Let’s Talk about the Nutrition Bar

Let’s Talk about the Nutrition Bar

Proclaimed as the perfect snack by some health nuts, and denied as a sugary placebo by others, the health bar is a very interesting part of the fitness and nutrition world. Made up of cereals, grains, nuts, and other ingredients to bind them, nutrition (or cereal) bars have taken up their fair share of shelf space in supermarkets. In fact, the number of nutrition bars in grocery stores jumped from 226 in 2014 to a whopping 1,012 in 2015. What has made it a popular product in just a short amount of time? Is it the portability? Is it the nutrition levels? Or are they just scams wrapped in nutritious labeling? The only way to find out is to look at it a little critically and pay attention to the growing trends.

How did Nutrition Bars Get Their Start?

nutrition bar, food sticksThis is an interesting bit of trivia. In the 1960s, there was a lot of fascination with new technology and space travel. This fascination carried over to products developed for astronauts. Tang, for instance, was a powdered orange drink that simulates orange juice. So was memory foam, a device intended for comfortable sleep in space.  This was also the case for nutrition bars. The first nutrition bars ever produced was from Pillsbury’s Space Food Sticks. They were created with the intent of making a type of food that would have a long shelf life and would not need refrigeration in space.

In 1970, Pillsbury filed a trademark for Space Food Sticks, then repackaged and advertised them to consumers as a “nutritionally balanced between-meal snack.” From there, a craze began. The bars were repackaged and rebranded several times over. First, it was seen as a quick, substitute meal for working families as well as a fascinating type of food created in a lab. Then, when the ’90s rolled around, different kinds of bars went through marketing segmentation. Rebranded “health” bars were geared towards men who wanted to gain bulk, and women who wanted to lose weight.

In the early 2000s, there was further segmentation between various markets. From vegan to health-conscious, to energizing, various nutrition bars claim to have done it all. These days it is an outright necessity for some people who don’t have any lunch break provided for them. Even nutritionists in an interview have pointed out that some of them can work as a protein supplement.  However, not all nutrition bars are created equal.

Good Nutrition Bars vs. Bad Nutrition Bars

What makes a good nutrition bar? The rules of nutrition are often complex. Also, there has been an argument about the merits or the dangers of things like fat, wheat, etc. It can be confusing to navigate sometimes, and if you are not careful, you might just wind up eating an unnecessary amount of sugar that is disguised as a health food product.  So, what are a few things that you can look out for while shopping for nutrition bars?

Sugar Content

It is no secret. At least half of the nutrition bars on the market are oversaturated with sugar and vitamins. This is where being vigilant should nutrition barcome in. The recommended daily value of sugar for an average adult should be no more than 25 grams. So, if you are keeping track of your daily diet, the last thing you need to do is to eat a bar that remotely even close to that level of sugar.

 Fat Content

There are different types of fat that exist in our diet. We have bad sources of fat that are common in things like fast food, crackers, frozen food, desserts, fried foods, etc. This type of fat is bad because it increases bad cholesterol in our bodies and decreases good cholesterol. The good fats that exist, are often found in the natural world. Fat from things like eggs, fish, nuts, avacado, and olive oil does the exact opposite. It raises our good cholesterol and decreases our bad cholesterol.

If a nutrition bar has fat in it, make sure that it is unsaturated fat. If the fats come from something like nuts, egg whites, or coconut oil, chances are it is better for you on the whole. However, if most of the fat comes from things

Whole Ingredients

Even if you aren’t into counting things like calories, there is a common sense factor that you can use to determine if a bar is good for you. Look at what the nutrition bar is made of. If the nutrition bar has something with whole ingredients like nuts and quinoa and there is not an artificial thing in sight, you are eating real food. However, if there is an absence of real ingredients or things in there that are vague like “natural flavoring” or dyes, chances are you want to avoid having it in stock.

The Connection Between Exercise and Brain Health

The Connection Between Exercise and Brain Health

We know it is important to exercise in order to keep our bodies healthy and fit. Along with a proper diet, and decent sleep, it seems like one of those ‘no brainer’ things to do. However, it is not the only thing that we can do to live happy long lives. However, did you know that exercise has its benefits in small ways alongside just regulating your body weight? Exercise, even just in light amounts, can be a benefit to the most important organ in your body, your brain.  According to the latest neurology studies, that is very much the case. But how do they know that? And, how can it be measured or quantified?

Let’s find out.


This is Your Brain

Your brain serves as the powerhouse of your body. Aside from its value as a delicious treat to zombies, your brain practically dictates everything about your conscious and subconscious. It is madebrain, anatomy, exercise up of three major parts: the brain stem, the cerebellum, and cerebrum.

The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain. The cerebrum is composed of the left and right hemispheres. Two halves that make a whole. It performs higher functions like interpreting touch, vision, hearing, speech, emotions, reason, and fine motor skills.

The cerebellum is that small part that sits below the cerebrum. It coordinates things like balance, posture, and muscle movement.

Those two are connected to the brainstem, which connects the brain to the spinal cord. This connection transmits data to the rest of the body for both conscious and unconscious movement.  It is also mostly responsible for automatic functions such as breathing, temperature, sleep, digestion, sneezing, coughing, swallowing, and blood flow.


This is Your Brain on Memory

The cerebrum is made up of distinct parts, such as lobes and strips. While there are countless parts both in the inner and outer parts of the brain, we are going to cover the parts that have to do with the study, the parts that are concerned with the formation of memory.

  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Cingulate Gyrus
  • Amygdala
  • Hippocampus
  • Cerebellum

What is interesting about some of these, is that they control other processes too. For instance, the amygdala also responsible for the detection of fear and preparing for emergency events.  The prefrontal cortex is responsible for learning complex thoughts, personality expression, decision making and moderating social behavior. These are the parts of the brain that make and relay memories.

What does this anatomy lesson have to do with brain health? And specifically, why does exercise do anything to help? Well, those are the areas of the brain that are stimulated by exercise.

