Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of 2012 - Gary Taubes: "Salt, We Misjudged You"

Have a little extra reading time during the holidays? Read a little of Gary Taubes's writing and your views on food may change irrevocably. Don't believe me? Start with this article from June.

Happy New Year.


Fat is bad for us. Cholesterol will kill you. Avoid salt.

The drums pounding these ideas into our collective consciousness (and subconsciousness) are incessant and omnipresent. Yet, as the journalist Gary Taubes continues to expertly show, they are only hypotheses that—to the detriment of our well-being—have morphed into accepted government-sanctioned beliefs.

Taubes's latest undressing is of the "avoid salt" mantra. In "Salt, We Misjudged You," which appeared in Sunday's New York Times, Taubes does everything but simply regurgitate what doctors, nutritionists, politicians, grandmothers, newscasters and the guy behind the deli counter describe as fact.

According to Taubes, not only is salt necessary for our survival, but restricting its intake can have fatal results. Yet, fat is bad for us, cholesterol will kill you, avoid salt . . .

From "Salt, We Misjudged You," which everyone should read and pass on:

"Salt consumption is said to raise blood pressure, cause hypertension and increase the risk of premature death. This is why the Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines still consider salt Public Enemy No. 1, coming before fats, sugars and alcohol. It’s why the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested that reducing salt consumption is as critical to long-term health as quitting cigarettes.

"And yet, this eat-less-salt argument has been surprisingly controversial — and difficult to defend. Not because the food industry opposes it, but because the actual evidence to support it has always been so weak." 
"The idea that eating less salt can worsen health outcomes may sound bizarre, but it also has biological plausibility and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, too. A 1972 paper in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the less salt people ate, the higher their levels of a substance secreted by the kidneys, called renin, which set off a physiological cascade of events that seemed to end with an increased risk of heart disease. In this scenario: eat less salt, secrete more renin, get heart disease, die prematurely.

"With nearly everyone focused on the supposed benefits of salt restriction, little research was done to look at the potential dangers. But four years ago, Italian researchers began publishing the results from a series of clinical trials, all of which reported that, among patients with heart failure, reducing salt consumption increased the risk of death.

"Those trials have been followed by a slew of studies suggesting that reducing sodium to anything like what government policy refers to as a 'safe upper limit' is likely to do more harm than good."
Please, read the entire article.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Best of 2012: Keith Gibson of Grazin' Angus Acres Talks Cattle and Grass

Do you know my wish for the new year? It wish that everyone has access to food like the beef, pork, chicken, dairy and eggs produced by Keith Gibson and Grazin' Angus Acres farm. Read and watch more in this post from October.


There are very few people I trust with my food; Keith Gibson, one of the forces behind Grazin' Angus Acres farm, is a member of that select group. His farm is in Ghent, NY (about 30 minutes outside of Albany), but thankfully Keith drives 2½ hours to New York City on Saturdays and Sundays to sell his beef, pork, chicken, milk and eggs at two Manhattan farmers' markets.

I visited the farm last week and came away even more impressed with Keith and the operation. The farm, set amidst beautiful rolling hills, is truly poly-cultural, in the mode of Joel Salatin's Polyface Farms, which starred in "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and Food, Inc. The cows are 100 percent grass-fed, the chickens are pastured and the pigs are free to roam; any supplemental feed is organic.

The farm produces sublime food (flavor and nutrition) while respecting the land and animals. No corners are cut and things are done the way they are because, as Keith says, "it's the right thing to do."

Keith gave me a tour of the farm and explained the intricacies of the farm's workings. Here's Keith talking about his Black Angus cattle (originally from Scotland) and the grass they eat. As you'll see and hear, it's not as simple as "cattle" and "grass." Grazin' Angus Acres is the antithesis of a commercial, factory feedlot where the majority of our meat, dairy and eggs is produced.

(If you are receiving The Delicious Truth via email, click here to watch.)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Best of 2012: How to Shop for Whole Grain Breads (Whole Wheat Included)

Here's a post from the beginning of 2012 that offers shopping advice to help counter the confusing marketing of breads, crackers, muffins, etc.


As I discussed in a December post, whole grains are more nutritious than their refined, bran-less and germ-less versions (think brown rice vs. white rice). Knowing that, though, may not be enough to decipher the labeling on breads, which can be very confusing.

To start, know that the term "grain" is a catch-all that includes a multitude of different cereal grains, including wheat, corn, rye, oat, rice, barley and millet. All of these grains can be ground into flour and used for baking, with varying results.

