Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Parsley: How to Fight Bad Breath or What's In Mouthwash?

I have bad breath. OK, I’m kidding, but imagine that I do have halitosis.

The natural remedy for foul oral odor is parsley, thanks to its high concentration of chlorophyll.

However, to see the commercial alternatives, I went to Duane Reade. Being a fan of the underdog, I picked up a bottle of the second most-popular brand of mouthwash, Scope. (Scope = made by Procter & Gamble = underdog?)

What’s in Scope?

Try: “Water, alcohol, glycerin, flavor, polysorbate 80, sodium saccharin, sodium benzoate, cetylpyridinium chloride, benzoic acid, blue 1, yellow 5.” (Free cooking lesson to the first person who e-mails me the molecular structure of cetylpyridinium chloride. No Googling, please. By the way, it's also been used as an ingredient in certain pesticides, but that's not important right now.)

I then visited a farmers market to ask one of my buddies, a farmer in New Jersey, the ingredients in his parsley ($1.50 a bunch).

"Hey, Ron, what are the ingredients in your parsley?"

“Parsley,” Ron said.

Fair enough.

Back to the Scope ($3.59 for 8.4 fluid ounces, $5.19 for 33.8 fl. oz.). On the back of the bottle is the following capitalized warning: “CAUTION: IN CASE OF ACCIDENTAL INGESTION, SEEK PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE OR CONTACT A POISON CONTROL CENTER IMMEDIATELY.”

“Hey, Ron, what should I do if I accidentally ingest parsley?”


Needing more information about Scope, I called its toll free number (1-800-862-7442). Immediately after pressing “1” to continue in English, a euphonious female voice (recorded) informed me that “Scope does not have an expiration date and can be kept both open and unopened for about three years from the date it was manufactured.”

“Hey, Ron, for how many days will this parsley stay good?”

“Four or five days in the fridge.”

After pressing “0” to speak with the next available representative, I asked Phyllis what exactly constituted Scope’s “FLAVOR.”

“What kind of Scope?” Phyllis asked.

“The Original Mint.”

“Can you hold one second?”

Eleven seconds later, Phyllis returned.

“The flavor is Scope’s special blend of peppermint, spearmint, anise, cassia, clove bud oil, es . . . estra . . . estragole, menthyl . .. I’ll spell this one for you . . . m-e-n-t-h-y-l-s-a-l-i-c-y-l-a-t-e . . .”

I stopped taking notes at this point.

Not wanting to bother Ron again, I independently researched parsley’s health benefits. In addition to its proven breath-freshening properties, parsley is full of flavonoids that act as antioxidants and volatile oils that can help neutralize certain types of carcinogens. And that's just the short list.

On top of everything, commercial mouthwashes don’t actually cure bad breath, but just mask it for a limited time. Mouthwashes with alcohol can lead to a dry mouth, a breeding ground for additional malodorous bacteria.

Alas, if you still want to use Scope, do yourself a favor and buy the Cool Peppermint flavor. It’s slightly less toxic than Original Mint, since it doesn’t contain yellow 5.

There’s probably a laboratory rat somewhere that owes its life to being the Cool Peppermint taste tester rather than the Original Mint one.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Eating Out with Kids

Why do children’s menus exist at restaurants? The default items on these menus are invariably chicken fingers, grilled cheese sandwiches and hamburgers, all served with French fries. If there ever was an effective way of deadening our kids’ palates while making them fat and unhealthy at the same time, it’s by serving them the flavorless, colorless foodstuffs that dominate the mini menus.

Granted, as I’ve written before, there’s nothing wrong with grilled cheese and burgers if they are made from raw milk cheese, grass-fed beef and whole grain bread. But finding those ingredients is difficult enough on regular menus, let alone on children’s menus.

I understand that parents want to avoid conflict with their children while out to dinner, but why does kowtowing in this area become the de facto response? Why shouldn’t good eating habits be the rule, not the exception?

I also recognize that ordering from the regular menu for children may not make sense in regard to price and portion size. But can American portion sizes be considered sensible in the first place? Appetizers are big enough to be main courses, and main courses easily can feed two adults.