Exercise and the Prevention of Cognitive Dementia

A recent study was published in January of 2019, to a peer-reviewed journal for neurologists. Their goal of the study was to determine if regular aerobic exercise made any positive impact on olderolder adult, exercise, senior adults with cognitive impairments.  This was the thought process, according to the publishers of the experiment, “It is widely believed that known risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) are also risk factors for dementia and late-life cognitive decline. Because there is considerable overlap in risk factors for CVD and dementia, strategies designed to reduce CVD risk also may be effective in improving neurocognition and reducing the risk of developing dementia.”

There were other studies like this before, but their predecessors noticed the lacking in their representation of their patients, people who were suffering from cognitive difficulties, without the severity of full-blown dementia.

They gathered a data pool of 160 older adult patients who voluntarily applied from Alzheimer and Aging research institutes.

The scientists split the participants into a couple of groups, one with dietary changes, one with an exercise regimen with no dietary changes, and one with just an exercise regimen. From there, they subjected the patients to a series of cognitive tests.

The scientists running the experiment discovered that” participants who engaged in walking three times a week for six months “demonstrated improved performance on a standard battery of neurocognitive tests of executive function.”


Further Evidence

This falls in line with what Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School had to say on the matter a few years ago.  “Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions.” In plain English, this means that when someone exercises on a regular basis, their brain is more likely to grow and function.  Specifically, the parts of your brain that focus on memory.  How does that happen?

This is further explained by Harvard professional, Heidi Godman. “Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.”


Walk With Me

So, what can you do to jump-start your brain health? How much exercise do you need? 120 minutes of moderate exercise or, half an hour at least 4 days of the week. And it doesn’t have to be walking either. If you want, you can ride a bike, swim, jog with a partner, or learn to do any other type of sport. The world is your oyster and you and your brain deserve to be part of it. Even if the idea seems kind of silly at first, the right amount of exercise can make anybody look and feel better.

Aside: Also, if you want to further improve your cognition, think of doing a couple of other brain-friendly activities. Put your brain to work by solving a crossword puzzle. Or maybe stimulate it by reading a book or try some sudoku if you prefer numbers. Or, play a trivia game once in a while. Trust me, it will do you favors down the line.

Do you need help with Exercise and Diet? Do you live in the Huntsville, Al area? Click on the Popup on the screen to schedule an appointment. If you want to read more stuff like this, check out the blog at www.beksbites.com.

How Did the Nutrition Label Get Started?

How did the Nutrition Label Get Started?

Nutrition. As a country, we have learned about the concept of nutrition over the years. While there are certainly a few roadblocks that try to keep us from applying it on a mass scale, such as expense, lobbying, politics, etc, we still learned quite a lot. Even within the last hundred years. However, the contradictory information about nutrition combined with changing standards begs the question: Why do we have them in the first place? What made nutritional labels a mandatory thing, and does it really help the community in the long run?

So, today, we are going to examine the history and the purpose of the nutrition label.

Since When Did Ingredients for Anything Needed Listing?

To see the first instance of Americans wanting to know what they were actually eating, we need to go back to the early 1900s. It was a time in which the government did not regulate medicines, foods, alcohol, products. A dream come true for any aspiring entrepreneur who wanted to make money for a product they invented.

Unfortunately, the lack of regulation also made it all too easy for con artists and desperate peddlers to sell a product with anything they wanted in it. If these salesmen were running low on any ingredient, they could add anything they wanted like sawdust to stretch it out. Or if they wanted to nutrition label, snake oil, before 1906make it more powerful to make sure people felt their mystical cure ‘worked’ they would add some cocaine into the mix.

These unsavory practices at best lead to ineffective products and at worst could cause a high mortality rate.  The average cough syrup for babies would contain a cocktail of drugs and alcohol that could kill a horse, let alone a two-year-old infant.

This, combined with journalists exposing the process of the meat packing industry and the temperance movement made it possible for the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the Meat Inspection Act to pass in 1906.

The point of the act was for the government to regulate the production and distribution of foods, medicine, and any other substance for the safety of the public.  The act also demanded proper and accurate labeling of products meant for human consumption. This included listing every ingredient that was in it.

However, this was only the beginning. It wouldn’t be until the late 1960s- early 1970s that this would be expanded further.

An Expansion of Nutrition Labeling

Since America had a depression, a war, and communists to worry about, there was little worry about specialized diets. Ther goverment still gave out some base information as part of a nutrition guideline. However, it was more generalized than today. This was because most foods at this time had been prepared at home, and unless it revolved around the dietary issues of the military or any other government jurisdiction, Nutrition label before 1970'sthey didn’t bother with regulations. The exception to this was the occasional label specifically talking about sodium for special dietary reasons.

However, when processed food started to become more commonplace, the public started to worry again. This time, about what could possibly be involved in the creation of their instant meals. This outcry lead to a solution headed by the FDA and the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health.  ” Every manufacturer should be encouraged to provide truthful nutritional information about his products to enable consumers to follow recommended dietary regimens.”

So, the FDA immediately got to work on drafting the first version of the Nutrition Guideline Label.


1970s nutrition label

“When finalized in 1973, these regulations specified that when nutrition labeling was present on labels of FDA-regulated foods, it was to include the number of calories; the grams of protein, carbohydrate, and fat; and the percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (U.S. RDA) of protein, vitamins A and C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, and iron. Sodium, saturated fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids could also be included at the manufacturer’s discretion. All of these nutrients were to be reported on the basis of an average or usual serving size.”

But that still wasn’t quite enough.

The Addition of Dietary Values

There was growing concern from the scientific and medical communities. With the rise of fast food, and the presence of dietary information the United States Department of Health and Services had some concerns. According to the head of the department at the time, ” As consumers shop for healthier food, they encounter confusion and frustration… . The grocery store has become a Tower of Babel and consumers need to be linguists, scientists and mind readers to understand the many labels they see.”

