health + diet

A Little Nosh: Jewish Girls and Eating Disorders

Why do so many Jewish girls have eating disorders?

A recent New York Times article shed light on the problem of eating disorders in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. While it piques our interest to see inside this curious, closed society, it hardly comes as a surprise—from privileged American suburbs to the Israeli desert (home to the world’s highest rate of eating disorders), where ever you have Jewish girls, you’ll find high rates of disordered eating.

Eat, bubbeleh, eat.
Is there another culture or religion more bound up in the rituals, traditions, and symbolism of food?
Sabbath dinners, Passover seders, latkes and pastrami and bagels with lox; sometimes it seems like the days of the week, the months of the year, the entire Jewish calendar is ladled out of a soup tureen. So many opportunities to muck up a girl’s relationship with food.

Then there’s the kosher laws. Watch the shellfish; ditto the pork products. Separate the meat and dairy, and the dishes for meat and dairy, and the silverware, cutting boards, and pots and pans. It’s a rigid, ritualized fixation on food and eating that some consider a perfect breeding ground for the obsessive behavior of anorexics, while the fasting days (usually followed by an extravagant fast-breaking feast) are a stepping stone to the binge and purge of bulimia.

Funny, you don’t look Jewish.
Look around you. Something like 1% of the population is genetically predisposed to the cultural ideal of long-limbed, slim bustiness. And it’s not the Jews. Jewish fashion designers—sure. There’s Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Ralph Lauren, just to name a few. Jewish fashion models—not so much. But the founders of Weight Watchers, Nutri-System, and Jenny Craig—all Jews.

This is not just about a bunch of spoiled Jewish girls skipping lunch.
It could be the unattainable ideal of Barbie-like beauty, the pressures of an upper middle-class, high-achieving population group, the ritualized, food-centric culture, or even a genetic predisposition—the medical and mental health communities aren’t certain why Jewish girls have so many eating disorders. Data is limited, but there is one thing they all agree on: eating disorders are the deadliest psychiatric illness out there. They pair one of the lowest cure rates with the highest rate of mortality.


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Eat Candy. Live Longer.

There’s a scene in the movie Sleeper.
Woody Allen plays the owner of a health food store who is cryogenically frozen in 1973 and defrosted by a pair of scientists 200 years later…

Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called “wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk.”
Dr. Aragon: Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or . . . hot
Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy . . . precisely the opposite
of what we now know to be true.
Dr. Melik: Incredible.

Yes to butter, no to soy. Or is it yes to soy?
Who can keep track?
We’ve seen good foods gone bad— think of tuna and margarine; and we’ve seen coffee, red wine, and chocolate become the new health foods. Now we’re learning that people who eat candy live longer and lead healthier lives than those who abstain.

Candy eaters weigh less and have smaller waistlines. They are at lower risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Chocoholics in particular have significantly improved cardiovascular health, while peppermint lovers have tougher immune systems and fewer digestive disorders.

In multiple, multi-decade studies conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, the USDA, and others, health benefits couldn’t be explained by age, gender, weight, exercise, smoking, diet, or family history. It all points to the candy.

The act of repetitive chomping on something chewy can increase serotonin levels that can improve your mood, reduce stress, increase your mental focus, and block pain. Make it something sweet and chewy, and it’s known to help you persevere longer on difficult tasks, delay gratification, and restore willpower. In other words, candy can help you stay on a diet.

Do yourself a favor and unwrap a Hershey’s bar or pop some gummis. Life is sweet.

Data referenced can be found in the February 2011 issue of Nutrition Research; and Life is Sweet: candy consumption and longevity.


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Marching on its Stomach

Battle of the Bulge

15% of 17- to 24-year-olds are over the Army’s height-weight standards.
Last year, half of all recruits failed the entry-level physical fitness test consisting of one minute of push-ups, one minute of sit-ups and a 1-mile run.
Is anyone surprised? They’ve been plumped up by fast food and soda and spent their teenage years playing video games.

