health + diet

Shame On You, Cheesecake Factory





What’s wrong with this picture?
Another day, another crowd waiting for a table at The Cheesecake Factory.
The Cheesecake Factory is, after all, America’s favorite casual-dining restaurant, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.

The chain serves 80 million diners a year in its 160 wildly popular outlets. Dining rooms are stocked with Disney-fied signifiers of ‘fancy restaurant’ like plush booths, faux columns, vaulted ceilings, and crisply-costumed servers. Everything on the menu is bigger and richer than it needs to be. Tastier too, relying heavily on flavorful crowd-pleasers like butter, cream, cheese, sugar, and salt. Table settings are over-sized, the better to accommodate the gargantuan portions.

No big shocker
This is not health food. It’s amped-up comfort food, hearty, soothing, and indulgent. Caveat emptor, right?  It’s not like it’s named The Melba Toast Factory.

Does that mean The Cheesecake Factory gets a free pass?
The Cheesecake Factory has been singled out in new reports from both Men’s Health magazine’s ‘Eat This, Not That!’ and the health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest for dishing up the absolute worst food in America.

At 2,530 calories, the French Toast Napoleon is a breakfast bomb of cream-drenched bread, butter, and sugar that contains the calories of three dozen eggs.

Crispy Chicken Costoletta crams 2,610 calories (along with 4½ days’ worth of saturated fat) into its ‘lightly breaded’ cutlets with mashed potatoes and asparagus; the same as an entire 12-piece bucket of fried chicken from KFC.

Bistro Shrimp Pasta tops every other entree option with 3,020 calories of battered and fried shrimp, butter, and cream atop enough noodles for a family of four. Even at the Olive Garden, hardly a dieter’s haven itself, you’d have to eat three orders of Lasagna Classico plus a serving of tiramisu to reach the same nutritional profile.

When the Center for Science in the Public Interest gave top ‘honors’ to The Cheesecake Factory in this year’s Xtreme Eating Awards, it noted that “No establishment better represents the confluence of factors that have saddled America with an ever-worsening obesity crisis.’ The CSPI identified just eight Cheesecake Factory dishes as ‘fit for consumption’ from its vast menu of literally hundreds of items.

Let me be very clear: I am no fan of the Nanny State.
The right to choose what we eat is as much a cornerstone of a free and democratic society as free speech and a free press. Ditto for The Cheesecake Factory’s right to pile on the salt, fat, and sugar.
But just because they can, it doesn’t mean they should.

The Cheesecake Factory crosses the line.
It’s not merely catering to a willing public with a taste for fats; it’s pushing the boundaries of our taste, and pushing harder than any other restaurant out there. The Cheesecake factory creates permutations of fat and calories that are without precedent, and serves them forth in eye-popping portions.

Where’s the social contract? 
Is there no sense of social responsibility at The Cheesecake Factory? The low nutritional standards seem to be rivaled by the abysmal ethical standards of its corporate leaders.
You can say that that nobody’s twisting my arm to eat there. You can say that it’s beyond the scope of corporate responsibility to provide a solution to society’s ills. But I still say that it’s unconscionable to be an intentional part of the problem.
Shame on you, Cheesecake Factory.


Posted in health + diet, restaurants | 1 Comment

Got Alt-Milk?

Calvin and Hobbes via United Feature Syndicate


Got milk?
Gotten milk recently? It’s no easy feat.
The dairy case used to hold a couple of cow’s milks with varying fat contents. Then soy milk appeared as a non-dairy alternative. Now we have a slew of non-dairy and non-soy milk alternatives crowding the case, made from nut varieties, grains, and even law-skirting hemp seeds.

Why all the milk alternatives?
We know that a cow’s life on a dairy farm is hardly the bucolic idyll of our imaginations. Supporters of animal rights and those looking to avoid growth hormones and antibiotics have already moved on from large-scale, conventional milk producers. Then there are vegans, the allergic and lactose intolerant, and other dieters looking to reduce fat and cholesterol.

The first stop for most was soy milk, but there is growing awareness that soy is a high spray, intensively farmed, rain forest-depleting crop, and most of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically-modified. There are also concerns that soy protein can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb potassium, and it may be linked to breast cancer.
Now what are we supposed to put on our cereal?

Rice milk is often the alt-milk gateway because it tastes closest to cow’s milk, but sweeter. It’s low in fat but high in carbohydrates (rice, y’know) and thin as water so it’s not the most pleasing replacement for your usual splash of half-and-half in your morning coffee, but it can hold a decent cappuccino foam.

Almond milk is low in fat and high in protein. It’s creamy and slightly sweet with slightly bitter undertones. It foams impressively, although in an off-white shade, and makes a good dairy substitute for cooking and baking. It’s dairy-free, but commercially produced almond milk isn’t always soy-free.

Hazelnut milk is light in consistency but has a rich flavor, a powerful nutty fragrance, and just a tiny touch of sweetness. The hazelnutty taste is boosted when it’s made from roasted nuts, rather than the more common raw nuts. Not everyone is a fan of the hazelnut taste, but if you are it’s a good choice in sweet coffee drinks and desserts. If you’re not, have it warmed—hazelnut milk holds a credible foam for espresso drinks and the flavor dissipates in the heat.

