health + diet

The World’s First All-Vegan Supermarket Chain Opens its First U.S. Branch

tote bag available at MotiveCo.

tote bag available at MotiveCo.

 

The world can be a cruel place for vegans.
They’re forced to eat just the sides at dinner parties and are exhausted from carrying the weight of moral superiority. Finally, they have a place to call home. Veganz, the world’s first all-vegan supermarket chain, will be opening later this year in Portland, Oregon.

TopVeganCitiesFINALVeganz fits Portland like a glove.
The city is already home to an all-vegan strip mall, a vegan tattoo parlor, a vegan donut shop, and a vegan colon hydrotherapy clinic (don’t ask). There’s even a vegan strip club where you can enjoy a bowl of lentil soup while the strippers perform, and you’re assured that none are wearing clothing made of fur, leather, feathers, or wool. A vegan supermarket? You have to wonder what took them so long.

The five-year old supermarket chain opened its first store in Berlin. It now has locations throughout Germany and has pushed into Austria and the Czech Republic. In 2016 Veganz stores will open in London, Amsterdam, Zurich, Barcelona, Milan, Copenhagen, and of course Portland.

Since whole, unprocessed, animal-free foods are well represented in mainstream markets, Veganz instead emphasizes the processed side of veganism, filling its shelves with food analogs. There are fake cheeses, fake meats and fish, egg substitutes, dairy-free ice creams and baked goods, and of course plenty of meatless German-style wursts and schnitzels. The chain’s merchandisers are sourcing from 30 countries to assemble this range of products.

Less than 1% of the U.S. population chooses a vegan lifestyle, fewer than 4% follow an exclusively vegetarian diet, but between a third (older consumers) and a half (millennials) of Americans fall somewhere on the flexitarian spectrum. Many are half-time, Michael Pollan-styled vegans following his prescriptive VB6 schedule of meat-free eating just until 6 PM.

I’m sure there are Portland vegans and vegetarians who will be thrilled to have a hometown Veganz.
The store’s analog offerings can satisfy their hunger for the meat-ish foods that are missing from their diets. But most of us, with veg-friendly but flexible diets are not so hard up, and faux and processed meat- and dairy-like substances just won’t cut it. Animal welfare and environmental factors are part of the equation, but most people who eschew a meat-based diet do so for reasons of health and wellness.

We might have different moral comfort zones, but we’re all looking for balance, variety, and satisfaction.

 

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2015 Was A Pretty Lousy Year for Food Policy

 

It was (Big) business as usual in 2015.
Big Food, Big Agriculture, Big Chemicals, and Big Soda faced off against public health advocates, and the public was all too often the Big Loser. Here are some of the more notable food policy highs and lows from the past year.

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The coveted children’s nutrition seal goes to ….Pasteurized Processed Cheese Product

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics selected Kraft Singles as the first product to earn its new Kids Eat Right nutrition seal. The Academy, representing 75,000 health professionals, advises Congress in developing regulations that shape national food policy. It also counts PepsiCo, Kraft, and ConAgra Foods among its corporate sponsors. In a Daily Show segment, Jon Stewart summed up the announcement by explaining “the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is an academy in the same way this [Kraft Singles] is cheese.”

 

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In his first official act as the newly elected commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture, Sid Miller declared a statewide ‘amnesty for cupcakes,’ symbolically squaring off against what he calls the federal overreach of school nutrition guidelines. He also reversed a 10-year old ban, returning deep fryers and soda machines to school cafeterias.

In other childhood obesity news, the president of Cinnabon and a former Coca-Cola president were keynote speakers at the annual conference of the School Nutrition Association.

herbicide_spraying_sign-4316-8931Dow and Monsanto doubled down on herbicides this year. Their first generation GMO seeds were bestowed with herbicide-resistant genetic material that allowed crops to survive the bounteous spraying of toxins. Now that weeds have adapted with their own toxin resistance, the agro-giants have newly engineered seeds that are able to tolerate more powerful chemicals and have brewed up companion cocktails combining old and new herbicides. The World Health Organization and the EPA have both voiced concerns about their carcinogenic effects on humans. Expect to see the chemical cocktails on your local garden center shelves in time for spring planting.

The Global Energy Balance Network says 'go ahead, drink up'

The Global Energy Balance Network says ‘go ahead, drink up’

Stunning news came out of an anti-obesity group called the Global Energy Balance Network. The organization burst on the scene this years with an advisory board stocked with respected scientists and physicians all bearing the message that we’ve been wrong about the link between diet and obesity. Despite the 40,000 or so relevant studies that pop up in a quick Google Scholar search, the group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, a top exercise scientist with the University of South Carolina, dismissed the link with this statement: “Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on, and there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

The Global Energy Balance Network proved to be nothing more than a front for Coca-Cola, a little detail that was omitted in GEBN materials. Founded entirely on millions in unrestricted funds provided by Coca-Cola, the soda company selected the organization’s leaders, edited its mission statement, and suggested content for its website. Side note: in the last few years Dr. Blair received $3.5 million in research funds from Coca-Cola. Just saying.

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Food safety, transparency, and traceability took a hit this year when Congress repealed the country-of-origin-labeling rule on beef and pork. This came as we were still reeling from the news that even Chipotle, with its fresh ingredients and best practices, was vulnerable to a series of foodborne illness disasters. Then we heard about the new strain of E. coli appearing on Chinese pig farms that is more virulent and antibiotic resistant than anything we’ve ever seen, able to shake off even anti-pathogen drugs of last resort.
Slave ship shrimp, anyone?

It’s not all bad news from 2015.
We have a First Lady who continues to push for better school nutrition. The American appetite for fast food is finally waning. Trans fats and food dyes are disappearing from many processed foods. We’re losing our taste for sugared cereals, sodium-heavy canned soups, white bread, margarine, and corn syrup sweetened beverages. Calorie intake dropped for the first time in decades mostly because of improved product labeling and effective public health messaging.

In the new year we’ll continue to butt heads over GMOS and antibiotics, soda taxes and marketer access to child-oriented media. Resources aren’t aligned with our nutritional goals, and corporate interests are too cozy with policy makers. Here’s hoping that in 2016 common sense prevails and the public’s interests are put ahead of profits.

 

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Evidence is Piling Up: Marijuana Could Be a Weight Loss Aid

 

image via Cosmopolitan

image via Cosmopolitan

 

“The prevalence of obesity was significantly lower in cannabis users than in nonusers.”
                                       American Journal of Epidemiology, Oxford University Press, August, 2011

So concluded researchers from the first large-scale study of marijuana use and obesity. They analyzed data from 50,000 U.S. adults, controlled for participants’ sociodemographic characteristics (age, education, ethnicity, etc.), and found a marked difference in obesity rates: less than 17% among cannabis users versus 25% among nonusers, and the most frequent smokers (3X per week or more) were the slimmest of them all.

