Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pills, Drugs, Commercials, Pills and More Pills. Why?

While the outcome of the Super Bowl won't be known until Sunday evening, I can guarantee you now that there will be a host of commercials from the pharmaceutical industry with the sole purpose of selling drugs that, in general, we don't need and are hastening the destruction of our health and our health care system.

Dr. Pauline Chen writes the "Doctor Patient" column on the New York Times Well blog and her most recent post, "Have These Symptoms? Buy This Drug," focuses on this subject:
"It began suddenly a little over 10 years ago. With impressive fluency, friends, family members and patients started asking me about random medications, the odd syncopations of those invented, polysyllabic pharmaceutical brand names – Viagra, Lipitor — rolling perfectly off their tongues.

"The questions they asked about those drugs did not reflect breaking news or the results of scientific studies. Rather, they were a reflection of sound bites, advertisements and the draw of celebrities who endorsed them, all part of carefully conceived marketing schemes."
Chen's post is really disturbing (click here to read it), but it didn't come as a surprise to me since I've read "Our Daily Meds," a book about "how the pharmaceutical companies transformed themselves into slick marketing machines and hooked the nation on prescription drugs."

According to that book's author, Melody Petersen:
"Prescription medicines can help you if you get the right drug at the right time. But over the last 25 years, a powerful force has made that less likely to happen. That force is aggressive promotion on the part of the pharmaceutical industry. The big drug companies have learned that if they spend enough promoting a drug – even one that often doesn’t work as advertised – they can earn billions of dollars.

"The consequences of this industrial strategy have been devastating because all drugs have risks. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Americans – about 270 each day – die from medicines they've taken just as the doctor directed."
Also, click here to read an opinion piece ("Ritalin Gone Wrong") from a psychologist who questions the long-term efficacy of drugs used to treat children's' attention-deficit disorder. From the article:
"Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems. The drugs can also have serious side effects, including stunting growth.

Sadly, few physicians and parents seem to be aware of what we have been learning about the lack of effectiveness of these drugs."

Monday, January 30, 2012

Easy Cooking 101: Spiced Baked Chicken with Onions

Here's another example of practical everyday cooking that is quick, easy, organic, healthy, cheap and delicious. It's definitely not sexy enough to make the morning news programs, but that's so not the point.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Slice an onion or two (or 14!) and put in an oven-proof baking dish that you've drizzled a little olive in. The dish should be large enough to hold the organic chicken pieces you just bought in a single layer. Sprinkle some spices—I recently used cumin, coriander, cinnamon, paprika, unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper, but anything(!) works—on the chicken and put the dish in the oven.

Total cooking time depends on the thickness of your chicken pieces and if you are using white or dark meat (dark meat takes a little longer), but approximately halfway through cooking time turn the chicken over, kind of mix the onions around a little and sprinkle some more of the spices on the newly-exposed. unseasoned chicken sides. Put the dish back in the oven and cook until it is about 95 percent done (slight pinkness).

Take the dish out of the oven, turn the chicken back over, mix the onions with all the great fat and juices and spices and let carryover cooking finish the chicken, out of the oven. There is enough residual heat in the chicken and in the dish for this to happen.

I used normal-sized, bone-in, with-the-skin, organic chicken thighs and cooking time was about 30 minutes. Time will vary, though, and depends on your oven, size of chicken pieces, how cold the chicken was when you started cooking it, etc.

Organic thighs and drumsticks (with bone and skin) are not that expensive. Add organic brown rice, quinoa or bulgur and some organic string beans and dinner for a family of four will cost about $10. Boneless, skinless organic chicken breasts are a fortune and even if I won the lottery, I wouldn't buy them. I think dark meat is more tender and flavorful and it has more nutrients than white meat. Plus, I want the healthy fats (and flavor) from the skin and I want to chew out the marrow (more nutrition) from the bones.

My belief? Organic chicken skin isn't making us fat; sandwiches of toxic chicken breasts, low-fat mayonnaise and refined wheat bread are.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Drug Given to U.S. Pigs Sickens Trade Relations (& the Pigs)

It seems that neither Congress nor the FDA wants to take real action in regard to the rampant administering of antibiotics to our livestock. Over 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are given to healthy cows, chickens and pigs. It is widely accepted that this overuse—to help the animals grow bigger faster—has helped foster the growth of superbacteria resistant to the antibiotics that have served us so well for decades.

