Skip Navigation

2013 Fall Issue 1 (September 27, 2013)

Ask Mickey: Help Figuring Out What to Eat During Mealtime

September 27, 2013
By Bon Appétit Management Company

In the Ask Mickey column, a team of Bon Appétit Management Company dieticians and chefs offers tips on "chewing the right thing" and answers your nutrition questions.

Email your questions and feedback to nutrition@cafebonappetit.com or text (650) 308-9594.

Is stevia any better than table sugar, or just different?

Stevia is a non-caloric sweetening alternative to table sugar that is derived from the South American stevia plant. Depending on exactly which product you purchase, it is 100 to 200 times sweeter than table sugar by weight and is available in many forms, including powder, liquid concentrate, and whole or dried leaves. Stevia leaf has a long history of safe usage in Japan and other countries, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given it Generally Recognized as Safe status, despite some conflicting scientific data about potential harmful effects of consumption of some stevia products. Many people appreciate the perceived “naturalness” of stevia, versus chemically manufactured non-caloric sweeteners, as well as its ability to impart sweetness to foods without adding calories. Others find that it has a rather strong and unpleasant aftertaste, and they note that the stevia purchased at stores is a processed sweetener, much as table sugar is. One easy compromise is to try growing it yourself. Stevia is traditionally consumed as a whole leaf, and it can grow in many regions in America. Stevia products also behave differently than sugar in uses such as baking or in mixtures, so it may be appropriate for some uses like sweetening tea, but not so great for others.

The bottom line: for people who like the taste of stevia, it appears to be a safe way to enjoy something sweet without the calorie impacts of sugar. While it is best to consume sweet foods as occasional treats that are part of a moderate and balanced diet, stevia products may have a role to play for some consumers. 

I’ve always heard that rice and beans make a “complete protein.” What does that mean? Do I have to include the rice?

“Protein combining” and aiming for food combinations that would create a “complete protein” was a concept popularized by early understanding of food science. Our bodies use protein to build muscle, grow taller, maintain skin integrity, and ensure a robust immune system, among many other functions. Proteins are made of smaller chemical units called amino acids.  Many nutritious plant foods (such as rice and other whole grains, beans, peas, etc.) contain only some of the nine amino acids that we need for a varied diet, while other plant foods contain different, and still incomplete, sets of those amino acids.  The idea behind protein combining is that by eating these plant foods together in particular combinations (such as rice and beans), an individual would end up with a “complete protein,” meaning all nine essential amino acids.

The great news for those who enjoy plant-based dining is that the science has evolved. We now know that we do not need to worry about managing particular amino acid combinations at each meal. Our bodies maintain a pool of individual amino acids that can be utilized for any bodily function for which they are needed, including amino acids derived from all the different types of protein foods a person eats. Assuming you consume a wide variety of nutritious foods, that pool of amino acids will include all the different protein components you need for health. Still, favorite combinations such as rice and beans, which appear together in many traditional food cultures, certainly offer a wealth of healthful amino acids to replenish your supply.

Just enjoy a range of delicious and satisfying foods — including plant-based protein sources such as beans, seeds, and whole grains — and relax!

Is stevia any better than table sugar, or just different?

Stevia is a non-caloric sweetening alternative to table sugar that is derived from the South American stevia plant. Depending on exactly which product you purchase, it is 100 to 200 times sweeter than table sugar by weight and is available in many forms, including powder, liquid concentrate, and whole or dried leaves. Stevia leaf has a long history of safe usage in Japan and other countries, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given it Generally Recognized as Safe status, despite some conflicting scientific data about potential harmful effects of consumption of some stevia products. Many people appreciate the perceived “naturalness” of stevia, versus chemically manufactured non-caloric sweeteners, as well as its ability to impart sweetness to foods without adding calories. Others find that it has a rather strong and unpleasant aftertaste, and they note that the stevia purchased at stores is a processed sweetener, much as table sugar is. One easy compromise is to try growing it yourself. Stevia is traditionally consumed as a whole leaf, and it can grow in many regions in America. Stevia products also behave differently than sugar in uses such as baking or in mixtures, so it may be appropriate for some uses like sweetening tea, but not so great for others.

The bottom line: for people who like the taste of stevia, it appears to be a safe way to enjoy something sweet without the calorie impacts of sugar. While it is best to consume sweet foods as occasional treats that are part of a moderate and balanced diet, stevia products may have a role to play for some consumers. 

I’ve always heard that rice and beans make a “complete protein.” What does that mean? Do I have to include the rice?

“Protein combining” and aiming for food combinations that would create a “complete protein” was a concept popularized by early understanding of food science. Our bodies use protein to build muscle, grow taller, maintain skin integrity, and ensure a robust immune system, among many other functions. Proteins are made of smaller chemical units called amino acids.  Many nutritious plant foods (such as rice and other whole grains, beans, peas, etc.) contain only some of the nine amino acids that we need for a varied diet, while other plant foods contain different, and still incomplete, sets of those amino acids.  The idea behind protein combining is that by eating these plant foods together in particular combinations (such as rice and beans), an individual would end up with a “complete protein,” meaning all nine essential amino acids.

The great news for those who enjoy plant-based dining is that the science has evolved. We now know that we do not need to worry about managing particular amino acid combinations at each meal. Our bodies maintain a pool of individual amino acids that can be utilized for any bodily function for which they are needed, including amino acids derived from all the different types of protein foods a person eats. Assuming you consume a wide variety of nutritious foods, that pool of amino acids will include all the different protein components you need for health. Still, favorite combinations such as rice and beans, which appear together in many traditional food cultures, certainly offer a wealth of healthful amino acids to replenish your supply.

Just enjoy a range of delicious and satisfying foods — including plant-based protein sources such as beans, seeds, and whole grains — and relax!

Add a comment

Please login to comment.