Monday, May 5, 2014

Shocking! Michelle Obama Eats Ice Cream

Remember when First Lady  Michelle Obama ordered a 1700 calorie meal at a Washington DC burger joint? The media was on fire with the irony. How could the founder of "Let's Move!" get caught eating the kind of meal that made  Fast Food Nation the classroom text in the fight against obesity?

Leave it to the First Lady to turn the story into comedy for the White House Correspondents Dinner, or as it's frequently called, the Nerd Prom.

Raisins or not, what is it about ice cream that makes us sneak into the kitchen at night to sneak a scoop? And why on Earth would Burger King sell a bacon sundae? The answer: it's Food Porn.

Welcome to the "bliss point"processed food manufacturer's term for the perfect combination of sugar, salt, and fat that triggers your intense craving. These bliss point dishes can be prepared cheaply and shipped long distances. They turn you on, you can get them cheaply, and sooner or later they leave you with a medical condition. That's why I call it Food Porn.

Hence the invention of a bacon sundae: tons of sugar, salt, fat, preservatives, and lab created food coloring. And to many people, totally irresistible.

There is a different kind of "food porn", that's served by famous chefs and bakers at the finest Michelin rated restaurants. They use salt, fat, and sugar too, though not as much of it. But they also use fresh, local produce, spices, heat, and layers of texture and aromas to create their "sinfully delicious" food. A master chef would never rely on ridiculous quantities of sugar and salt, lab created flavorings, and a mountain of "cheese product" or high fructose corn syrup "toppings" to lure you into eating their food.
Back to the original question... Should Michelle Obama, CEO of Let's Move!, eat ice cream? Why not! I'm sure she doesn't gorge on it every day. And, she works out. (Care to arm wrestle?)  But here's the crucial question:

When you eat things like ice-cream, do you consider it food?

Let's talk about what you classify as actual food, that you would serve not only yourself but your children or grandchildren.  To be food, it should meet these basic requirements:

  1. It's edible. (ice-cream qualifies, so far.)
  2. It nourishes your body in some way.
  3. It grew from natural soil, water and air, or the food it ate before you ate it, grew that way.
  4. It does not contain lab-created flavorings, sweeteners, or coloring.
  5. It's not harmful to your brain, blood glucose levels, or gut when eaten frequently.
  6. It will rot within days or a couple of weeks if left out, because it is not full of preservatives.

If you use this as your definition of food, and eat mostly food, by this definition, you will make great strides in preventive health and nourishing your children to build strong bodies. And yes, there are some frozen dairy treats that pass this food definition test.

Sure, you can eat birthday cake on your kid's birthdays, or have a bacon cheeseburger (made with quality, hormone-free meat) on a business trip. Go ahead, let your dinner host give you a big dollop of real whipped cream. I know, I can hear the Paleo dieters shouting that it's never alright to eat wheat! But never is a promise that eludes most of us. So if you are healthy and not allergic, diabetic, or in the early phases of a weight loss diet, it's OK in my opinion to indulge now and then. Apparently, these occasional indulgences are alright with the CEO of Let's Move! too. It's not going to kill you, and you know when you've earned a treat.

Of course, here's where we get into trouble, gain an extra thirty pounds, and start suffering from leaky gut syndrome, high cholesterol and get poor outcomes on our blood glucose tests. We get into trouble when we succumb to cheap food porn. When we repeatedly eat stuff pumped full of additives, high fructose corn syrup, salt, saturated fats, and other things that fail to nourish us, and make us sick over time.

cartoon of cheese fries

We buy all that stuff because the PICTURE looks likes real food, or the smell and taste combination triggers the part of our brains that go YEA FOOD PORN!! BACON SUNDAE!!! EAT!!!!  That stuff is not food by our new definition.  So, when you decide to have a portion of it, or serve it to your children, please stay fully aware that it is NOT food. It is food porn, eaten purely for fun.  When consumed often, it will make most people sick, fat, tired, muddleheaded, and/or diabetic, and leave them craving more and more of it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Eating like a King. King Henry VIII

The last suit of armor made for King Henry VIII sits in the Tower of London. From it, historians determined that the 6-foot-three King had a 54 inch waistline, and probably weighed in around 300 pounds before his final illness. He was an extra-large man; four brawny men were required to carry him around in his stately chair.