But could a trade dispute involving a drug given to American pork lead to change? According to a story this week on msnbc.com, "Dispute over Drug in Feed Limiting US Meat Exports":

"A drug used to keep pigs lean and boost their growth is jeopardizing the nation’s exports of what once was known as 'the other white meat.'

"The drug, ractopamine hydrochloride, is fed to pigs and other animals right up until slaughter and minute traces have been found in meat. The European Union, China, Taiwan and many others have banned its use, citing concerns about its effect on human health, limiting U.S. meat exports to key markets.

"Although few Americans outside of the livestock industry have ever heard of ractopamine, the feed additive is controversial. Fed to an estimated 60 to 80 percent of pigs in the United States, it has sickened or killed more of them than any other livestock drug on the market, an investigation of Food and Drug Administration records shows. Cattle and turkeys have also suffered high numbers of illnesses from the drug."
It'll be interesting to see how this is handled politically. If the other countries don't budge, the Obama Administration will find itself in a quandary. Will an election year goal of "trying to boost exports and help revive the economy" trump the continuous kowtowing to the pharmaceutical and food giants?

The saddest part of the story may be that our health (and that of the pigs) really doesn't factor into the conversation. Here's one of the results of ractopamine, buried in the article's twentieth paragraph:

"Since it was introduced [in 1999], ractopamine had sickened or killed more than 218,000 pigs as of March 2011, more than any other animal drug on the market, a review of FDA veterinary records shows. Pigs suffered from hyperactivity, trembling, broken limbs, inability to walk and death, according to FDA reports released under a Freedom of Information Act request."
Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How to Make Chicken Parmigiana

Most of the cooking I do and teach is based on a quick start-to-finish approach. When prep time is a little longer, though, I try to make sure that the extended effort results in multiple meals.

One example is chicken parmigiana. I made a big dish of it last night and it'll be the centerpiece of three or four meals.

The dish consists of three components, two of which—marinara sauce and breaded, pan-fried chicken—take a little work and a third—mozzarella cheese—which simply needs to be sliced.

Prep time was about 45 minutes, with an additional 15 minutes of bake time. One hour for three or four nutritious, delicious meals (it tastes better than it looks!) is pretty good, no?

Here's how I did it:

I started by making the sauce. I sautéed one chopped medium-large onion and two minced cloves of garlic (add garlic when onions are halfway done) in a sauté pan. When they were soft and translucent, I added organic strained tomatoes (24-oz. jar, Bionaturae brand), some dried oregano, unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper. I let the sauce simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce was cooking, I dipped 10 organic chicken thighs in a mixed egg from the farmers' market and then coated them with organic breadcrumbs. I heated olive oil in two sauté pans and then browned both sides of the breaded (and seasoned with salt and pepper) chicken thighs.

It took me two shifts to do this, as there was too much chicken to fit into just two pans. The chicken wasn't cooked all the way through, but that was fine since I'd be baking the entire dish after it was totally constructed.

When I was almost finished cooking the chicken, I took the sauce off the heat, as I wanted it to cool a little before assembly. All the browned chicken went on a cooling rack. During this cooling time I sliced the mozzarella cheese.

Construction then began. I put some sauce in the bottom of a large oven-proof baking dish, followed by the chicken (in one layer). More sauce went on top of the chicken. A slice of mozzarella per piece of chicken was next and I finished with more tomato sauce on top of the mozzarella.

I baked the dish for 15 minutes in a 350-degree oven, made sure the chicken was cooked and let it cool for five minutes before serving, eating and enjoying.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Definition of "Free Range" or "Free Roaming" Chicken

I was cooking with a student earlier this week and as we started sautéing organic chicken thighs, she asked, "Is 'free range' better than 'organic'?"

A 20-minute conversation about the intricacies of poultry farming ensued, but here are the basics:

The United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) definition of "free range" or "free roaming," which only applies to poultry, is "Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside."

There is absolutely no further definition of what "access" means (it can be a door the size of one chicken in the corner of a factory farm's immense chicken barn) or what "outside" means (it can be a gravel or concrete space the size of my kitchen sink).

