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Jewish World Review Jan. 22, 2002 / 9 Shevat, 5762

Dr. Ed Blonz

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Consumer Reports

Is all soy milk created equal?; foods containing magnesium; why do vitamins expire? -- DEAR DR. BLONZ: I'm a lactose-intolerant diabetic who misses milk. I use soy milk as a substitute, and I have noticed something about the soy milks that are sold from the grocery shelves versus those sold in the cooler next to the cow's milk: The shelf soy milks are much higher in carbohydrates. One brand, for example, has 130 calories (35 calories from fat), with 18 grams of carbohydrates, while another has 100 calories (35 calories from fat), with only 8 grams of carbohydrates.

Why the dramatic difference? Until I read the nutrition facts, I thought soy milk was soy milk (barring a carb difference between plain and flavored). Is there something about the way the shelf soy milk is packaged for nonrefrigerated sale that requires the higher carbohydrate level? My concern stems from the fact that I am a diabetic, and I watch my carbohydrate intake. As a shopper, though, I have to watch my wallet, too, and the cooler soy milks are usually much more expensive than their shelf brethern. -- J.C., San Diego, Calif.

Dear J.P.: With dairy milk, there is a specific industry standard, but such is not the case with soy milk. As a result, soy milks are free to roam along a larger ingredient and flavor frontier. There isn't anything right or wrong with any particular approach. Soy milk is a beverage made from soybeans that are soaked, ground into a slurry and strained to remove insoluble residue. That given, each product is formulated according to a company's desired qualities. It can be plain or flavored, with or without fat, and with or without added nutrients. Soy does not contain much calcium of its own, so a number of companies fortify their products to lend it a milk-like nutrient profile.

Prior to packaging, most commercial soy milks undergo an ultra-high temperature, short-time pasteurization process known as UHT. Some products are then put into rectangular aseptic cartons, safe for storage at room temperature for up to one year. These cartons contain a special layer that prevents air or moisture penetration. The packaging is the key, not the level of carbohydrates in the formula.

Soy milk stored in more conventional cartons needs to be stored at refrigerator temperatures. In both cases, there will be a "best used by" date, so be sure to read this information before you make your selection. Once opened, both types need to be refrigerated to maintain freshness and should be used within five to seven days. Incidentally, if you are lactose intolerant and want dairy milk, there are now 100-percent lactose-free products available in many areas. Check with your grocer.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Which foods contain magnesium? -- C.B., York, Pa.

Dear C.B.: Magnesium is an essential element needed for maintaining normal bone structure. (Half of the body's magnesium is in our bones.) It is also required for normal nerve transmission, muscle relaxation and normal heart rhythm. Good dietary sources include avocado, nuts, bananas, legumes, whole grains, dark leafy greens, milk and oysters.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Can you explain why vitamins expire? -- S.H., Arlington Heights, Ill. Dear S.H.: Vitamins are reactive compounds that play an integral role in most of the chemical reactions that take place in the body. Although mineral supplements tend to be quite stable, vitamins can slowly lose potency over time. Factors that encourage breakdown include humidity, temperature and light, and formulas that contain fat-soluble nutrients tend to break down the fastest. The best way to store products is in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark place. Many supplements include moisture-absorbing capsules or packets to help maintain product quality. Product expiration dates indicate when the vitamins can be assured of full potency, assuming that the product has been stored appropriately.

JWR contributor Ed Blonz, Ph.D., is a nutrition scientist and author of Power Nutrition and the "Your Personal Nutritionist" book series. Send questions to him by clicking here.


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