Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Cholesterol, schmolesterol—eggs are good for you

August 20, 2008

Yes, eggs have cholesterol in them. But scientists now say that they also have something that blocks the absorption of that cholesterol. Since I’m writing about French toast this week in Blue Kitchen, it seemed like a good time to update this post I did about a year ago.

eggs.jpg

The people over at the American Egg Board need to get on the stick. Studies showed that wine in moderate amounts is good for you, especially red wine. Bingo. That story is everywhere. Winemakers are even trying to get legislation passed to tout the health benefits on labels.

Ditto chocolate, especially dark chocolate. Not only does it deliver antioxidants, which are good for your heart and arteries. Most of the fats in dark chocolate are the good kind like those found in olive oil, and even the bad ones appear to have a neutral effect on cholesterol. The chocolate marketing machine went to work and now, show of hands, who out there doesn’t know—at least on some level—that eating chocolate is actually good for you?

Well, back in 2001, nutrition researchers at Kansas State University published the first evidence that, even though eggs contain considerable amounts of cholesterol, the lecithin in eggs prevents the absorption of cholesterol from eggs and other sources too.

In 2004, a University of Connecticut report went further, stating that eating eggs is not related to body cholesterol levels or cardiovascular problems and recommending that “people with normal cholesterol levels and no family history of cardiovascular diseases should not worry about eating one or two eggs a day.”

How many of you knew that? Yeah, I thought so. The American Egg Board [still touting their innocuous “incredible edible egg” line, but only supporting it with the most timid, tepid information on their website] has been asleep at the wheel for seven years. There’s not word one about the cholesterol-blocking power of eggs. And all that while, we’ve all been quaking needlessly in our egg-white-omelet-eating boots.

To recap: Eggs good, not bad. Low in fat and calories, very high in quality protein. And most important, studies show that the lecithin in eggs actually prevents the absorption of cholesterol—not only from eggs, but from other sources.

So go eat some eggs. Have some dark chocolate. Wash it all down with some red wine. Just do it all in moderation—Oscar Wilde would have wanted it that way.

Dancing like crazy can help keep you sane

July 23, 2008

Marion and I like to dance. A lot. So imagine my delight when I read that it’s good for you too. Even goofy dancing, like Matt Harding’s. And I’m not talking the expected cardio benefits. According to an article by Tara Parker-Hope in The New York Times, a “2003 New England Journal of Medicine report showed a lower risk for dementia among people over 75 who regularly danced during leisure time.” And even more surprising, “other types of physical exercise didn’t affect dementia risk—dancing was the only physical activity that made a difference.”

So read Ms. Parker-Hope’s “Dance Even if Nobody is Watching.” Then do it. And if you need a little proof that even you can dance, watch this wonderful video.

Oh, and if you need something to dance to right now, head on over for a mini-Blue Kitchen dance party courtesy of YouTube at What’s on the kitchen boomox?

101 picnic dishes, mayo safety & food memories

July 16, 2008

Here’s a quick look at a few food-related things I’ve read recently:

The New York Times’ Mark Bittman calls himself the Minimalist. But he’s anything but minimal when it comes to his popular lists—his favorite number seems to be 101. Take, for example, his latest list, just in time for summer picnics, “101 20-Minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics.”

As with all his lists, these are not 101 full-blown recipes; Bittman just gives you the basic idea for a dish and leaves you plenty of room to make it your own. Here is the complete entry for combining tomatoes and peaches for a lively sounding salad: “TOMATOES AND PEACHES Toss together sliced seeded tomatoes and peaches, along with thinly sliced red onion and chopped cilantro or rosemary. Dress at the last minute with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.”

It’s a long list, but he helpfully breaks it up into 10 bite-sized chunks, including Raw Vegetables, Fruit, Seafood, Sandwiches and Desserts. There’s even a Printable List of all 101. I don’t know about you, but I’m planning to mine this list all summer long.

Mayonnaise: It’s not part of the problem, it’s part of the solution.