In addition, "free range" or "free roaming" does not tell us anything about the chicken's feed (probably genetically modified corn and soy sprayed with tons of pesticides) or if antibiotics have been administered to the chickens.

Sure, some farmers labeling their chickens "free range" provide ample grassy space and skip the antibiotics, but I'm usually wary of the "free range" label.

That being said, "organic" chickens may not be spending much time hanging out on idyllic verdant pastures either. Just like chickens labeled "free range," only "access to the outdoors" is required, with no further specifics offered. However, know that USDA organic regulations require that organic chicken cannot be administered antibiotics and its feed must be free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and pesticides.

Personally, I buy organic chicken, as the avoidance of antibiotics, GMOs and pesticides is of utmost importance to me. If your budget doesn't allow for organic chicken, make sure to buy chicken free of antibiotics, which is much more vital than any possible "access to the outside."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How to Make Toasted Sesame Seeds, a Great Condiment

Toasted sesame seeds make a great condiment for salads, fish, chicken and, really, almost anything. Just a small amount adds flavor, crunch and a lot of nutrients (manganese, copper, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, etc.) to food.

Toasted sesame seeds are simple to make at home. Put some raw sesame seeds (organic, if possible) on a cookie sheet or aluminum foil and toast or bake at 350 in a toaster or regular oven for about 10 minutes, or until the seeds start to brown and become fragrant. Be sure to mix the seeds during cooking so some seeds (or sides of seeds) don't burn.

Loose raw organic sesame seeds are usually available in the bulk section of health food or other progressive food markets. I buy them for $3.50 per pound, (about $0.20 per ounce), a fraction of what jarred sesame seeds found in the bottled spices section of the market cost.

After you toast the seeds, store them in a small jar; I use an old coriander spice jar that, conveniently, has a shaker top.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Reminder: Read Ingredient Lists, Not Just Front Label Claims

Product labeling can be confusing, and often times misleading. One of the worst offenders are the packages of breakfast cereals, many of which are really just candy. Fiber content is championed as supreme, but you'll never find "A great source of refined sugars, artificial colors and pesticide-laden, genetically engineered corn and soy" on the box.

But even if you aren't buying junk food, vigilance is still necessary to avoid ingredients that you may not be 100 percent comfortable with. Instead of accepting the front-of-package "low fat" or "reduced sugar" declaration at face value, turn the product around and read the ingredient list, which, invariably, will expose the necessary changes.

Examples are two varieties of Heinz ketchup, Reduced Sugar and No Salt. The
Reduced Sugar version replaces the standard high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup (which some would consider sugar replacements as well) with sucralose. The No Salt drops salt in favor of a salt substitute, AlsoSalt.

Even if sucralose and AlsoSalt are safe, we should be aware of their presence. And, as I've written before, artificial ingredients may be safe when tested individually, but how do they react in our bodies when they come into contact with any of the hundreds (or is it thousands?) of other synthetic chemicals we are exposed to daily? Synergistic relationships are never tested.

If your family loves Heinz ketchup, try the organic version, which isn't much more expensive than the regular. With the organic, you'll avoid the dangerous fungicides used to grow conventional tomatoes and the genetically engineered corn used to make high fructose corn syrup.

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Video from the Just Label It! (It = GE Foods) Campaign

The Just Label It! campaign continues to gain momentum.

Over 500,000 Americans have now sent comments (the goal is one million) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking the FDA to require the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. (GE foods are also known as GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.)

The United States does not require labeling of GE foods, which is counter to the desires of the American public and the policies of many industrialized nations (European Union countries, Japan, China, Russia, Australia, etc.).

An explanation of GE foods from the Just Label It! website:
"Genetically engineered (GE) foods, also referred to as genetically modified, or GMOs, are those that are altered at the molecular level in ways that could not happen naturally. This means plants and animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs. These techniques use DNA molecules from different sources, sometimes different species, and combine them into one molecule to create a new set of genes (e.g. mixing of flounder genes into tomatoes so the tomatoes would be resistant to cold temperatures.)