With an all-volunteer military, you have to give them what they want. Mess halls have abandoned the chow line for something closer to a shopping mall food court. The Army’s food program dictates that breakfast includes made-to-order eggs, three types of bread, three types of meat, six kinds of cereal, no fewer than one potato dish, and at least one pastry. Lunch and dinner bring at least two hot entrees with legally mandated sauce or gravy, plus two short-order entrees chosen from items like pizza and fried chicken; a deli bar featuring three types of meat; a grill with four items like hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches; french fries, onion rings, assorted chips and pretzels, and at least four desserts. Beyond the all-you-can-eat mess halls, there are vending machines in the barracks and fast-food outlets like Taco Bell and KFC right on the base.

And then there’s the chocolate milk. Marines get it at every meal—it’s a Corps regulation.

Certainly nobody could begrudge culinary comforts for members of our armed forces, but in the interest of whipping new recruits into shape for duty, the Army is rolling out its new Soldier Athlete initiative at bases where 10-week basic training takes place. It bans soda, cookies, and cake, and limits refined grains and fried food offerings. In their place are beefed-up salad bar offerings, low-fat milk and yogurt, and more fish, fruits, and vegetables. Unfortunately, once basic training is complete, the soldiers are back in mess halls where the sausage gravy flows freely. They’ve completed a total of one hour of nutrition guidance out of  their 754 training hours of coursework.

About a third of everyone in uniform doesn’t meet military height and weight standards, and half of that group qualifies as obese. Overweight troops that can’t shed the pounds can be discharged—a fate that befalls a few thousand every year. In December, Army Times published an exposé of the extreme methods that officers undertake to meet fitness standards so they can maintain their careers—diet pills, laxatives, crash diets, and even liposuction are becoming increasingly common.

Obviously this is not just a military problem, but a national problem. In a press conference, Senator Richard Lugar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and a group of retired generals and admirals warned that the civilian diet could someday pose a threat to homeland security—they see us raising an entire generation that might never attain the fitness necessary for military service.




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Admit it: Tofu freaks you out.

The pro-soy camp just doesn’t get it.
Share your true feelings with your tofu-loving friends, and they tend to get a little weepy for poor you who has never had it properly prepared. They speak glowingly of tofu’s chameleon-like ability to shape shift and meld with the flavors of whatever it’s cooked with, as if there is that one magical combination that will open your eyes and taste buds to tofu’s glories. They’re missing the point.

Love it or hate it, tofu is all about texture.
Tofu is basically a waterlogged sponge of nothingness that has always had an uphill battle to win favor with flavor-driven American palates. We appreciate texture, but in a secondary role, balancing and completing a dish. When we are wowed by a texture, it tends to be crispy-crunchy or fat-based and creamy— the textures associated with European-style luxury foods.

Texture plays a different role in Asian delicacies, where its importance can even outweigh flavor. There are some Euro-Asian cross-overs, like the prized luxury of fatty fish that drives the appreciation of sushi, but the texture of many Asian delicacies can be a turn-off to Western palates.

In Chinese cooking, the sea cucumber, jellyfish and pig’s ears are appreciated for their gelatinous and crunchy texture, even though they have almost no flavor themselves. Dried sharks’ fin and bird’s nest soup, which is made from the saliva-based nest of the cave swift, are both appreciated for their soft, goopy, jelly-like texture. Japanese cuisine has natto, in which soybeans are left to ferment until they develop spider-web like strands of a mucousy substance that hangs from each bean. Okra is cooked to its most gelatinous, and tororo, a type of Japanese yam, is made into a slimy paste.

It would be easy to dismiss tofu entirely. If it’s an acquired taste based on its consistency, and you don’t care for the consistency, then why bother?

There are good reasons to learn to love tofu: it’s loaded with protein, iron, calcium, and B-vitamins; it’s low in fat, cholesterol-free, and low sodium. It’s cheap, long-lasting, and can make your Meatless Mondays a heartier affair.