Summertime is a time for potato salads, chicken salads and other yummy foods all calling for mayonnaise. And with all the aforementioned picnicking going on, with it’s relaxed approach to refrigeration, it’s also a time to worry about food safety.

For just about forever, mayonnaise has been thought to be a culprit, a germ factory promoting and accelerating all kinds of nasty bacterial growth. Well, according to a recent article by Anahad O’Connor in The New York Times [brought to my attention by a post on SnagWireMedia—thanks!], mayo can actually help fight the growth of bacteria. That’s because most commercial mayonnaise contains vinegar and other acidic ingredients which may help protect against spoilage. According to the Times article, “One prominent study published in The Journal of Food Protection found, for example, that in the presence of commercial mayonnaise, the growth of salmonella and staphylococcus bacteria in contaminated chicken and ham salad either slowed or stopped altogether.”

That’s not to say that you should set all your perishables out in the full sun, then head off to play beach volleyball for hours [I’m personally opposed to playing beach volleyball under any circumstances]. But you don’t have to treat dishes containing mayonnaise like hazardous waste. If anything, it’s good to know that the mayo’s got your back.

Food: Eat, Memory

If food were only about fuel and sustenance, there wouldn’t be chefs or home cooks. Or food blogs, for that matter. There would just be armies of nutritionists creating vacuum-packed, vitamin enriched food cubes.

But food is much more than fuel. It is, as renowned food editor Judith Jones so rightly said, “one of the greatest gifts of life.” Ann over at A Chicken in Every Granny Cart first made me aware of the above quote. I immediately printed it out and stuck it on our fridge. I read it almost every day. And I believe it thoroughly every time I do.

Marion recently shared an article in The New York Times Magazine with me that absolutely shows the power food has to evoke memories, to reach down inside us and to open us up to new experiences. Allen Shawn’s moving essay, “Food: Eat, Memory—Family Meal,” isn’t a saccharin Norman Rockwellian remembrance. It begins with a very non-sugar coated statement: “For my sister, Mary, who has lived in a Maryland institution for the mentally retarded since she was 8, there’s no hiding the fact that food is central.”

Shawn goes on to tell of Mary, now 59 and suffering from autism, mental retardation and elements of schizophrenia, anticipating and reciting the menu of the birthday lunch she expected each year, unchanged since her teens. In 2005, their mother was near death and unable to travel to the summer home that had been the unchanging venue for the birthday lunch. So Mary was brought to the family’s Manhattan apartment for the first time since she was eight, and in addition to the expected menu, some new dishes were added. Everyone prepared for the worst. Instead, they got what Shawn called a miracle. He was right. Read this wonderful article.

Small Bites: Drink, eat, look and watch right

July 2, 2008

Need a reason to drink more tea? How about 33 reasons?

One of the cool things about food blogging is that you don’t always have to find stories. Sometimes they find you. Recently, Fiona at NursingDegree.Net wrote to tell me of an article that had been posted on their blog, “33 Health Benefits of Drinking Tea.” Their impressive list includes some of the usual suspects, like the fact that teas contain antioxidants and can create a calmer but more alert state of mind. But did you know that tea can lower stress hormone levels, protect bones, lower cholesterol and help keep your skin acne-free? I didn’t.

Read all 33 reasons to drink more tea—you’ll find some big surprises and even bigger benefits. Then go drink some.

Breaking news from The New York Times: We don’t eat as healthy as we should.

In Monday’s Health section, Tara Parker-Pope tells us about The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating. This is a short list compiled from nutritionist Dr. Johnny Bowden’s The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth About What You Should Eat and Why. And while the list includes hardworking choices like cabbage and beets, it contains some fun foods, like pumpkin seeds and cinnamon.

Look good while you cook, eat and drink right.

For no reason I can think of, we only just discovered the Chicago Antique Market last weekend. Held the last Saturday and Sunday of each month May through October, it offers an amazing array of antiques and collectibles at reasonable prices. It’s also home to the Indie Designer Market, where we met Peg of TAYGA. They say successful companies find a niche. TAYGA’s niche is aprons custom tailored from designer fabrics. A more fashion-savvy eye than mine [Marion’s] recognized some of the fabric as being from designer Amy Butler.