He was concerned about the lack of clarity regarding the nutrition labels. While there was a statement of what was in the food on each label, it was up to the consumer to find out how much the daily value of something was. So, unless the people shopping had an explicit understanding of what these nutrients were, and how much was expected every day, they were more or less going in blind.

So, in the 1990’s the initiative of adding things like caloric content, the percentage of daily nutritional values,  and the standard amount of calories that is supposed to be in the daily diet. This was called the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA).

This is the most modern interpretation of nutritional labeling, at least from a government regulation standpoint.  A few food-based companies have tried their hand at their own nutritional labeling standards. They failed at varying degrees thanks to their own corporate bias.

Progress Marches On


However, there are still some worries from various communities and interest groups about the clarity of the current nutrition label.  These groups proposed a series of changes about the specificity of the nutritional label. Mainly about which information should be more prominent.

However, this still doesn’t address the elephant in the room about nutrition as a whole. Not all calories are equal. You wouldn’t expect to get the same results from a cookie and a banana after all. So, there is still some room for improvement.

All we can do is keep learning, and keep making changes with the best interest of our community in mind.

If you like information like this check out more at the blog of www.beksbites.com

The History of American Nutrition Guidelines

The History of American Nutrition Guidelines

Our understanding of what we eat, as well as, how much we eat, has changed over the decades. Sometimes, those changes were beneficial in the long run. Other times, there are changes that make things more confusing. The important thing, however, is that we do the best we can, and learn from our mistakes. Because if we know how to adequately reflect on our attitudes and nutritional habits, we can live longer, happier, and more fulfilling lives. So, today, we are going to look into our ever-evolving attitude about nutrition by glancing at the history of the food pyramid. This way, we can look at how far we have come and possibly look at where we are going.


The first dietary recommendation for public nutrition was published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. W.O. Atwater, the first director of the Office of Experiment Stations was responsible for publishing and distribution it for the American public.  The bulletin itself does have a few good points. For example, it emphasizes the importance of variety, proportionality, and moderation in the daily diet. It even outright warns the general public about obesity or excessive weight gain from overeating.

The evils of overeating may not be felt at once, but sooner or later they are sure to appear perhaps
in an excessive amount of fatty tissue, perhaps in general
debility, perhaps in actual disease.


The earliest draft, while a good first step for addressing dietary guidelines was not without its flaws. For starters, the creation process of the bulletin was intentionally the creation of a guideline for “American males”. This creates a rather narrow target audience for something with the intention of public release.  Also, this bulletin was created before the discovery of essential vitamins and minerals in 1912. The result of this timing leads to an emphasis on a diet based on the content of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and mineral matter (ash).

Overall, this sets the stage for nutritional guidelines, but it is no better than the first draft of anything else. It would have needed fine-tuning eventually.


nutrition, basic 7Atwater’s bulletin was further refined into a set of public guidelines for children by the USDA. Caroline Hunt, a home economics expert and nutritionist at the time, assisted in co-authoring a nutrition guide with the intent to provide mothers with the knowledge of five food groups. These five food groups included: vegetables and fruits, dairy combined with proteins, cereals, sugars, and fats. The emphasis was that one thing in the group could substitute for another within the same category. For instance, rice could substitute for bread, but it couldn’t substitute a vegetable. It was important to have something in each group daily according to Hunt.

While vitamins were technically discovered at the time, there wasn’t enough knowledge for any implementation quite yet.

It was a step in the right direction with the categorization of food groups, but we have since took notice that sweets today are not much of a necessity.


1940’s – 70’s

The eve of World War 2 was the beginning of a major shift in what would be considered nutritional standards. Nutrition concerns fell under the radar of President Franklin Roosevelt, who was looking into applying the knowledge of vitamins and minerals to the American nutrition both in the public and military sphere. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), according to the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, were: protein, iron, calcium, vitamin A/D, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C.

This information became reorganized into the “Basic 7” food groups for the American public to understand and implement, especially during wartime rationing.

However, after the end of the war, this made nutrition a more complicated than helpful.  With the number of food groups, no guidance with usage of fats and sugars,  and the lack of serving size information, there was a need for modification.

The mid-fifties saw a recategorization of food groups down to a “basic four”, which lasted for the next two decades. Serving sizes have yet to be introduced in this period.


1990’s – 2000’s

nutrition, food pyramid

Nutritional guidelines saw another shift with the introduction of a fifth food group along with the other four that were around since the 70’s. The purpose of this introduction was to keep the public aware of their oil, sugar, and alcohol intake.  From there, the dietary standards changed into a different visual metaphor altogether. The pyramid.  The pyramids worked as a visual aid to guide the public on how many servings of a food group they should have daily.

There was some controversy among nutritional experts that noticed that there was far too much meat, grains, and dairy, and not enough fruits and vegetables when it came to recommended servings. This criticism was due to a suspected conflict of interest between the USDA and heavily subsidized food industries.

The pyramid iconography continued into 2005, where a more visually abstract image replaced the more distinctly categorized pyramid. The designer of the pyramid added an illustration of a climber on top of a staircase to illustrate the importance of exercise with servings represented to scale in a pie chart format.



The USDA removed the pyramid entirely and introduced a new concept, a plate. The plate depicts the serving sizes of each portion that should be for every meal. Compared to the pyramid, the

myplate, nutrition

plate appears more comprehensive to people who try to understand serving sizes. It also introduces the concept of the largest serving intake being fruits and vegetables as opposed to refined grains and meats.

However, in spite of its better comprehension, there is still some criticism from nutritionists. Walter C. Willett, explained it to a Harvard Journal on the day it was released, “Clearly MyPlate will be better than MyPyramid. But the most important issues are in the details that are not captured by the icon. Which type of grain? What sources of proteins? What fats are used to prepare the vegetables and the grains?”

Harvard Health also pointed out the faulty logic that comes from the visual guide,” MyPlate doesn’t show that whole grains are better for you than refined, rapidly digested grains, or that fish and beans are better protein choices than red meat. It doesn’t give any guidance that eating more unsaturated and omega-3 fats are good for health, as is cutting back on saturated fats from meat and dairy.”