"While there is some GE produce in supermarket bins, it’s estimated that 60%-70% of processed foods available in U.S. grocery stores likely contain some GE material. The majority of the livestock (with the exception of USDA certified organic livestock or Non-GMO Project Verified) that Americans consume have been raised on genetically engineered grains. This is because the two most prevalent genetically engineered crops are corn and soy which are used in many processed foods and most animal feeds."
Click here to tell the FDA how you feel; you may be further inspired to act after you watch the new three-minute video the campaign released to help tell the story. It's the work of Robert Kenner, the director, producer and writer of the powerful documentary Food, Inc. And don't be bashful, share this with friends!

Here's the video. (If you are receiving The Delicious Truth via email, click here to watch.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

FDA Finds Low Levels of Carbendazim in Orange Juice

Late last year Dr. Oz's investigation into arsenic levels in apple juice caused a stir. (If you missed the story, click here to read more.)

Now, there's an issue with orange juice. According to the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
"The [FDA] has received reports that low levels of the chemical carbendazim have been found in some orange juice products that contain imported orange juice concentrates.

"Carbendazim is a fungus-killing chemical used in Brazil and some other countries to preserve agricultural crops. Brazil provides about 11 percent of the orange juice in the United States market, and industry reports indicate that carbendazim is being used there because of a problem with black spot, a type of mold that grows on orange trees.

"However, use of carbendazim on oranges and in orange juices is illegal in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not approved the use of carbendazim as a pesticide on oranges and it is an unlawful pesticide residue under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act."
Furthermore, the FDA—which, by the way, at first erroneously contested Oz's findings—"believes the levels of carbendazim are so low that there are no public health concerns. The agency bases this conclusion on the preliminary risk assessment conducted by EPA, the agency that evaluates the safety of pesticides."

Rest assured, though, that the FDA is looking out for us:

"If FDA identifies a brand of orange juice that presents a public health risk due to levels of carbendazim, the agency will alert the public and take the appropriate next steps to ensure that the product is removed from the market."
Click here for more information (from the FDA) about carbendazim and orange juice products.

In addition, Australia announced today that it is banning the sale of oranges and orange juice that contain carbendazim.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How to Make Your Own Croutons (Quickly and Inexpensively)

I made a huge pot of pea soup the other day. (Click here to read how easy and cheap pea soup is to make yourself.) The second time I ate it, though, I felt it needed some crunch, so I decided to make some croutons.

I've shown how to make croutons in a frying pan, but—to be honest—I felt a little lazy and didn't want to deal with the hassle (and cleaning) associated with frying. But I still wanted my croutons!

Easy solution: I cut some slices of whole wheat bread into cubes, put them in a bowl, added some olive oil, unrefined sea salt and fresh ground pepper and mixed until the oil and seasonings were evenly distributed.

(Oh, you want "Italian Seasoned" croutons [without the artificial ingredients for "flavor," texture and extended shelf life]? Sprinkle in some garlic powder!)

I then put the cubes of bread into the toaster oven (on the oven's baking tray) and cooked them at 350 until they were crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes. (Careful they don't burn.)

They were delicious and worked perfectly in the soup. They were also much healthier and cheaper than any croutons from a package.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Can the Inside of My Steak Be Rare?

During a cooking lesson the other day, a student asked how we could be sure that the inside of the grass-fed skirt steak we would be cooking to rare wouldn't harbor any harmful bacteria in its not-well-done parts.

Coincidentally, there was an unfortunate story in Food Safety News earlier that week—"29 High Schoolers Infected with Rare E. Coli Strain from Deer"—that dealt with this issue.

"One unique theory from the study was that the skewers used for the kabobs could have transferred E. coli from the surface of the meat into the center of the venison chunks, which may have been undercooked. So-called whole meats, such as steak cuts, are typically considered safe to eat rare because pathogens cannot penetrate the inner tissues, and will be killed when cooked, but kabob skewers might carry the bacteria inside the meat."
Unfortunately, the same principle doesn't hold for ground meat, which can contain all types and surfaces of cuts. If you love hamburgers and love them rare (as I do), try to buy your ground beef from a local farmer that you know or have researched, rather than untraceable, commercial feedlot beef that is sold in most supermarkets and box stores.

One caveat: Food from local, artisan producers does not mean it is 100 percent safe. All it takes is one dirty hand, scissor or container to cause a problem. That being said, I trust individuals who care about their craft a lot more than I trust huge multinationals focused on the bottom line.