The coconut milk you find in half gallon cartons is not the same as the unctuous cooking ingredient that comes in a can. It’s also not the same beverage as coconut water. It falls somewhere between the two when it comes to fat content, sweetness, and creaminess; this means it’s still pretty sweet, fatty, and lush. It tastes undeniably of coconut, so use it where you want the flavor. It’s perfect for non-dairy smoothies and creamy desserts, and has the virtue of being made from just one ingredient: coconut.

I’ll warn you that oat milk is a bit thick. It doesn’t go down like porridge, but it’s not what you would call light and refreshing. Oat milk is not the best option for coffee, but it’s great on cereal and in baking where the grainy flavor is welcome. It’s low in fat, when compared with nut or dairy-based milks, and actually has more calcium than cow’s milk. It also avoids the natural sweetness of most of the dairy substitutes, making it a good option for savory dishes like mashed potatoes.

Hemp milk is made from the same seeds as pot plants. It’s not legally grown in most parts of the U.S., so most is brought over the border from Canada. It will not have you playing Pink Floyd and eating vast quantities of pizza—the hemp used in milk is bred and processed to contain almost no THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The milk is, shall we say, an acquired taste—off white, slightly chalky, with tart, grassy notes. It’s as high in fat as cow’s milk, but the good kind, with lots of healthy Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. It holds a respectable foam for cappuccino.

If you’re new to the alt milks category, you need to know a few general rules that always apply to the milk alternatives:

  • they’re always more palatable when served chilled, especially if you’re drinking them straight-up
  • shake them up; they all separate like crazy
  • read the labels— the ingredients aren’t always organic, and they can even contain dairy in the form of casein and other milk-derived additives
  • you don’t want to dive headfirst into hemp or oat milk; ease into the category by trying some of the flavored milk varieties or maybe a nice almond milk ice cream


Posted in food knowledge, health + diet, vegetarian/vegan | 3 Comments

Slower than a Canadian, Faster than a Swede

image via Harvey Ralph

Americans spend less time eating than just about anyone else on the planet. We’re also among the most overweight.

A graph has been making the rounds.
Taking data from a study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it plots minutes spent eating per day versus national obesity rates (based on a body mass index of 30 or more). In the U.S. our eating and drinking add up to 75 minutes a day. We edge out portly Mexicans and Canadians, but don’t come close to the 2+ daily dining hours of the slender French.



Most of us have been hearing about this correlation for decades. Doctors and diet books have always warned us about the health hazards of eating too quickly;  your own mother probably used to plead with you to slow down at the dinner table. Now we see it playing out on a global level.

With hunger and fullness, like every other sensation and experience, we need our brains to tell us what our bodies are feeling.
It turns out that it’s not our stomachs telling us when we’re full, but our intestines. It takes a while for food to work its way down there—about 20 minutes from the time we start eating until the fullness trigger is tripped. The faster we eat, the more likely we are to overshoot the point of satiety. By the time our brains catch up, we’re stuffed.

Our bodies have a second mechanism built in to prevent overeating. It’s a hormone called leptin that drops when we’re hungry and rises when we’re full, also with a lag before the signal reaches the brain. When we eat quickly, the leptin hits our bloodstream too late to control our appetites; do it enough and we become resistant to its effects. The problem is that we still respond to the hunger cue of low leptin levels, so it becomes a constant cycle of overeating.

Breakfast to go, fast food drive-throughs, lunch at the keyboard, dinner in front of the television. It’s not that our brains  are out of synch with our bodies. The problem is that our lifestyle is out of sync with healthy eating.

Posted in fast food, health + diet | Leave a comment

Starbucks Promotes Its New Coffee That Doesn’t Taste Like Coffee

roasted and unroasted coffee beans image via .


Customers have long complained that Starbucks coffee tastes burnt. Apparently, the company has been listening. Maybe a little too well. Starbucks is rolling out new beverages made from unroasted, green coffee beans.

What, you might ask, does unroasted coffee taste like? Apparently not much. According to Starbucks’ vice president of global beverage Julie Felss Masino, “It’s coffee that doesn’t taste like coffee.” In fact, the company refers to the green coffee extract as ‘flavor neutral.’ It also doesn’t have a coffee aroma, and contains a mere fraction of the caffeine. And the point of this new beverage is…?

Starbucks is selling two flavors of the iced, green coffee beverage called Refreshers. Cool Lime and Very Berry Hibiscus get their flavor from added fruit juice and are sweetened with stevia.

Green coffee bean beverages aren’t exactly new. Like green tea, green coffee beans are  the youngest and least processed form that, on their own, produce a grassy, astringent brew. And like green tea, they have a longer history in Eastern cultures where they are prized mostly for medicinal uses. Recently, green coffee and its extracts have been available in weight-loss aides, and Nestlé has been selling its Nescafé Green Blend, containing one-third green beans to two-thirds roasted, which it promotes for the health benefits provided by high levels of naturally-occurring antioxidants.

Next time you want a cup of coffee that doesn’t taste like coffee, smell like coffee, or pack much of a caffeine punch, you know right where to go.



Posted in coffee, health + diet | Leave a comment

Foods That Make You Pretty

image via Real Moms, Real Views


There is no magic potion to stop the clock. No instant beauty in a jar.
But there are foods you can eat that can help. They can be just as effective as any anti-aging–ultra-hydrating–cell-regenerating–alpha hydroxy–retinoid cream, and you’ll shell out a lot less in the produce section than you would at the cosmetics counter.