We still have a long way to go, but I think America is taking great strides. The more we know, the better we do in the future, so the best thing we can do is keep moving forward and learn from our mistakes.

Venison – How Nutritious is Deer Meat?

Venison – How Nutritious is Deer Meat?

So, Alabama is home to a lot of wildlife. This is due in part thanks to the local wildlife refuge areas set up all over the state, along with the state’s physical diversity. It is not uncommon in the state to eat freshly caught fish or some venison, when in season. However, there has been less of it, at least from an import stance, thanks to some panic over a “zombie deer disease” that has been sweeping all over social media.  This topic, I feel is poignant enough to address a few things about venison, or deer meat. How nutritious is it? Is there a cause for worry about contamination or any other adverse health effects when it comes to eating deer meat. And if there is, what is the best way to go by getting some?  Let’s talk about it.

venison steakA History of Venison in Alabama

Hunting is a primary cultural cornerstone in Alabama. Even before the state became a state, the diversity of the land from the mountains to the beaches was enough to produce a diverse amount of wildlife ranging from waterfowl, small game, rabbit and deer. Especially deer. Alabama is home to white-tailed deer and has been considered a staple in Alabama’s hunting culture. Before the 1900s, during the settlement phase of Alabama, deer, and other small game were mostly hunted for meat sustenance.

However, the story changed at the other end of the 1900s where the white-tailed deer was nearly hunted to extinction thanks to a combination of pelt hunters, looking for leather and settlements of cotton plantations, which misplaced the wildlife into smaller concentrated areas. The deer population dwindled down to the point where there were only 5,000 animals left.

They were brought back from the brink of destruction, thanks to a new implementation of hunting laws in the 20th centuries. “Until the early twentieth century, all deer had been fair game for hunters, but biologists convinced hunters to shoot only bucks with antlers visible above the hairline. One buck can father many fawns in a season. However, a doe can bear only one fawn or one set of twins a year. Thus, the key to rebuilding the population was to leave the does and shoot only bucks.”

Another significant change was the agricultural shift from cotton to soybeans. “This created a high-protein source of food for deer. When soybean prices collapsed in 1980, much open agricultural land returned to woodlands. Also, areas clear cut by paper companies turned into thick undergrowth, which provides ideal habitat for deer for years.”

These days, hunting has given Alabama revenue, a past time, and a diet occasionally local game.


Nutritional Value of Venison

According to Wikipedia, “Venison may be eaten as steakstenderloinroastssausagesjerky and minced meat. It has a flavor reminiscent of beef, but is richer and can have a gamey note. Venison tends to have a finer texture and is leaner than comparable cuts of beef. However, like beef, leaner cuts can be tougher as well.” So, if I were to interpret this correctly, it is already slightly more healthy in comparison to beef, but still retains the same cooking properties of beef as well.

Well, what sort of stuff does it have to offer?

Nutritional Value of Ground Venison

Amount Per 

Calories 159
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7 g 10%
Saturated fat 3.4 g 17%
Polyunsaturated fat 0.4 g
Monounsaturated fat 1.6 g
Cholesterol 83 mg 27%
Sodium 66 mg 2%
Potassium 309 mg 8%
Total Carbohydrate 0 g 0%
Dietary fiber 0 g 0%
Sugar 0 g
Protein 22 g 44%
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 1% Iron 15%
Vitamin D 0% Vitamin B-6 20%
Cobalamin 33% Magnesium 5%


I compared and contrasted 3 oz of ground venison to 1 ounce of ground beef, and already I can tell a major difference. There are 7 grams of total fat in 3 oz of venison.  In an ounce of ground beef, there is a total of 8 grams of fat. That means that one ounce of venison, there is a third of the fat compared to beef.

There is also way more Vitamin B 6 in Venison with 20% at 3 oz vs 15% in 3 oz of beef.  There is also 22 grams of protien in venison with only 12 grams in 3 oz of beef.  So, there is no wonder that venison is popular in Alabama.  So, what is stopping it from becoming a mainstream thing?

The Zombification of Deer

In 1967, one year before George Romero invented the zombie genre in “Night of the Living Dead”, there was already a creature that was exhibiting zombie-like symptoms. A captive Colorado deer was found looking listless, drinking an excess amount of water, and refusing food. Eventually, it would self impose starvation but it would still drool, and grind its teeth while repeating its nonsensical walk cycles with its blank facial expression. In the end, it would die from excessive brain damage, because it rotted from the inside out.

This deer was infected with CWD or Chronic Wasting Disease. The disease is a neurological one which has spread to hoofed animals like elk and moose. It is a variant of Mad Cow Disease. However, unlike Mad Cow Disease, there has been no recorded case of a human being ever catching it.


That still doesn’t deter the state of Alabama from imposing all the sanctions they can to make sure that no one can get hurt. Thanks to Alabama having a stake in recreational hunting bringing tourism to the state, it has been illegal to import deer meat into the state of Alabama since the 70’s. The state hunting and fishing departments also started an active monitoring program for CWD during the 2001-02 hunting season. Since then, nearly 8,000 deer have been tested and CWD has not been detected within Alabama.

As of yet, there has not been a deer in the state reported to show signs of this disease, but it is hitting closer to home after they found an infected dead deer at Mississippi.

However, the earlier strict regulations combined with the availability of deer cleaning and processing facilities, there is little chance of this becoming a major threat.  Just make sure the deer you shot has been tested for any CWD and that the brain and spinal cord are properly separated far away from the venison meat you are planning to eat.



Staying Healthy in Flu Season

Fighting the Flu in Alabama

This is the time of the year when people are going on with their daily lives, looking for the first signs of spring. Unfortunately, before winter goes away completely,  bacteria and viruses come out of the woodwork. Dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases start spreading through hospitals, daycares, schools, and any other public places. That’s when you know. It’s flu season. Cue the runny noses, coughing, absences, and last minute germaphobia. The main question that people often ask is “What can I do to make sure that I and my family have a fighting chance against the flu? ” Thankfully, for a while now, our society at large has had enough experience in fighting the flu. So, let’s find out what we can do, either as a precautionary or emergency measure, to fight the flu.

