• Monika

10 things you never knew about these common foods

1. Lemons

Everybody knows that lemons are a rich source of Vitamin C. Additionally, some of you may know that they are also a great source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and pectin fiber. However, not a lot of you may know that drinking warm water with lemon juice first thing in the morning can help you cleanse your liver, flush out toxins, aid in digestion and encourage production of bile (i.e. your digestion juices). Moreover, lemons have powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities preventing growth and multiplication of bacteria, helping reduce aches and pains (especially related to arthritis) and production of mucus.

2. Honey

Raw honey has anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It's been a natural remedy for centuries, helping treat wounds, allergies and common colds. It's great for your body and great for your skin. All of those properties, though, are gone once honey is heated, i.e. pasteurized. Unless your honey says "RAW" on the label, it has been pasteurized and filtered before bottling, leaving nothing but sugar out of it's abundant benefits.

You may have already spent extra money buying raw honey, yet you may be still killing it's enzymes and healthy qualities by adding it to your hot tea or coffee, cakes, muffins and other hot dishes. If you want to get your money's worth you need to be aware of the temperatures you're exposing it to.

3. Milk chocolate and dark chocolate

Let's get things straight from the get go. Milk chocolate is not chocolate. It's candy. Don't believe me? Read any label of milk chocolate bar. First ingredient on the list: sugar. No exceptions.

When you make a sauce and the major ingredient in your recipe is tomato, but second or third is basil, you don't go around calling it basil sauce, do you?

There is a lot more sugar and milk in your bar than there is chocolate, so next time you reach for one, don't lie to yourself calling it chocolate, call it what it is: a sugar bar. Still not convinced? By FDA regulations, a product having as little as 10% true cacao content can already be labeled as milk chocolate. Standard Hershey's milk chocolate bar has only 11% cacao. Guess what's the other 89%.

As I went to research further on the matter, FDA does not actually have a definition of what dark chocolate is or what it should consist of percentage wise. I do remember however, that when I went to tour Theo's chocolate factory (in Seattle) they said that most chocolates labeled as dark chocolate (Hershey's, Dove, etc.) have only about 30% cacao content (that's cacao fat and cacao solids). The rest of the chocolate consists primarily of sugar with other dairy and fat ingredients.

The good news is that chocolate is good for you. The bad news is that only 70%+ cacao content chocolate is good for you. All those articles about benefits of eating chocolate (fighting free radicals, lowering cholesterol, fighting depression) do not refer to your favorite Kit Kat or Snicker's bar, or even your dark chocolate Dove pieces.

4. Bread

Traditionally, all you ever needed to make bread was flour and water. That's it. I've made ('grown') my own sourdough starter (that creates all natural and potent yeast) from flour and water mix and baked delicious home made bread using it. No added sugar, oil, yeast.

Check this list out from Pepperidge Farm Sourdough Bread label: Unbromated Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, Yeast, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Natural Sourdough Flavor, Wheat Gluten, Contains 2 Percent or Less of: Soybean Oil, Wheat Flour, Salt, Rye Flour, Potato Flour, Monoglycerides, Lactic Acid, Calcium Propionate (to Retard Spoilage), Enzymes, Butter (Adds a Trivial Amount of Cholesterol), and Nonfat Milk (Adds a Trivial Amount of Cholesterol).

For real?!

As a rule, I don't buy any bread product that has more than 5 ingredients on the list. This makes buying or, more like, not buying a lot easier. My favorite Ezekiel bread has exactly five ingredients: sprouted flours (different kinds), water, yeast, gluten and salt. Make your own if you can, it's worth it.

5. Sulfites

Let's establish some facts before you turn down a bottle of wine because it says 'contains sulfites'. FDA estimates that 1 out of 100 people is sulfite-sensitive. Sulfites naturally occur in certain foods and drinks as a result of fermentation. Sulfites have been used as a food preservative for hundreds of years (approved in the US since the 1800's). Sulfites are inorganic salts that have antioxidant and preservative properties, preventing browning of foods, acting as stabilizers and conditioners, controlling growth of micro-organisms and most importantly preventing your wine from turning into vinegar. Organic, sulfite free wines still contain naturally occurring sulfites which can still trigger sensitivity (if you really have one). Before you blame sulfites from wine for causing you a headache, consider this: dried fruit, most processed foods, jam, French fries, deli meats, canned soup all have a lot more sulfites than your glass of Merlot or Chardonnay.