What if we were to split our appetizers and/or main courses with our children? The kids would be better fed, we wouldn’t be eating as much, and the bill would be smaller.

Full disclosure: I don’t have kids. But here’s a link to a New York Times article written by a parent who feels similarly:


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Weston Price: "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration"

I am in the midst of reading a fascinating book, “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration,” by Weston Price. The book details the ravages of the modern diet on “primitive” and “native” peoples throughout the world.

Price, a dentist from Cleveland, studied over a dozen distinct populations and described how “white flour, sugar and canned goods” affected the general overall health and the specific dental well-being of peoples ranging from mountain-dwelling Swiss to ocean centric Melanesians to land-locked African tribes.

In his chapter on the Canadian Eskimos, Price writes, “Like the Indian, the Eskimo thrived as long as he was not blighted by the touch of modern civilization, but with it, like all primitives, he withers and dies.”

One of the most shocking aspects of the book is that it was written in 1939, based on Price’s travels and research of the previous decade. Price was far ahead of his time in realizing the deleterious results of eating modern processed foods.

To think that his studies predated the introduction of more advanced(!) junk food--Gatorade, Doritos, Big Macs, etc.--by several decades is amazing. And to realize that the “natives” hadn’t yet encountered the real poisons of modern civilization--hormones, antibiotics and pesticides--is truly mind-blowing.

Price’s premise is simple: when relying on traditional foods, the indigenous peoples’ health remained consistently excellent. However, when modern foods began to be consumed, all hell broke loose. Price took extensive before and after photographs (which are in the book) that show marked changes in the dental and facial structures within the same groups.

Having conducted his research all over the globe in varying climes and environments, Price encountered traditional diets that varied tremendously, but were akin in their 100% local, seasonal and organic nature. (The natives probably had no idea how hip and cool they were.) However, once railroads, shipping ports and trading posts were established, the incidence of tooth decay skyrocketed in those natives that had started eating modern foodstuffs.

Discussing the inhabitants of the Cook Islands (within the South Sea Islands in the Pacific Ocean), Price writes:

A large number were found in Rarotonga living almost entirely on native foods, and only 0.3 per cent of the teeth of these individuals have been attacked by dental caries. In the vicinity of Avarua, the principal port, however, the natives were largely living on trade foods, and among these 29.5 per cent of the teeth were found to have been attacked by dental caries.

Thankfully, there are still no McDonald’s and Taco Bells on Rarotonga, but I’m sure the numbers have gotten worse

Click here for the Weston A. Price Foundation.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Eat Your Vegetables, Not Your Vitamins

I am a staunch believer that all the nutrients our bodies need to function well exist in real food. Unfortunately, our food supply has been so adulterated and depleted that these core elements to the sustainment of our health are no longer a given.

Enter the vitamin industry, which attempts to artificially replace the nutrients in our food that were artificially taken out by its corporate cousins. Here is what the vitamin and supplement makers want us to believe, using a fictitious fruit—the “madeupberry”—as an example.

After much research, Acme Vitamin’s scientists have found that one nutrient in the madeupberry protects against arthritis. There are, say, 75 distinct chemical compounds and minerals in the madeupberry, but the arthritis-fighting antioxidant has been identified, isolated and put into pill form for our use.

Sounds simple, right? Not so fast. It has been scientifically proven (in real-life examples) that the anti-arthritis compound, standing alone, has no benefits. Only when it works in concert with one or more of the madeupberry’s other 74 compounds do its arthritis-fighting properties emerge. This synergistic relationship among molecules is the foundation of traditional (non-Western) medicine.

The food industry’s latest play is to add nutrients directly to foods, which leaves us with misshapen combinations. For example, Tropicana sells five types of 100% Pure Premium Orange Juice that have added chemical compounds and nutrients.

One is called “Antioxidant Advantage,” which has an ingredient list of “100% pure premium orange juice, ascorbic acid (vitamin C)*, vitamin E acetate (vitamin E)* and sodium selenite (selenium)*. * Ingredient not found in regular orange juice.” (Tropicana’s words, not mine.)