These are no Auntie Em aprons here. They have cleavage, for crying out loud. And they’re reversible, so you get two looks for the price of one. I’m happy to report they also make cleavage-free versions for men and kids. You can check them all out here.

Emeril returns with a “Bam!”

Being quite possibly the last person in the known universe who doesn’t have cable, I didn’t know that Emeril Live had been cut from the Food Network last year. But now Sienna from Fine Living Network has written to let me know that Emeril is returning to TV—”Bam!” and all. You can catch new episodes seven days a week starting July 7. In the meantime, you can catch some preview clips and videos right here.

Heart health, safe tomatoes and a broth shortcut

June 18, 2008

Mice get all the breaks. Scientists have been testing the benefits of red wine on them. Again.

In this latest study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, results indicate that “the chemical resveratrol, commonly found in red wine, can help keep heart tissues young and delay aging—and at levels lower than previously expected.” In fact, researchers “believe that a glass of red wine a day might provide all the resveratrol the heart needs.”

Delaying the effects of aging on the heart is huge; the aging process itself apparently causes more health issues than age-related diseases. In tests on middle-aged mice [did that phrase make you smile too?], the hearts of the mice on resveratrol stayed stronger and the tissue maintained its health longer.

Resveratrol has been known for some time to offer significant health benefits, but previous studies involved levels of resveratrol found in hundreds of bottles of wine. If this latest study is correct, one or two glasses of red wine a day could actually prevent changes in heart cells that lead to aging.

Red wine-based pharmaceuticals are suddenly becoming big business, as heavy hitters like GlaxoSmithKline aim to cash in on these findings with resveratrol supplements. They’re already commercially available. Personally, it sounds like an answer for which there was no question, to quote a former boss. I mean, a nice glass of Cabernet versus a pill? No contest, as far as I can see.

Tomatoes and salmonella scare update

Last week I wrote about an outbreak of Salmonella serotype Saintpaul linked to consumption of certain kinds of raw tomatoes in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] has not yet pinpointed the source for the tainted tomatoes, but they have cleared the tomato crops in 39 states and the District of Columbia as well as Baja California [Mexico], Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico. To see if your state’s tomatoes are safe to eat and for the latest updates on the outbreak, visit the FDA’s website.

Better Than Bouillon: Good broth, good and fast

Yeah, broth or stock made from scratch is best. No argument here. But often, we don’t have time to make it. And just as often, it’s playing a supporting role in a dish and, quite frankly, the time and effort to produce a cup or less of homemade broth just isn’t worth the payoff, at least not in my kitchen.

The good news is that choices for store-bought stock have gone way beyond the soup can and the bouillon cube. Reduced fat and reduced sodium options abound. And at Trader Joe’s [as well as other places], you can even buy organic chicken stock made from free range chickens. One of our favorite “stock options” is the Superior Touch line of Better Than Bouillon bases. They now offer an amazing 18 varieties in all, but what first caught our attention is the mushroom base. We first discovered it at Fairway Market in New York. And we loved it so much, we pestered the Chicago chain Treasure Island to add it to the varieties they already carried.

What makes Better Than Bouillon bases, well, better is that the main ingredient in whatever variety you choose is the name on the label: Beef, chicken, mushroom, lobster… not salt. That said, they do pack plenty of sodium too, so it’s good to taste whatever you’re adding it to before adding more salt. But by way of contrast, bouillon cubes can deliver anywhere from 38 to a whopping 56 percent of your DVA for sodium in a single one-cup serving! Superior Touch does offer reduced sodium versions of their beef, chicken and vegetable bases too.

And you can’t beat them for convenience or value. A single teaspoon makes a cup of broth; an 8-ounce jar makes 38 cups of broth. And it keeps in the fridge for up to 18 months, ready to grab at a moment’s notice when you need a little liquid for a dish. The mushroom base remains our favorite, but we also keep chicken and vegetable on hand. If your local store doesn’t carry Better Than Bouillon, you can order it at Amazon.com or direct from Superior Touch.