I hate to say it, but I suppose this brings us back to poor you who has never had it properly prepared.
Fortunately, there are plenty of places to turn for help.

The Cook’s Thesaurus has a good illustrated overview of commercially available soy products.

May’s Machete has a pragmatic post titled How To Make Tofu (So It Doesn’t Suck).

Changing the Texture of Tofu will teach you just that, from Vegan Cooking with Love.
Image Via Savage Chickens

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Effortless Weight Loss with a Stomach Pacemaker

Belly casting by Dorota Quiroz


If you could conjure up the ideal way to lose weight, I’ll bet it wouldn’t include counting carbs and calories.
There would be no hunger or sense of deprivation. You wouldn’t have to take a drug that leaves you sleepless and wired at night, and it would be less drastic than bariatric surgery.
In other words, you would conjure up a way to eat less with even trying.

An appetite-curbing pacemaker developed in Silicon Valley seems to fit the bill. It has already passed clinical trials and is available in Europe; we should start to see it in the U.S. around 2014.  […]

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Brace Yourself: Your Man Might Be a Vegan

image via Vegan Soapbox


The tell-tale signs:

Does the man in your life know the proper pronunciation of quinoa?
Has he ever come home with a guilty look and the smell of wheat grass on his breath?
Does he think it’s cute when you refer to lentils as legumes (Silly girl, they’re pulses!) and get hot and bothered when you wear your organic cotton t shirt?
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your man is a vegan. […]

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Should Kids Drink Coffee?

[image via the New Yorker]

Of course kids are drinking coffee.

Soda is out—high fructose corn syrup, you know. Sports drinks aren’t any better.
Certainly not milk—even if you get past the lactose-intolerant crowd, there’s all that animal fat. Juice boxes? Too sugary.
The pickings are slim; it was either going to be coffee or kid-friendly bourbon.

And what exactly is so wrong with that?

Coffee doesn’t stunt anyone’s growth. That turned out to be a giant fallacy.
And it has health benefits, reducing the risk for Parkinson’s disease, liver cirrhosis, and gallstones, although they’re not exactly pediatric ailments.

Of bigger concern is of course the caffeine. Coffee does rev you up and can cause jittery nerves and insomnia, although some feel that coffees’ dopamine boost actually calms down kids with ADHD. Best is to keep a tally of caffeine intake from all sources—soda, candy, hot chocolate, ice cream, and even cold medicine could already be gunning their little engines.

Tolerances and responses to caffeine differ widely among individuals, but it’s pretty safe to assume that the younger they are, the less coffee they probably should drink. The United States hasn’t developed dietary guidelines for kids and caffeine, but Health Canada recommends no more than 45 mg/day for 4 – 6 year olds;  62.5 mg/day at 7 – 9 years; and 85 mg/day for 10 – 12 year olds— compared with moderate adult intake of around 400 mg. (about 3 coffees’ worth).

The real problem isn’t even the coffee.
It’s the vanilla syrup and the caramel drizzle, the steamed milk and whipped cream. It’s all the frozen, blended mochafrappacappalattaccinos that masquerade as coffee. And there aren’t many kids who take it black.

There are coffee concoctions from Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks that hover in burger-and-fries territory in terms of fat and calories. For kids, that can add up to breakfast, lunch, and dinner all in a single to-go cup.

Here’s a little math homework:
N= (2F)x 52
N is the number of times this year that your child will ask you for a 5-dollar bill to feed a twice weekly frappuccino habit.
Solve for N and you’ll have one of the best reasons for kids to cut the caffeine habit.

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The Redemption of Lard


Pig fat is back.

Lard has spent the past few decades in the culinary cellar. It was one of America’s most reviled foods, keeping company with the likes of liver, sweetbreads, and anchovies. We recoiled from its fat profile, flinging epithets like lard ass and tub of lard.

The truth is, lard got a bad rap—all animal fats did. Now, as we rejigger our diets to rid them of trans fats, the time is right for a comeback for this great, misunderstood fat. […]

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It’s Organic. But What About the Packaging?


