses all fruit & vegetable extract/juice for coloring, and Vitamin E instead of BHT as a preservative. There is still some debate on whether BHT increases or decreases cancer risk, but my feeling is that Vitamin E is generally safer as a preservative.

For those who don’t know what ‘Triticale” is, it’s a hybrid of wheat and rye which can give yield improvements and allow growing in different conditions. It also has more protein than wheat. It is well established as a feed grain, but its use in cereal is relatively new.

Ingredients: Whole Great Wheat, Sugar, Whole Grain Oats, Whole Grain Triticale, Whole Grain Barley, Blueberry Pomegranate Bits (dextrose, palm oil, corn flour, natural flavor, citric acid, fruit & vegetable extract [for color]), Gelatin, Natural Raspberry Flavor, Vegetable Juice (for color), Reduced Iron, Freshness Preserved with Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols)

Price/Availability

We got this for $3.99 for two at Whole Foods on a special promotion. Usually its $3.99 for one.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.0  Nutrition/Ingredients: 7.0  Price:8.0    Overall: 7.6

Summary

This cereal mostly lives up to its goal of making a healthier version of Frosted Mini Wheats. Fans of that type of cereal are highly recommended to try this.

References

http://threesisterscereal.com/product/multigrain-berry/

http://www.frostedminiwheats.com

http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food-safety/article/two-preservatives-avoid

http://www.frostedminiwheats.com/Products/Touch-of-fruit-in-middle

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triticale

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LaLoo’s Deep Chocolate Goat’s Milk Ice Cream

lala 

When I first saw this product around a year ago, I was attracted by it’s unique packaging and high price. I didn’t know much about goat’s milk and frankly was a little hesitant, but decided to take the plunge for a new sweet desert experience. It was glad I didn’t chicken out because I ended up discovering a great product!

Flavor

Its funny because fundamentally I shouldn’t like this product. Several years back I got tired of all plain vanilla and chocolate ice creams, and recently tend to gravitate to things which have nuts, chocolate chips, or something else to provide a balanced contrast of flavors. But there is something special about this which makes me always want to come back for more.

Texture-wise this ice cream is very similar to typical cow’s milk ice cream, and that is no surprise given these two milks are similar in composition. It’s very creamy and doesn’t get hard in the freezer, so I can eat it right away after pulling it out, whereas some other non-milk based products have odd textures or require waiting to get soft enough to enjoy.

When I take in a mouth full of this ice cream my first thought is of plain old chocolate ice cream. But as it sits in my mouth, I begin to notice two things. First, the chocolate (listed 3rd on label) tastes a little stronger than some other brands. I want to describe it’s taste as “refined” or “elegant”, but I think there is some bias on my side since I know the chocolate comes from a name brand chocolate maker (Scharffen Berger). Also, the goat milk adds a new dimension with some subtle flavors not present in typical ice creams. Some describe goat milk as extra sweet, or salty, but I find these words don’t really mean much to me. Just try it yourself and you might just get hooked like I did.

Nutrition/Ingredients

In a 90 gram serving there is a 160 calories and 15 grams of sugars. The sugar content is quite low compared to many milk-based ice creams, and comparable to many coconut milk-based ones. The calorie content is also much less than average compared to both other types of products. For comparison I’ll present a brief table with values for a few other products, adjusted by weight.

  • LaLoo’s deep chocolate        => 177 calories / 17 grams of sugars
  • Ben & Jerry’s chocolate therapy  => 250 calories / 23 grams of sugars
  • Publix premium chocolate             => 205 calories / 21 grams of sugars
  • Talenti double dark chocolate      => 210 calories / 25 grams of sugars
  • So Delicious german chocolate    => 212 calories / 16 grams of sugars

Protein is moderate, at 5 grams per serving.

Unlike many other products which are made with unnamed chocolate, this one utilizes Sharffen Berger chocolate, whose chocolate bars you have seen in the grocery store. Scharffen Berger is a chocolate maker founded in 1997 in San Francisco, and was “the first American ‘bean-to-bar’ chocolate manufacturer in over 50 years,” according to their website. I haven’t done any direct taste comparison of their bars and can’t say for certain they do anything special compared to other chocolate products, but for chocolate fanatics this is a nice bonus and might have some nutritional benefits as well.

Speaking of nutritional benefits, the main advantage of this product is that is contains goat’s milk instead of the typical cow’s milk found in ice cream. It is claimed that goat’s milk has a few benefits over cow’s milk. For example, it is less likely to trigger allergies, easier to digest, and more friendlier to those who are lactose intolerant. It is also reported to be closer to human breast milk.

I can’t say conclusively that goat’s milk is better than cow’s milk, but in the vein of getting a wide selection of different types of nutrients, I suggest trying to add goat milk products to your diet a little at a time.

This product has only 11 ingredients, and of those the only one that I would consider debatable is carrageenan, used for it’s thickening properties (among other things). I’ve spoke about this briefly in another post (here) but I wish was not used in ice cream products.

Full ingredient list: Goat Milk, Sugar, Scharffen Berger (processed with alkali) semi-sweet chocolate (chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, lecithin, vanilla), Egg Yolks, Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum, Carrageenan.

Price/Availability

This ice cream is quite hard to find. The only place I have seen it sold recently is the Whole Foods Market in Fort Lauderdale (info here), selling at $6.99 for a pint (473 mL).

