Posts Tagged ‘Health’

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.


Ditching the D word

January 23, 2008


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.


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.