6. Brown sugar vs white sugar

Sorry to break it to you, and I'm as disappointed as you are, but brown sugar is not healthier than white sugar. Brown sugar is produced by the addition of molasses to refined white sugar. That's it. Nutritionally they both offer nothing.

7. Gelato vs regular ice cream

I've always wondered what the difference is between ice cream and gelato, beside gelato being more expensive.

Simply put, gelato has less fat than regular ice cream (3-8% vs. 10-18% milk fat) and it contains a lot less air thanks to being churned at a slower speed. Some claim gelato has more flavor than ice cream. Others swear by creaminess and fluffiness of the latter (high end brands have even more fat). In the end of the day, nutritionally, gelato is a better option because of having less fat and sugar, but like with anything else, moderation is key.

8. Cacao vs. cocoa

Initially you may think that they are both the same and somebody just made a spelling mistake, but besides the price tag, there is quite a big difference between cacao and cocoa.

Since the Mayan and Aztec times, raw cacao has been used for variety of reasons such as drinking, spicing up foods, making medicine and was even traded as currency.

Raw cacao powder is made by removing fat (cacao butter) by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans. This process keeps the living enzymes, antioxidants and preserves most of its nutrients such as magnesium, chromium, calcium, iron among many others. Cocoa powder is obtained by doing the exact opposite, i.e. roasting at high temperatures which destroys most of its goodness. Additionally, cocoa powders and cocoa derived products have added sugar, preservatives, food colorings and artificial flavorings to improve taste and prolong shelf life. Next time you reach for Nesquik or hot coco, check out the label and correct me if I'm wrong.

Even though, there is no scientific research on what happens when you add raw cacao to your baking recipes and expose it to high temperatures, I still only use raw cacao only in everything I make, hot or cold. It's as close to the real thing as I can get.

9. Sugar

Have you ever wondered why sugar is added to virtually everything these days? Sugar, just like salt, is a great preservative. High sugar/salt content produces an environment with high osmotic pressure where water moves away from bacterial cells leaving them dehydrated and unable to live and reproduce. Have you ever noticed that when you salt your onions before you sauté them, they will release a lot of water? Or when you put sugar on top of your strawberries you find a bowl full of juice the next day? That's water being pulled away from food (thanks so salt or sugar), so it is not available for other biochemical processes.

10. Nuts

I've fallen a victim of this huge misconception that we can get a significant amount of protein in our diet from nuts. Well, what I know for sure now, is that nuts are a significant source of one thing - fat.

They are rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats, omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, and that's what you should consume them for.

To prove my point, let's look at breakdown of calories according to macronutrient content (% of fat, carbs, protein) of nuts vs other foods.

  • Almonds - 15% carbs, 13% protein, 72% fat

  • Walnuts - 8.5% carbs, 8% protein, 83.5% fat

  • Whole wheat flour - 81% carbs, 14.5% protein, 4.5% fat

  • Oats - 70% carbs, 15% protein, 15% fat

  • Quinoa - 70% carbs, 15% protein, 15% fat

  • Lentils - 70% carbs, 27% protein, 3% fat

  • Mushrooms - 50% carbs, 37% protein, 13% fat

  • Broccoli - 71% carbs, 20% protein, 9% fat

  • Cauliflower:, 76% carbs, 21% protein, 3% fat

  • Turkey breast meat: 16% carbs, 70% protein, 14% fat

  • Salmon: 0% carbs, 62% protein, 38% fat

What you will quickly notice is that nuts are lower in protein content in terms of calorie density than most grains, legumes, and surprisingly, a lot of vegetables.

Due to the fact that nuts are so high in fat, they are a very calorie dense food and calories in a handful of nuts quickly add up.

  • 1 cup of whole almonds: 827 calories, 30.4 protein.

  • 1 cup of cooked cauliflower: 25 calories, 1.98 g protein

  • 1 cup of cooked lentils: 323 calories, 16.44 g protein

When you look at the numbers, it's true that by weight nuts have more protein. But they also have a lot more calories. If you wanted to consume a caloric equivalent of 1 cup of whole nuts you would have to eat 33 cups of cauliflower (which would give you 2 times more protein) or 2.5 cups of lentils (which would give you almost 1.5 times the protein).

By no means, I'm telling you to stop eating nuts. I love nuts and eat them everyday, but I eat them in moderation and don't treat them as my major source of protein.

Sources and additional reading: