Weekly Column_120 / August 16, 2012

Diet Detective’s Calorie Bargains: Banana Saver, Veggie Burgers, Water Pilates, and The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Calorie Bargain: Banana Saver

The Why: Do you love bananas? They are delicious and packed with nutritional benefits, and a medium banana has only 105 calories. However, have you ever tried putting one in your pocketbook, a child’s lunch bag or a briefcase? The USA-made Banana Saver is designed to protect individual bananas from getting bruised on the go. It’s basically a case specifically designed for one banana.

The Health Bonus: Bananas are loaded with potassium. One banana contains 422 milligrams of the 4,700 mg per day that the Institute of Medicine recommends as an adequate supply for adults, and more than 90 percent of Americans are not meeting this recommendation. Potassium is necessary for muscle contractions (including your heartbeat), transmission of nerve impulses and the delicate balance of fluid and electrolyte regulation. Diets rich in potassium blunt the adverse effects of salt and help to lower blood pressure (one in five Americans has high blood pressure). In terms of stress relief, potassium helps to relax muscles. Bananas are also high in vitamin B6, which, according to research reported in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, helps facilitate the synthesis of serotonin from tryptophan.

What We Liked Best: You can put the entire unpeeled banana right in its very own case. Also, the Banana Saver has a built-in slot for making frozen banana pops — just peel the banana and put it in the freezer.

What We Liked Least: I was a bit concerned about the latch because it appears flimsy; however, it’s not. According to the company, it is “a living hinge designed for high usage applications.”

What It Replaces: Bruised bananas.

The Price: $3.95 each, plus shipping charge of $3.65 if you can’t find it at a store.

Where to Buy:  www.bananasaver.com

Calorie Bargain: AquaVee Pilates Plus

The Why: Having a portable water Pilates gym that you can use in any pool is pretty cool. The AquaVee is a uniquely designed apparatus that looks almost like an octopus made of exercise bands. The bands can be used in several ways — to do a “watered-down” version of Pilates or as a tool to swim in place. That’s right, swimming in place. If you have access to a pool and want to swim for exercise, but it’s not really practical to swim laps, this can be your answer. High-pressure suction cups adhere to the pool tiles, then you attach the bands to your legs with straps — and swim. If you decide to do a band workout after, you just keep the bands strapped to your legs.

The Health Bonus: Doing exercises in water helps to reduce wear and tear on your joints.

What We Liked Best: It weighs less than 4 pounds and can travel with you wherever you go in its own mesh carrying bag.

What We Liked Least: It’s a bit pricey for bands, and swimming in place with straps on your legs is a bit awkward.

What It Replaces: Sun tanning, eating fries and doing nothing at the pool.

The Price: $99.

Where to Buy:  www.aquaveeonline.com

Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burgers

The Why: Don’t want to eat meat? Worried about saturated fat? Still like the idea of eating burgers? Well, Praeger to the rescue. The company was founded in 1994 and is still run by practicing cardiac surgeon Dr. Peter Praeger (performing heart surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center). The burgers are quick and easy to make, extremely tasty, low in calories and really high in fiber — each one actually has 5 grams of fiber, which is 20 percent of the daily amount recommended for a healthy diet.

The Health Bonus: These burgers are also high in vitamin A; more than 50 percent of the daily recommended amount. The vitamin A comes from carrots and the spinach, which means it contains beta carotene, an antioxidant involved in the growth and repair of skin tissue that may protect against sun damage. They also have 14 percent of the daily need for iron, which is often lacking in women’s diets.

What We Liked Best: How quickly they’re ready, and how great they taste. Also, the ingredients list is pretty clean — there’s not much there except natural foods.

What We Liked Least: They tend to fall apart rather easily, and the sodium is a bit high at 250 milligrams.

What It Replaces: Regular, high-saturated-fat, low-fiber burgers.

The Price: $4.99 per box of four.

Where to Buy: If you can’t find them in the frozen-foods section of your local supermarket, you can buy them online at www.drpraegers.com. The only problem is that they’re a bit pricey with a $35 delivery charge per cooler (about seven boxes).

Ingredients: Carrot, onion, string beans, soybeans, zucchini, oat bran, peas, spinach, expeller pressed canola oil, broccoli, textured soy flour, corn, oat fiber, red pepper, arrowroot, cornmeal, cornstarch, garlic, salt, parsley, black pepper, all-natural vegetable gum.

Nutrition Information: 1 burger (2.75 ounces): 110 calories; 4.5 g fat; less than 0.5 g saturated fat; 250 mg sodium; 13 g carbs; 5 g fiber; 6 g protein.

Calorie Bargain: The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Wood

The Why: This book goes beyond the average encyclopedia by offering more than just a description of each food. In each entry, the author includes anything from how to store a food to when and where to buy it and its medicinal benefits, among other things. Wood also throws in occasional recipes and anecdotes and even notes when she doesn’t recommend trying a certain food.

The Health Bonus: Wood’s sections on usage, buying and medicinal benefits often include information about a food’s nutritional value. In the “Cashew” entry, for example, she explains that cashews support lung function and nurture dry skin. She also recommends purchasing roasted, rather than raw cashews, as they are easier to digest.

What We Liked Best: This is not a boring encyclopedia. The personal recommendations (and warnings!), stories and recipes make it a companion guide rather than a reference book.

What We Liked Least: Wood occasionally recommends expensive or difficult-to-find variations of a food. Those working on a budget may find it difficult to follow her advice.

What It Replaces: Boring food encyclopedias.

The Price: $20.

Where to Buy:  www.amazon.com and www.bn.com

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