Whiter teeth
Scrub your teeth with raw celery, carrots, green beans, and cauliflower. Each contains cellulose which acts as an abrasive to polish the tooth surface and remove stains and bacteria.

A healthy tan
Shiitake mushrooms are high in minerals like copper that boost the production of melanin, the pigment that darkens your skin in the sun.

A blackhead-free nose
The zinc in sunflower seeds helps clear oil-clogged pores where blackheads grow.

Clear eyes
Spinach is rich in the carotenoids that keep the whites of your eyes looking bright.

Soft skin
Switch out some of your olive oil with newly-fashionable, vitamin E-rich grapeseed oil.

Reduce puffiness
Counter dark circles and puffy bags under the eyes by seasoning dishes with parsley, sage, and oregano instead of bloat-inducing salt.

Clear skin
Purple cabbage is high in sulfur and iodine—much more than green varieties—and helps rid your body of the toxins that contribute to acne.
If you have dry patches, add swiss chard to your diet for its natural retinol, a key ingredient in pharmaceutical compounds for psoriasis.

Thick, shiny hair
The iron and sulfur in eggs can help prevent hair loss and soften and smooth your hair.

Fight broken blood vessels
Pomegranate juice helps stop the formation of spider veins by strengthening the walls of blood vessels.

Give your skin a healthy golden glow with orange foods: cantaloupe, apricots, sweet potatoes, and carrots are all loaded with plant-based pigments that can tint the skin.

We can’t stop the clock, but a healthy, plant-rich diet will radiate a youthful glow from every pore.


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

Rich or Thin? Pick One


How did rich and fat become rich and thin?
We tend to forget that this has not always been so.

Richer, thinner, smarter.
What if you could change one thing about yourself. Which would you choose?
A recent Harris Poll asked this question.

Not surprisingly, given the current economic climate, richer was the top choice. But thinner came in a strong second picked by one in five respondents overall, and one in four women.

The complete poll results are:

richer    43%  
thinner  21%
smarter 14%
9% seem to like themselves just fine, and another 12% picked other qualities

Thinness was, for most of recorded time, the fate of the lower classes with their inadequate diets and physical labor. Traditionally, only the rich could afford to be well-fed. Fat was a status symbol.

Not any more. The terrible irony is that these days, thinness is a luxury reserved for the rich. As income and education falls, obesity rises– both the rate of obesity and the amount of excess weight. The poorest Americans, those living below the poverty level, are the most likely to be morbidly obese.

The underlying causes are many, especially for the urban poor who see pork rinds and Dr. Pepper for sale on every corner but have to leave the neighborhood to find a head of lettuce. In general, the lower your income, the fewer the food options, and the less likely you are to cook your own meals or exercise. But the real culprit is our out-of-whack food system that makes it possible to sell highly refined, fat and sugar-laden, processed foods at far lower prices than fresh, whole foods.

Poverty is fattening; fat is impoverishing.
According to The Fat Studies Reader, obese women earn 9% less than the height-weight proportionate, are half as likely to have attended college, and are 20% less likely to have a working spouse. They’re also more likely to have health issues that lead to missed work, lost wages, and less professional advancement. It’s a dense web of poverty-obesity-poverty; an endless cycle of cause and effect and cause and effect.

Richer, thinner, smarter. Pick one and the others pick you.

The Rich & Thin Club claims to simultaneously whip your waistline and your bank account into shape by monitoring calories coming in and dollars going out. It theorizes that small, unnecessary, everyday indulgences are the undoing of both. Calculators demonstrate the impact of 10 years of Starbucks lattés or restaurant appetizers in terms of accumulated pounds versus an early mortgage payoff or the compounded interest of savings. It’s an eye-opener.

Posted in community, health + diet | 1 Comment

5 Brain Foods That Really Work


We’re having a national senior moment.
Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are a demographic time bomb. Making up nearly one-third of the population, they’ve reached the age of memory loss, slowed reflexes, and synaptic glitches. That’s 75 million boomers who can’t remember what they went upstairs for.

And kids, you’re not off the hook either.
Brains peak in size around age 20 and then they start the long downhill slide. From that point on they shrink about 2.5% every decade, losing neurons all along the way. Men’s brains shrink a little faster than women’s brains, but since alcohol does more damage to the female brain, women who drink can easily catch up.

The good news is that brain foods really work.
In the same way that a low cholesterol diet can keep plaque from forming in arteries, there are foods that can keep plaque from forming in your brain. You can unclog your cognitive functions just like you can unclog your arteries.

There are also foods that can sharpen your focus and concentration, enhance your memory, and speed your reaction times. Add them to your diet early enough and you can stave off cognitive decline later in life.

Here are five foods that can make a real difference. If you’re one of those baby boomers, maybe you should write them down.

Nothing preserves cognitive ability like wild salmon. That’s right, wild— not just any salmon will do. Farmed salmon doesn’t develop the same quality or level of essential fatty acids that make wild salmon the ultimate brain food.


In the same way that the wild variety of salmon is the high-test variety, matcha is souped-up green tea. Matcha is a type of Japanese green tea that is ground into a powder; instead of drinking an extract like you do when tea leaves are brewed, with matcha you down the whole thing dissolved into the water or milk. The brain buzz of focus and clarity is exponentially greater, and immediately noticeable. And the Kermit-green shade? That’s how it’s supposed to look.

The brain boost from caffeine or sugar is short-lived but real. They both can make you alert and focused. Too much sugar, though, can actually interfere with your memory.

