A Calorie Isn't Just a Calorie

The amount of calories (kcal) found in a food is determined as follows:

  • Carbohydrate = 4 kcal/gram
  • Protein = 4 kcal/gram
  • Fat = 9 kcal/gram
  • Alcohol = 7 kcal/gram

By definition calories are all the same in respect to the amount of energy they provide. These are the hard facts and no one has yet to say otherwise. I'm sure we've all heard that to lose or gain a pound we would need to shed or take in 3,500 kcal's. If all calories are created equal then this idea makes perfect sense. Which is why in practice, monitoring the amount you consume will help you maintain a healthy weight. Yet the issue is more complex and this might explain why certain people have a hard time maintaining a healthy weight despite minimizing their caloric intake. 

So where do things begin to get fuzzy?   

When you consider the health and consumption trends in this country in the last 30+ years and just take a closer look at the biochemical processes different food groups go through, it becomes evident that there is more to a calorie than being just a calorie. I am going to focus on the biochemical processes to explain how calories differ.

Recently, I went to "mini-medical school" (courtesy of YouTube), a lecture given by Dr. Robert Lustig on the horror of fructose. It was a lengthy lecture about an hour and a half long, but it opened my eyes to a new way of looking at food. I highly recommend that you take a look for yourself by clicking on this link: Sugar: The Bitter Truth

Dr. Lustig specializes in neuroendocrinology, is a clinical pediatrics professor at the University of California in San Francisco, and is the director of the WATCH (Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health) Program. With such credentials and experience, I am convinced that it is safe to listen. 

"When God made the poison, it was packaged with the antidote" - Dr. Lustig
He explained that calories, depending on their source, get metabolized differently. Glucose is something that the body needs for energy and every tissue and organ can use glucose. In fact, those with a condition that causes tremendous amounts of glucose to be stored in the liver do not develop liver failure because the body is built to handle and welcome glucose. Fructose doesn't cause the body much harm if eaten with fiber because the fiber limits the absorption of fructose. Fruit is an example of fructose + fiber. Without fiber, however,  fructose is bad news. Unlike glucose, long-term consistent fructose intake contributes to the Metabolic Syndrome*. Also, fructose is metabolized differently. Only the liver can metabolize fructose. Dr. Lustig illustrates this point by showing how if one were to consume the same amount of calories of glucose and fructose, only a small portion of the glucose will be processed by the liver; meanwhile, all of the fructose would end up being processed by the liver. The liver does not process the fructose into energy, instead it stimulates fat making

Therefore, all calories are not created equal. A very small amount of glucose converts to fat and roughly 30% of fructose turns to fat. This is precisely why we need to not only avoid high-fructose corn syrup but also limit if not eradicate the consumption of sugar. The best way to get our sugar is from natural sources that also have the fiber component. That being the case, juice, for example, is a poor beverage selection.

*Metabolic syndrome: a collection of risk factors that when occur together heighten the chances of type 2 diabetes, obesity, lipid problems, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

How to minimize or eliminate sugar from the diet:

Make it a habit to read food labels
Drink unsweetened beverages
Avoid processed foods


What Would the Monkey Do?

I know you're tempted to laugh and think that I must have nothing to write about if I'm about to instruct you on how to best peel your banana. After all, you've been peeling bananas for as long as you can remember. Several of you might be doing it the better way, but I'd like to give you options and show you that there are other ways of peeling your banana besides the one you have been using.
Since most people don't take the time to wash their banana prior to eating, nor do they wash their hands or scrub under their nails this is an issue of germs. The point is to not touch the fruit beneath the peel. Every time I see someone pierce the peel with their nails to then rip open one of the ends, I can't help but cringe.

Here are 2 techniques to avoid getting gunk under your nail and touching the fruit with your finger:

1. Hold the body of the banana with one hand and the handle with the other (right end of the picture above) and just snap it open. If the handle doesn't snap back easily, a possibility if the banana isn't ripe enough, then don't continue struggling with this method or you'll run the risk of squishing the top. Just move on to technique #2.

2. THE MONKEY METHOD. This is how monkeys peel bananas. If you're going to take advice from anyone about bananas then a monkey should naturally be your first choice. Just hold the banana with the handle pointing down towards the floor and just pinch the end that is pointing up (left end of the picture above) with your thumb and pointer finger. This will cause the end to split and you just go ahead and peel!

Now go practice and eat a banana! 


Pesto & Granola

Pesto Granola? Perhaps not together but these two recipes deserve a mention.

Meet Michee Cheng. She is a Master's student in Nutrition with a serious passion for food. We have known each other since college, where I would constantly be tempted by all of her yummy treats. Of course, on days when she didn't happen to bring anything to share I would nag her to bring something for me the next day. I just couldn't resist! The girl is seriously good when it comes to cooking and baking which is why I'm thrilled to share two of her recipes.