The study pretty much turns on its ear everything you thought you knew about the munchies. And there have been others:

  • a 2013 study from the Harvard School of Public Health, published in the American Journal of Medicine shows that pot smokers, on average, have smaller waists and higher levels of ‘good’ cholesterol than non-pot smokers. Again, the biggest winners were the heaviest users.
  • The research journal Obesity published a study this year linking lower body mass index and lower insulin levels, both markers for diabetes, with cannabis use.
  • The British Medical Journal reports that current abstainers who merely have a history of marijuana use are at a lower risk of contracting type 2 diabetes than those with no history of cannabis consumption.

Can you think of a more counterintuitive diet aid than marijuana?

The munchies are a well-documented phenomenon. Rigorous, double-blind, controlled studies only confirm what generations of stoners and chemotherapy patients know: smoking weed makes you hungry. And not regular hungry but craving food of the sweet, salty, or fatty variety. Marijuana perks up the taste and hunger receptors in your brain and body; flavors are heightened on the tongue as happy-making mood compounds course through your body, and your brain craves more, more, more. It’s why even brownies made from a boxed mix will taste so damn good when you’re stoned.

Actually, marijuana isn’t all that far-fetched as a diet aid.

For starters, obesity researchers know that a diet of foods laden with concentrated sugars and refined starches can act on the brain in much the same way. Chronic overeaters are essentially looking to stimulate the same reward centers as marijuana smokers. Basically, cannabis users are less inclined to overindulge in food in that way because they already have their own high.

An easy benefit to understand is the impact of body temperature on weight regulation. Cannabis elevates the body’s core temperature and increases blood flow. The effect on the metabolism is similar to what happens during exercise—metabolic processes speed up and burn off more calories, and continue to do so for an hour or two after smoking—seemingly enough to counteract the munchies and then some. Less is understood about marijuana’s role in regulating the body’s blood sugar levels and insulin, but trial data has many in the medical community convinced that a marijuana derivative will someday be part of the everyday health regimen for people with diabetes.

Marijuana just might be the antidote to the national obesity epidemic. 
Researchers from San Diego State University and Cornell University, publishing in last month’s journal of Health Economics, found that when a state passes a medical marijuana law, the probability of obesity drops by 2 to 6 percent and generates savings in obesity-related medical costs of $58 to $115 per citizen, per year. As compelling as the evidence might be, it’s nearly impossible to fund and conduct research and drug trials as long as marijuana remains an illegal substance on the national level.

 

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How To Navigate Our Collective Food Anxiety

image via Marie Saba

image via Marie Saba

 

Are hot dogs really as bad for you as cigarettes?
Will coffee send you to an early grave? Is gluten fogging your brain or is it dairy?
There are 40,000 items in the supermarket, but it sometimes feels like there’s nothing safe to eat.

Eat this! Don’t eat that!
There’s a steady barrage of nutritional advice and medical headlines, and they usually contradict earlier messages. We’ve seen good foods gone bad— think of tuna and margarine. Dietary no-no’s like coffee, red wine, eggs, and chocolate are the new health foods, but toasted bread is carcinogenic. Yes to sugar, no to soy. Or is it yes to soy? We’re counseled to eat more fatty acids, except whoops, gotta watch the Omega-6s. I forget, are we eating butter this week?

food-allergyFood avoidance has become a way of life.
We read labels for the un-ingredients, more interested in what’s not in food than what’s in it. The packaged foods industry reports that 52% of consumers are avoiding specific ingredients, up from 26% in less than a decade. Those afflicted with allergies, sensitivities or specific health problems are in the minority. The rest of us are opting out of certain foods and ingredients as a lifestyle choice. And those packaged food marketers love the trend; they get to charge a clean label premium to a larger share of the market than is medically or nutritionally justified. Take gluten-free products: less than one per cent of the population needs to avoid gluten but more than 29 per cent chooses to avoid iteven though it’s estimated that a gluten-free diet can double the cost of groceries (and ironically, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness show that the number one stressor for celiac patients is not the disease itself but the cost of the diet).

We agonize over food in ways that would mystify earlier generations who only worried about getting enough.
It’s been called the gastronomic equivalent of having too much time on our hands, and the abundance has allowed our thoughts to run amok, turning one of our most basic pleasures into a significant source of anxiety. When fear crosses into phobia, it even gets its own clinical diagnosis: Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, also known as Selective Eating Disorder, appears in the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Additives, dyes, GMOs, hormones…they give us good reasons to seek out dietary advice.
Recognize that solid, evidence-based advice seldom deals in absolutes. It’s constantly updated and revised as it accounts for the evolving, nuanced landscape of diets and populations. On the flipside are the food marketers, alarmist media, and health gurus whose unambiguous claims are too often ill-informed and lacking context. They escalate our fears and lead us into the kind of avoidance and deprivation that may be unnecessary and unsound, and will certainly be less enjoyable.

As the late, great Julia Child used to say:
“If you’re afraid of butter, just use cream.”

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First You Laugh, Then You Cringe: The Krispy Kreme Children’s Hospital is Real

 

DrDonut

Dr. Donut via Adventure Time/Cartoon Network

Paging Dr. Donut to the Krispy Kreme Challenge Children’s Specialty Clinic at the University of North Carolina.
Universities have made some boneheaded choices when it comes to selling property naming rights. The University of New Mexico has the WisePies Pizza and Salad basketball arena and Florida Atlantic University cut a stadium deal with an operator of prisons and detention centers (later rescinded when students protested its corporate history of corruption and human rights violations). Then there are the bathrooms. For the smalltime philanthropist, or just a donor with a sense of humor, these too are up for grabs. You can find individually named stalls at Dixie State College of Utah; a named men’s room at Harvard Law School; and library urinals at the University of Pennsylvania complete with plaques that read “The relief you are now experiencing is made possible by a gift from Michael Zinman.” 

The renaming of UNC’s Children’s Specialty Clinic is distinctly different.
It’s not like slapping a corporate name on a stadium. This mashup of children’s healthcare and sugary deep-fried pastries arrives in the midst of an epidemic of pediatric metabolic syndrome, and it does so in North Carolina, ranked 5th worst in the US for childhood obesity. The university drew immediate flak from doctors and nutritionists, beginning with members of UNC’s own faculty:

Shame on my colleagues for not finding a way to accept funds without providing free advertisement for junk food. What is interesting about this is if we named this the Winston-Salem [cigarette] clinic, it would outrage America and maybe even the same for the Coca-Cola Clinic, but Krispy Kremes are equally horrible for our health — they are high sugar, high fat, refined carbohydrate junk food primed to add to the child obesity problem plaguing North Carolina.