The acai berry is this year’s pomegranate; the ‘it’ fruit that is showing up everywhere, blended into smoothies and dressings, flavoring teas, juices, and sodas. Oddly, for a fruit, its nutritional profile resembles that of fish, high in protein and the essential fatty acids our brains desire.

The newest brain food discovery is turmeric. Turmeric is a mildly-flavored, deep yellow spice that’s always found in curry powder, and is often used as a less costly alternative to saffron. It’s such a powerful brain plaque-remover that it’s being tested as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.





Posted in health + diet | Leave a comment

The Strange Diets that Fuel Olympic Athletes

Michael Phelps with hamburger via Sports by Brooks


The elite athlete is a finely-tuned machine.
It starts with good genes. There are years of training and conditioning. Coaching and facilities are top-notch. And of course nutrition, which fuels the energy and stamina needed to achieve peak performance, is managed with the same precision as the rest of the training regimen.

Olympic athletes might consider every bite, but for all that care and attention, some athletes make bizarre dietary choices. They are often obsessive and superstitious about the foods they eat. Like anyone, they’ve been known to give in to their unhealthy tastes and predilections; unlike the rest of us they can easily rationalize a big haul from the fast food drive-through because they’re training so hard.

Here’s the eccentric consumption that is taking some Olympians to London:

Michael Phelps has swum his way to enough Olympic gold that it’s tough to knock his his 8,000+ daily caloric intake that treats McDonald’s as a major food group.

American marathon runner Michael Arnstein is a full-time raw fruitarian- uncooked fruits and vegetables only.

The Olympic team from Kazakhstan is fed a protein-rich diet of horse meat sausages. Britain’s import controls on horse meat are posing a challenge to their mealtime.

Sprinter Usain Bolt, a.k.a. the world’s fastest human, eats yams: steamed yams, roasted yams, yam stew, yam soup, yam cakes; and not just any old yams, but the Trelawny yam from his native Jamaica. Presumably he likes yams, but this particular yam contains high amounts of naturally occurring steroid alkaloids and have been used to synthesize testosterone since the 1930’s.

Team USA gymnast Jonathan Horton fires up his blood sugar with swigs of honey straight from the jar.

South Korean gymnast Son Yeon-jae must have the strictest diet of the Olympic Village. Her coaches monitor the teenager’s weight down to the gram (that would be 3/100ths of an ounce), and in an interview with Korea’s daily paper, The Chosun Ilbo, she said she ‘eats a sparrow’s breakfast and lunch and skips dinner.’

At 71, Japanese equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu will be the oldest athlete at the London Olympics and the second oldest Olympian ever to compete, surpassed only by a 72-year old Swedish shooter who won a silver medal in the 1920 Summer Olympics. And he eats whatever he wants.

Posted in Entertainment, health + diet | 2 Comments

How to Eat Roadkill

Guinea Fowl crossing the road via My Retirement Chronicles


Should we eat roadkill?
In theory, it’s an excellent exercise in ethics, environmentalism, and self-reliance.
Why leave it to rot when you can take it home and cook it for dinner?

According to PETA, roadkill is a better choice than the factory-farmed, shrink-wrapped product you find in the supermarket. The group recommends it from a health standpoint, because it doesn’t contain antibiotics, hormones, and growth stimulants. And it’s the more humane option because the animals haven’t been castrated, dehorned, debeaked, or suffered through any of the other horrors of intensive animal agriculture.

Perhaps you prefer the term flat meat.
Roadkill is fresh, organic, and free. It was clearly free-ranging, as some unlucky driver knows all too well. It’s sustainable and supportable through an enlightened political ideology, and there’s plenty of it—according to estimates by Animal People Online, the annual roadkill toll tops 100 million animals, and that’s not even counting the species categorized ever so delicately as indiscernible.

The legality of taking home roadkill varies by state.
Alaska considers it state property but residents can get on a waiting list for a moose, caribou, or bear; Illinois says the driver gets first dibs, though the privilege is only extended to state residents; Texas had to outlaw roadkill because of too many not-quite accidents; and in Tennessee, on the day that the legislature legalized the taking of roadkill, the state senator who had introduced the bill was presented with a bumper sticker: Cat—The Other White Meat.

Tastes just like chicken.
Steve Rinella, who collided with and then stewed up a raccoon for an episode of his now surprisingly defunct Travel Channel show The Wild Within says that “[roadkilled] meat is actually much fresher than what you might find in a grocery store.” The wiki How to Eat Roadkill recommends that you “learn the signs of healthy roadkill”: it should be freshly killed, preferably from an accident you witness, although you get some slack time in the winter months; you want a fresh stench, since the impact can force excrement rapidly through the animal’s digestive tract; and fleas are a good sign, maggots are not. And not to worry about rabies—sure, it’s a deadly communicable virus that infects the central nervous system, but the wiki tells us that it dies off quickly with the animal.

Should we eat roadkill?
Waste not, want not, right?

Posted in cook + dine, sustainability, vegetarian/vegan | Leave a comment

Fast Food Chains Push Soda for Breakfast


The vaguely mimosa-like Mountain Dew A.M.