What is the Flu, Exactly?

influenza virus
Illustration of a group of flu viruses (influenza)

While the disease itself is common, not many people exactly know where it comes from or why there are outbreaks every winter.  So, let’s shed a little light on the topic. The ‘flu’ is short for influenza, a term that comes from the medieval Latin word ‘influentia’ meaning ‘to influence’. That word in the 1700s had been interchangeable to mean “on the verge of an outbreak”. It wasn’t interpreted to mean specifically “an outbreak of the Influenza virus ” until the 1730s in Italy.

There are currently two types of flu viruses that are known among pathologists and the general public, Influenza type A and Type B. Both viruses cause a serious respiratory illness, which affects the lungs, throat, and nose. It typically spreads through the respiratory tract as soon as the host is contaminated. Symptoms include and but are not limited to:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone with the flu actually gets a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches

The severity of the disease ranges from mild to deadly, and as of the year 2017-2018 it was the deadliest in a long time. Last winter’s flu season was the deadliest in more than four decades, with 80,000 deaths caused by flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu-related illnesses and the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death. CDC also recommends everyday preventive actions like staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent handwashing.

This year, there is 9.8 to 11.4 million flu illnesses, 4.6 to 5.4 million flu medical visits, and 113,000 to 136,000 flu hospitalizations between Oct. 1 and Jan. 19, according to the CDC’s weekly flu report released Friday.

Flu Prevention Tips

While we are nearing the end of the flu season window, it isn’t quite over yet.  And if it hasn’t hit your household just yet, it is all the more reason to be vigilant. Especially if your household has elderly persons, pregnant women,  or children with weak immune systems. Here are a few things that you need to keep in mind when focusing on flu prevention.

  • Get Your Flu Vaccine

The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu-related illnesses and the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death.

And before you object, no, vaccines do not give you the flu virus. “The vaccine is made either with flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and that therefore are not infectious. Or  it is made using only a single gene from a flu virus in order to produce an immune response without causing infection.”

  • Keep Antibacterial Wipes and Hand Sanitizer on Hand

Influenza is both airborne and waterborne. That means that you could get primary contact from a person’s bodily fluids or secondary contact when a person transfers fluids from a person to an object.  So, if you are wanting to prevent the virus from spreading,  it is important to keep your house and your hands clean.

The CDC also recommends everyday preventive actions (like staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent handwashing) to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses, like flu.

  • Stay Well Rested

If you want to give your immune system a fighting chance against the influenza virus, you want to keep it in working order. That means getting plenty of sleep. Sleep helps boost the immune system because of the production of proteins called cytokines. which are needed to fight infections and inflammation.

  • Eat a Healthy Diet and Exercise Regularly

Zinc and Vitamin C are important for your body’s immune system. Both nutrients combined with exercise will pump your immune system up even further. Think about adding in an extra daily dose of zinc and vitamin C when preparing your meals, and don’t forget to go for a jog once in a while. A healthy body will have more of a fighting chance against disease.


Things to Avoid During Flu Seasonsick person

  • If you are sick, the last thing you need to do is to try and work through it.  If you try to push yourself too hard, you will have less of a fighting chance to get past the disease and can even worsen your own symptoms.


  • People with flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins.  Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children and some people with weakened immune systems may pass the virus for longer than 7 days.


  • Take over the counter medications to treat symptoms if you know that is what it is. Don’t rely on homeopathic remedies that swear that they will cure the flu. Unless it is proof positive don’t put anything in your body that might make it harder for you to recover instead of help.


  • Don’t rely on supplements for things like vitamin C and Zinc. A lot of the time they do not work as advertised, just like the homeopathic remedies, and they don’t have to prove to the FDA that they are even effective.


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The Nutritional Benefits of Bitter Vegetables

The Nutritional Benefits of Bitter Vegetables

Not many people are fond of food that taste bitter. Kids avoid it, and adults know they have to eat it but don’t like it.  In fact, a lot of people outright despise it. Even enough to make the taste itself synonymous with someone who is feeling spiteful. However, bitter tasting foods, like leafy greens and other vegetables are an important piece to the overall puzzle that is getting healthy. But how does it all work? What makes bitter greens good for you? And why do we even hate how they taste in the first place? Let’s find out.

Bitter VegetablesWhy Bitter Vegetables are Good for You

There is no single reason that vegetables are good for you.  This is because there is a myriad of reasons behind why there are good for you. In fact, there are so many reasons, that it would be more efficient to simply list them instead of sticking them in multiple paragraphs.

  • Bitter Vegetables are Nutrient Dense
    • Most, if not all vegetables are filled with various vitamins and nutrients that are part of a healthy diet. But bitter cruciferous vegetables have Vitamin K, Potassium, Sulforaphane, and Vitamin A. These nutrients are important for things like skin health, and are important in the prevention and reduction of colon cancer.


  • Bitter Vegetables help with Diabetic Management
    • Bitter vegetables carry little in the way of calories or fat. What fat they do have, if at all, is called, alpha-linolenic acid, an Omega-3 fatty acid that is responsible for lowering glucose levels and increasing insulin sensitivity. Essentially, this helps with managing diabetes.


  • They are Diet Friendly
    • According to Dr. Sears, “the body uses almost as many calories to digest vegetables as there are in vegetables in the first place. You’ll use up most of the 26 calories in a tomato just chewing, swallowing, and digesting it. The leftover calories don’t even have a fighting chance of being stored in a fat cell.” Vegetables can increase satiety by just taking a long time to digest.


So, there are countless reasons why bitter vegetables, (or really vegetables in general) are good for your body. But if there are so many advantages to adding more vegetables to your daily diet, then why do people seem to avoid them like the plague?