 —Barry Popkin, MD, W. R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor/Director, UNC Chapel Hill’s Interdisciplinary Center for Obesity

The clinic responded to the criticism by explaining that it isn’t named for the Krispy Kreme Corporation, or even the sugary treat, but that it’s an homage to a non-profit organization that holds an annual foot race raising money for sick children that just happens to have the trademarked name in the race title. The eponymous Krispy Kreme Challenge is a grotesquely ludicrous feat of athleticism that bills itself as a “test of physical fitness and gastrointestinal fortitude”—the first to run five miles with a midpoint snack of a dozen donuts is the winner. So they say.

The public health advocates at the Center for Science in the Public Interest are circulating a petition on Change.org calling out the university for its flagrant hypocrisy and conflict of interest and urging UNC not put the Krispy Kreme name on its children’s clinic.
The petition appeals directly to the administrators and faculty leadership of the health facility:

…you undoubtedly see firsthand the impact of poor diet on children’s health on a daily basis. Putting a doughnut brand on a medical institution that serves children undermines your organization’s credibility, parents’ efforts to facilitate healthy eating by their kids, and children’s health.
Food marketing affects children’s food choices, their diets, and health, resulting in long-term health impacts. Kids don’t need encouragement to eat sweets—particularly from their healthcare providers.
Please act now to ensure that the children’s clinic is not sullied by the Krispy Kreme name.

The CSPI petition is just a thousand or so signers shy of its goal. Help put it over the top by adding your name at Change.org.
There’s got to be a better way to honor the generosity and  good work of a North Carolina nonprofit without sending such an inappropriate message to children.

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In Meat We Trust. But We Shouldn’t.

 

photo via Meat America

photo via Meat America

 

Which is more dangerous—the processed meats that cause cancer or the industry that spins the evidence to get you to eat more of them?

This week the World Health Organization, the public health arm of the United Nations, finally came out and said something that we’ve pretty much known all along: processed meat is really, really bad for you. A daily portion of just 50 grams- that’s a single hot dog or two slices of bacon- increases the risk of colon or rectal cancer by 18 percent.

Processed meats cause cancer. Period.
It’s unequivocal. Salted, preserved, smoked, cured, and  fermented meats can kill you. The WHO isn’t pussyfooting around with talk of possible carcinogens or a link with cancer; they’re saying it outright—processed meats give you cancer. These foods are now officially Class 1 Carcinogens, a classification that includes plutonium, arsenic, asbestos, and tobacco.

The meat industry responded with a shrug. Cancer? That old thing again?
The North American Meat Institute (NAMI), an industry lobby representing members who pack and process 95% of U.S. beef, pork, veal, and lamb products (and most of the turkey too) downplayed the risks in its official response, characterizing the WHO report as “alarmist overreach.” After all, carcinogens are merely “theoretical hazards.” They go on to say that if we want to avoid all carcinogens we’d never drink coffee, sit in the sun, or even breathe the air around us. It’s not like everyone who eats hot dogs will get cancer.

Carcinogens do not cause cancer at all times, under all circumstances. Some may only be carcinogenic if a person is exposed in a certain way (for example, swallowing it as opposed to touching it). Some may only cause cancer in people who have a certain genetic makeup. Some of these agents may lead to cancer after only a very small exposure, while others might require intense exposure over many years….Even if a substance or exposure is known or suspected to cause cancer, this does not necessarily mean that it can or should be avoided….

—NAMI press release, October 26, 2015

Richard Lyng former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture former president of the American Meat Institute charter member of the Meat Industry Hall of Fame

Richard Lyng
former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
and former president of the American Meat Institute lobby
Honored in 2009 as a charter member of the Meat Industry Hall of Fame

 

The meat industry has a long history of weakening or preventing dietary health initiatives.
Its lobby is a powerful political force, both in the legislative and the regulatory arena. The USDA has an unusually cozy relationship with meat lobbyists because the agency is tasked with both regulating and promoting the industry, and these conflicting interests play out every time the government develops dietary guidelines. This is a sector that, by NAMI estimates, contributes approximately $894 billion to the U.S. economyearning it enormous access and influence on Capitol Hill. When tensions play out with the Department of Agriculture, the results generally wind up favoring the industry.

Over the years, the meat lobby has successfully influenced lawmakers and regulators to contradict scientific evidence, government data, and even their own committee recommendations, impelling them to rewrite major initiatives and amend legislation shaping everything from the food pyramid to the implementation of salmonella testing in our food safety system. A familiar pattern emerges whenever a drop in consumption is recommended: attack the scientific methodology backing the recommendations. NAMI employs that time-tested tactic in its latest defense of processed meat. After chiding us for our silly fear of cancer-causing agents, this latest press release trots out old cancer studies that failed to establish causality, proof that, in the words of researchers at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, “Cancer is a complex disease that even the best and brightest minds don’t fully understand.” NAMI also reminds us that “Numerous published studies show that those who choose a vegan diet are at increased risk of mental decline due to lack of B12, iron deficiency anemia, osteoporosis and age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia).”

strike-out-billboard-1images billboards pulled out each spring for placement at hot dog hotbeds like MLB ballparks by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Carcinogenicity of processed meat
has been ringing alarm bells for decades with evidence rolling in from studies performed at Harvard’s School of Public Health, the American Institute for Cancer Research, the National Institutes of Health, and dozens more domestic and global research facilities. Researchers have linked processed meats to colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and childhood leukemia, with risks increased by as much as 67 percent. Public health organizations like the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund have proclaimed hot dogs “unfit for human consumption” and would like to see an outright ban, and others have called for graphic warning labels like those for cigarettes.

The problem with processing.
There’s plenty of salt and saturated fat in hot dogs, salami, pastrami, and other processed meat products but it’s the nitrites that’ll kill you. Sodium nitrite is a salty preservative that’s added to develop flavor, keep the meat’s pink color, and inhibit bacterial growth. And the premium and organic meats that are labelled ‘no-added-nitrates’ or ‘naturally cured’? Brands like Applegate and Niman Ranch get around nitrite labeling with a little additive sleight-of-hand plus some arcane labeling loopholes courtesy of the FDA. They pour on the celery juice, which happens to be loaded with naturally occurring nitrate, then they add a naturally-derived bacterial culture that converts the harmless nitrate into harmful nitrite.

Alas, nitrite is nitrite. It makes no difference if it’s added directly or formed later, synthetic or naturally-derived. Take any kind of nitrite, add any kind of meat and heat, and it’s going to form cancer-causing compounds. When the Journal of Food Protection looked at popular hot dog brands, it found that the natural hot dogs had anywhere from one-half to 10 times the amount of nitrite that conventional hot dogs contained.

