Archive for the ‘Food producers and less-healthy foods’ Category

If you do eat fast food, you may want to buy this book

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

My writing mentor, Teresa Funke, sent me an email after reading one of my posts recently. She mentioned that her family has a book titled Eat This Not That! Her three kids love reading the book and pointing out choices, especially wrong ones, that she and her husband make. They've purchased several editions of the book over the past few years.

Well I had to buy the book and easily found it in our favorite locally owned bookstore, Old Firehouse Books (that's right; it's in an old fire station). This is the 2011 edition and costs $19.99.

The authors (major and minor) are David Zinczenko, the editor-in-chief of Men's Health and a co-writer, Matt Goulding, who's said to be a New York Times best-selling food author and has cooked and eaten his way around the world. I Googled the second author and found he also has a book called Cook This Not That! Since we already do lots of healthy heart cooking I won't buy that other book.

But let's go back to the book that I did purchase.

So what does this book do? Remember, I rarely eat fast food at all and if I do it's because we're on a trip and didn't bring sandwiches (we almost always do for shorter road trips, but the second or third day out, we may have to find a place to eat). My favorite choice then is Subway since I can pick a simple "sub" and not goop it up. Plus I know what the calories are in the sandwich since they're listed.

But the book is interesting. It lists the "20 Worst Foods in America,' for instance. It tells what's really in a "Chicken McNugget" (seven ingredients in the meat and twenty more in the breading). It has a Top Swaps section telling which burger, wings, pasta, ribs, fajitas, chicken, fries, salad, pizza and ice cream is better than its competitor. It focues on some specific food choices (bad ones, according to the book) and tells why (e.g., a Taco Bell Mexican Pizza has 64 different ingredients; Skittles have more sugar per package than two twin-wrapped packages of Peanut Butter Twix and a whole range of additives that help bring about all those colors; many of those were apparently linked in a Lancet article to hyperactivity and behavioral problems in children).

The bulk of the book fits the title, side by side comparisons of food choices from different fast food restaurants. They're interesting and may be quite useful to those of you who partake on a regular basis of such fare.

I have some real caveats however. Many of their "Eat This' selections still have way too much salt and sometimes more fat than I'd be interested in eating. The book touts losing weight without exercising or dieting. That's not my style at all. Nonetheless it's both a good read, and according to Teresa, a nice way to introduce kids to making food choices. The book rates and, in some areas, grades a wide variety of foods.

Overall I'd give it a C+, but you may rate it higher, even if you only eat fast food occasionally.



Genetically-engineered Foods

Friday, February 18th, 2011

a large, but normal salmon

I can't say I've had much of an opinion on genetically modified organisms (GMO) or the more recent take on them, genetically engineered (G.E.) foods. After all, goes one argument I've read in a number of places, mankind has been selecting and thus modifying foods/food anmals for certain "desirable" traits for thousands of years, so what's the difference.

Then I read Mark Bittman's Opinionator post in the New York Times online (Feb 15, 2001) and found one crucial difference, honesty. The government has approved three new G.E. foods, one of which becomes hay, another to be used to make fuel (ethanol) and the third a variety of sugar beets. None of them have to be labeled as coming from GMOs.

When I looked at public opinion polls from 1997 to 2010 originating in a number of countries around the globe, people want to know if they're buying G.E. foods. The numbers in favor of labeling are 70-90+%. There's a question of safety in the public's mind, one ABC poll conducted nearly ten years ago had 35% of respondents thinking G.E. foods were safe, 52% voting they were unsafe and 13% without an opinion.

Yet 93%, in the same group polled, thought the federal government should require labeling.

The three G.E. products I'm writing about are alfalfa, corn and sugar beets. The alfalfa could become hay fed to animals, dairy cows for instance, who were supposedly being raised organically, and therefore, strictly speaking, the milk from those cows wouldn't be organic. But we wouldn't know that if the government rules don't require labeling of the alfalfa as G.E.

Now there's a new worry. I printed a copy of a Sep 20, 2010 article titled "Super salmon or 'Frankenfish'? FDA to decide." A Massachusetts company, AquBounty, is producing a G.E. salmon which grows twice as fast as ordinary salmon. The photo of a G.E. AquAdvantage salmon swimming alongside an ordinary salmon of the same age (presumably Photo-shopped together) is striking. I wouldn't have assumed they were the same species.

And the Food and Drug Administration is apparently about to approve the new super fish. Two Alaska Senators and a California Assemblyman have introduced bills to either ban the fish or require its labeling as G.E.

In Europe most foods containing more than 0.9% of GMOs must already be labeled.

The claims in favor of GMO crops are they need less water, less fertilizer and fewer pesticides and similar sprays. Bittman's column notes these claims aren't verified in many instances and most of the world's farmers can't afford to grow the new GMO species.

I'm personally not very afraid of the G.E. crops and even the salmon. Bittman notes that neither allergic reactions nor transfer to people of antibiotic resistance , major concerns of those against GMO crops/foods, have thus far been shown to be factual problems.

But, the labeling issue is quite another matter. If it's a GMO food product, it ought to say so.

What's Good for General Bullmoose...