I remember seeing it for a bit more a few months ago, though I don’t remember the exact price. It was somewhere in the range $7.99 to $8.99. In any case I’m glad they dropped the price. Even $6.99 is quite expensive considering you can get many coconut and milk-based desserts for a dollar or two cheaper. But, given goat milk ice creams are quite rare (I don’t know of any others), it is fair for this to have a certain premium.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.5   Nutrition/Ingredients:8.0    Price:  7.0  Overall: 7.83

Summary

This goat milk ice cream, natural and delicious, is a great vacation away from your average milk-based ice cream. It’s a little pricey, but its unique flavor makes up for that.

References

http://www.laloos.com/flavors.php

http://www.laloos.com/images/nutritional_Deep_Chocolate.jpg

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/fortlauderdale

http://www.scharffenberger.com/our-story/history/

http://www.eatlifewhole.com/2013/06/goats-milk-vs-cows-milk-is-there-a-difference/

http://www.mtcapra.com/benefits-of-goat-milk-vs-cow-milk/

Is Fruit Really Unconditionally Better Than Desserts? (the answer may surprise you)

I commonly read that sugar in products such as ice cream and cookies is unhealthy, and those with a craving for sweets should redirect their urges to fruits which are healthier and more natural.

But why are fruits healthier? A good place to start is this article, where a food scientist/R.D. (registered dietitian) talks about the health advantages of fruit over candy and desserts. I’ll quote a few of the key points here but I recommend you read the entire article for proper context.

  • “fruit offers good stuff like vitamins, antioxidants and water, while candy and desserts are nutritionally void”
  • “Fruit also tends to have less sugar by volume.”
  • “whole fruit has a lot of fiber”

Let’s look at each of these points in turn with actual fruit and dessert examples.

First, no one will deny that fruit has vitamins, antioxidants, water, and a whole bunch of other things we haven’t even identified yet. Since this stuff is natural, it seems logical that much of it is good for the body, and I’m sure there are studies out there that show how certain fruits have various beneficial effects.

But stating candy and desserts are “nutritionally void” is an extreme exaggeration that is clearly not true for all products. Sure, many of the popular candy products (think ‘Halloween candy’) and desserts contain a good portion of lab-made chemicals and heavily processed ingredients. But is there any candies or desserts with any nutritional value?

Thanks to the health movement which has gained popularly in the last few years, we now see entire grocery stores dedicated to healthy, natural food. In my area there is Whole Foods Market, Mother Earth Natural Foods, and many smaller ones. With this there is are loads of healthier products flooding the markets, those with organic, natural ingredients, and an absence of things like artificial colors and flavors. I would say at least half of the products I’ve reviewed in this blog I would consider healthy, if not more.

To give one recent example of a recently reviewed healthy product, take So Delicious’s coconut milk mint chip frozen dessert. It contains several ingredients which are known to have good amounts of minerals and vitamins such as coconut (oil and cream), cocoa, and spearmint. It also contains water, which was another of the items mentioned in the article. This is just one example which clearly has many vitamins and nutrients, and until someone shows me a clinical study comparing specific deserts and fruits showing the actual long-term effects of each, I am not convinced fruits have more vitamins and minerals in all cases.

I mentioned one desert product, but there are many like this including those made with cashews, nuts, almonds, soy, rice, and other things thought to be nutritionally rich.

The next point is whether fruit has less sugar by volume. I will first list the sugar per weight for a few fruits based on the figures from sugarstacks.com.

  • Grapes: 16%
  • Cantaloupe: 8%
  • Navel Orange: 9%
  • Apple slices: 10%
  • Banana: 12%
  • Watermelon: 13%
  • Average: 11.3%

Next I’ll show the values for a few ice cream/frozen desserts.

  • Talenti Argentine Caramel: 33%
  • Talenti Caribbean Coconut: 25%
  • So Delicious Coconut Milk Chocolate: 14%
  • So Delicious No Sugar Added Mint Chip: 1%
  • Laloos Vanilla Snowflake: 22%
  • Haagen Dazs Butter Pecan: 20%
  • Average: 19.1%

Overall there is about 70% more sugar in these products, which is consistent with the article’s claim that desserts have more sugar than fruits. Keep in mind, this is just a small sample of frozen desserts, and does not include many other sweet products that have significantly more (or less) sugar levels. Although I only included one product with no sugar added, there are many others of this type, some using sweeteners which may have negative effects on the body (though I would say those are not well known yet).

There are even some cases where fruits have more sugar than a frozen dessert, such as grapes (16%) compared to So Delicious’s chocolate frozen dessert (14%). This product utilizes agave as its main sweetener, which some say is healthier than white sugar. There are others which say simply say ‘sugar is sugar’ which would also mean the sugar from fruits and desserts is the same in terms of how the body digests is.

I cannot dispute the article’s final point that whole fruit has alot of fiber. However, taking the mint chip frozen dessert I discussed above as an example, it has 6 grams of sugar in 85 grams, which gives around 7% fiber of total weight. Much of this fiber comes from chicory root extract.

Here is the fiber per total weight ratios of a few common fruits:

  • Apple: 2.4%
  • Oranges: 2%
  • Raspberries: 7%
  • Peaches: 1.5%
  • Pears: 3.1%
  • Average:3.2%

In this case we can see a dessert has over twice the fiber as several fruits, a few of these were listed as “high fiber fruits”.