2 big bunches of basil (thai or italian)

1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until the pesto is thick and smooth. 

*It's a great addition to sandwiches, pasta salad, and potatoes. 


Pictured with yogurt and milk tea

3 cups oatmeal (old fashioned)
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup flaxseed (ground)
1/4 cup wheatgerm 
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds

Combine the oil and honey together first then add the rest of the ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.
Pre heat oven to 250 degrees and prepare two baking sheets covered with aluminum, this will make it easier to clean and gather the granola. 
Spread the granola mixture onto the two baking sheets and put it inside the oven for 40 minutes. At 20 minutes mix the granola and then continue baking until done or brown. When done, let it cool for a few minutes.  

voilĂ !

Is Buying Organic Produce Worth the Extra Cost?


With the media constantly sending us mixed messages and the economy forcing us to be more mindful about our spending, why bother with organic produce? It appears to look just like the cheaper variety and tends to spoil quicker. So why go that route?
Organic: any food that is produced without the use of conventional methods like chemical fertilizers or pesticides. 
Some studies suggest that organic foods offer more nutrients than traditional foods. However, these findings are not conclusive. It is clear that exposure to pesticides can be toxic. The National Institutes of Health [NIH] sponsored three studies on children born to mothers who have been subjected to various pesticides. The results of these studies found that these children are more susceptible to setbacks in their cognitive development, reasoning ability, and memory. Although, even nonorganic foods stay within the government safety guidelines for pesticides.

At the end of the day, it's best to err on the side of caution. The way to go about doing this is to recognize which fruits and vegetables are the "dirtiest" and which are the "cleanest". The non-profit Environmental Working Group [EWG] found the following foods to have the greatest amount of pesticides:


  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Imported grapes
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes
If you decide to go organic, these are the fruits and vegetables that should be first in line. If going organic isn't a possibility it doesn't mean that these foods should be avoided. Instead, purchase domestically grown grapes, use a vegetable brush when washing potatoes, and take the time to wash your fruits and veggies thoroughly.

Foods that have the least amount of pesticides:
  • Papaya
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Bananas
  • Kiwi
  • Frozen sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Mango
  • Pineapples
  • Frozen sweet corn
  • Avocado
  • Onions (contain NO pesticides)

Whether or not you choose to buy organic produce, you're still better off buying it EVEN if it isn't organic. The pros of eating nonorganic fruits and vegetables outweigh the cons. Just make sure to take the time to wash them well.


Keeping Fit When Traveling

Whenever I travel, I always try to take part in some form of physical activity. It's an amazing way to try something new and to take in your surroundings. 

Skiing in the French Alps

I must admit that I am far from being a great skier. There are green, blue, red, and black slopes. I'm most comfortable skiing on the blue and green slopes since they are the easiest. Red is intermediate and black is for those who are advanced. Of course, my cousin tricked me into going down red and that turned into quite the spectacle. I ended up on my tush with my skis and poles scattered in every direction! Nonetheless, I had a phenomenal time and would go again in a heartbeat. By the end of the trip, my entire body was firmer and stronger. To maintain my balance I was forced to use my core and thighs or else I'd do way more falling than skiing. 

First time on the board...

Paddle boarding is something that I've been wanting to try for the longest time and finally got around to doing it this past winter. Just like with skiing, it was important that I used my core and thighs to maintain balance. I didn't fall once but paid the price in soreness the next day, so worth it! 

Paddle boarding in St. Maarten

Skiing and paddle boarding are just two examples of things that one can do to stay active when traveling. Sight-seeing by foot in Paris, riding a banana boat in the Caribbean (yes, it's a workout!), hiking in Canada, etc. The point is to do something different, explore your environment, get moving, and have fun! 

HBO's Weight of the Nation

Weight of the Nation is a four-part documentary series that opens our eyes to the obesity epidemic this country is facing. What I love about this project is that it points out why American's are in the state they are in and that although it is difficult to turn things around it IS possible. Not only is it possible but it is vital to the future of this country. 

Today is Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have died fighting for this country. Who will be fighting for us in the future? This is a serious question that this series touches upon because at this rate, many are unable to serve. A consequence of a poor diet and lack of exercise. 

Part 1: Consequences

Fortunately, we can make a turnaround and many already have. 

Part 2: Choices

One group that we need to pay particular attention to are the children. They "may be the first generation of American children who will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents". 

Part 3: Children in Crisis


Obesity is a complex issue. There are many factors contributing to the problem. The solution lies in every individual and organization taking steps in the right direction. This is how significant changes can be made throughout the country. 

Part 4: Challenges