Remember that wheat is just one type of grain, so multi-grain breads can include flour from wheat, corn, rye, oat, rice, etc. But "multi-grain" isn't necessarily the best option, as all of the different flours used in these breads can be from refined grains stripped of their bran and germ, rendering them nutrient-deficient.

Instead, we should be looking for whole grain breads, with the most common being whole wheat. However, know that whole grain breads can also include refined flours. For example, the ingredients of the organic whole wheat hamburger buns I buy include "organic whole wheat flour" and "organic wheat flour." ("Whole wheat flour" includes the bran, germ and endosperm while "wheat flour" includes just the starchy endosperm.)

The best option, if you can find it, are breads that are 100 percent whole grain. For these products, any flours used must be from whole grains and will be described as such in the ingredient list (i.e. "whole wheat flour," "whole rye flour," "whole oat flour").

Remember that "100 percent whole wheat" and "100 percent wheat" do not mean the same thing! The first phrase carries weight (and nutrition); the second is 100 percent marketing chicanery.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Best of 2012: How to Make Crab Cakes or Wild Salmon Cakes


Google "crab cake recipe" or "wild salmon recipe" and in 0.00004 seconds you'll have about 13,278 recipes to choose from.

The majority of these recipes, though, follow the same basic formula: combine one pound of cooked crab or salmon meat with one egg and roughly one quarter cup each of mayonnaise and breadcrumbs. (This is the base for the cakes.) It is essential the consistency is firm and holds together; otherwise, the cakes will fall apart in the pan during cooking.

So many recipes and versions exist because of the different seasonings and vegetables used as add-ins: onions, scallions, chives, peppers, parsley, dill, basil, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, dry mustard powder, paprika, salt, ground pepper, etc.

Personally, I don't use a specific recipe; I add whatever I am in the mood for, balanced by the reality of what I have on hand.

Again, the primary hurdle when making crab or salmon cakes is getting the consistency correct so they don't fall apart in the pan when cooking. If they fall apart in your hand when you are forming the cakes, you have no chance; add a little more mayo or egg. If the mixture is too gooey, add more breadcrumbs. It's a delicate balance.

I find it helpful to refrigerate the mixture before forming cakes and again before cooking for about 30 minutes (if not longer) each. I refrigerated the cakes pictured overnight and they held together perfectly when cooked; there's a chance they may have fallen apart had I tried to cook them the evening I formed them.

Don't forget to squeeze some lemon juice on top of the cakes after cooking. Also, a sauce of equal parts mayonnaise and Dijon mustard is nice for dipping.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Best of 2012: Superb Advice for Limiting TV Time, from Mindful Life

Too much television causing problems for your family? The following post from earlier this year may help.


Big Food has been aggressively marketing to children on television for decades, and, as I wrote about last month, the problem is now firmly entrenched online.

Here's an email I received yesterday from Mindful Life, "which provides brain-based solutions for today’s families as they try to manage the stresses of modern day parenting." Mindful Life's newsletters provide expert advice on a host of subjects (click here to subscribe), and yesterday's on television time highlights the dangers of television viewing and offers practical solutions.

As I know from many of my clients, getting our kids unhooked from junk food is difficult to do. I think following Mindful Life's advice in regard to limiting television time represents an important first step:

This time of year the lure of a warm couch, some hot cocoa, and a little TV time can often sound much more appealing than wrestling with your little ones to get them out the door, bundled for the cold winter weather.

Well, if your little one seems inattentive, demanding, anxious and down right bratty, the TV may be somewhat to blame.

According to research, the harmful effects of television viewing include difficulties with attention, aggression, worse performance in school, obesity, requests for advertised foods, and cultivation of materialistic values.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children over the age of two watch no more than 1 to 2 hours of television a day, a recent study shows that even a short period of time watching the wrong kind of show can have detrimental effects.

A group of 4-year-old children were the subject of a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics in September 2011. These 60 children were randomly assigned into three groups: one group watched SpongeBob Square Pants, the second group watched the slower-paced Caillou, and the third group was told to draw. They watched or drew for just nine minutes, and then they took mental function tests. The kids who watched SpongeBob did significantly worse on the tests than the other two groups.

The study shows that even very short-term exposure to this fast paced, over-stimulating television can cause measurable learning deficits. Common sense tells us that more exposure is likely to cause longer-lasting problems.