The USDA has been trying to rid the meat industry of nitrites since the 1970’s.
Naturally NAMI (then known as just AMI, the American Meat Institute) has always lobbied strenuously against restrictions or even additional labeling requirements, and trotted out its favorite tactic with the publication of the evidence-denying sodium nitrite Fact Sheet. In it, NAMI dismisses much of the research as “old myths” and the work of vegans and animal rights activists. It refers to sodium nitrite as “an essential public health tool,” and points to a 2005 animal study suggesting therapeutic uses for nitrites in the treatment of heart attacks, sickle cell disease, and leg vascular problems.

Most experts say that the occasional hot dog or BLT isn’t going to kill you. The choice is yours. And if there is honest and accurate labeling, you can make an informed choice. But if the meat lobby has its way, you’ll never get the chance.

 

 

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Egg Yolk Color is the Spray-On Tan of the Chicken World

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You know the good eggs. They’re all-natural and cage-free, freshly plucked from the nest of a chicken with a protein rich diet free of GMOs, pesticides, and antibiotics. You schlep to the farmers market and pay a pretty penny for them, and when you get them home and crack them open you ooh and ahh over the gorgeous, richly colored yolks.

What puts the sunny in sunny side up?
Yolk color depends on a hen’s diet. The pigments in feed are deposited in the egg yolks so a hen that eats yellow corn will lay eggs with deeper yellow yolks than a hen that eats white corn. Most eaters believe that a darker yolk correlates with a more protein-packed egg, but in fact all it really tells you is what the chicken was eating.

It doesn’t mean that there aren’t benefits to cage-free eggs.
A pasture-raised hen’s diet is denser in nutrients from fresh vegetation and insects, and it lays eggs with higher levels of healthy fatty acids and antioxidants. Since there are more naturally occurring pigments in these foraged foods, free-ranging hens lay eggs that yield deep orange yolks, and while the color isn’t caused by the nutrients, it is indicative of their presence.

Like a dissolute party girl with the healthy glow of a faux suntan, conventional egg producers manipulate yolk colors to dress up the eggs of battery cage chickens.
Artificial colors aren’t permitted, but conventional chicken feed routinely contains the extracts of pigment-imparting additives derived from orange peels, red peppers, annatto seeds, carrots, marigold leaves, and algae. The leading line of poultry pigment comes from DSM– aka the European Monsanto- which touts the precision delivery and unique beadlet technology of its CAROPHYLL® range of carotenoid additives. Egg producers choose their desired shade of egg yolk using an industry standard egg yolk color identifier similar to the paint chip fan decks you find at the hardware store. While the eggs of pastured hens will show seasonal variations as the foraged diet changes throughout the year, conventional egg producers tinker with additive levels to maintain year round consistency. Kind of like wearing bronzer in the dead of winter.

another DSM product

the industry standard egg yolk color fan, another DSM product

 

 

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Name That Scent: It’s more than just good smells and stinky ones.

image via WikiHow

image via WikiHow

 

Smell is the trickiest of the senses.
Touch is easy— it’s categorized as heat and cold, pressure and pain. Sight and sound are even more obvious; they’re both measurable physical phenomena, described through our perceptions of light and sound waves. Even taste is straightforward; there are countless variations but just five basic categories—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. Only smell combines extraordinary precision—think of how many things you can identify by smell alone—while at the same time it’s the most subjective of the senses. A smell is impossible to describe to someone who’s never smelled it, and everyone’s perceptions are different, rooted in their own unique memories and associations.

We take more than 23,000 breaths each day, and each one is an opportunity to smell.
The world is awash in olfactory information. There are more than 100,000 smells floating around the globe, and it takes just eight microscopic particles to trigger a reaction in one of the five million receptor cells in our noses. The sensation is processed in the limbic region, the emotional center of the brain, where the sensory data get all tangled up in memories. That’s why a whiff of roasting turkey can flood you with warm and fuzzy memories of family Thanksgivings, or a fragrant bouquet of flowers will have you thinking of your beloved grandmother, even if you never knew that her hand cream was lily-scented.

Even though a smell can be sensed by just a handful of molecules reaching your nose, objects can have hundreds or even thousands of different volatile compounds all throwing off their own molecules. Each compound contributes a single core odor, and just 230 of them are food-related. A simple food like butter contains just three different odor compounds, strawberries have 12, and a complex wine can hit the upper limit with its aroma encoded by a combination of 40 different molecules.

Smell and taste are the sister senses, playing off of the same molecules.
About 80% of what we taste is due to our sense of smell. Without it we are perceiving only the building blocks of flavor– the sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. With it we have the nuance of an infinite universe of sensory combinations.

Fun olfactory facts:

  • Most of what you smell is coming through the left nostril. The reason you never noticed this is because 80% of noses are not in the middle of the face but pitched slightly to the right, so it seems like the smell is coming right up the middle.
  • Marijuana-induced munchies are not a gustatory phenomena so much as an olfactory one; cannabis enhances the sense of smell which leads to increased appetite.
  • Lose your sense of smell and you’ll lose your libido.
  • Your nose grows all-new scent receptors every 30 days.
  • The fatter you are the better the chocolate smells; scientists don’t know if this is cause or effect.

 

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Holiday Weight Gain: The Unwanted, Un-returnable Gift of the Season

image via Shelton Crossfit

image via Shelton Crossfit

 

The holidays are fattening. That’s true.
We pack on the pounds. That’s a myth.

The Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper shares his 7 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain with the cast of the Today Show. WebMD gives us 10 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain. Greatist ratchets it up with 32 Science-Backed Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain.
With a steady stream of media stories like these, it should come as no surprise that we vastly overestimate how fattening the holidays are.

Tales of holiday weight gain have been greatly exaggerated.
A classic study from the New England Journal of Medicine reports that we expect to gain at least five pounds. The reality, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a typical weight gain of between 0.4 and 1.8 pounds. That’s an average gain of around one pound for the season.

Just one little holiday pound—that doesn’t sound so bad after six weeks of free-flowing eggnog.
It’s only one pound, but most people hang on to it. Weight is on an upward creep throughout most of our lives, from early adulthood to the peak of middle-age spread. We tend to accumulate about two pounds during each of those years, and half of that can be traced to holiday indulgence.

More bad news—you won’t be losing the weight at the gym.
Every January millions of Americans pat their soft little holiday bellies and vow to get fit in the new year. It’s one of the most common resolutions, and health club rosters overflow with well-intentioned new members. Gym owners are all too happy to offer January deals and promotions because they know that the overflowing yoga classes and treadmill lines will be gone before the end of the month. A full 60% of annual gym memberships go unused after the first six weeks of every new year. Our collective failure to keep our fitness resolutions is the easiest money those gym owners see all year.

We don’t fare any better with a January menu of cottage cheese and green tea. 
40% of all New Year’s resolutions relate to diet and weight loss, but women typically revert to old eating habits by January 6th, with men holding out for another week. Men are more weak-willed about cutting out alcohol, usually making it only as far as the first weekend of the new year, while women abstain for two weeks.