Small Bites: Drinks, a cool tool and a sharp blog

May 21, 2008

Worst drink on the planet?

According to Men’s Health magazine, it’s the Heath Shake, part of Baskin-Robbins’ Candy Bar Madness promotion. The Baskin-Robbins website describes it tantalizingly thus: “Toffee and coffee have never been better! This blend of Heath and Jamoca ice creams, chopped Heath Bar pieces and caramel, are layered on top of caramel, then topped with whipped cream and chopped Heath Bar pieces.”

Their nutritional chart on the site tells a different story, though. The medium-sized 1,420-calorie drink [more than 2/3 of your daily calories needs, by the way] delivers 103% of your Daily Value for total fat and a whopping 200% for saturated fat. If that’s not enough of a fat bomb for you, they have a large size that packs an amazing 2,300 calories!

And the best drink? White tea is the new black.

Black tea is by far the most popular tea in the world. I’m a big fan of black tea myself, but lately green tea has been getting loads of press for its antioxidants. We all know by now that antioxidants fight cancer, reduce the risk of strokes, heart diseases and diabetes and generally slow the aging process.

Well, it turns out that white tea not only outperforms black tea when it comes to antioxidants—it blows the doors off everybody’s darling green tea in this regard too, delivering three times the antioxidants found in green tea. What’s more, According to ScienceDaily, white tea outstrips green in fighting germs, including Staphylococcus infections, Streptococcus infections and pneumonia. And studies by Oregon State University show that consumption of white tea can fight colon cancer, actually reducing tumors.

Is there anything white tea can’t do? Well, it doesn’t have the satisfyingly robust, slightly bitter taste of black tea. On the other hand, its somewhat subtler taste doesn’t carry any of the grassy aftertaste of green tea. And as an added bonus, its pale gold color is far less likely to stain than black tea. For everything you’d ever want to know about white tea, visit White Tea Central.

This cool kitchen tool can really take the heat.

Heat resistant, nonstick silicone has been showing up all over kitchens these days. And one of the best uses we’ve seen of it is these handy Cuisipro Silicone Locking Tongs.

They’re made with commercial-quality stainless steel, and the nonstick silicone ends are heat-resistant to 575°F [300°C]. Pull on the hanging hoop and you lock them closed for easy storage in a drawer. Pop the hoop against your hip or the counter and you can open them with one hand—a useful feature in a busy kitchen.

But what really makes these tongs for me are the silicone tips. You can flip chops or chicken breasts or whatever in a hot nonstick pan without fear of scratching. You can grab green beans or asparagus spears or other cooked vegetables without bruising them. And best of all, as far as I’m concerned, they’re ideal for handling cooked pasta. You get a sure grip without breakage, and the pasta can’t get stuck in them the way they can with open metal tongs [am I the only person bugged by this?].

Cuisipro Silicone Locking Tongs come in a dazzling array of sizes and colors. Whichever you choose, they’ll make life in the kitchen just a little bit easier.

A sharp new blog. Seriously.

The first rule of blogging if you want to build a loyal readership of more than just friends and family is to specialize. Your readers need to know that each time they visit, they’ll find something on a topic that interests them. Well, I recently heard from a blogger named Ken who has carved out quite a specific niche for himself.

The blog is called Only Knives. You’ll find plenty of useful information about kitchen knives—including this exhaustive article called The Best Kitchen Knives For Any Budget. You’ll also find posts about hunting knives, survival knives [did anyone else shudder just then?] and even swords!

Besides thorough, helpful product information, you’ll find plenty of articles on the industry and history of knives and blades. Like this post on The Rise and Fall of The Great Kitchen Knife-Makers. So if you’re in the market for new kitchen knives, check out Ken’s blog. And if you’re in the market for a survival knife, I’d just as soon not know about it.

