This Week’s Nutrition News Feed

by in Food News, May 1, 2014

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In this week’s news: Peas get ready for their 15 minutes of fame; statins aren’t a get-out-jail-free card; and food shaming is counter-productive (enjoy your cookie, already!).

On the “Pulse” of the Food World
Ever wonder how they cram so much protein into a Larabar? Sure, the nuts help, but the real power player turns out to be a yellow pea powder that’s thrown into the mix, barely impacting flavor. Along with beans, chickpeas, and lentils, yellow peas fall into a subset of the legume family known as pulses. Although their cultural impact might not yet be on par with the “puffing gun,” a 1930s cereal-piece inflator that’s responsible for the Cheerios we know and love today, pulses are getting ground up and used in everything from soup to pasta and pound cake. The reason? Pulses are exceptionally high in protein (along with fiber, B vitamins, iron, and zinc) —  and with more people trying to reduce their meat consumption, pulses seem to be the food of the hour. Cementing the trend: The United Nations announced it will observe the “International Year of the Pulse” in 2016.

Statins: A Prescription for False Confidence
We’ve all heard that statins can help lower cholesterol. We’ve all also heard that high cholesterol is an underlying cause of heart disease. Now, UCLA researchers have discovered an interesting byproduct of those two pieces of information. While people who used statins between 2009 and 2010 consumed more calories than did statin-users a decade earlier, no such increase in calorie and fat intake was measured among non-statin users. When the earlier set of measurements (1999 to 2000) were taken, statin users were consuming fewer calories and fat than the rest of the population. Researchers surmise that over time we’ve developed a false confidence in what statins can do. The bottom line: If you’re subsisting on cheeseburgers, it will affect your cholesterol. If you’re doing it on statins, it will undermine their effectiveness.

Going Guilt-Free Just Might Be the Next Diet Trend
It’s a common cycle: Eat a cookie. Feel bad about eating a cookie. Avoid cookies entirely and therefore obsess over the cookies constantly. Oops — eat five more cookies. Michelle May, a doctor and mindful eating specialist, calls it the eat-repent-repeat cycle, and she says it’s one of the strongest triggers for overeating there is. If you think about willpower as a muscle — something that starts out strong but gets more tired the longer it’s in use — it stands to reason that overcoming the shame component of unhealthy eating is essential. This means letting yourself eat things you like that aren’t necessarily nutrition all-stars on occasion, and curbing interactions with people who make you feel guilty about food choices.

Food Additives: How Do They Add Up?
Here’s a word for the nutrition spelling bee: Azodicarbonamide. Common in bread, it’s used to make flour whiter, among other things. It’s also found in yoga mats, a bit of information that caused enough public outcry to get Subway to remove the chemical from all of its bread products. Yet the byproduct that people worry is harmful — ethyl carbamate — has actually been shown to be safe in the amounts used in bread. Moreover, it’s pretty pervasive naturally. You can apparently get a whole loaf’s worth in one glass of wine. Increasingly, experts are pointing to episodes like this as examples of why it pays to have a more nuanced conversation about food additives, each of which has a varying level of safety. For example, unlike azodicarbonamide, food dyes are being increasingly scrutinized for their effect on child behavior. The nutritionists’ point? While in a perfect world we’d eat minimally-processed foods all the time, additives are so common we also need to know which to really watch out for.

Sara Reistad-Long writes about science, wellness and lifestyle. She is the co-author of The Big New York Sandwich Book and can be followed on Twitter: @sarareistadlong

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