It’s not a question of whether packaging components will leach into your food. It’s only a question of how much.


When 28 million boxes of Kellogg’s cereal were recalled last summer, it gave us something new to worry about.
The problem wasn’t with the Froot Loops and Corn Pops (well, no more than the usual problems we have with over-processed, over-sugared breakfast cereals), but with the cereal boxes.

You know the slick, weirdly waxy-feeling liner bag inside of cereal boxes? That’s not wax. It’s plastic that has been impregnated with preservatives derived from oil and coal tar, and they leach into the cereal as it sits on the shelf. The incident highlighted gaps in the FDA’s chemical approval system and its lack of oversight when it comes to the safety of food packaging. […]

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Better than Viagra: Arousal by Food Smells

image via Sensing Architecture


Food might be the way to a man’s heart, but the smell of food aims a little lower.

Research performed at the Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago discovered that certain food smells are like olfactory Viagra, significantly increasing blood flow to the penis for men and to the vagina for women. […]

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Kids are Bad for Your Diet

[image via Mojo Mom]

For breakfast, you pour a glass of organic milk to go with a bowl of steel cut oats with honey and sliced banana.
You pack a brown bag lunch with turkey and sprouts in a whole wheat pita and an apple.
That’s how the kids are eating. You, on the other hand, grab a latte on your way to work, and if you’re lucky someone brought in donuts today. Lunch? Who has the time?

It’s official: kids are bad for your diet.
It seems counter-intuitive when you’ve made the house an official soda-free zone and your refrigerator overflows with free range chicken, carrot sticks, and lowfat yogurt. But a study published in the December issue of the European Review of Agricultural Economics found that households without children are healthier eaters. A lot healthier.

7,014 families were involved in the study. After controlling for income, age and other socioeconomic factors that sway purchasing decisions, it found that in a two week period, each member of a childless household consumed 4.4 more pounds of fruits and vegetables than their counterparts with kids.

What’s going on here?
Are parents just big hypocrites who pop Swedish fish by the hand full while they scrutinize labels for hidden sodium and trans fats? Maybe parents are skimping on time and money for their own diets to afford the best for their kids; certainly time and money need to be stretched further in households with children.

It doesn’t matter as much as you might think.
A Johns Hopkins University study that appeared in November’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health claims that contrary to popular opinion, parents aren’t really much of an influence on what their kids are eating. Government guidelines and policies that regulate school meals, peer influence, advertising, and a host of factors in the broader food environment all play important roles in forming children’s eating habits.

Don’t run for the Swedish fish just yet.
This doesn’t let parents off the hook. A permissive manner and a house stocked with junk food are still ill-advised, and positive modeling does matter—just not as much as we might wish. And the benefits of good nutrition are kind of like the oxygen masks on an airplane: parents still need to put theirs on first so that they can be there to take care of their kids.



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How Much of Your Life is Spent Eating?

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 US, 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. […]

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Don’t Let the Weekday Lunch Go the Way of the 8-Track Tape.


Lunch hour? Yeah, right.

Nearly half of all American office workers eat lunch at their desks three times a week; about a quarter of them do so everyday, and another 27% don’t even bother with eating. When a break is taken, it’s nearly always 30 minutes or less.

Blame it on the new, global capitalism. It’s lean and hungry. Time zones have lost all relevance when the workday clock is always ticking somewhere. In the modern work environment, overworking is worn as a badge of honor; taking time out for a leisurely lunch is seen as shirking. Out to lunch’ is no longer just an idiom for someone who is out of touch and out of the loop—with a hamster wheel that never stops spinning, you step off at your own peril. […]

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Bring me an amuse-bouche! STAT!


It’s not gluttony. It’s a neurological condition.
Do you have a consuming passion for food? Do you get a shiver of pleasure from the crackle of crème brulée or the silken pungency of a washed rind Époisses?
You could be suffering (if that’s the word for it) from Gourmand Syndrome. I’m not kidding. Really. I swear.