Wait, isn’t the antioxidant selenium one of the major minerals found in grass-fed butter? (See my previous post.) Why is Tropicana force-feeding us a nutrient that we can simply obtain from butter? Thinking logically, in what form will the selenium have a more salubrious effect—as a naturally-occurring component of the butter or as an additive to the orange juice?

A second orange juice is termed “Healthy Heart.” Its ingredient list reads: “100% pure premium orange juice and MEG-3®* (fish oil and fish gelatin) (contains tilapia, sardine and anchovy).” Does anyone else think this is slightly disconcerting? How many people who buy Healthy Heart juice know that it contains fish by-products?

Curious about the fish, I phoned Tropicana. The tilapia, sardine and anchovy are, thankfully, not from fish farms in China. They are wild, caught off the coast of South Africa. Or at least that is what Roberto, the customer service representative, told me. He also stated that Tropicana (owned by PepsiCo) is a “credible company.”

So was Enron.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Grass-Fed Cows = Real Butter = Anchor Butter

A specific example of a grass-fed product that I use during in-home cooking lessons in New York and in my own kitchen is Anchor Butter.

Anchor is made in New Zealand, where cows are grass-fed and law prohibits the use of hormones in dairy, sheep and beef farming.

When I hold Anchor Butter next to a stick of commercial butter for my students, they are amazed at the difference in color. Anchor is yellow (because of the grass the cows are eating), compared to the white butter derived from the milk of corn-fed cows. Even organic butters shade toward white since the cows are still eating corn (albeit without pesticides).

The myth (yes, MYTH) which states that butter is bad for you is based on unsound assumptions and studies, the same ones that classify all fatty foods as dangerous. (Gary Taubes, in his book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” does a masterful job of showing how many supposed nutritional and dietary truths are merely unproven statements that have morphed into accepted gospel.)

A story-starved media and clever marketers have so inculcated us with these myths that we have blindly accepted the false preaching and are left eating incomplete, flavorless and nutritionally-unsound foods like egg white omelets, lite mayonnaise and skinless chicken breasts. Whoever your god is, don’t you think it would have made eggs without the yolks if we were supposed to eat egg white omelets? The egg--with the yolk--is as close to the perfect, most complete food that exists.

Back to Anchor Butter. Yes, butter is terrible for you . . . if you are eating butter made from milk from cows eating a corn-based diet and shot up with hormones and antibiotics. If you are eating butter from grass-fed cows, you are providing yourself with a wealth of vitamins (especially A), minerals (selenium, an antioxidant), healthy fatty acids (CLA and omega-3’s) and cholesterol (essential for the composition of our cell membranes).

Did I mention how much better Anchor tastes than conventional butters? The flavor is much deeper and the texture is much creamier.

Anchor butter is available at the Fairway stores in New York. Other butters made in Europe--where cows grazing on grass is the norm--include President, Kerrygold, and Lescure. These can be found in progressive food stores and local supermarkets.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Benefits of Grass-Fed Foods

So why should we eat grass-fed meat, milk, eggs, cheese and butter instead of the more readily available corn-fed variety? Bottom line, grass-fed products are healthier for us than corn-fed, which are also full of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides.

Let’s focus on cows, which by nature are herbivores (plant-eating) and have four-chambered stomachs that are designed to digest grasses, which the human stomach can’t. However, cows grow bigger faster when fed corn (itself grown with the help of dangerous pesticides), so--principally in the United States--cattlemen provide a diet based mostly on corn and animal by-products. And don’t forget about the hormones administered to further facilitate growth. (The equation is straightforward: bigger cows faster = more slaughtering = more money.)

But that’s not the worst of it. The incorrectly fed cows are also jam-packed into the commercial feedlots. (Imagine 15 people squeezed into the SUV you now wish you hadn’t bought.) They don’t get the exercise or sleep they need, which, combined with improper nutrition and general stress, lead to widespread sickness and disease. Enter the antibiotic, the magic potion which cures all ills. Or does it?

The antibiotics, along with the hormones, pesticides and any diseases in the animal-based portion of the feed, pass directly into our food supply. Could this be the catalyst for our ballooning rate of cancers, heart disease, obesity and allergies?