Wealthy lords of Tudor England had a reputation as portly or obese people. They took pride in being fat. I mean, after all, if you were fat it meant you had plenty of tasty stuff to eat, any time you wanted it. And that was a privilege reserved for the few. Tudor peasants did not have year-round access to unlimited quantities of food, and could not stop in the middle of a workday for a long, leisurely, and large meal.

So the royal class tended towards obesity. They suffered from constipation, frequent infections, and black, rotting teeth, due largely to lack of good nutrition in their diets. This is very interesting, because in a lot of ways, the "typicial American diet" that still lingers on, descended from the preferences of Tudor England, and is preserved (pun intended) by today's food industry.

So, what eating styles did we inherit from King Henry VIII's court?

Oh how the royals loved sugar! They added it to ale, made marzipan to bake with, and created sugary sauces for meat and fish. The peasants couldn't afford sugar, but many became urban bee-keepers, harvesting their own honey.

Equipped with a team of the finest huntsmen in the land, Royal Tudor kitchens filled up with the cooking aromas of mutton, veal, wild boar, rabbit, pheasant, pork, badger, goose, and even blackbird! Bountiful plates of meats were a sign of wealth and essential for entertaining at the King's Court. In fact meat, dripping with fat, made up 75% of the royal court's diet.

The poor farmers and trades-folk ate far less meat... only a little bacon here, a couple of hens there, to cook up a winter stew marking a special occasion.

Since the "common people" used everything from artichokes, beets, and onions to kale, collards and peas for stews and one-dish meals, King Henry VIII's Court considered vegetables not fit for royalty, and so they shunned vegetables. They also believed raw fruit was unhealthy, so ate very little of it, except when adding it to a warm, sweet meat dressing.

Surely our dining habits have evolved since 1490. Right? Well, we certainly get our meals a lot faster, if you don't count the development time spent in food labs or the time things sit in the supermarket freezer. And your mutton chops wouldn't have come shrink wrapped back then. On the other hand, "in 1822, we ate the amount of added sugar in one 12 ounce can of soda every five days"* but now we gobble up sugar like we're Tudor Royals showing off our expensive taste. The big difference? Sugar's cheap now. But that's another blog.

Bread was served at nearly every meal. Bread and ale was served to travelers who stopped at inns to rest. Upper class Tudors ate wheat flour loaves called "Manchet", while the peasant breads were made of rye and barley flour.

When you think of the typical American diet, what comes to mind? Bacon cheeseburgers (on wheat flour bread), apple pie with ice-cream, cookies, french fries, toast (again, wheat flour) with eggs... honey-baked ham. Now let's look at the typical American dinner plate. What takes up most of the plate? Meat. And then bread or another starch. And then a little scoop of vegetables (such as coleslaw, or green beans). Where's the fruit? Oh yes, it's in the dessert topping. Where's the rye flour? The what?

Is this bad? Well, yes, unless you want excess fat covering your organs like King Henry VIII had, and to suffer from "painful swelling of the hands and feet". Leg ulcers, depression, and muscle weakness also plagued this King, and many historians believe he probably suffered from Type II Diabetes. Isn't this what is happening to so many Americans? For the first time in U.S. history, our children, the millennials, are predicted to have a shorter average lifespan than their parents, because of early onset heart disease. Which often comes with a history of obesity.

Why do we still follow unhealthy eating habits we inherited 524 years ago from King Henry VIII ? The peasant farmers of 1490 set a much better example during harvest times with their vegetarian main dishes, whole grains and plentiful fresh fruit. With everything we know today about how much we need fresh veggies and fruits to help us stay slim, build strong bones and brains and fight off toxins, it's time to stop imitating the diets of pompous Tudor royals.

It's definitely time to dig in to some fine, balanced recipes like this one from Blue Apron:


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Will the NEW Nutrition Labels Help You Eat Smarter?

Here's what's new about the proposed nutrition labels: not much.

image source: Forbes

First, the total calories will be printed in larger type. Second, many portion sizes will be larger, more like what people actually consider a serving, the FDA says. Third, you're going to see what percent of your daily vitamin D and potassium you get in a serving, instead of listings for vitamins A and C.  Fourth, the amount of "added sugar" will be listed on the new labels.