Just from this quick analysis, it seems obvious to me that fruits do not have an unconditional win in the fight against desserts and candies. By no means am I saying fruits are not worth eating, since studies (plus common sense) say that eating a variety of fruits is best. But if you are careful about which desserts you choose, focusing on those with natural, nutritious ingredients, I think you can still maintain a healthy diet. It make take a little time to get used to these “healthier” desserts after a lifetime of eating the unhealthy, popular ones, but its worth it since then you can eat (nearly) guilt free.

My biggest concern about desserts is the high fat and calorie content, though this completely depends on how much you eat. From a weight gaining perspective, its clearly less healthy to eat a gallon of ice cream a day versus a banana. But a quarter-pint (single serving) of most ice creams a day shouldn’t cause significant weight gain.

Don’t let an “expert” tell you that you shouldn’t eat desserts. I’m not going to completely stop eating sweets and go all fruit until there is sufficient clinical evidence showing that seemingly healthy products line coconut milk frozen desserts are actually harmful in some way.

Do your own research and enjoy the sweetness that desserts bring to your life!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/29/fruit-sugar-versus-white-sugar_n_3497795.html

http://www.sugarstacks.com/fruits.htm

http://www.fitsugar.com/Fiber-Fruits-209893

http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/foods-high-in-dietary-fiber.php

Product Review: Ben & Jerry’s Frozen Yogurt Chocolate Fudge Brownie

froyo

This ice cream is from the “FroYo” series which takes popular Ben & Jerry’s flavors and turns them into frozen yogurt with reduced calories and fat. I had reviewed the ice cream (non lowfat) version of Chocolate Fudge Brownie here, and this time I thought I would review the lowfat one. It’s great when you want a deep, rich flavor without quite as many calories.

Flavor

This dessert tastes very similar to the ice cream version. Spongy brownie pieces float in a sea of rich, gooey chocolate, saturated with sugary goodness throughout.

I’m sure if did a direct taste comparison where I alternated between spoonfuls of these two products I would be able to taste the difference more clearly, but eating it normally the FroYo doesn’t taste anything like “low-calorie” or “low-fat” – which is a good thing. The main difference is that the texture is more icey and less creamy. It’s midway in between eating normal ice cream and Italian ice (the latter of which has no milk and only water as its base).

The first time I tried this I didn’t taste any of the yogurt flavor. I tried it again, paying close attention, and was able to detect yogurt very subtly, more as an aftertaste than anything else. More on this below.

Nutrition/Ingredients

For a single 104 gram serving there is 180 calories, slightly below average for an ice cream of this type. Consistent with the “lowfat” branding, there is only 2.5 grams of fat. Compare these figures to the normal Chocolate Fudge Brownie – 270 calories and 12 grams of fat – and you’ll see a huge difference.

For those of you who are more concerned about sugar intake than calories (which I sometimes am), this product isn’t too great. There is a whopping 25 grams of sugar, only 2 grams less than the standard less-healthy version. I’d wish they would have reduced it a bit more, but I guess the characteristic flavor would be ruined if they took out any more sugar.

Protein amount is typical at 5 grams, and fiber is 2 grams a serving.

As I mentioned above, this product has only a tiny hint of yogurt taste. I checked on what “frozen yogurt” really means, and it looks like besides containing yogurt, it is also typically more tart, and lower in fat due to milk used in place of cream. Comparing ingredients against the normal ice cream version, we can see that both contain skim milk and cream. However the FroYo version contains more skim milk than cream (order on label 2nd and 9th, compared to 3rd and 1st on the ice cream version). So this frozen yogurt does contain less fat, although it is not particularly tart.

Technically this product can be placed in the “frozen yogurt” category because of the presence of yogurt powder (11th place) and yogurt cultures (20th and last place). However, because of  the small amount of these ingredients, which is reflected in the taste, I wouldn’t really consider this a true “frozen yogurt”. It looks like Ben & Jerry’s is just using the “yogurt” nomenclature to associate nutrition and health, and as a result sell better. I can’t say whether the yogurt cultures have any nutritional benefit or not, but they in are such small proportion I doubt that is much an effect, if at all. I’d prefer B&J’s either drop the yogurt branding and remove the little yogurt that is present, or increase it so this dessert can honestly be called a “frozen yogurt”.

Another trick they use to make this product lighter is using water as a filler – it’s listed as the #1 ingredient and is the main reason for the texture change I discussed previously. I think this is generally a great idea for health-conscious frozen desserts, and when done in moderation doesn’t destroy the flavor.

I’ve listed both versions’ ingredient list below. If you compare you’ll see that except for the yogurt, milk/cream, and water differences, they are very similar.

FroYo version (this product):

Water, Skim Milk, Liquid Sugar (Sugar, Water), Corn Syrup, Sugar, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Wheat Flour, Corn Syrup Solids, Cream, Cocoa, Nonfat Yogurt Powder, Egg Yolks, Butter (Cream, Salt), Eggs, Egg Whites, Locust Bean Gum, Salt, Vanilla Extract, Sodium Bicarbonate, Yogurt Cultures

ice cream version:

CREAM, LIQUID SUGAR (SUGAR, WATER), SKIM MILK, WATER, SUGAR, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), WHEAT FLOUR, COCOA POWDER, EGG YOLKS, BUTTER (CREAM, SALT), INVERT SUGAR SYRUP, WHOLE EGGS, EGG WHITES, GUAR GUM, SALT, CARRAGEENAN, VANILLA EXTRACT, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, SODIUM BICARBONATE.