With a single new holiday pound every year, the needle on the scale creeps up very slowly. But once it’s there it’s not budging.

 

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The Holiday Diet Detox

image via Ayay.uk

image via Ayay.uk

 

The typical Thanksgiving meal is a whopping 4,500 calories.
That’s two days’ worth of food for most of us. It’s the caloric equivalent of downing nine large orders of McDonald’s fries in a single sitting.

It’s time to think about a post-Thanksgiving detox.
Approaches vary from juice fasts to activated charcoal capsules to colon cleansing regimens, but all the Thanksgiving detoxes are aimed at flushing the November alcohol, sugar, and toxins out of your body. Do it now and you can boost your immune system and improve metabolic function just in time for the next round of holiday parties.

You name it and The Detoxinista can tell you how to excrete, secrete, or otherwise expel it from your body. She covers all the usual troublemakers like alcohol, meat, gluten, grains, nuts, and eggs, and even gives us a few new substances to worry about (nightshade, predatory fish, the auto-immune protocol).

Detox the World adds bacteria, yeast, and fungus to the list.

There are apps to guide you through a sugar detoxa raw foods regimen, or go the paleo way with a morning glass of spinach-limeade.

You can be gender-specific: the Man-Up Detox promises to boost testosterone while it cleanses; Body Detox 4 Women advises bubble baths and dark chocolate.

The Official Online Holiday Detox Kit dispenses absolution along with advice: ‘to overdo it is human. to overdo it over the holidays is almost mandatory. we’re here to help.’  You pick your poison (choose from food, family, or frolic), enter your specific overindulgence, and the online tool suggests the appropriate cure. Too much pumpkin pie—balance your diet with an artichoke; overbearing in-laws—watch the ‘Wha Happened?’ clip from A Mighty Wind; a bit too much of the holiday nog—try bed rest, a cold pack, and the Stevie Wonder station on Pandora.

With a little post-Thanksgiving cleansing and purging, you’ll be ready for the holiday excess still to come.

 

Posted in health + diet, holidays, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

You probably encountered a dozen pig by-products before you even left your house this morning

Everything But the Oink via AnimalSmart.org

Everything But the Oink via AnimalSmart.org

 

Your world is awash in pig parts.
Pig-derived ingredients add color to soap, a pearly sheen to shampoo, and give texture to toothpaste. They’re the moist in moisturizer, the anti-cling of fabric softener, and the reason that crayons smell that way. Shoe leather, cell phone batteries, laundry soap, wallpaper, sponges—they can all harbor pig byproducts.

Then there’s the pig that you don’t know you’re eating.
Pig by-products make unannounced appearances in every aisle of the supermarket. A multi-tasking gelatin derived from pig bones and skin puts the chew in gum and licorice and the creaminess in cheesecake and tiramisu. It smooths out cream cheese and whipped cream and makes ice cream melt more slowly. Beer, wine, and fruit juices are filtered through pig gelatin, and it’s turned into pill coatings and capsule casings for thousands of prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Squishy soft bread and sandwich wraps stay pliable because of an added protein that’s extracted from pig hair, and a pig skin-derived protein is added to energy bars and yogurt, garlic salt and spice blends. Another protein, this one from clotted pig blood, is used to bind the smaller scraps of beef or fish that appear in fresh and frozen form as portion-controlled filets. Even the plate you eat from can contain ash from pig bones, and your napkin was probably made with more of that gelatin.

Pig-derived food additives are hiding in plain sight.
Processors will deliberately remove the word ‘animal’ from their ingredient list. For example, hydrolyzed animal protein becomes hydrolyzed collagen, and animal protein is labeled L-cysteine. There are thousands more technical and patented names for variations on pig-based food additives. Some probably sound familiar if you read a lot of product packaging, but you probably didn’t know that glycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, and oleic acid can all be derived from pig by-products. Adding to the confusion are the pig parts that don’t wind up in the final product but are used in the manufacturing process like bone char that’s used to whiten sugar and gelatin that removes tannins from wine. These don’t even have to be mentioned by the manufacturer.

We have a right to know.
Do you keep kosher or follow the rules of halal? Are you vegan or vegetarian? Or are you just, like any sane person, interested in knowing the substances and ingredients that you consume and are exposed to in daily living?

Learn what’s really in your pantry. The PETA website maintains a list of common animal-derived ingredients.

Phone apps like Is It Vegan? and Animal-Free are handy reference guides for many common and hidden animal ingredients.

See if your favorite beer, wine, or spirit is animal-free. Barnivore maintains a massive and up-to-date vegan alcohol directory with nearly 19,000 entries.

Posted in food knowledge, food safety, vegetarian/vegan | Leave a comment

He’ll Look at Your Kitchen and Guess Your Weight

Weight_guesser_on_the_Pay_Streak_01,_A-Y-P,_1909

[Image by Frank H. Nowell via University of Washington Libraries]

Brian Wansink is on a mission to change the way we eat.
As the director of the famed Cornell Food and Brand Lab he’s given the world the 100-calorie snack pack and the Ig Noble Award-winning Bottomless Soup Bowl Experiment. He’s scrutinized centuries of Last Supper paintings to track the evolution of portion sizes, and knows just how many more people will order mac and cheese if you add the descriptor ‘creamy.’ Wansink is pretty much the foremost authority on why we make so many bad food choices, and he’s concluded that most people basically have no idea how much they’re putting in their mouths or why.

Your tastebuds and appetite aren’t calling the shots.
Of the 220 or so food-related choices you face in an average day, Wansink has found that maybe 15 of them lead to conscious, active decision-making based on health, hunger, and taste. The vast majority are of the mindless variety—when you help yourself to seconds because the bowl is right there or take a gulp of orange juice because you saw the carton when you opened the refrigerator. Your kitchen is leading you—even tricking you—into mindless eating.

There are fat kitchens and skinny kitchens.
Wansink’s research determined that easy access to certain foods predicts the weight trajectory of a kitchen’s denizens. Occupants weigh nine pounds more than the norm when a box of cookies or bag of potato chips is sitting on the counter. A visible box of cereal correlates to an extra 21 pounds. Soda is the most dangerous countertop fixture—even when it’s diet soda—associated with 25 extra pounds, while a filled fruit bowl predicts that the occupant will weigh eight pounds less than the norm.