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

A Bull Moose has some clout

Several major concerns in Americans' diets have apparently taken another step to resolution. I've written how the dietary salt (sodium really) recommendation has recently been lowered so that about 70% of us (all but the young, white and quite healthy) should be ingesting only 1,300 to 1,500 mg. of sodium per day. That's tough enough to do. I saw a recipe yesterday in a "Light Cooking" magazine my wife gets that was interesting: a steak hash. But per portion it had 1,000 mg. of sodium.  That's over two thirds of what I should eat in a whole day. I didn't bookmark that recipe.

Then there's the relatively high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables compared to some other choices, so called "prepared foods" one can buy in the supermarket. Those mixtures are often filled with sodium, fats and sugars, but they're comparatively cheaper in many instances.

We're fortunate enough, as a pair of USAF retirees,  to be able to buy our fruits at the Air Force Base Commissary closest to us as we did when we drove to Cheyenne to see our Dermatologist today. And in the summer, of course, we've again purchased a veggie share and a fruit share from the local CSA, Grant Family Farms. Next summer two sets of friends will join us in that, so the variety will go up and the price per item down as we purchase larger shares. Then we got a quarter of a "hand-raised" cow this year at a wonderful per pound price. That came through friends whose neighbor has a very small herd and sells a few each year.

So what if you're on a tighter budget and don't live where friends and their neighbors have livestock?

Today in The New York Times appeared an article titled "Promote Healthy Foods."  It details how Wal-Mart (since 2008 I think it's actually Walmart), now the biggest retail concern in the country has a new plan, one that over the next five years will cut down on packaged foots content of the sodium, fat and sugars. That gradual approach doesn't ring well with some; I saw some negative quotes, but other countries have followed the same pattern with success. it's hard to go from high-salt to low-salt diets in one urgent push. I know since I tried that when my own blood pressure first went up in the early 1980s.

I tried some "no-salt" foods and hated them. Yet now, some 25+ years later, I'm quite comfortable adding pepper and other spices and using no table salt and no cooking salt.  We cook with a little salt when we have company, using less than the recipe calls for, and I frequently see our guests adding salt at the table. When we eat alone there's no salt shaker there.

Wal-Mart is also planning to offer fruits and vegetables at lower prices. And the article said they plan to build some more stores in rural and "underserved" areas. The company has been discussing healthy eating and our epidemic of childhood obesity with the First Lady and she apparently endorsed their efforts. Why is this significant? Well it's because they can pressure their suppliers to follow along with the concept. They are the Bull Moose herd leader and others tend to tag after them.

We don't do much shopping with them, but in this case I say, "Hooray for Wal-Mart."

Fats and fatty acids and our health: chemistry and politics

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Butter on a dish

I wrote about omega-3 fatty acids the last time, but, until I read Professor Robert L. Wolke's wonderful book, What Einstein Told His Cook, I didn't understand the name or remember much of the chemistry behind the fatty acids or fats themselves for that matter.

So let's start with a little chemistry, thanks to Wolke who is an emeritus  professor of that discipline and wrote a Food 101 column for the Washington Post for a number of years.

Fats, also called triglycerides, are chemical substances whose molecules are made up of three fatty acid, long chains of carbon atoms hooked onto a connector called glycerol. The carbon atoms themselves usually have two hydrogen atoms and if every carbon in the fatty acid chain has both its soul-mate hydrogens then we call it a saturated fatty acid.

When one carbon hydrogen is lacking its pair of hydrogens, the fatty acid is termed monounsaturated; if two (or three or more) carbons find themselves without their hydrogens, the fatty acid is polyunsaturated.

And then there's olive oil

The last carbon on a fatty acid's chain is termed the omega carbon from the final letter in the Greek alphabet. Omega-3 fatty acids, the good kind I've mentioned before, are missing hydrogens three carbons from the end of their chain.

So Omega-6 fatty acids, the much less healthful kind, lack hydrogens six places away from the omega end of the carbon line. And so on for Omega-9 fatty acids.

And while we're at it, if we're talking about a mostly saturated fat, it's likely to be a solid and from  an animal source (or a chemistry lab). Those that are mostly unsaturated are usually from vegetable sources and are much more commonly liquids.

Two more chemistry concepts for today, then I'll quit. If you look at the composition of a particular vegetable oil, part may be saturated, part monounsaturated and part polyunsaturated. The proportions count in deciding if the veggie oil is good for you or not, as saturated fats aren't healthy.

When food manufacturers want to stack the deck and sell you solids, not liquids (think margarine versus canola oil), they can add hydrogens in a technical process. On the other hand, partially unsaturated fats are easier to spread than totally solid ones.

That process, hydrogenation, can produce molecules rarely found in nature and one of the consequences of doing so led to trans fats, where the hydrogens added end up on opposite sides of a carbon. Those trans fats turned out to be nasty beasts (this was suggested in the medical literature as early as 1988), causing heart disease, with one estimate of 20,000 additional deaths per year in the United States. That number was published in  The American Journal of Public Health in 1995.

Thirteen years later, in January 2008, the state of California passed a law to minimize restaurants use of trans fats to less than half a gram per serving and in 2010 started to enforce that law. Apparently the state didn't think the restaurants would be able to comply with the new rules immediately and gave them two years to make changes. During all that time they could serve more than the limit of trans fats. Bakeries will have to comply with a similar law beginning on January 1, 2011.

I'll come back to the various kinds of fatty acids next time as there's more to add.

In the meantime, especially over the holidays, be aware of what you choose to eat.

Have a Merry (and healthy) Christmas.