So, what to do? Start buying grass-fed meat and dairy products, which contain nutrients, vitamins and healthy fats that corn-fed products don’t: vitamin E (lowers risk of heart disease and cancer), conjugated linoleic acid or CLA (a cancer-fighting fat), beta-carotene (a powerful antioxidant with far-reaching benefits) and omega-3 fatty acids (a heart-friendly fat with many other pluses). These health advantages emanate from the grass, which the cows eat, digest and turn into edible form for us.

Grass-fed goods are becoming more readily available as the number of farmers producing them increases. Farmers markets in big cities are a great source, as are progressive food stores. Alternatively, click here for a list of grass-fed suppliers, many of whom ship within the United States.

One word of caution: “Organic” is not synonymous with “grass-fed.” Organic means that the product does not contain hormones, antibiotics or feed containing pesticides. However, that feed can be corn, which to reiterate, doesn’t supply the same health benefits as grass. Grass-fed foods will be labeled as such.

Friday, July 11, 2008

All-Natural Doesn't Mean All-Healthy

Not only is Snapple “made from the best stuff on earth,” it’s “all natural.”

But dog crap is also all natural; would you eat that?

Why let the truth get in the way of a successful marketing campaign? I’m amazed how many food items laden with high fructose corn syrup, salt, hydrogenated oils and other processed foodstuffs are accepted as healthy because they have been marketed as such.

The next time you are in the supermarket, take a closer look at granola bars, a supposed healthy snack. A box of Nature Valley granola bars couldn’t be more eye-pleasing. It’s awash in a pretty background color (corresponding to the flavor), and pictures a sun-drenched pastoral landscape.

There are also the catch phrases “100% Natural” and “Excellent Source of Whole Grain,” which are true but misleading. There’s also an “Official Natural Energy Bar of the PGA Tour” endorsement, which must explain why Tiger won the U.S. Open on a fractured tibia and damaged anterior cruciate ligament. Rocco should have passed on that Ring Ding.

What are the ingredients of Nature Valley’s Roasted Almond Crunchy Granola Bars? The bars are “whole grain rolled oats, sugar, canola oil, crisp rice with soy protein (rice flour, soy protein concentrate, sugar, malt, salt), almond pieces, brown sugar syrup, salt, soy lecithin, baking soda, natural flavor, peanut flour, pecan flour.” With the exception of the almonds, everything after whole grain rolled oats is either refined and/or processed. Bottom line, this so-called healthy snack should be in the candy aisle.

My message is simple: Don’t blindly believe the big food companies and their marketing campaigns. Take your health into your own hands by reading ingredient lists and making common sense decisions about what you and your family consume. Stick to real food. It doesn’t take a nutritionist to conclude that plain yogurt, fresh fruit and real oatmeal are better alternatives to the processed items being (literally) forced down our throats.

By the way, the photo shows an actual display in the window of a Manhattan supermarket.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Recipe for a Real Cheeseburger

While giving a cooking lesson to a small group in New York City the other night, I was discussing different health issues in regard to our food supply. One of the students asked, “Do you not eat meat?” It’s a question I am asked frequently.

“Actually, I eat a ton of meat,” I said. “I just make sure I know what kind of meat I am eating.”

I was met with four quizzical looks.

“Everything depends on the genesis of the food, whether it’s beef, milk, eggs, cheese or chicken. Contrary to popular belief, a bacon cheeseburger is actually really good for you if it’s the right kind of bacon, cheese, beef and roll.”

Four continued quizzical looks.

“I try to eat meat, milk, butter and cheese that only come from grass-fed cows. The flavor is much better than products from corn-fed cows. And the nutritional properties of the grass-fed items are extensive, while the corn-fed stuff is pretty much poison.” (I’ll discuss these positive nutritional properties in future posts.)

I could have been speaking Russian.

“Corn-fed beef, chicken, pork—and by extension milk, cheese and eggs—from animals raised on commercial feed-lots are full of hormones and antibiotics. And the feed these animals are eating is bursting with pesticides. Where do you think that all goes? It ends up in our food supply.”

Four much-less quizzical looks afforded me the opportunity for which I was looking.