You too can have a skinny kitchen:

  • Wrap your ice cream in foil.
    Put the cookies on the highest shelf or the lowest. Turn the pantry into a coat closet and the coat closet into a pantry. Do whatever you have to do so that you’re thinking before you indulge, and even working for it.
  • Add color.
    You eat more in a white kitchen. You also serve yourself more on white plates. The contrast works against you, encouraging you to fill the negative space.
  • Skip the candles.
    You linger at the table when the lights are low. Dim lights lead to second helpings.
  • Think small.
    You’re probably going to eat 90% of whatever is on your plate, so make it a smaller plate. And while you’re at it, a smaller serving spoon can cut serving size by 14% regardless of the plate size.
  • Rearrange your food.
    Mindless Eating 101: if you see it, you’ll eat it. You’re three times more likely to eat the first food you see in the cupboard than the fifth; the same goes for the top shelf of the refrigerator versus the crisper.
  • Check the door swing.
    You’ll cook more vegetables if you give them the path of least resistance. Your refrigerator should open toward the sink where you’ll wash and prep them. It’s about a $40 repair job if you’re swinging the wrong way.

In a perfect world, we would all eat mindfully. In the real world, something like 90% of us are mindlessly ruled by environmental food triggers. In his recently published Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday LifeWansink doesn’t try to fight those tendencies, but helps us understand and manipulate eating environments so that, even when it’s mindless, we’ll eat less and enjoy it more.

Posted in diet, health + diet, home | Leave a comment

Show Me the Labels!

Quotation-Plato-food-knowledge-soul-Meetville-Quotes-48653

 

It’s been four years since the passage of the national menu labeling law. Where are the labels?

The law calls for the FDA to mandate calorie labels at “restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations.”
It seems straightforward enough. At the time of its passage the 
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg even hailed its simplicity and ease of implementation. But four years later the agency is still tinkering with the rules and dithering about the date by which restaurants must comply.

Lobbyists for the food service industry dedicated themselves to obstructing the law by nitpicking the language of a single phrase restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations.”
The bowling alley lobby (who knew?) successfully argued for an exclusion by focusing on the phrase “retail food establishment.” They can serve a full menu but they claim to be in the entertainment business. Ditto for the movie theater operators’ lobby, and places like Chuck E. Cheese and Dave and Busters. The pizza chains concede that they’re in the retail food business, but establishments? Their lobbyists argue for an exclusion from onsite menu labeling because so much of the business is takeout and delivery. The true establishment, they claim, is the customer’s home. Retailers like Target, Costco, and BJ’s want to wriggle out of compliance because of the verbiage “20 or more locations.” The retailers themselves have the requisite number of locations, but the in-store restaurants are often independent, and operated by small business owners.
Convenience stores, supermarkets, vending machine operators, and airlines have all found their own loopholes in the language.

In the meantime, it’s business as usual at the nation’s chain restaurants.
Earlier this week, the nutrition watchdogs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest announced the 2014 Xtreme Eating Awards—its annual survey of chain restaurants’ latest permutations of fat, calories, salt, and sugar. A few years ago, a 1,500 calorie entrée would elicit gasps from the judges; this year every single nominee topped 2,000 calories and a handful weighed in at more than 3,000. The ultimate ‘winner’ came from the perennial overachiever The Cheesecake Factory whose Bruléed French Toast is a gut-busting plate of sugar, butter, syrup, and custard-soaked bread clocking in with a full day’s worth of sodium, 3 days’ worth of sugar, and enough saturated fat to carry its eater through an entire workweek. It’s the rare dish where the side of bacon is the healthiest item on the plate.

It’s not like it’s named The Lo-Fat Cottage Cheese Factory.
Caveat emptor, right? No one goes there expecting health food. You could argue that chains like The Cheesecake Factory are just giving us what we want, and we’re a willing public with a taste for fats.

But is this really what we want?
Restaurants aren’t just delivering amped-up comfort food; they’re pushing ever harder at the boundaries of our taste and serving the results in eye-popping portions. Look at the dish that appears on The Cheescake Factory menu as Bow-Tie Pasta, Chicken, Mushrooms, Tomato, Pancetta, Peas and Caramelized Onions in a Roasted Garlic-Parmesan Cream Sauce. It sounds hearty, soothing, even indulgent with a bit of creamy garlic sauce, but you’d never guess that you’d have to eat five entrée-sized boxes of Stouffer’s frozen Classics Chicken Fettuccini Alfredo- each topped with a pat of butter!-to achieve the calorie and saturated fat equivalent. We shouldn’t have to guess.

This is a broken social contract. 
The Cheesecake Factory has every right to pile on the salt, fat, and sugar, and nobody is twisting our arms to eat there. But the abysmal nutritional standards and gargantuan portions are served up in the midst of America’s ever-worsening obesity crisis, and the food service industry is fighting tooth and nail to obstruct the stalled federal menu-labeling mandate. You can say that it’s beyond the scope of corporate responsibility to provide a solution to society’s ills, but corporate citizenship be damned; this is unconscionable.

Posted in food policy, health + diet, restaurants | Leave a comment

Lard Ass? Why, Thank You!

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

t-shirt available at Zazzle.com

Saturated fat is back.
2014 will be the third consecutive year that Americans purchased more butter than margarine. We’re up to an average of 23 sticks of butter a year—a 40 year high but still a far cry from the 72-stick average of America in the 1920’s.

Butter’s decline can be traced to wartime shortages in the 1940’s. Margarine stepped into the void, bolstered by patriotism and specious advertising. It had already surpassed butter when the 1970’s brought a new barrage of health claims and anti-butter propaganda that bolstered margarine’s reputation and guaranteed its reign for four more decades.

Today we have a complete reversal in both nutritional science and consumer preferences.
The myth of fat-clogged arteries has been exploded, and Americans have a ferocious appetite for natural foods. Margarine has regained its pre-war identity as a cheap, generally disreputable product of inferior quality and flavor, and butter is back on top. But butter is not the only great fat that’s been misunderstood.

The health and dining trends that gave a boost to butter have also set the stage for a lard comeback.
Lard has spent decades in the culinary cellar. All animal fats got a bad rap, but lard was especially vilified. We recoiled from its fat profile, flinging epithets like lard ass and tub of lard. In fact, by any estimation, lard is a healthier fat than butter. It’s lower in saturated fat (40% to butter’s 60%), and it’s higher in the monounsaturated fats that seem to lower the bad cholesterol (LDL), and raise the good (HDL).

Lard’s flavor is completely neutral–not even a hint of pig–but oh, what it can do for food.
Deep fry with lard and your potatoes will be airy with a golden shatter; fried chicken emerges with a crunch that belies its perfectly moist interior. Lard-cooked beans and vegetables caress your mouth like velvet; tortillas are wondrously supple. Lard brings a surprising lightness to baked goods. Cookies have a crisp delicacy, and its contribution to the structure and texture of pie crusts is legendary.

Sometimes the right food arrives on the scene at just the right time. It’s looking like this is lard’s moment. 