In other words, if you're counting calories, you might find the proposed new labels useful. If you know what "added sugar" means, you might be intrigued for awhile by those numbers. But basically, the "new" nutrition labels are about as different as size 8 and size 10 of the same prom dress your mom wore 20 years ago.

Modern day nutrition and weight loss science has come a long way, and it's needed now more than ever. Check any of the major web sites, Web-MD, the ADA (American Dietetic Association, or U.S. News' "Top 10" diets, and all of them recommend eating more fruits, vegetables, and "good" fats in addition to, or sometimes instead of counting calories. Today's dietitians stress knowing how big a healthy portion size is, rather than counting the calories of every single bite you eat in a day.

By law, the FDA food label's portion size has to reflect "actual" portion sizes that people tend to eat. With what we know now, wouldn't it be far better to show what a portion size of ice-cream, for example, should look like, than have a nutrition label give people "the OK" to eat an average super-sized portion? Should the law be changed to reflect the times, rather than trying to fit the nutrition labels to an outdated law?

80s prom dress from promfashionguide
Would you really wear that oh-so-1980's taffeta prom dress to your 2015 prom, just because your mom added a bigger bow?

Another thing that has changed over the past 20 years is how much lab-created flavoring and additives are sold in food. Large chunks of today's food industry do not want you to know or notice how many "artificial" ingredients were used to create your frozen breakfast sandwich. If not artificial, then certainly not plant- or dairy-derived. Because the word "natural" is not regulated by the FDA, so food producers can write "natural" in big letters on the front of a package of food containing things you'd never find in your home pantry.

I would like to see a few yes/no check-boxes:

  • Y/N   High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Y/N   Non-plant or artificial food coloring
  • Y/N   BHA or BHT
  • Y/N   MSG or other chemical flavor enhancers
  • Y/N   Growth Hormones used (in meat, dairy, egg-laying hens)
I think I speak for the majority of mothers of young children when I ask to see that on the new food labels. And finally, I would like to see more prominence given to fiber content, and a reminder to eat 8 to 10 portions of colorful vegetables and fruits per day.

Guess what's being removed from the nutrition label? Calories from fat. The number I find most useful in figuring out whether my daily fat-to-protein intake is reasonable.

So, the proposed new labels take a few tentative steps forwards and a giant step back. The original food label was at least a fairly accurate reflection of what dietitians knew in the 1980's about how our bodies used food. The proposed "new" label does not reflect how much more we know now about healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight.

You can submit your comments to the FDA during the remainder of the 90-day comment period.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How to Cut Open the Mighty, Prickly Pineapple

Although most people picture Hawaii as the place to find pineapples, Christopher Columbus, the same explorer who "sailed the ocean blue" to discover the Americas for Spain, found pineapples on the island of Guadalupe. Landing on the island in 1493, on his second trip to the New World, he came upon a Carib Indian village, with serpent designs carved into pillars and this strange fruit that Columbus described as looking like a pine cone but tasting sweet like an apple. I suppose that's where the name pine-apple came from.

ripe pineapple
Pineapples are gorgeous in their natural skins. The real beauty is in the aroma and taste of the succulent fruit inside, as it presents itself to any kitchen knife wielding home cook who can conquer the prickly prize. There's an art to opening a pineapple. Without this precious knowledge you could end up with stinging finger pricks, giant fruit flying across a slippery counter onto the floor, or a long tedious ordeal trying to peel the skin off this elusive treat.

Oh, you could go buy cut-up pineapple. But where's the fun of that? Who ever got bragging rights for opening a plastic container? Right. So here you go: How to cut open a pineapple in five easy steps.


slice top off pineapple

1. When a pineapple is ripe, its leaves should be fresh and green, the fruit's body firm. With clean hands, lay the pineapple on its side and cut of the top, 1/2 inch or so below the leaves. Now cut 1/2 inch off the bottom.

peel a pineapple

2. Now you can stand that beast on end and slice away the tough skin, deep enough to get most of the "eyes" out.

how to cut a pineapple

3. From here you have a choice. Lay the pineapple back down and slice it into rings, coring the center of each slice, or ...

keep the fruit upright and slice it carefully into quarters, like the one on the right.

4.  If you cut it this way, you still need to remove the tough core. Just lay each quarter on its side and slice off the hard center in one go.

5.  Now you're ready to create toothpick worthy chunks.

Hello, party.