One final difference is that the FroYo version does not contain carrageenan, a substance used as a thickener/stabilizer. It turns out there is some research that indicates carrageenan may be involved in tumor promotion, though I don’t think there is any definitive proof for this yet, and currently it is considered as a safe food additive by the FDA. Nevertheless I’d rather do without it if I have a choice.

Price/Availability

This product is available all over the place. I purchased it for $4.69 at Publix supermarket.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.0  Nutrition/Ingredients:7.0    Price:8.0    Overall: 7.6

Summary

This doesn’t stand out as a particularly healthy choice, but when compared against the less healthy non-yogurt version it’s much lower in calories and fat, and still boasts a rich, sweet taste. Once you switch to FroYo I doubt you’ll find the need to return to more fattening ice cream.

References

http://www.benjerry.com/flavors/our-flavors#product_id=650

http://www.benjerry.com/flavors/our-flavors#product_id=611

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frozen_yogurt

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrageenan

Product Review: Justin’s Maple Almond Butter Spread

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Introduction

I’m a heavy consumer of Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter (which I reviewed here), but regardless of how healthy and tasty it is I need a break from it from time to time. I decided to try another product in this series, an Almond Butter sweetened with natural maple sugar.

Flavor

I hope you’ll pardon the cheesy turn of phrase, but I’m nuts about nuts. Essentially seeds from a plant which grow in a hard shell, these amazing creations of nature are one of the few things that have a rich, savory flavor in their unprocessed natural form.

Start with a paste made from dry roasted almonds and add maple sugar for an extra touch of sweetness, palm fruit oil for increased spreadability, and round off the taste with a pinch of salt, and you get a spread made in heaven.

I’m not going to attempt to explain the intricate flavors contained with almonds, but this product will surely appeal to anyone who likes peanut butter or eating raw almonds.

There is a surprising sweetness for the actual amount of sugar present. This is because maple syrup primarily consists of sucrose, whose sweetness lies between fructose and gluctose, and as a result is approximately twice as sweet as table sugar.

My only minor complaint is the ratio of oil is a bit high. When I spread a blob of this on my bread with a knife, sometimes it overflows onto my plate and this messiness isn’t desirable.

Nutrition/Ingredients

A single serving (two tablespoons) of this thick spread contains 200 calories and 17 grams of fat. As I mentioned in my hazelnut butter review, the problem with spreads is that its hard to meter how much you eat. If you’re not careful you can wolf down 1000 calories or more in a span of minutes. For those concerned about their weight it’s best to eat this in very small doses, but everyone else shouldn’t feel any guilt when eating this. With minimally processed natural ingredients, if you going to go overboard with calories and fat this is probably the safest way to do it.

There is a minimal 3 grams of sugars per serving, less than half found in Justin’s chocolate spreads. Interestingly, the “classic” version of this paste, containing no added sugar, contains nearly the same amount of sugars at 2 grams. If you find the maple overtones bother you, feel free to try the classic version. I’ve had it and its even stronger almond taste is superb.

There is 6 grams per serving which is a good amount, especially considering that you are likely to consume multiple servings in a single sitting. This is natural protein from the nuts themselves, not something added artificially.

Both almonds and maple sugar are packet with nutrients. Almonds contain Vitamin E, manganese, copper, Vitamin B2, among others, and are considered to be very heart-healthy. Maple sugar contains a large amount of manganese, zinc, and also contains substances called polyphenols that may help control blood sugar levels. It’s estimated glycemic load is less than that of table sugar and only slightly more than honey, though diabetics still need to be careful when eating it.

Palm fruit oil, a less popular form of oil, has its own set of potential health benefits including cancer prevention, immune system strengthening, and reducing heart disease.

Full ingredients list: Dry Roasted Almonds, Maple Sugar, Organic Palm Fruit Oil, Sea Salt.

Price/Availability

Like most of Justin’s products, this sells for around $10.00 per a 454 gram jar. When compared to everyday peanut butter this is quite expensive, but its competitive to other almond butters.  After all, this product is mostly made of almonds, which have a unit price roughly double that of peanuts. Justin’s peanut butter goes for a roughly proportional price ($6.00).

I usually buy this at Whole Foods but its also started appearing at Target and other stores recently. Its also available from the producer directly via their website, and packs of 6 are sold for a slight discount. Justin’s nut butters are also sold in single serving packs.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.5   Nutrition/Ingredients:9    Price:7.0    Overall: 8.2

Summary

With a rich taste and packed with nutrients, I’m apt to call this the perfect snack food – if it weren’t for the high calorie and fat content. I consider this, along with the other products in Justin’s lineup,  to be the best available spreads judging from taste and nutrition content.

References

http://www.justins.com/products.php

http://www.thenutbox.com/Nuts-s/1.htm

http://greenlitebites.com/2010/11/11/sweetener-comparisons-honey-agave-molasses-sugar-maple-syrup/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nut_(fruit)

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=20

http://www.sugar-and-sweetener-guide.com/glycemic-index-for-sweeteners.html

http://diabeteshealth.com/read/2011/05/24/7158/maple-syrup-a-sweet-surprise/

http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/why-you-should-give-red-palm-oil-try

jus2

Talenti Caribbean Coconut Gelato – product review

coco

Introduction

Talenti is one of my favorite ice cream/gelato companies, with a wide range of tasty products sporting a sleek and modern design, which looks even better after their recent rebranding effort (done in March 2013).