Some rules really aren’t made to be broken.
Like the one about eating a healthy breakfast. It’s not like it’s one of the Geneva Conventions, but this is important stuff none the less. Which is why the latest promotion from three major fast food chains has mothers, nutritionists, public health advocates, and dentists cringing: at Steak ‘n Shake, a 28-ounce morning Coca-Cola lands you a free breakfast taco; Sonic’s ‘Morning Drink Stop’ features 99-cent sodas; and Taco Bell is test marketing a proprietary concoction called MTN Dew A.M., combining soda and orange juice.

There have always been those who like a cold, sharp, fizzy jolt of caffeine in the morning, but it took the breakfast menus at fast food restaurants to bring it into the mainstream. Soda is rarely served with with home-cooked breakfasts—perhaps it’s Mom’s influence that has kept it to less than 3% of the time. Go out for breakfast though, and it’s five times as likely that soda will be ordered.

This isn’t the first time that food marketers have tried to chip away at the morning soda taboo. Coca-Cola launched a major Coke in the Morning ad campaign in 1988, and the next year Pepsi pumped up the caffeine for a trial run of a morning cola dubbed Pepsi A.M. As recently as 2008, Coca-Cola was running print ads showing a Diet Coke can wrapped in a take-out coffee sleeve with the tagline ‘Good Morning.’

Wake up and smell the soda
Too much soda makes people fat and sick. And if tooth decay, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease aren’t enough, there are plenty of other reasons not to drink soda.


Read Gigabiting’s Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Drink Soda


Posted in fast food, health + diet | Leave a comment

A Book Club is as Good as a Health Club: Highbrow is Lowfat

image via WeightLossPopularTips


The heath community is baffled by this one: a massive 17 nation study shows that leisure time readers are thinner than non-readers. Same for museum, theater, and movie-goers. In fact an interest in ideas, art, and knowledge is associated as strongly as exercise with a lower body-mass index.

You’re probably wondering what’s new about that? It’s a widely-known fact that obesity is related to income and education through better nutrition, gym memberships, and the like. But the surprise is that this study controlled for education and other measures of socioeconomic status. Regardless of background, highbrow is lowfat.

Everything you do burns calories: taking a shower, making a sandwich, even sleeping; but sedentary activities don’t burn very many. The less intellectual activities in the study— card playing, socializing, watching tv, and shopping—log in at less than 100 calories an hour, about the same as an hour with a documentary film or flipping through the pages of The New Yorker. Yet the lower brow pursuits all correlate with a higher BMI.

Here’s a theory: it’s the food labels.
Healthy-sounding labels are duping dieters. The Center for Science in the Public Interest calls it food label chaos. All those little black squares and big red check marks on the backs of boxes and fronts of cans have us fooled. Maybe avid readers have better diets because book literacy translates into health literacy.

Not so smart, not so good for you
Phrases like ‘Smart Choices’ and ‘Better for You’ can be emblazoned on products with no nutritional merits. These phrases are not informational but merely marketing fluff; not a tool for the buyer but for the seller.

For a survey published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 89% of respondents (most of whom were college-educated) described themselves as competent, informed label readers. When tested, only 69% could actually interpret labels correctly. And even those that understood label claims were stymied by nutrient counts and serving sizes—you know, the single juice box with 56 grams of sugar that is labeled for 1.4 servings, or the 7.5 servings in a bag of 26-cookies.

Americans on average spend $60 a year on books and $60 a month to look good—things like gym memberships, hair cuts, and skincare. More than 45 million of us belong to heath clubs, and the number keeps growing, but so do obesity rates. At the same time, we’re dropping an hour of reading every year, and attendance at museums, concerts, theater, and other cultural events is in a steady decline.
Maybe we should be hitting the books, not the gym.


Posted in health + diet | Leave a comment

The Power Couples of Food

happy food pair image via Man/Beer Love


It’s not that you are what you eat so much as you are what you digest.
There’s synergy in the foods we eat. The more we learn about that synergy, the more we understand that the sum of what we eat is not just the total of our individual food choices. One plus one does not equal two when it comes to health, well-being, and nutrition.

Food Pairing is the name of this game.
Guacamole with salsa, tomatoes cooked in olive oil, tea with lemon; some foods taste better when they’re eaten together. In the same way, certain foods eaten in combination can make the sum of the meal healthier than the individual ingredients.

Taste can even unwittingly be a factor. It seems that nature has arranged things so that many of our favorite complementary flavors are also the most powerful food pairings. Guacamole’s fatty acids make you absorb five times more of the healthy beta-carotene and lycopene found in salsa; olive oil helps the body absorb 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. When’s the last time a nutritionist has shared that bit of good news? Other natural affinities that happen to be good-for-you pairings include sushi, where the vinegar in the rice neutralizes 35% of the glycemic impact of the carbs in the rice, so you’ll feel fuller longer without the spike and plummet of your blood sugar levels; and hot dogs with sauerkraut. Fermented vegetables, like the cabbage in sauerkraut, improve the absorption of animal proteins and bolster digestion-friendly probiotics in your body that help build up your immune system.

Here are some other high-impact food pairings:

  • 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.

Get more mileage out your food. Elaine McGee, author of Food Synergy, teaches power food strategies in Web MD’s Top 10 Food Synergy Super Foods.

Posted in health + diet | Leave a comment

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia: Skip the Pet, Eat the Seeds


Chia seeds are being touted as the latest ‘superfood.’
Yes, chia seeds, as in Chia Pets ™ of stuttering infomercial fame. It seems that the seeds are good for a lot more than just growing sprouts on ceramic doggies.