I buy (grass-fed) ground beef either from one farmer, Grazin' Angus Acres, at my local farmers' market or from my local Whole Foods, which gets its grass-fed beef from Simply Grazin' organic farm in New Jersey.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Not Sitting on Your Commute? Don't Blame Me (or My Ass)

The havoc our food supply causes isn't limited to health and financial issues. The headline of a story in today's New York Times says it all: "Transit Agencies Face the New Calculus of Broader Backsides."

So, while our health insurance premiums skyrocket because of every hormone-laced chicken, artificially-colored snack and nutrient-poor school lunch, the chance of us getting a seat on public transportation diminishes:
"The problem of American waists that are too big for seats meant to accommodate them is certainly not new. Today, everything from love seats to toilet seats can be built bigger to accommodate wider profiles, and the seats offered on public transportation are no different.

"Each time an agency decides to purchase new trains or buses, it must consider whether to make its seats wider, knowing that a decision to do so could come at the expense of passenger capacity."
Click here to read the entire story. (Hopefully you are sitting.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Rodale.com's "The Daily Fix," an Essential Newsletter

One of the many daily newsletters I receive via email is "The Daily Fix" from Rodale.com. It's full of practical information about living a cleaner life, including tips on staying healthy, food shopping, cooking, household cleaning, personal health care products and the general avoidance of the chemicals that interfere with our well-being.

Recent stories include "5 Kitchen Cures for Cold & Flu Season," "
The Nickel Pincher: Cheap and Easy Homemade Cereal" and "7 Toxins That Could Kill Your Workouts."

Another story, "7 Foods You Should Never Eat," touches upon several foods discussed regularly here—canned tomatoes, corn-fed beef, farmed salmon, non-organic apples and potatoes—and offers the problems, solutions and budget tips.

It'll take less than two minutes to read (money back if it doesn't!) and should get us all thinking about our shopping decisions. Here's the entry on nonorganic potatoes:
Nonorganic Potatoes

Jeffrey Moyer, chair of the National Organic Standards Board, gives us the scoop:

The problem: Root vegetables absorb herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides that wind up in soil. In the case of potatoes—the nation's most popular vegetable—they're treated with fungicides during the growing season, then sprayed with herbicides to kill off the fibrous vines before harvesting. After they're dug up, the potatoes are treated yet again to prevent them from sprouting. "Try this experiment: Buy a conventional potato in a store, and try to get it to sprout. It won't," says Moyer, who is also farm director of the Rodale Institute (also owned by Rodale Inc., the publisher of Prevention). "I've talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals."

The solution: Buy organic potatoes. Washing isn't good enough if you're trying to remove chemicals that have been absorbed into the flesh.

Budget tip: Organic potatoes are only $1 to $2 a pound, slightly more expensive than conventional spuds.
"The Daily Fix" is free; simply enter your email address in the "free daily newsletter" box in the upper right corner of any of the Rodale pages I've linked to above.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Great Recipe Resource: New York Times' "Recipes for Health"

A great online warehouse of recipes for the home cook exists in the Recipes for Health section of The New York Times website.

Every week author Martha Rose Shulman focuses on one ingredient (i.e. beets, eggplant, quinoa) or one theme (i.e. breadsticks, Greek vegetarian, quesadillas) and offers five straightforward recipes and two or three paragraphs of relevant information.

This week's episode focuses on the apple and includes recipes for apple-walnut drop scones, applesauce bread and red cabbage and apple soup.

Coincidentally, a client just asked me why I don't peel apples, an issue Shulman addresses in her blurb:

"The phytonutrients in apples are concentrated in and right under the skin. So whenever it’s possible when you’re cooking with apples, it’s best not to peel them. Seek out organic apples if possible, as the skin is also where you’ll find most of the pesticide residue, and conventionally farmed apples are on the Environmental Working Group’s list of the most contaminated produce."
Yesterday I made an easy and delicious turnip gratin (photo), one of the five recipes in last week's turnip tutorial. I halved the recipe and it served four adults (as a side dish).

Click here for Shulman's version, but I varied mine slightly. I didn't have any fresh thyme so I used dried rosemary. Also, not being a subscriber to the theory (myth?) of low-fat anything, I substituted grass-fed whole milk and grass-fed heavy cream for the low-fat milk. (It's fine to use just the milk.) Last, instead of rubbing a cut clove of garlic on the baking dish, I thinly sliced a whole clove and mixed it with the sliced turnips.