I reviewed their coffee-flavored ice cream in a previous post here, and this time I thought I would talk about another one of their flavors – Caribbean Coconut. I love it’s name which combines catchy alliteration with an island paradise atmosphere.

Flavor

This gelato takes a simple, light ice cream base with a touch of vanilla and mixes in a generous portion of shredded coconut. I’m not exaggerating, there is really a lot of coconut here. When you run your spoon through it you can see the little piece of coconuts, or feel their rough texture if you let the ice cream melt slowly on your tongue.

I always say a good ice cream needs a balance of two or more contrasting things. Talent’s Caribbean Coconut just barely manages that – the creamy light base against the shredded coconut pieces, and the strong milk taste against the subdued coconut. The milk flavor, reminiscent of drinking chilled milk, blends together with the coconut flavor so well that you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. With such simple flavors I’m not sure how they did it, but the end product is a very satisfying experience for the senses.

The only weak point of this gelato, if you could even call it that, is that its lightness doesn’t make it very filling. After eating half of the pint, you’re hard pressed to not just finish it off.

Nutrition/Ingredients

There is 190 calories in a single 100 gram serving, about average in its class if not slightly on the low side. Sugar is a bit excessive for my liking at 24 grams.

There’s nothing nutritionally special about the product according to the label’s information: 3 grams protein, 0 grams fiber, and minimal vitamins and minerals. But there is surely other important nutrients present that are not captured there.

The strongest selling point of this ice cream (besides the great flavor) is it’s short, simple list of ingredients. There is only seven, with no artificial anything, and (impressively) no “natural flavor”. Add the potential nutritional benefits of coconut – listed 4th so there may be as much as 25% coconut – and you get a big thumbs up from me!

The complete list is milk, sugar, cream, coconut, dextrose, carob gum, and vanilla.

Milk listed as the first ingredient explains the strong milk flavor. There is really a lot of milk in this dessert.

Dextrose is another name for glucose, one of the basic sugars. It’s is less sweet than fructose, and the “sugar” listed second place on the label is simple table sugar, which contains roughly half glucose and half fructose. I’m not sure why Talenti would need to supplement with dextrose, possibly as a money-saving effort. I wonder what the effect would be of simply removing the dextrose and adjusting the table sugar to give the desired sweetness.

Someday I hope to many a similar ice cream myself, where I increase the amount of coconut while dialing down the sugar. If I’m lucky I can raise the nutritional value without sacrificing taste too much.

Price/Availability

This product is available at Publix, Whole Foods, Target, and other supermarkets. The price is around $5.00 – $6.00, with online pricing around $8.00.

Ratings:   Flavor:   8.5   Nutrition/Ingredients:    8.5 Price:    7.0 Overall: 8.0

Summary

This ice cream has a rare combination of natural ingredients and fresh, simple taste that makes it one of my favorites. It’s a must try for anyone who is a fan of coconuts, or looking to upgrade their vanilla to a product with simple, healthy ingredients.

References

http://talentigelato.com/our-products/

 

Do you believe in Nutrition?

justin2

In this blog I’ll occasionally discuss nutritional advantages or disadvantages of certain foods, but I’d like you to take those types of statements with a grain of salt. In fact, I think you should avoid taking any matters about nutrition too seriously, even if it comes from a doctor, scientist, or other professional.

Why?

The more I learn about nutrition, the more I feel that nobody really knows how good or bad things are for your body. That includes both long- and short-term effects, such as the chance of developing diseases or living longer as a result of a certain diet.

I’ll give a few of the reasons I feel this way. See if you agree.

To begin with, our understanding of the human body is still in its early stages and very limited. This is evident by the innumerable number of medical cases where the cause of the malady is unknown and a process of trial-and-error is used for treatment. This sometimes results in the patient being cured, but other times it ends in failure, or even worse, harm to the patient. This is true even for relatively simple physical systems such as the heart and lungs, but when it comes to the brain our knowledge is even more limited to the point we are just beginning to understand the secrets of the inner workings of this magnificent organ.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to disparage doctors or the medical community at large. On the contrary, I think every one of them is doing an amazing job, trying their best to make each and every patient’s life that much better. Even acknowledging that some doctors enter the field because of its potential for a high income, I’m impressed by anyone who can withstand the mental and physical challenges of this honorable job.

Another reason I don’t take nutritional information too seriously is that there is too many contradictory studies. Taking wine as an example, it has been shown to be linked to higher good cholesterol, help the heart, fight obesity, and help prevent stroke. At the same time it has also been connected to ailments such as migraine headaches, breast cancer, reflux, and chronic liver disease. Is wine good for the body or not? Even assuming every one of these studies is valid, it is unclear if my overall chances to live longer are better or worse as a result of drinking wine. Who is going to want to help their heart if it also increases their chances of liver disease?

Cholesterol is another matter where there is very differing opinions in the community on whether it causes heart disease or not. Blue food coloring, which was previously banned in many countries, is now legal in most of those same countries. Even for something as simple as everyday table salt, there are still debates raging on whether it really causes heart disease or not. And these few cases are just a tip of the iceberg of indecisive nutrition science.

It’s also very instructive to take a detailed look at some of the studies that claim a certain food is either bad or good for the body. Take an example I researched recently, the sweetener Sucralose, better known as Splenda. There are many articles online stating this product is bad because (among other things) a experiment on rabbit babies caused many more of them to die when compared to a control group that wasn’t given Splenda. On the surface this sounds horrible and can make the casual reader vow to never touch this product again.