Why We Hate Bitter Vegetables

We all know the bitter struggle of eating vegetables in today’s day and age.  In fact, learning to “eat your vegetables” is something of a rite of passage. You learn to do things you don’t want to do in order to benefit in the long run.  But it shouldn’t be this hard if we all benefit from it, right? Why do we bitter vegetablesavoid bitter tasting vegetables in the first place?


Some of it has to do with basic genetic ancestry.

According to a researcher in the College of Agricultural Science at Penn State, who helped conduct a study on the very topic of taste, “In the early 1990s, researchers used bitter probes to identify individuals who experience all tastes and oral sensations more intensely, and thus the concept of supertasters was born,” Hayes explained. “More recently, we have learned humans have 25 different bitter-taste genes, and it seems each one is tuned to pick up a different group of chemicals.” “This study moves us beyond the one-size-fits-all approach,” he said. “It turns out that different bitter foods act through different receptors, and people can be high or low responders for one but not another. Thus, you may despise grapefruit but have no problem with black coffee.”

So, some people have a genetic disposition between handling the bitter taste of some vegetables but not others. But that isn’t the only reason why.


One contributor to a news blog pointed this out, “Evolutionarily speaking, we actually shouldn’t like veggies at all: We’re wired for an aversion to bitter tastes, a trait our ancestors developed to protect themselves against accidental poisoning. The problem with this, of course, is we’ve generally figured out by now which plants will kill us and which won’t, yet the aversion remains – even though plenty of bitter compounds, like those found in vegetables, are actually important sources of nutrition.”

A long time ago, our ancestors quickly understood that certain bitter tasting foods meant exposure to poison. But we have since then documented what is and isn’t poisonous.  This leaves us with a tool that has turned into an obstacle.

Old Fashioned Attitudes about Meats and Vegetables

For as long as at least the Roman Empire existed, there has been a prevailing attitude that decadence and wealth is a good thing to have. Meat like beef, fowl, or fish was considered decadent for a long time in Western Europe. This is because it wasn’t available to the public for a long time until butchery  and farming became mass produced.

Vegetables, for the most part, was considered peasant food for centuries.  Even then if the nobility did have fruits and vegetables as part of their diet, all of the fiber would have been cooked out of it. According to a 1500’s cookbook, “‘Beware of green sallettes and rawe fruytes for they wyll make your soverayne seke’ (‘Beware of green salads and raw fruits, for they will make your master sick’).” At least some of the fruits and vegetables among the peasantry were preserved via fermentation, a cooking process that preserves the bacteria in your guts.

The point is, people, for centuries saw meat as something that rich people can afford, and bitter vegetables as either a potential danger or something only a low-class citizen would eat.

While the economic market has changed since the Middle Ages,  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those old attitudes are still being carried subconsciously in our culture.

What Can I  Do to Learn to Like Bitter Vegetables?

The main thing you can do is just repeat your exposure and experiment. Sometimes, the thing that you don’t like about the vegetable isn’t the vegetable itself. You could hate the result of a preservation method.  Or you could dislike something about its texture. I specifically remember hating green beans as a kid but learned later on that I didn’t like them canned. Just try new ways of preparing it so you can find what works for you.

Fermented Foods: Are they Really Part of a Healthy Diet?

Fermented Foods: Are they Really Part of a Healthy Diet?

Kimchi, Natto, Sourdough Bread, Yogurt, Wine, Beer, and Saurkraut. What do they all have in common? All of them are foods that at one point or another go through the process of fermentation. Fermentation is a chemical process that preserves food using microorganisms. At least, that is the general definition that can be found in a dictionary. In the world of cooking and nutrition, it is a cooking style that creates an acidic taste and preserves healthy microorganisms.  It is the oldest metabolic process for single-celled organisms. It also has been the primary use of gaining energy for single-celled organisms when there is no presence of oxygen. So, what do fermented foods have to do with nutrition? It boils down to our guts.

Our Microverse

At the risk of sounding like an episode of Rick and Morty, I am simply going to put this out there. We have a universe in our own bodies. In fact, our bodies are practically an entire ecosystem of living single-celled organisms. In fact, there are 100 trillion of these little guys floating around in our bodies. According to the American Microbiome Institue “Taken collectively, these organisms outnumber our own human cells 10 to 1, making up 5 pounds of our body weight.” That is an amazing and intimidating revelation. But that is only the tip of the iceberg.

microbes, fermented foodsThe Institute also points out, “Nearly every scientific study performed that has attempted to correlate the microbiome with specific traits or diseases has been successful.  In other words, studies are finding that our bacteria (or lack thereof) can be linked to or associated with: obesity, malnutrition, heart disease, diabetes, celiac disease, eczema, asthma, multiple sclerosis, colitis, some cancers, and even autism.”

These microbes also play a role in regulating our immune system. “During childhood, the immune system becomes accustomed to foreign antigens in our body and develops a tolerance to them.  Once homeostasis is established, non-pathogenic microbes and other harmless antigens will not induce an inflammatory response.”

Our universe inside our gut dictates our health in a very profound way. And it plays a huge part in something like obesity.

The Center of Ecogenetics, a microbiome research facility, gave a good example, “The gut microbiome is different between obese and lean twins. Obese twins have a lower diversity of bacteria, and higher levels of enzymes, meaning the obese twins are more efficient at digesting food and
harvesting calories. Obesity is the result of a poor combination of microbes in the gut.”

It is also why no two people are 100% the same.  “. The human microbiota can be affected from all sorts of factors, ranging from diet — for example, vegans and vegetarians have a distinct gut microbiome — to exercise habits, age, location, and many more we might still not know of.”

So, if the microorganisms in our guts are important to our health, what do we do to help them along?

Fermented Foods and Microbes

Remember the first paragraph? Microbes don’t need the presence of oxygen to gain energy. As long as they have access to natural sugars, they can make and ingest their own energy, leaving behind things like lactic acid and alcohol. One benefit from this is that they preserve food after finishing their process. Another is that they leave behind some of their own offspring in the food. These friendly bacteria go in your gut and help with regulating the ecosystem within it.  If you add some fermented food or drink into your diet, about once a week, your gut, and your immune system will benefit greatly from it.