My version:

Butter or olive oil for the baking dish
1 garlic clove, sliced thinly

1 pound turnips, preferably small ones, peeled and sliced in thin rounds

Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper

4 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (about 1 cup tightly packed)

1 1/4 cup (total) whole milk and heavy cream (grass-fed, if possible)

1 teaspoon dried or fresh rosemary (or other herb), crumbled

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter or olive oil a 1-quart baking dish or gratin dish.
  2. Place the sliced garlic and turnips in a bowl and season generously with salt and pepper (keep going!). Add half the cheese and the rosemary and toss together, then transfer to the gratin dish and pour on the milk. It should just cover the turnips.
  3. Place in the oven and bake 30 minutes. Push the turnips down into the milk with the back of a large spoon. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and return to the oven. Bake another 40 to 50 minutes, until all of the milk is all or mostly absorbed, the turnips are soft and the dish is nicely browned on top and around the edges. If some milk remains, don't worry, it'll be absorbed by the turnips as the dish cools.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Food Marketing Aimed at Children Mushrooms Online

In the United States, advertising and marketing of junk food to kids during children's television programs is self-regulated by the food and beverage (read: junk food) industries. Not surprisingly, self-regulation is a sham and it's doubtful we'll have a CEO in the F.W. de Klerk or Mikhail Gorbachev mold who acquiesces and cedes power without a fight.

But television commercials may seem quaint when compared to the latest—and perhaps more sinister—wave of marketing: the food companies' high-tech websites festooned with branded kid-specific games. The genre has been evolving for years and researchers from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity have now found that the playing of these "advergames" increases children's consumption of junk food.

Watching television and surfing the web can be equally addicting, but at least television commercials have a time limit; Scooby Doo, Eddie Munster and Marsha Brady do not return to the screen after two minutes—or two hours—of playing games on the Apple Jacks website.

A story in Yale News sums up the two-tiered study:

"In the first study, the team utilized syndicated Internet usage data from comScore to examine the number and age of visitors to food company websites and the relative usage of sites that contained advergames. The study found that over one million children visit food company advergame sites every month and that they spend up to one hour per month on some sites. The majority of advergame sites promote candy, high-sugar cereals, and fast food, and many feature products that food companies have pledged they will not market to children. Young people were significantly more engaged in these sites compared with other food company-sponsored websites, according to the study.

"The second study examined 152 children and measured how much snack food they consumed after playing advergames that featured unhealthy or healthy food, compared with playing computer games that did not focus on food. Advergames that promoted junk food increased the children’s consumption of unhealthy snack foods by 56 percent compared to playing the healthy games, and 16 percent more than playing the control games. In addition, children who played unhealthy advergames consumed one-third fewer fruits and vegetables than children who played the control and healthy games. Children who previously played advergames were affected the most, and both older and younger children were similarly affected. Advergames encouraging healthy eating did increase fruit and vegetable consumption, but the researchers found only one advergame website that promoted primarily healthy foods."
For those in need of help battling the food companies' outsized influence on our children, click here to view a helpful food marketing factsheet compiled by the Rudd Center.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Diabetes's Economic & Educational Toll on Young Adults

The ramifications—medical, nutritional, financial, emotional, intellectual and environmental, to name a few—of our corrupt food supply are widespread. To think that we are not poorer as a society in all of these realms because of the foodstuffs available at supermarkets, restaurants, schools, hospitals and prisons is naïve.

More evidence comes from a study of young diabetic adults by the Yale School of Public Health, just published in Health Affairs and discussed yesterday in The New York Times' Well blog.

According to The Times, the "study shows that young adults with [diabetes] have lower lifetime earnings and fewer job prospects than their peers" and that "[t]hey had lower rates of finishing high school and were less likely to move on to college than young adults who were not diabetic."

In the end, we all pay for this lack of progress. That Gatorade for breakfast may not be as innocent as it seems.