Gourmand Syndrome is a medically recognized condition in which the patient shows intensely heightened interest in food and a powerful preference for fine dining. […]

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The Food Pyramid is Illegal. And Racist.


These are the claims made in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The [food] pyramid scheme
Round 1 has been won by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), the research and advocacy group that is suing the two federal agencies. Last week, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the named agencies violated federal laws when they selected individuals with known financial ties to various food industries to serve on the advisory committee that drew up the nutritional guidelines that comprise the latest version of the USDA’s Food Pyramid. […]

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Are Celebrities Giving Us Food Allergies?


Fame, fortune, and tree nuts.
Except for the richer/thinner/better-looking thing, celebrities are just like us. And just like us, they can have food allergies. Or think they do. The difference is that they talk about them on Entertainment Tonight and in the pages of People Magazine.
Now the medical community is wondering if the media attention is swelling the number of wrongly self-diagnosed food allergies in the rest of us. […]

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Resolutions: Resist the Urge

image via


New Years resolutions are a sucker’s bet.
We all know it. Even so, there’s something about the next year’s calendar with all its small, clean squares so full of potential.
Resist the urge.
Make plans, not resolutions. Lay foundations instead of boundaries. […]

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Holiday Weight Gain: Fact or fiction?

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 add something like five pounds during the holidays.

And the bad news…

It may be a mere pound, but the weight adds up. […]

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Count Chocula’s New Year’s Resolution

image via Serious Play for Serious Girls


Beginning next year, General Mills will be limiting the sugar in its children’s cereals to no more than 10 grams per serving.
10 grams is 3½ teaspoons of sugar, representing one-third by weight of the serving. Even so, this is no easy feat for the maker of Trix, Lucky Charms, and Count Chocula.
But it is also just a smoke screen obscuring the real issue of unethical marketing to children. […]

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Food for the Brain


Architect and food urbanist Carolyn Steel shows how modern cities have been shaped by food.
Malcolm Gladwell tells you why spaghetti sauce is a metaphor for happiness.
Self-proclaimed anti-foodie Fred Kaufman explores the extremes and excesses of our love affair with our stomachs.

It’s a far cry from the Food Network.

If you’re not already watching online lectures, you are in for a treat. Every aspect of food is dissected, studied, discussed, and celebrated by some of the world’s most inspired thinkers, writers, creators, performers, and policy makers. If you’re already a fan, I’ll point you toward the best of what’s out there.

As foodies, we are distinguished by our seemingly limitless capacity for all things food. We are curious, nostalgic, and hedonistic. We reflect on past meals and anticipate those in the future—and can do so while we are enjoying the current meal.

The range of online resources suits our appetites: there are food lectures on topics of sustainability, science, politics, health and nutrition, economics, and cultural issues. There is entertainment value and scholarliness. It’s all out there; so dig in.

Some of the best:

How about a 14-session kitchen chemistry course that uses Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen as its accompanying text? It’s available through the MIT Open Courseware project.

Judith Jones, Julia Child’s longtime publisher and editor, lets you know what Julia would have thought of Meryl Streep’s portrayal of her on film. The talk took place at this year’s Boston Book Festival.

Cookbook author and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman gives us a good talking to in a TED Talk, telling us what’s wrong with what we eat.

The historical significance of the potato, the ethics of selling dairy products in contemporary China; it’s all covered in the Edible History of Humanity.

Kosher Hollywood is a smart and entertaining lecture, with (heavy on Woody Allen) film clips, that looks at screen portrayals of the food-centered Jews.

You’ll find more lectures on a variety of food-related topics that they don’t go near on television:

TED Talks are always edgy, thought-provoking, and forward-leaning. Everyone from Michael Pollan to Jamie Oliver to Ann Cooper, the renegade lunch lady, has stepped up to the TED podium.

Free University Lectures Online has links to thousands of classroom lectures that are posted online. goes beyond academia to stream talks from book tours, museums, and public lecture series.


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