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For Immediate Release: September 14, 2009
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NW: Questions about breakfast sandwiches, flax seed v. hemp seed, tortillias v. bread

Week of October 26, 2009
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

Nutrition Wise
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Are breakfast sandwiches pretty much the same nutritionally, or are some healthier than others?

A: Breakfast sandwiches, made famous by fast food restaurants, but now available in other restaurants and in grocery store freezers to microwave at home, do vary in calories, fat and sodium. To get the long-lasting energy and fullness these sandwiches can offer while maintaining your waistline and health, choose sandwiches made with English muffins, toast or tortillas instead of biscuits. They are usually at least 100 calories lighter and allow you to skip about a third of a day’s limit on the saturated fat in a biscuit. Sausage, bacon and ham are processed meats best kept to occasional use only due to their link with colorectal cancer risk. Sausage, especially, adds a substantial calorie and saturated fat toll, too. If you’re making the sandwich at home or ordering from a place where you can add some tomatoes and peppers to the egg, that’s a top option. Even if you choose an egg and cheese sandwich (in the smaller size if that’s a choice), you can probably get the sandwich for 300 to 380 calories. That leaves room to include a piece of fruit, either from a restaurant or home, to deliver a balanced breakfast within the 400 to 425 calorie limit that best meets the needs of most adults. And while you may feel like it’s a calorie splurge, it’s the same or less than you’d get from one of those jumbo muffins that’s nothing but refined grain, six or seven teaspoons of sugar and often still a significant load of fat.

Q: What’s the nutritional difference between flax seed and hemp seed?

A: Both flax and hemp seeds, and their oils, are promoted as sources of the plant form of omega-3 fat (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA). It’s not converted as efficiently to the forms of omega-3 fat (EPA and DHA) which our body uses . However, scientists generally agree that including more omega-3s (also found in cold water fish) and less omega-6 fat (found in many vegetable oils, such as safflower and corn oil) could help reduce chronic inflammation linked to cancer, heart disease and more. Flax provides four times as much omega-3 fat as omega-6 fat. Hemp is also a concentrated plant source of omega-3s. Beyond the fat content, hemp seed (and hemp seed butter) is high in protein and low in fiber, whereas flax seed supplies only a modest touch of protein, but is a significant source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Flax seed shows clear benefit as a laxative and may help lower blood cholesterol, though research results on this have been mixed. Another major area of research with flax seeds relates to their lignans, plant estrogens that may offer protective effects against breast and prostate cancer. Flax seeds are also high in antioxidant compounds called flavonoids and phenolic acids; research on phytochemical content of hemp seeds is still limited for now. Hemp seeds can be eaten plain, like nuts, or mixed into baked goods. Flax seeds can also be added to baked goods, but be sure to use ground flax to get the most nutritional value.

Q: Should I consider a tortilla the equivalent of one slice of bread?

A: Like bread, tortillas do count as grain products, since they are made from either wheat or corn. A slice of bread typically contains 75 to 100 calories. Tortillas’ calorie content varies substantially depending on size and fat content. Corn tortillas are often the most comparable in calories to bread, with 50 to 65 calories each. Flour tortillas typically range from 110 to 180 calories each, because they contain some added fat and may be large enough to contain 50 to 100 percent more carbohydrate as well. Just as in choosing bread, look for whole-grain options (corn or whole wheat) and compare fat content listed on different tortilla labels. And be aware that if you choose super-size tortillas, each wrap or burrito may be more like two or three standard servings of bread.

 

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