“If you’re consuming a diet rich in fermented foods, you’re essentially bathing your GI tract in healthy, food-related organisms,” says food scientist Robert Hutkins, PhD, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln whose lab focuses on the link between fermented foods and human health.

So, if you like the idea of introducing fermented foods in your diet, there are a few you can try out below.

Types of Fermented Food:

1. Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk product (made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk) that tastes like drinkable yogurt. It is Turkish in origin and comes from the word Kief which means “good feeling”.

2. Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented beverage made of black tea and sugar (from various sources like cane sugar, fruit or honey). It contains a colony of bacteria and yeast that is responsible for initiating the fermentation process once combined with sugar.

fermented foods

3. Sauerkraut 

Sauerkraut is one of the oldest traditional foods, with very long roots in German, Russian and Chinese cuisine, for example. The word Sauerkraut means “sour cabbage” in German, although the Germans weren’t actually the first to make sauerkraut (it’s believed the Chinese were).

Real, traditional, fermented sauerkraut needs refrigeration. If you find a glass jar and the label mentions fermentation, you are more likely to get real sauerkraut.


4. Pickles

Didn’t think that pickles had probiotics? Fermented pickles contain a ton of vitamins and minerals, plus antioxidants and gut-friendly probiotic bacteria.

What is the best brand of pickles if you want probiotics? When choosing a jar of pickles, look for “lactic acid fermented pickles” made by a manufacturer that uses organic products and brine, refrigerates the pickles, and states that the pickles have been fermented. If you can find a local maker, such as at a farmers market, you’ll get some of the best probiotics for your health.

5. Miso

Miso is the byproduct of fermenting soybeans, barley or brown rice with koji, a type of fungus. It’s a traditional Japanese ingredient in recipes including miso soup.

6. Raw Cheese 

Raw milk cheeses are made with milk that hasn’t been pasteurized. If you want to find real fermented/aged cheeses,  look for cheese that has NOT been pasteurized. The label should indicate that the cheese is raw and has been aged for six months or more.

7. Yogurt

This is the most common food in America to contain probiotics. They contain live and active cultures that help with digestion. There is little in the way of lactose in it and it is often tolerable for a lot of lactose intolerant people.



Detoxing- What is it and is it Real?

Detoxing -What is it and is it Real?

It is common when trying to get a jump start in your health, you hear or read the words ‘detox’ or cleanse.  People will claim that it is the best thing for you to do with your body and that it will help flush out excess toxins and impurities. But how much of that is true? Is this something that is time tested? Or, is it another fad? Today, I will be presenting the history behind cleansing and detoxing, how popular it had gotten and whether or not it is backed by any scientific evidence.

Definition of Detox and Toxicity

In its purest medical definition, detoxing means, “a medical procedure that rids the body of dangerous, often life-threatening, detoxing, talking to a doctorlevels of alcohol, drugs, or poisons.”

Today’s definition has since broadened to a more general one, thanks to the diet industry. In layman’s terms detoxing means ” to get rid of the excess impurities in the body. ”

Toxins are substances that can cause harm to the body due to either the nature of the substance itself or due to excess exposure to a specific substance.

Examples of a toxic substance by nature would be something like sumac or snake venom. If you are exposed to it, you will get sick instantly. Your body must decrease exposure to that substance immediately to prevent death or extreme illness.

An example of toxicity through excess ingestion would be someone drinking too much water or eating too many oranges. The excess of both of those things would disturb the filtration process of your digestive system. This causes an imbalance the level of nutrients needed for your body to survive.

What a Toxin is Not

A toxin is not a nondescript impurity that needs to be flushed out every so often. 

A periodical dedicated to the study and classification of toxins had this to say on the matter. “Recently, public health and social agendas have become more proactive in food toxicology, such as regulating (or outright banning) trans fats in foods on the basis of public safety… These agendas lose sight of the basic principle of toxicology that “the dose makes the poison” and that demanding “safety per se” or “safe at any dose”, for all foods and ingredients is a non-starter and as a concept, was abandoned with the adoption of the Federal Food and Drug Act (FFDCA) in 1958.”

If toxins are the excess of one element in the body and not a generic catchall for impurities, what does that mean for things like diet and cleanses?  Do they help keep you fit and healthy in spite of the fact that it isn’t technically filled with toxins?

The answer to that is complicated. But, before we talk about what is effective, we also need to talk about how our bodies play a role in detoxification.  Because they are surprisingly more efficient than people realize.

Our Bodies are Amazing!

Surprisingly, our bodies do a good job of removing toxins themselves. Any excess waste that we expel from our body comes through our bowels, our urine, our lymph nodes, our lungs, and even our skin. That’s right even our skin helps expel waste from our bodies.

But the heavy lifters that do the actual filtration is our kidneys and our livers. Without their contribution, our bodies would not be able to tell the difference between a nutrient and a toxin.

However, before you start eating all the cheeseburgers you want, remember that our bodies still have their limits. If you deny your body access the nutrients that it needs to survive by eating junk food, it will stop working on you. It will also stop working if you put in too many foreign substances it doesn’t need.

Only doing a cleanse for a short period of time, or a quick round of starvation will do nothing for your body in the long run.  You will just get right back to feeling sick again.

This is where a real cleanse will come in.

The Difference between a Program and a Fad

A detox is something that helps your body flush toxins out of your system quickly. This ranges from things like breathing in high oxygen content, focusing on evacuating bowels with water, wearing footpads, or emptying out your nasal cavity. Most of these, if not all of them are not based on scientific research and oftentimes yield little results. These people who perpetuate the idea of detoxing most likely do not have medical training.  At best they are either well-intentioned but misinformed. At worst they are just people who are after your money.

detox pillsWhen cleanses are concerned, there is some merit to be found. It is just a matter of taking the time to do your homework and checking to make sure whether this is a “flash in the pan ” type of fad.