 

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Posted in food knowledge, food trends, health + diet | Leave a comment

You Had Me At Goodbye: Candy at the Cash Register

 

Toys R Us time for a temper tantrum

Toys R Us
a temper tantrum waiting to happen

Best Buy I just need a phone charger

Best Buy
this is not the phone charger aisle

Whole Foods somehow we expected better

Whole Foods
somehow we expected better

 

 

Staples I'm just here for the ink cartridges

Staples
but I’m just here for an ink cartridge

Trader Joes the checkout lines are long but there's always lots to see

Trader Joe’s
the checkout lines are long but there’s always lots to see

Bed Bath and Beyond I guess this is the beyond

Bed Bath and Beyond
I guess this is what they mean by ‘beyond’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the most valuable real estate in the whole damn store.
It’s just a few square feet by the cash registers, but every single customer is eventually funneled through the checkout lanes, and its merchandise is reachable by even the littlest of shoppers. Candy has always been a top seller for supermarkets, but in recent years it’s moved to the front of the store at specialty retailers like Old Navy, Bed Bath and Beyond, Babies R Us, and Sports Authority.

Most shoppers assiduously avoid the candy aisle.
Just 25% will even go there, and when they do, they linger for fewer than 30 seconds. But good intentions and self-restraint are no match for the extended captivity of the checkout lanes where 58% of shoppers buy candy at least once a month. We’re not talking about the chewing gum and mints that 63% pick up on a regular basis, but real candy like Kit Kat bars and Twizzlers and M&Ms.

Cigarettes are out; candy is in.
Retailers are going tobacco-free, following the lead of stores like Target and CVS, and where they’re not, municipal governments are imposing their own sales bans. Stores have leapt to 
fill the void left by cigarettes with expanded offerings of soda, chips, and especially candy. In the process we’ve traded one threat to public health for another.

The New England Journal of Medicine addresses the insidious nature of sugar consumption in the article Candy at the Cash Register — A Risk Factor for Obesity and Chronic Disease. The authors takes retailers to task for the way they harness sophisticated marketing techniques to deliberately bypass our cognitive controls and steer us toward unhealthy impulse purchases. The authors contend that it’s not the candy itself, but its placement at cash registers that creates the risk factor, and argue that that moving candy to other store locations should be mandated as a service to public health. They say it’s just like safety requirements for window guards or balcony railings—we know it’s dangerous to go right to the edge, but sometimes we wander a little too close and need to be protected from our own limited capacities. 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in candy, health + diet, shopping | Leave a comment

Let’s All Play the “Would You Rather” Game

 

bubble_1bubble_2bubble_3

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a party game, a conversation starter, and an internet meme.
It poses a dilemma in the form of a question.
Would you rather give up the internet or lose your sense of taste?
Would you rather sweat mayonnaise or have Cheetos dust permanently stuck to your fingers?

The game can be fantastical or mean-spirited. It can show a path to self-improvement or contain a veritable Sophie’s choice of unbearable options. A good round of “Would You Rather” should make you laugh, and cringe, and think. 
Would you rather speak every language fluently or be able to communicate with animals? 
Would you rather h
ave legs the size of fingers or fingers the size of legs?

The chicken-or-beef version of the game goes a little something like this:

Would you rather consume carcinogenic heavy metal arsenic or a hormone-interrupting anabolic steroid?
The FDA withdrew its approvals for most forms of arsenic-laced chicken feed in 2013, but a new study from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) found the poison still showing up in 55% of supermarket samples and 100% of fast food samples.
The growth-promoting steroids are given to virtually every single conventionally-raised beef and dairy cow—at least in this country. The practice has been banned for years in much of the world.

Would you rather condemn a chicken to a lifetime in a cage of less than a square foot or a cow to be castrated without anesthesia or pain relief?

Would you rather get salmonella from a chicken farmer or E.coli from a beef processor?
It’s perfectly legal for farmers to ship out salmonella-contaminated chicken. E. coli. requires a bit more patience. It’s found in the intestinal tracts of cattle and isn’t usually transferred to the meat until cutting, grinding, and packaging.

Would you rather eat chickens that eat slaughterhouse remains or cows that eat poultry waste?
Factory production of chicken and beef is a continuous system of waste into food into waste into food… A single cow can eat as much as three tons of poultry waste in a year before its waste circulates back to the chickens.

That last one was a trick question.
Since cow and chicken by-products keep circulating  between facilities, when you eat one you’re really eating both.
And here’s another trick question. The trick this time is that neither option is a good answer.
Would you rather eat conventionally-raised chicken or conventionally-raised beef?

 

Posted in food knowledge, food safety, health + diet | Leave a comment

Skincare Company Launches First-Ever Drinkable Sunscreen

 

image via It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

image via It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Just in time for summer, Colorado-based Osmosis Skin Care is promoting its drinkable sunscreen.
Take a few swigs of its UV Neutralizer Harmonized Water and in an hour your skin will radiate sun-blocking waves that neutralize 97% of the sun’s UV rays, or so goes the company’s claim.
Is it too good to be true?

osmosis-skincares-uv-cancelling-water-therapy

 

Well I’m no doctor, but…
The ingredients are listed as distilled water and the company’s proprietary blend of ‘multiple vibrational frequencies.’ According to Osmosis Skin Care, they’ve identified the precise vibrational frequencies—basically radio waves—that neutralize ultraviolet radiation. They infuse hundreds of thousands of vibrations into distilled water, and then they bottle it up. When you drink the solution, the vibrations are shared with the body’s own fluids at a cellular level and then the vibrations are emitted through your skin where they repel sunlight. Got that?

Each 2 milliliter dose lasts for 4 hours before you have to chug some more, and a 100-ml bottle of UV Neutralizer Harmonized Water retails for $30. Since it’s marketed as a cosmetic, the FDA hasn’t reviewed the product, although some of the other products in the Osmosis line have received approval in Kenya.

Harmonized waters might be hard to swallow, but you can eat your way to sun protection.
There’s no shortage of legitimate, peer-reviewed clinical studies documenting the skin-protecting qualities of a carotenoid-rich diet. Carotenoids are members of a family of nutrients that contribute sun blocking pigments to plants and animals. When carotenoids are in the foods we eat, the pigments are deposited in our skin where they prevent sunburn and the kind of oxidative stress that leads to skin cancer. It’s a measurable level that a dietician can assess with a laser scan of your skin.

Carotenoids are why frogs are green and flamingos are pink. They put the yellow in egg yolks and turn a cooked lobster red. Dark chocolate and green tea are good sources of dietary carotenoids, as are most deeply colored fruits and vegetables like squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots, and dark green leafy greens, and the colorful flesh of salmon and trout.

A thorough explanation of dietary carotenoids along with the carotenoid content of dozens of foods can be found at the online at the Micronutrient Information Center at the Linus Pauling Institute of Oregon State University.

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I’m Stuffed. What’s for Dessert?