“That’s why we have eight-year-old girls getting their periods and developing breasts. After 10,000 years it’s just a coincidence that this is happening now? And the incidences of food allergies, autism, cancers and other 20th- and 21st-century diseases are skyrocketing. I really think it has to do with the poisoning of our food supply.”

Looks of understanding started to appear, and I circled back to the bacon cheeseburger.

“So, a bacon cheeseburger comprised of ground beef and raw milk cheese from a grass-fed cow, bacon from a foraging pig and a whole grain bun is very healthy. A bacon cheeseburger made from beef laden with hormones and antibiotics, bacon packed with nitrates and a bun of bleached white flour [read: sugar] will pretty much kill you.”

We proceeded to cook five diverse fish dishes using several different cooking techniques. While my students tasted what we cooked, they asked why I wasn’t eating.

“I’m going to Burger King after this.”

It’s all in the delivery . . .

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tommy and His Tropical Skittles

From the “Where Have We Gone Wrong?” Department:

The other night I was walking on a quiet, tree-lined street in a residential neighborhood of Manhattan known for its intellectual and progressive thinking. A 12-year-old boy (wearing a helmet) whizzed past me on his scooter. His mother, about 20 yards behind, was clutching a light blue, 2.17 ounce bag of “Tropical” Skittles.

“Hey, Tommy,” she bellowed, “come here and eat these . . . I want to get rid of them.”

Let’s take a moment to fully appreciate and dissect the absurdity and hypocritical nature of this statement.

On one level, the mother obviously cares about the well-being of her son, evidenced by his helmet-wearing. But in another vein, I should have made a citizen’s arrest for child abuse. How can anyone who makes her kid wear a helmet also logically force that kid to eat Skittles? Actually, forget the helmet—how could any mother in good conscience let her child eat Skittles in the first place?

According to the back of the bag, “Tropical” Skittles are “sugar, corn syrup, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, apple juice from concentrate, less than 2% - citric acid, dextrin, gelatin, artificial and natural flavors, coloring (includes yellow 5 lake, yellow 6 lake, blue 1 lake, red 50 lake, red 40, yellow 5, yellow 6, blue1), food starch – modified, ascorbic acid (vitamin C).” I’m sure you can’t find most of this stuff at your local farmers market.

After eating the Skittles, there’s a good chance that Tommy couldn’t concentrate on his homework, was that much closer to his next cavity, further hampered his palate’s ability to taste real food, had a sugar rush that affected his body’s ability to regulate insulin, and didn’t eat a well-balanced dinner, therefore denying his body the proper nutrients it needs to properly ride his scooter. Thankfully, he’ll have his helmet on when he falls.

Oh, I almost forgot the “I want to get rid of them” comment. Lady, are you joking? The way you are going to get rid of the Skittles is by making your kid eat them? Were you trying to impress on little Tommy the import of not wasting food? That’s very noble, but wouldn’t the life lesson have been more valuable if it focused on the detrimental nature of junk food?

Good luck, Tommy.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

America's Food Supply

This blog will be about our food supply and how its decreased nutritional value and increased toxicity have led to a litany of issues that are negatively affecting our general health and well-being.

So much of what we eat isn’t real food, and for the most part we are unaware of the extent to which our food supply has been compromised. Processed and packaged goods crowd supermarket aisles, and artificial, man-made ingredients dominate the ingredient lists of these products. In addition, other synthetic compounds not manifest on labels—pesticides, hormones, antibiotics—are omnipresent in what we ingest.

The last century has witnessed a dramatic change in how we eat and think about food. Whether it is obvious junk (soda, chips, candy), supposed healthy snacks (granola bars, fruit-flavored yogurts, “baby” carrots), everyday staples (milk, butter, bread), or our main animal proteins (chicken, beef, fish), what we consume is markedly different from what our ancestors ate for thousands of years.

The results of this shift have been startling. Food allergies, obesity, heart disease, cancers and diabetes—health issues that were virtually non-existent one hundred years ago—run rampant throughout society and are proliferating at an alarming rate.

The good news: with a little reading, effort and fortitude, we can limit our exposure to the harmful chemicals that our great-grandparents didn’t have to contend with. And by doing that, we’ll live, sleep, exercise, work and eat better.

Stay tuned.