You can usually spot whether a cleanse program is a little more legitimate depending on their expectations. For example, if the cleanse is part of something that is under medical supervision and is trying to reintroduce you to healthy habits, there is a good chance it is legitimate.

Programs that are there to help people feel healthier also focus on things like nutrients and fibers. They oftentimes start off with calorie restriction and slowly reintroduce you to healthier habits.  While there might be a few supplements for sale, it is usually not a requirement to make their program work.

Their more fad-like counterparts expect you to drink their shakes and eat their protein bars for the rest of your life. There is often no addressing of habits at all. There is also little consultation or prescreening involved.  Also,  there is  little that is offered by either the people running the program or the community that follow it.


Should detoxing become a regular thing? No. It is either well-intentioned pseudoscience or an outright scam. Does that mean that your body doesn’t need any help in getting better? Of course not. Just talk to your doctor and see what you can do about your health before you start trying stuff that wastes your time and money.

Cooking Prep – Meats

Cooking Prep – Meats

It is not easy to take up cooking as a new skill set. Cooking is something that requires time and patience to learn. What’s more, the nutritional factor for each type of food changes with different factors like temperature, cookware, and exposure to other ingredients. It can be daunting to people who are unfamiliar with it all. Especially, when it comes to the health and safety parts of food prep.

People can get sick by swallowing harmful bacteria when eating something under-cooked.  They can even accidentally poison themselves from eating the wrong parts of a vegetable.  It also hasn’t helped matters since there have been recalls on things that are supposed to be part of a healthy diet, thanks to both outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, and government shutdowns of important food inspection facilities.

So, to make it easier for people who are resolving to eat healthier during the new year, we at Bek’s Bites are going to be talking about the importance of health and safety behind food prep.

This week, we are talking about the most difficult subject to handle in cooking: Meat prep. Something that everyone can agree is important.

Meat Prep is Difficult

Whether you love to put bacon on your ice cream or avoid anything to do with protein outside of tofu, we all know on some level that meat is within the real of possibility in the human diet. Our teeth can carve up both plant life and cooked meat, and we require nutrients that are mostly found in plants but are also sometimes found in animals. That being said, cooking meat or any kind of animal byproduct without knowing what you are doing can be deadly.

Bacteria resides in all animals and their byproducts because their internal temperature and moisture is an ideal living space for them to breed. This means that bacteria can come from your friends and family, your pets, all other animal life, and everything you or they come in contact with. So, it would stand to reason that the meat that you eat will also be filled with bacteria. Harmful bacteria can reside in your food without you knowing it because it is invisible to the naked eye. Therefore, it is imperative that when cook with any kind of meat, you understand the rules before you handle it in the kitchen.

When Dealing with Any Type of Meat

While I could clumsily try to recall the food safety I was taught in middle school, I can instead list important tips in dealing with meat in general from Ireland’s food safety website: https://www.safefood.eu/Publications/Consumer-information/Cooking-meat-safely.aspx


  • Always buy your meat from a reputable butcher or shop.
  • If you see no refrigeration in the area where you are buying the meat, then it isn’t fit for consumption.
  • If you’re buying pre-packed meat, check the label to see the ‘use by’ date.
  • Make sure raw meats are packed in bags separate from ‘ready to eat’ foods such as cooked hams and cheeses.
  • If you are worried about fat content try to go for the leanest option whenever you can. As a general rule, the more white you can see on red meat, the more fat it contains. There is also a percentage ratio that sometimes appears if the number. The number on the left is usually the fat content that stays in the meat after frying. Stick with ratios like 70/30 or 60/40 in lieu of 80/20.
  • Try not to eat too many processed meat products such as sausages, bacon, burgers and salami, because these are generally high in fat and salt.
  • When carrying it all home from the store, be sure that any raw chicken is separate from other raw meats. Chicken carries salmonella when raw, and can cross contaminate other meats.

Storing:meat prep

  • Put meats into the fridge as quickly as possible when you get home from shopping.
  • Store raw meat/poultry in clean sealed containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge, so it can’t touch or drip onto other food.
  • Keep cooked meat separate from raw meat.
  • Follow any storage instructions on the label and don’t eat meat after its ‘use by’ date.

Freezing and Defrosting:

  • Freeze it before the ‘use by’ date
  • Check the label for any specific freezing or thawing instructions
  • Defrost meat by thawing it on the bottom shelf of the fridge on a plate away from other foods.
  • Keep the meat covered so that it can’t touch or drip onto other foods
  • Only defrost meat in the microwave if you’re going to cook and eat it straight away.
  • Try to cook the raw meat within 24 hours of defrosting
  • As a rule of thumb, allow 24 hours to defrost each 2.5kg/5lbs of meat or chicken
  • If you defrost raw meat and then cook it thoroughly, you can freeze it again, but remember never to reheat foods more than once.

The Cooking Temperature of Specific Meats

meat prepNot all meats are created equal. Some of them carry  and spread bacteria more easily than others. That’s why it is important to understand the property of each meat, its shelf life and which temperature to cook them in.

If you are unsure with just how hot the meat you are cooking is, you can use a clean meat thermometer that can tell you just how warm it is inside.

Thankfully, in spite of the government itself shutting down, their websites did not. So, lets look at what the US Department of Agriculture says about the minimum internal temperatures for food safety requirements.

Product Minimum Internal Temperature & Rest Time
Beef, Pork, Veal & Lamb
Steaks, chops, roasts
145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Ground meats 160 °F (71.1 °C)
Ham, fresh or smoked (uncooked) 145 °F (62.8 °C) and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Fully Cooked Ham
(to reheat)
Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140 °F (60 °C) and all others to 165 °F (73.9 °C).

Product Minimum Internal Temperature
All Poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets, and stuffing) 165 °F (73.9 °C)
Eggs 160 °F (71.1 °C)
Fish & Shellfish 145 °F (62.8 °C)
Leftovers 165 °F (73.9 °C)