The abstract of the study, from Health Affairs:
"Despite a growing diabetes crisis, the nonmedical implications for young adults have gone virtually unexplored. We investigated the effects of diabetes on two key outcomes for this age group—schooling and earnings—and found that it delivers an increasingly common “health shock” to both. We identified effects in several measures of educational attainment, including a high school dropout rate that was six percentage points higher than among young adults without the disease. We also found lower employment and wages: A person with diabetes can conservatively expect to lose more than $160,000 over his or her working life, compared to a peer without the disease. For young adults with diabetes, having a parent with diabetes also leads to poorer outcomes than if one more parents do not have the disease—for example, reducing the likelihood of attending college by four to six percentage points, even after the child’s health status is controlled for. These results highlight the urgency of attacking this growing health problem, as well as the need for measures such as in-school screening for whether diabetes’s impact on individual learning and performance begins before the classic manifestations of clinical diabetes appear."

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Red Cloud Indian School, Food and Health

The January/February issue of Saveur recently arrived; it's the magazine's annual list of 100 favorite dishes, drinks, restaurants, books, kitchen tools and people. (I was 104.)

Number 66 was "Old Gourmets," referring to the great food magazine that Condé Nast retired in 2009 (after 68 years of publication). In addition to recipes, Gourmet was the home to inspired food-related writing.

While most of what I enjoyed about Gourmet was upbeat, one article, from the April 2009 issue, is a sad indictment to how far our food system has fallen. "No Such Thing as a Free Lunch" is a short piece focusing on the Red Cloud Indian School, a boarding school in South Dakota for Lakota children.

The author, Sam Hurst, does a masterful job in recounting how the school went from self-sufficient in all matters food ("Nobody ever got sick") to completely dependent on the government-mandated school lunch program (a side of obesity and diabetes, anyone?).

This paragraph does a good job summarizing the story:

"There was never a final decision to dispense with Red Cloud’s commitment to self-sufficiency. It just fell victim to a hundred small decisions and a cascade of unintended consequences. In 1910, for example, when the Great Sioux Nation was broken up and the best fields were sold to white farmers, parts of the Red Cloud farm were dispersed. When the worst stories of abuse at boarding schools surfaced, many liberal supporters of the school found the idea of children working to grow food an offensive echo of forced child labor. In the 1960s, when the school stopped boarding students, there was a natural expectation that they would eat at home. As farm bill after farm bill promoted formalized school lunch programs, regulatory standards became stricter and the rhythms of the school’s food system broke down. As sanitary regulations were tightened, students could no longer wash the dishes. Perhaps most importantly, knowledge slipped away. The Jesuit farmer-priests retired and died. No one replaced them. Idealistic young teachers arrived, but they taught history and chemistry, English composition and physics. No one was a farmer."
Click here to read the entire article.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Shhhhh . . . Or: How It Is Determined What We Eat

I swear, it's almost a full-time job keeping up with what's new within our food supply.

If you haven't heard—and you probably haven't, because it was announced during the week between Christmas and New Year's—a new strain of genetically engineered corn, developed by Monsanto, has been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

According to a press release from The Cornucopia Institute, a public interest group that "engage[s] in educational activities supporting the ecological principles and economic wisdom underlying sustainable and organic agriculture":

"Despite receiving nearly 45,000 public comments in opposition to this particular genetically engineered (GE) corn variety (and only 23 comments in favor), the Obama administration gave Monsanto the green light to release its newest GE corn variety freely into the environment and American food supply, without any governmental oversight or safety tracking."
But that's not the worst of it!

The USDA also announced a 60-day public comment period (through February 27) for two other petitions: one for a new GE soybean from Monsanto and the other for a new GE corn from Dow "that has been genetically engineered to better resist the poisonous herbicide 2,4-D."

Yes, for all you Vietnam War buffs, that 2,4-D. I'll let the press release explain the details.

(This post is a little longer than usual, but it is vital that we know the process of our government and food system. If the following gets you mad enough to want to sign a petition—to be sent to President Obama and the USDA—click here. And if you are positively fuming and want to comment on the proposed approval of Dow's corn, click here.)

"While the USDA attempts to assure the public that 2,4-D is safe, scientists have raised serious concerns about the safety of this herbicide, which was used as a key ingredient in 'Agent Orange,' used to defoliate forests and croplands in the Vietnam War.