For young children time spent watching TV affects the way their brains are developing. Children need adequate time with caregivers, time for creative play, and opportunities to interact with peers in order to develop the higher level thinking areas of the brain. Time spent in front of the TV stimulates the areas of the brain related to the stress response, creating a more reactive, impulsive and inattentive child.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you find yourself reaching for the remote:

1) Do a TV cleanse. Unplug the cable for a week and see what it feels like. Replacing TV time with a little Pandora can change the entire feel of your house. Your kids will get along much better too!

2) Not all screen time is equal. Be mindful of what your kids are watching. If there is no educational value, if it isn't on PBS (for kids under 6), and if it gives you a headache, chances are your kids should not be watching it.

3) If they are going to watch, watch with them. Studies show when parents watch television with their children and reinforce educational aspects of the shows it improves the quality of the learning experience for the child.

4) Keep the TV out of their bedrooms. Children with TVs in their bedrooms are 1.3 times more likely to be overweight, and it becomes much more difficult to monitor what they watch. Keep all screen media (TVs & computers) in a central living area.

I'm the first to admit that there are days where nothing sounds better than to curl up on my couch in front of a movie, but it is important to be intentional about the role TV plays in your home. Block certain channels, watch together, or eliminate it all together.

You might be amazed by the creativity that emerges on the brink of boredom!

Kristen Race, Ph.D.
President & Founder
Mindful Life

Monday, December 24, 2012

Best of 2012: More Anecdotal Evidence Concerning How We Eat

More war stories from the front lines of food and nutrition in this country:


Last winter I gave a husband and wife a handful of cooking lessons. The wife's goal was to learn some new recipes and techniques, while the husband—a self-described "non-adventurous" eater—wanted to lose weight while trying to expand his palate.

I told them that we would be supremely concerned with the quality and genesis of the food we were cooking; there would be no concern about fat, calories and cholesterol. While the avoidance of this holy triptych is the mantra of most American nutritionists, this ill-advised theory has, I believe, wreaked havoc on our health over the past four decades. 

The couple was on board and we cooked several dozen different dishes, ranging from beef-barley-mushroom soup to chicken parmigiana to sausage and peppers to quinoa salad. We used only grass-fed and/or organic meats and dairy products, and all the fruits and vegetables were organic. We replaced the husband's go-to snack—white bread—with organic whole grain bread.

The food we made was basic but full of flavor. Quite often, after the completion and tasting of a dish, one (or both) would say, "That's all you do?"
Last week, six months after our last lesson, I received an email from the husband. It provides more anecdotal evidence that we are spending way too much time counting fat and calorie totals and not enough time worrying about the quantity of antibiotics added to the genetically-engineered and pesticide-laden corn and soy that is the staple of our livestock's (cattle, chicken, pigs) diet. But heaven forbid if there's any skin on that toxic chicken breast or any fat in that toxic hamburger! And don't even think about using nutrient-dense coconut oil to cook that chicken breast or hamburger; use toxic canola oil instead!

Here's what the husband wrote:

"We are using your recipes and eating well. I have lost 24 pounds . . . and am eating all the bread and meat that I want, as you predicted. While I refuse to give up my Hershey bar, I am only eating organic pasta which I have concluded tastes better."
As for the Hershey bar, I tried to get him to eat nutrient-dense dark chocolate, but it didn't fly. Had he gone for it, he may have been down 34 pounds, not 24.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Best of 2012: Price Look Up (PLU) Codes on Produce and What They Mean

Confused about the numbered stickers found on fruits and vegetables in supermarkets? The following post from May should clear up any confusion.


Many fruits and vegetables found in supermarkets and other food stores have stickers attached with numbers. These numbers are the Price Look Up (PLU) codes, an aid so those working at checkout don't need to remember every item of available produce.

Four-digit numbers starting with a "3" or "4"—such as the mangoes in the photo above—represent conventional fruits and vegetables sprayed with pesticides. (Click on photo for detail.)

Five-digit numbers starting with a "9"—as seen on the mango to the left—mean the produce has been grown organically. (The four-digit number simply is preceded with a "9.")

In addition, five-digit nu
mbers starting with an "8" have been reserved for genetically engineered (GE) fruits and vegetables, but you will never see these stickers. First, only a handful of items—papayas from Hawaii, some yellow and green summer squash, and some corn on the cob—are grown this way. Second, retailers don't want people to know what is genetically engineered.

Know that over
90 percent of the corn and soy grown in the United States is genetically engineered, so assume that any non-organic packaged or processed food contains GE ingredients, since corn and soy are essential building blocks of these foodstuffs. (Read the ingredients on ketchup, energy bars and breakfast cereals and you'll see what I mean.)