But if you look deeper into the actual experiment, you find this news reports are very misleading. First, the rabbits were given roughly 450 times the recommended daily intake of Splenda. Clearly if a rabbit (or human) was given the recommended daily intake (450 times less) the effects would be much less, if present at all. Second, the experimenters noted that several of the deaths were caused by complications of the tubes used to feed the subjects. Furthermore, they found many of the negative reactions only occurred with only rabbits, not with mice, dogs, or rats.  I’m not trying to say I’m convinced that Splenda is safe for consumption after all, but rather that there is still much room for debate on both sides.

How about vitamin C? Something that is touted to have a major effect on preventing colds and is added to so many products must have a strong scientific foundation, right? Not quite – a recent meta analysis of 72 studies on vitamin C’s effect on the prevention and reduction in length of the common cold determined that “The failure of vitamin C supplementation to reduce the incidence of colds in the general population indicates that routine vitamin C supplementation is not justified”. The study did find some scenarios where vitamin C’s effects were more apparent, such as subjects who were exposed to short periods of extreme stress, but that alone doesn’t warrant recommending it for everyone. So much for all those products which proudly announce “100% of daily value of Vitamin C!”

So what is the reason for all this indecisiveness? Besides the fact that the human body is such a complex thing and that all bodies are not made alike, in modern capitalist societies nearly everyone has an agenda. Food and drink producers want to make money, so they fund researchers to help ‘prove’ their product, or some ingredient used within, is healthy. If the results of the research are positive, they publish them and improve their chances of convincing the public to buy the product. But if things don’t turn out in their favor, they simply don’t release the information outside of their company. This is called the “file drawer effect” and adds a major bias to research without anyone outright lying.

What about those research results that prove a certain food is unhealthy? Surely, those are published by more morally minded, fair sources.

I doubt it.

The companies producing health foods without certain ingredients benefit from studies which prove those substances are unhealthy. Health-oriented supermarkets, such as Whole Foods Market, also have a stake in the game. There is also a plethora of health magazines, books, and news outlets which make money off any interesting or dramatic research. Note I didn’t include “accurate” here as a condition. Of course, I can’t speak comprehensively for all researchers, but  I’m sure there is a great deal of bias on both sides of the nutritional debates.

Another example that had me fooled until recently was “evaporated cane juice”. I had seen this listed on several “health foods” in place of normal sugar and for quite some time I felt great that I was putting healthy, natural sugar in my body, as opposed to the evil, unprocessed stuff. But I happened to stumble on some articles that discussed how this ingredient was nearly the same thing, with negligible nutrients. In spite of a recommendation of FDA for companies to not using this misleading term, Chobani did so and was apparently sued by several people in California. Again, I’m not saying this is clear cut one way or the other – feel free to investigate yourself and see what evidence you can find.

The difficult of measuring long-term effects further complicates things. Even assuming a study is ideally designed and carried out, it would take at least 20 to 30 years to find out true long term effects.  Nobody wants to wait that long  to find of whether their favorite candy has detrimental long-term effects on the body. Also, for a study of that scale it must be very challenging to keep the number of variables small and the amount of data from getting out of hand. Do you think it would be easy to force two groups of people over several decades to eat the exact same diet with just one difference (i.e. use added salt or not)? That would be the only way to know for certain the effects of that change, notwithstanding various statistical methods used to extract the influence of a single variable when many are present.

To be fair, there are some things that have been proven conclusively to have major negative effects on the body – hard drugs, tabacco, and alcohol to name a few. But even in some of those cases (alcohol being one), there don’t appear to be any drastic effects if done in moderation. The bigger problem with all these substances is that they can be addictive, and the more frequent your intake is the higher your chances of damaging your body (or worse).

But most nutrition just isn’t that black or white – especially for small doses. So if you plan to enjoy an occasional pint of ice cream, don’t feel like you need to stress out over the ingredients. Its only for those that are addicted to sweets where it makes more sense to carefully analyze what your eating.

Did you learn anything? Feel a little different about nutrition? I hope if nothing else you have been motivated to call into question your fundamental stance on nutrition.

If you are convinced about the uncertainty of modern nutrition, the next question is what do do about it?  Some may decide to just give up caring at all, and eat whatever they want. Others could try and read every published study, analyzing them and making their own decisions about nutrition – but doing that exhaustively would take an insane amount of time, and require some heavy scientific and medical background knowledge. Finally, you can just pick sources to trust, Dr. Oz or whomever that may be, and make nutritional decisions based on that information.

Just like other life decisions where things aren’t black or white, you’ll probably make decisions partially on emotion, partially on logic, and partially on logic. You’ll believe in your own way.

So – after saying all this, why do I even focus on nutrition in this blog? Shouldn’t I just give it up completely due to lack of clear direction on nutritional guidelines?

As I mentioned in my first post, my background is such that I like to think through things logically like a scientist, and enjoy very much picking apart a dessert ingredient by ingredient, looking up studies and opinions on each. Regardless of what you happen to believe about nutrition, I feel that nutritional transparency is very important. If consumers are not aware of what is in the food they are eating they can’t even begin the debate on whether those are healthy or not. That’s why I still am vehemently against “natural flavors” and anything that is not well-defined. I may choose to munch on some particularly (supposedly) unhealthy sweets, but I want to do it with full knowledge of what I’m putting into my body.