The nutrient-packed seeds are quickly making their way from the healthy fringe into the mainstream. They’re being added to energy bars, granola and other cereals; beverages; crackers, pretzels, and chips; cookies, muffins, and candy. You can buy them raw or toasted, salted or sweet, ground into chia flour, or in a packet of seeds to grow your own. They’re in health food stores and Whole Foods Markets, but you’ll also find them on the shelves of your local CVS or Walmart.

Like acai and goji berries and other trendy ‘superfoods’, chia seeds are prized for packing a big nutrient punch in a small package. Typically, these foods are considered ‘super’ because they are dense sources of disease-fighting nutrients like anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and essential fatty acids, and are often thought to confer health benefits. Chia seeds are all of that plus they are touted as a diet aid.

Chia seeds work as a weight-loss belly-filler.
The seeds are like little sponges; add them to juice, yogurt, or just water and they sop up nine times their weight in liquid. A tablespoon of the seeds becomes a cup full of tapioca-like gel that fills you up. Since it’s mostly slow-burning fiber you’ll feel fuller longer and your blood sugar won’t spike and crash.

But that’s like an added bonus. The real reason chia seeds have caught on is their nutritional profile.
Are you drinking milk for calcium or getting your omega-3 fatty acids from salmon? 2 tablespoons of chia seeds have twice the omega-3’s of fish oil and five times milk’s calcium and protein. They have three times the iron of spinach and triple the antioxidant strength of blueberries. They’re a complete protein and beat figs, prunes, legumes, kale, and bran for fiber content. And they’re gluten-free.

And the taste?
On their own there is a tiny bit of crunch and a very subtle nutty flavor if you’re looking for it. Chia seeds don’t really taste like much of anything; you’re not going to get excited about your morning chia, but they’re so neutral that you can add the seeds to just about anything.

Chia has come along way since the pet days.

Get some chia in your diet.
Sprinkle the seeds on salads and cereal, mix them into pancake batter and muffins, or add them like protein powder to smoothies. Get some more ideas from 40 Ways to use Chia Seeds.




Posted in food knowledge, health + diet | 1 Comment

Can You Eat Ethically and Still Eat Meat?

It’s not like you’re suddenly going to go cold turkey, if you’ll pardon the pun. We humans didn’t claw our way up the food chain so we could eat quinoa.

Meat-eating and ethical eating don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There are ways to eat meat that are sensitive to the environment, to our health, and to the animals involved.

All meat is not created equal.
We all know that factory farming is a grotesquery. It’s basically institutionalized animal cruelty and it creates a product that is unfit and unhealthy for human consumption. It depletes resources and is destructive to the environment.

Then there’s grass-fed or pasture-raised beef.
These animals are raised in open, humane, sanitary conditions. They conserve resources by passing on a diet of grains grown with petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides. Better for your health, grass-fed beef contains fewer antibiotics and hormones, is leaner than grain-fed and grain-finished beef, and has a more favorable ratio of omega fatty acids.

The well-managed pasture system sustains natural resources by reducing erosion and water pollution, conserving carbon, and preserving biodiversity and wildlife. Their sales methods—either operating as an independent, selling directly from their own property, or selling through small, locally focused producer groups—help support local communities, promote local foodsheds, and earn a fair price for the producers.

The industrialization of the calf.
We took an earth-friendly, solar-powered ruminant and turned it into a fossil-fuel powered machine.
The problem with banishing all meat from the dinner table is that ranchers of conscience are caught in the sweep, demonized along with factory farmers. These ethical producers should be celebrated as the vanguard of a growing revolt against industrial agriculture, not penalized by association.

Let’s face it, we are not heading toward a meatless society.
But we can be a society of ethical carnivores. We need to eat meat in moderation and avoid animals raised in confined spaces and fed an unnatural diet. Choosing grass-fed beef can have a lasting impact on our health and the health of the planet.

Posted in sustainability, vegetarian/vegan | 1 Comment

Don’t Eat a Bad Sex Diet. Avoid these Libido-Killers.

You won her heart with long-stemmed roses. Now what?
Keep the post-Valentine’s Day doldrums at bay by steering clear of these foods. Every one of them is known to kill the sex drive.

Gin and tonic
You already know about the effects of gin (I believe the proper medical terminology is whiskey dick), but did you know that tonic water also suppresses the libido? The quinine that flavors it is known to lower testosterone levels. Gin with tonic water is a double whammy in a highball glass.

Microwave popcorn
Pop a bag and the nonstick chemicals used on the inner lining of the microwave bag are transferred to the popcorn you eat. The most commonly used of the chemicals contain substances that have been linked to testicular tumors, infertility, and lower sex drive.


Moroccan spices
The Willams-Sonoma website describes its little jar of ras el hanout as ‘notable for its rich aroma and well-balanced curry-like flavor.’ Ras el hanout is even more notable for containing agnus castus, a spice better known as monk’s pepper or chaste berry, an ingredient prized in monastery kitchens for helping monks to maintain their vows of chastity.

Black licorice
A simple movie date is a nice follow-up to the Valentine’s Day fuss, but skip the concession stand Good & Plenty. Black licorice contains testosteronelowering phytoestrogens. Just the black. Have some Red Vines instead.

Mint tea is a common homeopathic remedy prescribed for women with excess body hair. The mint oil in the tea (and other minty foods) makes the extra hair fall out by lowering the drinker’s testosterone. This is a good thing. Not so good for men who want to hang on to their testosterone and their hair.