Rabelais's Gargantua

Rabelais’s Gargantua

 

Full or satisfied: How do you know when the meal is over?
There are foods that fill you up with their sheer physical bulk and some that satisfy with taste and texture. Then there are the physiological consequences of different foods—they trigger receptors in the digestive tract or send signals to the brain that carry their own messages about appetite. Foods like oatmeal and legumes will fill you up without much textural gratification, while candy and chips provide satisfaction with little filling power. A high satiety food will give you both.

The satiety index tells you about food’s bang for the buck.
The satiety index takes into account the combination of physical, psychological, and physiological factors that contribute to a sense of fullness, and then it factors in the calories. It rolls all of that into a single number that is a simple tool for evaluating and comparing foods. A high satiety food will satisfy hunger better and for a longer time than the same number of calories of a low satiety food. The SI is full of surprises:

  • While all energy-dense foods pack a big calorie wallop in a little package, calorie-for-calorie, beef and chicken are better protein sources than eggs.
  • It makes no difference if a man (but not women or children) drinks full-sugar soda, sugar-free soda, or bottled water. Lower satiety beverages have him seeking out other treats, and at the end of the day the total calories consumed will be the same.
  • Steamed white potatoes rule the satiety index. Their stuffy blandness gives four times the bulk and three times the filling power of the average food.
  • Jelly beans can curb the appetite. Their nutritional profile should score low on the SI, but a handful of jelly beans leaves dieters feeling so queasy that they’ll eat less afterward.
  • Apples and oranges—actually you can compare them, and oranges have a slight SI edge. Both are more satisfying than grapes and bananas.

Here is the satiety index of common foods, adapted from the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

satietyindex

Posted in diet, health + diet | Leave a comment

It’s Better for You When it Tastes Better

happy couple via Man/Beer Love

happy couple via Man/Beer Love

 

Guacamole with salsa, tomatoes with olive oil, tea with lemon: they’re the power couples of food. 
They taste better when they’re eaten together, and they’re also better for you. One plus one does not always equal two when it comes to food pairings—certain foods eaten in combination can make the sum of a meal healthier than the individual ingredients. The fatty acids in guacamole make you absorb five times more of the healthy beta-carotene and lycopene found in salsa; olive oil pulls key carotenoids from the tomato skins; and the vitamin C in lemons increases the absorption of tea’s natural antioxidants.

Ceasar salad is another naturally synergistic combination. Olive oil and a bit of cheese boost the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients found in romaine lettuce—and it has to be a full fat dressing to work (how’s that for good news?!). Sushi is a good-for-you pairing because the vinegar used in the rice neutralizes much of the glycemic impact of the carbs; you’ll feel fuller longer without the spike and plummet of your blood sugar levels. And sauerkraut has a natural affinity for hot dogs where it improve the absorption of animal proteins and bolsters digestion-friendly probiotics.

It’s no coincidence that those foods taste so good together. 
It seems that nature has arranged things so that many of our favorite complementary flavors are also the best for us. As subjective as taste can be, food scientists and science-minded chefs know that when foods are compatible on the plate, there’s chemical compatibility at a molecular level, and that synergy can translate to higher quality nutrition.

Here are some other high-impact food pairings that we crave naturally:

  • Rosemary + Steak: The acids in rosemary prevent the formation of carcinogens on grilled meats.
  • Eggs + Cheese: The vitamin D in eggs optimizes the absorption of calcium from the cheese.
  • Beer + Nuts: A beer or two plus a handful of nuts can reduce your risk of heart attack.
  • Spinach + Lemon: You’ll absorb six times as much iron from the spinach.
  • Garbanzos + Beet Greens: The vitamins in the beans maximize magnesium absorption from the greens, and we could all use a little extra magnesium; the mineral is responsible for modulating anxiety levels, and nearly three-quarters of us are depleted.
  • Orange Juice + Oatmeal: The real breakfast of champions, the combination doubles the artery-cleansing powers of either on its own.

You’ll find more power food strategies in Web MD’s Top 10 Food Synergy Super Foods.

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Supergrain of the Future or Dickensian Gruel: The Internet Ponders Quinoa

olivertwist

Please Sir, can I have some more quinoa?

 

MarchQuinoaIn just a few short years quinoa has gone from subsistence staple of the rural poor of Bolivia, to health food store curiosity, to global success. Along the way it’s made friends (a Superfood with a capital ‘S’!), galvanized detractors (The Wall Street Journal recently collated the rancor and called it a backlash), and courted controversy (our appetite for quinoa has priced the crop beyond the means of indigenous farming communities where one in five Bolivian children suffers from chronic malnutrition).

Quinoa is not exactly winning fans for its taste (blandly earthy) or its texture (oatmeal gone wrong), but its nutritional profile makes a compelling argument. It’s more of a seed than a true grain, so it’s higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than a typical grain, but lower in fat and calories than typical nuts and seeds. It’s one of the only plant-based foods that’s a complete protein, it’s loaded with all the essential amino acids, it has no cholesterol, and it’s gluten-free. It’s a bit much to expect it to taste like a cronut.

Still further proof of Quinoa’s global domination:
Quinoa is March’s Whole Grain of the Month, walking in the footsteps of carbohydrate giants like oats and barley. We had to weather millet and teff month, and amaranth seemed to drag on forever, but finally it’s quinoa’s turn. As you gather the family ’round the quinoa rinsing colander (please tell me you’re rinsing) we turn to the many voices of the internet as they toast and roast this plucky newcomer.

quinoa

 

 

Spoofing all things trendy, the Pinterest board My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler Daughter chronicles the fabulous life and painfully stylish wardrobe of little Quinoa and her playmates Chevron, Vyvanse, and Crostini.

astronautmeal

 

 

 

NASA was appropriately lightyears ahead of the curve when, 20 years ago, the space agency explored quinoa’s potential as a candidate crop for Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems, in other words, as an in-flight snack. Declaring it a near-perfect food, virtually unrivaled in the plant or animal kingdom for its life-sustaining nutrients, it’s become a pantry staple in the space shuttle galley.

 

A visual guide to eating quinoa:

do not eat

do not eat

eat

eat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David-Lynch-Cooking-Video

 

Filmmaker David Lynch shares inexplicably moody atmospherics and cooking tips in his signature style in the video David Lynch cooks quinoa.

 

50shades quinoa

 

 

 

Of course someone’s written 50 Shades of Quinoa. Was it ever in doubt?

 

 

glutenfreematzoBut is it kosher? Observant Jews rejoiced to see a new face at the seder table after several thousand years of the same old Passover dinner. Even though some quinoa packaging carries the ‘kosher for Passover’ label, The Orthodox Union has not officially given its blessing. As yet, no rabbi has made the trek to the remote growing area high in the mountain region of Bolivia for the necessary inspections.
Posted in cyberculture, food knowledge, funny, health + diet | Leave a comment
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