Ditching the D word

January 23, 2008

ww-vlogger.jpg

In December, the Chicago Tribune reported that Kraft Foods Inc. was scrapping the word “diet” from its popular line of diet foods. They’re now called South Beach Living, thank you very much. The South Beach line has been a winner for Kraft, according to the article, growing from 50 products to 70 and being named a “Product Pacesetter” in 2006 by market researchers Information Resources Inc. Still, negative connotations to “diet” have prompted the move.

And now Weight Watchers, a company whose very name is synonymous with dieting, has come out against it. The word, at least. Their new advertising tagline shows exactly where they’ve planted their new flag: Stop dieting. Start living. Their current ad campaign, all over taxi roofs and subways here, takes D word dissing even further, with headlines like DIETS ARE MEAN, GO ON A DIET DIET and PEOPLE DON’T FAIL, DIETS DO.

An article in ADWEEK this month reports that the company has hired prolific video blogger or vlogger Faint Starlite to promote their new attitude. She’s been posting video blog entries about a wide range of topics since 2006, including chronicling her weight loss after joining Weight Watchers.

So why has the D word fallen into such disfavor? Because diets don’t work—at least not by themselves and not in the long run. Consider this. At any given time, roughly a quarter of Americans are on a diet. Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 64% of us are overweight or, worse, obese.

obesity_maps.jpg

Being overweight is more than just a fashion or appearance issue. The CDC reports that deaths due to poor diet and physical inactivity rose by 33 percent over the past decade and may soon overtake tobacco as the leading preventable cause of death. It doesn’t exactly make living a barrel of fun either. Weight problems can lead to many health issues, including high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

There are any number of reasons diets don’t work. Psychological, practical, cultural, physical… One of the most insidious is our own bodies trying to save themselves. If you try to lose weight by cutting calories alone, your body will play along for a while. But at some point, all the eons of humans surviving famines kicks in—your body decides you’re starving to death and reduces its caloric needs, causing weight loss to grind to a halt.

So what does work? Living, according to Kraft and Weight Watchers. Specifically, sensible living. You know. Moderation. Balance. Not just cutting calories, but burning them. Anyone who’s honest about weight control will tell you losing weight comes down to burning more calories than you consume. In other words, exercising, not just starving yourself. I once heard someone sniff that Americans are the only people who try to lose weight by eating.

Which brings me back to these two companies ditching the D word. All Kraft has to sell is food. So for them, I think it’s mostly an effort to expand the line’s reach beyond dieting to lifestyle. Kraft’s vice president for strategic marketing initiatives Howard Brandeisky said as much: “We think [the name change] is going to broaden the appeal of the brand and fuel its growth trajectory.”

Weight Watchers has a bigger story to tell. Besides their food line, they’ve got a program, a chance to deliver on the promise of this ad, my favorite in the series. The headline says: DIETS TAKE AWAY THE THINGS WE LOVE, THEN MAKE US HATE OURSELVES FOR LOVING THEM. The copy goes on to read: Weight Watchers teaches you to replace deprivation with moderation, so you can finally learn how to lose weight and keep it off. And then love yourself like crazy for it.

I’ve already seen some bloggers railing against both of these companies for this latest move, saying of course they’re selling diets. And maybe they are. But if they even further the conversation about living and lifestyle decisions instead of always relying on the D word, maybe they’re doing something good after all.

What’s so funny about beef and good health?

January 16, 2008

Red meat takes a lot of heat these days in the health department. And while over-consumption of beef can lead to a host of health problems, the same can be said of just about anything. [At least once a year, there’s a story of someone dying from drinking an extreme amount of water.] Indeed, one Harvard study citing the increased risk of of breast cancer from consuming too much red meat involved women who ate more than 10-1/2 servings of red meat a week over a 12-year period! The unanswered question for me is where did they find these women?!?