And then there’s soy.
Soy gets a special mention because it doesn’t belong on this list.
For years it’s been getting a bad rap. The story goes that soy is loaded with estrogen; it will overwhelm your system with female hormones, your testosterone will plummet, your muscles (and more!) will start shrinking, and you’ll develop gynecomastia, a.k.a. man boobs. Not true. The misinformation stems from a lone test subject in a single study who apparently did grow breasts and did drink soy milk in ungodly amounts, but he also suffered from a host of other health and weight-related issues that were not widely reported but probably the true culprits.

Posted in food knowledge, health + diet | Tagged | 3 Comments

Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Drink Soda

We all know about tooth decay from the sugar and the elevated risk of diabetes, asthma, and heart disease associated with obesity. But there are plenty of other reasons not to drink soda.

Weird fat accumulations
According to a recently published Danish study, a liter of soda a day can dramatically increase the amount of fat surrounding the liver and skeletal muscles. Soda doesn’t simply make you fat—it makes you weirdly fat.


Fat in the usual place- even from diet soda
Of course all the sugar in soda will cause weight gain, but did you know that even diet soda settles in your midsection? Researchers from the University of Texas reported something they call the diet soda paradox. They monitored subjects for 10 years and found that those who drank diet soda had a 70% percent increase in waist circumference compared with those who didn’t drink any soda. Those who drank more than two diet sodas per day saw their waists expand by 500%.

Wouldn’t you rather have a crusty baguette and a nicely ripened Camembert?
One soda a day—less than the average daily consumption in this country—adds up to around 90,000 calories a year. That’s a lot of empty calories. Think of all the wonderful splurges you have to forgo to make room for that in your diet.


Old before your time
The resin lining of soda cans contains a hormones that ages your body prematurely and brings on early puberty in children. The phosphates shrink muscle and leach calcium from your bones giving you old-lady osteoporosis, and a new study links the sugars to high blood pressure. And rats given the compounds found in cola drinks died five weeks early; you don’t even want to think about what that means in human years.

Poison for all ages
High-fructose corn syrup derived from genetically-modified corn; brominated vegetable oil with an alternative use as a flame retardant— these soda additives are banned in more than 100 countries, but Americans happily drink them up. The substances have been linked to memory loss, nerve disorders, autism, infertility, and a jumble of cancers.

Glass, aluminum, plastic; take your pick
Glass is heaviest to ship; we export our planet-warming carbon dioxide addiction along with Coca Cola. Aluminum is an environmental disaster before the soda cans are even pressed. And then there’s the ubiquitous plastic bottles. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating mass of plastic debris that covers an area larger than most European nations. More than 200 species of fish and marine wildlife ingest the toxic trash, including some that end up at supermarket fish counters.

You really don’t want your neighbor drinking diet soda
Artificial sweeteners and other soda additives pass through both our bodies and waste water treatment plants without breaking down. A recent test of major municipal water supplies serving 28 million people found sucralose in 8 out of 12 of them. Yes, that’s someone else’s post-digestion Splenda in your drinking water.



Posted in food safety, health + diet, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Subway is Bigger than McDonald’s, But is it Better?

image via NMA.TV

Subway has given McDonald’s a good thumping.
About a year ago Subway surpassed the long time leader in restaurant count, and McDonald’s has been choking on Subway’s dust ever since with a mere 33,000+ locations to Subway’s nearly 36,000.

Subway owes much of its success to its image as a healthy alternative to the traditional fast food meal of burger and fries. The chain gets a lot of traction from its ‘Eat Fresh’ slogan, and especially from an innovative ad campaign promoting a weight loss angle through spokesman Jared Fogle who reportedly lost 245 pounds by exercising and eating only Subway sandwiches. The company now has a lucrative hold on the minds of fast food eaters as the virtuous option.

According to the marketing researchers at Decision Analyst, more Subway customers than any other quick-serve restaurant patrons (42%, versus a low of 3% for Taco Bell) choose the restaurant because of its selection of healthy offerings. Subway also rates highest in consumer trust; in fact it’s the only one of these restaurant with more people who ‘completely trust’ their nutritional claims than ’do not trust’ them (again, Taco Bell is in the cellar with just 7.5% of consumers putting faith in their claims).

Subway says its better, and we believe it’s better, but is it really?

The truth is, you can eat a low-cal, low-fat meal at either chain, albeit one loaded with hormones, pesticides, preservatives, and sodium. Both chains offer their share of options, though McDonald’s selection of snack-sized wraps and salads feels meager and skimpy next to Subway’s assortment of meal-sized 300 calorie subs. But Subway more than holds its fat-laden own when it comes to core menu items. The chain’s top-seller is the B.M.T., short for Biggest, Meatiest, Tastiest; the 6 inch version, at 450 calories, is on par with McDonald’s Big ‘N Tasty, and the best-selling meatball marinara sub, also in the small size, tops the Big Mac by an (un)healthy margin. Opt for a 12 incher- even chicken or tuna- and you can be eating a thousand-calorie sandwich. Get it on Subway’s honey oat roll and the bread alone snags you more than 500 calories.

Researchers have also found something they call a ‘health halo’ associated with a Subway meal. Consumers are so familiar with Subway’s claims as the healthier choice that they will underestimate the calories they are actually consuming. The misperception that they are being ‘good’ influences them to be ‘bad’ with other food choices: studies have shown Subway diners to be more inclined to justify an order of chips or dessert, and one study’s participants ended up consuming 56% more calories than those eating at McDonald’s.