"2,4-D is a chlorophenoxy herbicide, and scientists around the world have reported increased cancer risks in association with its use, especially for soft tissue sarcoma and malignant lymphoma. Four separate studies in the United States reported an association with chlorophenoxy herbicide use and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“'The concern is that, just like Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn that is resistant to RoundUp™ (glyphosate) herbicide, the approval of a cultivar resistant to 2,4-D will cause an exponential increase in the use of this toxic agrichemical,' [Mark A.] Kastel, [Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute] stated.

"Research by the EPA found that babies born in counties with high rates of 2,4-D application to farm fields were significantly more likely to be born with birth defects of the respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as defects of the musculoskeletal system like clubfoot, fused digits and extra digits. These birth defects were 60% to 90% more likely in counties with higher 2,4-D application rates.

"The results also showed a higher likelihood of birth defects in babies conceived in the spring, when herbicide application rates peak.

"In its petition, Dow AgroSciences states that 2,4-D is increasingly important for chemical farmers because of the presence of weeds that have developed resistance to glyphosate, as a result of the widespread use of Monsanto’s genetically engineered glyphosate-resistant crops.

"When Monsanto introduced glyphosate, it was touted as a safer and less toxic alternative to herbicides like 2,4-D. Now, an emerging body of scientific literature is raising serious concerns about the safety of glyphosate as well.

“'The concern that the use of GE crops, which are resistant to particular herbicides, leads to the creation of ‘superweeds’ is now shown to be valid and serious, as even the chemical companies now recognize and admit this is a problem,' says Kastel."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How to Shop for Whole Grain Breads (Whole Wheat Included)

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, January 4, 2012

How to Make a Superlative Homemade Barbeque Sauce

Following up on yesterday's theme of taking matters into our own hands, a reader made the beef, barley and mushroom soup (using short ribs) that I recently wrote about. She was thrilled with the results and thought it the perfect winter food for her kids.

As good as that soup can be, I hope she whips up the barbeque sauce that I've just started making. It's absolutely delicious and healthier than any store-bought variety, especially if quality ingredients are used. (If we all haven't switched to organic ketchup and organic sugar yet, we should.)

This recipe (from a magazine, not sure which one) makes a little less than two cups; store it in the refrigerator. I used it as a condiment for grilled chicken and arugula sandwiches (using boneless organic thighs) and it was fabulous.

Some other thoughts: Try to use organic Worcestershire sauce if you can find it. (Annie's makes a good one.) Commercial varieties are full of emulsifiers, stabilizers and synthetic ingredients that none of us need to ingest. Also, don't skip the chili powder or paprika; the hint of smokiness adds immeasurably to the final result.


1 tablespoon butter

1 clove garlic, minced

1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup (packed) brown sugar

1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce (I use Annie's organic)
¼ cup lemon juice

¼ teaspoon Chipotle chili powder, regular chili powder or paprika

Salt and pepper, to taste

Melt butter in small saucepan; add garlic and stir 30 seconds. Stir in remaining ingredients, bring to a boil then return to a simmer. Reduce to desired consistency, stirring occasionally. (I cook it for about 15 minutes.) Season to taste with salt and pepper. Store in refrigerator.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Control and Power Are in Our Hands!

This is the start of the fourth year for the daily form of The Delicious Truth. Since I began writing in 2009, society's attention to issues linked to food, nutrition and health (and their relationship with money and politics) has increased dramatically.

Listing all of the issues we face (inexcusable school lunches, pesticides sprayed on our food and into our soil, unfair marketing by the food companies, etc.) is daunting and not feasible in one day, but—trust me—there will be no shortage of material for me to write about for years to come.

The most important thing I've learned over the past three years is that we must look out for ourselves and our families, because nobody else truly has our best interests in mind. Yes, there are a handful of companies (i.e. Eden, Nature's Path) and elected officials that care, but the moneyed nature of our political system (lobbying, election financing, etc.) allows for the concentration of power. But you know this.

I don't mean to sound fatalistic, but I've given up hope that the system will fix itself. But that doesn't mean I've ceded control of what I eat and drink and what products I use to clean my teeth and toilet. If anything, I am more vigilant than ever and try to help (delicately) others realize how this self-empowerment can make a difference in our lives.

Click here to read Mark Bittman's stinging piece, "Bacteria 1, F.D.A. 0," in The New York Times last week, which should help us all realize that we need to take matters into our own hands.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year; The Delicious Truth Returns Tomorrow

Happy New Year. The Delicious Truth will return tomorrow.