The takeaway message from all but the most strident studies is this: “You don’t have to swear off red meat completely—just eat it occasionally and keep portions small.”

feel-good.jpgSo what about the benefits of eating red meat—more specifically lean red meat? Lean cuts of red meat are low in fat, with around half the fat being unsaturated [you know, the good kind]. Lean red meat is a valuable source of many essential nutrients, such as protein, iron, zinc, B vitamins, vitamin D and selenium. More important, some of these nutrients are more readily available than when they are derived from plant foods. As an aside, the leanest ground beef—called ground sirloin in the U.S.—is actually lower in fat than ground turkey. So if you’re going for a turkey burger at home, do it for the taste, not the health benefits.

Further, foods rich in protein have a high satiety value—they keep us feeling full longer—and could actually play a role in weight control.

By now, this is all starting to sound a little dry, I imagine. Not unlike that turkey burger [you don’t want to order that medium rare, do you?]. So take a look at this entertaining message from Australian television about the benefits of eating red meat.

Wait. Wine fights lung cancer too?

January 2, 2008

smoking-loons.jpg

What can’t this miracle elixir do? We’ve all heard how moderate wine consumption can fight heart disease. And if you’re a regular WTF reader, you know it can actually improve memory. Well, now the November issue of Cancer Epidemiological Markers & Prevention reports that drinking wine can actually reduce the risk of lung cancer among non-smokers. As a recent article on this report at Wine Spectator’s website states, “While smoking has been identified as the greatest risk factor, a significant number of lung-cancer cases are unrelated to tobacco use.” Read the whole article here.

Living in Illinois now reduces lung cancer risk too. As of January 1, virtually all public places in Illinois are smoke-free, including bars and restaurants. Whether you’re a smoker or not, you have to applaud that waitstaff, bartenders and other industry workers will no longer have to accept secondhand smoke as a work-related health hazard. And selfishly, I’m looking forward to hanging out in some of my favorite bars without coming home smelling like I’ve been hanging out in some of my favorite bars.

Photo credit: Sebastiani Vineyards

Health news: The days of wine and rosemary

December 5, 2007

rosemary_brain.jpg

By now, anyone not living in a cave has heard some of the health benefits of moderate wine consumption, so let’s start with the rosemary. I’ve said in the past that it’s my favorite herb. Whether making Tuscan beans, a simple, but stunning French dessert with rosemary and apricots or this week’s rosemary sage chops, rosemary imparts an unmistakable fragrance and flavor, a mix of lemon and pine.

Turns out it also imparts good stuff for your brain. According to a recent article in ScienceDaily, the carnosic acid in rosemary protects the brain from the free radicals that contribute to strokes, neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and the ill effects of normal aging on the brain.

If you drink to forget, you may be out of luck. A new study by the University of Auckland and Ohio State University, published in the September issue of the Journal of Neuroscience and reported in Wine Spectator, suggests that moderate consumption of alcohol may improve memory. That’s actually any alcohol, not just red wine—but red wine has so many other health benefits going for it [see below], why not stick with it?

The research, conducted on rats, found that “rats that drank alcohol in moderation seemed to have superior cognitive skills when compared to non-drinking and heavy-drinking rats, in ways that may occur similarly in humans.” My question is how they determined the rats’ drinking habits prior to the study. Questionnaire? Or perhaps observation, hanging out with rats in little rat bars?

“Does this leftover turkey smell okay?” “Better have some red wine.” Okay, so this isn’t so much about the brain, but if you’ve ever had food poisoning, you’ll never forget it, no matter how good, bad or indifferent your memory is. Red wine to the rescue. According to research by the University of Missouri and noted in Wine Spectator, some red wines help kill food-borne pathogens. [Editor’s note: I obviously went to the wrong school—all our alcohol research was strictly independent study.]

Specifically, the study says that Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Shiraz make for potent bacteria killers. The drier the wines and the higher their acidity, the better they worked. Further, they “did not affect non-harmful and helpful strains, such as those that aid digestion, called probiotic bacteria.”

So far, they’ve only tested red wine’s bacteria-slaying abilities in the lab and don’t know “if the positive effects from the lab would be realized in humans by drinking red wine.” Probably had trouble finding student volunteers.