The process of learning about nutrition, and most other topics for that matter, is never ending. I’m still discovering new things day by day, inputting new information and always ready to change my beliefs.

References

http://www.bonappetit.com/trends/article/is-wine-good-for-you-a-look-at-scientific-studies-through-the-millennia

http://www.foodandhealing.com/articles/article-cholesterol.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brilliant_Blue_FCF

http://www.salon.com/2013/05/27/is_salt_really_so_bad_for_your_health_partner/

http://books.google.com/books?id=Kd5BH5NNY_gC&pg=PA105&lpg=PA105&dq=rabbits+abortion+sucralose&source=bl&ots=_DPko7dvO-&sig=DFZ5JRKzgH1kEyBjT8EqHl9NrUs&hl=ja&sa=X&ei=l7VYUvCMD4Pw8QTHwYHACQ&ved=0CG4Q6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=rabbits%20abortion%20sucralose&f=false

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/779063

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/10/18/163098211/evaporated-cane-juice-sugar-in-disguise

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Publication_bias

Three Sisters Cocoa Snapz rice cereal – product review

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Introduction

I like to eat cereal every morning with my family before I go to work. It’s a good way to start the day especially when I can’t always predict when I’ll have time for lunch. To keep things from getting boring, we try to change up the cereal every few days to something different.

I had reviewed Three Sister’s Honey Puffs rice cereal in a previous blog entry (see first reference below), and I decided to try out another of their cereals. As you’ll soon find out, these two cereals have a great deal in common.

This cereal is pretty much a “healthy” version of Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies, meaning its supposed to be healthy though in some ways it isn’t much different.

Flavor

This cereal is made of puffed rice, made with a similar process as puffed wheat in Honey Puffs. This gives it a light fluffy texture, and the added advantage of higher surface area without too much volume. In other words, you are eating a lot of air, and as a result you take in less calories, sugar, and nutrients (per spoonful) that you would otherwise if it wasn’t puffed. You could call this a health food in that sense (much like puffed rice cakes), but I actually think of it more as a way for the producer to save money on materials and sell a large bag of cereal with a good percentage of that empty space.

It has a moderately sweet chocolate flavor, which is appetizing but not quite what I am looking for in a cereal. The sweetness catches your intention while you are eating but sometime later you realize you really haven’t eaten that much food (at least if you eat a small bowl like I do) and are likely to get hungry earlier than if you ate a more wholesome breakfast.

Both the flavor and texture is nearly identical to Cocoa Krispies.

Nutrition / Ingredients

In a single 29 gram (3/4 cup) serving, there are 120 calories which is standard for this type of product. Sugar is 13 grams, a bit on the sweet side.

There isn’t much nutrition in this product, with no fiber, practically no protein (1 gram per serving), and less than 10% of most common vitamins and minerals. Sodium is nothing special at 150 mg, which is 6% of daily intake.

Because of the lack of substance and nutrition, I feel this is really not the best way to get your day started, unless of course you supplement it with other foods higher in nutrition.

The ingredients are so-so, with caramel color, and natural flavor as negative marks in my book. The full list is as follows:

Rice, Sugar, Coconut oil, Cocoa (process with alkali), Contains 2% less of: salt, caramel color, natural flavor, reduced iron, zinc (zinc oxide)

When comparing this to Cocoa Krispies, as you might expect both the ingredients and nutritional information is very similar. Calorie count is virtually the same (120 calories for one 31 gram serving) and sugars is actually a tad less in the “less healthy” version, at 12 grams. The other funny thing is that Cocoa Krispies has much more vitamins and minerals (compare 25% DV of vitamin A and C to 0% in Cocoa Snaps).

I remember writing something similar for the Sugar Puffs review – but I’ll repeat it here. If a cereal really wants to be billed as “healthy”, it should reduce sugar and add some more nutrients. This cereal actually has less nutrients and more sugar! (I’d like to point on here that some believe that vitamins and minerals added artificially are not easily absorbed by the body and have little to no value)

There are a few areas where Cocoa Snapz is healthier than its predecessor. Natural flavor and caramel color is used instead of malt flavor, artificial flavor, and BHT (a preservative). The last of those has particularly scary, with some research pointing to cancer-inducing effects in animal experiments. I’m not convinced it is truly harmful but if a cereal can stay fresh enough without BHT that is clearly a better way go.

Price and Availability

Available exclusively from Whole Foods. I purchased mine for $3.99. There are 396 grams in the package.

Ratings

Flavor: 7.0

Nutrition/Ingredients: 6.0

Price: 7.0

Overall: 6.66

Summary

A cereal that closely copies Cocoa Krispies flavor while making it more healthy in some areas (no preservatives) and potentially worse in others (less nutrients, slightly more sugar). If you are a fan of Krispies I recommend trying this, otherwise I would search for a heartier cereal with more nutrition.

References

https://sweetsreporter.com/2013/10/02/three-sisters-honey-puffs-product-review/

http://threesisterscereal.com/product/cocoa-snapz/

http://www.ricekrispies.com/products/cocoa-krispies-cereal

http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food-safety/article/two-preservatives-avoid

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Ingredient Math – estimating worst (or best) case for ingredient proportions

Have you ever wondered how much of a certain ingredient is really present in a sweet, or any food product?

