This Week's Nutrition News Feed
In this week's news: The organic set has a told-you-so moment; the calories-in-calories-out theory loses cachet; and the veggie burger seizes the gourmet spotlight.
Here's a reason to feel good about that massively bank-breaking expensive pint of organic fruit you just bought: A new comprehensive review of previous studies found that organic produce and grains had slightly higher levels of antioxidants (17 percent more) and lower levels of pesticides than their conventionally-farmed counterparts. Previous reviews had played down the differences (pesticide levels in conventional produce, for example, are often still well below what’s considered harmful), and hadn't used quite as broad a sample base (one possible reason for the difference).
With experts like Harvard's Dr. David Ludwig in the headlines, the "calories in, calories out" trend could be going the way of acid wash, aerobics, and other dubious relics of the 1980s. Here's how the new thinking goes: Since fat has roughly twice the number of calories ounce-per-ounce as carbs, were it really true that burning more calories than you eat would keep you skinny, low-fat diets should outperform others. Yet Mediterranean, Paleo, and other of-the-moment low-carb diets regularly outperform the low-fat ones. According to Ludwig, this is likely because while fat takes time to digest, refined carbs hit our bloodstream right away. That causes our insulin levels to spike, a signal to the body that food needs to be stored as fat. (An additional complication is that because these foods are processed so quickly, it's easy to plow through, say, a bag of pretzels before our satiety signals have time to react.) Next up in this field? Researchers are looking at how these laws of thermodynamics affect the way we process calories from different macronutrient sources (comparing two different grains, for instance).
Veggie burgers did not, as one might suspect, spring to life in, say, a 1970s Annie Hall-style LA minute. In actuality, they date back to 1937, when a Tennesee-based soy manufacturer released the aptly named "Soyburger." (It had its first competitor -- the "Gluten Burger" -- just a year later. Yum.) They've come a long way since then. Now, veggie burgers aren’t simply endured. They’re often coveted. This week, for example, the New York food world has been buzzing about one particular version from Brooks Headley, the 42-year-old pastry chef at New York's Del Posto restaurant (celebrity chef David Chang recently Instagrammed Headley’s handiwork to the tune of 1,800 likes). The secret? Overcooking some ingredients and undercooking others such that in combination they give you that same chewy sensation you get from meat gristle (which, let's face it, is one of the reasons we flock to fast food joints in the first place). The proof's in the vegetarian pudding: Headley's been getting raves from the meat cooks in his restaurant and the city seems to be getting ready to line up for his first burger pop-up restaurant, happening this weekend.