Basically, eating at any fast food restaurant is like jumping out of a window. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the 30th floor or the 40th; the net effect to your health will be pretty much the same.



Posted in fast food, health + diet | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mmm…mmm…Maybe not so good

image via Brainless Tales

You might want to lay off the canned soup.
I really hate to ask you now, it being soup season and all, but the latest report is a real shocker.

A new Harvard study, which was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that just a single bowl of canned soup at lunch for just five days increased BPA levels in urine by an astounding 1,200%. The researchers were shocked by the results, one calling it “unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

This was the first study to measure BPA amounts that are ingested when we eat food that comes directly out of a can, but the health risks have been the subject of hundreds of studies. There’s a growing body of research linking BPA to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. The FDA will be issuing a decision on BPA use by the end of March 2012, but Consumers Union, the group that publishes the magazine Consumer Reports, has already weighed in with its recommendations, and it found BPA levels exceeding 100 times the recommended daily limit in some soups (worst of all is Progresso Vegetable Soup at 116 times the limit).

Waiter, there’s a toxin in my soup!
Take a look inside any can and you’ll see a thin plastic film separating your food from the metal. That’s where the BPA is coming from. Manufacturers have been lining cans with plastic since the 1950s to protect the food from botulism and other bacteria that can grow if the can is damaged or corroded, and there’s no doubt that lives have been saved.

Plastic-lined cans have been so effective at preventing food-borne illnesses that it’s next to impossible to find a BPA-free can of soup. Nearly all aluminum soup cans, even organic brands, contain BPA in the linings. But you can keep soup on the menu: opt for dry soup mixes or prepared soups packaged in glass or cartons, or best of all, make your own.

BPA is of particular concern for young children and women of childbearing age.
The Breast Cancer Fund, which is leading the charge to expose environment causes of cancer, has specific recommendations for reducing the risk to those vulnerable groups.

BPA isn’t the only one.
Experts from a variety of food-related fields offer insider recommendations of foods to avoid. These are foods that are all USDA or FDA approved, but those in the know won’t eat them, and they won’t feed them to their own families.
Read Gigabiting’s 7 Foods the Experts Won’t Touch.



Posted in food knowledge, food policy, health + diet | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Snack of Your Dreams

image via PEANUTS Worldwide LLC

Forget that glass of warm milk at bedtime.
It might feel as cozy as a tuck-in from Mom, but it’s doing more harm than good when it comes to falling asleep.

The right foods before bed can contribute to restful sleep. Sleep-friendly foods are rich in tryptophan, the notorious nap-inducer found in Thanksgiving’s turkey dinner. The wrong foods have amino acids that keep the tryptophan from crossing into the brain where it’s converted into the sedatives serotonin and melatonin.
A glass of warm milk is one of those wrong foods.

A well-chosen bedtime snack can help you get a restful, restorative night’s sleep. According to the sleep specialists at the Mayo Clinic, you want to avoid garlicky, spicy, fatty foods before bed. Here are the three most highly recommended bedtime snacks:

  • Popcorn, preferably air-popped, washed down with cherry juice
  • Oatmeal with sliced banana and just a splash of nonfat milk
  • Low- or nonfat yogurt with a sprinkle of almonds or sesame seeds

The meal of your dreams:
Monastrell Restaurante
in southern Spain serves a special “sleep menu” that is purported to cure insomnia. The chef claims knowledge of a secret ingredient prized during the Roman empire for its soporific qualities. Courses include grilled octopus, pumpkin lasagne, turbot with lemon calamari, lemon sponge cake, and olive oil sorbet.


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

Holiday Weight Gain: First the good news…

How about the good news first…
Reports of holiday weight gain have been greatly exaggerated. The perception is that we really pack on the pounds at holiday time. The reality (according to the National Institutes of Health) is a typical weight gain of between 0.4 and 1.8 pounds— just about one pound on average. Despite six weeks of free-flowing eggnog from Thanksgiving through New Years, the typical weight gain is surprisingly small— except for the already-overweight who tend to keep growing during the holidays.

And the bad news…
It may be a mere pound, but the weight adds up.
Most people don’t ever lose that extra holiday pound.

Our weight is on an upward creep through the adult years. On the march toward the middle-age spread, and the health complications that accompany it like diabetes and heart disease, we tend to accumulate about 2 pounds each year. About half of that can be traced to seasonal overindulgence.

A January menu of cottage cheese and rice cakes.
40% of all New Years resolutions relate to diet and weight loss. We take alcohol and red meat off the menu and sign up for gym memberships. Unfortunately, research shows that our resolve is not so strong: six out of ten will fall off the wagon by January 6th.

There are unexpected side effects to holiday weight gain.
You’re not the only one affected. Read: Pet Parade: Holiday weight gain affects pets too.
And then there’s that special someone. Last year,, apparently a dating site for the thin and superficial, canceled more than 5,000 memberships on the basis of profile photos showing evidence of holiday overindulgence. In the words of the site’s founder, Robert Hintze, “Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which was founded.” You can read about it in Dating Site for Beautiful People Expels “Fatties” Over Holiday Weight Gain.

Feel free to make a New Years resolution to send nasty email messages to Mr. Hintze.



Posted in health + diet, Thanksgiving | Tagged , | 1 Comment
Web Analytics