You probably know that ingredients are listed on food labels in order or prevalence, with the most predominant ingredient first. You may have even known this was determined by weight. But in this article I will discuss a method to get an estimate for the maximum of each ingredient’s percentage of total weight – just by using the ordered ingredient list.

To derive this formula, lets start with a very simple example, a product with just “coffee and sugar”. Since coffee is listed first we know it has higher or equal amount of total weight when compared to sugar.

Is there anything we can do to determine about how much the first ingredient, coffee, is really in the product? The answer is no because coffee could be almost 100% to almost 0% of the total weight, with sugar filling in the remaining space. (Actually, there is a trick to determine the amount here since the second ingredient is sugar, which I’ll discuss later in this article).

But what about the sugar?

Well, if you think about it, there can’t be more than 50% sugar, by weight, since any more of that would mean there was more sugar than coffee, which we know is not the case.

So we’ve learned something important – that there is no more than 50% sugar in the product. This would apply to another second ingredient when there are two total ingredients.

What if there were three or more total ingredients? We would get the same result, because the other ingredients could be in trace amounts (practically 0%), so the “50% maximum for the second ingredient” rule would still apply.

What about the maximum amount of the third ingredient? Using the same logic you will see it cannot be above 33.3%, since any more of that would mean it is in greater proportion than the first and second ingredients. And for the forth ingredient you get a maximum, by weight, of 25%.

Turning this into a simple formula we get the following:

Maximum percentage of the Nth ingredient = (100 / N)

So for the 5th ingredient, you would get (100 / 5) = 20% maximum weight of that ingredient.

If you use formula along with the serving size you can determine the maximum weight of any of the ingredients per serving. Pretty handy if you want to minimize your intake of certain things.

If you want to take this to the next step, you can infer more information when one more more ingredients are a type of sugar. For example, if a product contains “coffee, sugar” and has 3 grams of sugar per 15 gram serving, then you know right away there is 20% sugar and 80% coffee in this product. Keep in mind that the grams of sugar listed includes any type of sugar, so if you have multiple ingredients which contain some type of sugar (even fruits) then the calculation gets a little trickier.

Besides knowing there is a certain percentage of sugar, you can use that to deduce information about other ingredients.

For example, if the imaginary product I just described had a third ingredient, say “coffee, sugar, vanilla”, then you would know that there is 20% or less vanilla because sugar is 20% or less. This assumes that there is no sugar in the vanilla, otherwise it would be harder to make any definitive conclusions.

Similarly, if you know how much protein is in each ingredient, you can figure out even more using the supplied protein in grams.

You can also leverage information about other ingredients to deduce additional information about the other ingredients. For example if a product had “milk, sugar, guar gum, vanilla”, you would know that the proportion of vanilla is much less than 25% since guar gum is typically used in relatively small doses. (I’ve tried overusing guar gum in homemade ice cream – its not pretty!)

I love thinking about food and ingredients from a methodical, logical point of view since it allows me to apply science to my everyday life.

References

http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064880.htm

Three Twins Organic Ice Cream, Milk Coffee (Free Trade!)

3twins

Intro

I tried this for the first time several months ago while on a coffee ice cream kick. It’s my favorite of the healthy coffee ice creams, so I thought I would review it. I’ll report on my favorite less-healthy coffee ice cream later.

Flavor

The flavor is much what you would expect from the product name – sweetened milk and coffee. There isn’t any unexpected flavors or toppings mixed in. Compared to other coffee ice creams I’ve had, everything is a little toned down, and the dominant flavor and texture is that of milk, rather than coffee. It brings back memories of when I used to drink iced milk as a boy and the milk would crystallize around the cubes.

This cream tastes significantly better when eaten in a half-melted state, bringing out extra flavor and texture. Carving out chunks of frozen cream with a spoon and popping in your mouth to chew just doesn’t give quite the same satisfaction as running your tongue across cold coffee-infused milk.

Nutrition / Ingredients

Both the sugar and calorie count is a less than similar ice creams in the same class, with 200 calories and 17 grams sugar in a 85 gram serving. There’s 4 servings per container.

All seven ingredients are organic, with three of them Fair Trade. In fact, according to a March 2013 press release by the company, this is the first Fair Trade organic ice cream, and I haven’t found any evidence to the contrary. For those unfamiliar with Free Trade, I’ll briefly quote Wikipedia’s entry on this (see references section at bottom for link):

“Fair trade is an organized social movement that aims to help producers in developing countries to make better trading conditions and promote sustainability.”

As always, the ingredients speak for themselves, listed here in the order of highest concentration first: whole milk, cream, evaporated cane juice, nonfat milk, egg yolks, coffee, and vanilla extract. As you can see, three of the top four ingredients are diary related, which explains the dominant milk taste.

Price and Availability

This product is available at Whole Foods Market for $4.69, an excellent price considering the delicious taste and natural ingredients. Its also available at The Fresh Market and a few other places in South Florida.

Ratings

Flavor:7.0

Nutrition/Ingredients:8.0

Price:8.5

Total: 7.8

Summary

Nothing revolutionary here, simply a handful of natural ingredients put together with a great milk coffee taste and mild sweetness. Definitely recommended for coffee-flavored ice cream lovers.

References

I was not able to find the nutritional and ingredient information listed online, but have sent an email to the company requesting this. Will update back when I get more information.

http://www.threetwinsicecream.com/blog/2013/03/three-twins-ice-cream-launches-first-horsemeat-free-ice-cream-at-expo-west-2013-at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_trade