Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Grocery store lessons: Big Slice apples

Oh hai. Did you miss me? Well, I missed you! Sorry for the hiatus. We were moving and I was starting a new job (eeee!!!) and we had no internets. But, now it’s the weekend (no, sorry, it’s Monday, sit back down) as I write this and it’s a beautiful day for blogging on the balcony with a Beau’s. I’d like to thank my friend Hannah for the blogspiration, making it easy for me to jump right back into it.

Have you seen this Big Slice product? I hadn’t, but Hannah wanted me to confirm her suspicions that it was essentially health washing (and certainly price jacking) of apple pie filling.

Let’s do a little comparison shall we?

Here’s the nutrition info for the Big Slice cinnamon french toast flavour:

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And here’s the nutrition info for a standard serving of apple pie filling:

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Naturally one would have to be by weight and the other by volume but let’s assume they’re similar serving sizes. They both clock in at 80 calories, contain pretty much the same amounts of carbs (20 g in the pie filling versus 21 in the “snack”) which consist of mostly sugar (16 g in the pie filling and 17 g in the “snack” – that’s roughly four teaspoons of sugar in that little pouch!). They also both contain essentially no other nutrients although the “snack” does contain a whole whack of vitamin C (because it’s used as a preservative). The ingredients are strikingly similar as well; don’t be fooled by the “snack” listing “apple and/or white grape juice concentrate” that’s just sugar by another name.

So, now that we know that these apple “slices” are basically over-packaged, over-priced apple pie filling, just for fun, let’s look at how they compare to an actual apple. One medium apple is approximately 180 grams (more than twice as much as the apple “snack”) but only contains about 95 calories. It does contain more sugar than the apple “snack” (about 1/2 teaspoon more) but none of that is added sugar and for more than twice the serving size it’s a much better choice. It also has a bit more than twice the fibre of the apple “snack” making it a good source of fibre rather than a middling one. It’s convenient, coming with it’s own protective packaging (aka skin) and affordable (generally about 80 cents at the store), and environmentally friendly (the core is biodegradable). All told, a much better choice than the Big Slice apple snacks.

Don’t buy the hype. Big Slice apples are not a “healthy snack”. If you want to send your child to school with a processed apple coated in sickly sweet sauce then consider portioning out a can of apple pie filling into Tupperware containers. You might not be saving your child from cavities and poor eating habits but at least you’d be doing your bank account and the environment a favour.


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Are apples the key to curing obesity?

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A few weeks ago the media was reporting that apples may provide the cure for obesity. I was a little more sceptical. I mean, how many overweight and obese people do you know who eat apples? Probably lots. If apples were capable of curing obesity everyone would be thin.

My first concern was that this research was conducted on mice. That means that it may (likely) is not translatable to humans. A couple of things to consider: these mice were fattened up by being fed a very specific high-fat diet. Obesity is a complex condition with myriad factors. Unless the reason for people being overweight is due to consuming a similar diet to these lab mice, it’s quite likely that they will not respond to this weight loss treatment in the same manner as the mice. I also wondered how much apple the mice were fed. How much apple would humans need to consume to see similar results? Here’s where it gets crazy: the mice did not eat the apples. Yep, that’s right. We have no idea how much apple would be beneficial to humans as we don’t know how much would be beneficial to mice. Rather than feeding the apples to the mice, the researchers made a slurry of apple compounds and mouse faeces. They found increased levels of certain bacteria that are commonly found in the faeces of slim mice in the cultured faeces of obese mice. Their results were not statistically significant. They showed a trend toward increased levels of some bacteria and butyric acid, and decreased levels of other bacteria in the faeces-apple slurries of obese mice but none of the changes (save the decreased bacteria) were large enough to be statistically significant.

It’s impossible to say whether or not eating apples (how many, how frequently) would have similar effects on the fecal microbiomes of mice or humans. We also don’t know if these microbial changes do occur if they would result in weight loss. Without knowing this, it’s a ridiculously huge leap to suggest that consuming apples could be a treatment for obesity. This didn’t stop the authors from concluding that:

These results suggest that dietary fibre and phenolic compounds remaining in apples after IVD might help to prevent metabolic disorders driven by an altered microbiota in obesity, and potentially protect from an obesity-disturbed balance of microbiota.

It also didn’t stop the media from publishing articles with headlines like: “An apple a day could keep obesity away: Granny Smiths promote friendly bacteria helping us feel fuller for longer” and “Granny Smith apples can help prevent the damage of obesity“.

I do think that research into our microbiomes is going to provide insight into many illnesses and conditions. However, our individuals microbiomes are extremely variable. Suggesting that this research using mice will translate to obesity treatments for humans. It’s also extremely unlikely that consuming one healthy food will negate the effects of an overall unhealthy diet. That being said, apples are nutritious and it’s certainly not going to hurt you to have an apple a day.


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Hypoallergenic apples

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Continuing on with the apple-theme from yesterday; researchers have been working on growing hypoallergenic apples. One group has been working on genetically modifying apple trees so that they produce apples containing fewer allergens. Another team has been working on breeding apple trees so that they produce similarly hypoallergenic apples.

Honestly, I think this is kind of ridiculous. Putting aside the potential issues stemming from genetic modification, I still have quibbles with the efforts ti develop hypoallergenic apples. For one thing, apples are not a commonly allergenic food. For another, I think this is taking the wrong approach to the problem. I think research would be better put into determining why people develop allergies and figuring out how to prevent or cure the allergy itself. It’s similar to treating symptoms rather than the root cause of an illness. The problem is not the apple.


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Apples

Happy Thanksgiving!

In lieu of writing about how calorific the traditional Thanksgiving dinner is, I’m sure you’re well aware, and making you feel guilty about enjoying delicious food with your families (I know that I will be tomorrow) I’m going to continue with my regular weekend format.

This time of year many varieties of local apples are available at farmers’ markets, farms, and roadside stands. They may not be as exotic as many of the fruits available in your local grocery store but they’re just as nutritious and probably a whole lot cheaper too.

One medium apple (138 grams) is about 72 calories and provides you with 2.6 g of fibre, 6.4 mg of vitamin C, 148 mg of potassium, and 8 mg of calcium.

Whole apples are a great portable snack. Try dipping slices in natural peanut butter or almond butter. They’re also delicious in baked goods. Because I’m lazy, and I like to retain the fibre and other nutrients in and near the skin, I generally don’t peel my apples for recipes.